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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why the Gospels are History (podcast)

As we approach Easter, Christians will get inundated with media specials trying to proclaim the "lost" story of the real Jesus. But they have it wrong. Listen in to all four parts of this new podcast series  as we examine why the Gospel accounts are completely trustworthy as reliable sources of ancient history.

Subscribe to Come Reason's Podcast via iTunes or RSS feed.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Maybe Our Churches Need More Comic Books

A lot of believers shy away from theology and worldview discussions. They all seem so heady and boring. A lot of people don't feel "smart enough" to engage in wrestling with issues of theology. Others feel the whole thing is too abstract. That's why it should come as no surprise how researchers from Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research found evangelical Christians hold to some heretical beliefs. In a recent study, 70% of those who would be defined as evangelical agreed with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God.1 That's a heresy that separates Christians from non-Christian sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.

So, yes, theology is a big deal. But sometimes it isn't the concept that's difficult or boring; I find a lot of people are interested once we're in a conversation about theological issues. It may be the presentation that's problematic. If we added a bit of fun into our question, it may become more engaging.

Would Nightcrawler be blue in Heaven?

As a recent example, I offer a question a friend asked me the other day on Twitter: "in his glorified body, would Marvel's Nightcrawler still be fuzzy & blue?" For those unfamiliar, Nightcrawler is a character from the Marvel X-Men franchise, all of which are defined as genetic mutants that give them super abilities. One byproduct of Nightcrawler's (his given name is Kurt Wagner) mutation is his decidedly unhuman-like appearance: blue fur, three digits on each hand, and a tail among other things.

Here's the thing, though. When we start thinking through the question, we begin to learn something about what it means to be made in the image of God. For example, if Kurt's mutation is a genetic defect, either natural like the skeletal dysplasia that causes dwarfism or environmental, like the damage thalidomide inflicted on developing babies, then one may assume it is a consequence of sin. When the heavens and earth are renewed (2 Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1), those consequences will be removed (Rom. 8:21). I believe one can infer from these passages that thalidomide babies or those suffering from dwarfism will have perfectly healthy bodies as they would have been without their afflictions.

There's another possibility. What if this "mutation" is given to Kurt by design? In other words, what if it isn't a bug but a feature? For example, height doesn't run in my family. I'm only 5'6". I don't at all expect to be 6 feet tall in my resurrection body. My height has been given to me by God and it has contributed to the person I am today. If Kurt's blue, fuzzy appearance falls into that kind of category, then one would expect him to be blue and fuzzy for eternity!

Of course, one of the benefits of the new creation is that people won't be so shallow as to judge others by their physical appearance first. We will relate to one another in perfect relational love (John 17:20-21) and we will be "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We will see one another much more like the way God sees us.
The question isn't as strange as it first appears. In the comics, Wagner is actually a Roman Catholic priest and holds to orthodox positions on salvation and redemption. Making the connection from Wagner reading "I am the Resurrection and the Life" to "what kind of resurrection body would this individual have if he really existed" is a small step.

What Does This Mean for Me?

These are the kinds of thoughtful discussions one can engage in even starting with a "silly" question. But we don't have to stop even there. Here are few more thoughts given the framework I've laid out above: how does something like plastic surgery fit into one's resurrected body? If surgeries are corrective, then they fall into the former category. That may not be the case if they're simply trying to fit some current standard of beauty, though. Just as I don't believe I'll be six foot tall in heaven, I find it hard to hold that someone's breast augmentation would become a permanent part of their anatomy. As I said, I don't think the physical will be the primary way we judge one another. But then, what does that say for tattoos?

I'll let the reader wrestle with those issues. I do want to encourage you to think about ways you might be able to make theology a bit more fun by asking "silly" questions. You might get a surprisingly good conversation out of it!


1. Lindgren, Caleb. "Evangelicals' Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Taking the Bible Literally is One Way of Abusing the Bible

"Do you take the Bible literally?" I've been asked that question countless times, usually by atheists or skeptics, but sometimes by others who want to understand my point of view. But like most questions about important things, this one is a little over-simplified and unclear. Much of the confusion comes in from the use of the words "take" and "literal."

In asking whether I take the Bible literally, what is it the questioner actually wants to know? Do I hold to a literal understanding of every sentence in Scripture? If that is his question, my answer is definitely no. But that doesn't mean that I don't hold the Bible as inspired, truthful, or authoritative. It doesn't mean that I believe there are mistakes in the Bible. I don't think there are. What it means is, just like any other important text, I must seek to understand the meaning the writers intended to get across.

