Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: The Bible

The armour of God

As best as I can understand it, the theme of the Old Testament is that God created mankind and placed us on this earth with a great purpose in mind. There are hints, but only hints, that part of that purpose was that we would be a testimony of His love and kindness to the angels that had rebelled. Many times God appeared on earth, in human or angelic form, and talked with those who were endeavouring to accomplish His purpose. He guided and supported them with many manifestations of His power and glory. But in the end it was evident that mankind was not strong enough, or wise enough, to do what God expects of us.

The theme of the New Testament is that God never expected us to do it in our own strength and wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us a way of life that looks a lot like weakness. Jesus Himself submitted to the outrages of those who were powerful according to the measure of this world, and overthrew them by the power of love and forgiveness. The apostle Paul saw how the power of God could only work in us when we are weak, and said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

We often speak of the armour of God as described by Paul in Ephesians chapter six. Do we realize that this armour is only effective when we lay down our own armour? Isn’t this the significance of David taking off Saul’s armour and laying it aside before he went out to meet the giant? He told Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”

Goliath saw nothing but a sling in David’s hand, but David was clad with the whole armour of God, invisible to human eyes, yet more powerful than any weapon of human warfare. We are powerless against the giants of our day if we face them in our own strength and expect God to provide a little supplementary force. The message of the New Testament is that we must put off every vestige of human strength and trust only in God’s strength.

How to read the Bible

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day, my father often talked bout things he read in it. We attended a church, the Anglican Church of Canada, where every service had a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, and several other passages from the Bible were spoken in unison by the congregation. I becam an altar boy and assisted the minister in communion services. It was in this setting that I first heard the call of God.

And yet, there was tension in our home, inconsistencies in the church, and in all the other churches around us. These things, plus what we were being taught in school and the books I read in my later teens, caused doubts to grow. Finally I abandoned altogether the Bible, Church and Christianity.

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Life was chaotic, without meaning or purpose. In my mid twenties I began to read the Bible for myself. After a few months, I became aware that every part of the book was linked to everything else in the book. It was one book. I found myself backed into a corner where I would have to reject the whole book, or accept it all as God’s truth. That was when God called me the second time and I prayed a spontaneous prayer for perhaps the first time in my life.

It took several months for me to grasp that the direction of my life had changed at that point and that what had happened to me was what Christians called being born again.

I have continued to read the Bible as a single book. I have read it through a number of times, in both English and French. At the very least I read a complete book of the Bible, reading small portions each day. Sometimes I have found it helpful to read a book all the way through at a single setting. That is what the writer expected us to do, isn’t it?

We can’t grasp the fulll meaning of any Bible passage if we separate it from the rest of the Bible. Just reading the highlights here and there is like playing hopscotch over the surface of the Bible and never really grasping what is going on.

I most emphatically do not believe that the Bible should be treated as a series of morality tales. That usually, perhaps always, results in a distorted idea of what was happening. The Bible was not written to teach us about God and how to live a successful life. The Bible is given to us as a personal message from God to lead us to know Him personally. When we truly know Him, He wants to direct our lives in the way that will honour Him.

That way will not be the way we our own inclination would take us. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable at times, or worse. But it is the way that gives joy that we could never experience in any other way.

The use and abuse of dictionaries

Some folks scrutinize the dictionary for abstruse locutions to titillate the cerebral functions of those who peruse their literary endeavours.

This sentence is sticky in a negative way. Most readers will get stuck before they reach the end. That doesn’t matter, the sentence doesn’t have much to say. But there are people who believe that if you have something important to say, you must use words that sound important.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God

This sentence, the first verse of John’s gospel, is sticky in a good sense: it sticks in the memory. Only one word has more than one syllable, yet it will take a lifetime to plumb the depths of this sentence.

The title page of the 1611 Bible translation says: “Appointed to be read in churches.” Four hundred years ago appointed meant just what it sounds like: sharpened to a point. The translators were men of great learning, they knew words, their meaning and how best to use them. They crafted a translation that uses small words to convey big meanings in a way that is most effective when read aloud. The words are remembered with no conscious attempt to memorize them.

In a workshop during a writer’s conference, the group leader asked us to write a list of our five favourite books. Many of us had the dictionary on our list, usually near the top. That was a sure sign that I was in the company of writers. Most of us do not read the dictionary to find words to befuddle our readers, we are looking for the right word to make the meaning plain.

The dilettante, one who writes to amuse himself, uses big words, and lots of them, to say very little. The serious writer uses the fewest and smallest words possible to say something meaningful.

