The Most Dangerous Verse in the Bible

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life….

I love this verse. It is not difficult to see why it is one of the most famous, most often memorized, most cherished verses in scripture. Packed into this verse are the greatest realities that exist. God. Love. The world. The Son of God. Faith. PerishingLiving forever. All the realities of this life are on display. We see their interactions and their intimate connections-  a microcosm of God’s nature and character into twenty-four words.

At the same time, despite all its beauty and import, I consider it to be the most dangerous verses in the Bible. This is because when taken on its own, as so many people understand, it is vague. It is so easily misunderstood. It is so easily misinterpreted and abused. It conveys so much, and for that reason it lends itself a lack of clarity. When read without biblical literacy, it is a broken crutch that ignorant and dying people lay their weight on. That crutch with snap, they will come crashing to the ground,  and they will go through the earth and straight into hell. John 3 is a marvellous, wonderful chapter.  It is a comfort and a warm blanket. John 3:16 on the other hand, on its own, will be a terror to many, many people.

They will hear and read this verse without understanding. The shuddering theology is obfuscated by temporal and cultural presuppositions, not to mention sinful whimsy. They have this idea that if they believe in God and that Jesus existed and if they are good people then they will go to heaven. There is no conception of anything beyond that. It doesn’t shape how they live their lives or how they respond to that God and to that Jesus. They don’t attach any qualifiers or caveats to it, but rather for them that is the summary of that verse and the perception which they grant it. And yet for most of them, it will be a damnable gospel. A quick examinination of three simple elements to it will show this to be so.

“God” There is no reason to think that Jesus means any other God than the God of the Old Testament. He is the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He is personal and not a mere force, meaning he thinks and wills and feels. He loves, and he hates. He is Love, and he is Justice. And as personal God, he is moral—that is, e deals with us in terms of right and wrong and good and bad. And as moral, he is unwaveringly righteous.  He is three-in-one, a mysterious Trinity composed of three persons, and because he is infinitely holy, and because he is good, he has designed a system of redemption whereby all have sinned and deserve damnation. His wrath is upon mankind for their trespasses against him, for their cosmic treason, and only the death of his Son on the cross will satisfy his demand for holiness in the form of imputed sinless perfection and perfect righteousness. There is one God. He is fiercely jealous. And he does not accept worship by proxy.

For this reason, if your idea of God is some idolatrous concoction that you have created in the dark recesses of your fractured imagination, then this verse will not save you. It cannot. If your idea of God is some impersonal deistic being, then the truth of this verse will not save you. If your idea of God is yourself, and that we are all divine spirits who control our own destiny, then this verse will be of no comfort to you. If your idea of God is a being who loves everyone, and would never send anyone to hell, and would never make the demands on people such as we find in scripture, then you ought to know that in those last dying breaths when you face eternity, John 3;16 will not be a comfort to you, but rather a curse. The Hindu cannot cling to this verse, neither can the Muslim or the Agnostic or Cult member. If your God is not the God revealed in scripture, possessing all his characteristics and nature, then this is indeed a very dangerous verse for you.

“Loved” People have this idea that the love of God is some ethereal, mushy, tolerant love. They believe that God is love, and that love is God, and that the highest law of the universe is the law of love. It is thought that God loves us the way a man loves his wife, or the way a woman loves her lesbian partner, or the way a child loves his puppy. Because of this, people believe that the love of God is frightenly permissive. They have been led to believe that they can do whatever they want, act however they want, think whatever they want, worship any variations of God they want, and that God will love them anyway, because God loves people, and they are people. There is no thought of God’s love in a biblical sense. Rather it is some grostesquries. Love without Justice. Love without holiness. Love without righteousness. God’s love is their love, and they are making this expression of the love of God cancel out other expressions of the love God, and what better verse to get away with it than John 3:16. More importantly, they don’t understand that the true love that this verse speaks of, is that God sent us his Son to believe in so that we might be saved. That is this love manifest. But instead of upholding that, they are instead playing with and mixing and matching several kinds of love, few of them grounded in a Christ-centered and cross-focussed love, and as a result their arrogance and indifference lead to destruction.

“Believe in Him” I often wonder exactly how much people know about Jesus. You talk to people who say they are Christians, and more often than not we see that they don’t know anything about him. They might know he was God’s son, that he did some miracles, and that he died and rose again, but that’s pretty much it. They know certain facts and historical data about him, but do they really know him? He’s viewed by some as a great teacher- a nice, gentle, somewhat effeminate man who preached a good sermon on a mount and then got nailed to a cross for his trouble, and that seems to be the extent of his Christly proclivities.  Do they know that he was fully God, fully man, and that before Abraham was he was? Do they know he was there at the foundations of the world, and that he came to earth as part of God’s preordained plan? That he was born of a virgin woman, lived a sinless and perfect  life ,and told people that unless they are born again they cannot see the kingdom of God? That he made exclusive truth claims to his divinity, and that he said no man could came to the father except by through him? Do they believe that? Do the people believe that he loves his sheep, and that died on the cross for our behalf? That he took all our sin upon himself, that it was imputed to him, and that in return Christ’s righteousness was imputed upon us so that we might be seen as perfect in God’s sight? Do they believe he bore the wrath of God for our sins on our behalf, and then was raised from the dead three days later and will come again to judge the living and the dead? Do they believe that if they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in him, that they will be born again and that the holy spirit will indwell them and sanctify them and keep them until that day when Christ claims them?

