Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

The Bible is full of stories about migration. Whether Abraham’s journey to Canaan, the children of Israel going to Egypt, or the Exodus there from, the Bible is replete with such stories. In fact, there are so many I am not going to attempt any kind of summary at this time. What I am going to do however is cherry pick one story… BUT! I am telling you in advance that I am going to cherry pick one story, unlike most of the other articles I am seeing about “What the Bible Says About Immigration” that cherry pick one story and then claim how “clear” the Bible is on the subject.

One very famous story that involves migrants is the story of Ruth. It begins with a Hebrew family migrating to Moab due to a famine in Judea. After living there for apparently a rather short time, the father dies, and in due order, the two sons of the family marry Moabite women. After about ten years, the two sons also die, leaving the women alone. Soon, word arrives that the famine in Judea has ended and the mother, Naomi, determines to return home. Although all three women start the journey, Naomi rather quickly adjures her two daughters-in-law to return to their parent’s homes as she has nothing to offer them. One heeds her counsel and returns home, while the other, Ruth, insists upon going with her.

The rest of the story is a striking tale of redemption. Ruth meets and marries a great man who provides for both her and her mother-in-law, and the two (Ruth and Boaz) are early ancestors of both King David and eventually the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

During the story (and how Ruth meets Boaz) Ruth receives a kind of “welfare” stipulated in the Law of Moses for the poor, widows, orphans, and “foreigners.” It should be noted that Ruth had to work for it, and there were no government programs where one could receive benefits and not work. But a key point in the entire story is this… Ruth was so thankful for the kindness and generosity showed to her that she made the following declaration…

“Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” [Ruth 1:16 NAS]

The point being this. Yes, the Bible urges us to be kind to immigrants, but it also urges immigrants to adapt to the culture of their host country and be thankful they were allowed to come and become productive members of society.

Yes, I am cherry picking one Bible story that involves immigration, and there is much more that can be said about this and other similar stories, but this one very famous story stands against the all too common and permissive interpretation that we are supposed to allow everyone in who wants to come without limits or conditions. If we consider ourselves to be a “Christian” nation, should we welcome immigrants? The Bible seems pretty clear that we must. But it is also equally clear that to require them to do so in compliance with our laws, values, and customs is equally appropriate.

I would like to introduce a new subject to my blog–the birth of Jesus Christ.

Many years ago I was introduced to a provocative theory regarding the accurate birth date for Jesus Christ—and you guessed it—it is not December 25th. This theory fascinated me because it was based on real biblical, historical, and scientific evidence, and not on tradition. Because of this, I have been investigating the historical events leading up to and surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ for over 30 years.

It may come as a surprise that it has been widely known for several centuries, that not only was Jesus of Nazareth not born on December 25th, but in fact could not have been born on December 25th. In over 30 years of researching the birth of Christ, I have yet to discover a single serious biblical or historical scholar who defends a December 25 birth date for Jesus of Nazareth with enough significant reliable evidence to even put a dent in the mountain of evidence that suggests an alternative date.

Given the fact that it is widely known that Jesus could not have been born on December 25th and that no serious biblical scholar has suggested such for several centuries, it is frankly rather astonishing how often people are surprised when informed that Jesus of Nazareth was not born on Christmas Day.

This fact is accompanied by the tragic and ironic fact that the sources for most of what we think we know about the birth of Christ tend to be Christmas cards, Christmas carols, Christmas pageants, and nativity scenes—most of which are built on the false assumption that Jesus was born on December 25th. When it comes to an accurate knowledge of Christ’s birth, and even to a significant degree, who Jesus was and what he was like when he walked the Earth—the “Christmas” sources have done more harm than good.

This is doubly ironic when we consider the fact, that I will share in detail in a later segment, that we have known for several hundred years that Jesus was not born on December 25th—which means that most, if not all, of the “Christmas” related sources that presume a December 25th birth date were developed within a time frame when this fact was already well-known.

The holiday we now celebrate (“Christmas”) is an invention that occurred primarily in America starting in the late 18th century and developing into its current form through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Any association with the birth of Christ is based, although frequently unknowingly, on incorrect facts.

More to come…

For me, in my journey from religion to relationship, this revelation broke the back of the “Do good, get good—do bad, get bad” mindset.

