Context is Key: Literary Context

February 8, 2020

Welcome back friends. This is the second of three posts about context. The first post dealt with historical context and this post will deal with the most widely used literary context. The literary context is the set of circumstances that define how a passage is understood through a variety of factors like genre, the occasion, and purpose of a document. Genre of course deals with what type of book it is, poetry, history, a letter, a biography, and so on.  The occasion of a document has to do with what was going on at the time the author wrote the document or the circumstances that caused the author write the recipients.

Sometimes the purpose is stated plainly in a book and other times you must connect the dots from the majority of the text itself.In many of Paul’s letters he begins with a similar greeting and prayer and will share the purpose for his letter at the start. Other books of the Bible will give a purpose in the middle or at some other point of the book. For example in John 20:30-31 the author states the purpose, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

Bible scholar, Darrell Bock defines it as “the context of the surrounding passages. It’s the way in which you move into the passage that you’re looking at. It’s the way you move out of it. It’s even the way the wording is expressed within the passage. All these generate literary features, things like genre—and just the way in which the sentences are put together, the things that are appealed to, make up the literary context.”[1]

One of the easiest ways to understanding the context of a passage is to look at the text around the passage at different levels. First take a look at the 30,000 ft up view.  What are the main subjects of the entire book? If you can read the whole book that’s the best option. Most Bibles will have a introduction at the beginning of the book to give you some general ideas if you can’t read the entire book in one sitting. Next you can zoom in a bit closer and look at the main topics of each section. Most Bibles will include headings that divide the book into larger sections. Keep in mind that these were added by publishers and may vary in their location. You can’t always trust the chapter markings either, because sometimes the flow of though will continue through the chapters. Next zoom in closer and look at the paragraphs before and after the passage that you are looking at. Can you summarize the paragraph in one sentence?

Occasionally, Bibles will have an outline at the beginning of the book as well. Different publishers or commentaries may disagree on the sections and outline arrangements so it is good to look a couple of them. See where you agree or disagree with the author or publisher as you read through the book of the Bible. Fee and Stuart note that as you read through a book of the Bible, “the most important contextual question you will ever ask—and it must be asked over and over of every sentence and every paragraph—is, “What’s the point?” We must try to trace the author’s train of thought.”[2] Let’s look at a couple of examples, one from 1 Corinthians and another from John 3 and try it.

John 3:5

Let’s start with John 3 and look at a single verse in the Bible. In John 3 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and begins a discussion over Jesus’s origins from God. Jesus immediately turns the conversation to what it takes for someone to see the kingdom of God, he “must be born again.” Nicodemus questions “How can a man be born when he is old?” v. 4 and then Jesus makes this statement in verse 5. “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” Some who believe that baptism is necessary to having eternal life will use this verse to point out that Jesus is hinting at baptism which was a practice that was done by first century Jews (like John the baptist). Is that really what Jesus was saying? Others that believe that this verse is referring to a specific point of salvation for someone who puts their faith in Jesus.

So we have two interpretations, but which one is the right one? They both cannot be right. The answer lies in the context.  Our first step is to read the verses before and after verse 5 that we are questioning. Can we find any immediate clues that help us? Nothing in verse 4 really offers any help but the verse that follows does. Verse 6 begins, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Jesus expands on the two births (water and the Spirit) required to see the kingdom of heaven. The Spirit gives birth to the spirit. Notice the difference between the upper and lower case showing that the Holy Spirit gives birth to the human spirit. But the word “water” in verse 4 is now changed to “flesh” when Jesus says that “flesh gives birth to flesh.” Water in verse 4 cannot refer to baptism, as verse 5 clearly points to water being the physical birth. Anyone who has had a child knows that the mother’s water has to break first for the child to be born, hence Jesus’s allusion to it in verse 4.

1 Corinthians 13

Now let’s look at a entire passage and zoom out a little for this next example. Many people are familiar with the Love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) as it is affectionately called. It is used at countless weddings for Christians as a example of what true love should look like between two people. While it is used for many weddings it is actually written not for 2 people who are being married.The context tells us that it has a much larger application for the church. If you read the chapters before and after chapter 13 you will find that they are talking about spiritual gifts (12:1-11) and the body being made up many parts all working together using these gifts (12:12-31). In chapter 14 Paul returns to a discussion on spiritual gifts (14:1-25) and then having order in church worship services (14:26-40). All these chapters seem to flow and fit together but the love chapter is placed right in the middle. Paul is trying to convey in the importance of gifts how they can be divisive among believers that they should above all “love each other” as a church as they use their gifts. In addition to these chapters before and after 1 Corinthians 13 we know that one of the main purposes that Paul wrote the first letter to the church in Corinth was to address the many problems and fights that were taking place among the believers there. After Paul opens his letter to the church at Corinth with the standard greeting and prayer he wastes no time with the purpose of his letter. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:10-11). While we can still enjoy 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings the next time you hear it quoted remember that it was meant for the church to operate their spiritual gifts in love together as the bride of Christ.