For example, I once received a response from an atheist to my article "How Do I know the Bible is REALLY from God?" who said the Bible cannot be true by citing Psalm 58:8, which reads "Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime." He claimed this shows a scientific error in the Bible, since we know that snails don't really dissolve as they travel. Of course, my interlocutor was wrong. The Psalms are a collection of Hebrew poetry and as such one should expect them to use imagery and metaphor to make a larger point. It seems pretty evident that even ancient peoples without laboratories would be clever enough to know that snails don't actually dissolve.

In taking this verse literally, the critic actually abused the text. He tried to make it mean something the author never intended. If you doubt this, then start your stopwatch the next time your spouse tells you that he or she will be there "in a minute" and chastise them if they hit 61 seconds or more. Such actions disrespect the person making the statement.

Literalism verses Symbolism

Perhaps the questioner doesn't mean one must take every colloquialism or figure of speech as literal. Perhaps they are asking whether I take the Bible to be understood as literally versus symbolically. But this simply moves the problem back one level. Symbols are part of the Bible's makeup. The "talking snake" that atheists like to deride in Genesis chapter three is explained to be a symbolic reference to Satan in Revelation 12:9. In fact, even the most conservative of Biblical scholars readily acknowledge that Revelation is awash in symbols pulled from other Old Testament books. Similarly, Jesus primarily used parables to teach people about the Kingdom of God and how they should act.

To say that I take the Bible literally instead of symbolically doesn't clarify whether I believe Jesus has commanded to help only people who I find beaten in the street like the Good Samaritan or whether I take his teaching in a broader context. I must place it against all I know about Jesus and what he taught, the context in which he presented the teaching, and the type of literature in which it is presented. Since the Gospels are a form of ancient biography, I can believe that Jesus literally taught the concept of helping even those you see as enemies, but he used a form of symbolism to do so.

Taking the Bible Seriously

So, how do I answer when someone asks "Do you take the Bible literally?" I respond by saying "I take the Bible seriously." I want to know what the authors of those books intended to convey. In want to understand their teaching and learn from it. If they intended the account to be historical, then I will take it as history. If they intended it as metaphorical, I want to take it that way. In all, I want to respect the text and understand it to the best of my ability. That's the proper approach.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Understanding the Bible Requires Humility

The Bible is a unique work in human history. It isn't simply one book, but a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors in at least three languages over some 1500 years or so focusing on some of the most important moral and spiritual questions of all time.

One would think such a collection would be utterly incompatible; ideas and precepts would contradict each other on every page. Certainly, skeptics like to make such charges, but some Christians do, too. Take the prohibitions on homosexual relations as an example. In a recent discussion, Brian McLaren holds the passages banning homosexual sex no longer apply. He feels while the admonition was appropriate for those of the first century world, the modern nature of homosexual orientation and unions are something different and therefore the overarching principle of love should take precedence. McLaren pointed to other passages where Jesus seemed to also overturn scriptural commands, such as not working on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8).

Andrew Wilson, who engaged McLaren, disagreed. Wilson holds that Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath in the Matthew passage restores the original intent of the command. It doesn't change it. I tend to agree with Wilson, here. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was correcting the deviations that had snuck into the religious teaching of the day. Jesus is saying that the opinions of the Pharisees were misunderstanding the admonitions. He needed the people to learn the correct lesson.

A Proper Approach to the Bible

The thing I liked the most about the discussion is how Wilson clarifies the way each reader should approach the biblical text. Given there is so much content placed in different genres and written across different times and cultures, there can be places where one would ask “how should I understand this?” Wilson offers a method when reading the scriptures, which is to apply humility four different ways:
  • Humility toward Community– We must first ask how other good, stable Christians have understood such passages. People have a tendency to slant or bend the ideas they receive towards their own experiences, but by asking others one can mitigate such tendencies and pool their common understanding into a more expansive view. This doesn't always mean communities settle on the right understanding, but it is a good first step in seeking a more reliable comprehension of the thought being conveyed.

