11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’ 2 Chronicles 7:11-17
Very little about this makes sense in our 21 century context, nor does it make sense as a believer in a New Covenant context. First of all, the Lord is not speaking to me living in 2013, but rather he is speaking to King Solomon in 950 BCE. The Lord had just consecrated his temple and his glory filled it. Solomon slaughtered 142,000 animals and offered the burnt offering and the fat as a peace-offering to God. After this the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and stated that “I have heard your prayer” and “I have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice”
What is the prayer God that heard? It had different facets, but we read about it in Chapter 13. It boils down to a series of “if-then” statements, where Solomon recognized and vocalized that under the Old Covenant God either blessed or cursed the nation corporately based on how they kept the law. His prayer might be summarized as “Lord, when the people sin against you, you respond. In your terrifying anger you justly bring famine, plagues, exile and death upon them. If they repent of their sins and seek you, stop the famine, deliver them from exile, lift the plagues, and stop bringing in our enemies to kill us.” This has been the history of Israel up till this point, as a theocracy and later under a king in Old Covenant rule. If they honored God they had peace and prosperity and God would heal their land. The flip side is the implicit reiteration of the other half, whch is that if their hearts became full of idolatry and sin they were punished until they repented.
So in context, God’s statement in verse 14 isn’t a unique promise given to every person in every age meant to apply to every geo-political climate and nation state systems. This is not a promise for us or to us. Rather it is a summary of the entire prayer that Solomon just prayed in the previous chapter, and a promise to honor it. God is saying that in response to Israel’s spiritual rebellion and idolatry he will send death, disease, famine and captivity. But if the people of Israel turn from their sin, he will forgive them and heal their land remove these blights from them, which he continued to do for the next 400 years up to and including the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile.
I’ve listened to many sermons and conference talks over the years which have included in them a curious factoid, namely that Gehenna was not only a reference to the Valley of Hinnon, but that it was also a perpetually burning trash dump. The idea is that the Valley of Hinnon laid just south of Jerusalem, immediately outside its walls, and that all the refuse and waste from Jerusalem was burned there. Some people use this historical tidbit to make a point either to paint a picture how foul, vivid and terrible hell would be, or alternately to suggest that there is no eternal hell, and the references Jesus makes to the fires of hell and torment was simply a reference to this burning trash pile. There is a emergent/universalist writer named Sharon Baker who has a book called Razing Hell. She offers the following highly imaginative description of this burning refuse heap, which serves as a nice, detailed amalgamation of all the descriptions I’ve heard of it over the years.
“Well before the time of Jesus, the valley was also used as a refuse heap. The people in the surrounding areas dumped their trash in Gehenna, where it burned day and night. The fire never went out. It smoldered there beneath the surface, incinerating the rotting, smelly garbage. New garbage was piled on top of the old decaying garbage: rotting fish, slimy vegetation, decaying human refuse of every imaginable sort. And as you know from experience, a dump without flies is a dump without garbage. The flies laid eggs on the surface of the dump. So just imagine the hundreds of thousands of squirmy, wormy maggots living there, eating the rotting refuse. All the while, under the surface, the fire still burned, devouring the putrid garbage days and weeks past.
It was a fire that burned forever, where the worm did not die and where people went to throw their trash, grimacing from the stench, gritting their teeth in revulsion, never venturing too close for fear of falling into the abhorrent abyss. In times of war, decaying human flesh mingled with the rotting garbage—imagine the vile vision. When Jesus spoke of Gehenna, his hearers would think of the valley of rotting, worm-infested garbage, where the fire always burned, smoke always lingered, and if the wind blew just right, a smell that sickened the sense wafted in the air.” (pp. 129-30)
There’s only one problem. There is no biblical support for this, neither is there any literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods to suggest this. Put simply, there is no evidence that the valley was, in fact, a perpetually burning garbage dump. In fact, near as anyone can tell, the earliest mention we have of this theory comes a Rabbi named David Kimhi who wrote a commentary on Psalm 27 in the 13th Century. He remarked
“Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’
That’s it. That’s the earliest reference we have to it- a Rabbi writing in the middle ages from Europe, not Israel, some 1100 years after Jesus was born. He does not tell us where he got that information from and that is all we hear of it. There’s nothing before that. There is no mention in the tons upon tons of writings we have from Church Fathers, Christian and Jewish writers, or even secular writers for that matter. Its a blank slate until this commentary pops up. And as far as Rabbi Kimhi goes, note that even he stated the alleged dump of Gehenna became an analogy for the judgment of the wicked, which demonstrates that even the first writer to make this connection saw it to be an analogy for the place that the wicked will be judged.
Todd Bolen, from his bibleplaces blog, rounds up some scholarly sources. He quotes:
Edward Robinson, preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838. He wrote: “In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practised the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed” (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 , 404-5).
James A. Montgomery observes this medieval commentator’s logic, but does not accept it. “With the common sense which often characterizes Jewish commentators, Kimhi says that the place was the dump of the city, where fires were always kept burning to destroy the refuse; ‘therefore the judgment of the wicked is parabolically called Gehenna.’ But from the Biblical references the place appears to have nothing physically objectionable about it; in contrast to its contemporary condition Jeremiah prophesied that it would one day be called ‘Valley of Slaughter’” (“The Holy City and Gehenna,” JBL 27/1 , 34).
About the same time, G. R. Beasley-Murray made a similar observation: “The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimhi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source. The valley was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual judgment (see Isa. 66:24) and later with a place of judgment by fire without any special connection to Jerusalem (see, for example, 1 Enoch 27:1ff., 54:1ff., 63:3-4, and 90:26ff)” (Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 376-77).
W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, in their excellent commentary on Matthew, note the lack of ancient evidence but do not entirely reject the notion of a garbage dump. “Why the place of torment came to have this name, the name of the valley south of Jerusalem, gê-hinnōm (Josh 18.16 LXX: Γαιεννα), now Wādier-rabābi, is uncertain. The standard view, namely, that the valley was where the city’s garbage was incinerated and that the constantly rising smoke and smell of corruption conjured up the fiery torments of the damned, is without ancient support, although it could be correct. Perhaps the abode of the wicked dead gained its name because children had there been sacrificed in fire to the god Molech (2 Chr 28.3; 33.6), or because Jeremiah, recalling its defilement by Josiah (2 Kgs 23.10; cr. 21.6), thundered against the place (Jer 7.31-2; 19.2-9; 32.35), or because it was believed that in the valley was the entrance to the underworld home of the pagan chthonian deities (cf. b. ‘Erub. 19a) (Matthew 1-7, 514-15).
[Repost from a few years ago. Edited for clarity and brevity. Also note that much of this was cribbed directly from John MacArthur sermons, at points verbatim. I don't give him credit in the article itself, but I am here. I took his sermon and dissected it and took some stuff out and added other stuff in and then posted my end result here. If something sounds awesome, assume it's him. If it sounds awful, assume it's me]
I’ve read endless commentaries on this story and have heard many pastors preach on it. Usually it has to do with some form of the merits of sacrificial giving, and I can’t get behind that at all. That understanding doesn’t make sense to me, even though that seems to be the universal application for this text. This story is seemingly always used to tell us that we ought to give the way this widow gave, or some variation thereof, and I cannot see any basis in the text for reaching that conclusion. All these pastors are wrong. All the commentaries are wrong. And I’ll show you why.
“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them, for they all out of their surplus put into the offering, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4.
To set the stage, this is all going down on Wednesday of Passion Week, which is the final week of Jesus’ life. On Monday He entered the city, on Tuesday He cleansed the temple, and all day Wednesday He has been teaching the multitudes in the temple area and has been confronted by the false religious leaders of Judaism. By this point his ministry had winded down and was effectively over. There are no more gospel invitations or any more clarifications to the crowds and to the leaders. All these leaders have rejected him. There is a finality to it, and all that’s left is Jesus preaching an extended message of destruction and judgment upon them, which will come to pass in 70AD. In fact, the last words of chapter 20 are clearly words of judgment, “And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:45-47.
