St. Paul’s Advice on Premarital Sex

1 Cor. 7:36-38

     So, does the apostle Paul say anything about premarital sex? I think he addresses a specific component of it in the seventh chapter to the Corinthians. However, one cannot make wide generalizations about what he writes. He spends almost two chapters giving advice about sexual activity, marriage, divorce, and appropriate conduct while betrothed. Here again I disagree with translations that follow the interpretations of King James’ translators. They make it difficult to understand and they leave too much to the imagination about what it means to be a virgin. I’ll give you a brief example.

     First you must remember the context. Paul was answering some questions specific to the congregation of Gentile Christians in Corinth. And in this example, he was giving advice about a man and “his virgin.” Some translations interpret virgin in these verses as virgin daughter. Applying daughter to the first mention of virgin would suggest a father is abusing his daughter. While that may have been a likely problem in the community in the same way it happens today, I think there’s a better interpretation. Several translations accurately deal with “virgin” as a fiancé, but engagement and betrothal are like equating apples to oranges.

     In an age where women and girls were greatly devalued by men, young girls were often betrothed to a male prior to puberty to protect them from indiscriminate males. Paul appears to be addressing an issue of whether a betrothed man could engage in sex during the time of betrothal, but prior to the determined time of marriage, ideally, after puberty. In my opinion, Paul appears to be trying to protect pre-pubescent girls from the inclinations of men before they were physically or emotionally ready for sexual relations. He has also clarified that this advice is from him alone and not directly from the Lord.

     Take a look at a popular translation and then compare it to mine.

(NKJV)

36 But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin does well. 38 So then he who gives her (his virgin)  in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.

(My translation)

36 Furthermore, if any man follows the customa to behave inappropriately toward his betrothed, if he is past puberty and he is compelled to be fulfilled in this manner, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin—let them marry. 37 However, whoever has established firmly in his heart, not having necessity, but has control over his own will, and has decided in his own heart that he will preserve his betrothed, he will act honorably. 38 So then, the one who marries his betrothed [early] acts uprightly, but the one who does not marry his betrothed [early] will do better.

a nomizō: to follow a custom. The custom of the Corinthians (Gentiles) may have been that it was acceptable to harvest the pledged fruit before it is ready.

     The NKJV confuses the issue when suggesting a man’s “virgin” might refer to his daughter. The first mention of virgin puts the father in the position of abusing his own child, but then, if he marries her, he doesn’t sin (a violation of Mosaic law). The second suggests he can “keep” his virgin or daughter, which leaves too much to the reader to speculate on, especially when the third mention of virgin gives him power over whether his daughter or virgin is given in marriage. That may have been a cultural practice at the time, but it doesn’t make sense to suggest the father does “better” if he doesn’t give his daughter in marriage at all. Other translations suggest it’s better for a man not to marry at all because Paul has talked about being devoted completely to the Lord. But this diverts from dealing with a specific problem. 

   Most translations suggest the person being mentioned as being “past the flower of youth” applies to the “virgin” and assumes it to be the female. But in Greek, the noun suggesting one is past the flower of youth is masculine. It’s talking about boys having gone through puberty. It appears Paul is dealing with a young boy and girl who have been pledged to each other by their fathers, at least in this congregation.

     The bottom line is that if the teenage boy is unable to keep himself under control, it’s better to let them get married earlier than planned. Still, Paul appears to think it’s better for the male to wait until the female has reached puberty. Commitment in marriage is a good thing and waiting until after puberty is even better. Unfortunately, the needs of the girl are not given equal consideration. That was the culture.

     What do you think?

*   *   *

     On another note, I am releasing a new book that explains the REAL meaning of aionios zoa, which has been translated as “eternal life.” Jesus wasn’t speaking about Paradise when he spoke of aionios zoa, and this is good news! It’s available for preorder here. It will be delivered to your Kindle app on October 31.

Preorder for delivery on October 31, 2017!

