Thursday, February 25, 2010

Being of One Mind

I recently heard a whispered comment in relation to some of the New Testament passages to "be of the same mind". The comment was:
Being of the same mind, we have to think the same things.
That's the way I was raised, and what I believed most of my life. But here I'd like to see if I can present a different perspective.

Philippians 2

One of the passages for supporting this position is Philippians 2:2,5:

NKJV Philippians 2:2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. ... 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus....

This quote sounds like we are to "think the same things". But I believe that is going beyond what the passage actually says.

Looking at the broader context, particularly verses 6 and following, Paul is talking about an attitude, not a doctrinal stance. He's saying, "Humble yourselves; be a servant, like Christ was". He's saying, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit" (v3), but to have an humble attitude that accepts the other guy.

He is not saying, in either verse, to "think the same things"; he's saying, in context, "get along with each other".

This follows the example which Jesus himself set in picking his apostles. He picked common laborer fishermen, and he picked an "I'm holier than thou" Pharisee, and he picked a couple of guerrilla-fighter zealots, and he picked a despised, hated, not-to-be-associated-with-at-any-cost-don't-even-touch-him "filthy scum" tax collector. As this disparate group spent time with and learned from Jesus, their ways of thinking began to get similar, but thinking the same thing was not the mark of discipleship; instead, the mark of discipleship was love for each other. He did not say, "You can't be my disciples until you all think alike." He told them:

NKJV John 13:35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

We also see this from the first few decades of church history. In the beginning, only Law-keeping Jews were Christians. When non-Law-keeping Gentiles were invited into the church by God, the Jews who kept the Mosaic Law at first thought the Gentiles had to become converted Jews in the process of becoming Christians. Although several passages in Acts indicate this, it's plainly spelled out in chapter 15:

NKJV Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

For several decades there were essentially two groups of believers within the church: the "Jews who have believed" which stressed the keeping of the law (Acts 21:21), and the "Gentiles who believe" (Acts 21:25), who did not need to keep the law, except for four specifics (Acts 21:25), to keep peace between the two groups.

These two groups were "like-minded" in that they got along with each other, but they were not "like-minded" in that they did not "think the same things".

We, in the 21st century, forget that God approved of two very different ways of thinking, divided into two very different groups, in His first-century church. By forgetting that scriptural lesson, we make the mistake of thinking that modern-day Christians can not have vastly different ways of thinking and doing things but must instead "think the same things". I daresay that if we had a Jewish church of Christ across the street from the church of Christ I attend, which stressed the keeping of the Mosaic Law (not for justification purposes but for cultural purposes), most of us at my congregation would dismiss them as non-Christians, and would have nothing to do with them except perhaps to try and "convert" them. God did not dismiss them; who are we to cause a division where God has not? Instead, we should be marked for being divisive in such a case (Rom 16:17).

I believe it's true that if we use the Bible as our standard, our thinking will more and more focus into thinking the same things, but I don't believe the Philippians 2 passage as quoted above can be used (in context) as a proof-text for that concept.

Romans 15

Neither can Romans 15:5-6 be used, in context, to support the idea that Christians must "think the same things". The passage says:

NKJV Rom 15:5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Putting the passage back into its context, we find the next verse says that we are to "receive one another", not that we are to think like one another. The previous chapter makes this even more clear, in which we are taught that some Christians have no problem eating meat, whereas some do; some Christians observe special days as holy; some do not. But it's no matter that they don't "think the same things"; what matters is that each person has his own beliefs which are between himself and God (Rom 14:4,9,12), and that we are not to dispute over questionable matters (14:1 (even if one party feels the matter is not questionable)), and that we are to receive each other (14:1), pursue peace with one another (14:19), and to keep your own beliefs to yourself before God (14:22) rather than forcing them on the weaker brother.

(Some brothers might claim that people who celebrate Christmas as a "holy day", as Jesus' birthday, or Easter as a holy day, or, horrors! Passover, are not really Christians. But Paul makes it clear that observing holy days is not an issue (even if Christmas did start out as a pagan holiday, is not Biblical, and has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus); therefore we should not make it an issue.)

The point is that Rom 15:5 does not teach us to "think the same thoughts"; it teaches us to get along with and accept each other, even when we don't think the same thoughts on various issues.

Please do not get me wrong; I am not saying that anything goes; I am saying that these particular passages do not teach us to "think the same thoughts", and they should not be used as proof-texts for teaching that. To do so is to make them say what God has not said. I am also saying that God approved of much greater group differences in the first century church than many of us today will allow, and that the concept that we must "think the same things" is a man-made doctrine, not a Biblical one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How To Be Saved

How to be saved?

Well, there's the 5-step plan of salvation.

Or maybe praying "the Sinner's Prayer".

Or maybe selling all your possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor.

Or this or that or another method/system.

All good things.

But ultimately,
HCSB 1 Peter 1:13 ...set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Don't set your hope on what you do or don't do; set it on the grace coming to you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why You Should Read from More than One Version

Many of us grew up reading a certain version of the Bible; for those of us older, it was probably the King James Version (KJV). For the current crop of college kids, it was likely the New International Version (NIV).