Who was “John the Revelator”?

It has become common in some Christian circles to speak of the writer of the book of Revelation as being “John the Revelator.” Who was this guy?

This nom de plume seems to have originated with German Bible scholars of the 19th century who approached the Bible as literature, simply a series of writings produced by human understanding and imagination. For instance, in studying the book of Daniel, they concluded there must have been two authors. The first six chapters were no doubt written by a man named Daniel who lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. But the rest, especially chapter eight which contains a thinly veiled description of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the division of his kingdom into four parts and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes, could not possibly have been known by this Daniel who had lived centuries before the events he described. Therefore there must have been a second “Daniel” who wrote after those events.

After studying the book of Revelation, they concluded that the writer had done a masterful job of blending elements of Daniel and Ezekiel with current events. He had spun a wonderful yarn, but they had no idea who the writer could be. He called himself John, but they could not connect him to anyone named John who was known to have lived in that time period. It could not be the apostle John, for his writing style and choice of words did not match those found in the gospel and epistles of John the apostle. So why not just call him “John the Revelator”?

I suppose that all makes sense to those who do not believe in a God who had any part in the events described in the Bible, or in the writing of it. For those who believe that God was very much involved in all of that, there are immense problems with the idea of “John the Revelator.”

The first verse of the book of Revelation identifies it as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which . . . was signified by his angel unto his servant, John.” This revelation was given to John, not by John, therefore it cannot be correct to speak of him as “the Revelator.”

Secondly. if we believe that John actually saw Jesus as he is described in chapter one, standing in the midst of seven candlesticks, his feet glowing as molten brass, his eyes as flames of fire and a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth, it is not hard to believe that his writing style would change.

If we believe that John the apostle actually saw everything he records in the Revelation, it is entirely inappropriate to follow the lead of unbelieving scholars and call him “John the Revelator.” Why don’t we just call him “the Apostle John”?

The story arc

Have you ever read a book which follows the life of a main character, yet there doesn’t seem to be a story? This character does a variety of things, things good and bad happen to him or her, but they are just disconnected happenings without a point. Evidently, the writer had no idea how to fit it all into a story arc.

The story arc is the backbone of the story. The story begins with a central character who is facing some kind of trouble. He tries to find a way out of this trouble, but makes it worse. He continues to struggle to find a way to overcome this trouble, but it just compounds itself and gets worse and worse until it seems there is no possible way out. Finally, the central character gets hold of himself, faces his own weaknesses which have hindered him all along, faces the problem with courage he never had before and is victorious. The character has grown, the problem is overcome, and we have a story that grips our interest from start to finish.

This is not a newfangled modern concept. The stories in the Bible are prime examples of the story arc.

Moses is born in a time when Pharaoh has decreed that Israelite boy babies should not be allowed to live. His mother abandons him, but with a little help from his sister he is rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and reunited with his mother until he is weaned. He grows up to be a prince of Egypt. Josephus tells us that he became a brilliant military commander. At the age of 40 his mind turns to the distress of the Israelites. He tries to help, but finds his help is not appreciated. But now he has crossed a line and can no longer stay in Egypt.

He flees to Midian and connects with a Midianite priest and shepherd. He marries this man’s daughter and spends the next 40 years caring for his father-in-law’s sheep in the Sinai peninsula. It seems that he keeps in sporadic contact with his brother and sister and is aware of the increasing oppression of the Israelite people. Then God appears to him in the burning bush and calls him to go back to Egypt to lead the Israelite people to freedom.

Moses balks at God’s call, claiming to be slow of speech. In the circumstances, the simplest explanation is that Moses could barely speak the Hebrew language. He had learned a little when he was very young, but never enough that the Israelites would believe that God had sent him to deliver them from bondage. God insisted and Moses went, with the support of his brother Aaron.

Moses has no difficulty speaking to Pharaoh and soon learns Hebrew so that he is no longer dependent on Aaron as his interpreter. But his repeated requests to let the Israelites go only increases Pharaoh’s oppression of them. The plagues of Egypt do nothing to make things better, until the death angel slays the firstborn of every Egyptian family. Then Pharaoh tells the people to go, and they get as far as the Red Sea which they have no means of crossing with all their people, possessions and livestock.

