Go and sin no more…

Let’s look at some more red letters today:

John 8:3-11

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.

When Jesus said to the woman in the above verses “Go and sin no more” what did he mean? When he said “neither do I condemn you” he was forgiving her past sins. He did that a lot so that was expected. But what about the next phrase? What did he mean? What it just a suggestion to the woman that he knew she couldn’t keep. Was he mocking her? Not unexpectedly I tend to take his words literally. He meant for the woman to quit sinning and therefore lead a moral life (whatever that is).

I know that St. Paul said we are not capable of  “sinning no more” but I choose to believe that Jesus thought otherwise. If he didn’t then his words above are without meaning.There are many Christians, who like St. Paul, who believe that stopping sinning is literally impossible no matter what Jesus commanded her to do. The ones who say this are constantly harping that we are all utterly miserable sinners and can do nothing but sin no matter who tells us to do otherwise. They think that everything comes from God and he doesn’t expect anything from us except total repentance. Therefore, they say, these words of Jesus were rhetorical at best.

I believe that when the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts we are expected to stop sinning as Jesus told the woman. Does that mean we are sinless from the time the Holy Spirit comes to us? Absolutely not! Yes our selfish nature at its very core is more inclined to sin than not. But with the power of Jesus, via the Holy Spirit, we more easily recognize our sins and make every attempt to lead a more righteous life. That is  even if it is not possible for us to completely stop sinning we should attempt to sin less tomorrow than we did today. We should do what Jesus says!

As a closing note I have always wondered what Jesus wrote in the sand in the above verses? Too bad the apostle John didn’t tell us. 🙂

Jesus and Forgiveness … Part 2.

Let’s continue on with our study of Jesus’ words about forgiveness. Last time we concentrated on Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins. This time we will look at what Jesus says about us forgiving others who sin against us. Let’s jump right into the red letters.

Mark 11:22-25

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Matt 18:32-35

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Luke 6:37-38

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Of course, one of the obvious other places where Jesus mentions forgiving others is in the most spoken prayer in Christianity and that is the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer we say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I have covered these words several times on this blog and in this sense I seem to take his words more literally than many “Literal and Inerrant” advocates. It is hard to take some other meaning to our forgiving others when Jesus repeatedly tells us otherwise.

These verses seem to say that there are pretty severe consequences for us not forgiving our neighbors when they sin against us. The last verse is pretty straight forward. The measure you use in forgiving others is what Jesus will use in forgiving you! This brings to mind the post I did about a month ago entitled “If God is Love where does hate come from?” The consequences of our lack of forgiving others is sometimes hate. As we know when hate takes over a person it is about as far from Jesus’ words of love as you can get.

Let’s close out this post with the same questions as the last one. What are the consequences of not forgiving others? Is it, despite our faith, an issue blocking us from heaven either permanently or for a period of time? I don’t know but and I don’t want to find out at the gates of heaven so I will do everything I can to forgive others so that Jesus will forgive me my many sins. I don’t want to rely on faith alone without actions to back it up. But then to me trying to live my life on this earth as Jesus taught us is almost as important as my eternity with our Heavenly Father. I believe earth is a staging area for heaven so that each of us can discover just where our place is to be in eternity. Or as some say it is to determine whether we are sheep or goats.  God didn’t put us on this earth to simply sit back and wait for our entrance to heaven. That sounds like a good topic for a future post so I will stop here. All praise and glory be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus and Forgiveness… (Part 1)

Let’s spend a couple of posts talking about Jesus and forgiveness. Many Christians frequently point to the words from St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.

They take those words to mean that there will be no judgment of Christians actions on that final day. Everyone who has faith will be automatically passed through the pearly gates no questions asked. They say our sins will not be held against us. Let’s get into the red letters on that issue. First let’s look at where Jesus forgives our sins, or maybe not! ( I have underlined some of the words below to point them out for further discussion.)

Acts 26:15-18

“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins

Matt 6:14-15

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

John 20:21-23

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Matt 12:31-32

And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

If there is no judgment then not forgiving someone their sins has no meaning. It would be the same thing as having a law but with absolutely not enforcement. This too is meaningless.

  • The first verse is when Jesus was talking to Paul after he had stricken him down on the road to Damascus. Jesus’ intent here was to teach us his ways and to guide us away from Satan (the darkness). I include it here as what most traditionally think about when they think of forgiveness. Jesus wants us to follow the light (Him) so that he can forgive us our sins.
  • The second and third verses above is after Jesus’ resurrection and most believe he was talking to the eleven apostles. He gave them the power to forgive sins or not to forgive sins.
  • The fourth verse is talking against the Holy Spirit (we recently covered this in our study of the Holy Spirit).