Luke is pretty gracious though, because Mark gives us the fuller account of the dangers of these false religious leaders, some 39 verses after this incident. He pronounced judgment on the leaders and therefore judgment on the nation for following those leaders and rejecting Him. And so what we see is that sandwiched between the condemnation of the false leaders and the pronunciation of judgment is a little story of a widow dropping two copper pennies into an offering receptacle in the temple. It is somewhat of an odd place to find such a story, and so we need to ask why it’s there and what it has to do with anything. How does something like this fit? Why does Jesus inject this moment of reflection on a widow giving an offering in the temple into this section between a diatribe against false leaders and all the people that follow them, and a pronunciation of judgment on the temple, on the city and on the nation?
Universally commentators will tell us that Jesus is giving us a little glimpse of true worship in the middle of the false worship that dominates the temple. They tell us that it’s a beautiful little story in the midst of ugliness. A little light in the midst of darkness, an illustration of giving till it hurts, contrasted with the selfishness of the spiritual leaders.
That’s not what’s happening here. In spite of the popularity of these views, none of these explanations makes any sense. Here’s why; Jesus never makes any of those points that peopel try to make about the widow and her offering. Jesus never said anything about what’s left behind, what percentage, what attitude, or that we should do likewise and give everything. He does not say the rich gave relatively too little and that they had too much left over. He doesn’t say the rich gave too low a percent. He doesn’t say the widow gave the right amount. He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude and the widow had a good attitude, or good spirit.
In fact, He doesn’t say anything about their giving except that she gave more than everybody. He doesn’t say why or with what attitude, or whether she should have, or shouldn’t have, or they should have, or shouldn’t have. Her outward action is all that you see. Nothing indicates that it is more/ or less good, bad, indifferent, humble, proud, selfish, unselfish than anybody else’s act. There is no judgment made on her act as to its true character. There is nothing said about her attitude or her spirit. She could be acting out of devotion. She could be acting out of love. She could be acting out of guilt. She could be acting out of fear. She could be acting out of pride. We don’t know because Jesus doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything about the rich, doesn’t say anything about the widow, doesn’t draw any conclusions, doesn’t develop any principles, doesn’t command anything, doesn’t define anything. Why? Because none of that matters.
There’s only one comment that Jesus makes, and that is that she gave with her two copper coins relatively a great deal more than all the others because all the others gave out of their surplus, which means they had some left. She gave out of her poverty all she had to live on. That’s all there is. No comment that the Lord appreciated her. No comment that the Lord loved her or commended her. No comment that she was now in the Kingdom of God. No invitation to the disciples to reach in to their little money bags and go up there and throw in everything they had because it was good enough for the widow, it should be good enough for the disciples of Jesus.
Who among us would argue that it’s normative for God to expect you to give 100 percent of what you have so that you have absolutely nothing left and you are utterly and completely destitute? Anyone? Because that’s the only obvious principle here if you’re going to draw a principle. Besides, why would you inject the principle in giving in a context like this? This is no place to interject, “Oh by the way, a few words on giving.” What in the world does that have to do with anything? Jesus makes no comment about giving except that she gave more than everybody else relative to what she had. . No one’s attitude or spirit in the giving is discussed. And no principle regarding giving is drawn by our Lord. The narrative is not intended to deal with any of those matters. The reason the Lord doesn’t say anything about it is that’s not what it’s about. And if you look at the context before and after, this is all about the condemnation of wicked spiritual leaders and a corrupt religious system that is about to be destroyed. In fact, in verse 5, the passage immediately after this, some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, and He said, “As for these things which you’re looking at, the days will come in which there will be not one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”
So I think it’s pretty clear what this text is not about. This passage has nothing to do with Jesus commending a widow for giving much, and exhorting us to do likewise.That is nowhere in the text at all. That’s just made up. It doesn’t even have to do with giving at all, and I’ll make the case that this is not a obscure of difficult passage to understand. It’s not even a particularly deep or insightful observation, but rather is simple. In the midst of his pronouncements of judgment and woe Jesus saw a widow give more than everybody else. In other words, her involvement in religion cost her more than it cost anybody else because it cost her everything. That’s all it is. It’s just an observation which the disciplines weren’t confused about, as they didn’t even ask any questions about it.
Another thing to think about is that it seems the assumption in interpreting this as a model for Christian giving is that Jesus was pleased with what she did. But we don’t see that anywhere. It doesn’t say that at all. It doesn’t say that Jesus was pleased with her gift. It doesn’t say Jesus was pleased with her attitude or with the heart and mind that she gave this. It doesn’t say anything about His attitude at all, though I would make the case that if anything what this widow did in giving her two copper coins displeased Jesus immensely. I think it angered him and her giving this made his blood boil. When I consider my own life, as a Christian man who loves his God and cares for other people and cares about their needs, I have no tolerance for a morally bankrupt religious system that compels a poor, destitute widow who only had two coins left to buy her food for her next meal to give those two coins to said religious system.
The very idea outrages me. Something has gone terribly wrong in a system that encourages and even demands that. How else am I supposed to feel when I see an impoverished woman give to her religion her last hope for life to go home and perhaps die? I feel sick and repulsed just thinking about it. Listen- any religion that is built on the back of the poor is a false religion. What a sad, misguided, woeful, poor victimized lady. It’s tragic and painful, and I think that’s exactly how Jesus saw it. He saw that corrupt system taking the last two pennies out of a widow’s pocket who in her desperation hoped that maybe in that legalistic system her two coins would buy some blessing. The rabbis had said that with alms you purchase your salvation and so here she is, trying to buy her way into heaven, trying to buy relief from her desperation and her destitution. [Contemporary “evangelists” call this ‘seed faith’- “Give me your money and God will multiply it back to you.”] God doesn’t want a widow to give up her last two cents and you can’t find that concept anywhere in the Bible at all. In fact, that’s the last thing God would want a widow to do.
The system that had developed in Judaism abused poor people on an economic level and a spiritual level. God’s law was never given to impoverish people, but to help them, and that’s why it’s so wretched to see that this woman was part of a system that took the last two cents out of her hand on the pretense that this was necessary to please God; to purchase her salvation and to bring her blessing. She was manipulated by a religious system that was corrupt. This is not an illustration of heartfelt, sacrificial giving that pleases the Lord and this is not a model for all of us to follow. And so something very different is going on here. This is not about Jesus honoring giving, this is about a victim of a corrupt system who is literally made absolutely destitute trying to live up to that system and earn heaven.
Verse 1, “And He looked up,” I think this is important. If you read around this chapter, you see that Jesus just spent a chunk of time leveling blistering attacks against the false teachers, compounded with feeling physical drained and we get the image that he’s tired and exhausted and sad and resigned. So you get the image of Him sitting there in a moment of thought before He turns to pronounce the judgment for all his disciples to hear. And when He looked up, Mark 12:41 says, “He saw opposite, the treasury observing how people were putting money into the treasury.” Jesus had said in Matthew 6 that you were to do your giving in secret but the religious system had developed a very public prominent way to do it and Pharisees came along and had trumpets blown announcing their arrival to give, according to Matthew 6. And so Jesus looks up and there He sees the people coming, the treasury and how people were putting money into the treasury.
Then there is the woman herself; a poor widow. That should sound very familiar to us because a few verses back we see Jesus saying “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and love respectful greetings in the market places and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses” These are people who are building their success monetarily on the backs of widows. And so what happens? Jesus indicts them for their severe abuse of widows, along with the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the scribes who operated the system that abused the poor and the defenseless for whom they had only disdain. We know that these people view any poor widow as being under the judgment of God, -as that’s why she was a poor widow. Furthermore, widows were women and women were second-class, and Pharisees every day prayed, “Lord, make me not a Gentile or a woman.” And because they were widows, they were defenseless and easy prey.
So what does this scene in particular show us? You have Jesus talking about poor widows being devoured and then nearly in the same breath he sees an example of this abuse. To reiterate again;That was all. Nothing is said about her attitude, nothing is said about her spirit, nothing said about whether she did it in desperation or devotion, whether she did it in legalism or love, it doesn’t say anything about that. The Lord doesn’t commend her, doesn’t make her an example, doesn’t validate what she did, doesn’t say it was a worthy spiritual act that greatly pleased Him. All He said was, this religious system is preying on widows, this cost her more than everyone else. She put in relatively, comparatively more than anyone. The religious leaders were devouring widows and the more desperate these poor widows became the more they thought they needed to buy God’s blessing. Belittled by the establishment because they were thought to be in that state because of divine punishment, second-class women, they were defenseless, easily exploited and the system exploited them to the max. And so they took the last two cents of the poor woman and it was all, the end of verse 4 says, she had to live on, it was literally her life. She would probably go home and die.
