Breakfast With Jesus

Mcr-Fishes

One of my new favorite passages in the Bible is John 21. The power of this passage was always lost on me, and I want to take a moment to thank my good friend Timothy for helping me see this passage with new eyes. His insight inspired this post.

John 21 is a passage I never really gave a lot of thought or attention to. It always seemed to me like it was a really anti-climatic ending for the Gospel writings. It is a quiet conclusion to what I would consider the greatest story ever told. The gospel accounts end with a quiet breakfast on the beach.

John says it like this:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

I love the disciples. I see so much of myself in them. They are just so human. Remember that Christ had been crucified, buried, risen, and had appeared to the disciples resurrected. They had witnessed the risen son of God, and what did they do?  They went fishing.

Imagine if you had experienced all the disciples had experienced. Imagine if you had spent years at Christ’s side witnessing his miracles and hearing his teachings. Imagine if you had seen him crucified and buried only to see the risen and resurrected Lord three days later…. Now imagine what it must have been like going back to work after all that.  I’d imagine it would probably take a great deal of time to process everything that these men had just gone through, so I guess fishing seemed like as good a use of time as anything.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 

I love this passage. One of the guys on the boat recognizes Jesus and Peter is so overjoyed to see him that he can’t wait for the boat to reach shore. They were only about a hundred yards from the beach, but Peter decided that he was going to jump in and swim the distance rather than wait patiently on the boat to reach the shore. I’ve been very happy to see people in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy that I would leap out of a boat to get to the shore faster.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

“Come have breakfast” just makes me smile. Remember that Jesus had already accomplished everything he came to this world to do. The victory had been won, the chains of sin and death were shattered, a new day had dawned. So what does Christ do? He makes breakfast.

I love the fact that we worship a God of small things as well as big things. God does not always come with pearls of lightning, rolls of thunder, and a blinding flash of light. Sometimes he just wants to chat with you on the beach over breakfast.  Christ could have been seated at the right hand of God in glory. He could have been justly worshiped and exhausted by the heavenly host!  Instead he decided that, for the time being, he’d rather visit disciples and have a quick bite to eat. That is the love Christ has for us.

 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

This is yet another passage where I completely missed the point for a long time. Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him?  Because Peter has denied Christ three times just a few days ago. Jesus was reconciling Peter.  Imagine the shame that Peter must have felt after he had denied Christ and acted so cowardly during Christ’s time of need. In spite of his overwhelming joy at seeing the risen Lord, I have no doubt that Peter was still deeply ashamed of himself and his cowardice. This was Christ telling Peter that all was forgiven. He was telling Peter that he was not concerned with the past sins. Peter had temporarily given up on Christ, but Christ had never given up on Peter. God had not forgotten him, and Christ was still going to use Peter to do great things.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Of course Peter is still Peter, and in true Peter fashion he almost misses the point entirely. Luckily for Peter, and us, Christ is patient and makes his point absolutely clear. Jesus had a job for Peter, and he has a job for us as well. He calls us to follow him, and tend to his sheep.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Which Version Of The Bible Is Best?

The other day the question was brought up during a lecture as to what was the best English translation of the Bible. The professor being questioned is one of the most learned men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. His grasp of the Hebrew and Greek language is astounding, especially to someone like me who managed to barely avoid flunking out of Greek 101 by the skin of my teeth. I was pretty confident that the professor was going to say the ESV, since multiple sources had told me it was the most direct translation. To my surprise, his response was not that simple.

“What do you mean when you say best?” asked the professor.

The inquiring student was a little thrown off by this, to him (and myself) it seems as if this would have been an easy question to answer for someone with such a firm understanding of the Greek and Hebrew languages.

“I mean, which one translation do you think is the most accurate,” replied the student.

“Do you mean to say which is the most accurate translation from Greek to English, or do you mean which translation most accurately conveys the meaning of the original Greek?” was the reply question the professor gave.

We never got a definite answer from the professor. I know what version of the English Bible he uses (NASV) but I also know that he regularly points out ways in which the translation could have been better.

I guess what I’m saying is that language is very interesting in that I can say virtually the same thing in English and another language, but that does not mean that it is going to translate over with the exact same meaning. Language encapsulates much more than just words that mean things, it subtly holds ideas and aspects of culture within.

