Thoughts on Christian spirituality.
Most Christians would agree that there are some passages in the bible that are very challenging, for various reasons. Perhaps they contradict other parts of the bible, or maybe they seem to demonstrate that God approves of actions that are clearly evil, or perhaps they just seem massively out of place. In this article I will discuss five well-known passages that are often easily misunderstood. For each of the passages, I shall seek to provide an alternative point of view. My responses are not necessarily authoritative, but hopefully they provide food for thought.
You shall not murder.
What people think it means: Do not kill.
What it actually means: Do not murder.
The bible distinguishes between killing and murdering. This means that it is possible to kill someone but not murder them.
The article at listverse.com describes this in more detail, and contains many more examples of easily misunderstood bible passages, so be sure to check it out if you fancy some further reading.
Now, let's take a look at the passage describing Jesus' hanging on the cross in Luke 23, verses 39-43:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
What people think it means: The criminal went to heaven on the same day that he died.
What it actually means: One possible alternative to consider is that, since the original text didn't actually have any commas, the introduction of the comma was somewhat arbitrary. Without commas, the verse reads "truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise" and can therefore feasibly be translated as "truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise". Various websites discuss this in depth, but they do not necessarily agree with this alternative interpretation.
Let's take a look at some fascinating pre-flood story from Genesis 6, verses 1-3:
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years."
What people think it means: Human lifespans shall never exceed 120 years.
Now, here's a tough one. Here is a passage describing Jephthah's regretful promise in Judges 11, verses 29-38:
Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break."
"My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry."
"You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
What people think it means: Jephthah's daughter was sacrificed as a burnt offering. God doesn't mind.
What it actually means: Jephthah's daughter sacrificed her virginity. Note the focus in this passage on the state of Jephthah's daughter's virginity. Jephthah's daughter is stated to have spent a lot of time lamenting her virginity, rather then her death. The passage even ends by specifically saying "and she was a virgin". Note, in particular, that God's opinion on all of this is not expressed.
Lowering the tone ever so slightly, let's take a look at Onan in Genesis 38, verses 8-10:
Then Judah said to Onan, "Sleep with your brother's wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother". But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord's sight; so the Lord put him to death also.
What people think it means: Masturbation is a sin.
What it actually means: Deliberately disobeying God's clear command is a sin. In this situation, God's will is clear and unambiguous.
So, this is probably the first meta-post that I have created since I relaunched my website after murdering the previous incarnation. I hope that you have enjoyed reading the various articles that I have published over the past couple of weeks. From now on, I hope to publish a new article every Friday. It does take quite a while to put together each article so every now and then there may be a week where I don't publish anything.
Until now, I've created my own narrative in terms of what to talk about. This has included news, discussions on theology and lists of interesting things about the bible. More recently, I even put together a quiz.
Now, here's your chance to direct the future in terms of this website. I'm particularly interested in receiving challenging bible questions, so if you have a question that you'd like to see answered in a future article, then please let me know. You can either tweet me, or add a comment below.
I've put together a simple quiz, testing your ability to remember where in the bible certain books appear. How many questions can you answer correctly?
Question 1/10: What is the first and last book in the bible?
Question 2/10: Which book in the bible comes after Genesis?
Question 4/10: What is the correct order for these five books in the New Testament?
Question 5/10: What is the last book of the Old Testament, and the first book of the New Testament?
Question 6/10: What is the correct order of the first eight books of the Old Testament?
Question 7/10: What book in the New Testament comes before 'Titus'?
2: 2 Timothy
Question 9/10: Which book comes before and after 'Jonah' in the Old Testament?
1: Amos, Nahum
2: Amos, Micah
Question 10/10: What is the name of the book that is in the middle of the list of books in the Old Testament?
How many points did you get?
In recent years Michael Ramsden, from RZIM, has been gracious enough to host several seminars at the Momentum summer conference. One of his more popular seminars involves asking the audience to come up with the hardest theological questions that they can think of and then answering them live. Possibly out of necessity, he asks the audience to write down the questions on a piece of paper so that he can pick and choose which ones he answers. Notably, he is heavily biased toward those questions that have chocolate bars attached.
I've attended several of these seminars, and I've come to realise that the question most commonly asked by Christians concerns the topic of predestination. Christians seem concerned that they may not have free will if their future is determined in advance. Michael's live answers always left me a little disappointed, but he did upload a more involved version of his live answer to his website.
