Bible Misunderstandings

Shrouded Thinking

I came across this news item last week regarding the Shroud of Turin.  As we were sitting in Sunday School class yesterday with the youth at our church, we talked about it for a few minutes.  Of course, I realized that they had no idea what the Shroud of Turin even is, but that was pretty easy to explain.

The debate is still going as to the authenticity of the Shroud.  I am not firmly in either camp.  If it is genuine, that is certainly interesting and amazing, but it won’t make my faith any more firm than it already is.  I am completely convinced that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the strength of evidence that has nothing to do with the Shroud.  If it is shown to be fake or fabricated long after the fact, it will have no effect on me for the same reason.  But I did see this cockamamie new theory from an academic who is convinced that the Shroud is genuine, but who has taken that conclusion to a bizarre place.

Art historian Thomas de Wesselow is convinced the Shroud is real and did touch Christ’s body.

But the Cambridge academic insists that the image on the cloth fooled the Apostles into believing Christ had come back to life, and the Resurrection was in fact an optical illusion.

Please note that we are talking about an “art historian” so I am left to conclude that his biblical knowledge and scholarship is likely to be lacking.  The idea that the early disciples would be so amazed by an image on a cloth that they would treat it as if the man they had walked with was “living in the image” or whatever he wants to call it, is insulting to the intelligence of first century believers for one thing and insulting to the testimony of Scripture for another.

His theory is based on the worst kind of Bible “scholarship” and I put it in quotes because it isn’t very scholarly at all.  He takes one verse (ONE) as proof for his theory and apparently ignores the rest of the story.  He tries to assert that Paul claimed that the resurrection is “not about flesh and blood” in 1 Corinthians 15(verse 50 according to the article).  I am not sure what translation he is working from but he draws completely the wrong conclusion about what Paul is saying.  At the beginning of that very chapter, Paul asserts that the risen Jesus was seen by Cephas (Peter) and then the rest of the disciples, and then at least 500 others, and then James and the rest of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:4-7).  These appearances are the parading of an image on a sheet.  These are appearances in person and in the flesh.  A different kind of flesh to be sure (he walked into locked and shut rooms), but flesh that ate and could be touched.  Read the Gospel accounts and picture a pair of disciples walking down the road when a giant bedsheet with a picture suddenly appears next to them and starts talking and you will see just how silly and ill read this “art historian” has to be.

Is the Shroud of Turin legitimate?  Maybe.  Is it possible that the disciples and the first century witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were all looking at it and thinking that this was Jesus raised from the dead?  Not a chance.  Just picture one of them trying to give a piece of fish to a cloth and being fooled into thinking the sheet ate it.

 

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, False Teachers, History, Messiah, Questions, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting Understanding

7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.  – Proverbs 4:7

I have a funny post queued up for later in the day, but I wanted to get this up first.  I have been doing several messages in the last few months playing off of this realization that we frequently misunderstand or make up meanings for obscure or difficult things in Scripture.  It is based on something I heard from First Fruits of Zion a year or two ago.  I found a couple of video clips on youtube that give a fuller explanation of this concept that I highly recommend.  It will take about 15 minutes of your time to watch these two clips back to back.  It is time well spent.

I know the end of the second clip includes a promo for some of their study material, but I can say this. Their study material is some of the most in-depth and thorough stuff I have ever seen.  When I got my first copy of Torah Club Volume 4 several years ago, I went through it with a fine tooth comb to look for areas of questionable scholarship or theological issues.  These guys do a great job of providing information as well as the sources that go into their materials and conclusions.  I highly recommend their work to anyone I talk to these days and I always enjoy checking out their new materials.  I currently have a small wishlist going for stuff I haven’t yet managed to purchase.

Here is one last video that talks about some of the deeper Hebraic concepts in the Gospels.  Enjoy.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Discipleship, Faith, FFOZ, Giving, Gospel, Hebrew, Holy Spirit, Humor, Kingdom, Questions, theology, Truth, Yeshua | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harold Camping -Twice Bitten and Still Not Shy

As bad as the storm damage has been to witness this spring (and it has hit areas that I am very familiar with), I am just as concerned with the spiritual damage that folks like Harold Camping have caused with his false prophecies and predictions.  As I previously wrote, May 21, 2011, was not the date of the rapture or judgment or anything else specific in regard to God’s appointed times.  As for his now revised date of October 21, 2011, I will just tell you now that it also does not fall on any of God’s appointed times.  The only thing on the calendar for that date is Simchat Torah, which marks the beginning of a new Torah cycle.  It is hardly an ominous date in God’s previously revealed character.  I am confident to say that Camping’s latest grasp at another straw will prove to be fruitless indeed.

