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Archive for November, 2014

Can The Bible Be Divinely Inspired If Teaches…?

I have written that the Bible can stand the test of its claim to be divinely inspired. The writers sometimes claimed to be quoting the actual words of God (i.e. Ten Commandments). Either they are telling the truth or liars. The writers claimed at times their guidance was inspired by God. The phrase “Thus says the Lord” was used thousands of time by the prophets in the Old Testament. The New Testament writers claimed as fact, despite available eyewitnesses, that Jesus resurrected from the dead. The New Testament has no credibility if proved a story was made up by first centuries Christians and perpetuated over the next two thousand years and the empty tomb is not a historical fact beyond reasonable doubt.

Some though may rightly doubt the Bible is inspired because of certain interrupted characterizations of God in the Bible. Many insinuations made about God in the Bible perhaps deserve a second look. We are made in God’s likeness so we are not totally clueless of what God is really like. When two debatable interpretations in Scriptures exist, we must err on the side that portrays God as the most relational and rational to the human mind. Our biblical interpretations must be plausible based on what a loving God should be like.

There are many misbeliefs about God in my opinion that I heard growing up. If certain beliefs about the Bible are not true, we may look at the Bible and God in a different light. God is not a hellish, sadistic torturer! Jesus never threatened anyone with Hell as if that inspires a relationship. The Greek word Gehenna in the NT wrongly translated as Hell was a proper noun and the name of a valley nearby Jerusalem with a history. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago. Hell was an invention to scare people into submission.

God does not favor men over women in leadership roles. The Apostle Paul encouraged husbands to be loving servants with their wives. Best friends, in marriage or other dyad relationships, don’t require a leader. One main passage is referenced to argue women cannot be ministers. Paul was only saying that there may be circumstances when women shouldn’t lead a group as there are times when men shouldn’t lead. God is about peace. Many religions describe certain gender roles that just can’t be right about an impartial God. Ministry is not about women’s rights or equality but a privilege and opportunity to use one’s God-given gifts to serve others.

God did sometimes approve the killing of men, women, and children in times of war. Many are familiar with passages in the OT where God actually advised the Israelites to destroy the enemies’ land and those who inhabited it. Evil is real. In OT times men and women would appease the appetites of their supposed gods by sacrificing their children to their gods. Some leaders today participate in or allow the raping of women and slavery of children by doing nothing. If my neighbor has his daughter barricaded in his home and is regularly abusing her, the police must do all they can to stop such injustice even if killing is required.

The Bible records that evil had become so rampant that God practically destroyed the entire human race, including innocent women and children, during Noah’s time and started over. Evil may have progressed to the level of sacrificing children to supposed gods. God would not have rejected anybody from entering the Ark if they wanted anything to do with Noah’s God. It takes courage to leave one’s family, so I don’t judge because I am not sure what I would do. Corruption can infiltrate a society so much that a fresh start may be the most merciful thing to do. There may be a better place after death more merciful than abandonment, starvation, disease, or being torn apart by wild animals (Ex 23:28-29). The Flood was not doing evil that good may come; it is ridding of the cancer that can eventually destroy any good for future generations.

Speaking of gods that demand the sacrifice of their children, did God’s anger have to be appeased by the death of His Son so He could love us? Jesus died not to change God’s attitude but our attitude toward God. Jesus was willing to walk in our shoes to gain credibility and influence so we might consider His ways. Loving others as you want to be leads to true happiness in the long-run. God only desires a contrite heart for everyone’s good. Cultures in OT times worshipped idols and developed their own sacrificial ways to worship or please their different gods. God used the sacrificial system to show the differences between “God and gods.”  OT sacrifices for sins revealed the cost of selfishness toward others and helped people to anticipate and understand a Messiah was coming.