For example, if I were to say someone is “frugal” or “economical” you would probably assume that this person is good at managing money. If I were to say that the same person is “cheap” or “miserly” you would probably picture someone greedy, selfish, and money obsessed. On a technical level there is really no difference in someone who is “frugal” and one who is “cheap” but to someone fluent in English there are very different connotations. There are hundreds of examples in English of words that mean the same thing, and yet they don’t.

There’s also a myriad of idioms and figures of speech that a direct translation could not capture. If I were to directly translate the phrase “by the skin of my teeth” that I used in the first paragraph into Chinese it would make no sense. In the same way if I were to say a Chinese saying like 三人成虎 (Three men make a tiger) you would have no idea what I was talking about. 

In the same way we have to be careful when we read scriptures that we aren’t too literal in our translating. An easy example that usually doesn’t trip up anyone is Psalm 91:4 which reads:

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

I don’t think there are any Christian doctrines out there that would take this verse and argue that God is some kind of giant bird in the sky. Most people understand this verse for what it is, but that can’t be said for all passages.

The Bible is more of a library than a single book, and as a result it’s important to remember that not every passage should be read the same way. We can’t read the Apocalyptic literature of Revelation the same way we read the Gospel account of Luke. We can’t read the legal code of Leviticus in the same vein as the Didactic poem of Job.

Meaning and truth are a lot more nuanced than simply translating Greek and Hebrew directly into English. With the Bible we have been entrusted with a massive library of narratives, holiness codes, historical documentation, philosophy, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic prose, gospel messages, and letter writings. The authors that composed these books were not all writing with the end goal of being read by 21st century english speakers, and we have to remember than in our studies. The Bible is an amazing collection of works, all of which seek to reveal something about God and the nature of man, and it must be treated as such.

So which version of the Bible is the best? I don’t really know if I’m qualified to say. I’m a NIV fan myself because it tends to be a good balance between “word for word” and “thought for thought” translations. If you are curious about what version of the Bible might work best for you I found this nifty graph that might help you out:

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Allegorical Creation: Not Exactly Heresy

The creation story is a biblical account which has lead to much controversy over the centuries. Many critics of Christianity have used it as a starting point to launch attacks and criticisms at the faith, while those who consider themselves believers are in debate as to whether such accounts are literal historical events, or allegorical means to convey a deeper message. This is not a decision that needs to be taken lightly, since there are theological consequences that emerge no matter where you stand. The creation account is one of the most important passages of scripture in the Bible. It sets the theological foundation upon which the rest of the scriptures build upon. As a result, the debate about how one should interpret the creation account is one of extreme importance.

Some have argued for a literal interpretation, believing that unless such events occurred exactly as described the Bible, the Bible cannot be said to be inerrant and infallible. I am close friends with many people like this, and a conversation I had recently revolving around whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old or not is the reason I decided to write this post. My goal is not to attack anyone’s beliefs as much as it is that I wish to demonstrate that my belief in an allegorical creation is not as much of a heresy as some people might think it is. There are many scholars I respect who hold to the “young earth” ideas, and hopefully I will be able to be fair in giving my reasoning for rejecting that theory without coming off like a condescending tool.

I’ll be the first one to come out and say that not all scripture is infallible. I hold that all scripture has importance, be it philosophical, historical, theological, or in some artistic sense, but infallible is not the choice of words I would use. I believe that all scripture was God inspired, though I’m not going to be the one to say that God held every biblical author’s hand so that they could write down the perfect and divine words of the creator. If that were the case then I question why the book or Revelation has so many gramatical errors. I guess what I’m saying is scholars who run an “all-or-none” theology open themselves to the risk of having a crisis of faith every time a new translation, copy, or discovery reveals something about the texts, or  (as is the case with the creation story) there are two different accounts of the same event. I personally find it unnecessary to limit one’s understanding of scripture to two extremes of literalism and falsity. It is possible for some scripture to be inspired without it being taken literally. The creation account can reveal truth, just as easily as Jesus Christ spoke truth through parables that did not actually occur outside of the parable itself.

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Origen

Some of the more fundamentalist biblical scholars have tried to write off ideas of an allegorical creation as being a new idea, but this could not be further from the truth. The concept of an allegorical creation is not a means of modernistic apologetics, and the allegorical understanding predates any theories of evolution, big bang, carbon dating, or fossil records. The famed theologian Origen of Alexandria made arguments for an allegorical reading of Genesis in 230 AD when he wrote:

“What man of sense will argue with the statement that the first, second and third days, which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars? What man is found such a fool as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise like a husbandman?… I believe every man must hold these things for images under which a hidden sense is concealed.”