  • Humility towards Catholicity-Beyond just the local community, one should also ask how Christians across all cultural spectrums would see the passage in question. Obviously, in the antebellum South, slave owners were wont to take Paul's command in Ephesians 6:5-9 as justification for slavery. However, others, such as William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement explained how chattel slavery was antithetical to Christianity. If one were to humbly listen to those voices outside their primary circle, they could come away with a new and more profound understanding of difficult biblical passages.

  • Humility towards Orthodoxy-While current points of view are important, there is a basis of orthodox beliefs against which all biblical interpretations should be measured. The early church fathers labored incredibly to ensure they understood the primary aspects of Jesus and the Apostles' teachings. Over the course of decades and sometimes even centuries, these core beliefs were honed to precision. Therefore, when one comes across a passages that isn't as clear, it is incumbent upon him or her to make sure such beliefs do not undermine these essential positions of the faith.

  • Humility towards Scholarship-Lastly, one must realize there's a whole lot about a text he or she may not know. For example, how slavery in the ancient world of Paul had a much wider range of experience than the slavery practiced in the South. Scholars explore the ancient language, the cultural background, the types of uses of words, and the opinions of other scholars to come to their conclusions. A truth-seeker must be able to include their voices when struggling with a difficult section of scripture.
The person reading the Bible is well served through this practice of humility. Realize, humility doesn't mean one should de facto accept the word of the community or of scholars, etc. It does, however, give appropriate credence to them and one's mind will be opened to possibilities that may not have otherwise been considered.

Whenever I speak with skeptics, humility towards the text seems to be the biggest thing they're missing. They want to believe passage X proves their point. Their stance may give them assurance, but it ultimately won't further the truth.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Let's Change our Message on Sex (video series)

We live in a sex-saturated culture, one which warps our and our children's understanding. Yet, the church hasn't done a very good job in expressing exactly what the Christian position on sex really is. We hear that sex is bad... unless it is confined to marriage. But that sends a confusing message to our kids. Instead, Christians should understand sex as a reflection of worship.

In this three part series, Lenny explains some of the subtle and not so subtle ways we've come to think about sex and why the standard Christian message of sex as "good when married, but bad any other time" is flawed. He then shows how the most consistent parallel the Bible draw to sex is not something that's dirty, but something that's holy. Finally, Lenny explores how changing our focus of sex from fun to holy changes the dynamic in relationships for husbands, for wives and elevates the calling for those who remain single.

Check out this provocative idea in the videos below:

Part 1 - Sending the Wrong Message

Part 2 - Sex as a Reflection of Worship

Part 3 - How Re-Messaging Sex Changes Relationships

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bible Promise Verses and Apologetics

Yesterday, I posted a short clip on how many people take the oft-quoted passage "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and apply it incorrectly. (Click here to see the video.) I also shared the post with a couple of online apologetics groups. A couple of people were confused on why I even bothered with this point. Why make a big point about something as seemingly small as using Philippians 4:13 to show that they can conquer their difficulties?

The reason is both important and relevant to apologetics. First, apologetics doesn't only concern believers defending their faith against non-believers. 1 Peter 3:15 is clear when it instructs us to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks. That "anyone" includes those inside the church who may not know as much as you or those who are mistaken in their use of scripture. Paul instructs Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Paul immediately follows this up by telling Timothy to correct errors that are being spread within the church, stating "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene."

The Problem with Misapplying Scripture

Of course, some may think that this is a bit of an over-reaction. How can a mis-applied verse on a Bible Promise calendar escalate to spreading like gangrene? The problem is twofold. First, there are those who may "claim" these verses and when they don't play out as they expect in really difficult times, they see it as evidence against the Christian faith. This happened en masse in the Great Disappointment of the Millerite movement of 1844, but I've spoken with those today whose Christian beliefs were more rooted in these feel-good promises than the hard task of working out one's salvation with fear and trembling. When they did face pressures, they felt these promises didn't deliver, and therefore Christianity was something of a bait and switch. Others may not leave the faith, but they question themselves or their standing in salvation.

Secondly, approaching the Bible with this kind of sound-bite exegesis is incredibly misleading and even dangerous. One of the biggest difficulties I have in sharing an orthodox Christian belief with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons is how they try and use the Bible to proof-text their beliefs. They abuse the text in the exact same way as the passage above by ripping it out of its larger context and isolating a verse or two so it can mean what they want it to mean instead of what the author intended. If Christians begin to take all of scripture as a series of verses that stand independently, how can we ever know what meaning the writers actually had in mind and whether this applies or not? Such misapplied Bible verses, even in the guise of providing encouragement, actually encourage the misuse of Scripture. If we chide the Mormons and JWs for doing this, we shouldn't do it either.

