Let My People Think

Archive for the ‘Difficult Questions’ 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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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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Unity in diversity, with love and power. (A divine blueprint for the 21st century universal church)

Unity in DiversityI have a couple of presence points on social media. Over 95% of my digital footprint is about the person of Jesus Christ, and about pursuing his love, grace, and kingship. So naturally, my digital friends and followers tend to be of like interests.

With that said – my circle of digital friends is by no means homogeneous.

I have friends who are very focused on social causes – the poor, the hungry, the immigrants, the imprisoned, etc. Which makes great sense – since Jesus was also very focused on it. I have friends who are very focused on theological aspects of their faith in that they are discovering ways to see and interpret God’s love toward everyone in a healthy, Jesus-like way.

I have friends who are very focused on the supernatural aspect of their walk with God. Which makes great sense, since the life of Jesus was book-ended with two supernatural events (immaculate conception and bodily resurrection / ascension) and filled with various miracles which he also taught to his disciples.

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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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Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego saved from the blazing furnace: an example of unwavering faith, or a “sovereign” act of God?

fiery-furnace

Let’s consider the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (the pagan names by which Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became known). You might want to re-read Daniel chapters 1-3 for this.

I will examine the test in a translation that’s literal and fairly faithful to the original. NKJV suffices in this instance. Please feel free to consult an interlinear for this, to verify with the original text (I have). We will be relying on the inspired original text for the correct understanding. I could have translated this hyper-literally from the original, but I want to make a point that what I am about to say can easily be established based on a literal English translation that’s true to the original like NKJV or YLT, using simple logic.

Daniel 3:1, 4-6 sets up the scene:
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
4 Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; 6 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”

Daniel’s 3 friends, being true to their Jewish faith that forbade idol worship, didn’t comply. They immediately got reported to the king. Here’s king Nebuchadnezzar’s response:

Daniel 3:14-15
14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”

Translator’s additions are in italics, and are not part of the original text.

Please notice the two sets of conditional sentences in v. 15 stating two cause-and-effect scenarios:

King’s two “ifs”
1) If you worship – then nothing (literally, the text says nothing – meaning no consequences to the three youths)
2) If you do not worship – then you shall be cast immediately into the burning fiery furnace.

The king concludes his ultimatum with asking this sarcastic question: “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” The ball is now in the hands of the 3 faithful Hebrew young men.

Now, let’s look at their response to the king.
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Colossians 1:21-23 and the quality of our expectation of the good news of Christ

expectation

Colossians 1:21-23 is another passage (along with 1 John 1:9) that I heard quoted as supporting the idea that as we do or don’t do something, it causes God to do or not do something in response. The “if-then” construction is what throws people off. To be sure, it’s hard to translate properly into English.

However, the “if I am doing something – then God will be doing something in response” (my cause and God’s effect) workflow is not the workflow of grace, and it’s not supported by the grammar of the passage, as I will demonstrate below. Grace is God providing something through the finished work of Christ on the cross, 1900+ years before I was even born; faith is me appropriating whatever was provided by grace, as applicable to a given situation in my life. So it’s not “If I am doing X -> then God will do Y”. It’s rather “God has done Y and made it available -> therefore as I am trusting in it as being applicable to my life, I am thereby realizing Y’s benefits in my life.” Notice how concerning my side of the equation, the focus is on believing / trusting. Concerning my words and actions as related to Y – the correct stance should be “My words / actions X demonstrate that I believe Y”. In other words, “God has done Y -> I trust in and stand on Y (as shown in my words and actions X) -> Y will materialize in my life” That’s the correct workflow.

So the effect portion of the “cause-and-effect” pattern is not about God objectively doing something, but about me subjectively appropriating what’s already been done. The cause doesn’t affect God, it affects me. God did all he needed to do 2000 years ago. The grammar here is similar (not the same, but similar in all main points but one) and follows the same basic logic as 1 John 1:9, which is also largely misunderstood and misapplied.
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Does God’s direct discipline include physical beating?

roman-scourge

Let’s consider the oft-quoted passage from Hebrews that seems to lend support to the idea that God inflicts physical pain or even sickness / disease on his children:

Hebrews 12:5-6 (NKJV)

5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

This passage is actually quoting from Proverbs 3:11-12, which we will turn to shortly.

The verb usually translated “to discipline” is really “to child”. That’s all it is. No other connotations there. The specifics as to precisely what aspect of “childing” is in view must be established from the rest of the context.

Now, the Greek verb “to scourge” – “mastigoo” (G3146 – μαστιγόω) used in the passage is of particular interest. This Hebrews passage is quoting from a Septuagint translation of Proverbs (which was done in 3rd century BC). In Septuagint, the verb “mastigoo” is used in a general sense of whipping, and even in a sense of “smiting”, or inflicting pain in general (e.g., Job 30:21, where Job is speaking of God “whipping” him with his hand, according to Job’s perception).
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