– Origen of Alexandria (230 A.D.)

Origen wasn’t the earliest to make such claims. St. Irenaeus argues for an allegorical creation in his work Against Hereses in the 108 A.D, and St. Augustine denies the literal seven-day creation in his work The Literal Interpretation of Genesis in 408 A.D. Such evidence provides validity too the allegorical creation theory while proving it to be more than merely a modern attempt to bend scripture in order to appease recent scientific discoveries.

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Moses Maimonides

In the 12th Century a Jewish scholar by the name of Moses Maimonides said:

“The foundation of foundations and pillar of all wisdom is to know that the First Being is, and that He gives existence to all that exist.”

– Maimonides

According to Maimonides, the purpose that the author of the creation account is trying to convey is the foundational truth on which existence is based. The author seeks to establishes the existence of a singular God, from whom the universe was created. Such a notion lays the framework for all Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theology that will follow. Keeping that in mind it becomes clear that the goal of this passage is one of theological and religious significance, rather than one of historical or scientific nature.

To argue that the creation account is to be taken as a literal scientific history raises a great number of questions. The first problem comes from the contradictions that form between what science and Genesis say about the order in which the universe is formed. A study of the Astronomy reveals that the Sun pre-existed the Earth (Gen. 1:16), biological and geological records seem to contradict the order in which life appears (Gen. 1:11-12, 24), and fossils reveal animals feed on other animals before man first set foot on the earth (Gen. 1:30). Assuming that several areas of scientific study are not built upon falsities, we are left with two possibilities. Either God created the universe with the appearance of false age and misleading records, or the author of Genesis wrote the order of creation with the best ideas available at the time to demonstrating the power and wisdom of God as creator. Both options are possible with an all powerful God, and so readers are left to come to their own conclusion.

If one were to side on the opinion that God created everything in a literal seven days, and that the order of events is literal and factual, another problem emerges. There are two creation accounts (Gen. 1:1-2:4, 2:4-25) that depict a different order of events in which the earth is created. The first account has the creation of plants (Gen. 1:11-12), followed by animals (Gen.1:20-25), and ending with male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). This is not so in the second account which places the order of creation as man (2:7) followed by plants (2:9), animals (2:19),and finally ending with woman (2:21-22). The passages also suffer from differing styles of speech and structure, implying that they were written years apart, and possibly by different authors. Such questions require a great deal of explanation and theorizing on the part of the literal interpreters.

Examining the first creation story alone, does not lend itself free of problems for those who take a literal approach. The creation account shows that God existed, not in a state of nothingness, but rather in a state of darkness and chaos (Gen.1:1-2). This changes when God spoke and created the first of creation; light (Gen. 1:3-5) and the combined light and darkness formed the first day. In this act time and order seem to come into existence as every moment after this point is referred to as a day. The problem arises when one comes to question what the author meant when he mentions “a day.” It is entirely possible that the author meant to relate an indefinite passage of time, just as it is just as possible that the author was writing in the context of the Jewish weekly calendar’s concept of a day. There is no clear way to know, and such matters are confused even further when one considers that God doesn’t create the Sun and Moon until the fourth day (Gen.1:16). Because time on earth is measured using the Sun and Moon, it is difficult for humans to consider what a day consisted of prior to their existence. Such passages leave the literal reader with many questions to ponder.

The second day of creation, much like the first, has many issues when taken literally.  According to some biblical scholars, the ancient peoples saw the sky or heavens as a solid mass. In their understanding the sky was a dome like structure that separated realms, and acted as a throne for God (Ex. 24:10; Ezk. 1:26). Such theories point to the way that the sky separates the waters, which later are seen flooding down upon the earth when they are opened (Gen. 7:11). Since we today know that the sky is not a dome holding back water, the logical conclusions to be drawn are that either the creation account was written to be allegorical, the creation account was written to be literal and the author made mistakes, or the creation account was written literally and God has since altered the state of the world and universe around us.

The fourth day is an interesting day of creation, which holds special theological significance worth mentioning. It was quite common in the ancient times for societies both primitive and advanced to worship celestial bodies as deities. We see such notions reflected in various cultures on every continent all over the globe.Yet in spite of this trend, the author of Genesis seems assured in his assertion that the celestial bodies were not beings of worship, but rather aspects of the creation just like the rest of the universe. Although an astronomer might argue that it does not dismiss the notion that the sun and moon were created simultaneously, such a notion does imply unique theology on the behalf of the author of Genesis. It could be argued that such ideas lead one to argue that the creation account is divinely inspired,although it should be noted that divine inspiration does not assert a literal or allegorical translation.