Jesus isn’t commending her; she’s a victim. He’s not proud of her. He’s not making her an example of sacrificial giving. This is an absurdity. He is observing the corruption of the system that is going to be destroyed under the leadership of these corrupt condemned leaders. They’re exploiting the most defenseless, the most impoverished. Jesus certainly is not saying she gave her last cent and that’s what you should do, of course not. He doesn’t want you to give up everything you’ve got and go home and die. He’s observing the false religion that preys on the weak and the desperate and the defenseless and holds out hope to the hopeless if they just give their money. I don’t think Jesus was happy. I think Jesus was angry. And that’s why He says in verse 6, “As for the things which you’re looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” And the disciples say, “When’s it going to happen?” And He says, “It’s going to happen,” and He describes it in the remainder of the chapter.
I don’t know why pastors insist on reading into this text and eisegeting into it these ideas of the joys of giving all we have. There’s no denying that those ideas are imported. If you saw a widow give her last two cents to some religious organization in the hope that she could purchase salvation or purchase blessing, or buy healing, or buy prosperity, you wouldn’t commend her, you’d want to stop her and you’d want to shut down that religious system that preys on the desperate. This act did not please our Lord. She’s simply been taught falsely and she bought in to a system that destroyed her. No praise is given of her act or her attitude. She’s caught in the corruption of the system at the hands of those wretched leaders. She has given her last coins to a false religion. Jesus is angry. And that’s why He’ll destroy this den of robbers, which goes down in AD 70.
This has to do with a woman giving all she had to a corrupt system, Jesus observing that she had indeed given her all, and reinforcing the idea that what this woman was doing was not right and that she was being preyed on by widow-devourers who were engaged in an ongodly spiritual scam which Jesus condemned and rejected. That’s it.That’s all there is to it. It’s simple and it’s easy to understand and it doesn’t need to be tinkered with or bred with assumed external interpolations in order to be made clear. This passage is not for us. We are not to emulate this woman who is being taken advantage of. If anything it’s a warning to us that we do not do the same, and put not our trust in broken systems that enslave us to works righteousness and the law, but rather put our trust in the loving mercies of Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and for salvation.
I’m on a bit of a kick reading gay literature and queer theory as of late [ mostly for a project I'm working on for this blog] but through my readings I wound up on genderfork. Genderfork is a website which serves as a safe haven of support for people who don’t self-identify in the typical male/female, gay/ straight paradigms. Its motto is “beauty in ambiguity” and the community posts short profiles of themselves and say what label if any they identify with and what sort of third-party pronouns they like to be addressed by.
One person said “I identify as… “Genderqueer, Androgynous, Boi, Gender-Fluid” another said ” Masculine-Feminine Switch, Dyke-leaning pansexual girlfag.” One said “Ambiguous Gender Ninja.” and another described themselves as “Transgender, Two-Spirit, Polysexual, BiDyke.” One said “”Gender-bending gender-Awesome” and others gave the shorthanded “Gay,” “Soft Butch”, “Queer” “Cis-gender,”, etc. One person said ” I identify as a vaguely butch vaguely femme male-bodied anarcho-queerion.” Lastly a “they” named Crispin said that “I identify as a Schrödinger’s cat of gender, I never know what I am until I try to observe it. One day I’ll observe and be a straight man, five minutes later I may find myself to be an asexual androgene, or a genderqueer woman, or none of the above.”
Its been an interesting time of introspection to develop a fully-orbed response to this. Because here’s the thing- there are Christians who will read something like that and be at a complete loss. In their state of revulsion and sanctimonious piety they’ll hurl epitaphs at these ambiguous ones and dump their bodies into hell themselves if given half a chance. Others in their ignorance will fight and argue using strawmen and throwing philosophical sophistry bombs while raging about the damage they are doing to society, while still others will present rude, unsophisticated, damningly stupid biblical arguments which serve as little more than to kindle the fire of resentment and recoil. All of which is unfortunate and is a blight to our faith, because we have so much more to offer than that. We have beautiful, wonderful, exhilarating and redemptive things to say- so let’s not lose our opportunity.
We live in a pluralistic, post-modern society, where created and contradictory self-identification is not seen as bad or confused, but completely legitimate. In a way queerfork can be thought of what happens when Jacque Derridas intermingles with the critical theories of Eve Sedwick. It’s gender deconstruction and reconstruction absent the societal norms which we have traditionally understood and navigated. For all practical purposes we have discarded the laws of non-contradiction so that we can be whatever we want to be, whenever we want to be, and it doesn’t matter if they overlap or bump up besides each other or are at odds with each other in any way. Its a tribute to our post-modernism; a pomo-sexual revolution, and the whole time we are being told that far from being confused, those with this mentality are free, clear- headed thinkers. They have attained a higher level of consciousness than we have and have become unshackled and unburdened from heteronormative ways of thinking.
Has a failure to polarize sexuality into distinct camps done damage to society? Not in the way that is commonly understood. Fluid, borderless and “create your own label” sexual identities is the natural progression for a society that “loves the world and the things of the world.” So its not damaging society as much as it is reflecting society and changing societal norms. Its not causing a rift in our societal evolution so much as it is our societal evolution with the challenge not to stop it but to navigate through it and recognize it for what it is.
So what is our response? Our responses are manifold. We don’t laugh at or mock people who are dressed like this or look this way. We don’t make jokes out of it or use the occasion to demonstrate our own sin. We are the first persons to engage them and love them through friendship and relationship. We stand up for them and offer them protection from all verbal, emotional, and physical violence. We never for a minute regard their socio-sexual expressions as sin without being bruised by the weight of our own. We step in and repel any ignorant misconception, misstatements or fallacies regarding anyone expressing themselves on whatever end of the sexual matrix they feel they are on. And lastly once all of that is done, we never lose sight of the core of our convictions as Christian believers, and we verbalize with compassion the good news that Jesus is sovereign over all gender and sexuality. This is the reality that he has in his wisdom and glory created it for a specific purpose and function, which we proclaim the truth in conjunction with the gospel, and never apart from it.
What is the truth? The truth is that the Bible addresses human sexuality from a holistic perspective of God’s intention and design. In contrast to both pagan sex rituals and our modern obsession with sex, the Bible places sex within the total context of human nature, happiness, and holiness. Taken out of this context, sexual anarchy reigns as sex is set loose to be an end in itself.
Jesus created human beings as male and female, both in His own image [Mark 10]. Thus, gender is not a mere biological accident or social construction. The contrast and complementarity between the man and the woman reveal that gender is part of the goodness of Jesus’ creation. Modern efforts to redefine or redesign gender are directly contrary to the Bible’s affirmation of maleness and femaleness as proper distinctions. God’s glory is seen in the maleness of the man and the femaleness of the woman. This pattern of distinction is affirmed and enforced by liturgical orders and restrictions on dress, hair length, etc. Any effort to confuse or deny gender differences is expressly forbidden and opposed by Scripture, especially as seen in Old Testament legal codes.
As image bearers of God- made in the image of male and female, we don’t see a plurality of options or purposes . We don’t see a “he made them male-ish” and “female-ish” but rather two distinct and yet complementary groups with complimentary qualities and characteristics, so that the woman in union with the man would be “one flesh.” There are rare times when these marks are mixed or obscured, but such exceptions are few and they reinforce the norm. As a result, men and women’s gender identities are grounded in and, to an extent, limited by the permanent details of their sexed bodies. Jesus himself has very specific ideas about what is male and female and how that ought to be expressed sexually and through gender roles. [Man is infused with maleness" and Female is designated as woman-ness, which must by necessity be different from man and maleness]. Everything that is contrary to that, no matter how much it may be genuinely felt, biologically anchored, or sociologically accepted, is to be rejected and recognized as the ruthless embodiment of sin-scrapped rebellion that it is.
But praise God that Christ died for every sin- heterosexual, homosexual, and everything invented by the human mind that could possibly lie in between. There is grace and forgiveness for everyone who repents and puts their faith and hope in Christ. Our heart of stone is removed, and we are given a heart of flesh to fuel our new nature, which abides in Christ. No longer are we slaves to sin and to our former nature, but we are free to love and worship him and experience true joy apart from the shallow fleetingness that is “happiness”. Through him we get to become his friends, sons and daughters, no longer under the threat of his wrath, but free and forgiven in his love. That’s the template we work from.