Word out now is that Camping has resorted to the JW’s defense.  He is trying to claim that the rapture did happen on May 21, but that it was “spiritual.”  This tactic isn’t new; it has been used by false prophets before Camping and it will probably be used by false prophets that are yet to come if the Lord tarries long enough.  I would instead call your attention once again to Scripture:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25See, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.  – Matthew 24:23-28

I have already posted some of my own thoughts regarding the Rapture and you are welcome to peruse them if you like.  Suffice it to say that I am not going to buy in to the predictions of those like Harold Camping.  He has been proven false a second time (once was already enough for me to disregard him).  Don’t put your trust in men; instead you should search God’s Word for yourself and test and try these teachers against the Truth.  Camping has been measured and found wanting.

My prayer is that those who have been deceived by him to this point will awaken and seek the truth.  I noted that the site run by the believer of Camping’s prophecies has not been updated in over a month.  He has had nothing to say since the failure of the “prophet” he believed in has become evident.  I pray that his eyes would be opened now that his false prophet has been exposed.  I pray that for them all, so that the devastation will not continue.  It would seem that Harold Camping has no shame after being prove false.  I highly doubt that the third time in October will be the charm, either for him being right for once or for him admitting he has been wrong all along.

Categories: America, Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Christianity, church, devotional, End Times, False Teachers, Heresy, Kingdom, Messiah, Prophecy, Signs of the Times, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Just Because He Predicted It Right, Doesn’t Mean You Should Listen to Him

A few days ago, I wrote a post explaining several reasons why a group claiming that the rapture is set to happen in May were set to be disappointed.  Even though it was about a “prophet” who had predicted wrongly before, I wanted to address the issue of a prophet whose predictions come true.  The post generated some comments that convinced me to do another post regarding the folly of trusting prophetic signs as a way of measuring God’s approval of a person or “prophet.”  It was something I had been mulling over for a bit, so here we go.

Let me start out by going “Old Testament” on you for a minute.  In Deuteronomy, as Moses is giving final instructions to the people of Israel and by extension all of us who hold to God’s Word as true and our standard of God’s character and nature; he cautions the people about prophets who will come after him:

1“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (emphasis mine)

– Deuteronomy 13:1-5

I dealt with this topic with a slightly different emphasis over a year and a half ago, so this is not new stuff for me.  A prophet who prophesies correctly and yet contradicts the Word of God is a false prophet.  This is something that simply isn’t talked about much in my experience.  The plain implication of this text is that simply making correct predictions is not a ringing endorsement of a Godly person or ministry or whatever.  I hate to break it to you, but Kreskin can predict the future with sometimes uncanny accuracy also and that doesn’t make him a prophet of God.

We have an unhealthy fascination with people who can “predict” the future and I fear that we forget the words of Jesus as well.  Not only did Moses downplay the “prophet who could tell the future,” but Jesus did as well:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

– Matthew 7:21-23

Read that again.  Really soak it in and read it.  These people prophesy in Jesus’ name, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and perform many mighty works in Jesus’ name, and He says He doesn’t even know who they are!!!

But they did all of these amazing things with prophecy and miracles and such, how can this be?

Remember the warning from Deuteronomy 13?  The second test for a prophet is where he tries to lead you.  Is it to obedience to God as He has revealed Himself in His Word or is it to follow some “new way” that the prophet is declaring based on his “authority” from his “prophetic power” that is indicated?

Don’t get dazzled by signs, predictions, miracles and so forth.  They are unreliable indicators of God’s Spirit.  Instead, set your mind on the Word of God and learn its truth.  It will set you free.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Culture, Discipleship, End Times, False Teachers, Gospel, Grace, Heresy, Holy Spirit, Kingdom, Law, Messiah, Prophecy, Questions, Salvation, Signs of the Times, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coach Tressel Demonstrates the Meaning of Taking God’s Name in Vain

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

– Exodus 20:7

I guess I can add this to the Bible Misunderstandings category.  I say that because I always heard this commandment explained as not using God’s name as a swear word or something like that.  While that is certainly something to avoid, the actual meaning of the verse holds more depth than that.  The word commonly rendered as “vain” also means empty and can connote lying or just empty speech of other kinds.