The Creation of Adam on the sixth day is another point of discussion in terms of literal vs.allegorical debates. The Hebrew term for “Adam” literally translates into “man”which opens up the possibility that Adam is a representation of humanity,rather than a singular being. The first creation account makes no reference to male and female being created on separate days and is more likely to be viewed as an analogy for mankind, while the second account seems more in favor of Adam and Eve as unique individuals.  When one views Adam as an analogy for man, the reader is presented with a much broader story of humanity being given a sense of good and evil, and choosing evil. This would have occurred over a much longer time than if the accounts truly speak of a single man and woman, and raises questions as to the truth behind the doctrine of original sin.

It is worth mentioning that in the grand scale of things it doesn’t really matter whether one takes a literal or allegorical interpretation of creation account. The general themes and concepts are the same regardless of whether one believes the truths are literal or implied.

  • God is the ultimate and He creates all things that exist. God created all things good and in harmony.
  • God created mankind, and when mankind obtained the knowledge of good and evil he chose to sin.
  • Because of this mankind is out of sync with nature and the result is a broken world and a separation from God.

The book of Genesis is based around the major theme of creation, rejection, and redemption. These will be themes found in most of the books of the Bible, especially in the Gospels of Christ. In either line of reasoning, the foundation on which the rest of scripture to build upon is set, and the author fulfills his purpose in writing the account. This is not to say that both sides are on equal footing. One makes a bold assumption that throws much of the known sciences into question while the other opens up questions regarding the ideas of original sin and when did man truly become man. Neither is full proof and both interpretations need to be seriously considered.

The Seemingly Sexist Epistle: Why History Is Important In Studying Scripture

So before we even look at the issue of sexism in Paul’s writings, let’s establish right here and now that patriarchy was the norm for a very long time. The Old Testament was chock full of dudes (as is the New) and significant women were often portrayed as evil (Jezebel), doubtful (Sarai), easily tempted (Eve), and stumbling blocks for men (Bathsheba).  And while there were plenty of important female figures in the Old Testament that weren’t a reflection of old world sexism (Deborah, Esther, Rehab) it was mostly a man’s world. This can be seen as a consequence of sin. In Genesis 3:16, God lists the patriarchal “husbands shall rule over you” as a consequence that had to be lived with as a result of the broken world.

Now the question for us today is what we do under the New Covenant. We know that Christ set us free from the binds of sin and law. We also know according to Galatians: 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

– Galatians 3:28

So there should be no class, race, or gender distinction between those who are children of God. We are all one body and we can all take equal part in receiving the salvation that comes through Christ.

So what the heck is this about:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

– 1 Timothy 2:11-15

This is a favorite passage for Anti-theists to point to as proof that Christianity is sexist. Now when taken out of context this passage makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. How can Paul say that women cannot teach and must remain quiet when in Titus he says that:

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

– Titus 2:3-5

Now granted this is in the context of women’s ministry, but it is still clear that it is the women who teach in this instance. How can a woman be expected to teach if she is not permitted to even speak in church? Now nay sayers may come back and say that this passage was not meant to be seen in a church setting, but that older women should mentore younger women in the home. It could be interpreted either way, but that’s not where the trouble for this passage ends.

You see, Paul actually encountered and praised several women in ministry positions throughout his time on earth as recorded in both Acts and his Epistles.

  • Priscilla – Along with her husband this woman helped instruct others in teaching the gospel, lead a house church, and is mentioned as one of Paul’s coworkers. (Acts 18:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3) The fact that she is mentioned alongside her husband rather than just her husband being named shows that she probably took equal part in their combined ministry. 
  • Phoebe – Is described as a “diakonon” which was a term reserved for church elders, and where the term Deacon came from. This shows that a woman was capable of being a church elder even as far back as the first century church. (Romans 16:1).
  • Junia – Is referred to among the outstanding Apostles, a title that Paul proudly used to describe himself and his own ministry.  (Romans 16:7)
  • Nympha – Is mentioned as a leader of a house church in Laodicea (Colossians 4:15)
  • Euodia and Syntyche – Worked at Paul’s side to help share the Gospel (Phil. 4:31)

So where on earth did 1 Timothy 2:11-15 come from? For that answer we turn to a fancy little tool I like to call “historical context“.