 

[1] Darrell L. Bock, BI100 Learn to Study the Bible, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[2] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 27.


Context is Key: Historical Context

February 3, 2020

Hey friends, the best way to understanding the Bible is through its context. If you get the context wrong you are liable to interpret the passage that you are reading wrong as well. According to the Oxford Dictionary context is defined as, “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” Bible scholar Darrell Bock divides context into three areas of study, historical context, social-cultural context, and the literary context. We will briefly look at these three areas in three different posts and dig deeper into them over time.

Historical Context

The historical context has to deal with factors that relate to the setting of the book/letter in the time that it was written as well as the event or person in the book that is being described. Factors that make up the historical context might be things like technology, nations in power, historical people and events, geographic boarders, and more.

One example where having the right historical context is found in Revelation 3:14-16.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (NIV 1984)

Years ago as a teen I remember reading this verse and wondering why God would rather the church at Laodicea either be hot or cold, but not lukewarm? I had always heard other Christians challenge students to be “on fire” for the Lord in their faith. I began thinking allegorically, maybe Jesus would rather have us to be either “on fire” in our relationship with Christ or either completely “cold” where we don’t even reflect ourselves as Christians than for us to be “lukewarm” in our faith and not be a very good example to others around us. I wrongly associated these verses with modern thoughts of my day.

Laodicea Aqueduct

Laodicean Aqueduct with bathhouse remains from Logos Bible Software

Revelation Cities Map

If I had known the historical context of the city of Laodicea I would have understood this passage in a completely different way. The Lexham Bible Dictionary fills us in more on history of the city. The comment like has allusions to “the Laodicean water supply, which was lukewarm—particularly unappealing in contrast to the cold stream-fed water in nearby Colossae and the hot springs in Hierapolis, which were perhaps valued for more pleasurable bathing or medicinal usefulness.”1 The city of Laodicea was not seated near the preferred water or cold water of the neighboring cities. In this case being “cold” would have been a good thing and not a reflection of a lack of a relationship with Christ.

Here are two other examples we can look at. First, from the Old Testament, we learn about Solomon’s massive wealth and military strength in his collection of chariots. Today’s reader might be tempted to scan past the inventory that Solomon had that is recorded in 1 Kings 4:25. “Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses.” You might likely view these chariots and horses as primitive as compared to the weapons we have today but this is the exact opposite that the author is trying to convey. In Solomon’s day the chariot was the most advanced tool of war. “Many of the biblical references to chariots occur in the books of 1–2 Kings. In those books, the references include battles as well as the number of chariots certain kings had under their command. For example, 1 Kings 10:26 records that Solomon had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, and 1 Kgs 10:29 lists the cost of a chariot as 600 shekels of silver—an explicatory note concerning Solomon’s wealth.”2

Map of Israel

1st Century Israel

Moving back to the New Testament, in John 5:1 we read, “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.” It has been pointed out by many today that Galilee (where Jesus was coming from) is north of Jerusalem. Skeptics will ask, “how could Jesus go up if he was traveling south?” The answer is geography. When Jesus left the region of Samaria to go to Jerusalem he traveled up (in elevation) to Jerusalem. For those who live in the united states, do not get a picture of the Appalachian or Rocky Mountains. The mountains in Israel are much milder, but they are big enough to warrant the description of traveling up. Coincidentally this is also why when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) where the man travels “down” the road to Samaria. The people in the first century knew nothing about magnetic north or compass headings but, knowing geography answers the question.

Look for more historical context in future posts and feel free to share what you are reading or if you have a question about a passage in the Bible.

 

1) David Seal, “Laodicea,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

2) Matthew James Hamilton, “Chariot,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).


Translations: Which One is the Right One?

January 25, 2020

How many times have you heard that we can’t trust the Bible because there are so many different versions or that it has been changed multiple times? Maybe you have heard someone else make a comment about a translation either good or bad? Even worse, skeptics or unbelievers will make a claim that some word in our current versions today was not in the original version adding doubt to what it says. With so many different versions which one is right or should you choose? In this blog, we will look at some history behind the translations, the differences between them, and some basic terminology you will want to be familiar with. We will dig deeper into this issue in a later post.

Logos Screen Shot

A Text Comparison on 1 Sam. 28:13 in Logos Bible Software.

First, lets start with a few basic terms.

Autograph – The original document that was written.