Personally, I've never really had much difficulty with the implications of predestination.
Suppose, for whatever reason, I've managed to put myself in such a position that I can know exactly what you are going to do next. I then have two choices. I can either choose not to interfere with the timeline in any way, and thus ensure that events will take place exactly as I have forseen. My other option is to interfere with the timeline, and in some way tell you what you're going to do next. You will then have two choices. You can either conform to what I have said, or perhaps seek to do something contrary to my prophecy in order to make some sort of statement to prove me wrong. Note that in both cases, you have had free will to choose what happens next. You may disagree with the conclusion, but keep in mind that this isn't too far off what we as humans are already capable of. We already have technology that allows us to go back in time without being able to interfere with the events that subsequently take place.
I think that the actual issue that Christians struggle with concerning predestination is what follows should this argument be taken to its logical conclusion: That sometimes, God does interfere with the timeline, and does tell people what is going to happen in the future. Following that, events happen exactly as they are described. The reason why Christians struggle with this is obvious: How can you claim to have free will if God tells you what you are going to do, freely, and you cannot possibly make things happen another way?
Personally, I don't have a problem with this either. Suppose God does tell you about the future. In this case, I feel inclined to believe that it would be inconsequential whether or not God told you about the future. In this scenario, I subscribe to the belief that it would be safe for God to let you know what you are going to do if God were certain that it wouldn't affect the outcome. I like to imagine playing around with an Excel spreadsheet in order to figure out what would happen in certain situations. Suppose God is playing with a cosmic spreadsheet and figures that nothing would change regardless of whether or not He told you about the future. God can then make a choice about whether or not to tell you, without any adverse consequence. The two possible resulting timelines would of course need to be extremely close to one another to make God's decision to interfere inconsequential.
Of course, God can also choose to not tell you what He knows will happen in the future.
In both of the above situations, you can still claim to have had the free will to do whatever you please, and you are therefore responsible for your own actions.
Well, that is why I personally don't struggle with the implications of predestination. I suppose I would start to struggle if I were to consider what would happen if God knew the future, knew that disseminating that information would in fact change the timeline in some way not related to the revelation, and then proceed to go ahead and disseminate that information. I suppose I shall leave that scenario as an open question - what do you think? In this scenario, God is purposefully changing the future by informing people about it, either for our benefit or for His. Would that be cheating?
I'm sure you've heard of Katy Perry, but have you heard of Katy Hudson? Katy Perry is merely her stage name. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that she had previously pursued a career in gospel music, and released an album called "Katy Hudson" in 2001.
Here is some footage of her previous work. This first video is her song "Search Me".
If you're into vintage media, then there's also an interview:
Personally, I find it difficult to figure out whether or not Katy has abandoned her Christian faith, or to determine whether or not she even had a Christian faith to start with. As always, it's not my place to imply one way or another. I have noticed that there are some websites that have done some investigation. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of bias in the discussion.
So, the news it out today that our beloved, well-received Christian Worship leader (and now, media commentator) Vicky Beeching is gay. No doubt, there will be some sort of media frenzy over this. After all, she's a lovely woman and has historically been in a position of leadership, leading worship at large Christian events such as Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor (my personal favourite, in fact I will be attending this year's conference next week).
I just wanted to add my own personal thoughts to this, as if it really matters (I suspect it doesn't). My thoughts are no doubt a tiny ripple in the waves of a potentially outraged Christian community. Actually, I'll take that back. I don't think there will be an outraged Christian community in uproar over this, because frankly, I think most people will have a very similar opinion to mine. Specifically, "so what"? When I read the news, I was not particularly surprised. This is not because I have inside knowledge, or divine knowledge, but rather, because I know there's nothing sinful about being gay and if Vicky was born that way (or even grew to become that way), then that's more of a minor personal struggle than a major issue that should cause people to think twice about having her host events.
Whether or not I should have labelled it a "struggle" is possibly up for debate, but the fact remains that Vicky loves God and has a personal relationship with Him, therefore it's well outside of acceptability for me to have a negative and public opinion about her and her ministry. I'm sure God will continue to bless her.
The challenge is this: Does this news cause you to reconsider having Vicky preach, teach and lead worship at your church?