In all, I think it's important for Christians to be careful when using individual verses to support any belief. As I've shown before, sometimes people can sound really Christian and even say all the right slogans, but they may not even understand salvation. As believers and faith-defenders it is important we gently correct those who may misuse scriptures, lest they fall into a greater error. The video is one small step in that direction.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What Does the Bible Promise "I Can Do All Things" Really Mean?

Bible promises are very popular, with calendars, posters and inspirational quotes proliferating Christian stores. However, do those promises really mean what we think?

In this short video, Lenny demonstrates how taking a verse out of its context can distort the message the Scriptures actually convey.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What is Wisdom and How Can I Find It?

If you ever want to see how people can assume certain concepts, just ask a friend if they understand what the concept of time. Most would quickly respond, "Of course! Everyone knows what time is." Then ask them to give a definition of time that doesn't refer back to itself in some way (i.e. "Time is hours, minutes, and seconds. What are those? Measurements of …time.") Most people find this task extremely difficult, not because they don't have any concept of time, but because they haven't reflected specifically on what time is.1

While the example of defining time may be interesting, there are other, more important concepts that we also assume we know but don't necessarily understand clearly. Wisdom certainly fits that category. Over and over in the Bible, we are instructed to seek out wisdom, such as the passage in Proverbs 3:13-18:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.
This passage is indicative of how the scriptures encourage the gaining of wisdom. But there is a tendency among casual readers to assume that wisdom is the same thing as knowledge. Christians sometimes think that the command to get wisdom is basically becoming more familiar with the Bible. I don't think that's quite right. While knowledge is certainly a component of wisdom, the Bible seems to paint a fuller picture of wisdom than simply learning.

Making Wisdom Bigger than Knowledge

If one looks further in the book of Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and folly becomes clearer. Proverbs 5 begins, "My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." Notice the verbs the author uses: be attentive, keep, guard and incline. It isn't that the son doesn't know or realize relations with the forbidden woman is wrong. The proverbist is teaching knowledge isn't good on its own; it must be put into practice. The son needs to remind himself of what he knows and not deceive himself by acting on his feelings in a way contrary to knowledge.

Looking at it this way, I think we can get a much better idea of what wisdom really means. Wisdom is knowledge properly applied. It encompasses both informed thought and the outworking of that reasoning. It requires the student to understand not simply the commands of God, but his character. It means the student must develop his reasoning skills to make judgments on how to act in specific situations. It also means one must practice and develop discipline and self-control, just as the New Testament commands (1 Cor. 9:25, Gal. 5:23, 1 Pet. 4:7, 2 Pet. 1:6).

Wisdom Affects Your Walk

Once the Christian sees wisdom in this broader view, it will change his walk. Study and developing reasoning skills become as much an act of devotion as prayer and worship. These are necessary tools that the faithful believer must draw upon in his or her walk with Jesus. How can one properly apply the knowledge that has never been acquired?

As the proverbist counsels in Proverbs 4:7-9, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown." The best way to be wise is to understand what wisdom is, and then go out and get it. You've just taken the first step. Now, keep waking towards that prize.


1. For those who may be wondering, one can define time as "the succession of moments." Also, any idea of change implies the concept of time, since change requires a before state and an after state. This is why when people like Lawrence Kraus tries to point to quantum fluctuations to explain the existence of something rather than nothing, they fail, since time is one of the things needing explaining.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Are Christians not to Judge Non-Christians?

The command "Judge not lest ye be judged" is one of the most often quoted Bible passages. Less frequently cited but perhaps more applicable is the passage in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul tells the Christians to not judge non-Christians? What are we to make of these passages? In this short video, Lenny offers some clarity to how we should understand Paul's command in light of the examples we've received.

Image courtesy Andrew Hughey and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

"Where Two or Three are Gathered" Doesn't Mean What You Think" (video)

It's almost commonplace for church leaders and Christians in general to refer to Matthew 18:20, which says "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." They try to use this verse to prove that Jesus can be found in the fellowship of believers. However, in doing so, they are twisting the scriptures just as much as a Mormon or one of Jehovah's Witnesses do.