Manuscript – A hand written copy of the original document. The copy could either be a copy from an autograph or another manuscript. There are other types of copies that were made (minuscules, codexs, and unicals) but we will save those for later.

Textual Variant – A single difference between two manuscript copies. They could be as little as a single letter or word and occasionally longer phrases, or entire section.

Family of Manuscripts – A group of handwritten manuscripts that share characteristics and similar textual variants usual by a location.

Translation – A copy of a text from language to another. There are some translations that keep the same original language but cover a longer period of time and are considered a translation by the larger changing of words and idioms because of their defining cultural differences. For Example: The 1611 King James Version is a different translation than the 1900 KJV translation that most people use today.

The best option is to read the Bible is in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) but for anyone who has not studied the languages their only option left is to read a translation.  Are you ready for this next statement? “There are no perfect translations.” Any time you go from one language to another it is not a literal word to word translation.

There are a number of reasons why translations differ from each other. The first reason is because of the theory of translation that is used. Translators can aim toward a  formal equivalent style (word for word) where they try to match words directly from the original language to the receptor language. These are often called “literal” translations but, remember this is not completely accurate as literal word for word translation is impossible. The KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, and Interlinear are examples of formal equivalents.

Translators can aim toward a dynamic equivalent or functional equivalent style (phrase for phrase) where they attempt to convey the message in a more readable manner through grammar, language, and style. For examples they may update biblical weights, lengths, and time measurements or change cultural idioms to match the current idioms understood today. The NLT, NIV, TNIV, NRSV, and CSB are examples of dynamic equivalents often used today.

Last, translators can aim toward a free translation or paraphrased version. According to Fee and Stuart, a free translation is “the attempt to translate the ideas from one language to another, with less concern about using the exact words of the original. A free translation, sometimes also called a paraphrase, tries to eliminate as much of the historical distance as possible and still be faithful to the original text.[1] The Living Bible and the Message Bible are examples of a free translation.

Translation Continium Chart

A second reason why Bible translations differ is because of exegetical decisions that the translator(s) make based on the language and the context that it is within. The screenshot above with 1 Samuel 28:13 is a perfect example of this reason. Both the NLT and ESV use the word “god” in their translations while the NIV uses the word “ghostly figure” and the NKJV uses “spirit.” The original Hebrew word used is “elohim” and you might be familiar with this word as a name for god. This is true a vast majority of the time but occasionally elohim can can also be used in other senses as well meaning angel, spirit, or a spiritual being.

Try This: How many different ways can you use the word “hand” in a sentence? I can think of about eight different ways the word is used and means something different in the context its used.

Another place in Scripture where this exegetical decision-making is found is in Psalm 8:5. The different translations use “angels” (NIV, NKJV), “God” (NLT), or “heavenly beings” (ESV). But what makes it interesting is that the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8:5 in Hebrews 2:7 and uses the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint) which uses the distinct Greek word for “angels.”

Textual Criticism is another reason that some translations vary in their wording. You can imagine that because we have so many manuscript copies of the Old and New Testament documents that there are quite a number of textual variants between the copies over the hundreds and even thousands of years that have passed. It is not my aim to dive into a deep discussion on textual criticism in this post, I will save that for another post. Because of the differences between some manuscripts or family of manuscripts sometimes translators are forced to make a decision about which word to use because of a discrepancy. However, there is no reason to fear these textual variants. 99.5 percent of them are missing/added letters that might change a word into another word.

Try This: How many English words can you change into a different word by adding or deleting one letter? Example: Bran –> Brain or There –>Here.

The remaining half a percent of variants are minor and do not change any doctrine or theology that the Bible teaches. The translators will examine the remaining texts in question and choose the word they believe the original text their manuscript represents. Again, have no fear, most modern Bibles today will put the opposing variant in footnotes at the bottom of the page in your Bible so you can see the differences yourself. This gives us confidence and comfort knowing exactly what we have.

IMG_9884

Footnote on Colossians 1:14

These variants usual are separated by the different families of manuscripts because of the “inbreeding” that occurs copying other manuscripts in nearby locations. There are generally 3 families that are recognized by location; Western (mostly Latin) texts from Italy and the West, texts from around Asia Minor in the east (Byzantium, in what is now Turkey), and those from Egypt, particularly Alexandria. The Alexandrian texts are currently the oldest surviving manuscripts (thanks to the dry Egyptian climate) but the Byzantine manuscripts are far greater in number and can allow greater accuracy in seeking the original text. The majority of current scholarship leans toward the Alexandrian manuscripts as the more accurate.

The example in the picture above, from Colossians 1:14.

