Archive for the 'Misuse of Scripture' Category

Early last week, Steve Camp wrote a moving tribute to his friend Larry Norman. Then, later in the week, Camp went after Mark Driscoll for his comments on Song of Solomon.

My question is, what is more “graphic-smutty-over the top-foul language”, Larry Norman’s lyrics or Mark Driscoll’s comments? Here’s some of Norman’s lyrics:

Pardon Me (from “Only Visiting This Planet”)

Close your eyes, and pretend that you are me.
See how empty it can be
Making love if love’s not really there.

Watch me go, watch me walk away alone,
As your clothing comes undone,
And you pull the ribbon from your hair.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” (from “Only Visiting This Planet”)

Gonorrhea on Valentines day, and you’re still lookin’ for the perfect lay.
You think rock and roll will set you free, honey, you’ll be deaf before you’re 33
Shootin’ junk until you’re half insane, broken needle in your purple vein.

Steve Camp, your hypocrisy is showing.

*Note: This is not an attack on Larry Norman. I am using hyperbole to make a point.

  • Share/Bookmark

In the recent post The Sexuality Obsession, there has been a heated debate over the issue of a Christian’s role in legislating morality. Ingrid wrote

I’m amazed at those who make the statement that you can’t legislate morality. Someone’s morality is always legislated, the question is always, whose? Right now the morality of the child-killers has been codified into law. We have 50 million dead babies because of this. Chattel slavery was the morality codified into law here in the United States and in Great Britain. It took a William Wilberforce, a Christian, to spearheaded moral opposition that changed the law (politics, Henry) to free blacks in England and a civil war to end it here in America where Christians had made peace with slavery.

All I want to say is that fighting for basic rights that all humanity should have (life, freedom, food, etc.) is one thing. Fighting for all humanity to act as we would like them to is a whole other ballgame. Calling for humans to not be sold as property is not the same as calling for everyone to have sex as we would like them to. Ending the genocide in Europe is not the same as fighting for our morals to be made laws in America. We Christians in the United States fight so hard for our moral freedom. But, as soon as someone else wants to exercise their moral freedom, not even asking for us to curb our beliefs, we react with vicious words and actions.

Look, I believe the scriptures. I believe that homosexuality is a destructive and ultimately godless lifestyle. I believe that having sex inside the context of heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable context for it. I believe that God longs for people to honor His instructions for sexual practices. However, I also believe that adultery is biblically wrong. I believe that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman for life. I also know that more people commit adultery in America (14-22%) than live homosexual lifestyles (1-3%). If we are so concerned about legislating our sexual morality, why are we not strengthening the marriage contract? Why are we not fighting for making adultery illegal? Of course, we can’t stop there in being the moral majority. We will have to make it illegal to not attend church. We will have to enforce coveting with the law enforcement. We can force people to give 10% of their income to the church.

If we are going to be the group who controls everyone’s morality thru the government, we have to think thru the long term ramifications. Are we really called to do this? Or, are we just picking and choosing our battles to keep our comfort levels at their peak?

  • Share/Bookmark

[Again, this is an older article of mine with some updates made to it, dealing with the misuse of certain scriptures in modern Christianity. Also, contrary to some belief, this is not in response to any particular ODM, blog or writer, but more as a study of scripture in context...]

Court of the Gentiles

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

Probably my first exposure to orthopraxy involving this verse was 15 years ago, when a youth group in our church was raising money for a mission trip, building a church in Mexico. Some of the kids purchased some boxes of doughnuts and “sold” them for donations toward the trip, standing next to the coffee urn in the church foyer. One of the staff members gave them a haranguing when he saw them, “because Jesus threw people out of the temple for buying and selling there”!

In the years since, it has been very interesting to see the vast number of references to this particular story about Jesus, along with the varied interpretations of what he was doing and why he was doing it. Some use this story to decry Christian merchandising, selling of items within a church building, dishonesty, or Judaic worship. Others use it as an example of justified righteous anger with any of the above items and more. But what was Jesus really attacking, why was he angry with it, and what scriptural and contextual support do we have to determine this?