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New Translations of Paul by Paul

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – not because I’m not working but because I’m working on what I think is a more accurate translation of the apostle Paul’s letters. Why the heck am I doing that? I don’t know. I wish I didn’t feel compelled to do this. I’ve got fish to catch. But I also am convinced translators for King James had a particular perspective that wasn’t helpful when they converted the Vulgate and Greek versions to English.

You can see my opinion of how they did not properly translate the texts on divorce and remarriage in the book I released in the spring. I’ve worked on retranslating the texts of the Gospels, but then it seemed like I should do the earliest writings of Paul before the later writings of the Gospels. So let me give you a sample of what I’m finding in his letters to the Corinthians. First, take a look at five verses in 1 Cor. 4:6-10 as it was translated for the NKJV:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!

     Okay, so what did you learn from this? Are you inspired to be a better Christian? The part that gets me is in verse 6 that I underlined. Paul wants us not to think beyond the written words of Scripture (Old Testament)? Just listen to the religious authorities. They know best.

And what does the rest mean? It’s rather useless.

One thing that has been helpful to me is reading Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink. He argues convincingly that the term “world” is more limited in its understanding by Paul than we in the 21st century understand. First century writers didn’t think of the “world” in cosmological terms. They thought of it in terms of the system in which they were existing, the religious system, the power structures of domination, etc., that were oppressive.

But what affects the translation most is the perspective and opinion of the translators – what they believe, what they’ve been conditioned to believe. I don’t hold the same theology, nor am I under the same danger they faced if they disagreed with the established Latin translation. I also have the advantage of four centuries of people who have suggested additional options for the meanings of Greek words.

Remember that Paul was addressing specific questions and problems going on in the church in Corinth. We don’t know the exact issues that had caused friction. As I worked with it, it began to appear that they had been arguing back and forth about what the Scriptures meant. Imagine that. Some couldn’t accept what Moses said about certain things and others couldn’t depart from what Moses said. Sound familiar?

Therefore, take a look at how I have retranslated these same five verses:

4:6 Now these things, friends, I have applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes to the end that because of us you may learn this — nothing has been written concerning this — that no one writing may be inflated one against another. Truly, this divides you. 7For you hold fast a certain scripture; you do not accept a certain scripture; and even though accepting a certain scripture, you flaunt it in the same manner as the scripture not having been accepted. 8Are you satisfied yet? Have you had enough yet? Without us, did you exercise control?a Indeed, I anticipate that you have exercised control, and that we might oversee things together with you! 4:9 Truly I think God displayed us, the apostles, lowest, as doomed to death because we have been made a spectacle by the religious system, both by divine agents and by human beings. 10We are impiousb on account of the Anointed One, but you are prudent in the Anointed One! We are without influence, but you are powerful! You are reputable, but we are dishonored!

areign: a verb indicating the manner in which a leader governs or oversee a kingdom or territory.

bfools: by human standards, especially religious standards of that time.

     How could these two varying translations come from the same Greek text? Perspective. That’s how much translation depends upon the opinions of the translator. What amazes me is the inability of modern day translators to follow Greek grammar when it varies from what KJ translators decided four hundred years ago. Something’s got to change.

I’m working on it.

On another note, I am releasing a new book that explains the REAL meaning of aionios zoa, which has been translated as “eternal life.” Jesus wasn’t speaking about Paradise when he spoke of aionios zoa, and this is good news! It’s available for preorder here. It will be delivered to your Kindle app on October 31.

Preorder for delivery on October 31, 2017!

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Who Enters the Kingdom First?

Matt. 21:23-32 

     In my book about the kingdom of heaven for today, I wrote a chapter listing the people who the apostle Paul and Jesus said would not inherit the kingdom. This is Jesus’s list:

 (1) Those who don’t treat people any better than the Pharisees or religious leaders (Matt. 5:20).

(2) Those who don’t accept the kingdom like little children (Matt. 18:3).

(3) Those who don’t forgive (Matt. 18:21-35).

(4) Those who keep looking back (Luke 9:62).

(5) Those who trust in money for their security (Matt. 19:23).

