Luke 1:47-55, The First Christmas

And Mary said,

I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

–The Message Bible

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John 4:24, God is Spirit

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

These are the words of Jesus, to the woman of Samaria. She was asking whether it was correct to worship God at the holy place of the Jews or of the Samaritans. Jesus’ reply made it clear God would not be found “in” a place.

The above verse is from the NIV translation; let me give it to you again in our familiar King James version:

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

See the difference? How the KJV made assumptions about the nature of God, which the NIV corrected by retranslating the original Greek? God is not “a Spirit” (capital S), God is “spirit.” You don’t worship “him” in spirit, you merely worship in spirit. John’s Gospel, we all realize, is the most esoteric or spiritual of the four, and this is critical to understanding the Johannine writings.

God is not “a” love. God is love. God is not “a” light, or “a” life,” or “a” spirit, or “a” anything. God just is. Give up trying to point to him, because there is no “him” to point to. As The Shack would say, God is a verb.

In my opinion, grasping this basic difference will take you a long way to understanding John’s point of view.

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Luke 2:1-2, When Was Jesus Born?

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

Today’s post is not meant to ridicule traditional Christian beliefs; it is to help reconcile followers of Christ, whether believers of the supernatural or not.

Do you think all Christians need to believe literally in the virgin birth? Can you fellowship with nonbelievers? I’d like to give one of many examples why liberal Christians and Jesus scholars have a hard time believing in the virgin birth, so that believers can begin to understand the complications nonbelievers struggle with.

Note that many early Christians didn’t believe in the virgin birth either. The early Jerusalem church (the Ebionite sect), headed by James, brother of Jesus, did not. Paul writes only that Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law” and that he descended from David “according to the flesh,” while Mark portrays Jesus as estranged from his family, disowning mother and brothers, hardly an endorsement for the idea of Mary being informed by an angel of Jesus’s divinity. John insists that Jesus was never born, but existed before the creation. Only Matthew and Luke tell a story of Jesus’ birth, and these two stories contradict each other quite radically.

I present today’s verse as just one example. In Matthew’s rendition, Joseph and Mary flee Herod, who died in 4 BC. In Luke’s story, Joseph and Mary come to Bethlehem for a census overseen by governor Quirinius … but Quirinius did not govern before 6 AD. So, was Jesus born before 4 BC or after 6 AD?

This and other examples convince many that the birth narratives were written to honor Jesus in story, not to relate historical facts. You must decide for yourself; are one or both of the birth stories true or not? But I hope that, whatever you decide, it will not cause you to criticize those Christians who decide otherwise. May we all have a merry Christmas as brethren!

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Revelation 13:15, Giving Breath to the Image of the Beast

He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.

Ever wonder what this verse is all about? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know for sure, since we have no record of this event happening. We do know it was a popular ruse among magicians of the first century to cause statues to talk. You may have heard how Gaius Caesar ordered a statue of Jupiter moved from Olympia to Rome, but when the workmen arrived to move it, the statue started to laugh at them.  The workmen’s scaffolding collapsed and they scattered in panic.

Simon Magus, whom many believe to have been the “false prophet” of Revelation, was known for his ability to make stone statues talk.

Early Christians throughout the Empire appeared distressed by these statues. The Christian apologist Athenagoras wrestles with this problem of pagan statues “giving oracles” and healing the sick and considers them neither tricks nor miracles but demons taking possession of the minds of the audience, persuading them with “empty visions” as if exuding from the statues.

The beast in this verse we can be fairly certain refers to Nero Caesar, and Nero seemed omnipresent with statues throughout the empire, including a 120-foot abomination even greater than Nebuchadnezzar’s statue in the book of Daniel.  But, so far as I’m aware, we have no record in history of any of Nero’s statues talking! What, exactly, does this verse in Revelation refer to?

One more mystery about the book of Revelation that we’ll probably never uncover!

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John 11:35, Jesus Wept

Jesus wept.

The smallest verse in the Bible, we were taught as children. Perhaps the only verse I’m able to memorize. But what is interesting enough in this little nibble to warrant a blog post?

It’s that this verse is not the way first-century citizens thought about God.

Jesus wept as he walked toward the grave of Lazarus, the man he would raise from the dead. John’s Gospel, you will recall, is the Gospel that portrays Jesus as God. It is this Gospel, more than any other book in the Bible, that steered Christianity toward the Trinity doctrine; the understanding that, in some mysterious way, Jesus is God.

God wept.

But, you see, gods don’t weep. To the Greeks (and all of the Gospels were written in Greek and among the Greeks) the primary characteristic of God was something they called apatheia, which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. This verse, one commentator of John supposes, may be the most astonishing verse in the Gospel.

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Ezekiel 18:20, Who Is Guilty?

The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.

Ezekiel is a favorite of few Bible readers. It certainly wasn’t mine; imagine my surprise when, researching for my book about Revelation, I discovered Revelation to be an update and rewrite of Ezekiel.

Just as we, today, routinely update and rewrite Revelation to match the beliefs of today’s Christians, so did Revelation update and rewrite Ezekiel. Our eschatological beliefs differ from John’s Revelation as severely as John’s differ from Ezekiel’s. And now, in this verse, we see how radically Ezekiel has rewritten the scriptures of his day. We read in exodus:

for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

So, which is it? Does God punish the offspring of the sinner, or is “the one who sins the one who will die?” Clearly, we prefer Ezekiel’s understanding.

What will tomorrow’s Christians believe about God’s punishment? If Christianity is going to continue evolving on its humanitarian journey, then it’s up to us to continue to grow in our understanding of God.

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Matthew 10:28, Fear Not Those Who Kill the Body

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.

What do you think about this verse? Kill the soul?? Most people are taught in church that the soul is eternal, and even ungodly men live forever … albeit in hell instead of heaven.

Actually, controversy raged in the early church about the unsaved. Are they tortured forever in the fire (Jude) or merely killed by it? (2 Peter, which appears to be a rewrite and update of Jude). Paul taught that the godly would live forever while the ungodly die; the end. “The wages of sin is death.” This would be known centuries later as the “annihilation theory.”

Revelation appears to agree with Matthew that the fires of “hell” are temporary. (Don’t get me started on the differences between Sheol, the Hebrew dwelling place of the dead, and Hades, the Greek place of punishment for naughty fellas, and how the two merged into the Christian concept of hell.) The beast, the false prophet, and the dragon all appear to be tortured eternally in Revelation, but not any of the rest of humanity. (this is the position I argue for in my book, Revelation: The Way it Happened.)

What do you think?

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Acts 10:38, The Dubious Disciple’s Beginnings

Maybe I should begin my new blog with what may be my favorite verse in the Bible:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, for God was with him. – Acts 10:38

An inspiring verse regardless of your concept of God, your experience with the Spirit, and what you think about that evil fella we call the devil. Regardless of your religious beliefs, this is a Jesus we can all appreciate and seek to emulate.

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