The Setting

Josephus and other Judaic records (from the Essenes) tell us that in the latter Second Temple period (during Jesus’ life and after it, prior to 70 AD), the sale of animals for sacrifice originally took place in the Royal Stoa of the Temple (the area under the porticoes in the upper part of the diagram above). Early in the first century, these records indicate that pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem were no longer able to bring their own sheep for sacrifice, but they had to purchase sheep raised by the Sadducees in the hills around Bethlehem. This created a need for more space to buy and sell sheep in the Temple grounds. Because the selling of animals and the exchange of money was so profitiable for the Sadducee party, they then expanded their enterprise into the court of Gentiles (the area in front of the Royal Stoa).

Warning on the soregIf you will notice in the picture above, there is a short wall within the great court which was the closest non-Jewish believers and the ceremonially unclean could come to the Altar and the Holy of Holies. Warnings were inscribed on this wall, cautioning those who did not belong further inside the courts that they would be put to death for passing this wall, called the soreg (see the picture to the right). When the Sadducees expanded the area for selling animals, this effectively removed almost half of the space available to gentiles and ‘unclean’ Jews in the Temple grounds!

At the same time, there is also indication – confirmed in recent archaeological finds – that the Sadducees used weights and measures which were as much as 70% biased in their favor. To purchase sheep at the temple, pilgrims had to exchange their local currency into the temple currency. And so, faithful Jews who came to the Temple for sacrifice during the mandatory festivals, were being cheated when they exchanged money, and the god-fearing non-Jews who came to Jerusalem to the House were being forced out of the Temple.

It is upon this stage that Jesus entered the temple and turned over the tables.

Jesus’ Anger

There is significant evidence from Jesus’ very words that what made him so angry was that people were being kept away from worshipping God. Jesus uses two quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures in a form of remez (a ‘hint’ that must be interpreted by reading the verses just before or after the quoted scripture).

First, he says – “My house will be called a house of prayer” – which is quoting from Isaiah 56:7. If we read this verse and those surrounding it, we can see that this quotation is placing an importance of God’s House being a house of prayer for all nations, and that God desires that many beyond Israel should be saved.

6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD
to serve him,
to love the name of the LORD,
and to worship him,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant-

7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.

8 The Sovereign LORD declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”
(Isaiah 56:6-8)

In the gospel of Mark, which is primarily directed to Christians in Rome (who did not have as deep a knowledge of scripture) includes additional words to complete the remez – “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations“. (Mark 11:17)

The second half of Jesus’ statement, which can legitimately refer to the dishonesty in the money-changing tables (also supported by Jesus’ turning these tables over), would also have been understood by religious Jews in his audience as a pronouncement against the Temple, itself, because of the sins being committed there. He says, “but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”, which is a direct quote from Jeremiah 7:11. Let’s read the verses just before and after this:

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

” ‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim.’ So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.

Just for the record, Shiloh was located in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was utterly destroyed by the Assyrians, as prophecied by Isaiah. Shiloh, itself, had been razed by the Philistines in appoximately 1050 BC, as well, due to the sins of the poeple. And so, from this remez, we can easily surmise exactly how angry Jesus was with the sins of the people, and what would be the ultimate result of their sins.

Who is Jesus Angry With?

Diagram of the TempleIf there is any question whether Jesus is angry with the money changers, themselves, or the Sadducees (who were in control of the workings of the temple, and who made the decision to exclude Gentiles to make room for selling), Matthew gives us a clue in the passages after the turning of the tables.

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
” ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise‘?”

From a literal reading of Jesus’ words, the words do not appear to give an answer to the chief priests (who were Sadducees) and the teachers of the law. However, Jesus is again using remez, which both of these groups would definitely have understood, quoting the first half of Psalm 8:2. If we read all of this quoted verse, we once again get a deeper meaning.

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

In Jesus seemingly innocent declaration ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’, we can see that he has declared that these religious authorities are the enemies of God. This is definitely a harsh statement!

And so, here is another example of how, by understanding the cultural context of the scripture and the rabbinical teaching techniques used by Jesus, we get a much clearer and vivid picture of what occurred in this Biblical story.

  • Share/Bookmark

[This is a partial repost of an article from a couple years back, dealing with the original context of the events and teaching in John 6.]


Galilee Region (From

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:60-66)

This is part of a very interesting narrative, covered in all of John 6, on one of the conflicts in which Jesus was involved – where the people wanted him to be one thing, while his purpose was very different in nature.
The typical (mis)use of this passage I’ve heard goes something like this – “Jesus’ message was not a popular one, and so it doesn’t really matter all that much if we’re offensive in the way we present it. After all, Jesus drove away all but his twelve disciples with his message, winnowing out all of the ‘false converts’ in the process.” Such an interpretation of John 6 is unfortunate, and tends to spring from ignorance of the world Jesus lived in, and in this case, the Galilee region.