This is the command Jesus was speaking about when He told people not to swear oaths at all because we typically break our oaths.  If we make promises and invoke God’s character with phrases like “I swear on the Bible,” or “by God” or any other number of permutations, and find we are unable to keep them; that empties God’s name of meaning in the eyes of others.  So don’t even do it, simple instruction from Jesus.

This came to mind when I was reading some sports stories last night and I saw some news about Coach Tressel from Ohio State.  In full disclosure, I have never liked OSU very much and as a Razorback fan, my opinion didn’t go up any in the wake of the scandal that hit before the bowl game this past season.  But Tressel has inadvertently provided an object lesson of the lesser realized meaning of this command, because suddenly there are people who are dragging God’s name through the mud a bit on his account.

For those who are unaware of college football goings on, several Ohio State players violated NCAA rules by selling merchandise for benefits and when the story broke last December, Tressel acted with complete surprise and shock and lobbied to allow these boys to play in the bowl game.  Now, the truth is out that Tressel wasn’t caught off-guard in December; he had known about the problem since April of last year.  Instead of taking responsibility, he ducked for cover until he could hide the truth no longer.  He is now facing consequences for his own rule breaking as well, but some of you may now be asking, “how does this drag God’s name through the mud?”

Well, as I was reading stories about this new development, I came across this news item from a local media outlet.  This article is making a case for why Tressel should be fired for his offenses and includes the following:

When Regular Joe with a normal job breaches his contract, he gets the boot.

So should The Vest.

“I am sorry and disappointed this happened,” Tressel said. “At the time the situation occurred, I thought I was doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing? Surely a deeply religious man with a newly released book titled “Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best” knows the difference between right and wrong.

Or does he?

Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith, the highest-profile players of the Tressel era other than current Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were both suspended for accepting improper benefits. Tressel also had a player do the same thing at Youngstown State.

I didn’t know anything about Tressel being a Christian until I saw this.  It may be that he doesn’t talk about his faith much (I don’t know), but he wrote a book and invoked God in the title.  Now he has given cause for others to “empty the name of God” by his actions and his words.  This isn’t Christian media citing the issue, it is the local school paper.  I find it a little ironic that a secular media source is so keenly able to spot the problem here.  This isn’t even a one time mistake, but appears to be a pattern of behavior.  Let me be clear that it is not my intention to single Tressel out for ridicule or judgment.  I am citing him because this is a textbook illustration of the point.

It was this same “emptying” of God’s name that won many condemnations for the nation of Israel back in the day as well.  Jesus instructed us to hallow God’s name, which means to set it apart or keep it pure.  Let us take heed to our Master’s words and be careful how we represent the name of God as the people of God.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, Commandments, Culture, Discipleship, Faith, Football, Grace, Law, razorbacks, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Doomsday Prophet Without a Leg to Stand On

I ran across another story yesterday about another group of people proclaiming a date for the Rapture.  I don’t want to waste a lot of time or space, but I feel I can offer a service for those who might get sucked in by such a thing.  Here are 3 simple reasons why May 21, 2011 is not the date of the Rapture, and I am not even going with obvious reasons that others might give you (with one exception).

1.  The man who has predicted this, Harold Camping, has made a previous prediction that proved to be false.  I could absolutely stop there with no further explanation, but I don’t want to let this go.  In trying to explain why he was wrong then but is right now, he has made this excuse:

He explains now that he originally thought 2011 was the year, but a few verses tripped him up and he concluded that the Great Tribulation might get cut short. There was still scripture he was grappling with, end-time signs that were to come — he points to the gay pride movement as one of them — and truths that had yet to be revealed, “but because of the urgency of time I had to get it out quickly,” he says of his previous warning.

This time around, he has no doubts.

“I know it’s absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true,” he says. “If I were not faithful that would mean that I’m a hypocrite.”