I think above all, people don’t understand what it means to believe in him. Their sort of  believe is characterised by a vague notion of agreement, but little more.It is not a deep, penetrating, personal conviction. It is not a heart-tugging, heart-wrenching, steadfast and certain understanding of who and what the Son is and did. Rather, it is an inconsequential belief. They believe in him like they believe there is helium in the atmosphere. It’s there, but it doesn’t affect or influence how they will live their life. In fact, it is worse even than the belief of the demons. They at least have the good sense to believe, and tremble, but not our modern man. If they truly did “believe in him” they would believe the entirety of the aforementioned paragraph. And yet how many people are walking around, living like pagans with pagan views of God and pagan views of love and pagan views of the Son, and yet would say that they believe the truth of John 3:16?  That they believe themselves saved and good to go?  They bring with them their own clever creation of God, their own selfish and self-centered conception on love, and their own esoteric understanding of what constitutes believing in the Christ, and they affirm that they indeed love that verse. That is the sound of the crutch snapping. Trying to cram man-centered definitions into a God-centered reality while claiming innocence and light will be the key that sends them with arms flailing into the abyss. All because they read and agreed with one verse from the bible, and ignored and disregarded the rest which buttressed and supported and explained it.

For those reasons, among others, I believe it is the most dangerous verse. For some, of course, it is not. For some whom Christ has called and given faith it is a wellspring of life and joy. It is a simple truth, a macrocosm of God’s love and mercy reduced to one hundred letters. But for those who take this verse on its own, dismiss the other elements of our sacred revelation, and carry with them their own monstrous preconceived ideas about what constitutes what- God, Love, Belief, Son, the terror will be real.  The most well-known bible verse is also the most likely to be misconstrued, especially when taken as a fraction representing a whole, absent the protective context of the rest of John, as well as the other scriptures. If you take this idolatrous image of God you have made in your own likeness [which manifests itself so conveniently in John 3:16] and claim to follow it and believe it, then on that last day, though you had it memorized and could recite it front it back, you will have reason to fear.

Sermon review. The Alliance Church. Val Johnson. May 09, 2010.

 

Val starts off the sermon speaking about the difficulties in trying to cater a sermon to audience members who fall in vastly different age groups. If you’re preaching to kids from Grades 2-8, it is likely that you’ll either go over their heads or dumb it down, no matter at which age group you target. Likewise she wants to take pains that her message will not be over the heads of new believers or visitors, while desiring to appeal to more mature believers. As a note, she states that sometimes newer Christians have a clearer picture of what Christianity is and who God is, as it’s more clear and more fresh to them, whereas seasoned Christians can get cloudy in their reasons and purposes of belief.  But things getting cloudy isn’t a new phenomena.

By way of background, she spends some time unpacking some Old Testament history. She speaks of how after the Israelites were exiled, upon returning to Jerusalem they wanted to rebuild their identity and remember who they were as a people, and so under Ezra they re-read the law. From Malachi to Matthew there is a 400 year gap, and at the end we see these men called Pharisees who took the good traditions and turned it into religion. And so when Jesus comes to fulfill the law, he sets forth a new concept- what we do is not our religion, but rather who our God is, is our religion. But the Pharisees held the latter.  They judged others by righteousness and how well they acted, believing that you are righteousness and a true Jew because of the works you do.

For Val, the sermon comes out of constantly struggling to be a better Christian by reading  her bible more, praying more, doing devotions more, etc. and getting discouraged.  For the Pharisees, they were trying to follow their laws which was becoming their religion. That was what was defining them as righteous and justified, and likewise we have developed our new breed of “pharaseeism”, where we get so consumed with what we do and how we follow our rules, that we’ve lost sight of true religion. As it were, true religion is Micah 6:6-8.

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The people wanted to know how to please God, and so she likens their futile efforts of their traditions of killing rams, to our efforts at praying and worshipping which we think will please God. That’s her modern day translation “How do I please God? Do I worship with my hand raised? Do I get a little teary when the song drops down a little slower….? But that’s not what God wants. God wants us instead to simply act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

She says that when we make our attempts to do our church stuff, but fail to walk humbly and justly, we are just making a bunch of noise. She heads to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 to show this to be the case “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

She says that if we try so hard to worship louder and pray harder, but are neglecting what God has called us first, and are not walking humbly with the Lord, we are nothing. We need to sink into our hearts the pointlessness of all our religions and traditions if we’re neglecting the one and the purpose of the one who came for us. She then plays the John Foreman song “Instead” of a Show which is summarized with the following lyrics

I hate all your show and pretense
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show
Away with your noisy worship
Away with your noisy hymns
I stomp on my ears when you’re singing ‘em
I hate all your show

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show

Picking up steam, she says that Galatians is Micah 6:8 expanded into a whole book [Which I don’t see] .Paul is asking the people “Why are you going back to works-righteousness?” The summary is that we do it because we feel like we have control. “We are constantly trying to prove why we’re worthy. Why we deserve it. Why we measure up better than someone else. Because we gotta measure somewhere. We can’t be at the bottom, we gotta keep measuring. So our fleshly desire is to constantly do and do and earn and earn to be held worthy to be considered worthy to ourselves and to others”

She says that the purpose of the law is to show us our sins. We are all born sinners and the purpose is to show us that we are dirty and we have a need to be cleansed. In this, the mirror has no power or ability make us cleaner, but rather serves to show us our filth.  We can’t live by that. If we abolished the law, that would remove our ability to know we’re dirty. Jesus came to cleanse us. We don’t look in the mirror and try to cleanse ourselves- that is a satanic tactic. Christ came to cleanse us.