Col 1 14

The KJV and NKJV both have the phrase “through his blood” while the other translations do not. This is because the KJV and NKJV are translations build from later copies of the Western manuscripts and the Textus Receptus (TR) which carried over 1,000 years of copyist errors before many more older manuscripts that have now been discovered. Many “King James only” loyalist have accused the other translations of “taking the blood out” of their translations. Not to fear, the blood is in all the manuscripts in Ephesians 1:7.

One final area that causes translations to differ is the constant changing through time that words seem to undergo. A classic example is 1 Peter 2:12 which in the KJV the word “conversation” is used and in newer English versions the word “conduct” is used instead.  This is because in the time that the KJV was written the people would have understood conversation to be how they conducted themselves while today we would understand conversation to refer specifically to speech and not actions.

You may have seen the article floating around social media about the word “homosexual” being added to the Bible. In Greek, Paul uses two words that make up the English phrase  “men who practice homosexuality” (ESV).  Arsenokoitai and malakoi are the two terms that Paul uses.  One for the male active partner and the other for the passive partner. So in the KJV (before the term was coined by a German psychologist) you have the phrase “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” In later translations the word “homosexuals” replaces the long phrase in the KJV translation.  In Greek Arsenokoitai literally means “men who bed men.” If you want to dig deeper on this subject you can read my blog Open Letter to Bishop Richard Wilke here.

There are other reasons why translations may differ but these are the main reasons. Now lets finally get to the questions I posed at the start of this blog. Which translation is right? Are some better than others?  Which one should I use? Answer: It depends. Obviously, there are some bad translations, like the New World Translation (NWT) that is used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to support their view that Jesus is not God. Another, the Queen James Bible (also known as the gay Bible) which was translated to take the recent liberal interpretation of anti-homosexual passages and twist them toward an affirming position.  I am not familiar with every English translation (there are over 100!) but the main ones I have referenced in this blog are solid. I do lean to the more modern translations and not on the KJV or NKJV because recent archeological discoveries have gifted us with more and more manuscripts from which to compare with.

Which one you choose may depend on what you want to do with your reading. If you are wanting to read in a more devotional manner you might pick a free or functionally equivalent translation so you can read without having to stop and look up the meanings of things. If you are wanting to dive deep and study slowly you probably would prefer a formal equivalent to get as close to the text as possible. When I am studying or preparing for a Bible study or sermon I like to use two or three different Bibles side by side. This way I can see the differences and something that might be difficult in one translation is explained through the wording of another. If you are memorizing Scripture you might want to stick to one translation consistently. Many people enjoy the poetic feel of the KJV over the more modern versions for this.

When choosing a translation keep in mind that some are translated by a single person and others might be translated by a team or committee. Those who use a committee are more likely to debate the hard choices of words and will often put the minority opinion wording in a footnote at the bottom. It’s always better to have multiple minds looking at an issue unless you know those minds have an agenda ahead of time.

Finally, there are some recent translations that have gone to a gender neutral approach. The NIV 2011 edition is one example. Where Paul or another author would address a group of male and female believers as “brothers,” the newer versions will replace this with “brothers and sisters” or other places that generically point to all believers in the male pronouns will use gender neutral pronouns like “they” or “persons.” There are some issues when doing this because it often changes the pronouns from singular to plural by necessity. John 8 is an example of this, “Let him (singular) who is without sin cast the first stone” becomes “person” because “them” is plural. The main point is to be aware of these changes as you study.

Feel free to share what translation you like to use and why you like that translation. There is much more on this topic and we have barely scratched the surface on this. There will be other posts later dealing with specific things in the future.

[1] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Won this Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 41.


Just Start Reading

January 20, 2020

Hey Friends, Happy New Year!

Its a new year and I wanted to encourage you to go on a journey with me through the Bible this year. I have recently changed the focus of this blog from apologetics to focusing on the Bible. Did you know that only about five percent of Americans will read the entire Bible in there lifetime? Many people who call themselves “Christians” do not even read the Bible very much outside of a church setting.

Last year I interacted with many progressive Christians and some atheists. I found that they both have a similar view of the Bible. They doubted it was true, inerrant, or inspired by God. Often they would misunderstand a passage or the culture in which it was written in. I decided to start creating blogs and videos that I could use to teach others about God’s Word.

If you have never read through the Bible before I would challenge you to give it a try. If you read about 3.3 chapters a day you can get through all 1,189 chapters in the Bible in a year. For some people (like me) three chapters is a lot for your mind to tackle in one sitting, just lower the bar and read a single chapter. Several years ago I took almost four years to read through the Bible at one chapter a day, but it allowed me to reflect on more of what I read each day.

