The Bible Tells Me So?

Sitting here at Starbucks this morning – fresh smells of brewing coffee and machines whining in the background. The perfect environment to think about the plurality of the Bible.

Americans are Bible lovers. Well, at least we own a lot of Bibles. About 168,000 Bibles are sold every single day and 88% of Americans own 4.4 Bibles on average. Between 1815 and 1975, it was estimated that there could have been 5 billion Bibles printed (note 1). How many Bibles do you own? I have maybe 9.6 different Bibles in my house. My real question to you is: If you read the Bible, do you understand it or is it a source of confusion for you?

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

Abraham Lincoln was well-versed in the Bible and had a sense that it wasn’t clear at times.  Both sides of the Civil War assumed they knew God’s will was in their favor in their opposing causes.  Of course, one side lost. Here’s what Lincoln said:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered.” Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1865.

If the Bible is so easy to understand, why do we have so many Bible-illiterate Christians? According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60% of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Fewer than half the adults could not name the four gospels. The same poll says that 82% of us believe that, “God helps those who help themselves,” is an actual Bible verse (note 2).

I’m not here to bash Christians or Christianity. I’ve always had problems understanding the Bible. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a pastor, asked me once, “Why do you read so many books about the Bible when all you have to do is read the Bible?” I simply answered, “Because so many people have different answers as to what the Bible is really saying.”

“Both read the Bible day and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.”  William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

Is it the lack of knowledge or just plain confusion over what the Bible says? If the Bible was clearly written would there be more unity within Christianity? According to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary there are over 45,000 different Christian denominations in the world (note 3).

“All this diversity of belief and practice, and the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities.” Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities (note 4)

Why are there so many books on the market about what the Bible really says? In his book, the Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith has problems with the fact that there are so many books that begin their title with, “What the Bible Really Says About ________” or “Four (or Five) Views on ________ (Baptism, Sacraments, etc.).” If the Bible is so clear on its teachings, why do we need others to try and interpret it for us and why aren’t they all the same (note 5)?

Would there be a need for Christian Apologists if the Bible were clear? An apologists is one who defends and clarifies the objections of the Christian faith. In his book, How to Defend the Christian Faith, John Loftus, an ex-Evangelical Minister and Christian Apologist says that, “God failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe. Since he failed us, apologists have been given a tremendous work load (note 6).”

The more I research why the Bible is so confusing to me, I just get more confused. Oh well! I can see why only 33% of the world’s population believe in Christianity – it’s too confusing! And it appears that a good percentage of that 33% who do believe are having difficulties understanding its sacred book. No offense. After 40 years plus of reading the Bible, I’m still confused.

Here’s to another cup of that dark roast and to those who know the Bible. As for me – I’ll keep searching!

Notes:

1. 29 Good Bible Sales Statistics – BrandonGaille.com. (2017). BrandonGaille.com. Retrieved 12 July 2017, from http://brandongaille.com/27-good-bible-sales-statistics/

2. The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem – AlbertMohler.com. (2016). AlbertMohler.com. Retrieved 12 July 2017, from http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/

3. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pd

4. Ehrman, B. D. (2005). Lost christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

5. Smith, C. (2012). The Bible made impossible: why biblicism is not a truly evangelical reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

6. Loftus, J. W. (2015). How to defend the Christian faith: advice from an Atheist. Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing.

You Wash My Feet, I’ll Wash Yours!

I was baptized in a Methodist Church, belonged to a Lutheran Church for many years where my son was baptized, went back to the Methodist Church for awhile, before attending a Non-denominational Christian Church. And not once did I ever have my feet washed! But, there are many Christian churches who practice this ritual – and many who don’t.

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples
Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples

While pondering this matter over coffee this morning I contemplated whether or not I had missed out on an important part of being a Christian. As it turns out, it is Biblical and is found in the Gospel of John. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” John 13:14-15. The churches who practice foot washing call it “the ordinance of humility” and is commanded by Jesus during His Last Supper.

As you can see, Jesus gives a clear command – since he had washed their feet, they should likewise, go out and wash others. Now, if it’s so clear, why are so many Christian’s feet not getting washed?

With a careful reading of the Gospels, all four of them, you will notice that foot washing is found in only one gospel – John. The first three Gospel writers either forgot about it, didn’t know about it, or didn’t think it worthy enough to mention. Another thing I should mention is that the foot-washing Gospel never talks about the Lord’s Supper. How interesting! Really! Get out your Bible and read.