     Similar to the first on the list, in this week’s text, Jesus asked the Pharisees which of two sons did the will of his Father. They said, “The first one.” He said, “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you do” (Matt. 21:31).

     “Jesus wasn’t saying prostitutes will be first on the bus to go to ‘paradise when they die’ ahead of the Pharisees. He’s saying they will experience a sense of unity with others long before the righteous Pharisees will experience it. Their compassion and ability to share the little they have with others will bring them a personal sense that they’ve relieved the suffering of another person. Pharisees are more interested in judgment and punishment than they are on unity and compassion.

     “Prostitutes might reject the piety of religion. But they meet people daily who have unmet needs, people who have not found unity within themselves. Prostitutes witness human suffering. They live in the fields where the Father beckons all to work. They have opportunities to give a few dollars to someone living behind a dumpster. In their acts of kindness, they experience connection as they provide relief to others in the mud pits of life. Acts of compassion are the evidence of a growing sense of unity with all creation.

     “Jesus wasn’t condemning all scribes and Pharisees. There were and are many religious leaders who are trying to do the right things…”

                  In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today  © Paul W. Meier

     Of course, if a person thinks the kingdom of heaven is the same as Paradise, then I’d like to hear his or her explanation of what Jesus meant by his statement.

+   +   +   +   +   +

     On another note, it’s been a while since I’ve posted consistently on this blog. I’ve been working on a few other things. Most notably, I finished a book last year that is finally ready for me to publish. It’s similar in many ways to my book about the kingdom of heaven because it explains (are you ready?) – it explains how the term “eternal life” is a reference to a specific kind of life on this earth.

     How many people want to believe eternal life is experienced here on earth? Not many. Especially Christians. People don’t want to hear something they’ve never heard before. They might have to change the way they think. But let me point you to the following commentaries in three different (and traditional) study Bibles printed BEFORE the turn of this century:

Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.6

Eternal life is a present possession, not something the believer will only obtain later.7

Eleven out of forty-two times eternal life is presented as something to be attained 8

       In some cases, the Greek word for life (zoa), when used by itself implies a shortened reference to the term “eternal life.” An example is John 10:10 (NKJV) where Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” One commentary explains it this way:

Life here refers to eternal life, God’s life. It speaks not only of endlessness, but of quality of life.9

6 New American Standard Bible, Revised Edition, commentary on John 3:36 from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, http://usccb.org/bible/john/3.

7 The NIV Study Bible, New International Version, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985), on John 3:36, 1599.

8 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville: Nelson Bibles, 1997), on Rom. 6:23, 1890.

9 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville: Nelson Bibles, 1997), 1782.

The Ancient Understanding of Eternal Life: Biblical Coaching for Living an Abundant Life  © Paul W. Meier

     This isn’t new information. I’ve been preaching it since I began parish ministry in 2003. I’m still not sure anyone believed me. Why? Because it requires a huge change in the way a person thinks. I don’t know of any other Christian preachers or scholars who believe it either. Was I wrong for believing what a few biblical scholars were brave enough to express in the small print of popular study Bibles (used by conservatives and liberals alike)?

     No. I was not wrong. And I explain it in detail – why and how “eternal life” in the New Testament refers to a specific quality of life that can be lived in the world today. If you don’t believe it after reading it, I’ll give you your money back! The ebook version can be pre-ordered now at this link, and it will be automatically downloaded to you on October 31, 2017. Yes, I know that’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But I was taught that the church is always supposed to be reforming itself and what better way to begin the next 500 years of the church’s reformation than on this special day?

     Available for delivery on Oct. 31, 2017

 

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Binding and Loosing in Love

Matt. 18:15-20 

     What does it mean to bind something on earth or to loose something on earth? And how will our binding and loosing have an effect in heaven?

     It’s no accident that this text on binding and loosing comes immediately after Jesus told the story about a shepherd taking time to find one out of a hundred sheep that got lost. That’s easy to see in verses 15-17. But verses 18-19 tend to go off and refer to ethereal realms while verse 20 almost stands alone. Furthermore, in the text that follows this one, Peter asks how many times he’s supposed to forgive his brother. What’s happened with the flow of the text? Things appear choppy.