If you have never read the Bible before or are unfamiliar with Christianity I would encourage you to read the Gospel of John first. It will give you a good summary of Jesus teaching and life. You can also start in Genesis because so much of the rest of the Bible relates to it.

IMG_9813IMG_9816

There are so many tools you can use to help you keep track of your Bible reading and to help you understand it as you go through it. There are reading plans you can print out ans keep in your Bible.  Click here to download a Bible Reading Chart.

There are apps you can use on your phones and tablets to read and they will automatically keep up with what you have read.

Finally, there are websites you can access if you want a little more back story or information about what you are reading.

The Bible is the number one best seller of all books each year. Many people who read it claim that it has changed their life. So many other religions want to make a claim about who Jesus is. They say he is just a wise sage, good moral, teacher, or maybe even a prophet. Why not go directly to the source and see what Jesus taught and how he lived.

Jesus in Other Religions

Feel free to reply and share what you are reading?  If you have ever read through the Bible or attempted to before. I am currently reading 2 chapters in the Old Testament, 1 chapter in the New Testament, and part of a chapter in the wisdom books (psalms, proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.) this year.


Open Letter to Bishop Richard Wilke

August 30, 2019

Yesterday, my wife sent me a post from her social media feed that she had found on a friends page.  We talked about it for a little bit and then I felt led to write a response to it.  Below is the link to the article I read and then my response follows.  It is a brief reply, because you can literally write books on these issues and verses. I wish I didn’t have to write anything about this topic, but I feel compelled to do so because of the ramifications that will take place if I don’t say anything. I am not harping on this issue alone, there are many areas the church can address. I view it as a continued conversation on the current issues in our culture. I have attempted to remove the log out of my eye first, before I point out someone else’s splinter. I seek to speak the truth in love at all times.  I welcome your comments below.

The Original Article from Bishop Richard Wilke

Gay daughter sent bishop back to Scriptures

Dear Rev. Wilke,

I read your article and too am saddened by the issue that is consuming our churches and culture today. But, for a complete different reason than you are. I see the erosion of truth and the authority of God’s Word being changed, diminished, and twisted not by outsiders of the faith, but those from inside. God does hold those who teach and have authority over others in higher regard.   Here are a few thoughts on your article.

First, I think it is very naïve of you to take your daughters “coming out” to not as an issue of influence.  While parents are the most powerful influence on their children, they are not the only influence. Culture, movies, music, and media are a powerful influence on people today.  I believe it was 18th century writer Andrew Fletcher that said “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”  

Secondly, you make the statement “Still, I knew I had some work to do. I needed to reconcile my commitment to scriptural authority with loving and accepting my daughter.” In this statement you unknowning contradict yourself. For you cannot keep Scriptural authority if you want to find an alternative interpretation of Scripture that lines up with your “loving acceptance” (perhaps a feeling or experience) of your daughter.  Instead, you should have chosen to reconcile your loving feelings with the authority of Scripture. I believe you may also have convinced yourself of a wrong definition of loving your daughter.  Who says love let’s people do what they want? Statistics show that often those who struggle with same sex attraction or have friends and family that do, will be more likely to find interpretations of the biblical texts that are pro-LGBTQ.  Indeed relationships are a powerful influence on our thoughts and beliefs. I could comment more about this wrong idea of love, but I will move on to the more important part of your article, the Scriptures.

Third, it is true that the Bible does speak “little” about the issue of homosexuality, there is a reason for this. The Bible was written in the shadow of the Genesis narrative with Adam and Eve.  This foundation flows through many of the Scriptures in the Old and New Testament, especially dealing with this issue which I will explain below. There was no need for the Bible to say much about it, Jewish scholars on both sides, conservative and liberal both agreed that it was behavior against God’s design. In fact you will find that no church leader up until the last half of the twentieth century supported it.

The heterosexual relationship/marriage is assumed all throughout the Bible. The Mosaic laws (even 3 of the 10 commandments), the psalms, books of wisdom, the gospels, many of the epistles, all use the corresponding pronouns to a male/female relationship. Not one time is a homosexual relationship spoken of in a positive light.

So now we come to the meat of this debate, the Scriptures.  You are right, context is indeed the key to finding out what is the proper interpretation of these passages. Many people have different “interpretations” of these passages, what stops someone from saying “that’s just your interpretation and I have my interpretation,” is the question, which one is the correct interpretation?

The Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah (from here S&G) is definitely not the strongest passage from which to base an argument against homosexuality, but since you mentioned it I will address it. While the townspeople may have acted inhospitable and in rape and violence, there is clearly more going on here. The men want to “know” the two visitors that are Lot’s guests. We both understand that the word “know” can be taken in different senses, but the context tells the key.  Lot replies to the men of the city,

“I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.”