Galilee Geography

To get a firm grasp on this passage (and a number of other stories in the Gospels), it is helpful to know the geography and demography of the Galilee region.

On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee primarily lived the hasidim, the pious ones. Some, primarily of Pharisaic or ‘orthodox’ affiliation (not to be confused with modern Orthodox Judaism), believed that a purity of faith and obedience would bring God to overthrow the Romans and establish the Kingdom of God, and did not condone violence or political power in overthrowing the Romans and unseating Hellenism. The other primary group of hasidim, called zealots, believed that God would use them to overthrow the Romans and Hellenism using whatever means necessary.

The hasidim primarily lived in and around Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida (an area dubbed ‘the Orthodox Triangle’ by the late archaeologist Bargil Pixner), and the zealots lived in and around Gamla (just NE of the Sea of Galilee in the Golan Heights) and Magdala, near Mount Arbel (see the map above, or click it for a larger view).

Tiberius, in the southwest part of Galilee, was where secular Jews referred to as ‘Herodians’ lived. Tiberius, itself, was an unclean city (as it was built over a graveyard), and was cut off from northern Galilee by Mount Arbel, which came all the way down into the water (today, a road has been built, and it is silted in 20-30 meters from the waters edge during dry seasons).

On the east and south shores of Galilee was the Decapolis, ten pagan cities founded by Hellenistic Greeks. No good Jew would be caught in the Decapolis, as almost everything there was ‘unclean’, they ate pork, and worshipped many gods. (It was here that Jesus healed the demoniac amidst the tombs, casting the demon into a herd of pigs.)
Early Contextualization

As you read about Jesus’ miracles and teaching, you will find that he tailors his methods (and miracles) to those places:

When he is in the Capernaum/Bethsiada region, he uses many more scriptural quotations (particularly invoking remez and other techniques), and when he performs miracles in this region, he is recorded many times telling those he healed ‘do not tell anyone’ about the miracles.

However, when he heals the demoniac in the Decapolis, he tells that man to go tell everyone!

Why the difference?

With the dominance of zealots in northern Galilee, it is likely these people will want to make him into a military messiah who will lead them and throw out the Romans (as they were also recorded, by Josephus, to be the most fervent in their search for a Messiah). Think about it. How valuable would it be to have an army with a king who can feed an army without carrying food, immediately heal any injuries and raise the dead? Sign me up for that army!

Back to the Story

Now, to get the full context of the John 6 passage, we really need to read the whole thing. First, we have Jesus near Mount Arbel on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, where he miraculously feeds the five thousand people. After this, we read:

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Mark tells us that he went up the mountain to pray (interestingly, Mount Arbel is known in Judasm to be the rabbi’s ‘prayer mountain’ – a solitary place where rabbis go to pray). From verse 15 (highlighted above), we can see that the crowd must have been heavily zealot influenced.

Meanwhile, his disciples take their boats up to the Orthodox Triangle, somewhere between Capernaum and Bethsiada. In the middle of the night, he walks across the water to meet them. The next day, the crowd figures out that Jesus has left for the other side, and hurries over there to see him. Why, though?

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

So, Jesus notes that the crowd was looking for him to provide food (having already recognized that they were looking for a physical messianic deliverer in v. 15).

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

They still didn’t get it. They were still looking for Jesus to provide food. His message wasn’t even second, third or fourth consideration. So, Jesus becomes a little more direct in his answer:

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

Are you starting to notice a pattern here?

Some have argued that the reason for the single-mindeness on provision of food could be attributed to general poverty in the area. However, this region of Israel was (and still is) on of the most fertile in all of Israel, and many Second Temple period scholars believe that the Galilee region was fairly well off (comparable to ‘middle class’ in the First Century culture) because of the rich natural resources in the area. It is much more likely that the desire for miraculous provision was in line with providing for a standing army or preparation for a siege (NOTE: Mount Arbel was the site of a siege, where zealots held out against Herod for a period of time. Later, Gamla would be the last stronghold before Masada to fall to the Romans).