Finally, Jesus said some pretty outlandish or close-minded stuff while claiming to be impartial. Jesus said He was the only way to God (John 14:6). This doesn’t bode well for the millions over the centuries that have never even heard the name of Jesus. Some parents badly misrepresent Jesus, so will their children not be in “the club” with those that had more rational parents. Will the thief who was only sorry when hanging on a Cross with Jesus go to paradise while those who don’t claim the “Christian” God, but lived conscientiously, be out of luck? The Bible also says “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (I John 4:7). No one obviously loves perfectly or God and Jesus are going to be pretty lonely together. Jesus surely doesn’t just love those who have heard or speak His name.

There are other beliefs taught they can make one doubt the Bible is inspired. Do we really think God doesn’t intervene more in times of undeserved suffering because God doesn’t care or believes we deserve to suffer because none of us are perfect? Maybe there is a rational explanation to how God’s goodness and evil can coexist. Does God really say pray and you get whatever you want, even if your partner likes drinking and could care less how their actions hurt others? Does God really condemn monogamous, homosexual relationships or instead violent sexual activities against one’s will?  Who doesn’t know that sexual behaviors, forced or not, that are mindless, selfish engagements are wrong!

What is Church in The Bible And Why I Stopped Going?

Many think of the Bible when defining what “church” is, so I am going to explore what the Bible says church is. I will cite more bible passages than usual which may make for more difficult reading. I also will conclude with a brief discussion of my journey with attending church in case others have similar feelings. I was going to church often out of guilt which does not lead to true intimacy in spiritual or human relationships.

Jesus used the word church twice in the Gospels. It turns out Jesus and Paul when referring to the church had in mind believers or followers of Jesus as opposed to a physical building. No one said I am going to church in biblical times. Matthew 16:18 says “… and on this rock I will build my church…” Jesus wasn’t going to cram all followers over the last two thousand years in a building on a rock. Jesus’ other reference to the church was when advising how to reconcile with fellow believers engaged in harmful behaviors (Mt. 18:17). Jesus never denied the reality of lovingly confronting others. If one refuses to listen in a 1:1 situation, Jesus says: “tell it to the church.”  Jesus was not suggesting we speak to buildings but to fellow believers wherever they may meet.

When the early “church” was forming after Christ left this earth, the Bible is not referring to buildings but actual followers of Jesus. “But Saul (Paul) began to destroy the church (singular). Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul was not destroying buildings or houses where followers assembled; Paul was imprisoning people (the church) who believed Jesus was the Messiah and rose from the grave. In Acts 11:22 news reached the “ears of the church.” Church buildings can’t hear. Romans 16:5 is similar to Paul’s other letters: “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” Paul was not saying to greet a building that is somehow contained within someone’s home.

Clearly, “church” was referring to people who believed and assembled together at that time in homes. During times of persecution followers were encouraged to not give up gathering (singular) so they could encourage one another (Heb. 10:25). This passage isn’t encouraging weekly meetings at some building but to meet whenever to encourage one another. Today that could be at a building on Sunday morning, a homeless shelter, or on the tennis courts. Times together may include music and preaching or not at all. “The church” doesn’t go to church.

Christianity is better off without denominations. In New Testament times one did not refer to themselves as a Baptist, Methodist, etc. In fact, Jesus the Christ never referred to His followers as Christians. Paul warned against the harm of divisions among followers: “I follow Paul; another, I follow Apollos; another, I follow Cephas; still another I follow Christ” (I Cor. 1:12). Denominations often refer to their Creed than the Bible for guidance which is divisive. If we got rid of Denominations people might seek more Who we follow than what we believe in. The presence of Denominations suggests followers do not believe the same thing or even get alone. Why would those possibly interested in hearing what we believe want to join us?