It would be very strange for Lot’s daughter to not “know” any other men in a sense other than a sexual one. Second, it is important to note that God had already judged the city for destruction, hence His discussion with Abraham (Gen. 18:20), before this inhospitable act. Third, if we are debating what the sin of S&G was that caused destruction it would be rather strange for God to destroy a city for inhospitality or pride alone. But, in the Mosaic Law homosexual acts are punishable by death.

You quoted the Ezekiel passage that talks about S&G but you failed to mention the other two passages that also speak of it. Second Peter 2:4-10 discusses the destruction of S&G. Peter writes in verse 7,

“if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked.”

The key word being “sensual” refer to sexual conduct. Jude 7 also discusses the two Old Testament cities. Jude states,

“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

This passage again points to a sexual immorality, the general term for all sexual sins, and the accompanying destruction. In your quote of the Ezekiel passage, we may get a more detailed account of what was going on with the things that were listed, but you stopped just short of a very telling phrase in the Ezekiel passage.  Ezekiel continues in verse 50,

“They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”

The word “abomination” is very telling.  It brings up reflections of the Leviticus 18 passage. I will grant that there may have been other sins that were committed by the people of S&G but there is too much evidence that points to a wicked sexual act.

Next you discuss the Leviticus 18 passage and as a good revisionist you point out that Lev. 17-26 is part of the holiness code, intended strictly for Israel to follow and represent Jehovah God before the nations around them.

A closer examination of the chapters will show that Leviticus 18 really stands out differently than the rest of the chapters.  It begins and ends with the Lord reemphasizing a warning to follow the commands listed unlike those in the other chapters. All of the commands deal specifically with sexual sins and the other chapters are more randomized. Aside from the other texts that speak on homosexuality in the New Testament, you should also ask yourself the reason behind the holiness code to begin with. Did God not want Israel to perform child sacrifice to Molech “just because,” or was it perhaps the actual acts that God found detestable themselves. It was not simply a preference as one prefers ice cream flavors, God actually had a reason for commanding Israel not to live and practice as the other nations around them did. At the end of Leviticus 18 we read that God had already judged the other nations for these same practices.

“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled” (vv. 24-27).

This seems to point that it was the actual acts themselves that were evil in the eyes of the Lord and not just meant to “raise the bar” in a spiritual moral way.

Turning to the New Testament, you seem to gloss over these verses rather quickly and not even give specific references. Romans 1:26-27 is probably the most telling of the verses in all of Scripture.  Yes, the most common form of homosexuality practiced in the Roman world was the pederasty that was done with an adult man and a young boy around the age of 12. But if you read what Paul says,

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

In the Roman world there was no female equivalent of pederasty, this was only a practice done by the men.  Also the Scripture says “men committed indecent acts with other men.”  Paul did not use the Greek word for a young boy as well. Furthermore, if Paul wanted to condemn the practice of pederasty he could have simply used the separate Greek term for that and not the general term that he used.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul elaborates on a number of sins that those who “practice” (being a key word) these will not inherent eternal life. This is a good time to point out that we all struggle with sin. That is a biblical truth. It is important to point out that nowhere in Scripture does it condemn anyone who is tempted with same-sex attraction. In the same way for someone who is tempted to steal, or use fowl langue, or another temptation.  We do not pick only on one issue and ignore the rest. I understand that for various reasons people struggle with temptations, but we must not give into those temptations, thus committing sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states;

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

In Greek, Paul uses two words that make up our English phrase above “men who practice homosexuality.” Arsenokoitai and malakoi are the two terms that Paul uses.  One for the male active partner and the other for the passive partner. The Greek word Arsenokoitai is connected with the passage from Leviticus 18 from Paul’s use in the passage and can illusions those practices that were described there. There have been articles recently that have tried to soften the language of Scripture. Things like, “The word homosexual was not added into the Bible until recently” and so on.  While this is true on a technicality, it misrepresents what the Greek says. It lists both the active and passive partner in a “homosexual act” and that’s where we have coined the term homosexuality from.  This is similar where people would say the word “trinity” is not in the Bible or “inerrant” but at the same time the words describe it to be the equivalent word used today.  There is much more that could be elaborated on with the Greek but I will move on to another issue in this article.

And finally, we come to Jesus and His teaching and what He did and did not address.  It is a bad argument to say that Jesus never discussed XYZ and so XYZ must be permissible. There are a lot of things that Jesus never discussed. Grand thief auto, internet pornography, and so on. I have already mentioned above why I believe the Bible (including Jesus) doesn’t speak more on this issue but Jesus did affirm the Genesis creation account between a man and woman in Matthew 19.