If your best excuse is that you felt “rushed” to get the prediction out there, then you are already on shaky ground.  The only thing in the above quote that is even true is that the Bible is always true.  The man made a false prediction and ascribed it to God, let me make plain what the Bible says about this:

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

– Deuteronomy 18:20-22

No matter what Camping says at this point, I simply tell you that the Word of God says he was presumptuous and you don’t need to listen to him anymore.  This is the first “infallible” proof that May 21, 2011 is not the date of the Rapture.

2. Camping offers a long mathematical dissertation as an infallible proof of his calculation for the May date and it is full of holes as well. For those who might be tempted to overlook the whole prophecy gone wrong and the biblical warning to ignore people who do such a thing, I will also offer the service of dismantling this mathematical rant.  They claim to know the year of the Noahic flood, although they offer no proof whatsoever.  The claim holds no water based on his previous track record and the biblical admonition.  Furthermore, I would note that the Jewish calendar indicates the current year as 5771, which is supposed to be dated from the creation of Adam by tradition.  Any supposition of dating the flood is questionable at best and cannot be used to assume for accurate calculations.  This is a case of make the “proof” fit the facts they want to assume.  Throw it out.

The second part where the vast amount of calculations come into play is even more dubious.  They presume to know that the date of the crucifixion of Jesus had to be on April 1, 33 AD because they feel it had to be on a Friday.  This is a sad case of confusing modern Christian tradition with actual history.  It is quite possible(likely even) that Jesus was in fact crucified on a Thursday.  The key is the realization that the first day of Passover is a special Sabbath no matter what day it falls on.  I won’t go into a lengthy explanation here, but you can check it out for yourself.  So the “starting date” for their calculations is already problematic.

He further complicates things with some dubious numerical ideas.  One is the declaration of some “special numbers”:

Likewise some numbers in the Bible also frequently point to spiritual truth. We will look at five numbers that are examples of this, as they focus on significant spiritual truth. These numbers are 3, 5, 10, 17, and 23.

I am not even going to bother with debunking the reasons given for these numbers being special as they are flimsy indeed.  Rather, I will point out that Camping missed some other very significant numbers in the Bible, presumably because the math didn’t work out quite as well.  Do the numbers 12 (tribes, disciples and so forth) and 40 (I am not even going to list the number of times this one pops up) ring any bells?  I can make a very simple case that these two numbers are far more significant than 23 for instance.  The “proof” for that number’s usage is tortured to say the least.

Listen, if God can encode the number Pi in Scripture out to four places, I am certain that He can do better than what Camping has produced in his “infallible proof.”

3. God has a calendar and it isn’t the Gregorian one. It is silly to start trying to tag significant dates to any place on the Gregorian calendar.  If there is one thing that God has demonstrated throughout history, it is that He has a definite sense of timing and it is His own times that are appointed times.  God’s appointed times are defined in Scripture: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Day of Trumpets, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Tabernacles (Leviticus 23 outlines these).  If you want proof that God keeps these days, look no further than the NT.  Jesus died on Passover and the Spirit was given on Pentecost; a perfect echo of the deliverance of Israel from bondage in the Exodus and the giving of the Torah at Pentecost at Sinai.  There are multiple references to God’s “appointed times” and a study would be fascinating, but this isn’t the place for that either.  Suffice it to say that May 21, 2011 comes in at day 32 of counting the Omer and corresponds to absolutely nothing on God’s timetable.  Sorry Mr. Camping, you might want to check God’s appointment book before you claim to know these things.  Study a little of the history of God’s work in history and you will find that He is very deliberate and remarkably consistent is sticking with these particular days.

There is more that I could say, but I don’t want to belabor the point.  Do not be dismayed or confused by these false prophets of doom.  There is a day coming when God will judge every person, but it isn’t in May of 2011.  I personally lean toward Him utilizing the appointed time of the Feast of Trumpets, since it is commonly known as “the Day when no man knows the day or the hour” in the same way that we call Thanksgiving, “turkey day.”  And just so you know, that day is nowhere near May in this year or any other.  It typically falls in September/October on our calendars.  But God isn’t confined to my idea and I am making no predictions about His return, only debunking one that is patently false.

Shalom.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Christianity, church, Culture, End Times, False Teachers, Feasts, Heresy, Kingdom, ministry, Passover, Persecution, Prophecy, Shavuot, Signs of the Times, Thanksgiving, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Imagining That Godliness Is a Means of Gain

As a pastor, there are some things in the Bible that stick out more than others to me.  Paul’s “pastoral epistles” are of particular note in this category.  I know that I am not just like Titus or Timothy, but I can certainly learn a thing or two from the advice that Paul dispensed to these young men.  Actually, we all can, but that is for another time.