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

It was becoming clear to them that Jesus wasn’t going to be feeding them that day. The key word here is ‘grumble’ (Jesus repeats this word back to them in the following verse).  As in many cases in scripture, using such a specific word often refers back to its first use – in this case, Exodus, where people ‘grumbled’ to Moses because of what they would eat and drink there in the desert. This fits with the discussion that has already come up because the people asked about manna in the desert when their ancestors were with Moses.

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus has now chosen to stick with his ‘bread’ metaphor (after all, His is the ‘bread of life’ and he was born in Bethlehem (lit. house of bread, or bakery)), which fits with his role as an atoning sacrifice. Some have taken part of this literally to develop the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was never intended, but rather that one would have to accept Jesus flesh and blood as an atoning sacrifice, and no longer the blood of doves, rams and goats. We, fortunately, have the gift of hindsight and the Holy Spirit to understand Jesus’ words and the prophetic import. His audience, however, wanted him to be a miraculous provider and to lead them (i.e. to be the next Moses).

At this point, Jesus had not only lost the crowd, but he was also going to lose those who followed him solely as a physical messiah. This had to do not so much with ‘hard teaching’ as we think about it today (repentance, self-sacrifice), but with ‘hard teaching’ for those people who believed that Jesus was going to deliver them from Roman oppression. It cannot be expressed how huge a let-down this was those people.  The idea that the Messiah would save them from Roman oppression as a ruler and king in Jerusalem was at the core of Messianic belief – but that this salvation would not be a physical one had never entered their minds.

Later, in 68 A.D., it would be these zealots rebelling under the leadership of Simon bar Giora (who some believed to be a messiah) that led to the fall of Jerusalem. However, because the Messianic Jews chose not to fight against Rome, instead fleeing to Pella (per Jesus warning in the Olivet Discourse), many were later persecuted by Jewish zealots in retaliation (though far worse persecution of the Jews would come later from those who claimed to follow Jesus’ teaching).

And so, with the crowds upset and/or gone, we finish this passage of scripture:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

One last item to note here is that the name ‘Iscariot’ is indiciative of Judas being a zealot, as well.  The name ‘Iscarior’ comes from sicarii, the knife often carried by zealots when they assassinated public figures. This coda to the story is one more indication that it is the zealot idea (changing the world through violence and political intrigue) that Jesus is rejecting, and that those who seek Him for such purposes will be disappointed, because that is not his purpose.

So What?

Going back to the original thesis, this passage of scripture has nothing to do with winnowing out ‘false converts’, or acceptability being offensive in one’s presentation of the Gospel. This has everything to do with keeping the purpose of the Kingdom in focus, and Jesus’ (and only Jesus!) role as sacrifice and salvation for all men who will listen to the Father and comes to His Son. If you drive the weak and wounded out of the kingdom, you are just a resounding gong or clanging cymbal, nothing more.

Additionally, as we’re now into the four-year-cycle of the “silly season”, it is likely that Christians will be putting hope in the government being the solution to the problems we face – specifically problems linked to the purpose of the kingdom.  For those of us who start being seduced by this idea – that Jesus will bring his kingdom about via political means – John 6 is a warning to us, as well…

  • Share/Bookmark

In response to some questions (and requests), I am going to repost some older articles on scriptural context and interpretation in the coming days, following on the heel’s of yesterday’s repost.


It is interesting how the Spirit works – I don’t know about you, but I cannot count the times that I have read a passage of scripture, a chapter in a book, or listened to a sermon and *BAM* within the next day or so I find that I need exactly what I heard/read. What if I hadn’t taken the time for personal study and devotion? It is a sobering thought.

Interestingly, when I hear/read scripture being misused (particularly by literalists), I often bite my tongue, waiting for that ‘leading’ or ‘tugging’ that seems to then happen when I see the exact passage misused multiple times by multiple individuals in multiple forums.

Today is just such a day, and the passage(s) in question are the three gospel accounts where Jesus states that ‘the poor you will always have with you’. These are located in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8. Where these scriptures seem to be (mis)used is in casting aside calls to be ‘missional’, particularly relating to serving the poor and addressing poverty at home and abroad. Usually, the misuse is along the lines of “We should be far more concerned with eternal issues, rather than temporal ones. Besides, Jesus said that ‘For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.’”

So, what is Jesus’ point here?