[And note. There are rarely any silver bullets when sin is concerned. Having ones sexual orientation inclined towards the same sex as a believer is a weighty, weighty burden. In light of this, I would suggest that the biblical command for anyone who is struggling with same sex attraction or sexual dysphoria has two prerogatives. The first is to take this to Christ in prayer, asking that God would redeem their sexuality so that Christ might help them become “reoriented,”so that they would be counted in the “and such were some of you” category in 1 Corinthians 6. If the Lord in his sovereign mercy does not make this a reality, and that feeling of attraction to the same sex, or that feeling of attraction to the opposite sex from perspective of being a different sex, or that feeling grotesque displacement from your physical body does not go away, then living a life of celibacy is the final call, all the while praying for the first. It is a painful cross to bear. It is lonely and frustrating and at times bleak. It is a bloody war; a vicious and heartbreaking battle. But in the whole process God will be slowly refining you in the slow burn of sanctification, and his pleasures and promises are better.]
To the ” Masculine-Feminine switch, Dyke-leaning pansexual girlfag” such notions will probably be regarded as horrific and scary as hell and an attack on their being and nature. [Note, I would regard blurring of the line and failing to polarize sexuality ultimately as the true ferocious, deviant, and mephistophelian attack on women, but that specifically is a different argument] In a very real way it is. All we can do though is approach each person as calmly and loving as we can. Not as a project, but so that we can genuinely like who they are as people. Not as self-righteous, but from a posture and position of constantly being bombarded with our own sins and inadequacies and the price that had to be paid for them on the cross. That’s what we need to communicate and what we need as Christians to start being the driving force for our forays into the world. Let us be unmoving and unyielding in our convictions while being extravagant and immoderate in our joy and affection for each others souls.
There is a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. It is, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I say attributed because there are no primary sources for him actually saying or writing this, but rather it has been attributed to him by secondary sources. But assuming he did say it, this quote has been tossed around with reckless abandon as a way to point out the hypocrisy that we believers struggle against as we wrestle with our desire to live as Christ did, and our seemingly inability to. We’re told by Gandhi that our failure to be consistent in our outward moral actions and inward spiritual intent is one of the primary reasons why he himself and so many people don’t take us seriously, and that a failure to practice what we preach is what is driving the masses away.
We need to stop using this quote and we need to be far more discerning when we voluntary subject ourselves to this man’s criticism of our faith and spiritual walk.
Why? Because Gandhi did not like our Christ. When he said that he likes our Christ, he was not referring to the deep affections he had for the Biblical, historical Jesus as revealed in his entirety in both the Old and New Testament. He was not referring to the whole and sum of the blessed hypostatic union- our God who came in the flesh to seek and save the lost by bringing salvation and reconciliation to his people. He was not referring to the Christ of scriptures who made radically exclusive about how through him alone was the only way to the Father and to everlasting peace and life. He was not referring to the immaculately conceived son of God who died for the sins of the world and then rose again after three days for our justification, sanctification and glorification.
No. Gandhi did not like that Christ. Instead what Gandhi did is something that people have been doing since the beginning of time- he changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things… Gandhi spent his life fabricating a Jesus of his own invention-one who acted and behaved like he wanted him to. He sliced through the scriptures with his metaphorical scalpel and created a cut-and-paste collage of theological agglomeration- a homage to idolatry and absurdity. In this Gandhi picked out and lauded all the teachings that he liked and which agreed with his Hinduism, particularly his belief in Jesus’ non-violence and teachings on turning the other cheek. For Gandhi these were the highest and best manifestations of who Jesus was- a moral teacher who served as our highest example of principled ethics and exemplary friend to all mankind.
At the same time he categorically rejected any of Jesus’ claims to divinity and salvific exclusivity. He did not like our Christ; he liked his own caricatured version of Christ. Jesus was a good man. A good teacher. A good moralist. But he was not God, and his goodness only went so far as his inclusive claims extended. His Jesus was kind and tolerant of all religions and spiritual persuasions, having understood that there was truth in all religions and that they all led to the same place. If he had been asked by Jesus “who do you say that I am?” he would never have responded “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” There was no place in his concept of Jesus as one who came not to bring peace, but rather a sword, who came to divide and set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother. There is no place in his worldview of Jesus as one who “is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” or “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
To offer just three quotes from Gandhi
I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all sons of God, but for each of us there may be different sons of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God … God cannot be the exclusive Father and I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus.” [Harijan: June 3, 1937]
It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in Him, would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. [His Own Story. Page 141.]
For, he [Jesus] was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am sure that if he were living here now among men, he would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard his name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which he was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one’s neighbor as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one’s fellowmen. [The Modern Review, October 1941]
Did Gandhi like our Christ? No, he didn’t. Did he like his fabricated version of Christ? Very much so, apparently. For that reason we don’t need to quote this man as if he were in any way any kind of authority over us or as if he had any idea what he was talking about. He was no profound commentator on Christianity. He was hardly an authority on Jesus, had fundamental misunderstandings of himself and the rest of humanity, and he denied the very essence of what made Jesus our Lord. Why should we care if we do not attain to this falsified version of Jesus?
I do believe we need to be more like Christ, but I want to become like the real Christ, not this fabricated version of Gandhi’s imagination. So next time someone uses this quote on you, don’t accept the premise. It’s important that we hear the message that we ought to be more Christ-like, but I’d rather take an exhortation from John or Paul or anybody who knows who the real Jesus is, than Mahatma Gandhi. That is where I want my rebuke and chastisement and encouragement to come from- from the scriptures, and not a morally reprehensible, Christ-hating man who denied our great God and Savior and thereby showed himself to have the spirit of the antichrist.
Sharon Hodde Miller wrote this article a few months ago and I’ve decided to reprint it here, as it is quite excellent.
I remember the first time I heard the words chirped by an eager female college student as we discussed the topic of modesty. Her enthusiasm was mixed with perk and reprimand, producing a tone that landed somewhere between Emily Post and a cheerleader.
To be honest, my initial reaction to “modest is hottest” was amusement. I thought the rhyme was clever and lighthearted, a harmless way to promote the virtue described in 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3-4. No harm no foul.
Since then, I’ve heard this mantra of the pure proclaimed many times by young women, Christian artists (including, most famously, CCM singer Rebecca St James, and Christian leaders. In conversations the phrase always elicits chuckles, but my response has changed over time. I still wholly affirm modesty as a biblical practice for men and women, but now I hesitate to embrace the “modest is hottest” banner. Those three words carry a lot of baggage.
The Christian rhetoric of modesty, rather than offering believers an alternative to the sexual objectification of women, often continues the objectification, just in a different form.
As the Christian stance typically goes, women are to cover their bodies as a mark of spiritual integrity. Too much skin is seen as a distraction that garners inappropriate attention, causes our brothers to stumble, and overshadows our character. Consequently, the female body is perceived as both a temptation and a distraction to the Christian community. The female body is beautiful, but in a dangerous way.
This particular approach to modesty is effective because it is rooted in shame, and shame is a powerful motivator. That’s the first red flag. Additionally concerning about this approach is that it perpetuates the objectification of women in a pietistic form. It treats women’s bodies not as glorious reflections of the image of God, but as sources of temptation that must be hidden. It is the other side of the same objectifying coin: one side exploits the female body, while the other side seems to be ashamed of it. Both sides reduce the female body to a sexual object.
Of course, this language isn’t new. Consider how profoundly the female identity has been negatively linked to her body throughout church history. For several decades now, feminist theologians have critiqued the mind-body dualism by which Christians have equated men with the mind and women with the carnal body. Citing Eve as the original “gateway for the Devil,” thinkers such as Tertullian have peppered Christian tradition with hostility toward the wiles of femininity. Origen likened women to animals in their sexual lust. According to author Jane Billinghurst, “Early Christian men who had to greet women during church services by shaking their hands were advised to first wrap their hands in robes so as to shield their flesh against their seductive touch.”
In response to this aspect of the Christian tradition, Rosemary Radford Ruether and other feminist theologians have over the past 50 years rightly challenged the mind-body dualism by which women were thought to be “modeled after the rejected part of the psyche,” and are “shallow, fickle-minded, irrational, carnal-minded, lacking all the true properties of knowing and willing and doing.”