In this short clip, Lenny explains what Matthew 18:20 really means and why it's important to use the scriptures properly, especially in church settings.

Photo courtesy Grayson Akerly and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Does "Thou Shalt Not Judge" Really Mean? (video)

One of the most often quoted verses in the Bible is also one of the most misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike. Just what did Jesus mean when he commanded his followers not to judge in Matthew 7? Does this mean Christians cannot criticize any action by someone else? No; the command was focused on another idea prevalent in Jesus' day.

In this short video, Lenny explains how Jesus' listeners would have understood his words and how we can apply them today.

Image courtesy Jonathunder - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

How to Know God's Will For Your Life (video)

Have you ever wondered what God has prepared for your life? How can I be certain my desires match his plan? Do you want Him to use you like He did to the heroes in the Bible?

In this chapel devotion presented before a high school group, Lenny explains one way God prepares us for the calling He has for us.

Image courtesy Anne-Lise Heinrichs and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Did the New Testament Authors Know They Were Writing Scripture?

The New Testament is crucial to Christianity. It provides the basis of knowledge not simply for Jesus's life and ministry, but also for how we are to relate to God and order our lives. Of course, one of the primary drivers of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura or the authority of scripture alone. However, all Christian traditions look to scripture as authoritative in matters of faith and practice. All of Christendom shares this idea; it is only on the question of whether additional centers of authority exist where we differ.

Another point of agreement within Christianity is the make-up of the scriptures that form the New Testament canon. Those twenty seven books are also universally recognized as scripture. They were shared between churches to be rad to the congregations as instructive from the earliest days of the Christian faith. Even if a letter was addressed to a specific congregation and written to answer specific questions, such as 1 Corinthians, or specific problems like Galatians, all the churches would look to these writings as scriptural.

That brings up a question, though. Did the writes of these texts realize the would be used in such a broad way? Would Paul be horrified that a specific letter he sent to a specific group in Asia would also be applied by those in Rome? What about the 21st century church in America leveraging a text written for a first century middle-eastern culture? Just how aware were the writers of the New Testament that the letters and history they were composing would be looked to with the same authority as the Old Testament?

According to Peter Balla, the evidence shows they actually expected their writings to be used in this way. In his essay "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)," Balla notes that not only did the early church immediately apply the apostles' writings to their lives, but the apostles themselves instructed them to do so:
At some time in the first century Paul's letters were collected. We do not know when and who collected them first, but it is possible that at least some of them were collected and edited for publication by Paul himself. Perhaps the collecting occurred decades later, we do not know. It is known, however, that either in the first century, or in the second (when many scholars argue 2 Peter was written), the collection was held to be authoritative as it was put alongside other "scriptures," i.e., sacred writings of the Old Testament. In 2 Pet 3: 15– 16 we read: "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."

Paul clearly distinguishes between Jesus' authority and his own. However, through that very distinction we can see not only that he regarded Jesus' message as authoritative, but that he claimed authority for himself as well. In 1 Cor 7, this distinction appears repeatedly. In 1 Cor 7: 12 we read: "To the rest I say, not the Lord, . . ." but in verse 17 we learn that Paul himself had the authority to give instructions for the congregations: "This is my rule in all the churches." Even when Paul does not give rulings, just advice, he expects that because of God's grace and Spirit given to him the congregation will obey him. Verses 25 and 40 can be cited as examples: "Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy . . . and I think that I have the Spirit of God."

We can suppose that similar authority was claimed for all the epistles that were circulated as written by apostles. The authority of apostles stood behind those gospels which the early church held were written by apostles (Matthew and John) or by companions of apostles (Mark as Peter's companion, and Luke as Paul's). The Gospels were accorded authority not only because of their supposed authorship, but because of their content: they claimed to have reported events related to the coming of the Messiah, and his words and deeds.1
Balla explains that given the internal evidence and the way the texts were so quickly distributed among the early churches, the apostles absolutely knew they were writing scripture.

I think that knowledge actually lends credibility to their use. The Jewish background of the apostles means they held the Old Testament in very high regard. If their writings were being misappropriated as scripture while they were still alive, it seems implausible that they wouldn't take steps to stop the abuse, much in the way Paul sought to stop the Jewish rituals that the Galatian church sought to require. Instead, the apostles placed their writings on par with the Old Testament. This means they may have been trying to intentionally deceive the church, they may have been earnestly wring that they were wring scripture, or they were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce scripture. But the claim that the churches took as authoritative what was only meant as a local interaction is not open to us.