She quotes Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” We are free from comparing our sins and dirtiness to others. We don’t have to look in the mirror because no matter how dirty we are we have been cleaned by Christ. [Romans 3:23],That redemption is the new life in Christ that we begin to live. [Galatians 5,6, 16-19]

We ask ourselves “God how do I do better?” and It’s not by being better, or doing more, it’s by living by the spirit. Because what the flesh desires and what the spirit desires are constantly in conflict, and instead of doing doing doing,. we ought to instead just live by the spirit. Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Turning a corner She gives us Galatians 5 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Val says that not only can we lead a righteous life led by the spirit in our own selves, but we have to love one another by God’s spirit too. And this is where we trip up. We want to walk and expect a bunch of mercy, but we love to judge everyone else. Because it compares us. We are not to judge, as we will destroy one another.

What about our Christian brother? She says that we don’t ignore people who are caught in sin, but those who are spiritual had  better do it gently and with love. Because our job is not to judge, but we can help them. So let us not judge each other, because we will be caught in it.

REFLECTIONS

What a sermon. It was of average length, about 36 minutes, But I listened to the thing four times, as well as exchanged several emails with Val, and I’m still not sure I have it all worked out in my mind. It seems simple and straightforward at first, but this Micah/Law vs Grace vs Law thing is so tricky that I’ve had to sit back multiple times, look at the whole thing, take a break, ponder it, and then come back for more. Let’s start with the good. As always, Val is an engaging and a very gifted communicator who managed to keep me interested throughout the whole thing. For another, she brought us a lot of scripture, which I like, and thankfully did not preach from The Message Bible.

As well, the whole middle section was exceptional. It really was well done. When she was speaking on how we’re dirty, and the law is a mirror, and that it can never clean us, but rather only show us our filth and our need for a Savior- that was great stuff. I was getting  giddy just hearing about it. At one point she rapid-fired off a monologue  about being dirty and comparing ourselves to others, and it really was some of the most compelling preaching that I’d heard in a  long time. Major kudos and points for that bit. As well, I really empathize with her when she’s talking about the frustrations that most believers feel that they’re not practicing the disciplines as they should, when we fail at the churchy stuff. I think she’s tapping into a deep well of despair and felt-needs there, and so it’s good to discuss it.

As for the bad, well, there are a few things which concerned me. The first was her slightly historically inaccurate portrayal of the Pharisees. They didn’t just “make good traditions their religions.” It really is a stereotyped and unfair version of who they were and what they were all about. For the Pharisee, many of them wanted to find ways to practically implement the law, but then those ways became the law, which then became a substitute  for the law, and became used in the hands of sinners and used as a way of getting around the law. That’s certainly not a good thing, but if you’re gonna get blamed for something, you want to at least have done it.  A greater weakness in this first segment though is that I just couldn’t figure out what certain things meant. How is “religion” being defined? What does it mean? How did the Pharisees make law and traditions religion? Are these two words being used interchangeably? Even something like “Who our God is, is our religion” doesn’t make sense on the surface. What does that sentence mean? I can theologize  it enough to surmise the meaning, but wouldn’t something like “What our God did for us is our religion” make more sense?  It’s just really unclear language, and I struggled through that section a bit.

Another issue was the verse Micah 6:8 being normative for us and a valid definition of what God desires us to to. I mean, I don’t know how to say it any clearer- This verse is not for us. These texts are addressed to Judah, where the external form of the sacrifices were proper, but was not combined with genuine repentance and godly living. In such cases the worship is worse than empty; it is an attempt to manipulate God. We read about Balak king of Moab and Balaam the son of Beor and we know this is not a word for us. We read a few verses below Micah 6:8, in verse 13 and 19,  and we see God saying  “Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins. You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be hunger within you… For you have kept the statutes of Omri,  and all the works of the house of Ahab; and you have walked in their counsels, that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing; so you shall bear the scorn of my people.” Here’s the logical question I have; do we surmise that that promise and word is for us too? That if we do not walk humbly and love justice, that the Lord will smite us and make us desolate? I mean, I didn’t know that I was keeping the statues of Omri, but does this mean I am made to bear the scorn of God’s people? That’s what God promises. And so if you’re not preaching the consequence of failing to keep the command as normative, you shouldn’t be preaching the command as if it were normative.

Which is not to say that I don’t think we shouldn’t love mercy and walk justly and humbly and so forth- I just think there are better ways to say that which are more biblically,textually and hermaneutically precise without utilizing Old Testament judgement books which were directed at the Israelites several thousand years ago, and fulfilled. I think we can cull certain principles from these passages about God’s nature and character, but I am wary as all get-0ut of being put under the Old Testament covenant, which is what this verse is for.