We should first understand what the book fo 1 Timothy is. None of Paul’s epistles were written to be systematic theology or scripture. Each and every one of these was a letter that Paul wrote, usually to a church or an individual. These letters were usually responding to a crisis or trouble that the early churches were facing, and as a result the letters contain occasional theology, practical advice, and encouragement designed to deal with specific problems and issues.

These letters were saved by many churches in order to preserve the wisdom they contained and these writings were later canonized as scripture. The saved writings of Paul (along with Peter, James, and John) would later be added as part of the New Testament canon for their theological, historic, and practical significance each one posessed.

1 Timothy is no exception and so context is important to understanding this very strange passage. This letter was written by Paul to Timothy, the leader of the Church in Ephesus, to convince him not to abandon his church and to give him guidance into how he could overcome some of the problems he was facing (mainly deception, meaningless talk, and false gospels). You see Ephesus was a city whose main religion was focused around worshiping Artemis, the goddess of fertility and child-birth. As a result the temple priestesses were most likely the main opposition that Timothy’s church faced.

The priestesses of Artemis would not have taken kindly to the Christians who were teaching things that would have encroached upon their target audience.

“…But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

This line was not saying that woman would obtain salvation by bearing children, but rather that it was God who protected them through the birthing process. In Ephesus the temple of Artemis got many sacrifices and donations from people who wanted their loved ones to have a successful birth. Infant and mother fatality rates back then were much higher than they are now, and so when a woman was close to labor it was common to fear for both her and the babies safety. When christians came on the scene and started saying that Artemis would not protect them and that only God had that power, it probably caused quite a stir.

So now the passage in 1 Timothy 2 makes a little more sense in context. This was not a means to say that women could never teach or that their position in life was to become quite, unquestioning, subservient slaves to men. This was how Paul addressed a local problem. Women (priestesses of Artemis) were disrupting Christian worship, spreading false doctrines, and making a mess of things so Paul tells Timothy to cut it off completely and let the men do the teaching. Perhaps it is a bit extreme by today’s standards, but it worked.

Also addressing the Adam and Eve reference in the passage, it seems more likely that this analogy was meant to illustrate that women have mislead men in the past, but it is not there to condemn womanhood in general, as many have used it.

So was the Apostle Paul a sexist? I don’t know, I never met the guy, but I don’t think he was. We have to draw our own conclusions, but when all the evidence is examined and context is considered I don’t see a lot of evidence for a vendetta against women.

What about the passage itself, Is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 a moment of ordained sexism that was permitted in order to resolve a local problem? I guess that depends on how you judge the passage. Without a doubt the passage is taking an extreme stance in order to prevent false doctrines to spread in the Church at Ephesus, and though clearly not a universal teaching, there was a moment when Paul told the women of Ephesus that they should stop teaching and speaking in church. Was Paul in the wrong for this?

Shockingly enough I’d say no. Excessive perhaps, but I don’t think Paul “wrong” to take an extreme stance in order to keep the Christian church in Ephesus alive and preaching the true gospel of Christ. We only have two of the letters that Paul wrote to Timothy, so it is unclear if we can really determine how Paul wanted this issue to be resolved in the long run. Perhaps a better and more efficient system would later be put in place at Ephesus, and this was only a temporary measure. We don’t know what the long term plan was or what the Apostle’s intent was other than that he needed to address the problem quickly.

While not allowing all of the women of the church in Ephesus to speak was not fair to the women who did nothing wrong, it seems that (at least for the moment it was written in) it was a necessary measure. If the tables were turned and it was men who were asked not to speak up in Church or banned from teaching, then I would be rather upset too. I would hate being told I was not permitted to speak just because some other guys were screwing up the services with bad theology and lies. In the end though, remaining silent for a time is worth it if taking such a measure means saving the church and allowing the saving message of Christ to spread in Ephesus.

This passage will always be a bit of a controversial one if for no other reason than we are trying to piece together a story that is missing many of its pieces. We don’t really know everything that lead up to this point (though history helps us make educated guesses) and we really don’t know how this issue was eventually resolved. We have a fraction of the conversation that took place and no more. While I’m sure this post will not unravel the issue of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 completely, it is my hope that in writing this I have given my readers a better glimpse and perhaps a clearer understanding of what the passage probably meant for its original audience.