     The text should flow naturally from point to point, especially if Jesus is teaching his disciples, because flow allows the meaning to be understood. Jesus wasn’t trying to be mysterious. He was trying to explain how to build the kingdom of heaven on earth.

     What I’m learning in my re-translation of the Gospels is that if there is a change in flow, there must be more metaphor than literalism in the meaning, or the translator(s) varied away from the verb tense or voice. What we think is metaphor today was probably colloquial expressions of the first century that have been lost to us two thousand years later. People of that day understood exactly what Jesus was saying while theologians of today are trying to invent ethereal explanations that point to the end of the world or to the goal of the afterlife.

     Therefore I think you’ll see that the flow of the text improves considerably when “earth” is taken to mean “the physical” group who has been called together to solve a problem, while “heaven” refers to the “mind.” Three heads are better than one when trying to be objective and loving in response to a problem in the community.

     This is another way to read the text:

15 “Moreover if your brother (the lost sheep) wanders from the path of uprightness and honor, to do wrong against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the whole group. But if he refuses even to hear the group, let him be to you like a person of the outside world and a tax collector.

18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you (forbid, prohibit) on earth (in the group) will be (forbidden) in heaven (the mind), and whatever you (annul, subvert; do away with; deprive of authority) on earth (from the group) will be (annulled, subverted; done away with; deprived of authority) in heaven (in the mind).

[When there is agreement in how to solve a problem by a group, there is peace of mind. But peace only comes when the process is handled with love. Unfortunately, people take the next verse out of context:]

19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree concerning anything on earth (in the group) that they ask, it shall come to pass for them in heaven (minds of those who agree) by my Father. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name (in the goodness and righteousness of Jesus), I am there in the midst of them.”

     Contemporary religious zeal suggests that if two or three get together under the righteous name of Jesus and ask for a church van to be given to them for their ministry to seniors, the Power of the universe will go into action for them. I don’t deny the power of several people focused on their agenda, but this is taking the verse totally out of context. Jesus is teaching people how to solve their immediate group dynamic problems. The binding part is about prohibiting unloving actions. It’s not about deciding to set policies in place that actually bring harm to some people. And it’s not promoting the power of prayer by more people than yourself.  This is not instruction on how to increase the odds of fulfilling your agenda. The whole point of gather two or three together is to stop unloving behavior committed against a person violating love in the community.

     That’s why Peter, no longer coming from out of the blue, asks, “How many times should I forgive my brother (the wayward sheep) who is doing harm to someone in the community? What do you do with a non-compliant or non-conforming brother or sister? This answers a big question at the end of verse 17 when Jesus said, “Let him be to you like a Gentile/heathen and a tax collector.” What did that mean? It sounds like Jesus says it’s okay to kick him out. Therefore Peter asks our question and Jesus says, “If he is sorry and says he won’t do it again – forgive him. Let it go and get back to my work.” If he isn’t sorry, if he doesn’t want to follow the decision of the group, then let him go his own way. “These are the rules we go by in this group. If you want to be part of us, we’d love that. But these are the rules we live by.”

     Always open and inviting. It’s an open door policy. You can come in and be a part of the group or you can try to find a group with rules you are willing to follow. Either way, we wish you well because you are a child of God and God has a purpose for you. Binding and loosing in love, that’s our calling.

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Healing the Disease of Racism

 

     It’s time I weighed in on racism. I went to my weekly spiritually gathering last night and a topic came up concerning how one might deal with problems in the world. One suggestion from ancient wisdom teachings is to not resist evil. Even Jesus said that. I once read someone’s analysis of the Greek word for “resist” that explained it as “don’t make it your priority” rather than don’t offer any opposition. That makes sense to me. You can stand up against racism without making it your mission in life. And yet, God has given that mission to some, aka, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

     Let me clarify up front that when I speak of racism, I’m narrowing it to the skin coloration component in these comments. One general observation I make is that racism is a disease that infects Caucasians more than any other race. And the male gender is clearly the most aggressive and violent in displaying the symptoms of the disease. I guess that’s the testosterone element.