All this negative talk about the female body may have created a vacuum for the “modest is hottest” approach to fill. Perhaps the phrase’s originator hoped to provide a more positive spin on modesty. I sympathize with that. However, “modest is hottest” also perpetuates (and complicates) this objectification of women by equating purity with sexual desire. The word “hot” is fraught with sexual undertones. It continues a tradition in which women are primarily objects of desire, but it does so in an acceptable Christian way.
Making modesty sexy is not the solution we need. Instead, the church needs to overhaul its theology of the female body. Women continue to be associated with their bodies in ways that men are not. And, as a result of this unique association, women’s identities are also uniquely tied to their bodies in a manner that men’s identities are not.
How do we discuss modesty in a manner that celebrates the female body without objectifying women, and still exhorts women to purity? The first solution is to dispense with body-shaming language. Shame is great at behavior modification, even when the shaming is not overt. But shame-based language is not the rhetoric of Jesus. It is the rhetoric of his Enemy.
Second, we must affirm the value of the female body. The value or meaning of a woman’s body is not the reason for modesty. Women’s bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting. On the contrary, women’s bodies glorify God. Dare I say that a woman’s breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord! Each womanly part honors Him. He created the female body, and it is good.
Finally, language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body. Men and women are urged to pursue a modesty by which our glory is minimized and God’s is maximized. The body, the spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty.
That is not to say that godly women will not attract godly men with their modesty. They might. But that is not the purpose of modesty. If “modest is hottest” encapsulates the message we communicate to young women about modesty, then we have missed the mark. “Modest is hottest” is foundationally human-centered, whereas biblical modesty is first and foremost centered on God.
Sermon Review. Brad Jersak. January 15, 2012. The Gospel in Chairs
I’ve been aware of the ministry promulgations of Brad Jersak for a while now. I first came across it when I read his book “Can you hear me? Tuning into the God who speaks” and then later on when I was looking into all the speakers who would be at Breakforth 2011, I became familiar with and eventually read “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem” and “Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ”. I hadn’t thought much about him in the last few years, but then I saw that he had delivered a series of lectures and sermons at the Alliance Church. After listening to the sermon and all of the lectures, I became profoundly disturbed at what I heard. For this reason I have devoted a great amount of time ferociously reading all that I can about him in order to understand him better and attain a better grasp of his theology and the implications of his theology. This includes the entire six years of his blog, a dozen sermons, most of what he has written at the Clarion Journal [including several articles he had written that the site had purged and deleted] , as well as the writings and youtube videos of his close acquaintances and ideological partners Brian Zahnd and Archbishop Lazurte.
For that reason, this will not serve simply as an isolated sermon review, but hopefully may be a resource to serve the greater body of Christ for anyone interested in this man and the progressive missives that he is promoting. Because of the length of it and the copious amounts of verbatim quotations I have done, I will be splitting this up into three parts. The first two parts will be a sermon evaluation of the message itself, and the last part will be an assessment of how we should now view and treat the Alliance Church in light of their choice to give a platform to this man and promote the theology of his sermon.
Brad Jersak begins the sermon by sharing his desire to speak on the dimensions of God’s love. He commences by offering a translation of the biblical text that he has done, with the hope that it will be “fresh”. In analysing this particular verse, He states that Paul’s point is that we can’t comprehend how big God’s love is for us, that even as we can’t understand it- we need to. And so Paul prays for supernatural power to receive the good news.
“I’m on my knees, praying to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose family in heaven and earth is named after. I’m asking Father to make a withdrawal from his heavenly bank account and to make a deposit of supernatural power of his spirit into your spirit. Why? So that by faith you would find the living Christ filling your heart with his love. And I’m praying God would sink your roots deeply into the rich soil of capital “L” love. Then you’ll have the capacity of saints to know in your knower that Jesus’ love is wider, longer, deeper, and higher than you ever imagined. If you only knew the dimensions of Jesus’ love, the fullness of God would fill every corner of your life. So lets raise a toast to the name of Jesus, the one who hears what we ask for and sees what we imagine and then massively exceeds those expectations. And you won’t believe this part. He does this work through human partners, so let’s be the radiation glory of Jesus who shines through us evermore brightly year after year, and for all time with no end in sight. ” Ephesians 3:14-21.
This segment is the only thing resembling scripture we will hear for the next 25 minutes. In this case we can see it is a poor paraphrase of the actual verse, which reads from the NASB
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen”
I don’t understand the purpose of offering his own paraphrase there. Its certainly not a translation as he has claimed, as no actual translation of the original text is apparent. He also changes and tweak much of the meaning, to the point that it does not actually resemble what Paul has said, but rather a self-interested paraphrase. Why is this a good thing? This sort of thing was satirized in a post called “I‘m writing my own bible version“, but the reality is that you are not getting our best scholarly approximation or exactations of what Paul said, rather you are getting one man’s “fresh” understanding of the “gist” of what Paul said. Which one is better to have? If its the former, why is the latter so readily accepted?
But despite that, he states that the purpose of this sermon is to speak on how we can’t comprehend the love of God- that God’s love has been misunderstood and hijacked, and so the intent of this sermon is is that we have a new perspective on that love. Brad states
“My understanding is that all of your real problems…. come from not knowing how wide and long and high and deep is his love for you. If you knew, you’d never sin. All my sinful behaviors, all my struggles inside- the suffering of my soul that causes me to stumble, all of that would be solved forever, eternally if I just knew how much he loved me. So we’re working on it, right? It will not help me to try harder, and to put more religious hoops up to jump through, and to grit my teeth and scrunch my forehead. What will help me is that he loves me. Period. Because it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And this is not a new message, obviously. Paul preached it “
Where in the bible is that taught? Is is neither a biblical concept or category that our flesh would stop sinning and that we would be walking in perfect obedience to the father if only we could grasp the extent of his love for us. Where does Paul preach it, as he alleges? Is it really obvious that all desire to sin would dissipate and we would stop sinning if we understood God’s love? Using this line of thinking, our problem is not that we have a sinful nature, but rather we don’t have enough knowledge, and that our sin problem would disappear if that knowledge could ever be acquired.
Second of all, what is the purpose of squeezing half of Romans 2:4 into that at the very end “Because it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance”. Romans 2:3-5 reads “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.It’s to note that he is not using his bible snippet in a contextually accurate way.Realistically, a proper exegesis would show that on multiple occasions the Jews had experienced God’s patience and forbearance. They supposed that such blessings showed that they were right with God and had no need to trust in Christ, but Paul says the opposite is true: God’s blessings should have led them to repent of their sins. Nowhere does Paul teach that it would enable them to stop sinning if they just understood his love. That is a concept utterly and completely foreign to that verse and to the scriptures.
Brad Jersak then reads the hymn “There is a wideness in God’s mercy” and says that the love of God is deeper and wider than we thought “Longer, think it terms of time, and how his love can outlast anything , even death.” [Its to note that this is an allusion to his belief as a hopeful inclusivist, and the idea that even after we die God will still call people to him and it should be our eschatology hope that they can and will still be saved] In essence, we’ve made the love of God for this universe way too small.
He lays out his reasoning for using the gospel in chairs,
“Because it’s going to demonstrate what I think has been an anointed gospel message that we’ve taught since the 1500′s or so, and that many people have come to Christ through it, and its too small and we need an upgrade. Way too small. So I’m going to contrast that with a second version, I think more powerful, more deep, but also more ancient. 500 years is too young for the gospel message because our gospel came through Jesus Christ. And so what I want to do is contrast what I call the the legal version of the gospel with the more ancient biblical version that I think we could call the restorative version.”
He states that the modern legal understanding of the atonement was established by John Calvin in 1536, who was an angry young man.
“His version pictures God as an angry judge and that he actually said God’s primary disposition towards you is that you’re his enemy and as an angry judge his wrath must be appeased by a violent sacrifice. And we used to use the word propitiation for that. When I learned that word, its a bible word, when I learned that word I was told its sort or like when the pagan religions would take and throw a virgin into a volcano to appease an angry god.”
Its to note that he disparages Calvin’s charcater as an angry young man, for no reason and without any evidence. Furthermore, the modern legal understanding of the atonement may have been laid out systematically by Calvin, but it is far more ancient than that, with its roots in the early centuries of the faith.
“The idea is that Jesus saved you from God. Now like I said, there’s an anointing in that preaching. I preached it….I saw people come to Christ and I saw the Spirit honor the message, so I don’t want to be too quick to slam it, but I am saying maybe we’re due for an upgrade.”