Pharaoh changes his mind and leads his army in hot pursuit. Here are the Israelites, trapped between the sea and an army with murder on its mind. Then God intervenes, placing a thick cloud between the Egyptians and Israelites and opening a passage through the Red Sea. The people walk through on dry land, with a wall of water on each side. Then God takes away the cloud and the enraged army charges after the Israelites. The wheels fall off their chariots and there is confusion and tumult. When the whole army is in the seabed, God lets the walls of water collapse, drowning the whole army. Moses has led the Israelites to freedom.

That is the classic story arc. Now, the Israelites were people just like us and one happy ending was not the end of the story. The Bible is full of story arcs like this. In fact, the Bible as a whole is one big, overarching story arc.

The stories in the Bible are about real people, people who are a bewildering mixture of strength and weakness, just like you and me. These stories reveal how God can use such weak, failure-prone people to accomplish His purposes. They are inspiring stories. And they are the ideal examples for us to study if we wish to learn how to write a gripping story.

Understanding the language of the Bible

There is a good possibility that using a dictionary of the English language will muddy the waters when it comes to trying to understand a word used in the Bible. The word science found in 1 Timothy 6:20 is a case in point. The Greek word here translated science is gnosis, which in all its 28 other appearances in the New Testament is translated knowledge. That is what it means in this verse also. Science is a word of French origin, derived from the verb scier – to know. In French, science simply means knowledge and that was its original meaning in English. The meaning has shifted in English over the past 400 years, but to understand 1 Timothy 6:20 we need to go back to its original meaning.

Image by Robert C from Pixabay 

Here is what Adam Clarke says on this verse:

And oppositions of science falsely so called – Και αντιθεσεις της ψευδωνυμου γνωσεως·
And oppositions of knowledge falsely so named. Dr. Macknight’s note here is worthy of much attention: “In the enumeration of the different kinds of inspiration bestowed on the first preachers of the Gospel, 1Co_12:8, we find the word of knowledge mentioned; by which is meant that kind of inspiration which gave to the apostles and superior Christian prophets the knowledge of the true meaning of the Jewish Scriptures. This inspiration the false teachers pretending to possess, dignified their misinterpretations of the ancient Scriptures with the name of knowledge, that is, inspired knowledge; for so the word signifies, 1Co_14:6. And as by these interpretations they endeavored to establish the efficacy of the Levitical atonements, the apostle very properly termed these interpretations oppositions of knowledge, because they were framed to establish doctrines opposite to, and subversive of, the Gospel. To destroy the credit of these teachers, he affirmed that the knowledge from which they proceeded was falsely called inspired knowledge; for they were not inspired with the knowledge of the meaning of the Scriptures, but only pretended to it.” Others think that the apostle has the Gnostics in view. But it is not clear that these heretics, or whatever they were, had any proper existence at this time. On the whole, Dr. Macknight’s interpretation seems to be the best.

Four women named Mary, three men named James

I suppose there has always been a fashion in names. When I was a boy in school there were three Roberts in one classroom. To our teachers we were Bob, Bobby and Robert; to our classmates we were Bob, Professor and Goofy. I was Professor, I must have been a know-it-all. Goofy was the class comedian; in the midst of a serious discussion he would come out with an off-the-wall remark that would crack up the whole room. The teachers did their best to pretend they were not amused, but even they could not help smiling at times.

Years later, while working in an auto parts factory, there were often three Bob’s out on the floor. Bob Wolfgram was a shift supervisor, Bob Wickenheiser an electrician, and Bob Goodnough was from the quality assurance department. When Bob was paged over the PA system, we had to listen carefully to get the last name.

And back in my younger years all the nice girls were named Joan. At least it seemed that way to me, though I did have a couple of female cousins who were not named Joan and who I thought were pretty nice. I believe Joan was the most popular name for girls in that era.

Getting to the subject at hand, it can seem confusing to sort out all the Mary’s mentioned in the gospels. The name was popular because Miriam was one of the most prominent ladies in the Old Testament. In Hebrew the name was spelled Myriam or Miryam; it became Maria in the transition to Greek and Latin and is spelled Maria, Marie or Mary in most European languages.

The first lady we encounter in the New Testament is Mary, the virgin who was espoused, but not yet married, to Joseph and who became the mother of Jesus. Then there is Mary, the wife of Alpheus (also spelled Cleophas or Clopas), Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene.

There is no indication in the Bible that Mary remained a perpetual virgin. Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son. That plainly indicates that a normal conjugal relationship began after the birth of Jesus and that he was the eldest among the children of Joseph and Mary.