If we take Jesus’ word literally then just what does it mean when he says your sins are not forgiven or that you have not turned from darkness to the light? Does it mean that we are denied heaven? Does it mean that we will suffer some consequences of our acts after admittance to heaven? These are the types of questions seem to have many meanings to different people. I’m pretty sure that this is one of the reasons that the Catholics have invented purgatory. Although purgatory, like much of other Christian doctrine, is not actually in the bible it does give an explanation to the question of not forgiving sins.

As to what I believe on this issue, I’m just not sure but I don’t think I want to hang my eternal existence on not taking them literally. In this case I guess I am a literalist. Next time we will look at where Jesus talks about us forgiving others and the consequences that might entail. 

10% Tithe??

I know the Old Testament talks about a 10% thithe in several places but is this also applicable to Christians in the New Testament age? Some say yes and some say no.  It always impressed me when I read in the book of acts how Early Christians sold everything they had and gave the money to the Apostles for the community good.  Here are those verses:

Acts 4:32-35
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

It is amazing to me that this happened. It would be totally unfathomable for this to occur in today’s world. The closest we probably came to this was the hippie communes of the 1960 :). But almost as amazing is the total turn around that occurred just a few verses later. Here is that story:

Acts 5:1-11

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.  Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

I guess Ananias and his wife Sapphira missed the orientation meeting that said you have to give everything. Having held some back (we don’t know how much?) they were struck dead!  I can certainly see where great fear struck others in the church!  I suspect it also drove many out.  I really don’t understand this story. Some say it is simply to make people aware that everything you have comes from God.  But that was a harsh lesson for poor Ananias to learn.

Do we need to feel obliged to give 10% of our income to the church?  From the latest data it seems that most Christians give less than 3%.  Where is that thunder bolt that should be striking them dead (ha). Aren’t we lucky that the Apostles are still not around. I’m afraid that the church population would be approaching zero if this event were repeated many times. Is this story a reporting of an historical event or is it just a parable/myth to teach us an object lesson?  I just don’t know but killing people because the didn’t give everything is a little troubling.

The Church Clubhouse?

Is there anything wrong with having a church be the social center for members’ families as well as a place to worship God? Many churches believe this configuration is totally wrong but in reality most, if not all, churches are to one degree or another clubhouses as well as churches.  Some believe the church/clubhouse is the core of the 21st century religious establishment. Should having fun be unrelated to doing church or to what extent should they be related? That is the basic question to be answered and it seems to have many different answers.

I don’t see anything wrong with being happy and having fun while praising God. But I’m sure many of you more stodgy Protestants think otherwise. To you praising God is a very serious thing and should not be a joy for us but a very serious event. This was also pretty much the case with Catholics up until the 2nd Vatican council that finally at least put the mass in native languages and then that was followed by the dreaded guitar masses :). I don’t think anyone can deny that most mega churches make praising God a happy and family centered event. Some have coffee bars and some even have McDonalds restaurants to enjoy between events. Is this wrong? I am beginning to think not!

In studying the words of Jesus it is obvious that he had a sense of humor and was not opposed to having fun. After all the very first miracle he preformed was to make wine for a marriage celebration! So, it is obvious that he was not against taking drink in moderation or dancing or other such things that go on at wedding celebrations. Yes we should take praising God seriously but that does not exclude having fun doing it. To me celebrating my salvation through Christ is a joyous thing! As long as the church and its events are Christ centered and not people centered they will accomplish their task and allow the Christian family to have an enjoyable time doing it.

Parallel Gospel Verses … Part 3 (The Last Supper)

I will let the last post represent those parallel verses that are very similar to each other. In my studies those were somewhat typical of the conflicts of words. I know there are many places in the Old Testament that people report conflicting verses. I did not attempt to cover any of these but instead concentrated on Gospel accounts.  What I found were all somewhat like the previous posts.  The overall message was consistent but the words varied.

One final area of parallel verses that give me some reasons for concern is the last supper. Let’s look at those parallel verses. They appear in all four Gospel text:

Matt 26:26-29

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.

Mark 14:22-26

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Luke 22:17-23

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

John 13:1-8

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

The Eucharist, as it later came to be called, became one of the basic foundations of the Christian church. Unless this event was reported in a text that was not eventually included in the canon (I think the Gospel of Thomas may have a report of the Last Supper) these are the only words we have of institution of this sacrament.

  • Matthew includes the reason for the blood covenant is for the forgiveness of our sins. The other three writers do not mention this as a reason.
  • Luke reverses the event to do the cup first and then the bread. Luke is also the only writer that mentions that we are to do this in remembrance of Jesus. I find it strange that something that eventually became so foundational was only mentioned by one of the four witnesses and then only for the bread?
  • The apostle John as shown in the last text does not even mention anything about the sharing of the bread or wine. Did he think it was not of significant importance? Did he just decide not to mention it because is was already covered by the others? I just don’t know. But I do take notice that he instead replaced it with a call to service. Jesus came to serve and so should we.