In the story of Job, starting immediately in Job chapter one verse one, we are told that Job “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” We are also told that he had a large family, and that he was very rich.

We also learn that Job’s children were apparently prone to wild parties, and that whenever this occurred, Job would offer sacrifices on their behalf, given the possibility that during their less inhibited state they may have “sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Job performed this priestly function on their behalf whenever it appeared to be needed.

We are also offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the counsels of heaven and read that Satan was allowed to test Job.

And we all know what happens next…

Job lost everything. His flocks and herds were destroyed and his children killed. Then after another round in the celestial counsel chambers, Satan “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” It appears that Job’s wife did not leave him, but she wasn’t much help or comfort. Job, to put it mildly, was afflicted. He had lost his health, his wealth, and his family.

Then in due course Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, appeared on scene and “made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.”

Initially Job’s friends did what was right—they offered their support by lamenting with him for seven days in silence because they saw that Job’s pain was very great.

But oftentimes what appears too good to be true is exactly that, and Job’s so-called “friends” soon turned on him. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and later Elihu, effectively harassed and harangued Job for the remainder of the entire book—close to 40 chapters worth!

And although there is some subtle variation in their tirades, the essential accusation remains consistent—somehow Job brought this upon himself. The innocent do not suffer. God is just. God rewards those who are good and deals with the wicked. In other words: Do good, get good—do bad, get bad. And since Job has gotten bad, axiomatically he must have “done bad” (real bad, and lots of it!).

And yet throughout the entire scenario, Job maintains his integrity and his righteousness, refuting his friend’s claims that he has done something wrong, or has not repented of “unknown” or “un-confessed” sin.

In fact the paradox is stupefying—and this appears to be precisely the point—Job seems to be suffering in extraordinary disproportion to whatever sins he may have committed. Therefore, there can only be one of two logical conclusions: 1) If God is adjudicating a divine system of justice, and God is a just judge, and if Job is indeed receiving just recompense for his sins, then his sins must have been equally extraordinary. 2) God is not just. And since we know this is not true, again, Job’s sins must be extraordinary, and one of these extraordinary sins must be his pride and refusal to admit his wrongs, and confess and repent!

But to make things even more incongruous, consider this: Job clearly believed in the efficacy of sacrifice. And not just sacrifice as recompense for sins already committed, but in pre-emptive sacrifice in anticipation of possible transgression. Furthermore, if Job saw fit to offer sacrifice preemptively for his children, it is only consistent to believe that he offered preemptive sacrifice for himself. And this is on top of the plain reading of scripture that says Job was a righteous man, “upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

Job’s situation is already beyond paradoxical—and yet there’s more.

There is a word used to describe Job back in chapter one that pushes this over the edge…

Job was blameless.

Take note that neither the scriptures nor Job himself testifies that he is sinless—Job was human just like anyone else, and although scripture never records or emphasizes his sin, there is little doubt that Job sinned.

The word blameless is a judicial word best understood by our modern legal concept called “double jeopardy.” Once a person has been adjudicated “not guilty” they cannot be charged, or blamed, for the same crime (or sin), again.

So Job’s defense basically boils down to three significant points. 1) I (Job) fear God and avoid evil—I am not perfect, I am not sinless, but I’m pretty darn clean. 2) I (Job) have never sinned even remotely in proportion to the degree I am suffering. 3) If sacrifice is efficacious, then I AM FORGIVEN! And I cannot be punished for what I have been forgiven of!

So how is this possible? How can God be just, Job forgiven, and yet suffer so insanely?

The answer comes at the very end of the book—a verse I read many times and yet it never quite registered until a few years ago.

When eventually God appears on the scene and sets the record straight, note what He says…

It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. [Job 42:7 NAS, emphasis added]

Let’s repeat this for emphasis…

God is furious with Job’s “friends”—why? Because they did not speak rightly about God. In other words, their mindset of a divinely adjudicated system of “do good, get good—do bad, get bad,” is INCORRECT!

But more importantly, note what is also said…

Job did speak what was right about God! The implications of this are staggering.

First, we have to take note of the fact that there are sections of scripture such as Eliphaz’, Bildad’s, Zophar’s, and Elihu’s monologues, that although inspired by the Holy Spirit, record a incorrect human perspective of what God is like, and are therefore not necessarily a discourse on the nature of God.

