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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It’s Resurrection Day, Forget the Bunny!

April 7, 2012

Since, it’s Resurrection Day, I figure I would make an easy post and spend time with the family.   The following is a collection of objections and answers to the resurrection of Jesus.  It has been a slowly growing as I read more  and add things to the Pile.   I will cite the authors and books at the end.  Many books have the similar information.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins”  As a Christian, EVERYTHING hangs on the resurrection.  Everything.  IT has turned many skeptics into followers.  I hope this will add to your faith and make it stronger.

OBJECTION 1: IT IS UNREASONABLE TO BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION

Because of the beliefs of many atheists and skeptics it is the last option that they would accept because of their presuppositions about the Bible, miracles, or belief in the existence of God.

ANSWER:

1. Because the resurrection was a physical resurrection and not just a spiritual one, there are many difficulties to faking the resurrection by stealing the body or some other means of trickery.  You have the following points.  Wrapped in a linen cloth and about 100 pounds of spices.  (Mixed together they form a gummy substance) Placed in tomb with a large stone weighing anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds.  There were Roman guards placed at the tomb to guard against any chance of trickery.  A Roman seal was placed on the tomb that if broken, would call for an investigation and death by crucifixion of the one responsible.   If a Roman Guard left his post he would face strict punishment.    There must have been a good reason for the guards to flee.

2. The Biblical account of the resurrection has the women to be the first ones appearing at the tomb.  This seems to be issue if you believe that the claims of the resurrection were made up.  During the Biblical times women had no right to much anything, they were not given the ability to testify in court except in a few cases.  If someone wanted people to believe a lie that Jesus really was alive, then why weaken the argument with women.  The reason the women were the first to the tomb and to witness Jesus is perhaps, because it actually happened that way.

3. Another issue is the reaction of the disciples.  The disciples had scattered after the arrest of Jesus for fear of their own lives.  Annas the high priest had been asking questions about Jesus followers also.  They had locked themselves in a room in fear of persecution that Jesus had warned them about.  (John 15)  Jesus had appeared to them and shown them his hands and side.  (Proof)  What followed then was the transformation of their lives.  They went from hiding to boldly proclaiming the news of his resurrection.   They were also willing to face opposition, cynicism, ridicule, hardship, prison, death, and death.

4. After the resurrection, the Christian faith exploded and many Jews had become followers of Jesus.  In doing so they left several key tenants of their faith behind.  Below are a list of some of the major ones.

  • The animal sacrifice system.
  • The binding supremacy of the laws of Moses.
  • Strict monotheism to a belief in the Trinity.
  • The Holiness of the Sabbath.
  • Belief in a conquering messiah to a humble, servant in Jesus.

5. The conversion of “hardcore” skeptics in NT times.   There are 3 mentioned in the section.  The apostle Paul, James the half-brother of Jesus, and Thomas who was not with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them in the room.    Each of the 3 are listed with the scripture references  within the Bible that show their conversion.  Paul is of course the strongest example because he was a well-known figure and his letter to the Corinthians is dated the earliest written and  he is well-known outside to the Bible  many with his writings.

6. Only the resurrection would explain the growth and survival of the church.  It is well documented about the persecution of the Christians in the first century.  Nero was well-known for his hatred for the Christians and Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians.  So, if the resurrection was fake and made up why would all the Jews and Gentiles have placed their lives in so much danger and trouble in less it was true?

7. There were too many appearances of Jesus to have the resurrection easily dismissed.   The 1 Corinthian letter from Paul lists the great number of people whom Jesus revealed himself too.  (Chapter 15 , also Acts 1:3)  At the time of Paul’s letter which is about 55-57 A.D.  Paul included that many of those witnesses were still alive.  This was most likely 20  years or so after the death and resurrection.  There would have been plenty of voices of opposition to Paul’s claim that Jesus had resurrected.

This proof reminds me of the Elvis or now, Michael Jackson example I have used for many years.  Imagine today that people started claiming that Elvis or Michael Jackson was not dead but had come back to life.  What if the number of people started growing and more and more people joined the band wagon.  All the families or government would have to do is open the casket or dig up the body to silence the critics.  One objection might be, “well the families wouldn’t want to do that.”  Maybe, but keep in mind that the government in Jesus day was not like that of today.  If they wanted to put an end to the Christian movement, all they had to do was produce the body.  They didn’t because they could not produce the body, it was gone.