Interestingly enough, that’s twice he’s said this modern view of the gospel is either anointed or that preaching that message is anointed, and that the Spirit honored it, and yet later on he emphatically states that its a false gospel. This is patently dishonest. If he truly believe its a false gospel, how can he believe that it is anointed? Why play coy in this manner and give lip service while despising it? Paul states that those who bring another gospel are to be anathematized, so why say that it is anointed while at the same time seeking to demolish it and casting it as a modern, fanciful, unbiblical postulation?
In fact, Brad Jersak edited a book called “Stricken by God” where he assembled the essays of an ecclectic mix of Christians and pagans and offered their articles as a counterpoint to the idea that God’s wrath was being poured out on Christ at the cross, and that a violent sacrifice was taking place. This is important to note. I would argue that its clear from even a basic lexical understading that “violence” can refer to the use of great physical force even as its legal sense is “the unlawful exercise of physical force.” From the standpoint of Brad Jersak there appears to be no lawful exercise of force.
And yet here’s the reality of the situation. If violence is, by definition, always negative, it is obviously inappropriate for God. However, it is extraordinarily difficult to understand the biblical narrative if such is the case. To use “violence” to describe any exercise of force [lawful or unlawful] leads to unfortunate hermeneutical hoop jumping. How one uses the Bible is a key as to how one will understand the atonement, and it is precisely here that the consequences of making nonviolence the primary hermeneutical lens for reading Scripture become problematic, particularly when “violence” is defined as intrinsically evil.
The place of the Old Testament and its depiction of God in the construction of Christian theology is a very important issue. When you listen to Brad Jersak’s sermon you should be struck by how little the narrative of the Old Testament informed the reflections on the life and death of Jesus, especially as it pertains to justice, wrath, and anger at sin. Jesus pursued his mission as one who fulfilled the promises of the old covenant [being a prophet greater than Moses, a priest greater than Aaron and a king greater than David], it is cause for concern that a pre-commitment to God as nonviolent produces such disjunction between the Old Testament scriptures which were Jesus’ own Bible and the New Testament scriptures, which unpack for us how God’s old covenant promises were realized in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
Brad Jersak views this as “too small” and considers it our responsibility to reinterpret the character and heart of God, from that of violent to anti-violent. But from where does this “responsibility” arise and how will we tell when such reinterpretations become invalid? The goal can be to upgrade our atonement belief by reading scripture throughthe lens of a peace-loving, anti-violent God, but from what canon is that lens derived as the essentialhermeneutical criterion for the bible and its interpretations? It’s not.
If preserving the absoluteness of nonviolence requires us to ignore the old covenant context of Jesus, too greata price has been paid and the Trinity itself may be at risk, for YHWH of the Old Testament comes to look veryunlike the Jesus portrayed in these nonviolent constructions. Certainly, Jesus is the supreme self-revelation ofGod but the God he reveals to us is essentially continuous with the God who revealed himself to Israel in his great acts of deliverance from Egypt and later through judges and kings and by powerful direct acts, such as interventions of the Angel of the Lord in Isaiah 37:36.
As it were, Brad Jersak continues by saying he wants to upgrade this small idea of God we have into what what he considers the more ancient, biblical version that the Church fathers taught and believed. He says that the Church fathers were the disciples of John, and their disciples, and their disciples that occurred with the first few centuries of the church, which he calls the restorative version.
“God comes not as an angry judge to be appeased, but he comes as a great physician who wants to heal us at the very root of our problem- who can see even beneath our sin into the sorrows that cause our sin. And he comes there, and he treats sin not as lawbreaking that needs a spanking, he treats sin as a disease that needs to be healed. Sort of like meningitis. What if its not just about getting babies to stop crying, what if its about healing them at the root of their problem and what if that’s how Jesus sees us? “
If one starts with the presupposition that violence is always wrong, strange and obtuse readings of Scripture are often necessary in order to absolve God of any involvement in the use of force. Such an approach, for instance, leaves no room for the wrath of God which is viewed as antithetical to divine love. Coupled with the contention that divine justice is always restorative and never retributive, these commitments to nonviolence require us to reject much biblical teaching concerning God’s attitude and action toward sin, which we see Brad Jersak doing. In his case, sin is a disease like meningitis, or maybe like herpes, and the cure is understanding God’s love. That is an extremely sub-biblical proposition. It furthermore removes the possibility of any divine punishment of sin, particularly of the eternal divine punishment that is generally understood by Christians to be at work in the assignment of unrepentant sinners to hell, and so it could lead to complete universalism , or in Brad’s case, hopeful inclusivism.
Notice how he claims that this is an ancient belief that the Church fathers taught, emphasizing how it is old and biblical and that these disciples of John and Peter taught this, and yet gives NO evidence for it. He talks it up and goes nowhere with it, and in fact never once offers any evidence or attestation that his understanding is more ancient or even that it was believed by any church fathers, which is extremely deceptive.
Contrary to his assertion, I would suggest that substitutionary atonement was the basis for all of the major models of atonement theory in the early church, including the ransom theory, moral influence theory, deification and recapitulation theory, the atonement from the perspective of the mimetic anthropology theory, the satisfaction theory and penal substitution theory. For this reason almost all patristic literature speaks of some form of substitution, [the majority holding to a ransom theory with substitutionary overtones and underpinnings] with Anselm and later Calvin really centering in on the penal aspect of it, using the exegesis of the scriptures for their basis. I would suggest and argue that an author can be held to teach the Penal doctrine if he plainly states that the punishment deserved by sin from God was borne by Jesus Christ in his death on the Cross, which I would argue that even Justin Martyr did in one of his Letters to Trypho.
It’s clear that his restorative theory is another name for the “Christ as example” theory. [more on that later] But the point ultimately is not what the “Church fathers” wrote- many of them writing several hundred years and a dozen generations after the disciples, but rather what the most careful, best systematic exegesis of the scriptures reveals. Its to note that Brad Jersak doesn’t even attempt to back up his claims biblically, and instead resorts to emotional appeals with a decidedly lack of scriptural basis. In any case, the fact is that he makes a point about saying its biblical and ancient and that the early church believe it, and yet doesn’t back it up.
The main illustration he uses is the gospel in chairs illustration, where he has two chairs that face each other. In the modern legal version, when Adam sins, God turns [his chair] away from them and kicks them out of the garden.
“They are expelled for all time because he is holy and pure and righteous and cannot look on sin and he turns away from man. In this state, man cannot work his way out of sin. All our efforts to please God and justify ourselves and make ourselves righteous are filthy rags, we’re totally depraved and desperately wicked. But God in his love sent his Son to stand on behalf of humanity, who turned toward God himself and walked in perfect fellowship with his Father, preached good news, healed the sick and was perfectly obedient to the father. At the end of his life Jesus is put to death and the father puts all the sins of the world on his Son and he who knew no sin became sin, [on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ] he became a curse, And while he was on the cross God poured out all his wrath on his son in our place. He appeased the fathers wrath and anger. Jesus then rises from the dead, and those that believe in him can have a relationship with the father. At that point the chairs are again facing each other. “
Where does it say in the Bible that the reason God kicked them out is because he could not look upon sin? It doesn’t. God states in Genesis 3:17 that he was kicking them out “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’and in verse 22 “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”.There’s nothing about God kicking them out because he couldn’t look upon sin.
He quotes Martin Luther who he says said “When God looks at you he doesn’t see you. You are a snow covered dung”That’s not true. None who have made this claim have been able to document precisely who originated the phrase, or where it occurs in Luther’s voluminous writings. I would ask for a primary source but he would not be able to provide one, as it does not exist. He says that its the idea that God doesn’t really see you, because you’re a mess, but in Christ he sees Jesus.
“For me that’s small comfort. If he could see what I’m really like he would still reject me, he would still turn from me, but lucky me he sees only Jesus, and the other side of it is if we don’t believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us we remain in our sin and God must remain at enmity with us and we’re alienated from God. And if we die in that state, of course we experience the eternal conscious torment of the wrath of God for all times as sinners condemned to hell
“What bothers me about this version is how fickle God is. He is the God who turns from us and turns towards us and turns from and and turns toward us and also he’s a little bit like…. you know…. the one who has to torture his own Son in order to get his anger off his chest. I shared this with Archbishop Lazaure of the Eastern Orthodox Church.. and he goes “that’s not Yahweh, that’s Molech. Molech was the god who [the] Israelites would try to appease, they would try to suck up to him and try to get his blessing by sacrificing their own children so that his wrath would not come against them. And when in the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah says ” that’s not ok”. He says this; ” God would never even think of such a thing. It would never even enter his mind.” That’s odd. what would enter his mind?”