Second, if Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu are incorrect in their appraisal of what God is like and their assumed system of so-called divine jurisprudence—then we do not live within a “Do good, get good—do bad, get bad” system. What many mainstream Christians believe is a just and fair system adjudicated by a just God is simply not in effect the way they believe it is. (And God is none too happy with the “Do good, get good–do bad, get bad” paradigm either.)

Finally, many Bible scholars now believe that the book of Job may have been the first book of the Bible to be recorded—predating Genesis and the rest of the Torah. Additionally, many scholars likewise advocate reading the books of the Bible is chronological as opposed to canonical order. If this is the case, then the book of Job would be the first book to be studied by the “new” believer. This would make the book of Job one of the most striking prophetic foreshadows of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Job knew (and contended) that he was forgiven and that no accusation could land on him because of it. It wasn’t easy, and he faced extraordinary opposition from those around him who believed otherwise. And yet this is merely a foreshadow, and we as members of the body of Christ have the privilege to live in the authentic new creation reality—we are forgiven, and no accusation, past, present, or future, can land on us and stick.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that our negative circumstances are just going to magically drop away, but it does mean that we can recognize them for what they are—negative circumstances caused by the enemy, not the consequence of our sins. As members of His body, no sin we have committed, or the sins of our ancestors provide the “open door” for the accuser to do his dirty work. Even our own wrong ideas about God do not provide the open door. We live in a very broken world and unfortunate circumstances beset us all, oftentimes in what seems outrageously unfair proportions. Like Job we may suffer affliction, but we can rest assured, and rest in Christ, that God is not punishing us for being human.

“The real trouble is not in fact that the Church is too rich, but that it has become heavily institutionalized, with a crushing investment in maintenance. It has the characteristics of the dinosaur and the battleship. It is saddled with a plant and programme beyond its means, so that it is absorbed in problems of supply and preoccupied with survival. The inertia of the machine is such that the financial allocations, the legalities, the channels of organization, the attitudes of mind, are all set in the direction of continuing and enhancing the status quo. If one wants to pursue a course which cuts across these channels, then most of one’s energies are exhausted before one ever reaches the enemy lines.” [John A.T. Robinson]

The New Testament plainly teaches us that, “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48 KJV). The temple of God is people—not buildings! The church at large desperately needs a heart-rending revelation of this fact. The New Testament never commands, encourages, or even authorizes “Christian” buildings or the collection of money to pay for them. Furthermore, we have the audacity to call these buildings “churches” despite the fact that the Bible never uses the word church to describe a building. There is no geographic space that is more holy (or more “anointed”) than any other. Every believer is the sacred space where God lives in his or her heart.

Additionally,the New Testament clearly teaches us that all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9). So how is it then, that some “priests” have staffs, salaries, and expenses paid for by the other priests? I guess they must be the high priest… but wait asecond, I thought Jesus was our high priest [sic]. One of the purposes of the tithes (yes, tithes, plural), under the Old Covenant was to pay the Levites and Aaronic priests for doing their jobs—officiating in the tabernacle, Temple and Levitical cities. But if we are all priests, and we are all the Temple, again, how is it that some priests get paid by the others? Once again, the church at large needs a heart-rending revelation of this fact.

I could go on and on. The institution is not the church. The church is people, and we waste billions of dollars every year on buildings, maintenance, staffs, salaries, programs, and other expenses that are utterly foreign to the NewTestament.

Does this mean we can never utilize a building or that those who minister the gospel should not live of the gospel? Of course not. But as I have already said, the church needs a deep revelation of the true Temple of God, the priesthood of every believer, and that our ordinary everyday lives are our sacrifice. Building on this foundation (pun intended) would put many things in a better perspective.

Imagine, just imagine, if all the money we waste financing the institution actually went to genuinely helping people how massive of a difference it would make.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” [Inigo Montoya]

Introduction –

One of the most common questions that often arises early in the “religion versus relationship” discussion concerns the definition of the word religion.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines religion as:

  • The belief in a god or in a group of gods
  • The service and worship of God or the supernatural
  • An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  • Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
  • An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
  • A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

These definitions are all correct in a broad and general sense because they are the definitions most commonly used and recognized today. The irony however, is that these are the modern definitions of the word religion that developed over time, and bear only the vaguest resemblance to either the historical or etymological definitions of the word.