So, it appears that the Christians who combine the foot washing with the Lord’s Supper as their Communion service, is combining the writings of two different authors, with two different thoughts, speaking to different audiences, in different time periods. It’s not the first time, though.

Whether we believe that foot washing was a part of the Lord’s Supper or not is not the point I’m trying to make – although a good one. The point is that Christians seem to ignore many commands and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus says to wash feet, shouldn’t we, as good Christians, wash each other’s feet? And when He says that we should love our gay neighbor and our enemies, should we not follow His commands? Wouldn’t it be easier to follow all of His commands and quit picking and choosing which ones we “should” follow? It’s all in writing! And inspired by God himself!

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” John 14:23

Time for another cup, please!

Rainbow Bible

I’m sitting here at Starbucks waiting for my bother to show up. Great coffee this morning! I got to thinking about the various versions/translations of Bibles out there on the market today. There must be at least a million.

What’s your favorite Bible version? Which one do you read the most? I studied the NIV the most in church and have a study version that’s all marked up. I’ve acquired several versions over the years of research and consider the NRSV the most accurate, and you’ll probably disagree with me. That’s okay, though. I’ve never studied ancient Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic, so what do I know?

rainbow bible

There is one type of Bible that I would like to see on the market. I would like to see a Bible with highlighted passages in one color for verses that no longer apply to Christians and another color for those that are to be taken seriously. I get so confused sometimes. I’ll read a passage and someone will correct me and say something like, “Oh, that passage no longer applies to Christians…” or “you’re taking that out of context…” or just a number of things that I don’t quite understand. Everyone seems to understand particular passages that I don’t.

So, a Bible that had all this stuff highlighted would be great. For instance, Leviticus 18:22 could be highlighted in yellow, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” And then for the more severe ones highlighted in red – something like Leviticus 20:9, “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.”

You see how easy it would be to read through your Bible and skip over the ones that no longer apply and pay more attention to those that are important? Other colors could be for other types of passages like: NT passages that negate OT laws; passages that explicitly state the doctrines of Christianity such as the Trinity, Baby Baptism, One-man/One-woman Marriage, the Rapture, and so on. We would have a rainbow of highlighted areas – maybe call it the Rainbow Bible. Wait, is that name already taken.

Time for another cup. Where’s my brother, anyway?

Super Apostles!

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15

It’s coffee time! I wonder if the apostles ever sat around the fire on a cold morning craving their coffee as I do? Just a thought. Here’s a question for you that’s been bugging me for quite some time. What would you do if Jesus gave you the same powers that he gave to his apostles? Would you heal the sick or cast out any demons (Mark 6:7), maybe cleanse those infected with the ebola virus or help a psychotic neighbor – or two? Would you resurrect any deceased people that you know – maybe a family member that died at a young age or your favorite aunt? Would you forgive anyone’s sin (John 20:23)? Most of all, wouldn’t you immediately believe in Jesus?

appostles_13v

Peter was so good at healing others that people were healed by just being in his shadow (Acts 5:15). But on the other hand he could make someone lose their life without blinking an eye (Acts 5:5). The apostles must have gotten a little arrogant with their powers which caused Paul to sarcastically call them the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5).

I once asked a Southern Baptist pastor why I had such a hard time understanding the Bible. He quickly insisted that I was not saved or that my faith wasn’t apparent. “No one can understand the Bible until they have faith,” he exclaimed. Now wouldn’t that have been great if Jesus gave the apostles the power to make the Jews understand that Jesus was truly God? That would have been miraculous!

And with all these powers given to them, some of the apostles still weren’t sure. So, what would it take for you to be a believer? I’m pretty sure that if Jesus gave me super powers, I would be a believer. Up, up and away!  Time for another cup!

To Flee or Not To Flee

The Lord will give you understanding.” 2 Timothy 2:7

Had a quick Starbucks in the Nashville airport before leaving on a jet plane to California. I’ve found that the crampiness of flying is not conducive to writing. Kind of makes me think of how the apostles must have felt when Jesus was crucified on the cross. I know… it must be my wild imagination for me to think that there’s any connection between being cramped and being crucified.

Something I’ve always pondered, though – what were the apostles thinking when they heard that Jesus was about to be hung on the cross? Did they hang around (no pun intended) to see what was in store for them? Or did they flee to another place to get away from the authorities? They must have been frightened for their lives, don’t you think? If I were in their shoes, or sandals, and seeing how my savior was treated and killed, I would certainly be scared out of my mind. We all know how Judas turned on Jesus and ratted him out. And what about Peter? He denied him thrice before the cock crowed.