Many have quoted Jesus’s interactions with the sinners, tax collectors, and the women of the street. They quickly point out that His love for them was far and above what the religious leaders of the day had shown to them. I agree with you, Mr. Wilke, that we should all strive to imitate Christ in this manner. I would even agree that some Christians have been right out mean and hateful to the LGBTQ community and that is wrong. But, that doesn’t mean that we change what Scripture plainly teaches in order to change the behavior of some Christians who need a lesson on manners and just being friendly.

At the same time, pro-LGBTQ friendly Christians don’t seem to read the whole story of Jesus ministry. He did tell the adulterous woman to “go and sin no more.” He did heal people, invite them, but he also told them to leave there life of sin. I recently saw a quote by Sinclair Ferguson,

“It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather He accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. Nor does He leave us the way He found us, but to transform us into the likeness of His son.”

Many authors like Matthew Vines, Justin Lee have written in their books about the “bad fruit” that they believe Christians are producing when they do not accept the lifestyles of the LGBTQ community. They connect the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 with this same idea but they are missing Jesus point about what real fruit actually is.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-23,

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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.’”

Notice that Jesus started out by pointing out the false prophets were the ones who produced bad fruit. What is the good fruit that Jesus is talking about here? It is found in the last verses 21-23, “he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Obedience to God’s commands is the good fruit we should aim for. Not an obedience out of fear or to earn salvation.  It is a gift of grace, but obedience out of love for God who has done so much for us that we want to love Him back. This love toward God says, I am a sinner, I need to let Christ transform me and make me more like his character and his teachings. I yield my weakness, my struggles, and my desires to the one who gave me eternal life and saved me from my sins.

I pray that you may consider these Scriptures again and place God’s Word as the top authority over your life as I do. We can still love LGBTQ family, friends, and people that we all may interact with and have a candid conversation with them.

Humbly,

John W.


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The Kavanaugh Hearings and Truth

October 3, 2018

kavanaugh-fordWithout stepping into the mud slinging fight, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss the Kavanaugh hearings and how it relates to the diminishing definition of Truth in our culture.

We have been in a post modern world since the last half of the twentieth century and the watering down of Truth through relativism has spawned phrases like “religious truth” or “your truth.” When there is a disagreement, the standard reply given by many post modern’s is “that is true for you, but not for me.” As a recent example, Senator Corey Booker complemented Dr. Ford on bravely sharing “your truth” in the hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Much was made of the emotions from both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh in the judicial hearing on September 27. Their emotional testimony was used for evidence and counter evidence in support for both sides of the argument. Hearing comments from across America like “I believe his/her testimony because they sounded so believable.” This is an example of an additional shift in the priority of Truth. Emotion has taken a higher priority over Truth. Evidence takes a back seat to emotion.

As a student pastor, who engages students in apologetics I have seen this shift of thinking in conversation with students. One can present compelling evidence to students and still have them give you the “deer in the headlights” look when it goes against the cultural norm of the day. I first noticed this several years ago when I attended a Secular Student Alliance chapter in local high school. At the outset of the meeting students introduced themselves and quickly stated their worldview. The question was posed, “which is the right view of reality?” There were multiple students who felt that the competing views were all the right. There was no conflict. I tried to press the issue in my disbelief and give an example to illustrate my point that they could not all be right.

Mark Matlock has offered some insight on the importance of relationships with students and the acceptance of Truth. In the book Apologetics for a New Generation, edited by Sean McDowell, Matlock discusses how students know and find meaning.  Matlock noticed that “students who held to a core of seven basic doctrinal beliefs differed profoundly from their peers when it came to beliefs in supernatural and experimenting with occult activities.”1 As he dug in deeper he discovered that it wasn’t the students personality, what type of thinker they were, or even if they were initially open or hostile to Christianity. “Rather, those who were able to absorb propositional statements of doctrinal truths best were those who were emotionally healthy.”2

Matlock cites work from Doctor Dan Sigel who divides how the human brain learns and remembers things both “explicitly” and “implicitly.”  These are our active and passive ways we learn through all the various experiences we undergo in life.  Matlock notes that these two types of learning must be paired together in order to have maximum impact in helping students know and discover truth.

What should apologist and church leaders do in response to this loss of Truth? I suggest three areas in which to set goals and continue to seek after.