1. Balla, Peter. "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)." The Canon Debate. By Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002. Kindle. Kindle Locations 8382-8398

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Correcting the Idea We Must Avoid Every Form of Evil

1 Thessalonians 5:22 is a fairly popularly quoted verse. The King James Version's "Abstain from all appearance of evil" is probably the most well-known, but more modern translations, like the ESV's "abstain from every form of evil" are also familiar. Usually, those who quote the verse apply it to mean that a Christian shouldn't be found anywhere near any place or situation that seems to be sinful. Some have taken it even further, believing that any action that could be misconstrued as sinful by others should be avoided.

Such views are really misunderstanding the meaning of Paul's exhortation because they are ripping the verse out of its context. Often when I engage with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons I will have to correct their faulty understanding of a verse that they have taken as a stand-alone admonition, when it is actually more specific and more nuanced. We recognize that taking verses out of context is the wrong way to try and bolster their views. However, if it's wrong for the Mormons and JWs, it's wrong for Christians, too. Therefore, it becomes important to correct the faulty understanding of passages such as the one above.

Bible scholar Walt Russell has written a great explanation of the context in which the Bible student should take 1 Thess 5:22. He says:
1 Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's letter to a group of new Christians who have been persecuted by their fellow citizens in northern Greece for most of their six months in Christ. It is an adversarial context for the church, so Paul spends much of his time defending his church-planting team's integrity and actions in chapters 1-3. In chapters 4-5 ("the moral exhortation" section), he addresses five successive threats to the life of this body. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 is the fifth and final significant issue facing this fledgling church.

This last issue in vv. 12-22 deals broadly with the concerns that arise when the church gathers for her weekly assembly. Paul gives instructions about how to foster healthy body life in this context by rightly esteeming leaders (vv. 12-13), dealing sensitively with the varying needs of the saints (vv. 14-15), establishing a joyful assembly (vv. 16-18), and not quenching the ministry of the Holy Spirit in prophetic utterances (vv. 19-22).

Given the broader context, we are now ready to look at the immediate context for v. 22. Notice the logical flow of the argument about prophetic utterances in vv. 19-22:
  • "Do not quench the Spirit" (v. 19) (the general exhortation);
  • "Do not despise prophetic utterances (v. 20) (the specific negative aspect of the exhortation).
  • "But examine everything carefully" (v. 21) (the contrasting positive aspect of the exhortation);
  • "hold fast to that which is good" (v. 22) (what to do with good prophecies after examining);
  • "abstain from every form of evil" or "every evil form of utterance" (v. 23) (what to do with the evil prophetic utterances).
As is generally the case with Scripture, God and the human authors are very specific in their discussions. They seldom sprinkle broad moral sayings in free-standing fashion. By contrast, they usually speak in a closely-argued style, especially in the New Testament letters. Such is the case with 1 Thessalonians 5:22. By removing v. 22 from its very specific context, we abstract the language from its tightly reasoned moorings and create a much more general, vague concept.1
Russell goes on to note that if Christians were to abstain from all evil locations or people, it would severely hamper one's witnessing efforts. You could only seek to save those who came across your path in the "safe zones" instead of following Jesus's example of going where the sinners are. By having a proper understanding of verse 22, Christians can be free to go into those areas that most need Jesus in order to share Him with others. It has the added benefit of allowing the Christian to not live in a legalistic fashion, but make judgments on whether certain conditions could actually cause him or her to fall.

If you'd like to read more about how Christians have taken popular verses out of context, I recommend his book Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul.  Grab it. It will cange the way you read the Bible.


1. Russell, Walter. "'Avoid Every Appearance of Evil!' Toppling a Faulty Moral Pillar." The Good Book Blog. Biola University, 13 May 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
Image courtesy Tom Coates from London, United Kingdom [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Archaeology is Important for the Christian (video)

The Bible is unique among sacred texts in that it is set against a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? In this introductory video to the series, Lenny explains the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies, as well as how archaeology bolsters the faith of the believer.

Image courtesy Hans Splinter and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What Archaeology Can and Can't Do (video)

Archaeology has helped the biblical scholar put together a lot of pieces from the stories of the Bible. It has shown many places and events to be true. Yet, archaeology cannot be the silver bullet that proves God's existence or that the Bible is his inspired word.