     One way to treat the eruption of racism is to control the release of testosterone in whatever ways possible. But that’s not very practical and it only addresses the outward and ugly demonstration of the disease. It doesn’t get rid of the source of the problem, which is founded internally in fear, ignorance, or cultural programming.

     How do you address these sources in people without making it your mission in life? You don’t make it your priority, but when you see it happening, you make an effort to stop it. Hopefully, that won’t require physical intervention, but Jesus also said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Friends are those you love and care about. We are to love everyone, to consider everyone a friend.

     Treating the mental disease of racism requires active involvement by those who witness it. Racism is a violation of the kingdom of heaven, where there is always peace and harmony among people. Even though Jesus said, “Don’t resist evil,” he also said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is taken by violence and the violent seize it by force” (Matt. 11:12 NKJV). You didn’t know there is violence in heaven, did you?

     I have a different perspective based on my translation of the Greek text. The word translated as ‘violence’ is most often used in the New Testament in a poetic way rather than in a negative or hurtful way. It means to use force. My translation of the text comes out more like this: people are seeking a share in the heavenly kingdom (a place where there is harmony and equality) with passion and intense energy. It’s explained in detail in Chapter Twelve of my book about the kingdom of heaven.

     Sometimes people who want peace and harmony in the kingdom of heaven within themselves must resist evil when it stares them in the face. That’s what Rosa Parks did when she refused to let a white man have her seat on the bus. She didn’t get violent. She just refused to passively give in to evil.

     Clearly, we still have a problem with the disease. The ugly pus of its presence keeps revealing itself. It may not be your purpose in life, but whenever it raises its evil head, you and I must employ passion and intense energy to help our friends who wear coats of many beautiful colors to receive the kingdom of heaven that God wants for everyone.

     Force can be applied non-violently in many ways. Sometimes it’s as easy as saying, “You’re wrong. I don’t agree” or, “Wow, that’s a racist remark.” Other times it’s more difficult because it may impact your future. But you will always reap what you sow. If you stand idle and complacent, you are allowing pus to spread and infect others, and possibly allowing harm to your neighbor. Not resisting evil is becoming part of it. You are sowing a seed toward your future. However, if you sow love for your neighbor, you may not know how that love will be reaped, but trust that goodness always yields goodness.

     The kingdom of heaven within you will be lost when you don’t resist and achieved when you apply pressure against ignorance, fear, and cultural programming. Trust your future to God. Sow love and help your neighbor today.

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What Does Perishing Mean?

 

     My interest in the Greek text and the English translations has led me to conclude that translation is more subjective than most people think. Most notably are the translations of the divorce and remarriage texts that I explained in that book. I also found many new ways of understanding Jesus’s and Paul’s teachings as I wrote a new book – Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words in the Bible

     Some of the variations I found do not necessarily change the meaning of a passage as much as it clarifies a more specific meaning. Let me give you an example.

     One of the dry bones I wrote about is the Greek word sometimes translated as “perish.” It’s apollumi, translated several ways in the New Testament. In my younger days, I understood ‘perish’ as being on the slippery slope toward the lake of fire. That seems to be how many churches have interpreted their purpose – to keep you out of the fire.

     Here’s a list of potential meanings for apollumi that translators have used:

(a) to destroy, to die, to lose, to perish

(b) put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to

(c) to be lost, ruined, or destroyed; to be thought of as useless

(d) go astray, fall into decay, be drawn down by the desires of the flesh.

          Most translators seem to default to the quick and easy meanings of “to be lost” or “to perish.” But that’s lazy or conditioned translating. Jesus told his disciples to permit the little children to come to him. In his time, women and children were undervalued. He taught the disciples that little children were to be appreciated. He said anyone who causes a child who trusts [pisteuo] in him to sin would pay a high price. Then Jesus continued in Matt. 18:11, “For the Son of Man has come to protect from harm [sozo “most often translated as “to save”] those who are considered useless [apollumi].” The NKJV reads “lost.”