Another thing is that her modern interpretation and contextualization that “sacrificing idols=pharasaical traditions=doing devotionals” doesn’t work very well, because the reality is that the people were commanded to sacrifice and kill the creatures. They were commanded to kill bulls and goats. These were not pointless, outmoded and useless traditions, but rather were absolutely essential to having sins covered. And so her analogy breaks down really quickly at least in that respect. Not only that, but I am…disquieted by her definition of “True Religion.” If I had to pick something, I would say that true religion is the Gospel. It is believing and putting our trust in the fact that Christ died for us on the cross, finished the great exchange, and we receive his righteousness and eternal life by grace through faith. True religion is the Gospel, but Micah 6:6-8 is the Law. Gospel is receive, Law is do.

It’s like saying “Stop doing all those church stuff, all that law. Instead, rest in true religion, which is even more law.” Because don’t forget; love is the law, and we can’t keep the law. People often point us to the two greatest commandments, love God with our whole mind, body, soul and strenght,and love our neighbor as ourselves, and offer that as the solution; as the antidote to the stress and burden of being beaten and bruised and weighed down by the law. But that’s just more law. I don’t love God as I should. I don’t love my neighbor as I should, and every time I don’t, it does the work of the law by reminding me that I’m a sinner and that I need the saving grace of the Gospel to save me from not loving God as I should.

As far as the song, it is clearly taken from Amos 5:21-24, and I don’t have many thoughts on it. I get that hypocritical worship is bad, but I don’t even know what the sentence “Instead let there be a flood of justice,” means. Isn’t justice when people get what they deserve? Do I really want that, especially when grace gave for me what I couldn’t deserve?  How about “An endless procession of righteous living,” I think we all want that, and that is part of the slow burn and struggle of sanctification, but why can’t we do both? Why can’t I try to live right while worshiping and praying in spirit and in truth? I think a bit more background and explanation of the song would have helped, at least me, understand it.

Regarding the the whole middle section, it was fantastic, and this is why I was confused and have been listening over and over. It is clear that she does not believe that justification comes from the law. Not even for a bit. In one of our correspondences she says “I believe that Micah 6:8 is what Jesus came as to fulfill, that through Him, living through the Spirit we would be free to do those three things, AGAIN not that we would be justified because we do those tings…Jesus is our justification, but that life through the spirit and its fruit would naturally lead us towards those three things, act justly love mercy and walk humbly. My hope and heart was that despair would be abolished by the fact that it is SOLELY through Christ we are justified so we have freedom to pursue a Micah 6:8 relationship with God”. And I think what got me hung up is the order she presented them in. It’s like telling a cancer patient you have a remedy for them, which is injecting them with the HIV. I just don’t get it.

And I’m not trying to heap it on here, but I have legitimate concerns, of which the last is her restriction from judging. She states at several junctures that we are not to judge, and in fact I have quoted a long section verbatim where she goes off on this very thing. She quotes Galatians 6:1-8  and says “[This is what Paul is saying...] Don’t try to mock God, every man will reap what they sow. Its not our job to judge. If you see someone and they’re not living the way you think they should be, you’re in no place have any need to go judge them because God is not blind….Paul is saying here is don’t mock God. Don’t think that you need to be the judge. That you in any way need to take that judging upon yourself. Because he’s saying this for our own good too…He’s saying “if you start to pull this out again, you’re not only going to see that person, you’re going to see yourself, again. He says if you start to judge you’d better watch out because you’re going to be tempted too. You’re going to look at their dirt and you’re gonna see your dirt, so he’s like just put the mirror down. Just stop judging. Just stop looking, and believe that Christ is the ultimate judge and that’s his job. That’s why he came. Because our job is to love mercy. We are supposed to be walking examples of God’s mercy and love because everyone single one of us can look into our mirror and find some dirt.”

Paul is not saying that. At all. That’s a worse paraphrase than the Message Bible. I don’t know about you guys, but when I read Galatians 6:1-8, I don’t see anything about that at all. I think part of her error, other than eisegesing the “don’t judge” bit into this segment, is that she is not reading “Whatever a man sows, that will he reap” in context. In this context, Paul’s reference to “reaping” is a reference to the blessings of Spiritual life, rather than to temporal blessings that the believer will “reap” as the result of “sowing” his life to the spirit. As well, the scriptures couldn’t be more clear that we are to judge many things, such as false doctrine, false teaching, the behavior of professing Christians who are not living it, etc. 1 Corinthians 5 bears this out quite nicely, in fact, culminating with verse 12-13 “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

When someone stands up in Church [any church] and starts preaching heresy, or a friend starts to tell you that  homosexuality is right and good, or another friend reveals that they’re having sex with their boyfriend and that God doesn’t have a problem with it, or some other clear violation of scripture, it’s not wrong to confront them and to “judge them”  by their actions, and then to deal with it from there. To not judge would be incredibly cruel. To not judge them and say “It’s none of my business, God will deal with it” is one of the most unkind things you could do in that situation. In fact, ironically enough the entire book of Galatians is one Epistle leveled against false teachings with Paul judging the Judaizers, as well as the actions of the church in Galatia. And so where does she get this idea that we as Christians are not to judge? It certainly isn’t biblical. It is certainly not born out in Matthew 7:, especially [and not limited to] by the fact that we see Jesus in John 7:24 saying: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment”. To her credit she does say that we don’t ignore people caught in sin, and rather should help them, but isn’t us determining that they are indeed caught in sin a form of judging? I think that if I pressed Val a bit, she would readily agree with me that some judging is good and necessary, and so I’m unsure as why she would leave things the way they are, with this blanket “Don’t judge others”.