The reason this comes up for me now is because of something I saw on TV last night.  I was flipping channels and came across a religious station (I won’t bother to mention which one) and they were in the midst of what can only be characterized as a “fund-drive.”  The speaker was talking about sowing financial seeds for a financial harvest and how if you would give $1000 to the ministry as a “faith gift,” God would return it to you multiple times over.  He even said that there is just something “special” about that number: $1000.  He didn’t cite a chapter or verse for that assertion, just his own opinion as fact.

He gave his own personal testimony of how he had given his last $500 to some place (he didn’t say to what or explain why it wasn’t the special $1000 amount beside the fact that it was all he had), and how God then proceeded to make his wife the star of a national ad campaign for a large retail store and allowed them to get out of debt and I suppose even be wealthy.  Another gentleman chimed in with his story of giving his last $350 (again it wasn’t the special amount) and how a couple of weeks later a woman he didn’t know gave him $700 in return.

It is not my intention to denigrate or belittle these men, which is why I haven’t included names or lots of details.  My question comes to this.  How can these men talk like this without the words of Paul to Timothy ringing in their ears?

3If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

– 1 Timothy 6:3-10

It is a peculiarly western twist of Christianity that has concluded that the sign that we are blessed by God is when we have no material wants.  It isn’t backed up by Scripture at any point that I am aware of, rather the converse is usually true.  Read what Paul said to the Corinthians regarding their apparently similar theology:

8Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

– 1 Corinthians 4:8-13

There really is nothing new under the sun.  It appears that these confused prosperity preachers of Paul’s day were considered to be genuine in the faith in Christ by Paul, so I will cut my modern day brethren the same slack in any case.  But the Corinthians of this stripe inspired some serious sarcasm and rebuke from the Apostle Paul and I figure it can’t hurt to try it today as well.

To those who are looking to “sow financial seed” in order to reap a harvest of money from God, let me caution you.  Godliness is not a means of financial gain and God is not a magic money machine.  Godliness with contentment however is great gain.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Christianity, church, Discipleship, Faith, False Teachers, Giving, Kingdom, Love, ministry, Signs of the Times, theology, Truth | Leave a comment

Paul is More Puzzling than You Think

I find that a lot of people presume that they have Paul “figured out” more or less.  This is a function of years (millenia in fact) of theological presumptions that are so widespread they aren’t even questioned.  We never dream that the words of Peter could apply to us:

15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. – 2 Peter 3:15-17

These words were written while Paul was possibly still alive, and we can confirm from other places in Scripture that Paul’s writing and teaching were misunderstood almost from the beginning of his ministry, both by the content of his own letters that frequently address these misconceptions, as well as by scenes like the one in Acts 21:17-24:

17When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law(emphasis mine)

It is interesting to note that Peter indicates that those who “twist” Paul’s words in error are “lawless people,” in light of this other passage in Acts.  Apparently the notion that Paul taught that the Law was “done away with” or “canceled out” in some way was circulating before he was even martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.  Scripture calls this charge against Paul false here in Acts 21, yet many will try and do hermeneutic gymnastics to wave away the problem here in this passage.  This has created an uncomfortable tension for many between Paul and James, particularly in a supposed contradiction between Paul’s proclamation of salvation by grace through faith apart from works and James adamant insistence on faith shown by works; or to state it in shorter form grace vs. works.

The problem with this particular conundrum is that it actually finds Paul in contradiction with himself in his own writings.  In Romans for instance, Paul makes some rather startling statements about “works”:

6He will render to each one according to his works: 7to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:6-8

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. – Romans 2:13

But then of course, Paul goes on to say that all have sinned (i.e. no one keeps the Law anyway) and so it is argued that these earlier statements don’t mean what they appear to mean at face value (which is to say that obedience to God is important in some way), despite the fact that Paul concludes chapter 3 with an affirmation of that very idea:

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Is Paul self-contradictory?  When he states in 1 Corinthians 7:19 that, “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God,” is he just blowing smoke again?  Or do we have a bad handle on what Paul is trying to say as a whole perhaps?

