Tag Archives: Reading the Bible

Grace and Glory

Every field of knowledge has its own words meant to help people communicate and make that communication more effective. However, these technical descriptions can also make the field more difficult for outsiders to understand. They also can leave the impression on insiders that they know what they mean when in reality they are repeating jargon they don’t really understand.

This is especially a problem in religious faith. Churches and parents can easily adopt religious language that they hear repeated without really knowing what it means. This keeps their faith shallow, makes their attempts to share the gospel dramatically less effective, and confuses the church’s children into disinterest in the spiritual convictions of their parents.

For example. two of the most important concepts in the Christian faith are glory and grace. You will read these words in the Bible and hear them in churches and spiritual conversations. It is easy to convince yourself that you understand these words clearly – even if you don’t. Further, these words — grace and glory — are often not found together in many modern churches. To many Christians, the words seem to have cross purposes rather than beautiful and clarifying union. Yet if you misunderstand these two concepts, you cannot understand the gospel, or the message of salvation in Jesus, at the level of depth that produces full freedom and transformation. The gospel won’t change you that much, because you won’t know God that well.

So, let me try to give fairly brief clarifying explanations of the meaning of these two words.

Continue reading Grace and Glory

Why a sword if we are to love our enemies?

Luke 22:35-38  Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered.  He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”  The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

As we come to the end of the Gospel of Luke, one of the passages most people would rather skip over quickly is Luke 22:35-38. This is because in it Jesus commands his disciples to buy swords, which are no doubt instruments of violence. This passage is confusing to most modern Christians for a variety of reasons. First, why does Jesus command this? He seems to be something of a pacifist, and within a few hours, he will reproach Peter for actually using a sword on the high priest’s servant—likely one of the same two swords mentioned in this passage. Further, the commentaries on this point are puzzling. Virtually all of them interpret the passage in strange ways that strike me as cop-outs. This modern commentary by Robert Stein (1992) is typical of most that are presently in print:

“And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. Even if the exact interpretation of this verse is uncertain, it is clear that a new situation is envisioned. The disciples would soon encounter greater opposition and even persecution (cf. Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–2; 12:1–5). The reference to the purchase of a sword is strange. Attempts to interpret this literally as a Zealot-like call to arms, however, are misguided and come to grief over the saying’s very “strangeness.” Understood as a call to arms, this saying not only does not fit Jesus’ other teachings but radically conflicts with them. Also if two swords are “enough” (22:38), war with the legions of Rome was certainly not envisioned…The “sword” is best understood in some metaphorical sense as indicating being spiritually armed and prepared for battle against the spiritual foes. The desperate need to be “armed” for these future events is evident by the command to sell one’s mantle, for this garment was essential to keep warm at night (see comments on 6:29).”

Or to go further back, this is from John Calvin, who I often find very helpful:

“And yet he does not call them to an outward conflict, but only, under the comparison of fighting, he warns them of the severe struggles of temptations which they must undergo, and of the fierce attacks which they must sustain in spiritual contests. That they might more willingly throw themselves on the providence of God, he first reminded them, as I have said, that God took care to supply them with what was necessary, even when they carried with them no supplies of food and raiment. Having experienced so large and seasonable supplies from God, they ought not, for the future, to entertain any doubt that he would provide for every one of their necessities.”

Over the years, some commentators have even sought to show that when Jesus says “that is enough” in reference to the two swords, he is not saying, “Two will be plenty,” but “Enough talk of swords. Literal swords isn’t what I mean! Quit talking about literal swords.”

I disagree with all these approaches for a number of reasons. Let me list a few, but that is not my main interest. My main interest is how and why we accept certain interpretations of scripture.

Continue reading Why a sword if we are to love our enemies?

Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

For 2000 years Christians have believed in the authority of the Bible as an inspired document. Christians have believed that God’s inspiration of the Scriptures has left us with a written word that is both infallible and inerrant. That is, that the original manuscripts of the original authors are inspired by God while simultaneously being the product of the intellect and personality of the human biblical author. This means that the Scripture is both the product of the writing of men and the inspiration of God. Yet, because Scriptures are inspired by God, they are fully trustworthy and without error in the original manuscripts.