One of the many benefits of dead languages is that the definitions of the words in that language are no longer changing as part of a living dynamic culture. In other words, when we examine how a particular word was used when a language was alive and in common use, we know quite precisely what that word genuinely means, thereby eliminating or at least greatly reducing confusion, debates, and arguments.

Such is the case with the word religion.

We will get to the etymological definition of the English word religion in just a moment, but first some historical background.

Ancient Greek-

There are two ancient Greek words that are commonly translated religiondeisidaimonia, and threskeia. Both are used in the Bible, but only a very few times.

Deisidaimonia (Strong’s #1175) is a noun that means “fear of pagan deities.” The adjective form is deisidaimonesteros (Strong’s #1174). Both are compounds of Strong’s #1169 deilos, meaning “fear,” and #1142 daimon, which is properly translated “demon.” Hence the etymological definition of deisidaimonia is “fear of demons.” The noun form is used only once in the Acts 25:19, where it is translated superstition in the King James Version, or religion in the New American Standard Version. The adjective form is also used only once in Acts 17:22, where it is likewise translated superstitious in the KJV, and religious in the NAS. Historically the word was used to refer to the fear-based “worship” of pagan deities. Practitioners were driven by confused ideas about “God” that produced sincere but misguided doctrines and practices. Deisidaimonia was used in secular Greek literature in a positive sense by Xenophon, Cyril, and Aristotle, but in a negative sense by Theophrastus, Diodorus, and Plutarch. Whether used in a positive or negative sense, it was always a mark of heathenism. Historically, the word religion as a translation of deisidaimonia is accurate, although in modern understanding it would be better-translated superstition.

Threskeia (Strong’s #2356) is a noun that means “ritual or ceremonial acts of worship.” The adjective form is threskos (Strong’s #2357). Both are from the root throeo (Strong’s #2360) that means, “agitated, unsettled, or troubled.” It is used four times (Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18; James 1:26, 27), where it is usually translated religion in both the KJV and NAS; it is translated worship in Colossians 2:18. Threskos is used only once in James 1:26, where it is translated religious in both the KJV and the NAS. Historically, in secular Greek literature it was used to refer to the externalization of a person’s internal beliefs whether positive or negative. Threskeia therefore, refers to the external ceremonial and ritual practices that may or may not be connected to any genuine faith.

James’ use in his epistle is best understood in light of the immediate context contrasting “doing” and “hearing” (only), and the extended context of faith and works. James’ epistle focuses on his hypothesis that genuine faith will produce corresponding righteous works, but that a “declaration of faith” only without corresponding works may well be empty (disingenuous) “faith,” and, that external works without inward faith are just that—(empty) external works. James’ use of the word threskeia clearly reflects his idea that external “religious” acts are pointless unless they come from genuine faith. As such it is in keeping with the historical definition of the word threskeia. James is not calling people to religion—he is calling them to faith in Christ that will produce an external expression (threskeia).

Historically and biblically, threskeia refers primarily to external, ceremonial, and ritual practices, and only secondarily (if at all) to the inward beliefs.

In English Please-

Etymologically, the English word religion comes from the Latin religare. Religare is a compound of re, meaning “to repeat, or to return,” and ligare, that means “to tie or bind.” In a positive sense, religare can mean, “to return to restraint,” but in the negative sense means, “to return to bondage.”

Christianity Really Isn’t a Religion-

In conclusion, clearly, the vast majority of the time people use the word religion to describe Christianity they are not referring to the word desidaimonia—most likely they are totally unaware of the association—(unless of course, some skeptic is deliberately calling Christianity a superstition).

Furthermore, the definitions of threskeia and religare refer primarily to external expressions and only secondarily to internal realities, if the internal realities are even in view at all.

Therefore, although often used that way, the phrase “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship” really is not just some clever quip—it truly is not a religion because it is not about the external trappings, but the internal reality of the new creation.

The irony and tragedy however, and the pressing need, is that the contrasts between “religion” and “relationship” do not seem to be understood as well as they can or should be—this is the purpose of The End of Religion blog.

Stay tuned.