As it is written – or not.

Let us look at some words from Paul.

Romans 3:1-21

“Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God. 3 So what if some did not trust? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 May it never be! Let God be true even if every man is a liar, as it is written,
“that You may be righteous in Your words
and prevail when You are judged.”
5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? God is not unrighteous to inflict wrath, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if by my lie the truth of God abounds to His glory, why am I still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say, “Let us do evil, so that good may come”—just as we are being slandered and as some claim that we say. Their condemnation is deserved!
9 What then? Are we better than they? No, not at all.For we have already made the case that all—both Jewish and Greek people—are under sin. 10 As it is written,
“There is no one righteous—no, not one.
11 There is no one who understands,
no one who seeks after God.
12 All have turned aside;
together they have become worthless.
There is no one who does good—no, not even one!
13 Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they keep deceiving.
The poison of vipers is under their lips.
14 Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood.
16 Ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of shalom they have not known.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the Torah says, it says to those within the Torah, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become accountable to God. 20 For no human, on the basis of Torah observance, will be set right in His sight—for through the Torah comes awareness of sin.”

Let’s look at 10-18 carefully. This “verse” isn’t written like this in one place. This is a hodge-podge. He says “as it is written” – but he’s assembled these various ideas from all over the Bible, and they aren’t quotations, but summaries. He’s rewriting the Bible to suit his own needs.

I am using the references that the Tree of Life version gives to illustrate this point. I am not coming up with these verses on my own.

Ecclesiastes 7:20
Surely there is not a righteous person on earth
who does what is good and doesn’t sin.

Psalm 13:2-3
2 How long, ADONAI? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
3 How long must I have cares in my soul
and daily sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Psalm 5:10
10 For nothing upright is in their mouth.
Inside them is a ruin—their throat an open grave.
They flatter with their tongue.

Psalm 139:4
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, ADONAI, You know all about it.

Isaiah 59:7-8
7 Their feet run after evil.
They rush to shed innocent blood.[a]
Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity.
Violence and ruin are on their highways.
8 They do not know the path of peace,
and there is no justice in their tracks.
They have made their paths crooked.
Whoever walks in them will not experience shalom.

Psalm 35:2
2 Take hold of shield and buckler,
and rise up to my help.

This “verse” doesn’t exist. Paul strung it together, cutting and pasting what he liked into a whole unit of his choosing. My point – be sure to double check everything you read, even (and sometimes especially) in the Bible. Just because someone says something is true, even if that person is an authority, doesn’t make it true.

(All Bible quotations are the Tree of Life Version (TLV))

Cherry picking

Every now and then some stranger will disagree with one of my religious posts by saying that I’m “cherry picking” the Bible. Of course I cherry pick. The whole tree is too hard to digest. That is the silliest thing to accuse somebody of.

Perhaps I should just say what I’m going to say and not reference chapter and verse at all. Perhaps I should stop citing any references and just assume that everybody has read what I am referring to.

Jesus did that. He just said what he was going to say and assumed that his audience had read the whole Bible for themselves. He assumed that they could follow along with his logic and know that what he was saying was true.

When people accuse me of cherry picking they’re saying that I’m picking and choosing what I’m using to cite. Of course I am. Everybody does that. That is part of writing. Perhaps they want me to use an argumentative structure? Perhaps they think it would be best if I quoted all sides of the debate? That would draw away from my argument. No writer would do that.

Well, I’ll do it if Jesus’ words disagree with what I’m saying. Paul’s words don’t count. He isn’t the Messiah, and his words aren’t counted as the Gospels. Too many people think they are, but they are the ones accusing me of “cherry picking”.

How about this? I’m going to write what I write and quote what I quote and if “they” get it, then great. If “they” don’t, that is their problem. Jesus’ message wasn’t accepted by everybody either, so I’m in good company.