We Are All Sodomites (Even If You Aren’t Gay)

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Webster’s Dictionary defines Sodomy as “sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation.” The term originates from the Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah which were twin cities destroyed in Genesis 19. The complete elimination of these two cities was one of the most destructive acts carried out by God in the Old Testament. Not since the flood of Noah, had we seen God’s wrath in such a tangible and extreme way. So what was it about Sodom and Gomorrah that so offended God? Was it a city rampant with homosexuality as most believe… I think not.

Somehow it came to be believed that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexual activity. The focus on sexual sin was so strong in this passage that any non-missionary sexual act was immediately associated with these cities by being deemed “Sodomy.”  The idea that God destroyed two cities full of homosexuals has invaded pop culture, and it seems like Sodom and Gomorrah will forever be remembered as the gay capitols of the Ancient World.  What’s interesting is that Sodom and Gomorrah seemed to have a lot more going against them than the fact that “they had homosexuals.”

After re-reading Genesis 19 one get’s the feeling that this town is really hostile and doesn’t seem to have a problem with gang-raping two handsome visitors that happen to be visiting Lot with a message from the Lord. Lot tries to protect his guests, but the townspeople demand that Lot gives up his guests for their pleasure. When Lot protests their only real rebuttal (v.19) is along the lines of “Who are you to judge us.”

It seems that Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t really so much about homosexuality as they are about hedonism to the extreme. They are selfish and pleasure-seeking without any regard for the welfare of others. Any sense of morality or universal brotherhood is completely lost on these people. This is explained further in the book of Ezekiel.

“Now this is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

– Ezekiel 16:49-50

It seems that these people were guilty of a lot more than just a little man on man flirtation. What is scary to consider is that I know that I, as well as a lot of the modern world, seems to fit the Ezekiel description of the sins of Sodom. I know I have been arrogant, overfed, and have at times shown no concern for the poor and needy. I’ve been selfish, self absorbed, and even down right cruel. I’ve never lead a mob of people on a rape spree, but on my not so good days I’m not all that different from the description of your average Sodomite.

Perhaps it’s time we stop using this passage as a club to bash homosexuals and start looking on it as a reminder and a challenge to ourselves never to become like the Sodomites. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder that we are called to be humble, generous, compassionate, and to strive for lives that are holy and pleasing to God.

Four Stories of Sacrifice and Willingness

Over the past few Sundays I have been leading my youth through the book of Genesis, so when it finally came time to present the story of Abraham and Isaac I began to look into the common biblical themes of sacrifice and a willing heart. In the end my lesson became both an Old and New Testament tale. This lesson spans over four different tales of sacrifice and the lessons we can take from each of them.

abraham-and-isaac-579770Lesson 1: Abraham and Isaac

Abraham is the father of Israel and viewed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as a strong pillar of their faith. At age seventy-five God has promised him a son, but God did not give him a son through his wife Sarah for over twenty-five years. During this time Abraham tried to force God to work several times, and each time it failed or backfired on the old man, but God was good to keep his word and his son Isaac was born to him.

God had promised that through Isaac, Abraham would become the father of a great nation that would eventually be a blessing to the entire world. Isaac was not only Abraham’s son, but also his hope for the future and a physical incarnation of God’s promises being fulfilled. So when the events of Genesis 22 come around they come as a shock to the reader.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

– Genesis 22:1-2

This seems like madness to many of us. Abraham had been faithful (mostly) to God for his entire life and Isaac was the promised child that Abraham waited twenty-five years for. Isaac was the one who would form a great nation that would produce a blessing for the entire world, so how is it now that God is asking Abraham to sacrifice all of this? Abraham is not only being asked to give up his son, but also his legacy, and all the promised gifts of God. Despite being given this incredibly difficult task, we see that Abraham complied:

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

-Genesis 22:3-10

At this point we are looking at what is potentially going to be one of the most powerful moments in the Old Testament. We are bearing witness to a father about to slay his son with a knife and offer him as a burnt offering. This is a father who is willing to give the greatest gift God has ever given him back to the Lord as an act of total obedience. The pain Abraham must have been feeling in this moment must have been unimaginable, and fortunately the story does not end the way most people would have expected.

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

-Genesis 22:11-18

Abraham proved his obedience to God by showing his willingness to give up the thing he loved most. Abraham proved in this act that he held God in a higher position than anything on earth, and as a result he is remembered today by millions today as the father of their people.