First off, let’s look at the context. All three accounts are of the same event in Bethany, where Jesus is eating at the house of Simon the Leper with Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Judas and at least some of Jesus other disciples. There, a woman (identified by John as Mary) took expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it (two accounts accentuate her use of it on his head, the other account accentuates the use on his feet – possibly indicating that she was anointing the head, heart, hands and feet, as with a miqvah.)

Then, Judas criticizes Mary’s actions by saying ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!’. However, John also includes this statement about Judas’ motives:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

So, we can already see that the question being put to Jesus isn’t really a genuine one in the first place. It was one that was self-serving with the appearance of appealing to service to the poor. And so, Jesus answers:

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

As I’ve discussed on a number of occasions, Jesus was a master rabbinical teacher, using PaRDeS and Parable as his key methods. As such, this teaching contains (at the very least) P’shat and Remez.

The P’shat (or ‘plain meaning’) is often expressed in contrast and placed second (like with ‘you have heard it said X, but I say to you Y’). In John 12:8, the emphasis (or plain meaning) is after ‘but’. The key is ‘you will not always have me’ and not ‘you will always have the poor’. So, to give the proper interpretation to Jesus’ words, you would see that he is agreeing with the sentiment (you will always have the poor), but making an exception based on his physical presence and the significance of Mary’s anointing with the perfume to be used in his burial. This is not a callous statement that ‘we will always have the poor, and therefore we have no responsibility to do anything about it’ – that is 180-degrees apart from His teaching!

To emphasize this, we need to look at the remez (the ‘hint’). When Jesus says ‘You will always have the poor among you’, he is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11, which states ‘There will always be poor people in the land.’ If you will remember, to understand remez, we must look at the verses immediately before and after the one quoted. Jesus’ audience, who had the Torah memorized, would have been able to do this instantly -

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deut 15:7-11)

So, if it wasn’t obvious from the P’shat, the Remez should not only put the lie to those who misuse Jesus’ words, but show us, once again, that – while the eternal destination is not unimportant – our temporal responsibility is to care for both the physical and spiritual needs of those less fortunate.


While I probably could have gone on and discussed the brilliance of Jesus’ approach, and the modern social-science derivatives (such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), this was just looking at the scriptural interpretation. Perhaps I’ll pick it up and continue at some point in the future…

  • Share/Bookmark

The next ODM spokesman?…is the basic mantra of tabloid journalism and a number of ODM’s.

Today’s case in point:

Here is a recent quote from an interview with Rob Bell in Relevant Magazine:

We refer to ourselves [at Mars Hill] as aggressively nonpartisan, so we don’t engage in partisan politics in terms of “Here’s whom you should vote for; here’s whom you should support.” We do acknowledge that the Gospel has deeply political edges to it, but that should not surprise anyone. Jesus was killed because of how He confronted a particular socioeconomic religious system. He’s a first-century Galilean revolutionary who proclaimed a Kingdom other than the kingdom of Herod, so the Gospel does have political edges.

The interest is in giving voice to people who have no voice and using all of our abundance and wealth and resources on behalf of those who have a shortage. Some of our pastors had a meeting with the mayor of [Grand Rapids], which was simply for the purpose of asking who the most forgotten and the most hurting in our city are. They mayor had several very specific answers, and so we’ve actually reorganized a whole area of our church, putting the majority of our efforts around trying to take care of the worst problems in our city. I don’t know if you would say that’s political or not, even though it involved meeting with the mayor, but if Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.

For anyone who pays even moderate attention to Mars Hill Bible Church and Bell, this is nothing new or groundbreaking. In fact, it is something he addressed in a Q&A podcast this past summer:

I would say that we have a historic opportunity in that all truth belongs to God. It is not owned by the Republicans. It is not owned by the Democrats. It is not owned by the liberals. It is not owned by the conservatives. All truth belongs to God. And God has set us free in Christ.

Our culture worships at the altar of duality. Everything that comes to people – ‘Is it this, or is it this? Is it conservative or is it liberal? It it modern or post-modern? Is it emergent or is it non-emerging?’ And the Kingdom of God – “how God wants things” – transcends whatever divisions our culture has created.

We, as a church, will remain aggressively non-partisan. The gospel has political edges to it. So when a person says ‘oh, no, Jesus just came for the personal’ – [I say] ‘then why did they kill him’? There were deep political edges that had implications.