The reality is that Christians are to apply scriptural principles of discernment regarding beliefs, teachings and actions, and then to act on those in order to bring about repentance and restoration. I don’t believe I have ever been given the right or the responsibility of eternally judging someones soul to hell. In this sense, I cannot correctly weigh action, motives, opportunities, nor know all things about any individual, as God alone is capable to do so. However, as a believer and one who is biblically literate, I have been commanded to  make decisions, appraisals, discernments, and even take corrective action towards other believers. Even then, my judging ought to be remedial and leave the door open to the person for repentance and reconciliation. Any judging on the part of a Christian which is not remedial is a false aspect of Christian judgment. As stated earlier, we are called upon to ”judge righteous judgment” and failure to do so is to be negligent in a crucial aspect of our Christian calling. And so unless we have vastly, utterly and completely opposing definitions for what judging means, then I think she’s very wrong in this, and that at the very least she owes the congregation either a retraction or some pointed elaborations which will bring clarity, precision and biblical faithfulness to the message.

In any case, I think this is the longest review I have ever done. Certainly it took me the longest. Overall, a good middle to this sermon, but too many deep flaws at the start and finish for me to recommend this one.

What is a “Spiritual Person”?

Have you ever talked to someone about their religious beliefs, and you get the line “I’m a very spiritual person” either before or after they go off one some cosmic idea and postulation? They might say “I’m a very spiritual person. I pray to God that her light would shine on all of her creations” or “I’m very spiritual, I believe that what goes around comes around, and that we all have a bit of God inside of us.” This is annoying in secular circles, but maddening when it comes to Christians dropping those lines. More often than not, it appears in the form of “I think that more than one system of beliefs can be right, and that God is not one specific way – that He/She  is different to every believer, but that’s ok.  God SHOULD be your own perfect ideal, because He’s God.  He shouldn’t have to fit a mold.”

Here’s the thing though. There’s no such thing as a spiritual person. If they say they’re spiritual, that’s code for “I’ll believe what ever I want to believe, what ever seems right to me, and you can’t tell me I’m wrong because it’s my personal beliefs.” Spiritualism is vague mysticism involving looking inward and finding the tranquility of the soul, translated as suppressing  the truth in unrighteousness. Spiritual is a hodgepodge of selfish feeling-based guesses. Spiritual is paganism mixed with idolatry, ignorance and rebellion, and you can be sure that anyone who tells you they are spiritual won’t have anything close to orthodox Christian beliefs. Its not uncommon to hear “I’m a Christian….I’m spiritual….But I don’t believe that God would really….” . When I hear that, I usually think “You’re not spiritual. You just like to make stuff up about God and then believe it. “

But that’s just me. Your thoughts? How do you relate the to the spiritual people in your life?

The Myth of those Evil Pharisees

I’ve been wanting to tackle this one for a while now, and a recent sermon I heard forced the issue in my mind. As a result of the harsh portrayal in the New Testament of these teachers of Jewish law, the very name Pharisee has become synonymous with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.We even invented a word to describe this attitude- “Pharisaical.” We have developed a very black and white view of them, and when they make an appearance in scripture, even the most Biblically illiterate people know that they’re the bad ones- raging hypocrites who thought themselves to be far morally superior than everyone else and who were the epitome of holier-than-thou. But I would contend that it is detrimental for us to hold this view of them. Not only is it factually and historically unfair, but it skews and negatively affects how we view scripture.

So who are these guys? Well, they are the product  of the chasm left during the the second temple period [intertestamental period] from about 400 B.C. onward. Because here’s the thing- when you’re a people in exile, you aren’t allowed to have kings, you don’t have a temple, and the priestly class becomes the teachers who give instructions on the law. In this time  you start to focus on what makes you uniquely Jewish, and you ask yourself what are God’s commandments and His words.  Suddenly the commandments which distinguish you as Jewish become gain primacy, and you will want to become careful about unique things like Sabbath keeping and dietary restrictions, because that gives you boundaries and an identity.  There are tons of socio-cultural religious developments affecting the state of their exile from Persian religious influences to accelerated Hellenization to the breakdown of  religious mores, and many people sought ways to protect themselves from this.

The result of renewed desire to be distinctly Jewish resulted in the serious the call to be Jewish, and so the people searched to find ways to practically implement the scriptures. That will give birth to the Pharisees. They were the pastors of the people who were orthodox in their theology and serious about how to put this stuff into practice in daily life.  They found themselves asking, “How do we keep the Sabbath? What is work? What isn’t work? How do we define these things within the framework of distinct Jewish life?” And then they began to hammer out some answers. They wanted to bring about the sanctification of all the people of Israel so that they could once again be the true people of God.

In the intertestimental period the Pharisees were the ones cautiously resistant about Hellenization and were the conservatives of the day. They tried to answer the question, “How can I follow the law and be a man who is distinctly Jewish while avoiding being secularized and Persianized?”.  Furthermore, they were penitential by nature. They wanted to get right with God then get serious about being right with God. People have this idea that the Pharisees were super strict ultra-radical law followers, but the reality is that they had a broad and  lenient interpretation of the law and tradition. The strict traditionalists were the  zealots, and the looser types were the Pharisees. Not only that, but comparatively they had lower levels of strict purity than the Essenes and the Sadducees. In fact, Pharisees represented a liberalizing tendency. It was a “How can I keep all the demands of the law and yet live a normal, cultural, and politically engaged life?” sort of attitude. They were the rulers of the day. Everyone looked up to them. How do we apply the Bible in a way that works? Truth be told, they had no problems twisting and tweaking the law if it furthered their traditions.

