Let My People Think

Archive for the ‘Bible Study’ Category

7 churches of Paul and the 7 churches of Revelation

The beginning chapters of the book of Revelation contain 7 letters to the 7 churches. The churches are represented by seven golden lampstands. More specifically, the letters are addressed to the “7 stars”, representing the “7 angels of the churches”. What do all those expressions mean?

First of all, the word “church” (Greek “ekklesia”) simply means “called out / convoked gathering or assembly”. As a matter of fact, this exact same word “ekklesia” is used several dozen times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, or LXX) to translate the Hebrew words denoting “convoked assembly”. All of these words simply referred to the people of Israel. In the New Covenant, this same word is used to refer to the body of Christ. So we have one word, and two different meanings which depend on the context.

Another interesting word is “synagogue”. In Greek literally means “to lead / bring together” and has a very similar meaning to the word “ekklesia”. In LXX, sometimes the cognates of these two words are used nearly interchangeably. For instance:

Leviticus 8:1,3
The Lord said to Moses … gather (ekklesiazo) the entire assembly (synagoge) at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

So, the point of it is that the word “church” is not meant to be understood in a purely Christian sense. In a similar vein, the word “synagogue” is not meant to be understood only in a Jewish sense. In fact, the word “synagogue” is used several times in LXX to denote Gentile gatherings.

Therefore, I will use the word “assembly” instead of “church” in this write-up from hereon out, as that would avoid anachronistically reading our modern meanings into the text that doesn’t necessarily support it.
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Bible: a study tool or a God-substitute

BibliolatryIt’s fascinating how often the Bible gets deified, based on the way we use certain phrasings: “The Bible says …”, “The Scriptures teach us “, “The Bible tells us”.

In all of those examples, the Bible is antropomorphized – i.e., it’s getting endowed with characteristics which belong to sentient beings. That is without warrant. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. The One who is to be obeyed is God. The human being to emulate is Jesus. And the Bible is simply a very, very useful tool on the journey. It is the official historically accurate record of God’s dealings with humankind, containing a lot of “inside information”.

Typically, by the time we get to studying our Bibles, we are already given the looking glass through which we perceive everything that’s written in the Bible. In doing so, we calibrate our reading experience to our apriori theology, and we draw out and magnify things that are in line with what we already believe, and minimize and discard the things that could challenge our existing beliefs.

So, often times it’s not “the Bible teaching me”, but actually quite the opposite of that. It’s “me” telling the Bible what I think it should be saying.
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1 John 1:9 : The litmus test of our faith basis

Here’s one verse that is often taken out of context and misconstrued.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We are tempted to read “cause-effect” relationship in this verse in a way that’s not supported by the verse’s grammar in any way at all. The problem is not with the verse; the problem is that our Protestants minds are still so conditioned by the Roman Catholic confessional booth that we tend to read into the verse the stuff that’s not even there.

Here’s what the verse DOESN’T say ” if I confess sins – God WILL BE faithful and just to do xyz”. Future tense in NOT used in the second part of this verse. It’s fascinating how often this crucial detail gets missed. Rather, the verse says “If I confess sins – God IS [ALREADY] faithful and just to do xyz”.

Let me put it a different way. The relationship between the two clauses of this sentence is not “cause and effect.” The relationship is not between between me confessing sin and God forgiving and cleansing. The relationship is between me confessing sin and God being faithful and just! Both of these are stated in the present tense. Your confession cannot cause God to be faithful and just – otherwise your lack of confession would cause God to be unfaithful and unjust. This is nonsensical, and it should be quite obvious.
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What is the Word of God? The answer might surprise you

Logos of GodThe Bible assigns a very special place to the “Word of God”. In fact, we even capitalize the word “Word”. Let’s take a deeper dive on this concept.

Often times, we equate the Word of God with the Bible, pretty much without thinking. After all, that’s the normal usage of the phrase, right? So, “studying the Word” turns to “reading the Bible”. “Flowing with the Word” becomes “knowing details about Biblical events” (culture, history, perhaps even Hebrew / Koine Greek, etc.)

Let’s take a close look at this notion. The Word of God is very important indeed:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Let’s try to substitute this with the word “the Bible”, and see if this bears out:

“In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God.” (John 1:1)

There are a few problems with this. One, the first book of the Bible was likely penned in about 1500 BC, and the last book of the Bible was most likely penned shortly before 70 AD. The entire Bible was put together in its (more or less) final form no earlier than circa 367 A.D. Clearly, those 1800-1900 or so years happened long after “the beginning” of John 1:1.
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Is every existing authority from God?

Unthinking respect for authority Albert EinsteinHere’s an interesting passage in the New Testament that concerns submission to governing authorities:

Romans 13:1 New International Version (NIV)
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

On the surface, a translation like that seems to imply that any expression of Western-style democracy is a direct rebellion against God. That reading would also mean that Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot are legitimately examples of Godly leaders. That’s why this reading a very attractive target for abuse by manipulative preachers and “prophets” who don’t shy away from using out-of-context Scriptural prooftexts to prop up their own agendas.

But there’s a little translation peculiarity that’s often overlooked, and yet it considerably changes the meaning of the entire chapter. Here is Romans 13:1 in hyper-literal translation from ancient Koine Greek:
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Submission to church authority, no questions asked?

Minions and GruThere’s no question that a follower of Jesus Christ must treat people in authority with an attitude of honor and respect. With that said – is it godly to submit to any authority without thinking and without asking any questions? In the New Testament, there’s only passage that on the surface seems to suggest such unquestioning attitude toward ecclesiastical (i.e., church) authorities. That passage is Hebrews 13:17. Here it is in a couple of typical translations:

Hebrews 13:17 New International Version (NIV)
17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17 New King James Version (NKJV)
17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Here’s the problem: both of these translations are really inaccurate. Here’s Hebrews 13:17 in a much more accurate hyper-literal traslation from ancient Koine Greek:
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The myth of “Christian tithe”

tithe

When people advocate tithing as applicable for today, I am not automatically doubting their motives (unless given a reason to do so). There are many among tithe-advocating believers who want to do right by God. What I am doubting very much, however, is their Bible exegesis and hermeneutics.

Consider the following points:

  • Biblical tithe has nothing do with money, and it never did. It was only collected in produce and livestock. Back then, you couldn’t tithe in money even if you wanted to. Therefore, when you refer to Old Covenant tithes, make sure you prepend the word “agricultural” before it – e.g., “agricultural tithe”. This would avoid the necessary confusion.
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