     At that point, he told a parable about a shepherd who went looking for a sheep that had wandered away from the safety of the flock. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one who was wandering. Jesus concluded, “And if he should find it, surely I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Therefore it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be drawn down by the desires of the flesh [apollumi]” (Matt. 18:13-14). The NKJV uses “perish.”

     The traditional translations leave a lot to the imagination, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet “lost” children and “undervalued” children are a bit different in my mind. And “perish” is not as clear as my choice in replacement words.

     We still undervalue children today. We expect them to act like adults long before their brains are fully developed and capable of rational, abstract thought. The world puts helmets and pads on six year olds and thinks it’s cute. The world teaches them how to compete with each other instead of get along. The world teaches them that winning is what is important. Getting a high paying job is more important than helping others. The world tells them who they should fear rather than who they should love. 

     Think about it. If you aren’t willing to contribute to educating the children of today, when they grow up, they may not think old folks are worth spending money on either. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. 

     The USA may be the most powerful country in the world, but it’s #29th on list in terms of education. What do you think will happen in forty years to a country that values its children less than competition, Mammon, power, or the desires of the flesh? How much will the children of today value you? Will you be apollumi-ed?

 

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The Great Commission Explained in 165 Words

Matt. 28:16-20 

The Greek word for disciples means “students.”

The Greek word for baptize means “immerse or overwhelm.”

In biblical times, a person’s name was a reference to his/her nature or character. David means “the beloved.” Abraham means “the father of many.” Jacob means “one who deceives.” Israel means “one who struggles with God.”

The Greek word for God means “light.” The Aramaic word for God (Alaha) means “unity or oneness.” The character of God as revealed in Christ is “love”—which unites all in oneness.

How do we attempt to make students of God? We are people made in the image of God, temples of the Holy Spirit. “Go, therefore and make students of all people, immersing them in the Love/Unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

How do we teach people to follow Jesus’s teachings? By example. By loving Unity. By loving ourselves. By loving our neighbors. By loving our enemies. By loving each other. Unconditionally and without judgment.

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Two eBooks FREE Today

 

     Today you can download two of my ebooks that have never been in a special promotion for FREE. I hope you can take advantage of it. I listed them in yesterday’s blog post, but wouldn’t you know it, I got one of them wrong. So I corrected it and I’m mentioning it again today. They can be downloaded May 9, 10, and 11.

Click on this link to download for FREE today!

Click on this link to download for FREE today!

 

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The Pure Milk of the Word

  1 Peter 2:2-10   &   John 14:1-14    

     If you were given some crayons and paper and your goal was to draw an image of God, what would you draw? We start developing an image of God when we are very small. That image is usually a combination of the descriptions given to us by well-meaning parents, classmates, Sunday School teachers, and pastors. As children, we are very impressionable. Children are unable to question for themselves whether what they are hearing is true or not. They don’t doubt the wisdom of their teachers—and yet, most of our earliest teachers were not biblical scholars. Most were parents or siblings telling us what they learned in Sunday School, or what they had learned when they were children. If you went to Sunday School, more than likely your teacher was not theologically trained.

     For a young child, Jesus and God are not the same person. The undeveloped brain of a child cannot conceive that they are one. So they are two completely different entities. It’s easy to love Jesus. He’s a baby in a manger, with all those sweet animals around him, and the presents he received, are quickly connected with the presents you received when you learned about him. Then the stories of Jesus healing people and doing miracles. What’s not to like about Jesus?

     Do you remember the first stories that made an impression on you as you learned about God? How about Noah and the ark? We teach it because children love the stories about animals and rainbows. But the story behind the zoo animals was that God drowned all the bad people because he was mad at them. I remember questioning that part of the story. Even though God said he was sorry and painted a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Something about the reason for the story happening didn’t fit in with zoo animals and rainbows. It instilled the fear of God in me. The bad kind of fear, not the awe kind of fear.