But I want to encourage you to alternate reading between several different versions.


Because otherwise you are trained according to the translators' biases, not according to what God actually said.

Here's an example from 1 Corinthians 7:1, wherein Paul is addressing a question concerning marriage/sex asked by the Corinthians.

In the KJV, it says:
1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
And in the NIV:
1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
But the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders it thus:
1 About the things you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman."
Whoa! Those quotation marks change the meaning of the passage entirely.

The English Standard Version also adds the quotation marks.

And here it is in The Message:
1 Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?
If you had read only the KJV all your life, you'd have thought that God said it was good for a man to not have sex. You'd likely think the same thing if you had read the NIV if you don't pay attention to footnotes.

But by reading several versions, you'll see some of these differences between versions and realize that what you thought the scriptures taught may not be what the scriptures taught.

So finish reading your Bible in your current version, then start over with a different version. It'll do ya good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three Days and Three Nights

Someone questioned:

In Matt 12:40 Jesus said, he will be dead for 3 days and 3 nights, like Jonah was in the whale's belly. So if he resurrected on Sat(Sabbath) night, then he would have died on Wednesday evening.

But in John 19:30-42 it is stating as, he died on a Friday, being the day of preparation before the Sabbath. Luke 23:54, Mark 15:42 and Matt 27:62 stating the same.

That doesn't come to 3 days and 3 nights.. Please enlighten.
I believe the best explanation is to realize that the Passover begins and ends with a Sabbath, even if that starting and ending date do not fall on the seventh day of the week.

The week of the crucifixion, the Sabbath referred to, following the day of preparation, was a "high Sabbath" (John 19:31). I like the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders this verse:
Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day)....
In other words, this was not an ordinary seventh-day-of-the-week Sabbath, but it was the Sabbath that began Passover. That week had two Sabbaths, one beginning Wednesday night at sundown, and a regular Sabbath beginning on Friday evening at sundown.

Dying on Wednesday at 3pm (when the shofar was blown and the daily sacrifice was offered in the Temple, by the way), Jesus was in the heart of the earth by dark that night. He was in the ground Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night (three nights) and Thursday day, Friday day, and Saturday day (three days), raising after the Sabbaths ended, on the first day of the week, after dark on Saturday. Within hours, while it was still dark, the Mary's came and found the tomb empty.

Milburn Cockrell does a good job explaining it at

Fix the World

In Luke 3, three groups (the general crowd, tax collectors, military) come to John and ask him, "What should we do?". In each case, John's answer was based on economics, not "morality". The beginning of the Gospel began as a social, fix-this-world, "focus on one one-another" institution, not as a "suck it up until we get into the next world" club.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Spoiler Alert

I saw the movie "Book of Eli" this past weekend. If you haven't seen this film, and don't want to read a spoiler, then don't read any farther.

The whole point of the film was to preserve the Bible, which had been virtually eradicated after a global apocalyptic war. At the end of the film, the preserved Bible in written, bound form, was placed on a shelf. On that shelf, just left of the Bible, was a copy of the Torah, and just left of that, was a copy of the Tanakh.

As most of the readers of this blog will know, the Torah is the first five books of the Bible, and the Tanakh is the entire "Old Testament" of the Bible. I found it interesting that the movie makers had sense enough to put these two books on the same shelf as the Bible, but didn't expect movie-goers to catch the plot-hole. I wonder if it was an inside joke, or an oversight.

On a related note, I also watched again the movie "Bruce Almighty". At one point when Bruce was checking the prayers offered to God, he was doing so via a divine electronic email system, and it was not Yahoo!Mail, but rather Yahweh!Mail. How interesting.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Letting the Bible Define Its Own Terms

In a recent discussion about the meaning of a certain word in the Bible, my opponent kept appealing to the standard Greek dictionaries. I told her that this was a legitimate means of helping to determine the meaning of a term in the Bible, but that ultimately, you have to decide whether you want to accept this human source of definition, or if you're going to let the Bible define its own terms.

In the culture of the Restoration Movement in which I was raised, it was a staple of doctrine to call Bible things by Bible names and to let the Bible define its own terms and to accept the Bible as the only authority in religious matters, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 was often cited as the proof-text for this way of doing things.
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Note that the man of God may be complete (or "perfect" in other versions) without any material other than the God-inspired Scripture.

She could not seem to understand that one could determine the meaning of a Biblical word without appealing to her e-Sword Greek dictionary or some other extra-Biblical Greek dictionary.

So I presented her with the following scenario in hopes of helping her to understand.

Suppose there were NO Greek (or Hebrew, or "Bible") dictionaries anywhere in the world, and no one knew what the word "psalm" means. You pick up a Bible, and read it in its entirety. You get to 2 Samuel 23 and come across the first occurrence of the word (NKJV):
Now these are the last words of David.
Thus says David the son of Jesse;
Thus says the man raised up on high,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel:

You go, "Huh? What's a "sweet psalmist"?" Of course you have no dictionary that can help you, because none exist. So you just shrug your shoulders and keep reading. Then you come to 1 Chronicles 16:7-8:

7 On that day David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the LORD:

8 Oh, give thanks to the LORD!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!

And then you go, "Oh-h-h! So a 'psalmist' is someone who writes some sort of poetry or thank-you greeting-card phrase or something!"