  1. Continue to seek after godly relationship with those they disciple.  It is more than an hour or two a week in a classroom setting.  Pastors and teachers should assist their classroom learning of biblical doctrine or philosophical Truth with additional implicit learning times through relationships and activities.
  2. Continue to teach/preach biblical doctrine that will strengthen the family against a culture that seeks to destroy it at every level.  As the emotional health of our culture continues to decline, we must confront the perceived cultural norms with logic , reason, and biblical truth.  Parents and students will benefit from godly examples from Scripture that will help them amidst the many voices of our time.
  3. Continue to teach/preach the core aspects of philosophy, logic, and reason that firmly lay a foundation for Truth to stand.   Yes, academia has been radically flooded with liberal ideas, relative truth, and privatization, but we simply cannot give up the fight for Truth even though we might feel like we are facing a tidal wave against time tested principles of logic, reason, and Truth.  You may not be able to sway the masses, but use your scope of influence to the maximum potential.

Notes:

  1. Mark Matlock, Apologetics for a New Generation. 2009. Pg. 137.
  2. Matlock, Pg. 138.

Culture and the Beast

March 7, 2017

Beauty-and-the-Beast.jpgAs you may have heard, for the first time, Disney has produced a live-action film with a gay character.  Social media and blog sites will be filled with comments about it for the next weeks.  Coming off a great apologetics conference this weekend I am more assured than ever that how biblical Christianity responds to the film, Disney and others is as important as what words of truth we respond with.

I am not exactly sure what our response should be, but it should not be any different that how we respond to other sinful behaviors.  If you feel convicted to boycott Disney and their products you might want to be careful who you tell.  Are you prepared to keep your word even after the hype dies down?  A person without Christ may not understand your motives and modifying a person’s behavior should not be our first concern, their salvation is. Not to mention it is not our job, it is the role of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps a silent boycott would be better and reconsider not uploading the video of you running over your Disney movie collection with the lawnmower.

Here are a few thoughts for believers to consider.

  1. Do not be surprised. It has almost been 2 years since SCOTUS ruled that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states.  There are so many other television shows and movies that have already included it for years.  I am surprised that Disney did not join them earlier.  No doubt they considered this earlier and held off for various reasons.
  2. Use this as an opportunity to discuss sexuality and biblical marriage.   Our culture does not hesitate to show a variety of sexual behaviors and parents and Christian educators should be ready to respond to them with biblical truth and existential examples of how the consequences will be played out. I recommend a book by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet  called Same-sex Marriage.  It is a gentle and caring approach that explains what the Bible teaches about homosexuality and how we can respond to others in love.  This same discussion should happen of course with other topics like drugs and alcohol, language, violence, and so on.
  3. Use this to teach others about the power of media.  We all under stand the use of media and the power of suggestion.  Scottish writer Andrew Fletcher once said something close to “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” He knew the power of media in his day and we should also be aware of the messages in ours.  What percentage of Americans claims to be gay?  If you said two or three percent you are correct, but if you guessed much higher it is likely because the media over inflates reality with so many gay characters.  Some will dismiss this movie as just mere fiction, a rewrite of a cartoon classic, or chide you not to take it serous, but even in cartoons aspects of real life can be portrayed and are just as powerful.
  4. Say something, respond.   The worse thing you can do is nothing.  You may be tempted to just be quiet for a number of reasons.  You don’t want to lose your social media friends, you do not know what to say, or maybe you are apathetic and figure what is the use, we can’t stop the huge cultural wave that hits the shoreline again and again.If your friends unfollow  you it might be because they really were not that close to you after all, maybe you responded too harshly, or they are too easily offended. Just keep posting the cute kitten videos!  There are many negatives that come with social media that should be avoided.  It is better to speak to smaller groups that are like minded and one on one conversations are really best.  Know where you can speak freely and where you need to guard your tongue carefully around others.If you do not know what to say, this is a clue for you become clued in on this discussion.  Read and research the details so you can have a an intelligent conversation with someone about what you believe and why.  There are great resources that you can download, apps with podcasts to listen to, and a growing Christian resources that we have at our disposal.

    Finally, if you are apathetic about this issue, go ahead slap yourself now and wake up.  You may not be able to stop the oncoming waves hitting the shore but you can keep a lookout for someone to save in the water. It matters to them and you might not be able to save everyone, but you can save one.

I am sure that some will respond with truth by stating biblical verses and facts that support traditional marriage or condemning homosexual behavior.  Others may take the opposite approach and say it is our job to simply love and pray for those who live a homosexual life style.  The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Ephesus to “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).  This combination requires us to boldly and lovingly share Scripture with others. We must temper our words so that we are not out to bash someone, win an argument, or defend God as if he needs defending.  Have conversations with people to educate them, to consider a different point of view, or understand a Scripture passage.  It is not only about what we say, but how we say it.

 

Notes:

The NHIS reported in July 2014 that 1.6 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identify as bisexual.[1] In a Williams Institute review based on an June–September 2012 Gallup poll, approximately 3.4 percent of American adults identify themselves as being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).