The environment and our care of the earth is not a Democratic party issue. It is a Genesis 1 issue. If I met a woman today who is pregnant and thinking about terminating that pregnancy, I would introduce her to about ten women in our congregation who would tell her their stories, and I say ‘we are desperate for you to not make that choice.’ That is not a Republican issue. That is an issue of ’we want to affirm life, and we believe mistakes and redemption become opportunities for grace’. So – any side that wants to say ‘we own this issue’ – if it’s true you only own that because you borrowed that from God.

I’ve had people say – ‘well, if you’re saying that, you must be against the President’, or ‘if you’re saying that, you must be for him’. I’m trying to articulate the way of Jesus, and I don’t really care who is for it or against it – I just want to get the word out so that everyone can do it. If you take the gospel seriously, it will always feel lik you are flirting with various political parties, because it is not surprising that different groups would grasp different dimensions of God’s truth. ’Well, if you’re advocating for the poor, that seems to be a Democratic thing’, or ‘if you’re advocating micro-finance that seems capitalistic – is that a Republican thing?’ As far as we know, it’s true and it doesn’t belong to anybody, because it belongs to God.

Can we be a church that transcends all of the ways our culture tries to divide us? What we are trying to do here at Mars Hill is to say that there is a truth that is not the swinging of the pendulum. It is the kingdom of God and it transcends all of the ways we try to divide ourselves. The beautiful thing here is that truth and love seem to be winning. I would beg this community to consider that when Jesus is fully on display, it won’t fit ANY of your boxes, so just toss your boxes out now. I am only trying to come from one perspective: Jesus. NOBODY will co-opt this stage or this community or hijack the agenda, which is that jesus would be put on display for the whole world to see.

I would beg this community to consider that what we are doing here is inviting ourselves to be a part of something our culture has not seen: ‘OK, it’s nice that you have that disagreement, and it’s nice that you have that ‘thing’, but let’s take communion together and then let us break ourselves open and pour ourselves out for the world. So, I would beg our community to have no fear. There is nothing to fear – Jesus can be trusted, so let’s go…

It is pretty clear that MHBC and its preaching pastor are pretty aggresive at being non-partisan, as the church should be, taking the individual issues of the day and applying Godly, scriptural perspective to them – whether the issues have been co-opted by conservatives (abortion, micro-finance, justice, etc.) or liberals (caring for the poor, the environment, etc.).

Truth belongs to God, not a political party or movement.

Rather than deal with what is ACTUALLY being taught at Mars Hill Bible Church, though, ODM’s looking for a quick score, regardless of it being at the expense of truth, honed in on one sentence from the entire context of the conversation -

Jesus was killed because of how He confronted a particular socioeconomic religious system. He’s a first-century Galilean revolutionary who proclaimed a Kingdom other than the kingdom of Herod.

- and ran with it, declaring to the world “Rob Bell, Your Liberalism is Showing“. [Merry - if you're reading this, please insert it as Exhibit 9,999 of "an uncharitable reader"] In doing so, though, the author shows more about his own ignorance of Biblical history and exegesis than a presence of ‘liberalism’ in Bell or his teaching.
As most serious students of scripture know and understand, there are a number of levels of answers to questions raised in scripture. The question being raised – Who killed Jesus, and why? – is one of them.

On one level, we can view Isaiah 53, in which it is clear that it is the Lord’s will that it would happen in order to take on the sins of the world.

On another level, we can point to the gospel accounts who identify “the Jews” (or, more correctly, from the Greek, “the Judeans” – the Jews from Judea, who tended to be more secularly oriented, or were oriented with the Sadducee party). We might, as well, observe that this was corroborated by the Romans who carried out the crucifixion.
On yet another level, we can point to Paul, who pointed to “the rulers of this age” as the culprits (I Cor. 2:8).

Paul, though, also indicates that all of us are complicit, through our sin, in the death of Jesus.

In truth, it all depends upon the context of the question “Who killed Jesus, and why?” of which answer is best suited – because all are facets of the truth. In this particular case, Bell is answering a question on politics, so he gives an answer that is based on the political truth of Jesus’ death.

In the first century, the Sadducee party was beholden to Rome for the power they held in the Temple. The writings of Josephus, the Essenes of Qumran, Rome itself and other sources bear this out. The Sadducees, who were of the priestly line, were in charge of the Temple and its rites, from which they gained vast amounts of wealth. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and his teachings about the kingdom were very much a threat to their way of life.