Paul isn’t the Messiah

I just got into an argument with a minister. Well, that isn’t uncommon. I get into arguments with Christians and their leaders all the time. The issue is when we follow Paul and not Jesus. Plenty of Christians use the words of Paul to harm others, and to exclude them. This is contrary to the message of Jesus, and damaging to the reputation of Christians as being Christ-bearers.

Sure, if we discount the words of Paul, we discount the majority of the New Testament. But do we really need more? We have the Gospels. Isn’t that enough?

More does not mean better. If Paul’s words add to the message of Jesus, then great. It is when they take away that is the problem. Paul’s words have been used to attack and divide for centuries. They paint Jesus as aggressively intolerant – and that is not Jesus. The Jesus I met when I read the Gospels on my own wasn’t the Jesus I was introduced to by people who said they were Christian. The more people use the words of Paul when they are counter to the words of Jesus, the fewer people will find the real Jesus.

Our job as Christians is to bring Jesus to people. We are to bring that same healing love, that same forgiveness, that same compassion.

I remember thinking the same way as that minister. I remember taking a women’s studies class and a female minister was invited to talk to us. She said “Paul said…” – and I said “You mean Saint Paul?” She looked down her nose at me, as if I’d just offered her dog doo and said “I don’t call him Saint.” I thought, how dare she attack a leader of the church?

At the time, I was going to a church called “Saint Paul’s”. We heard Paul’s words almost every week. The Bible readings during the service are always one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, one from the Epistles (Letters) and one from the Gospels. So we heard a lot from Paul, because Paul wrote a lot of letters. Paul wrote while he was in prison for preaching about Jesus. It wasn’t considered Scripture at the time.

It is now, and that is the problem.

Paul isn’t the Messiah. When we follow Paul instead of Jesus we are going to get mislead.

Paul is for telling people they are sinners, and for making women be silent in church. Paul is against anybody who isn’t Paul. Paul did a lot to spread the message of Jesus, and that is great. The problem is when we start to think that Paul’s words ARE the message of Jesus.

The only way to differentiate between the two is to read Jesus’ words first, then Paul’s. Then we have to separate the wheat from the chaff. What agrees? What builds up? What strengthens and clarifies? Then – what takes away? What is added in that wasn’t there?

The philosopher Descartes talked about the color teal. He said he could explain what teal is by telling you that it is sort of green and it is sort of blue, but you really won’t know what teal is until he shows you what it isn’t. At some point it is peacock blue. At some point it is emerald green. It is seeing the line of what it isn’t that shows you what it is.

So, yes, read the words of Paul. Read them, so you can learn what isn’t the message of Jesus. Read them so you can learn what God’s message looks like through a fully human filter. And then learn from that. Learn how easy it is to take the message of Love and turn it into judgment and condemnation.

The minister had said that we need to “Speak the truth in love”, that a “sincere sin seer” should point out the sin in others. Because of my readings, I knew that “Speak the truth in love” is not from Jesus, but Paul. I said this, and said that Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our eyes first. Our sin is greater than the sin of someone we are trying to “correct”. The minister brought up the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. He said that Jesus said to “Go and sin no more.”

That was all he mentioned. If I’d felt awed by the fact that he is a minister, it would have stopped there. But Jesus came to take away all such distinctions. Jesus didn’t ordain anybody. We are all ministers. So we all need to think for ourselves.

Here’s the full text. It is John 8:2-11 (HCSB)
2 At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

See? When the minister just quoted “Go and sin no more”, all he was focusing on was the sin. He left out the line before that – “Neither do I condemn you.”

I mentioned this, and said that we cannot point out other’s faults, that we must show love without fail. He said we should point out people’s faults, that it is called intervention. He also then said that I was pointing out Paul’s faults, so I was contradicting myself.

I’m not pointing out Paul’s faults. I’m pointing out the Church’s fault when we take the words of Paul as the Gospel. I’m pointing out the danger of following Paul as the Messiah.