As well, they were highly regarded by the people. The Sadducees were the ones who were the Aristocrats. They tended to be wealthy and held powerful positions, including that of chief priests and high priest, and they held the majority of the 70 seats of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin. They worked hard to keep the peace by agreeing with the decisions of Rome [Israel at this time was under Roman control], and they were more concerned with politics than religion. Because they were accommodating to Rome and were the wealthy upper class, they did not relate well to the common man, nor did the common man hold them in high opinion. On the flip side, you had the beloved Pharisees. In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were mostly middle-class businessmen, and therefore were in contact with the common man. The Pharisees were held in much higher esteem than the Sadducees, and though they were a minority in the Sanhedrin and held a minority number of positions as priests, they seemed to control the decision making of the Sanhedrin far more than the Sadducees did because they had the support of the people. The Pharisees were said to love one another and had charity and consensus, whereas the Sadducees were aggressive and harsh with one another. In short, they were the good guys.

Further warning , we shouldn’t go into reading of the New Testament as having the Pharisees being two dimensional bad guys, because we have some examples of some pretty swell Jesus-loving ones, such as Niocdemus and Jospeh of Arimathea. Because here’s the thing, Jesus’ conflict with his contemporaries was not so much over the doctrines of the Pharisees, with which he was for the most part in agreement, but primarily over the understanding of his mission. While Jesus disdained the hypocrisy of some Pharisees, and in fact aggressively and vigorously attacked it,  he never attacked the religious and spiritual teachings of Pharisaism. In fact, the sharpest criticisms of the Pharisees in Matthew are introduced by an unmistakable affirmation, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” [Matt. 23:2-3]  The issue at hand is one of practice. For the most part, the content of the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees was not a problem. As it were, much of Jesus’ teaching, for example the Sermon on the Mount, is consistent with that of the Pharisees and later Rabbinic thought.

Many people have failed to realize that the Pharisaic religion was divided into two separate schools – the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. The group that Christ continually took to task in the New Testament was more than likely the school of Shammai – a faction that was very rigid and unforgiving in their outlook. And although Pharisees were frequently the adversaries of Jesus, the reality is that not all their interactions were hostile. Pharisees asked Him to dine with them on occasion [Luke 7,11,14] and He was warned of danger by some Pharisees [Luke 13]. Additionally, it appears that some of the Pharisees [including Nicodemus] believed in him, although they did so secretly because of the animosity of their leaders toward Jesus. Later on, some Pharisees would become believers, while other non-believing ones would be an aid to Paul and defend him against the Sadducees.

That having been said, I’m not an apologist for the Pharisees. I’m not going to say that they were really good guys and were just completely misjudged and misunderstood. Not at all. Some of the things they did were terrible, and oftentimes the burdens they laid on people were oppressive to the point of despairing to death. A lot of them were hypocritical. A lot of them were self-righteousness and surely all of them believed that their actions merited God’s favor. And somewhere in the desire to unpack the law to help their fellow Jews, they lost themselves. I’m not defending their actions. I’m just saying that we can’t smear them all and paint them all as hated, reviled, hypocritical, self-righteous and arrogant men who looked down on everyone and who evilly went about sticking and pointing their fingers in everyone’s faces while they cackled maliciously. That’s not the case. We have this stereotype that all pharisees were hypocrites; all pharisees were arrogant; and all pharisees were self-righteous and obsessive about the letter of the law. That’s not true. They were loved, revered, respected as the most expert and accurate expositors of Jewish law, and were viewed as humble and righteous men by the people. At the very least, when reading about them in Scripture, let us try to view them through that lens primarily and through the reality of their sins and faults later.

D.A. Carson Quote

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.” D.A. Carson

Bible Study for the Gospel of St. Luke. I

So here begins the first in a series of weighty, meaty, in-depth bible studies for the Gospel of St. Luke. I figured that if I’m going to spend a year doing this, it would make sense to start off with an introduction, and then jump in to the body of text. For this reason, I’ll be offering a brief biography, discussing the authorship and dating of the Gospel, then jumping in at about Luke 3, with the first two chapters being walked through in December. I had given though to discussing the more technical aspects of the gospel, specifically in dealing with the the composition and synoptic problems, but I have chosen not to do so. To be sure there are some interesting things to be found. We could discuss the two-document theory and the utilization of the “Q” document to form the gospel. We could discuss the relationship to Mark and Matthew, and dissect it to see how much martial was borrowed from each one. [about 53% of Luke was said to be taken from Mark and contain his words] . We could talk about the theory that when Luke first began writing, he relied chiefly on Q as well as the “other writings about Jesus” mention in Luke 1;1, and how only after he combined these into a first draft of his Gospel [called Proto-Luke] did he come across Mark. He then inserted Markan matter into Proto-Luke and formed the present gospel. This would explain why large chunks of his gospel are almost word for word with Mark, and then in other areas he doesn’t use him at all. It would also explain why Luke 3:1 reads like the introduction of a separate book, and would suggest that the infancy narrative was added later] I have decided against this however, because I am more interested in the theology that the book expresses, rather than the technical construction of said Gospel. As well, when speaking of St Luke, I do delve a bit into the book of Acts to cull some information. I will try to do this as little as possible, though in some areas this will be more evident than not.