The religious Jews who followed Jesus believed that he was to be the Messiah – expecting him to be an earthly conqueror who would overthrow Roman rule and bring the physical kingdom into being. This was a direct threat to the Romans.

Politically, it was the Sanhedrin (made up of 65 Sadducees and 5 Pharisees (at least 2 of whom were sympathetic to Jesus)) and Herod which launched the plot to kill him, out of a motive of self-preservation, both physical and economic. It was the Romans who carried out the execution, in order to prevent an uprising (noting that the Romans killed scores of individuals identified as ‘Messiahs’).

So, again, Bell’s statement is one of fact, not of partisan politics or belief.

What is sad, though, is just how belligerantly dishonest some Christians can be when the importance of slander, profit and pride (all in the guise of “discernment”) outweigh the need for charity and the truth.

  • Share/Bookmark

Once again, Old Truth doesn’t necessarily mean good truth. In this article, the author’s cynicism and god-complex is in plain sight. Oak Leaf Church celebrated 39 people coming to Christ in their service. The exact line reads

“39 people decided to follow Jesus! 39 people who are now Christians! It’s cool when you run out of counselors.

to this, Jim replies

“Aside from the fact that salvation is not due to human will and decision (Romans 9:16, John 1:12-13, etc), Michael’s remarks beg the question – how does he know they are now Christians? We all know how angry people get if someone questions the salvation of another professed believer. Questions start flying like “how do you know that person is not saved?”. Just turn that question around 180 degrees and ask pastors like Michael “how do you know 39 ARE saved?”

First off, ladies and gentlemen, this is what we in the theological community like to call hyper-Calvinism. When the scriptures say if you confess with your mouth and believe with your heart, you will be saved — it really means that if the holy spirit takes over your bodily functions, and God himself mutters the words for you, then you will be saved. There is no responsibility on the human to make the decision to make Jesus Lord of their life.

Second, why could Jim not just be happy for this church, instead of messing with semantics and playing God. Maybe we should put all 39 of those people in a room with Jim, so he can judge their hearts and be the final word on IF they are saved. It’s rediculous to make those statements when someone is sharing that several people came to faith. I am all for looking for fruits in new converts, but to make these comments about a church service that you were not at is juvenile at best. In fact, Jim closes the article with this

“When I see posts like this, I can’t help but wonder if these pastors are simply engaging in self-promotion, ie: “look at what we’ve done HERE at OUR church?”. Praise God for any true converts that may be in the bunch of 39″

I usually hear statements like this (about self-promotion and boasting) about other pastors from Christians who are not leading people to Christ themselves. I guess If you can’t do the work, just criticize those that are attempting to.

  • Share/Bookmark

In Ken’s latest hit piece against Rob Bell, he writes this

According to his myth The gods Aren’t Angry, Rob Bell would have us believe God says, “I will be calm and will no more be angry.”

But here is what the LORD God Almighty actually says: “I AM a righteous Judge, a God Who expresses My wrath every day.” (see—Psalm 7:11)

I am wondering if Ken missed these verses in his morning conversations with the Divine

Psa 36:5 (NIV) Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

Jer 31:3 (NIV) The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

Lam 3:22 (NIV) Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Zep 3:17 (NIV) The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

1 John 4:16 (NIV) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

John 3:16 (NIV) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

1 John 3:1 (NIV) How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

I wonder if the ODMs just skip over verses like these. They certainly don’t jive with their theology.

  • Share/Bookmark

In this article posted at The Expositor, Nathan White of Strange Baptist Fire writes about the evils of Christmas plays in the church. Here are his three basic premises from the piece

  • What can be better for our souls than the preached Word?
  • What can be better for those outside of Christ than the clear proclamation of the gospel through the preached Word?
  • If preaching was completely sufficient to minister and save in scripture, who are we to say that it is now supplemented, at times, by better things? Has market research replaced biblical revelation?

In classic ODM style, he accuses –well, just read this

It certainly must be noted that drama in worship is most often employed by seeker-sensitive, Arminian ministries, in an apparent attempt to evangelize…But it must be emphasized that the preaching of the word, the very proclamation of Jesus Christ, is simply not good enough, according to this logic, to attract a wide audience, and so the Christmas play is employed to bring in those who wouldn’t otherwise darken the door. Christmas plays do not offend, they do not divide households, they are generally warm and fuzzy at a very family-oriented time of year, and so they provide a great impetus for the numbers-driven mindset. (emphasis mine)

He then makes a pretty weighty statement to backup

drama in worship, without a doubt, *is* a violation of scripture…God, through scripture, has left drama completely out of His Word and instruction to His Church, and that for an important reason.