I point out where Paul deviates from the words of Jesus. We cannot base our faith and our lives on the message of Paul when it does not harmonize with the message of Jesus. Remember the hymn “They will know we are Christians by our love”? Sadly these days it is more judgment and condemnation that we are known for.

Intervention indeed. The Church needs one.

Can I get an Amen?

I just read a news report about a pastor in Arizona who says that women shouldn’t even say “Amen” in church. He’s using the words of Paul in the first book of Corinthians to justify this.

In 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Paul says “…34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.”

Once again, we see an example of someone who is a Paulian and not a Christian. Once again we see a pastor who isn’t spreading the Gospel. Once again we read a news report about someone who is making it hard to identify as Christian.

We have to distinguish between the words of Paul and the words of Jesus if we say we are Christians. Paul’s words are diluted. Jesus’ words are distilled. Jesus’ words are the very essence of love. Paul’s, not so much. Paul’s words are filtered through a very human person, a product of his time. Jesus’ words are filtered through someone whose words transcend time itself.

We don’t worship Paul. So why do people take his words as the Gospel, or as truth?

Jesus came to bring heaven to earth, not to bring us hell.

All bad reports about bad pastors just obscure the stories about the good ones. It is bad witness. We are fed trash by the news agencies and mislead. Why can’t “news” be good news instead of all bad? I feel like I’m constantly having to do damage control.

I will not defend Christianity. But I will defend Christ. The two aren’t the same at all. They were meant to be, and for some people they are. For some people who live the Word and have Jesus in their hearts, the two are the same. But for many, they aren’t.

Jesus says – 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus says – 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus says – “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-8)

Jesus is love. We have to be too. If what someone who says they are Christian does isn’t loving, then they aren’t connected to the source of love, which is Jesus. Just because they say they are Christian doesn’t mean they are. Look at what they do.

2 Timothy 2:14-21

I don’t often refer to the words of Paul because they aren’t the Gospel. It is like watching the movie instead of reading the book. I’d rather go to the source than get a translation. But today’s reading had a lot of useful stuff in it, so here we go.

The words of Paul are letters written to churches far away. He writes to them to encourage them sometimes and to chastise them other times. Here he’s doing a bit of both.

2 Timothy 2:14-21 (NRSV)
14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” 20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

Now, let’s look at it more carefully.

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

This is the same idea as the Jewish concept of “lashon hora” – don’t speak ill of people. It is also the same as the Buddhist concept of “right speech”. It is important to not lie about people, but it is also important to not spread truths that are harmful and unnecessary. For example, if a lady you know is going to go play golf with a man who has been divorced four times, you don’t need to tell her that. But if she is going to go on a date with him that might lead to marriage, she might need to know that. Just because it is true doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

This applies to everyone. Here, Paul is making no distinctions (as we too should make no distinctions) between lay and ordained. We are all called to present ourselves as one approved by God, because we are. The fact that we are called by God means we are approved by God.

16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety,

This is totally true, and just as relevant today. Have you ever noticed that if you agree with someone’s gossip, they’ll just give you more? If you share some, then they’ll think that is all you want to hear. However, if you hold yourself to a higher standard then they will come to talk differently around you. If you go for the lowest common denominator in conversation, that is all you will get.

17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,

I feel like Paul is being really rude here. So much for talking kindly about others. His own rule was that if someone was out of line, you should talk to them in private first to try to resolve it. This is a good rule for life. Calling someone out in public will only put them on the defensive. These letters of Paul’s were meant to be read out loud in the midst of the church members, as if he himself were talking to them. To call these two out is really weird and goes against the first line here.

18… who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Plenty of the disciples “swerved from the faith” of the Jews by claiming that the Messiah had come. They got in trouble for it. Is the Christian faith entirely dependent on waiting for the Messiah to come again? Will it crumble and fall when that happens? How are they upsetting everyone? Perhaps they know something that the others don’t.