I have spent a lot of time lately reading the letters written by Paul that make up a great deal of our New Testament.  I embarked on this with great care after encountering a couple of paradigm-shifting insights that came from two different sources.  One is an excellent book called Paul the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young; and the other is a 29 part sermon series from D. T. Lancaster of Beth Immanuel, which you can listen to by following the link (I recommend you listen in order although many of them stand alone very well also).  The information I have gleaned from these two sources have made reading Paul a much more understandable affair.  He is indeed difficult to understand without context and effort, but the work that is put into understanding him correctly is well worth it.  Paul’s epistles line up well with all of the other writers of the New Testament, once you understand his idioms and his perspective as a messenger, an Apostle, to the Gentiles.

Paul’s letters are written to Gentiles primarily as instruction, that they do not need to convert to Judaism to become a part of God’s people (see Romans 9-11); and his frequent admonitions against the “works of the law” are in most cases a rebuke of those who tried to convince the Gentiles that their justification would only be complete by conversion to a legal Jewish status i.e. “works of the law.” They are not an admonition to Gentiles to forsake obedience to the instructions given by God in the law that pertain to holiness (being set apart from the world).  This is why Paul sees fit to include much in his letters that amounts to instruction in righteous living, instruction that is completely in step with the commandments of the Torah as regards a life that is pleasing to God.  The Law was never given for salvation (not even to Israel as some seem to think).  In fact, the idea that salvation could be obtained by obedience to the Law is not found anywhere in the Old Testament and yet some people seem to think that is what the Israelites believed and taught. In reality, the problem was a stubborn conviction that as God’s chosen people, they were automatically immune to any need to obey or follow His instructions (an attitude that shows up in many churches today), because God would forgive them no matter what they did.  Paul lays the boom on this and consequently on Christians who might think that justification comes from some sort of “membership” in Romans 11:20b-23:

They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Paul is very direct in warning the Gentile believers not to be cocky about their newfound position within the people of God.  This is sobering stuff and Paul continues to talk about this as he winds down the book of Romans:

14I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed

-Romans 15:14-18

Paul’s own words of what Christ accomplished through his ministry is that the Gentiles were brought to obedience by word and deed.  Two thousand years removed, there are still some who wish to diminish Paul’s message and ministry as they have done since the beginning “to their own destruction.”  Let us not be like that, rather “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17b-18)

Categories: Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, False Teachers, Gospel, Grace, Hebrew, Law, Salvation, theology, Truth | 9 Comments

Picture Perfect

I was reading some blogs and ran across an interesting question that was posed in the comments of one by the blog’s author and a frequent commenter here, Steve from theoldadam.  The question revolves around Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5 that instructs us that we are to “be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect,” which is Matthew 5:48 to be specific.  What does it mean to “be perfect?”  Is this a serious instruction for us or is it some kind of expression intended to point to our inherent imperfection in some way?

There are many who would suggest that it is the latter.  In fact, there are many who look at the entire Sermon on the Mount section of Matthew (chapters 5-7) as some kind of uberlaw that is unattainable and used to exaggerate our own sinful state.  I even found myself in this same category for many years.  I had long assumed that Jesus was “raising the bar” if you will and elevating lust to the level of adultery and hate to the level of murder.  I believed that Jesus was pointing out the utter inability of humanity to attain to God’s standard at all.  The last year or two has seen a shattering of that mode of interpretation for me.  When I saw this question about the perfection statement; it got me to thinking again.  What is Jesus trying to say? Continue reading

Categories: Bible Misunderstandings, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Freedom, Gospel, Grace, Kingdom, Law, Love, Messiah, ministry, Questions, Salvation, theology, Truth, Yeshua | 23 Comments

Bible Misunderstandings: Peter’s Vision in Acts 10

This is the post that I have been planning to write for the last week or so.  I guess it made more sense to wait until after I had preached the sermon anyway.  Now that the sermon audio for this message has been uploaded to the church site, I will write out some thoughts as a companion here.

When I was studying the text and commentaries and such for Acts 10, I was struck by how unusually obvious this particular misunderstanding is when we stop to think about it for a minute or two.  Let me throw this statement at you and then we will examine its validity.  Peter’s vision is not about food!

Continue reading

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, Discipleship, Hebrew, Law, Questions, theology, Truth | 9 Comments

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