OBJECTION 2: JESUS WAS NOT REALLY PHYSICALLY RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD, BUT RATHER IT WAS HIS ESSENCE – SOME PART OF HIM THAT LIVED AMONG THEM.

Many times critics will claim that the disciples did not see a real physically resurrected Jesus but rather a spiritual one or something to the equivalent.

ANSWER:

This would imply that the disciples went on and on about the resurrection of Jesus dishonestly and new it was a lie.  Or at the least ALL had hallucinations of Jesus resurrection to believe it was real.    I will look at the second part of the last sentence in another Objection next.  In Paul’s letters to the churches he specifically uses the word “Soma” which is translated body.  His repeated use of the term implies very much that Jesus had a physical resurrection.   Rhodes lists the scriptures that show us Jesus had a special glorified resurrected body, in which I will list for reference.

  •    Luke 24:39 – See my hands and feet, touch me to see.
  • John 2:19-21 – Jesus told about destroying the temple in 3 days and building it back up again.
  • Luke 24:30, 24:42-43, John 21:12-13, Acts 1:4  – Jesus ate food  4 different times.
  • John 20:17, Matthew 28:9, Luke 24:39 – He was touched and handled by many different people.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 – Paul talks of the body that goes down into the grave, and the body that comes up.

OBJECTION 3: JESUS WAS NOT PHYSICALLY RESURRECTED BUT SEEN BY HIS FOLLOWERS IN A SPIRITUAL SENSE.

This objection comes from the objection of skeptic Keith Parson, where he notes that the famous scripture in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 uses the word “ophthe” which has the meaning of either “seeing” with the literal eye or “seeing” with mind or spirit.  In other words because we do not know the clear meaning of that word, we can assume that it was a spiritual vision they saw and not a physical one.

ANSWER:

This objection does not fit well with the rest of the Bible and the use of others who saw the resurrected body of Jesus.    The numerous passages in the gospels as well as the other Pauline epistles.    It also does not work within the context of the same letter of Corinthians.  Paul also uses the phrase heaven vision to make a vision of a different type.

You can also look at the same answer above for more of the same evidence of Jesus having a physical resurrection and not just a spiritual one.

OBJECTION 4: THE DISCIPLES OR OTHER PEOPLE STOLE THE BODY OF JESUS, AND THE DISCIPLES ASSUMED HE HAD RISEN FROM THE DEAD.  Because we have tons of evidence that bodies don’t just rise from the dead or disappear into nothing or Heaven.  The only two options that we are left with is that someone stole the body or the tomb was not empty.

ANSWER:

There are several issues that make the likelihood of the disciples taking the body of Jesus.  Below are some listed from the first objection above.

Wrapped in a linen cloth and about 100 pounds of spices.  (Mixed together they form a gummy substance) Placed in tomb with a large stone weighing anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 pounds.  There were Roman guards  placed at the tomb to guard against any chance of trickery.  A Roman seal was placed on the tomb that if broken, would call for an investigation and death by crucifixion of the one responsible.   If a Roman Guard left his post he would face strict punishment.    There must have been a good reason for the guards to flee.

It also is worth pointing out that the disciples were in no shape to steal His body.  There were hiding and on the run from the Jewish rulers.  It also goes back to the basic principle that “no sane person” would die for something they knew was a lie.  It was not worth all the trouble or persecution they received.

OBJECTION 5: THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS HALLUCINATED THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD.

ANSWER:

Hallucinations generally happen to individuals and not large groups or multiple people.  The 1 Corinthians 15 passage says that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at one time.  Did all these people have a hallucination at one time?  The answer is not likely.

Books Referenced:

McDowell, Josh; Evidence That Demands a Verdict, second edition.

Zacharias, Ravi; Can Man Live Without God

Sherrod, Chris; Faith, Fact, and Reason Study #4 Jesus is ALIVE

Rhodes, Ron; Answering Objections of Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics


The Bible and Slavery

November 17, 2011

I recently had a conversation with someone about the issue of slavery in the Bible.  He expressed that it was one issue that kept him from believing that the Bible was inspired by God.   I thought I would use the conversation as a blog post and not let the research I have done go to waste.