What if the “second coming” isn’t going to happen as everyone expects, just like the first coming didn’t happen the way anyone expected? Even though it was prophesied, it happened quietly and surprisingly.

19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”

This reminds me of the story from the Gospels about how sometimes the seed is sown on rocks, sometimes in sand, and sometimes in good soil. Only the seed that is in good soil will grow well. Likewise, it reminds me of the idea that not everybody is called. If you are, act like it.

20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

This is a great image. It isn’t quite as useful as Paul’s image of the body parts and the Body of Christ. We are all different, and all useful in the Body metaphor. In this, only some are useful. Still though, in this metaphor, it isn’t the called that are useful, but those who make themselves spiritually clean. There is a way to become a “special utensil” and it is open to everybody.

“God breathed” – on Paul’s words versus Jesus’ words

People have used Paul to justify Paul to me. Paul says that “all scripture is God-breathed”. (From Timothy 3:16-17) They use this as proof that whatever Paul says is from God.

The problem is that Paul wasn’t talking about his own words. Paul was writing letters to other people. His words weren’t considered Scripture at the time he wrote them. That was many years later.

Scripture is indeed God-breathed. It is inspired, in-spired. To “respire” is to breathe. We get the word Spirit from that root – spirit and breath are the same. It means the same thing. So the Holy Spirit is the breath of God.

It is what makes humans different. When God created Adam and Eve, God breathed into Adam to give him life. God didn’t do this for animals.

Some of what Paul says is helpful, but some of it is divisive. Some of his words go against the basic command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is nothing uplifting or loving about telling women to shut up. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) There is nothing loving about telling gay people (or anybody) that they are going to hell. (1 Timothy 9-10, among others)

Judging people isn’t our job. Our job is to look after ourselves. Paul says that we are to nicely tell off other people in order to correct them (1 Timothy 5:20, among others).

Jesus tells us otherwise. Jesus says that we should look out for the plank in our own eyes and not the speck in our neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5, among others). Jesus tells us that whatever we use to measure others will be used to measure ourselves (Matthew 7:2). Thus – don’t judge at all.

It is important to always compare the words of anyone who says they act on the behalf of God with the words of Jesus. If what they say isn’t showing love to God and to all of God’s children (everybody), then what they say isn’t in fact “God breathed.”

The beginning of awakening…

I am always amused when strangers quote Paul to me to justify why every word in the Bible is perfect, specifically that it is “God-breathed.” I’m not a Paulian, but so many people are. They love Paul because he’s against everything they are against.

Paul was against women who asked questions and against gay people in general. He was also against marriage, but people seem to forget that. Paul was all about everybody being single and celibate.

Somehow people are getting confused by my posts, which is the last thing I want. I’m for the Bible. I am Christian. I also believe that God is so big and so amazing that all sacred texts have the “breath of God” in them. I believe that God loves us all, across time and across cultures, and has tried to reach us all in various ways throughout history and all over the world. I believe that God is still revealing truth to us.

I don’t expect everybody to follow along with me when I say these things. I’m no Bible scholar. I’m not an expert in anything. I have no credentials. So if you don’t agree with me there is no reason to get your bloomers in a twist. Arguing with me in the comments section won’t further your belief system. I encourage you to write your own blog post. You’ll reach more people.

It is my belief. My opinion. I’m not going to back it up with “proof” or quote chapter and verse. If people get it and agree with me, great. If they don’t, I’m not going to argue with them.

Jesus says “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10:14)

Either you get it or you don’t.

My view of God is bigger than a book. My view of God is bigger than any denomination or creed. My view of God isn’t locked down to any one belief system. God is bigger than all of that.

“The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” – Lao Tzu.

If you feel a need to argue and debate, stop. Think. Why are you so upset about this? What makes you feel like you have to fight these ideas?

Is it perhaps that deep down you are afraid I’m right?

The beginning of awakening is heralded by just such a struggle.