So, what did the followers of Jesus do and where did they go? Did they think they would ever see Jesus again? Let’s see what the writers of the Gospels and Acts has to say.

The Gospel of Mark has no resurrection narrative (in the authentic writings). Mark does, however, have a message from a divine character of a promise of a resurrection. The divine messenger told the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to flee to Galilee where they will see Jesus again (Mark 16:7). Matthew’s Gospel confirms the appearance to the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20). Makes complete sense to me. I wouldn’t hang around the Jerusalem area where the “King of the Jews” was just tortured and killed on a cross.

But wait a minute. In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel (24:49) and the first chapter of the book of Acts (1:8) – same writer, by the way – Jesus tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem to wait for his return. So, they did stay after all? Who am I to believe?

Goes to show you how stories change over time. Mark was written about 40-50 years after Jesus died and Acts was written in the beginning of the second century, about 80-100 years after Jesus’ death. I can’t remember what I did even 10 years ago and I’m bound to tell stories where the fish I caught was much larger than my mother says it really was. The truth is always an illusion. I doubt that we will ever know how this religion we call Christianity came about. It certainly wasn’t the same in the early decades after Jesus died. But then again, who am I to say?

I’d say it’s time for another cup but airplane coffee is not for me. For now, I’ll just sit here patiently and fantasize about having another cup of dark roast.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path to my coffeehouse.” Kaffeina 119:105

I Cannot Tell A Lie!

The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” – George Carlin

Ahhh, I wonder if the apostle Paul had the luxury of a dark roast coffee every morning. I am certainly spoiled. Speaking of Paul, here’s something you might find interesting.

The book of Acts is written by someone who writes about Paul, either as an eyewitness or from stories heard over the camp fire. Who knows for sure? On the other hand, Paul writes directly about himself in his 13 epistles (letters). I love comparing the stories to see if there are any differences in who said or did what. You may be saying to yourself, “Are there really differences in their stories?” I wouldn’t be writing this if there weren’t. Let’s look at one.

You all know the story about Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of the new “movement” to the biggest advocate and evangelist for Christ. Directly after his conversion, did Paul go straight to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles before him?

To answer this question, I will be looking at what Luke says that Paul did in Acts 9:19-30 compared to what Paul says he did in Galatians 1:17-20. Feel free to blow the dust off your Bible and follow along.

In Acts, after several days in Damascus, Paul goes to Jerusalem and meets with the apostles, stays with them, and moves about freely in Jerusalem. It must have felt great being part of the team, high-fivin’ and telling stories about Jesus.

In Galatians, though, Paul explicitly says that he did not go to Jerusalem but went to Arabia instead and later returned to Damascus. After three years he then goes to Jerusalem and stays with Cephas but did not see the other apostles. He finishes by saying, “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.”

So, who would you believe? My money’s on Paul! If I wanted everyone to believe that my revelation came directly from Jesus and that I did not learn any of these teachings from the other apostles, then I would definitely want you to believe that I did not meet with and confer with Jesus’ right-hand men. Go get ’em Paul!

It’s not for me to say who’s right. I do know one thing, though – time for another cup.

A River Runs Through It

How does anyone live without coffee?  My Christian friend and I were talking about the sacrament of Baptism so I thought I would talk about it this morning.

Baptism has always been a mystery to me.  And once again, baptism is one of those things that Christian sects just can’t seem to get a handle on.  Should we baptize babies or is it for believers only?  Does sprinkling work or is immersion the only way?  Is baptism just symbolic or does it actually save us?  These are just a few of the questions that separate Christians and yet many apologists still claim that the Bible is clear about baptism.  Here’s a quote from one Christian apologist:

“In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation is a faulty interpretation.”

And here’s another view from a different Christian apologist:

“Believing and being baptized to be saved, as Mark 16:16 says, does not nullify the grace of God, but it activates it…  Baptism is a very serious matter.  According to the Bible, baptism is for the purpose of salvation.”

These are just two examples out of a multitude of ideas about baptism.  You’ll notice that each author is basing their interpretation from one passage of Scripture.  By choosing which scripture is true, aren’t you saying that the other parts of the Bible are not correct?  Or are you saying that man has not interpreted Scripture correctly – and who’s interpretation is correct?

I believe that it is man’s nature to try and figure out how everything works.  But when it comes to God, who is an omni-God, can we really say why, when or who about anything He says or does?  Life is a mystery.  Nature is a beautiful mystery.  Love is an exciting mystery.  Can we not let it be – just a mystery?

I think that I will immerse myself in another cup, please.