     As a little boy, my favorite stories were of David killing Goliath, with God’s help and approval; and Samson killing his enemies by bringing the building down on them…all in the name of – and for the glory of God. And God drowning all of Pharoah’s soldiers in the Red Sea. And of sending poisonous snakes to kill thousands of the children of Israel because they were carrying statues and praying to them. God was someone to suck up to so that he wouldn’t hurt you.

     I’m not sure that if this Father had a son I’d want to let my guard down around him. And I didn’t for many years. Something about the Jewish image of God and Jesus never matched. I couldn’t figure that out. Even though my teachers kept telling me that Jesus’s Father was the same as the God of Israel.

     Martin Luther stated in a sermon that people tend to act like the image of God imprinted on their hearts. Think about that. It means if your early impression of God was as a righteous judge and giver of punishment to those who sin, then you might lean toward being judgmental and demanding in meting out punishment for everyone’s offenses. If Jesus has changed your image of God to being loving, compassionate, accepting, and forgiving, then you may be more loving, compassionate, accepting, and forgiving in your own actions. Who you are in your actions reflects the image of God you hold within yourself.

     What does God look like to you? If God were looking for a new publicist, someone who could accurately promote His image, would you qualify for the job? The first accurate publicist for God was Jesus. I say that because last week, we heard Jesus say, “All who came before me were false teachers.” Jesus promoted a different image of God from all who came before him. Jesus said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Healing the sick instead of inflicting disease on people because of their sin, eating with outcasts, speaking to women and Gentiles, teaching things different than the Jewish scriptures. That’s quite a turnaround. Most people don’t want to believe that all they’ve been taught might not be accurate.

     The apostle Paul publicized a new image of God to the church in Colossia, describing Jesus as the image of the invisible God. . . in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col. 1:15, 19). Those who were in religious power ended up having Paul crucified upside-down.

     Jesus came to reveal a new image of God. He was crucified. Stephen was stoned. Paul was crucified. All for promoting an image of God that was different from the tradition. What this tells us is that if you mess with changing the image of God that has been handed down through the Hebrew scriptures, you’re going to get crucified, have rocks thrown at you, and get turned on your head by the religious folks, no matter if they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.

     The Gospel of John opened with, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son…who has made Him known” (John 1:18). Jesus came to erase an image of God who is waiting in righteousness to drive nails of punishment into sinners’ hands when they disobey His commandments. Jesus reversed all vengeful images of God when He accepted those nails of punishment to himself and in the end said, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

     I already indicated in my two books about how to love God with all your heart that I believe the translation of John 14:6 should have been, “No one comes to know the Father except through me.” The next verse validates my translation. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well” (John 14:7). That’s the whole point of verses 6-11. Jesus liberates us from any fear we could have of a God who wants to hurt us if and when we fail.

     Peter’s letter said, “Like newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word.” What is the pure milk of the word? He goes on to explain: It’s tasting that the Lord is gracious. God is good — ALL the time. And that’s the good news. The gospel is that Jesus Christ showed us the truth about God. Even a child would like that news.

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Bible Translation Changes Are Needed

Matthew 5:17-20

     More than ever, I believe we need a better translation of the Bible. I say that about the New Testament because I’m focused on Christian teachings. The Jews can do whatever they want with their holy writings. They know Hebrew better than anyone. But the Christian writings were written in Greek. They are the “new” witness for a new faith tradition. Even though I believe the wisdom of the ages lies hidden deep within the Torah and wisdom teachings of the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean I think the whole of Jewish law is what Jesus wanted us to follow.

     Clearly Jesus disagreed with many Hebrew scriptures. Just read the Sermon on the Mount and you’ll get a list of “you have heard it said…but I tell you…”s.