All right. Lets do some comparative biblical work. First of all notice how there is absolutely no exposition of the Bible, and he has been preaching for twenty minutes and making some radical claims. He has not provided any scriptural or textual evidence for what he has said. Its also important to note that neither Brad Jersak nor the Archbishop believe in a literal hell that unbelievers ultimate go to. He will develop this a little bit later, but he has a visceral hatred for the idea that God punishes people in hell for their unbelief, and so the idea of God pouring out wrath on his son is not just an issue of soteriology, but rather effects and affects his hamartology, eschatology, theology, christology, his view of the afterlife, etc.
That is why he is so against the belief that “if we don’t believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us we remain in our sin and God must remain at enmity with us and we’re alienated from God. And if we die in that state, of course we experience the eternal conscious torment of the wrath of God for all times as sinners condemned to hell” for Brad that is a blasphemous false gospel that must be undone.
Brad Jersak also believes that “God is not angry with you and has never been” That is not limited to Christians, but to humanity as a whole. Let that sink in. God has never been angry with you. Which is strange, because we hear mention of the wrath of God and the anger of God all the time in the scriptures, particularly in Jeremiah and Ezekial. To offer a brief survey;
Nahum 1:2: A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies.
Leviticus 26:27-30. Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins. Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat. I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you.
Ezra 5:12 But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.
Jeremiah 7:20 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.”
John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”
Romans 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
So how can he say that God has never been angry at humanity? You can’t, and you must question the hermeneutic he is using to say that he hasn’t. Furthermore, who is painting this idea of a God who is constantly turning back and forth as if he were some bi-polar deity? It is a caricature that Brad Jersak is propping up so that he can tear it down. I don’t know anyone who believes that, and in fact no significant believer in penal substitution would portray the Father’s act as done for selfish satisfaction to get his anger of his chest. The description falls into the common error of ignoring the Trinitarian unity in the willing and execution of the Son’s atoning work. Father, Son and Spirit purposed to bring about salvation and no one imposed or demanded anything of another in this or any other work of the Trinue God.
Rejection of penal substitution is sometimes put in terms of a choice between either/or when those who affirm penal substitution characteristically affirm both/and. Brad Jersak might say that the cross was a manifestation of God’s love rather than his wrath, but this is a false disjunction from the standpoint of penal substitution, which sees God’s work of appeasing his own wrath against sinners as the supreme demonstration of his love. In responding to caricatures such as these, it’s important not to assume that punishment presupposes an emotionally unstable deity who flies into fits of rage. Penalsubstitution does not require such caricatures.
There is also a category error in his comparison of Yahweh to Molech and saying that it would never enter God’s mind to kill Jesus. And yet what do we see in the scriptures?Acts 2;22-23. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men “
In his sermon Peter combines a clear affirmation of God’s sovereignty over world events and human responsibility for evil deeds. Although Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, showing that God had both foreknown and foreordained that Jesus would be crucified, that it was planned, that still did not absolve of responsibility those who contributed to his death, for Peter goes on to say, “you crucified and killed” him. Notice how he also includes the phrase “by the hands of lawless men.” Peter also places responsibility on the Gentile officials and soldiers who actually crucified Jesus.
We also readActs 4:27-28: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
We are able to affirm both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. The term “Whatever” includes all of the evil rejection, false accusation, miscarriage of justice, wrongful beatings, mockery, and crucifixion that both Jews and Gentiles poured out against Jesus. These things were predestined by God. They were part of his and Jesus’ sovereign decree from before the foundation of the world. And yet the human beings who did them were morally “lawless” and were responsible for their evil deeds for which they needed to “repent” . This prayer reflects both a deep acknowledgement of human responsibility and a deep trust in God’s wisdom in his sovereign direction of the detailed events of history.
In Isaiah 53:10we read “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. “
Again, we see that it was the purposeful intent of the Lord to crush his son. Some versions read “It pleased the Lord to crush him”. “Pleased” does not connote joy or pleasure or happiness, but rather it was the deferential desire and will of the Lord to do so. We further see that servant’s sacrificial death compensated for human sin by setting sinners free from their guilt before God, and in fact the Septuagint translates “offering for guilt” as “offering for sin,” which explains why Paul could say that Christ’s death “for our sins” was “in accordance with the Scriptures”
In any case, I hope to not be so verbose next time, but I imagine the next post which will go up Wednesday will be similar in length and scope. This post functions primarily as a primer for more truly horrific theology and beliefs which we will review shortly, but for now I would welcome any feedback that you guys might have.
I remember when I used to go to Christian retreats/festivals/revivals/conferences. I used to love them so much. They were quiet times of reflection, a time to spend in unabashed and unashamed camaraderie with fellow believers. More importantly though, they always had great music. I knew without a doubt that the evenings would be intense. It would be a kamikaze of blue lights, key changes, tears, sweat, and a 23 minute rendition of Michael W Smith’sLet it rain. It is a collusion of blood, bone and brain matter; fused with flickering lights, heat, glowsticks and D-chords. The synapses are firing. The skin is getting prickly. It would leave me on my knees, my chest heaving and my body crumpled on the floor because I could not stand the weight of the glory of God in the room. The air was too thick with it. It was too much for my heart and legs to bear.
In the aftermath, in the stillness with our spiritual afterbirth, we would reflect on the experience as we rode home in the dark in buses and vans. It was a quiet time of holy reverence for what we had just gone through. As we came out of our shells and began to talk, we would always agree on the same thing, that the music was awesome and that “God showed up.” Later on during the next morning service, the Pastor would call up one or two of us teen representatives on stage to talk about our time there. We would invariably share the same thing, that it was a fantastic life changing experience, and that ” God showed up”.
But why did we say that? Its because since we were little, we’ve been conditioned by the Church and the purveyors of modern evangelicalism to believe that emotional experiences are equated to a spiritual experience. That they are interrelated and interchangeable. That if you have an emotional response to a song or to an atmosphere, that God is there and at working. I can’t remember a time when that wasn’t taught, either explicitly or tacitly. They might not outright say it, but their actions scream it. Music is a powerful thing, all the much more when it is consecrated with the Holy Spirit and imbued with spiritual words and meaning. That’s why I can remember how I felt every single time conference, but I can’t tell you what was preached on. I could walk someone through minute by minute of a two hour worship set during certain retreats, but I couldn’t you what scriptures they used to preach on for 15 minutes afterward, other than 2 Chronicles 7:14 [but only because everyone always uses that verse]
Do I think God shows up? Absolutely, but listen- he ALWAYS SHOWS UP. God is there at every Church service. Every prayer group. Every congregational meeting. Every Bible study. God is there and has shown up, and he has shown himself relentlessly faithful to do so. He is an omniscient, omnipresent deity whose Spirit lives inside of us, present in nearly every way possible as we gather together as believers and as his children. It is a wonderful, beautiful and precious thing, and yes, that can be an emotional thing. But he is never far from us. So why is it I’ve never heard anyone say that God “really showed up” during a Bible study through the book of 1 Samuel? Why is it that no one says that God “showed up” during a Sunday school lecture on the penal substitution atonement?
Why is it that God only “shows up” when we’re jumping up and down with arms raised? Why does he only “show up” when our hearts are beating fast and when we’re engulfed in a heightened emotional state? Is it a more powerful manifestation, or a more palpable iteration? Why make these artificial distinctions when there is no objective basis for doing so? I’ve heard some of the most idolatrous, blasphemous things said at certain conferences where God “really showed up”. I’ve bit my lip during certain songs that contained the most vilely irreverent lyrics where God “showed up”. I’ve heard heretics bastardize the scriptures and manipulate them into every theological grotesquerie at retreats where God really, really “showed up”. What has “showing up” come to mean?