Lesson 2: The Rich Young Ruler

heinrich-hofmann-christ-and-the-rich-young-ruler

Where Abraham shows a great willingness to follow God, the “Rich Young Ruler” shows us a glimpse of one who was completely on the opposite side of the coin. In this story, a rich young man wants eternal life but is unwilling to part with some earthly treasures to obtain it:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said,“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

-Luke 18:19-29

This story of sacrifice (or an unwillingness to do so) seems pretty cut and dry to most of us. This young ruler was pretty full of himself having thought he had kept all the laws since he was a boy, but in the end he still had something that he was not willing to give up. This young man wanted eternal life (not to follow Christ, but simply to reap the rewards) but in the end he wasn’t willing to part with his wealth and earthly comforts even for life eternal. What a fool, holding on to shiny coins when he had to opportunity to follow the Son of God and join in eternity, but before we are too quick to judge we must consider how we would respond if put in a similar situation. Are we holding on to stuff so much that we will be unwilling to part with it if God calls on us?

Lesson 3: The Family Men

jesus-and-disciplesIn an often misunderstood story we see that Christ can, and will, sometimes call us to give up more than just our personal wealth and possessions. In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus makes it clear that even something like family should not stand in the way of you answering the calling God placed in your life. In this account two men are given the opportunity to become disciples of Christ, but before they commit the both claim they have family matters that need to be resolved first. Jesus makes it clear that even something as wonderful as a good family cannot take precedence above serving the Lord:

 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

For many readers Jesus comes off as a bit of a jerk in this passage. Surely he was not in such a rush that he couldn’t wait for a son to bury his recently deceased father, and what kind of person would ask someone to leave their life behind and follow him without even the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones? These men weren’t greedy like the rich young ruler, they were family men who wanted to honor their loved ones. The problem here is not a willingness to sacrifice, but a hesitation. Where as the disciples we know from scripture dropped everything and followed the Lord, these men hesitated. They wanted to follow the Lord, but they valued their family more, and when the time came they put their family first. In most cases putting family first is considered nobel, but when it hinders your willingness to further the Kingdom of God then you have made an idol out of your family. By asking the Son of God to wait for them to deal with family matters first, they essentially were saying “I’ll get around to following you God, but first I have some more important things to deal with.” Like the rich young ruler, these men were holding onto gifts so tightly that they completely missed the one who had given it to them. I have no doubts that as those three men lived to see their wealth or wonderful families gradually fade (as all earthly things do) they must have looked back on the day they had a chance to be a disciple of the Son of God and wondered what could have been.

Lesson 4: A God Who Sacrificed

Rugged-CrossSo we’ve established that following God means that sometimes we are called to make sacrifices. On cannot live for himself (or for any other cause) and still be fully devoted to God, or as scripture says:

“A man cannot serve two masters”

-Matthew 6:24

Our hearts need to be fully devoted to God and furthering his kingdom. I am not saying that wealth, family, or worldly things are always bad, but I am saying that we need to remember never to put any of them before God. To say that this is a difficult task is to majorly understate just how impossible it is for us to live this out. We are selfish and worldly. You and I will fail at this, and thankfully God is merciful and delights in forgiveness. The thing we have to remember is that we don’t worship a God who just makes demands and calls for us to sacrifice all the time (although in our selfish worldly mindset it can sometimes seem like that). Let us never forget that it was God who gave you life and he create every wonderful and beautiful thing you have ever experienced. Best of all he willingly sent his beloved son to die so you would be spared the pain of death. This is the fourth, and ultimate story of sacrifice and willingness:

“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

-John 3:16-17

So if we ever find ourselves wondering how on earth God could call us to give up ______. Remember what he first gave up for you. God gave of himself to suffer and die to take the place for you and your sins out of love. God is always in the business of providing what’s best for his children, and sometimes that might require us to suffer through things we don’t understand or perhaps give up some things we love. Growth sometimes is hard and often times what is best doesn’t come until we give up some of the lesser things we so often king to. God has a great plan for you, but in order to get there you might have to be willing to give up somethings, but I promise you that following God will be infinitely better than whatever it is you are afraid to lose. We worship a God who was willing to hang on a cross for you, so shouldn’t we be willing to make some sacrifices for him?

Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:25-33)

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Luke is one of my favorite Gospels because it gives the reader a good prologue and epilogue to the life and ministry of Christ. If it were not for the gospel of Luke, much of what we know about Christ before and after his public ministry would be lost. It is from the Lucan gospel that we get the account of Simeon at the temple. His testimony about the infant Christ (at this point only around 40 days old) is one of the most beautifully spoken accounts of the significance Christ would play in the lives of all that knew him.