I have heard other objections and questions on slavery before.  Some of the typical things said are; If slavery is objectively wrong, why would God allow it?  God command the Israelite people to take slaves.  Christians in the southern United States had slaves and used the Bible to justify their actions.  The Bible never says that slavery is wrong.   As I mentioned before in a previous post that most of these are Straw Man arguments that misrepresent the truth of the matter.   Here is what the Bible does say about slavery.

First, we must realize that slavery was not God’s original intent for mankind.  We see this in another issue that was raised to Jesus in Matthew 19:3-8.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

Perplexed by the first answer that Jesus gave them, they asked Jesus about the laws of Moses that concerned divorce.  Jesus response was to the heart of the issue and pointed to the source of the problem, the harden hearts of the people.  God’s original design was for no one to experience divorce, but since the fall and the sinful nature of man, God gave Moses rules to help protect the people involved in the divorce.  The same principle can be applied to slavery as well.  Slavery was not God’s original plan from the beginning, but because of men’s sinful nature, God gave rules to help regulate and protect those who were slaves.

Secondly, the Biblical idea of slavery is not the same as African slavery that most Americans think about.  Leviticus 25:25-55 outlines the laws that God set for Israel to follow concerning someone who owed a debt and could not pay it.  God allowed them to sell themselves voluntarily and work off their debt.  The person who bought them could only keep them for a maximum of 7 years and then they had to let them go free, regardless if the debt was paid off or not.   I won’t go into all the details you can read it for yourself, but God set rules up concerning slavery after it had already been in practice so that people would not be taken advantage of by others.  The first slaves in the Bible came from Ham, one of the sons of Noah.

Not only was Biblical slavery or being a bond-servant voluntary but we know that they were not treated like slaves in America or other parts of the world with the respect of harshness and physical violence.  Many of the slaves were treated just like family and friends.  They were given positions of leadership in the home over children and possessions.  The story of Joseph is a great example in Genesis 39.  Realizing that not everyone might not treat their purchased slaves as they should, God also set up laws concerning the treatment and protection of the slaves.   Deuteronomy 23:15-16 says “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.”  This gave the slaves a way out of the arrangement if they were being treated unfairly.  In Exodus 21:16 God strictly forbid the kidnapping of an individual and selling them as a slave.  In the same chapter, God also declared that if even an owner hits a slave and damages as little as an eye or tooth, that the slave can go free and the debt is canceled.  As you can see this is vastly different from the African slavery that was practiced by those in America and other parts of the world.

The most popular verses that are used by those who argue against the Bible are found in Leviticus 25:44-48.

44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.  47 “‘If an alien or a temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien’s clan, 48 he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him:

Those who argue against the Bible will use this verse claiming that God commanded or gave permission to Israel to take slaves from the other nations around them.  The way the words are used make it look like that is the intent, but the truth is the scripture is not taken in context and if you look at the surrounding text and the language you can come to the correct meaning.  First, God has just laid out the laws concerning treating their own countrymen as slaves and warned them to treat them not like a slave at all, because they are Abraham’s children.  When the scripture says that they may keep the slaves from another country for life, it only meant beyond the 7 years maximum because they were not part of the nation of Israel.  When the debt was paid off the slave could go free.    In verse 44, the word “come” literally translates from the Hebrew word meaning “that exist” this makes the implication of the verses read differently. It would appear that God was referring to the slaves they already had possession of.  To further add a nail in the coffin, when you look at this verse in context with all the other verses that we have examined you can’t interpret it as a command to take slaves, because God has already spoken against it.  The idea that scripture interprets scripture is in play here.

One last objection that I have recently heard was that if God was an omniscient God, He would have know how people would have misused God’s Word to defend and justify horrific versions of slavery, Why didn’t God say or do something to stop it by including it in the Bible.  Yes, he would know that men would pervert his original design for life, but the question I have is would God break the free will He gives to man to stop the horrific treatment of a slaves.  I believe the answer is No.  We do know that any one can twist the Bible to make it sound like it supports their point of view on an issue.  It is easy to take one verse or a group of verses and single it out to read like you want it to.  Unfortunately, the slavery that was practiced  by the Christians in the southern United States was wrong, and those who were Christians didn’t bother to look at what the word of God had to say about the issue.  They were wrong.   At the same time there were also many other Christians who knew that it was wrong and choose not to participate.  Truth be told in history, it was the Christians who sought to free the slaves in England and America.  A popular Christian minister, William Wilberforce was one of the ones leading the charge in England.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.