Why is there so much emphasis on getting people to this emotional state and then constantly reinforcing the meaning and significance of this state? Why is so much money, energy, and ministry resources dedicated to creating occasions where people can have these experiences? Are these experiences spiritual by virtue of their very existence? How can this constant reinforcement of “experience = meeting God” be healthy for anybody who wants to grow and be sanctified? What happens when the thrill, the flush and the buzz go away? What theological monsters and biblical confusions are being created in the mind of a man who can’t distinguish them, and in fact doesn’t want to? What happens when they get tired of chasing the high and come to the conclusion that loss of experiential high means that they’ve been abandoned by God? That the burnout means that God is no longer showing up? That the angst and terror of depression and spiritual desolation is proof positive that they’ve been severed from Christ and betrayed by His love?
What happens then? Will God “show up” or will He show up?
A local Church Pastor/Pastrix recently preached a sermon which incorporated part of Romans 7 into it. Usually, merely saying “Romans 7” is usually sufficient in Christian circles to bring to mind the struggle with sin. As Paul describes the thoughts and impulses that war within him, he comes to verse 24 and says,
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
This individual did use that exact text, and they told a familiar story. Like many preachers who have come before them, they recounted the story of how in ancient Rome there was a form of capital punishment which was gruesome and terrifying. The idea was that if you murdered someone, your victim’s corpse was then chained to your back. As the sun beat down on you and as days and weeks passed, rancid odours would nauseate you as the body rotted and decayed. Infection quickly set in as it seeped into your own body and killed you. Its a familiar story. Some pastors, desiring to go a step further, would add that it was only possible to be freed from the horrors of this punishment if someone else chose to carry the body in the place of the murderer, carrying it to his death. We are told that this is what the term “body of death” meant, and that Paul used this terminology and phraseology to bring to the mind precisely this well-known form of punishment- that it was a brilliant illustration on Paul’s part and a powerful allusion for us today on how to understand our sin and the effects it has on us.
The only problem is that this is extremely suspect if not outright false. The only mention of this practice comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, a Latin epic poem that recounts the deeds and mythology of Aeneas. Originally published some 80 years before the Epistle or Roman , its possible that Paul and his readers would have heard of it, there is no indication that he actually did. To recount the pertinent part in Book VII;
Not far from here is the site of Argylla’s city,
built of ancient stone, where the Lydian race,
famous in war, once settled the Etruscan heights.
For many years it flourished, until King Mezentius
ruled it with arrogant power, and savage weaponry.
Why recount the tyrant’s wicked murders and vicious acts?
May the gods reserve such for his life and race! He even tied corpses to living bodies, as a means of torture, placing hand on hand and face against face, so killing by a lingering death, in that wretched embrace, that ooze of disease and decomposition. But the weary citizens at last armed themselves
surrounded the atrocious madman in his palace,
mowed down his supporters, and fired the roof.
Does this prove anything? Not at all. Though the story may be based on true events, the poem itself is Greco-Roman mythology. It is largely fictional and describes what took place prior to the founding of Rome. If Virgil was alluding to a common practice of his day, there is nothing to show it. From the context before and after the bold section, it appears this kind of punishment was not acceptable [at least to Virgil], since he uses it as an example of King Mezentius’ “wicked murders and vicious acts” for which the people rose up against him.
There is no indication that this practice of tying murderers to dead men, if it even happened, was called “the body of death”. It also cannot be said that this was a Roman custom/ law as all we have is one isolated reference to one king’s unacceptable barbaric practice that pre-dated the Romans. There are certainly no primary Roman sources where this punishment has been codified into law or even mentioned as a legitimate form of execution. In terms of what the punishment was for, there is no specific crime listed in the Aeneid. The victims of this punishment were not identified as murderers and the corpses were not identified as murder victims. On that note, who would consent to having their murdered loved one chained to the murderer and left to rot instead of receiving a decent burial? In terms of the dead men being carried on the murderers back, in the story the victim was bound “hand on hand, face against face.” This description does not suggest any mobility afforded to the victim. Lastly there is no such reprieve mentioned. This part was made up to strengthen the allusion to Christ who bore our punishment for us. There is absolutely nothing about someone taking their place, though at least the concept of getting sick and dying from the presence of putrefying flesh was accurate.
In terms of where drawing that parallel first originated, the earliest records I could find of it all come from the late 17th century works and 18th century commentaries. Attempting to find something earlier, I’ve read commentaries and homilies from such early Church fathers, theologians and preachers as Augustine, Origen, Chrystosom, Clement of Alexandria, Cyril, Erasmus, Aquinas, Hillary, Ambrose, even Pelagius, and none of them mention it in their sermons and writing concerning Romans 7. To say that this is what Paul had in mind when he spoke of the body of death is pure mythos, even as the salient details are wrong.
In short, in our present day many pastors and lay persons have not only changed an extra-biblical illustration into an embedded allusion , but some would suggest that the story of Mezentius is an interpretive key to understanding the passage in Romans 7. Its not. This particular pastor, while sincere in their efforts, was wrong to preach this story as central and specific to the exegesis.
When I was in my teens I went to a youth conference of sorts. It was a church-led evangelical shindigs- but at the end there was something special. The pastor introduced us to the weekends guest speaker, a woman who we were told was a modern day prophet, gifted in miracles and visions, and that she was going to prophesy over us individually. I found myself enraptured by this idea. At the time I was having a hard time in my faith. I was confused, struggling with private sins, biblically ignorant, and the prospect of having someone who heard directly from God- from someone who was far more spiritual than I, was a prospect too tantalizing to forgo.
There was such a need there- such a strong desire to see what God had to say. I spent my formative Christian years in the quasi-charismatic/pentecostal movement and so it was not unfamiliar to see other people prophesied over, or to go to an event like YC and be told that we were all history makers, and that we were going to change the world and take the nations for Christ [there was a bit of a dominionist streak there]. I had seen adults come up and be prophesied over, but never from a woman, and never for me personally.
But this was my chance. They asked everyone who wanted to hear a word from the Lord to come forward. I jumped out of my seat and charged forward. The air was electric, the music thudding, and my blood was on fire. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. About 15 of us stood at the altar and as I was on the opposite end I had to wait my turn. She would put one hand on the persons shoulder, lift the other hand up, speak in tongues for a minute or so, and then speak quietly to the person whose hands she was upon. Some people would start sobbing. Others would get slain in the spirit the minute she touched them. I stayed upright, waiting…waiting….
Finally she came to me and smiled. This was it! This would give me direction and purpose in my life! I was about to hear directly from God in as audible a way as humanly possible, and I was scared out of my mind. What would God say? I had no doubt that it would be from God. After all, earlier in the night, she had stood up after the worship and said “Thus says the Lord, I am coming like a river. I will wash over your land and make everything new. I will bring healing, thus says the Lord, and I will bring blessing and riches to my people” I was primed, pumped, and ready to go.
She spoke a few words in tongues, looked into my eyes, and then told me
“I see that you have a heart for missions, and that you are called to go. Do not be afraid, even if God calls you where you don’t want to go. He will be with you. The Lord is also telling me that you have fewer decades than most, that is your time is short, and so you can’t delay. You must reach them soon before it is too late.” [or something extremely close to that, but not exactly verbatim]
And then she moved on to the next person.
Predictably I was floored, at first that God was speaking to me through her, but also that she had just prophecies my imminent [or at least early] death. Decades fewer than most? Most people lived to be in their seventies, so did that mean that I was going to die in my Fifties? My Forties? And what was this about a heart for missions? Other than having gone on a “Missions Trip” to Mexico when I was younger , I really had no interest in them at all. What a confusing, perplexing experience. It left me all the more troubled, even morose than before, and instead of being a sure word I could hold onto, made me bitter and angry that God wanted to take my life. In fact, it made me feel like God didn’t know me at all.
Looking back, almost a decade later, Its not difficult to see the massive problems and blasphemies that were taking place that night. I hadn’t thought about that night for a long time, and in fact hadn’t shared that with anyone until I told my wife a few days ago, when the issue of prophecies and visions came up. Do I believe her prophecies were legitimate and that she was hearing from God? Not at all. Do I think I will have “fewer decades than most”? No. Like most people I don’t think of death often and have an overly optimistic mentality about my own mortality. Odds are I’ll live to a ripe old age, but If I die early, if the Lord takes me, it will not mean that this womans prophecy came true. Likewise I don’t have any particular interest in missions, much less being a missionary, but if that too should change it will not mean that this woman’s prophecies were reflective or biblicly sound.
Agree? Disagree? What do you all think? Have you even been prophecied over? What was it like? Was it accurate? If you had the chance, would you like to be prophecied over?