Luke introduces Simeon, a devout Jewish leader, who had received a promise from God that he would not pass from this earth until he saw the Messiah. It just so happened that Simeon ran into Mary and Joseph who had brought the infant Christ to the temple in order to perform the ritual of ”Pidyon Haben.” The ceremony was a part of the Jewish custom in which a the mother and child were purified from the ritually unclean nature of child birth. Upon seeing the Child Simeon took the child in his arms and began to praise God. It is important to note the significance of what Simeon proclaimed. It is far too easy for the modern reader to skip over what, at the time, was quite a radical proclamation.

“My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel….”

Here Simeon testifies that Christ is the salvation, which comes from God. Before Christ could walk or talk, Simeon somehow knew that this was the chosen Messiah. His reference to “all peoples” is also quite interesting. As we will see later in his declaration, Christ is not the Messiah that people expected. The Popular view of the Messiah was one who would come and liberate the people from their oppressors. Jews were ready for someone to rise up as a political leader and free them from Roman rule. As we will see, Christ did not free people from earthly oppression, but spiritual oppression of sin. Also, Christ did not come to liberate Israel alone, but rather all peoples of the earth. Such claims directly contrast the popular opinions of the day. Simeon saw Christ as something new. Christ would come to signify the creation of a new covenant between God and mankind.

The old covenant:

”If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests anda holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” -Exodus 19:5-6

is replaced with a new covenant:

“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.” -John 3:16

This new covenant is one based upon forgiveness and mercy and open to all peoples. Salvation shall be open to all nations and the Gentiles will have truth revealed to them. Christ will go on to tear down walls race, class, gender, or nationality that existed at the time. Through Christ God will reveal him to the outsiders and level the playing field so that all are welcome into his kingdom. This should not be seen as God turning his back on Israel. Christ is exactly what God promised Israel, he was the messiah who fulfilled the laws and restored the people. Israel was glorified again because through them, the chosen people, God sent his son to save all of mankind.

After offering praises for the wonderful gift that is God’s son, Simeon ends with a sobering reminder to us all. In a great paradox, Christ is both a unifier and a divider. While he would unite peoples of all races and classes, he would also cause much strife.

“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed”

Christ is said to cause many to rise and fall. Truly God, through Christ, does raise up many. Outcasted and unforgivable peoples find comfort and mercy, sinners are forgiven, and God’s love is poured out on all that seek it. While those who follow Christ rarely end up looking like worldly success stories, they are raised up to a higher and deeper relationship with God. They are raised up from the oppressive nature of sin into a new divine freedom.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:3-12

It should be noted that while many will rise, many will also fall. Chris is a constant stumbling block to those who opposed or rejected him. Jesus makes it clear that his teachings would divide people, and that they would not be a popular message.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:34-39

His teachings went against the honor shame culture and all of the social class structures that existed at the time. He sought equality among all humanity and tough people to love those that hated them, to sacrifice until it hurt, and to be completely selfless and kind. His message was not readily accepted by the comfortable or the well off. Following his teachings did not make for an easy life.

“a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

A surface level reading of any gospel reveals that Christ was accustomed to being spoken against. Christ was called drunkard, demon possessed, and a blasphemer during his earthly ministry. He faced men that appeared righteous on the outside, but revealed their true hearts in the way they treated him and those beneath them. Christ taught that man should not only seek righteous action, but also righteous motivation. He taught that giving a great amount from abundance was not equal to giving a small amount during hard times, or that anger or lust were just as sinful as murder and adultery. Christ saw the good in the worst of us, and the worst in the best of us.

Truly coming face to face with Christ always revealed the true nature of the person. The image of a sword piercing the soul is a very accurate way to describe what an encounter with Christ is like. Christ cuts to the deepest level of who you are and reveals you as the person you may not even admit you are to yourself. He reveals your very soul. Most men condemned Christ, insulted him, scourged him, and when the chance was presented they crucified him. Many were not prepared to face themselves and the reality of the state that humanity lives in, and so they lashed out at Christ. The very nature of man was revealed and found severely lacking. And yet in spite of all of this, Christ died to save us, the very people that called for his death and hid from his goodness.

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. -John 3:16-21

Hallelujah. Amen.