Why I Stop Going To Church

In the Bible often the church (followers/believers) met at one another’s homes. I was expected to go a building, often with a steeple, on Sundays when growing up.  Some years my parents took me to a meeting both Sunday morning and night and Wednesday evening. I went to a Sunday meeting on my own in college. I never developed deep relationships with those at these meetings. We took our children to a meeting on Sundays when they were young. We encouraged them to attend smaller meetings within the building with people their own age, but they mostly chose to continue to go to the room where adult sang and listen to preaching. We let our children when older decide whether to go to the meetings on Sunday. At the time I felt going to a meeting on Sundays helped us grow in our relationship with God.

I ended up going to Seminary out of college for one year so of course I continue going to meetings on Sundays. As I got older I begin to question some things I was taught at these meetings about what the Bible said. For instance, I was always taught a husband was to be a loving leader rather than a loving servant toward his wife. I came to realize best friends don’t need a leader whether married or not. I had seen that “give us men an inch and we will take a mile.” There were other views over the years suggesting what God was really like, such as God being a hellish torturer, which I begin to believe differently than what I was taught.

I begin to experience in meetings, when sharing what I believed, being more divisive than encouraging to fellow followers. I didn’t feel a freedom or openness to believe as God lead but to believe what those in authority taught. I wasn’t forced to believe but why attend if not being encouraged to develop your own beliefs. I was better off if I didn’t do “church” and try something different in my relationship with God. I am not sure if I went to church out of guilt all those years, but not going to church didn’t feel like a choice. The institution of church worked for me for years and continues to work for many, but people need to feel free than obligated to pursue God on their own terms. Obligatory relationships are seldom life transforming.

I gained a sense of freedom from obligation when I realized “church” in the Bible was not a building but referred to all individual believers. The Bible suggested followers meet to encourage one another. This can be done anywhere anytime. When followers meet together they may sing, teach one another, eat, play tennis or whatever is going on in being with one another. Some may want to continue receiving teaching about their faith and attend traditional church for those and other reasons. No one though needs a mediator between God and them such as a pastor or priest.

Church never was a place that I built genuine relationships. I could sit for an hour and not say one word to anyone other than my family. I certainly didn’t share my burdens openly in that meeting. Even attending smaller groups during the week, organized by church leaders for the purpose of building relationships, felt forced. I am not putting down such meetings. I just feel free and wish for other to know they can build a closer relationship with their Creator in ways best for them. Dream! I may again someday attend a building on a certain day of the week with like-minded followers. But, I do not feel obligated or believe God thinks any less of me for not doing so. I am better off seeking encouraging, genuine relationships, so I look for such relationships everywhere. They don’t have to be organized and there doesn’t have to be structured leadership. You may feel like I do that I have graduated from “church.”

Is The Bible We Have Possibly Inspired By God?

We can know God without the Bible, as our faith relies in a Creator than some book, but the Bible can make our relationship even richer if it is God’s inspired guidance. When certain literature claims to be divinely inspired, it should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Some may rightly doubt the Bible is inspired because of how certain interpretations characterize God. But, God is not a sadistic torturer! Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words, created over the centuries to scare people into obedience.

Before we can believe the Bible’s claim to be the thoughts of our Creator, we have to consider: if the words we have are what the writers close to the action actually wrote; are the Scriptures we have the Books intended by God; and how credible are the writers’ claims to be inspired by God. Are their claims any different than someone today declaring they are speaking for God?

