Thursday, February 17, 2011

Out of Context

I've realized for some time that many in my religious culture take Luke 13:3,5 out of context. They use these verses as a proof-text that part of the process for individual salvation from sin/hell is to repent.

Whereas I would agree that repentance is a necessary part of the sinner's response, these two verses do not refer to individual repentance for individual salvation from sin. Rather, they refer to salvation from being killed by the ruling government.

Look at the context: Jesus had just spent a chapter speaking to his disciples about fearing God who can destroy both body and soul more than fearing human powers that can only destroy the body, and about acknowledging the Son of Man, even when they're put on trial for the same. He warned them to not worry about storing up treasures for themselves, but about being rich toward God. He continued in this vein, telling them not to worry about clothing, or food, or other earthly considerations, but rather to seek God's Kingdom. He warned that he would bring division, setting family member against family member, finishing up with a warning that they needed to recognize the signs of what's coming, and to settle up with their adversaries rather than asserting their own rights.

In this context,
...some people came and reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
and his response:
...unless you change your minds, you will all perish as well!
And then he mentions:
...those 18 that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed....
and once again repeats:
unless you repent, you will all perish as well!
Notice the phrase that mentions a tower falling on people and killing them. We see a similar phrase in 1 Kings 20:30. The context is a battle; the losers run away into a walled city for refuge, and their enemies come up to the city. The result of the battle is that:
The ones who remained fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell on those 27,000 remaining men.
which indicates to me that the enemies outside the city knocked down the defensive wall, allowing them to get into the city and kill the remaining 27K soldiers.

I suspect that the tower in Siloam was a hold-out where rebels had taken refuge, and the Roman government had resorted to destroying the tower itself in order to destroy the uprising.

I believe Jesus is telling his disciples not to get involved in political scuffles they can't win; they have a higher calling to put their resources into fighting for the Kingdom of God, not for the Kingdom of Israel. If they don't change their minds about their political leanings, they will wind up being crushed by the government just like these other rebels. He finished off by telling a parable which essentially said that they were due to be cut down, but that God would provide them just a little more time to bear fruit which could save them.

So whereas we're told elsewhere that God-seeking people must repent "from sin", I believe this passage does not address that issue at all, but rather that Jesus is speaking here specifically to Jewish patriots about repenting from "earthly politics".

See Nail, See Hand

Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a meaning. Looking at the letters in the name of YHWH:

Yod, Y = hand
He, H = see
Waw, W = nail

Reading the letters of the name YHWH, right-to-left as in Hebrew (HWHY), we have:

see nail see hand
But [Thomas] said to them, " "If I don't see the mark of the nails in His hands, ... I will never believe!" - John 20:25
YHWH tells us to see...

Monday, February 14, 2011

That's Not What The Text Says

The Bible Study booklet we were using had a yes/no question about Ephesians chapter 4:
There are no spiritual blessings outside of Christ.
Most of the people in the study answered the question with a "no", basing their answer on Ephesians 1:3:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
I did a quick google and found this same thinking elsewhere. One writer says, "Note carefully please. There are no spiritual blessings outside of Christ."

Another is careful to distinguish between spiritual blessings and physical blessings, admitting that physical blessings can be found outside of Christ but that "This verse teaches that 'all spiritual blessings' are 'in Christ'", concluding that "All of God's spiritual blessings are in Christ; none of them are outside of Christ. Unless you are 'in Christ,' none of these spiritual blessings are available to you."

Regardless of whether the doctrine is correct or not, all of these groups are adding to the actual text; the text does not say what they claim it says.

The text says that God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ; it does not say that there are no spiritual blessings outside of Christ. That may be true, but that's not what the text says.

It's like picking up a bottle of vitamins off the shelf and telling your friend, "All the nutrients your body needs are in this vitamin." That does not mean that the other vitamins on the shelf contain none of the nutrients your body needs.

It's like saying, "This song contains all the notes of the G-Major scale". That's not the same as saying that some G-Major notes are not found in other songs.

Please don't mishear me: I'm not saying that there are spiritual blessings outside of Christ (or the converse). I'm saying that we need to not go beyond the text, and the text of Ephesians 1:3 simply says that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ; it does not say there are no spiritual blessings outside of Christ, so we should not use this text as a proof-text of that doctrine.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Loose Translation of Isaiah 41 by RVL

Ray Vander Laan has a lot to offer us Western thinkers. He teaches an approach to the Bible that incorporates an Eastern mindset, and in doing so, reveals treasures in the scriptures that tend to be hidden to us Westerners. You can get a start with his views at

In the introduction of a "Follow the Rabbi" presentation to a Focus on the Family group, he has the audience repeat after him a blurb from Isaiah 41. He says:
Say these words from Isaiah after me: I have placed you in this land that you may be my witnesses that the world may know that I am God. Isaiah, chapter 41.
I tried searching for this quotation from Isaiah 41 in vain, and finally realized this was not a quotation, but rather a summary. Here are some highlights to help you see his summary in the actual text:

I have placed you in this land...
WEB Isaiah 41:9 You whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and called from its corners,and said to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you away;’

41:10 Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.
...that you may be my witnesses...
41:15 Behold, I have made you into a new sharp threshing instrument with teeth. You will thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and will make the hills like chaff.

41:16 You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, and the whirlwind will scatter them. You will rejoice in Yahweh. You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.
...that the world may know that I am God.
41:20 that they may see, know, consider, and understand together, that the hand of Yahweh has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.
I think chapter 43 makes it even more clear:

I have placed you in this land...

43:5 Don’t be afraid; for I am with you. I will bring your seed from the east, and gather you from the west.

43:6 I will tell the north, ‘Give them up!’ and tell the south, ‘Don’t hold them back! Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

43:7 everyone who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed, yes, whom I have made.’”
...that you may be my witnesses that the world may know that I am God.
43:9 Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the peoples be assembled. Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear, and say, “That is true.”

43:10 “You are my witnesses,” says Yahweh, “With my servant whom I have chosen; that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he. Before me there was no God formed, neither will there be after me.

43:11 I myself am Yahweh; and besides me there is no savior.

43:12 I have declared, I have saved, and I have shown; and there was no strange god among you. Therefore you are my witnesses,” says Yahweh, “and I am God.