In this short clip, Lenny outlines just how archaeology can illuminate the biblical accounts and why it isn't the last word on faith.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Making an Atheist by Listening to Echoes

In his article "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist," Mike Frederick Ziethlow tells his story of moving to disbelief. He recounts his tearful wedding vow, telling his wife "I love that God gave you to me." From there, it becomes only a matter of months until his interaction with social media let him to conclude two things: 1) people will believe anything, like a quote misattributed to Churchill, and 2)people will generally be uncritical to the extent of reinforcing their own biases.1 Ziethlow then concludes, "Once I realized I'm just as fallible as the next, liking things that confirm my beliefs, sharing things that echo my perspective, I understood how lies really do get halfway around the world while the truth remains pantless." It is from this framework that Ziethlow begins questioning the Christian faith he was given buy his parents, ultimately becoming an atheist.

Setting the Bible Up to Fail

I think the initial questions Ziethlow asks are worthy and should be asked by each person. One cannot live on the faith of one's parents; each person must seek out the truth for him or herself. What bothers me about Zeithow's story is how he proceeded to investigate the Christian faith. He admits that he didn't really know a lot about Christianity and he was "starting from scratch." So, he figures reading the Bible will sort it all out. However, he sets up the biblical text to fail even before he begins by creating a false dilemma. He recounts:
Now, starting from scratch, the first question I had was whether to take the Bible literally or metaphorically. If you are a literalist, fine — you trust the Word of God is inerrant. If you are a metaphorist, your faith may be "on sand." For example, which parts do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively? Earth created in six days? Talking snake? The dead rising? Unfortunately for metaphorists, the Bible is quite clear these things must be accepted, and that if you are "lukewarm" on the subject, He will spit you out. So literalism — trusting that the Word of God is all you need — is really the only logically defensible position for a religion that repeatedly claims as much.2
The stark either/or approach to literal or metaphorical text has never been advocated by the Bible or anyone who teaches the Bible. In fact, to read any text in such a way is to mangle the text itself. Even our modern day newspapers cannot be approached in such a wooden fashion. Just go to the Sports page of your local paper and you will see that in even this literal medium is replete with metaphors and hyperbole. Was that baseball team really torpedoed?3 Wouldn't that constitute an act of war? Aren't newspapers supposed to only deal in facts? If so, then why should I take anything as metaphorical when a paper is quite clear that it is a paper devoted to presenting news stories?

Dismissing a Childish Faith

Given this foundation, Zeithlow unsurprisingly finds his journey through the biblical accounts less than believable. He dismisses a young earth creation reading of Genesis, the global flood of Noah, and Joshua's long day as impossible because "laws in the observable universe tested time and again by science and physics would prove untrue." Notice two things here. First, a miracle is defined as an event that suspends the laws of science (physics being a sub-branch of the larger discipline), so Zeithlow's concern is demonstrably false. Miracles don't disprove the laws of nature, they are exceptions to them. Secondly, if Zeithlow would have consulted with those who know about biblical exegesis, he may have found out that there are good Christians who are divided as to what those passages really mean.

The primary problem with Zeithlow's approach is it isn't rational. In his article, he never states that he consulted with biblical scholars or even pastoral commentaries to uncover what the biblical text meant. Perhaps if he did he would have found out that the story of "a guy chopp[ing] up his recently-raped concubine and mailed her body parts all over the country" isn't commended but condemned in the book of Judges, a book that repeats the warning "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6. 21:25). Instead, all of Zeithlow's references and recommendations are of atheists who helped him move "from the Bible to science."

Listening to the Echo Chamber

One can see the irony here. Zeithlow has committed the very flaw that he condemned at the beginning of his piece. He confirmed his hunch that God wasn't real by liking people who confirmed that hunch and he shared those sources that echoed that perspective—the very problem he decried at the beginning of his article! There is no real investigation of the Christian faith, something that may take more effort than asking a few Facebook friends to help you out. In order to be fair, one should seek out the best arguments for a position, not simply straw men.

Given how Zeithlow describes Christianity, I would tell him I don't believe in such a faith either. My belief is much more mature, much more robust, and much more capable at handling issues he hasn't even brought up. I take its foundational texts not simply "literally" but seriously, seeking to understand the author's intent. If he is willing to investigate the true Christian faith, I'm more than willing to help point him to an adult understanding. Otherwise, it seems Zeithlow is the one caught with his pants down.