When Martin Luther started the massive Protestant Reformation, or you could say revolt from the Catholic church, he adamantly spoke against five of the then seven sacraments that were being practiced. The only two he left standing was the Communion and Baptism. Should the bread/wine event have also been on his drop list or was it just too embedded by that time?

Quakers read the above words to mean that every time we partake of a meal we are to remember what Jesus did for us. They do not believe that Jesus intended to make this event some ceremonial thing as was typical of Jewish traditions at the time. While most Quakers don’t condemn the practice per say they say it is not dictated by God. They also take the words that John used to record this event are of equal importance, or maybe even more important, than the ceremonial sharing of bread and wine. I tend to believe that the Quakers again pretty much have it right. But having said that I do appreciate taking of the Eucharist as a time of special remembrance. But then again Jesus’ sacrifices should be in my daily thoughts and not just those times I am at the altar. I must alwasys remember that Jesus is constantly with me; not just those time where I share the ceremonial bread and wine with my fellow congregants.

Parallel Gospel Verses…. Part 2.

Before we look at a few of the parallel verses in the Gospel accounts let’s see where there are no parallel accounts. John Chapters 1 through 4 have many of Jesus’ words that are not reported anywhere else. I don’t know if part of that is because John’s Gospel was written several years after the others so John could read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, before he wrote his. Of course the theologians over the years have noted that difference and have not included John as a synoptic gospel.

Enough of that; let’s look at some typical parallel verses.

Matthew 8:1-4

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 

Mark 1:40-45

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once,44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.“45

Luke 5:12-16

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

It seems pretty obvious that like many of the other parallel verses these reported the same incident. The words are pretty close to each other both in letters and intent but they are not exact. So, which words if any of them did Jesus actually speak? If the Bible is totally inerrant in all it’s words then the only explanation would be that he said the same thing three times; slightly different for each of the three witnesses. Since this seems pretty far fetched I am more inclined to believe that the writers simply wrote the words they best remembered. This seems to be the case for many similar instances of parallel verses. Let’s move on to the next one.

Matt 9:1-2

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:3-5

4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 5:19-20

19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”  

I suppose it is possible that these three verses were from different times but I don’t think that is the case. Except for the beginning phrase and the surrounding text they are the same.

From my study of parallel verses it seems to me that the vast majority the variations are simply as the example above indicates a lack of being able to remember the exact words between the years they were said and then written down. Many antagonists of Scripture like to point out all the inconsistencies in the Bible. After studying this topic I, for the most part, simply did not find the difference to be that significant. Since I take the Bible to be inspired text written by men for men these minor inconsistencies just don’t bother me that much. Yes, there are some parallel texts that seem to say different things if that is what you are looking for. But for the most part the underlying messageremain the same.

Parallel Gospel Verses… (Part 1)

Due to having frequent discussions with my “inerrant and literal” bible friend lately the Gospel messages have been on my mind. I know there are several places in the bible that supposedly report on the same event. If, as my friend, believes, every word in the bible is literally true and directly from God’s mouth (through the totally obedient hands of men’s pens) then why do the places that supposedly report the same thing use different words and sometimes seem to convey quite different meanings? I, personally take this to enforce my belief that the words are from men who either didn’t understand what Jesus was really saying or just forgot the exact words he used. The Gospels were generally written at least twenty years after the events reported so I can see where the events lost some clarity over the years. I know that is generally the case for me when I look back twenty years in my life. I can’t remember the exact words but do remember “some” of the events that I think played a significant part in my life. 

I think most Christians believe that Jesus is the absolute center of the Bible and the Gospels are about the only place where his direct words are recorded. So to me they take front and center in my study of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I certainly don’t as my friend seems to say often believe that the Gospel writers were lying because they didn’t use the same words. They, like many of us today, were just at different stages of their understanding of what Jesus being Lord was all about. Even though they were inspired by God to write what the did doesn’t mean that their understanding of the events were from an identical mindset. The diversity of the reporting I believe adds to our understanding of the words of Jesus instead of taking away from it. We learn that different men saw things from different perspectives. I haven’t done much study the other writings of the times that were not included in the Bible but it certainly would have been interesting to hear a woman’s perspective of the Gospel accounts. It’s is a shame that Mary (Jesus’ mother) or Mary Magdalene did not get a spot in the New Testament list. They were both very involved in Jesus’ ministries and would have been faithful reporters.

Ok, so starting with the next post I will be spending some time looking at the parallel reports of the same events in the Gospels to see what I can glean from them. I will try to learn the different messages that the Gospel writer took from Jesus’ words. I will be using the NIV Bible for this study. I pray the Holy Spirit will guide me through this study to learn the messages that Christ intends. All glory and honor be to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.