To confirm or deny this belief, we can look and see if there is anything in Scripture that can be proven false or that is self-contradictory. Because of this, those who have resisted believing in the authority of the Bible have often pointed out passages that they believe are in contradiction to each other—what we might call “apparent contradictions.”

I have been considering dozens of these apparent contradictions for more than 20 years. In general, I find that they are very easily resolved and are not contradictions at all. However, the solutions to some are easier than others. The most difficult I have ever come across is the apparent contradiction of Mark 6:8 compared to Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10.

Mark 6:8-9 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.

Matthew 10:10 Take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Luke 9:3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.

The apparent contradiction is that in Mark the disciples are instructed to take a staff, and in Matthew and Luke they are instructed not to take a staff. This appears to be as obvious and direct a contradiction as could be possible. Perhaps the best analysis of solutions to this problem is still the article “Staff or No Staff?” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly by Barnabas Ahern from July 1943. Continue reading Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

What Does “Son of God” Really Mean?

All of the Gospel writers explain Jesus as the “Son of God.” Mark 1:1 says, “the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” John was written partially to a large Greek audience, whose Greek gods were often fornicating and siring illegitimate children. So using “Son of God” as the first and primary explanation of the identity of Jesus may have seemed problematic. So John says, “in the beginning was the word.” In Greek the logos, which we translate “word,” was something that was co-eternal with absolute reality, was built into the logic of creation, and was the absolute mind of all true divinity. So that may have seemed like a better idea as an introduction for John than “Son of God.” But John still uses this title as early as John 1:34, and ties it to the idea of him being the “Lamb of God” in John 1:36.

In Matthew, the disciples call Jesus the Son of God when he calms the storm, but he doesn’t say it explicitly about himself until his trial (as a dramatic climax) in Matthew 26:63-64. Then the title is repeated three times in Matthew 27.

Luke’s gospel starts with the miraculous origins of Jesus, and then he is called the Son of God in Luke 3:22 by the voice of God. Immediately following that, Luke includes the genealogy that shows that Jesus is the son of Adam, the son of Abraham, the son of David, and the son of Zerubbabel, and is in the proper line of the Son of Man, who is the Son of God and the Messiah King. This factthat he is the Son Godis then the first thing challenged by Satan in the temptations of chapter 4. Jesus isn’t called the Son of God again until Luke 22:70.

So, although all of the Gospel writers claim that Jesus is the son of God, all of them take great pains to fill out the concept to avoid misunderstanding. And this was rightly done. Continue reading What Does “Son of God” Really Mean?

The Genealogy of Jesus

 

Some people may be aware of the fact that the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are not identical to each other. If you look closer, they are not even in harmony with each other. Matthew works forward and Luke works backward. When you align the genealogies, you’ll see that Matthew starts with Abraham, and where that genealogy meets with Abraham in Luke’s Gospel, they are harmonious through 13 generations. At that point, Luke’s Gospel follows David’s son Nathan, while Matthew’s Gospel follows Solomon in the line of kings. They split for 13 generations, where they come together with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, around the time of the exile. Then they diverge again until meeting again with Joseph.

A couple of things to point out:

  1. This doesn’t look like a simple error. It would be one thing if in the long list of names there were a couple that were off. That is not the case here. These two lists follow almost entirely different genealogies from the time of David, and they have completely different numbers of generations.
  2. Biblical genealogies leave out generations—sometimes numerous generations. For example, the amount of time spoken of between Obed and David is a few hundred years. There was pretty certainly more than three generations in that time. This is a variable that can be very difficult to account for.
  3. There are three main theories for why these diversions exist.

Continue reading The Genealogy of Jesus

An Introduction to Luke

Luke 1:4 says “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” This is the purpose of Luke’s gospel. He sought to create an even more comprehensive record of the life of Jesus than those that existed before. He also sought to corroborate the record of Jesus, claiming that he had investigated everything from the very beginning of Jesus’ life both with traditions that were handed down word for word and by testing those with eyewitnesses who were still living. R.C. Sproul says that this is an “orderly account”; it’s not chronological, but is thematically ordered in a way that is loosely chronological. It is also possible that what Luke includes and doesn’t include is based on what he was personally able to confirm with eyewitnesses, including seven episodes that do not exist in any other Gospels.

Continue reading An Introduction to Luke