Mary, the wife of Alpheus, is sometimes called Salome, and John 19:25 states that she was the sister of Mary, the wife of Joseph. They both had sons named James and Jude (or Judas). Those who hold to a doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary take verses like Matthew 13:55 to refer to the children of the other Mary and Alpheus. To this Adam Clarke comments: “Why should the children of another family be brought in here to share a reproach which it is evident was designed for Joseph, the carpenter; Mary, his wife; Jesus, their son; and their other children?”

Jesus was a frequent guest in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with spikenard (John 11:2 and 12:3). This should not be confused with the incident recorded in Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:s and Luke 7:37, of a woman anointing the head of Jesus. This anointing also took place in Bethany, but a few days later in the home of Simon, the Pharisee, and the woman is not named.

Neither should the woman in the latter anointing be confused with Mary of Magdala. Nor should we assume that Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute or a very sinful woman. The scribes and pharisees would surely have made such accusations against her if there were any grounds for doing so. All the information we have of her indicates that she was a respectable woman of some wealth, Jesus had cast seven evil spirits out of her and that she was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.

James in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek form of Jacob (Yaakov in Hebrew), the father of the Israelite people. There are three men named James in the gospels and the early church. The first is James, the brother of John. He became the first leader of the church in Jerusalem. James, the brother of our Lord, remained a skeptic during the life of Jesus, but became a believer after the resurrection. He was the second leader of the church in Jerusalem after the first James was murdered by Herod. It is this James who wrote the epistle of James. James the less, son of Alpheus and Mary Salome was also one of the apostles of our Lord.

In the beginning

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Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

The Bible begins with the earth in total darkness and covered with water and ends with a new earth which has no sea and no night. (Genesis 1:2; Revelation 21:1 and 22:5) Everything that comes between is there to tell us how to get from the first place to the last.

Darkness is where the devil and his angels lurk, to capture the souls of men and women and lead them away from God. It is where evil works are done, hidden from the light of day. The sea symbolizes continual change, tumult and confusion.

On the first day of creation, God created light and separated light from darkness, day from night. This was not the natural light of the sun, moon and stars; God did not create them until the fourth day. This first light was the light of God that permits us to discern between good and evil.

The second day God lifted the fog that hid the surface of the earth, dividing the waters in the clouds above the surface of the earth from the waters that covered the earth’s surface. The space between He called heaven, or sky.

On the third day, God caused the dry land to appear out of the waters and called the dry land Earth and the waters he called Sea. Then He caused plants and trees to appear upon the dry land.

The fourth day God created the sun, moon and stars; the fifth day he populated the sea, the earth and the sky with living things and the sixth day He created the first man and woman.

The account in the first chapter of Genesis tells us that God called the light good, the dry land good and everything He created subsequently He called good. The first verses of Genesis 1 do not record God called darkness or the sea good. Yet verse 31, at the end of the sixth day, says that God saw everything that He had made and it was very good.

Adam and Eve lived in the best of all possible worlds. It was a place of surpassing beauty, abundance and peace. Yet very soon Eve encounters the serpent who tempts her to question God’s wisdom and benevolence. How could such a thing happen?

The spiritual realm where God and the angels dwell existed before the events in Genesis. We gather from scattered bits of information in the Bible that a terrible thing happened before the beginning of time. Lucifer, one of the greatest of the angels, challenged God for leadership. One third of the angels supported Lucifer. The Bible says there was war in heaven.

We do not know just when this happened, but it resulted in a division in the spiritual realm, Lucifer and his angels were cast out of heaven. Now there are two spiritual realms, the realm of light where God dwells and the realm of darkness where Satan and his angels dwell.

After Creation Satan moved the battleground between the powers of light and darkness to the earth. He tempted Eve, she and Adam disobeyed God, and He made them leave the earthly paradise. Ever since that time mankind have longed to regain their home in Paradise, and Satan has continually sown confusion about how they can do that.

Exegesis vs Eisegesis

(First posted six years ago)

I know some people will see this title and will already have a pretty good idea of what I am going to say. Others may wonder why I am using such fancy words. I hope you will all bear with me, read the post and feel free to comment.

In layman’s terms, exegesis is what is happening when we search the Scriptures to find out what God is saying to us. Eisegesis, on the other hand,  is what is happening when we come to the Scriptures knowing already what we want them to say and search for verses to bolster our position. I hope I don’t have to tell you on which side I want to be.