  • If the New Testament was considered a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would not be questioned. We don’t question the reliable of Julius Caesar’s exploits in the Gallic Wars though derived from ten manuscript copies, the earliest of which date to within 1000 years of the time the Gallic Wars was written. Nearly 25,000 manuscripts of the NT exist in libraries and universities today. The earliest of these is a fragment of John’s Gospel, which has been dated to within 50 years of the date when the apostle John penned the original. Within 100 years we have books, within 150 years most of the NT, within 225 years the complete NT.
  • We don’t have the original NT manuscripts written by the authors themselves, but we know what the original manuscripts said through textual criticism for over 99 percent of the words of the Bible. We know what the variants are (different words in different ancient copies of the same verse) but none change any doctrines on the Scriptures. Thus, our present manuscripts are practically the same as the original manuscripts.
  • Proof for Old Testament literature is no less impressive. Before 1947, the oldest complete Hebrew manuscript dated to AD 900. But with the discovery of 223 manuscripts in caves on the west side of the Dead Sea, we now have OT manuscripts that are a thousand years older dated around 125 BC. They have proved to be identical, word for word, in more than 95% of the text. Minor variations do not alter the clear meaning of the text into question.
  • How do we know we have the Books intended by God to convey His guidance? The OT books that were considered to be God’s words to His people were set in place between about 1200 – 400 B.C.  It is fair to say that Jesus believed in the collections of the OT books as we have them today (Lk. 24:44). Jesus quoted from 24 of the books. The five books not quoted were considered a part of the collections Jesus’ referenced in Luke. Paul felt the Old Testament, which was Scriptures for Paul, was inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16).
  • For the NT Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only four gospels that can be shown to be first-century documents.  Being closer to the action makes them more reliable. Paul wrote most of the rest of the NT books. No one at that time disputed that Paul had been appointed by God to carry out Jesus’ message (Acts 26:16-18). Paul was accepted as speaking with the wisdom given to him by God (2 Peter 3:15). There was no official canonization of NT books thought to be under God’s guidance, but most over the next few centuries accepted the collections of books we know as the NT.
  • How credible is the writers’ claim to be inspired by God? It does seem the 66 different books written in three different languages by many different authors, has an incredible unity and consistency as though orchestrated by a Higher Power. The OT books show an incredible unity pointing toward the fulfillment of a promise by God, beginning with a promise made to Eve about her seed destroying the evil one and accumulating in Malachi where God will be sending His messenger (3:1). Many reading this have little doubt that Jesus the Messiah was the fulfillment of this promise.
  • The Bible claims that God’s actually words were spoken such as God’s command to Adam (Gen 2:16-17) or the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Ex 20:1-3). At Jesus’ baptism God actually spoke from heaven (Matt 3:17) and these words were recorded. We must either accept where Scripture records “God said” that the writers are actually recording the words of God spoken to them in some fashion, or the writers are lying and saying God spoke to them when He didn’t. If you believe them, there is no reason to not trust their other writings.
  • “Thus says the Lord” appears thousands of time in the OT, thus distinguishing thoughts and words from God from their own.  God said He would actually give the prophets His words in their mouth (Jer. 1:9; Deut. 18:18-20). Death was a consequence for one claiming to be speaking for the Lord but who had not received a message from God (Deut. 18:20-22). OT Scriptures do not indicate dictation from God the very words written by the prophets; instead, the prophets clearly indicate they knew when the Spirit of God was teaching them. Most don’t claim that today. Nathan advising King David on his own was clearly differentiated when God spoke to Nathan and told him to advise David otherwise (2 Sam. 7:1-17).
  • In the world of the OT, the phrase “Thus says the Lord” would have been recognized as identical in form to the phrase, “Thus says king…” which was used to preface the edict of a king that could not be questioned but simply had to be obeyed. Thus, when the prophets say “Thus says the Lord,” they are claiming to be messengers from the sovereign King of Israel, namely, God himself, and they are claiming that their words are the absolutely authoritative words of God. When a prophet spoke in God’s name in this way, every word he spoke had to come from God, or he would be a false prophet (Num. 22:38; Deut. 18:18-20; Jer. 1:9; 14:14; 23:16-22; 29-31-32; Ezek. 2:7; 13:1-16) [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology 74]
  • One main reason the Bible can be view as reliable is because the writers record as fact, when eyewitnesses were available, that Jesus resurrected from the dead. The Bible’s credibility can be totally destroyed if proved Jesus coming back from the dead after three days was a myth. The Apostle Paul says: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…” (I Cor. 15:17). Many faiths rely on a promise for the future; Christianity relies on a promise that has already happened in the past. Is the empty tomb a provable historical fact beyond reasonable doubt as opposed to a story made up by first centuries Christians and perpetuated over the next two thousand years? NT writers ended up being a martyr for what they believed in. Some will die for a future promise. Few if any will die for what they know to be a lie. The apostle knew Jesus was the Son of God because Jesus indeed resurrected from the dead.