Biography of St Luke.

The name Lucas [Luke] is probably an abbreviation from Lucanus, much like we get Apollos from Apollonius, Artemas from Artemidorus, Demas from Demetrius, etc. He was not a Jew, but rather through his style of writing and other details we know that he is a Greek, born in Antioch to Greek parents.  It would seem that Luke was quite knowledgeable and well versed in the Septuagint and of things Jewish, which he acquired either as a Jewish proselyte [As attested by St. Jerome] or after he became a Christian, through his close relationship with the Apostles and disciples. He was a physician by profession, and St. Paul calls him “the most dear physician” [Colossians 4:14].

This vocation would necessitate a liberal education, and his medical training is evidenced by his choice of medical language and medical details that he reveals, such as where Mark and Matthew speak of a fever, Luke refers to it as a “High fever”. Or where John and Mark refer to a man having leprosy, Luke relates that he was “Full of leprosy”.  Some have suggested that he may have studied medicine at the famous school of Tarsus, the rival of Alexandria and Athens, and possibly met St. Paul there. While that is somewhat likely, it remains pure speculation.

In any case, St. Paul met him at Troas and invited him to accompany him into Macedonia where they travelled first to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally Philippi about the year 51. Later, he became the constant companion of St. Paul, following him everywhere. He alone remained with Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome about the year 61, and all the traditions relating his life after the death of Paul remain far too late to be worth relating or believing.

Authorship.

The external and internal evidence we have unanimously affirms the author of the Gospel of Luke to have been Luke. This is attested by a few factors. The first is by the early heretic Marcion who died in 160 AD. His scriptural canon contained only a version of the Gospel of Luke which he heavily edited, as well as a few of Pauls letters.  [The reason he rejected the other gospels was because they were "Judaized" - that is, written by Jewish authors. Only Luke the Greek was to be trusted] The Muratorian Fragment also bears witness to this. This fragment is perhaps the oldest known list of the books of the New Testament, and expresses the Roman opinion of scripture at the end of the second century. In it we read “The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke.  Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not  seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.” This is also attested to in the anti–Marconite prologue to Luke, which says that Luke was a native of Antioch, that he was a physician, that he wrote the Gospel in Achaia, and that he died at the age of 84, unmarried and childless. Eusebius reports that Paul quoted from Luke by saying, “According to my Gospel” and  the authorship is also attested to by Irenaeus, who said “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded the gospel in a book.” Clement of Alexandria said “By the style of writing, Luke may be recognized both to have composed the Acts of the Apostles and to have translated Pauls epistle to the Hebrews” [take that one with a grain of salt. Realistically speaking, up until the higher German critiques of the 19th century, no one ever doubted the Lucan authorship.

Date.

There seems to be only two serious contenders for dating this Gospel. The first is around 61-63 AD, and then about 75-85. Some put this Gospel as being about 110-140, but I cannot find any compelling evidence to suggest there is a shred of truth in such a later date. There are several reasons why I think the date should be early, most of which involve the relationship between Luke and Acts. But of all of these, I find the most compelling to be that fact that in 1 Timothy  5:18 we find the quote " Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”The only place in the scriptures we read "The laborer deserves his wages" is in Luke 10.  Thus, it seems that Paul is already referring to the written records of the statements of Jesus (the Gospels] as scripture. If that’s the case, Luke should be dated before 62 AD, as that’s when 1 Timothy was written.

Note.

I’m not going to get into issues such as the accuracy of Luke, or Luke the historian. Anyone interested in this blog and bible study is smart enough to know that Luke was a first rate theologian and historian and has proven this time and time again, A typical example would be Luke refering to Lysanias as being the tetrarch of Abilene at the beginning of John the Baptists ministry, circa  27  AD. [Luke 3:1] Historians accused Luke of being in error, noting that the only Lysanias known was the one killed in 36 BC. Since then, an inscription found near Damascus refers to “Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch” and is dated from 14 and 29 AD, thus proving that Luke knew what he was talking about, and showing that he had indeed carefully researched everything.

As it were, that is the introduction. For the text, I’ll be going through Luke 3:1-14 next week, focusing on the identity of John the baptist, his relationship to Old Testament prophets, and his proclamations. Throughout the whole thing though, everything will constantly be pointing to Christ and his goodness and his grace and his great love for us. I have a lot on my mind and a lot I want to unpack, as best as I know how, and so if you want to read up on that, and keep me in prayer as I delve into the word,  it would be great.

The Emergent Church is Dead and Dying

Several months ago I made a post about the emergent church, and how they have essentially imploded on themselves and are either dead or dying. I firmly believe this, and I laid out my reasons in said post. But a few people have asked me about it, challenging my assertion and asking why I believe this to be the case. Well here’s the thing. When I speak of death, I don’t so much mean that they have or ever will cease to exist. They won’t. Certainly the hype is over, and it seems they are going the way of the purpose driven life, prayer of jabez, wwjd, left behind, and other Christian fads. Rather, I speak of a different type of death, and that is the death of the disguise. The emergent church is dead in that it more or less has been fully exposed for what it is. It’s manifested iteration of the early-mid 2000′s, its pinnacle of attention, intrigue, influence, is no more.