And then you get to the very next verse:

9 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!

And you think, "Ah, a 'psalm' seems to be a song of praise to God."

And then you get to Nehemiah 12:8:

8 Moreover the Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who led the thanksgiving psalms, ....

And you realize that some psalms are for praise, and some are for thanksgiving.

And then you get to the book of Psalms, and a light clicks on in your brain: "Ah, got it now. A 'psalm' is a song of praise or thanksgiving or lament or encouragement, etc, centered on God and His works, sometimes involving instruments, sometimes dance, sometimes tears, sometimes laughter, sometimes clapping, sometimes even silence."

You've just now defined "psalm" without recourse to knowing Greek (or Hebrew), and without recourse to any dictionary anywhere, and without recourse to a native speaker of the languages involved, and without recourse to an expert in the culture; you've let the Bible define its own term. If the word had been "flinkermingle", the Bible would still have defined the term without recourse to a "flinkermingle"-defining dictionary.

Now, when you get to Ephesians 5:19 and read that we are to sing psalms to one another, what is your definition of "psalm"? Do you turn to an outside source, such as e-Sword's definition, or do you turn to the Bible to define your term?

Please do not mistake me; I'm not saying that outside sources have no value (I'm a great believer in them); nor am I saying that languages don't change over time, and words don't change their meaning, and that dictionaries do not highlight some of these changes. What I AM saying is that you can't claim to use ONLY the Bible as your source of authority and then turn to outside sources to prove your pet theory.

Let me be explicit: IF you use a Greek dictionary at this point to define the term "psalm", you are NOT using the Bible as your authority. If you're okay with that, so be it. Just be aware of what you're doing, and don't condemn others who stick with the Bible.

The "Old Testament" is Not All Old

The book of Psalms, David, Law of Moses, the Prophets, are all in reference to the OT which we are not under.
This writer seriously errs here, but it's very understandable: pretty much all of Christendom has taught for centuries this same message, and every Bible you can buy on the shelf at Mardel's or Hastings or the local Bible Book Store emphasizes this incorrect message by their man-made, two-fold division labeled "New Testament" and "Old Testament". But this idea is completely wrong.

The writer above mentioned three portions of the so-called "Old Testament" - "the book of Psalms, David, Law of Moses, the Prophets" (I'm combining "the book of Psalms, David" into simply "the Psalms"). This three-fold division is Biblical; it's how Yahshua divided the Scriptures known in his day:

Luke 24:44 ...everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

(These three divisions, in the Hebrew language, are called Torah, Nevi'im, and Kethuvim, and taking the first letters of these three words we get TNK, which is how we get the term "Tanakh" to refer to the Hebrew Bible.)

So, we have from the very mouth of God (Yahshua) that what we incorrectly call the "Old Testament" is really divided into three sections. Now look at the prophecy of a new covenant, as foretold by Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:31 "Look, the days are coming"—[this is] YHWHs declaration—"when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 [This one will] not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt....

What covenant does YHWH say will be replaced?

Does he say the Prophets will be replaced? No!

Does he say the Psalms will be replaced? No!

Does he say the Torah will be replace? Yes! It's the covenant made at Mt. Sinai, when the house of Israel was taken out of Egypt, which will be replaced. Not the covenant He made with Adam. Not the covenant He made with Noah. Not the covenant He made with Abraham. Only the covenant He made with Moses.

The scriptures concerning Adam are still in effect: Yahshua based his teachings on divorce on these scriptures. Yahshua did not give us a NEW law concerning marriage. He reached all the way back to Genesis 2 as the basis for his teachings on marriage/divorce. If we are no longer under Genesis 2, then we no are longer bound by Yahshua's teaching on marriage/divorce, because that's "old testament".

The scriptures concerning Noah are still in effect: we are still under the covenant God made with Noah. If not, then the rainbow means nothing; we can expect a globe-destroying flood any day now, because that's "old testament". If not, then we have no authority to eat meat, because that's "old testament". If not, then we have no responsibility to execute murderers, because that's "old testament".

The scriptures concerning Abraham are still in effect: we are adopted into the covenant God made with Abraham. Paul makes this absolutely clear in Galatians 3:

Gal 3:17the law [Torah - Kent], which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise.

He even goes on to agree with Jeremiah, that it is "the law" (Torah) which was temporary:

19 Why the law then? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come.

So Jeremiah and Paul agree; it was the law of Moses that was temporary, and which would be replaced with a new covenant. It was the law, given on Mt. Sinai, that was the old covenant.

The Psalms and the Prophets are not part of the old covenant; only the Torah is the old covenant.

We in our modern culture have lumped two of the divisions defined by Yahshua in with the third, and have mistakenly claimed all three to be "old". No, that is wrong. Two of those three are not "old".

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A New (Old?) Way to "Do Church"?

So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three's the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you're saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you're also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn't stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.
-- 1 Cor 14:26-33 The Message version of the Bible

We don't do this. Why not? Oh, that's right; The Message isn't a "real" version.