1. Ziethlow, Mike Frederick. "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist." Medium. A Medium Corporation, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015.
2. Ziethlow, 2015.
3. Digiovanna, Mike. "Angels Can't Complete White Sox Sweep after Fatal Fifth Inning." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015.
Image courtesy Nevit Dilmen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Can You Trust the Bible? (podcast)

Christians hold that the Bible is God's revealed word given to us. But critics argue that the Bible was written by men and changed over the years to suit their purposes. Is there a way to tell? In this podcast, Lenny Esposito demonstrates how we can have assurance that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What About Slavery in the Bible? (video)

"Why would a God of love allow the Israelites to won slaves, even giving them laws on ownership?" It seems to be a common objection by some who seek to demonstrate that the Bible is incoherent. However, as Lenny explains in this short video, the concept of slave in the Ancient Near East wasn't the same thing as it was in the pre-Civil War south. It was much broader, including serfdom and share-cropping type relationships.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Do We Defend Christian Values to Non-Christian Audiences?

In anticipation of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, I've been posting and teaching on how to address the issue with friends and family. One example is the recent video series I taught and posted on Facebook (which you can see here.) Most people are interested in ways of approaching this subject in a thoughtful way while countering the narrative that being against same-sex marriage laws somehow means Christians are bigoted. They see examples such as this ways to open discussion with others.

However, I did receive a few responses from people who wrote something to the effect of "All we need is the Gospel. Share the Word with them." I've run into such thinking before, with those who question the necessity of rigorous training in logic and apologetics. They think such things are "of men." They admonish me and other believers to simply let loose the "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17) to fight our battles.

How's That Working for You?

I think such talk is sincere but misguided. First of all, we live in a post-Christian culture. The Bible is not taken to be the final answer on issues such as same-sex marriage. That's why if I quote the Bible to a person who supports homosexual unions, it really doesn't sway them at all. In fact, many times it solidifies their stance since they see themselves as more modern and progressive than some 2,000 year-old book.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the changes of belief about this issue can quickly see my point. We've been offering Biblical admonition against homosexuality and same-sex marriage for over 30 years. Which way did the culture shift? Which way did the Church shift? According to a newly released Pew study, over 60% of Catholic and mainline Protestants support same-sex marriage.1 Even among Evangelicals, the support for same-sex marriage has DOUBLED in the last ten years.2 All this even though the scriptural admonitions against homosexuality are clear and have been discussed repeatedly, especially in churches.

In the words of Dr. Phil, "How's that workin' for ya?" I can answer that: it isn't.

Scripture is Not a Spell

While I do believe that the Christians who think quoting scripture is the proper way to face these questions are sincere, they are trying to make scripture into something that it is not. They think scriptures are some kind of secret weapon that cannot be resisted. They see it as a sort of mystical summons of the Holy Spirit who will magically change those with whom they're engaging; a few phrases that one only needs to voice in order to change people's hearts and minds.

But "the Word" is not a magical incantation and it's wrong to think of it that way. Such is an unbiblical view of scripture itself. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms lives. It is he would is responsible for our understanding our sinfulness and our need for Christ. But that doesn't mean the Spirit will reshape every unregenerate idea, even among believers. That's why Paul didn't quote scripture to the Athenians in Acts 17 when he witnessed to them. Instead, he used popular poets and thinkers they were familiar with to make his point. When Paul was held prisoner in Jerusalem, he didn't quote scripture to his captors, but appealed to Roman law (Acts 22:25) in order to escape flogging.

As Christians, we are to follow Jesus's command to be salt and light on the earth. Part of being salt is to stem the decay and corruption from evil. That's why Christians need to engage this issue. We need to arm ourselves with ideas that can resonate both inside the church and with nonbelievers. In matters of political consequences, such as abortion, we must be able to show thoughtful nonbelievers why the Christian position is the right one. We can only do that by knowing and presenting the facts of the issue at hand.


1. "Changing Views of Same-Sex Marriage." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Pew Research Center, 08 June 2015. Web. 25 June 2015.
2. "Changing Views of Same-Sex Marriage," 2015.
Image courtesy Mike Haufe and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) License.
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