When it first came on the scene, we weren’t sure what to do with it. We poked it and prodded it and those in conservative churches toyed with it a bit, knowing that it was a strange animal, but we were hesitant to embrace it for a few reasons. Back then, we took veiled statements by Rob Bell which questioned the infallibility of scriptures and questioned whether or not Jesus’ virgin birth was essential to the faith, and we were wary and our guards were up.  But many people didn’t see it. They found those statements too vague, and felt that it wasn’t fair to make a blanket judgment about an entire movement. Besides, they were such great communicators, released cool videos like NOOMA, and trumpeted the wonders and importance of incarnation living and social justice, and so we had to give them the benefit of a doubt that they were biblical and orthodox.

But then they began to become more vocal about their beliefs. Before trying to grasp what they believed was like trying to nail Jello to the wall. They were slippery and crafty. They had a highly subjective, postmodern approach to Christianity and we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. But now they had started to come out, and the first subject which gave us a clue of their true intentions was their defence of homosexuality and their close relationships and support of the queermergent culture. The veracity and truth of the bible was their next target, saying that it was “truthy” in the message it conveyed, but the historicity and miraculous were certainly to be questioned. Then they began to emphasize the gnosis, the secret knowledge gained through contemplative spirituality /mysticism, under the guise of the spurious spiritual formation of the so-called desert fathers and Roman Catholic mystics. Then they amped it up with their postliberal theology, and made claims that Jesus died for the whole world, and therefore the whole world would be saved. There was no hell or eternal damnation, but rather universal reconciliation whereby all would exist eternally with God. That then would have massive effects on the nature of the gospel and on the cross. A website asked the question to a large group of emergent “What did Jesus do for us on the cross that we couldn’t do for ourselves” and no one had a clue. Jesus did not come to die for our sins so that we might have his righteousness, but rather he came to spread a message of love and inclusiveness to the socially marginalized, and died on the cross to “stick it to the Caesar man” and show that love conquers all.

With that, the masquerade came to a screeching halt and the masks came off. We now we see them for what they truly are; liberalism 2.0, with new hardware and software upgrades, but still having the same purpose and function as the liberalism of the 19th and early 20th century. What they have done is pushed out the aging dinosaurs like bishop Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg, who are completely irrelevant now; relics of the past and little more, and replaced them with a new breed of postmodern emergent Christian hipsters. But with this new exposure and identity brings the obvious- they are not orthodox or biblically faithful, and since they don’t try to be in the same way their did before, they are easily enough to expose. Whereas five years ago you had to take snippets of text from Brian McLaren’s book and show the vague allusions he was making to not needing to know Jesus personally to be saved, now you can read pages and pages where he flat out says that Muslims and Hindus and atheists will be saved.

Here’s what happened; all pretence died. The disguise died. The charade and the facade died. At the same time though, in a way the movement has died and slowed. People who were once interested and who toyed with it became alarmed and disfranchised when they took those steps into liberalism and heresy, and they had the sense enough to put it down and back away. For a time it was a seductive lover to many churches and it gained traction within the hallowed halls.  But the veil lifted. Things became clear. They started talking too much and ac ting out too much, and with time they saw the movement and its tentacles not as a sensual and caring lover, but as an abusive and manipulative home wrecker, and they they’ve shut their doors and threw them out, and they’re destined to go down as another curious liberal deviation in the history of orthodox Christianity, and nothing more.

A Brief Meditation on Sexual Purity

“How far is too far?” That seems to be the question that many teens are asking, as they fumble and flit around the edges of sexual purity, wondering what sorts of things are acceptable and what sort of things aren’t. There are different answers, of course. Some people in return ask the rhetorical question “Instead of asking how far you can get to the edge of the cliff, why not just stay as far away from it as possible?”  Or they might say “You shouldn’t do anything that you would be ashamed of doing if Jesus was in the room” or “If you have to ask if you’ve gone too far, you probably have.” Good advice all. For most Christians, the answer to the question of “how far is too far” is..well….not very far at all.

My take? If you’re asking the question, you can’t go far enough. Chances are you’re some kids engaging in a lustful, disjointed and disconnected make-out session, fumbling around with physical theology and sacred sexuality, which then leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed in the wake of passing gratification, and you think you’ve gone too far?  You’ve taken one shuffle-step  in a journey of a thousand miles, the end result of which is that warm,  familiar, satisfying, one flesh sexual union between a man and a wife in a marriage covenant. And you think you might have gone too far? You’re not even in the running, because you don’t know what “far” truly means.

“Far” is an old married couple who after a lifetime of sex are dealing with the scourges of physical impotency. “Far” is a husband and wife consoling each other after another negative pregnancy test, bearing each other’s burdens in tears. “Far” is a young married couple who are delighting in each others bodies. “Far” is the encapsulation, iteration, and culmination of a biblical view of sexuality, incorporating the body, soul and spirit. At its heart it is theological- ultimately being Christ-exalting worship and a picture of union between Christ and his Church. Marriage and sexuality were designed by God for mankind so that through it mankind might glorify God.

And so here you stand, two kids toying with a spiritual mystery, and you think you’ve gone too far?

You’ve

not

gone

far

enough.

And not only have you not gone too far, but at this rate- using these means, you will never get there.