There are so many flaws in this article; I really don’t know where to begin. I am not quite sure how one can say that the reenactment of the word of God is any less powerful than talking about the word of God from the pulpit. We are not talking about a production of The Sound of Music, we are talking about a Christmas pageant. There are so many Christmas shows that often hit you over the head with the scriptures, and are very blatant in their message. I always find it ironic that these pastors complain about arts in the church, but unless they get up and simply read straight from the scriptures and say nothing but the scriptures, they too are using an artistic way to preach the scriptures. They decide how to word ideas and concepts, they choose illustrations, and they craft how we perceive the scriptures every Sunday. It is arrogant to say that only what they are doing is preaching the Word of God, when 75% of the words they give are their own.

Do we labels something as bad or heretical if it does not offend or divide households? That notion is completely asinine, but is all too common among the ODMs. If it brings people together to enjoy the story of Christmas, then it must be wrong. If no one leaves the place offended, someone messed up. And, to argue that something is inappropriate for worship simply because it is not mentioned in the scriptures is not exactly the best logic. Most hymns would be out of the question if we are going to go down that route. But, did Jesus not tell stories as a means to communicate biblical truth? It seems to me that story-telling is one of the most important elements in theatre arts.

As an actor, it is strange to hear someone say that I cannot worship God with the talents he has given me. I have been using theatre arts as a means to present the truth for years. Many of my friends have come to Christ through shows that we have produced that speak clearly the word of God. I am always puzzled as to why the church today is do hesitant when it comes to the arts. It is ok for a man to give a 45 minute monologue about the scriptures, but to present it in theatrical form or paint it is simply out of the question. We live in a world where a television show is worth a million words, a painting is worth a thousand, and words are only worth pennies. Maybe it is time we rethink how present the Word (please note that nowhere did I say rethink the Word itself).

  • Share/Bookmark

Oompa-watchdawgAt the outset of this article, let me be VERY clear: I completely disagree with John Hagee on a slew of issues, particularly in relation to the modern role of Israel. Completely disagree. Despite this, I would not hesitate to call him a Christian brother.

I am rather baffled, though, at the continual harping from CR?N’s general editor, that being the unaccountable Mr. Ken Silva (not to be confused with the completely unaccountable, unknowable “Editor”) on John Hagee, his new book, and his comments about Jesus as Messiah. All “pastor” Silva’s numerous articles on the subject have proven is that the word “research” and “Ken Silva” should not appear in the same sentence, absent the word “poor” in complement to the word “research”. The only thing truly revealed (for those of you who weren’t reading his laughable exegeses of Velvet Elvis) is his continued tin ear for nuance.

To wit:

Mr. Silva keeps trying to insist that John Hagee heretically believes that Jesus is not the Christ (the Messiah), today quoting Hagee’s book:

“[Jesus] refused to be their Messiah [the Jews], choosing instead to be the Savior of the world.”

What Silva completely and utterly misses is that Hagee is referring to the Jewish ideal of Messiah, developed in the “intertestimental period”. In this Messiah ideal, the belief was that there would be many Messiahs, stylized after Judas Maccabeus, who would serve to overthrow foreign powers oppressing Israel. This idea of “Messiah” was often combined with the identification of the Davidic “Shoot” (netzer) identified by Isaiah, as a conquering king who would come to reign in Jerusalem forever.

The Jewish vision of “Messiahship” in the first century was all about overthrowing the Roman occupation of Israel. Hagee, in his book, seeks to show that Jesus rejected this type of Messiahship (as envisioned by Jewish hope against oppression) – which was actually offered to him by Satan in the wilderness – in exchange for the actualy place of the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the Messiahship envisioned by God, which conquered through love, not coersion. Jesus gave clues througout his ministry (read all of John 6) that he was not going to be a conqueror Messiah, but the people didn’t want to believe this – not even his disciples.

In this particular matter, Hagee is completely orthodox, and his wording was chosen as one to better explain Jesus’ role to conversant Jews and Jewish Christians (an audience he frequently addresses). Silva, though, for whatever reason, has chosen to brazenly display his ignorance on such matters for the world to see, and in the end, only serves to warn those already living in fear.

  • Share/Bookmark