There are several reasons why we might want to read into the Scriptures the beliefs we already hold. One is that we have been taught certain things in our denominational tradition and we very much want them to be true. Thus we select verses that seem to support this position, most likely taking them out of context, and ignore those verses that seem to say something else.

Another, more subtle, reason is that we may be afraid of being deceived if we just open ourselves to what we read in the Word of God. Much better to have a pre-established framework of belief and read only those portions of Scripture that seem to be in accord with that framework. The danger is that, even if that framework is completely true, we will not be fed by reading the Bible in this way.

I don’t believe that we will be deceived if we come to the Bible with an open mind and heart, genuinely desiring that God would reveal to us the truth that we need to know at each stage of our spiritual journey. It is important to read the whole Bible and to read it prayerfully. The things that seem to be contradictory will all make sense if we do not isolate one passage of Scripture from the rest.

Years ago, a man I worked with would often approach me with questions about Bible passages. As we discussed them, it was clear that he  understood clearly what the Bible was saying. He told me that he had been converted in his later youth and had been fearful of being deceived when reading the Bible, as he was hearing so many contradictory views. So each time he picked up the Bible he would pray that God would protect him from deception and reveal His truth to him. It was evident from our discussions that God had answered his prayers.

The sad part of the story is that he had fallen into sin and was no longer following what he knew to be true. One day he did something at work that got him fired. He moved far away and I never saw him again.Still today I believe his approach to the Bible was right. So much of the religious confusion of our day could be resolved if Christians everywhere would just open their hearts and minds to what God is saying to them in His Word, and then be obedient to what is revealed to them.

Glossary of unfamiliar words in the AV (KJV)

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These are words that have shifted in meaning since 1611 or are no longer in general use. The list is not complete and probably not error free. I would be happy for suggestions from readers.

Words of Anglo-Saxon or Old Norse origin

anon – at once
cattle – domestic livestock. Small cattle – sheep and goats. Large cattle – bovine animals simply called cattle nowadays.
corn – cereal grain of any kind except that which is nowadays called corn.
flesh – the edible parts of animals, today called meat.
hap – chance, root of happen, perhaps, mishap, happenstance, etc.
haply – perhaps
happy – fortunate
kine – bovine cattle
let – to hinder, prevent
lewd – ignorant
lively – full of life, strong
make – to do
meat – food of any kind
neesing – sneezing
outlandish – foreign
quick – alive
rereward – rearguard
shamefaced – was originally shamefast and has nothing to do with the face; means held back by shame, that is embarrassment at open displays or mentions of subjects that should be private
silly – innocent, simple
sometime – once
stay – support
trow – suppose, believe
wit, wist, wot, etc – obsolete verb. To wit – to know,
world – used in AV to translate two Greek words
kosmos refers to the physical world, physical things of the world and all the people of the world (Mt. 13:38; 16:26; Mr. 16:15; Joh. 1:9-10; Joh. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:27-28; 1 John 2:15-17)
aion often refers to the prevailing thinking in any given era. (Romans 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:20; 2:6; 2:8; 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 6:12.)

Words of French or Latin origin

amiable – lovely
ancients – elders
appointed – to set in order, arrange. The original meaning of appointer in French is to sharpen to a point. “Appointed to be read in churches” in the subheading of the AV means that this translation was edited to be pleasing to the ear and easy to remember when read aloud.
artillery – bow and arrows
communicate – to share, literally to make common. In the Bible means the sharing of the necessities of life, not of words
comprehend – include, enclose
confusion – ruin, destruction
conversant among – dwelling with
conversation – conduct, does not refer to spoken words.
curious – artful, embroidered
declare – explain, make clear
degree – a step, or a rank
device – design, purpose
discover – uncover
dispensation – stewardship, administration, distribution
divers – different
doctor – teacher
enlarge – to set at large, to set free
equal – just, right
expect – to wait
fervent – burning
furniture – equipment
grisled – grey in colour
honest – honourable
impotent – without power or strength
incontinent – unrestrained
instant – urgent
judge – to condemn
justify – to acquit
mess – a dish of food
nephew – grandson
notable – conspicuous
particularly – in detail, one by one
peculiar – not being shared with others, private property
persecute – to pursue
port – gate
pottage – something cooked in a pot, a stew of vegetables, sometimes with meat
presently – immediately
reprove – disapprove
schoolmaster – not a teacher, but a slave whose duty was to ensure that children got to school
several – separate
strait – narrow, small, strict
translate – transfer, move from one place to another
unequal – unjust
usury – interest paid for use of money lent( did not imply excessive)

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