     When I was doing my research and retranslation of the texts about divorce and remarriage for my newest book, specifically the text in Luke 16, I dropped my jaw when I interpreted verse 17. You can find my explanation of Luke’s text on divorce in chapter six. I knew there was a comparable text in Matthew. If the two didn’t agree, I knew I would be treading on thin ice. So I jumped over to Matthew to see if the two passages agreed with each other. They do. And it confirms my angst about how a thousand years of conditioning made King James translators unable to correct a possible error of Jerome. If it wasn’t Jerome’s error, then the Englishmen get all the blame.

     What surprises me more is that the biblical scholarship of the 20th and 21st centuries has not corrected this mistake. The blind continue to lead the blind. I’m not sure that I’m going to make a difference, but at least, I’m not keeping it to myself.

     Jesus was killed because he was teaching contrary to tradition and because he placed people above religious law and ritual. Why then would he, in his most influential Sermon on the Mount, say that not a stroke of the law will end?

     Because he didn’t say it. King James’ translators said he said it.

     Let me show you what I think Matthew really wanted to convey about what Jesus taught.

     First, I’m going to let you read what traditional translations have carried on from the KJV. Keep in mind that after Jesus spoke the words in verses 17-20 (of the fifth chapter of Matthew), he went on to declare six “laws” or practices that had been passed down by the tradition as teachings he did not endorse. You’ll have to determine whether or not it makes sense to say ‘nothing will pass from the law until it is fulfilled’ and then turn around and say, “I don’t agree with this law(21)…or with this law(27)…or with this law(31)…or with this law(33)…or with this law(38)…or with this law(43).”

     So read what has been the traditional understanding:

17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NKJV)

     Because of my research, preaching, and writing about the kingdom of heaven for the last fifteen years, and combining it with this new information, I’m coming to the conclusion that the kingdom of heaven is a colloquial term that refers to a fine tuned way of doing things where things are working together for the people who are in charge. Some kingdoms of the heavens might be good and some kingdoms of the heavens might not be good for everyone. (My book about the good kingdom of the heavens was written before retranslating these corresponding verses in Matthew and Luke and coming to this conclusion.)

     When God is in charge of the kingdom, then all is done as it should be done, with liberty and justice for all. However, when humanity is in charge of the kingdom (the way of governing), watch out.

     In my retranslating, I use definitions for Greek words that have been used by others, according to Greek lexicons . Therefore, I feel justified in offering this new perspective of Matthew 5:17-20 that I believe is true to what Jesus says after them.

17 “Do not think that I came to deprive the customary teachingsc nor the writings of the prophets of their influence. I did not come to subvert them but to accomplish their purpose. 18 But I’m telling you the truth, the sky and the earth would sooner pass away before the smallest jot or tittle would be omitted from all the regulations that were handed down from of old;c and until then, you will be required to fulfill all of it. 19 Therefore whoever eliminates the unimportant commandments and teaches others in this manner is going to be called (by the Pharisees and Saduccees) a disruptor of harmony and order; as for anyone who follows the unimportant laws and teaches them will be praised for maintaining harmony and order [in the system that’s currently in place]. 20 For I tell you that if your sense of what is right does not surpass what the scribes and Pharisees consider to be important, you will in no way be of use in the advancement of harmony and order [for all people].

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nomos. Widely translated “law” but often limited to implying rules having punitive consequences. Thayer defines nomos as anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, usage, law. If something is being followed because “it’s the way it has always been done,” then it is part of the nomos – the way things have been done. Jesus wasn’t just speaking exclusively about the laws of Moses. He was talking about all Jewish law (Halakhah – Torah, Mitzvot D’Rabbanan [laws instituted by the Rabbis], and Minhag [the customs]).

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     Jesus was not endorsing the whole of Jewish tradition. He was saying that things need to be changed from ancient Jewish tradition. People are being treated unfairly. Women. Children. The poor. The sick. The handicapped. The outcasts. The prisoners. They are being treated unfairly by the rich, the powerful, the privileged, the religious.

     Things have to change in our world today to bring justice to all people despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth that happens when it does.

     Even our translation of the Bible has to change so that it reflects Jesus’s compassion and his radical calls for justice rather than endorsing law, ritual, tradition, and male domination.

 

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