Many believe in God because we know it to be true in our hearts. Though we cannot touch our Creator, we know God to be present and involved in our lives. But, make no mistake about it. Should there be a need to defend the evidence for our beliefs to others, we stand on solid ground. The resurrection is a historical, reliable fact beyond reasonable doubt. Jesus actually was born, lived, died, and came back from the grave. Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher or prophet as claimed by some. He proved to be the Son of God. Also, God continues to speak to us through His word given to others in a form we refer to as Scriptures. The Scriptures are reliable historical documents. Should you begin reading the Bible on a regular basis, I believe you will be a changed person for the better. Some may feel the Bible says some outlandish things that are not plausible of a loving God. I have written on some of these possible misbeliefs at my website.

Did Jesus And Should We Have An Agenda With People?

More people may not talk about their relationship with their Creator because they feel pressured to impose their beliefs onto the listener even if not interested. People may be less inclined to open up about spiritual matters because certain spiritual folks seem to have an agenda.  They feel manipulated rather than loved. Parents are notorious for ulterior motives and kids are keen in recognizing. Some parents are going to help in their own way whether wanted or not.

Now, Jesus certainly had an agenda with religious pretenders and evil folks. The OT has it greatest warnings for those that were just plain evil such as those who sacrificed children to gods.  But, let’s be honest. God tolerates a lot of our actions not up to His standards, or I would be dead. And Jesus didn’t have much tolerance for religious pretenders, as the Pharisees raised Jesus’ dander the most. It was the Pharisees who orchestrated Jesus’ death, not the atheists. The Pharisees distorted and made religion self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. The Pharisees were in love with their power. We today may hold on to certain beliefs, not because they are in the best interest of all, but because they keep us employed. Jesus’ religion was to love your neighbor as yourself.

It is suggested Jesus’ agenda was to keep folks out of Hell. HELL NO! The popular concept of Hell, where God is involved in the endless torture of people, is not found in the Scriptures. God is not a sadistic torturer. Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Hell was an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. The Greek word Gehenna in the NT wrongly translated as Hell was a proper noun and the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.

Reading through any gospel, such as Luke, will reveal Jesus’ agenda was to simply love people in the moment. Jesus encouraged the poor and persecuted and gave them hope for their future.  Jesus healed but never seemed to close the deal with a hell and heaven speech (Luke 5). Jesus said to the sinful woman: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (7:50). When one asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (10:25), Jesus didn’t admonish one to get on their knees and pray for forgiveness. Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (10:25-27). Jesus knew that God can empower us to be the person we deep down desire to be. One saves their life by beginning to lose their life of unselfishness (9:23-26).

After Zacchaeus declared he wanted to do right by those he wronged, Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house….the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19). Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus he must confess or be baptized. Jesus simply praised Zacchaeus for seeing his need to begin a journey that Jesus wanted for everyone. Salvation is healing, deliverance, or rescue on earth from a life of self-centeredness. How do we tell others about God if interested? God desires a relationship with us so we might become the person we deep down desire to be. We can simply encourage others to get to know and follow Jesus.

Followers’ agenda shouldn’t be any different than Jesus’. Look for those who seek a helping hand. Jesus had a sense when people needed to simply be encouraged, when they needed to be told to leave their life of sin, when they wanted to discuss specifics about a relationship with their Creator. Pray for the same wisdom. The truth is that we all have a relationship with our Creator. God loves everyone but nothing brings God more joy then when it is a two-way street, both for His pleasure and our joy as we live less selfishly. Engage in relationships only with the desire to love others as they wished to be loved.

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