Tag Archives: spirituality

Exciting news!

A few of you know the exciting news, and some of you not at all. Let me just say that I am a blessed mother. Thank you, God, for giving me the gift of my daughter.

My daughter published her first novel, Danger, in January 2016 at the precious age of 13 years. I want to share this beautiful moment with all of you! Alexandra describes the genre in her unique way, as a spiritual adventure. She, a 13 year old girl, is writing from the perspective of a 9 year old boy, who is in search of his missing mother. Danger shows that you can still find your way even when the path takes you in unexpected directions.

Take a look at the press release in these publications below and please share the news with your friends and social network. If you feel moved to grab a copy for yourself please know that you are helping a single working parent household and all proceeds made will go towards Alexandra’s college fund (Available here: Amazon). She wants to be an astronaut so maybe you can be a part of her dream come through. God willing!

See press release in American Public Media here: American Public Media and the Boston Globe here: The Boston Globe

Press Release Text Below:

Book Cover Danger

At thirteen-years-old, Alexandra Love knows what young audiences like to read. Unlike most teenagers her age, however, she’s hoping to add her own work to that list.

 

In Love’s debut novel, “Danger,” the young author is combing mystery and spirituality in an exciting new way that will draw readers into a gripping spiritual adventure.

Following a young boy in search of his missing mother, “Danger” shows that you can still find your way even when the path takes you in unexpected directions. Filled with supernatural experiences, vivid explorations and unlikely partnerships, the novel takes readers on a journey that will enthrall them to the end.

Teaching readers that there’s always greater forces working to make something good out of the bad, the novel provides the perfect experience for readers looking for entertainment as well as inspiration.

Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” Alexandra Love created “Danger” to sow the seeds of the Gospel in a simple way that would hook children from the first page.

By exploring the relationship between the Divine Being and the human being, Love hopes to satisfy readers’ desire to get more in touch with their spirituality and possibly take their first step closer to God.

A children’s book written by a young author hoping to connect children to something greater, Alexandra Love’s “Danger” is the perfect novel for anyone looking for a little more out of their reading experience.

“Danger” by Alexandra Love is now available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.

About the author: Born in 2002, Alexandra Love spent nearly a year and a half developing her debut novel, “Danger,” and was only thirteen years old when it was published. Having been homeschooled since 2014, Love’s creative writing prowess and ideas have helped shape her education from a young age. In addition to playing competitive basketball and performing in a youth orchestra as a violinist, Love has enjoyed traveling to Bulgaria, the Amazon and has made several trips across the United States. Of Bulgarian descent, she currently lives in California and dreams of one day becoming an astronaut.

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A hopeless case of a goddess

She is, as the New Ager would say, a true goddess. She is a professional dancer, an artist and a spiritual teacher. Her mission: to awaken people to their infinite Self and the sacred divine feminine in every woman.

“I flat lined,” she said, “and returned to Source. This is where everything was revealed. I saw the truth about reality.” The universe with its infinite expressions has given birth to this world which is one of many possible realities. When she returned to Source, she experienced how infinite our essence is. We are extensions of the Divine and have the potential within us to be Creators of reality.

“Because religion has brainwashed us,” she continued, “we have forgotten this truth.” But we are stepping into a New Age where everything’s being redefined. It’s time we awaken the divine within. There’s no right or wrong, no heaven or hell. There simply Is. Everything serves a Higher purpose for the Highest good. Remember, she has experienced the afterlife: “I wish you could see what I did, and wake up and know the truth about yourSELF. You’ll see that I AM THAT I AM is you.” … the only thing keeping you from it is your belief system.

~   ~   ~

“As I learned to let go of my ambitions and embrace brokenness, my personal pain began to bond me with others who were in pain,” Craig Keener writes. My interaction with this young woman reminded me of Keener’s words. I remembered my old self when I was so broken on the inside yet looking so whole on the outside because my ambitious, self-empowered, spiritual “Me” was giving me a first-class face lift so to speak. I saw my old self in this woman – not just that I myself have had “near death” experience – not once but two times and a third which was very close (and they actually only pointed me to Jesus as Lord and Savior) BUT I saw my old broken self in her because I used to be after the same: spiritual and professional success (aka self-empowerment), and it was for the same purposes as hers – to play my own personal savior, prove myself as a woman, find value and meaning, feel empowered.

I looked at this girl, whom the world considers a beauty divine and a great talent, and I saw nothing but brokenness. This was the most challenging part because whenever I meet a person who has fallen so deep into the rabbit hole (to use the new age terminology), things seem so hopeless… it feels as if this person will never see the light because they are so blinded and fooled by the darkness. This woman is so convinced by what she has experienced in her “near death” experience that nothing will change her mind. And the darkness will slowly waste her life… because truly there is nothing more than it can do but to delude and waste a person’s life, and drain the life out of the soul so when she is on her death bed what might’ve been a truly great life lived for others, will be a soul eaten away in the pursuit of the Self.

And yet, the brokenness and hopelessness I felt were a really good thing. Brokenness is something I’ve pondered on. The word “broken” evokes hopeless images of broken bones, broken hearts, broken things. But interestingly, in God’s dictionary brokenness is not only good, it’s essential. He uses people whose hearts, volition, intellect, and pride have been broken. And it has been said that those who stumble over the cornerstone will be broken while it’ll grind to powder anyone it falls on. Those who stumble upon it and fall down accepting and submitting all they are, as their destiny in Him and His will, will be broken by Him of arrogance, hard-heartedness, and self-centeredness. They’ll fall and will be picked up. They’ll break and will be made whole in their brokenness. But for those who don’t accept, the cornerstone will ultimately “fall on them,” an experience that can only be described as crushing. Ultimately, the choice is ours, “broken into wholeness” or “crushed into powder.”

This woman stands for what she believes to be true in her heart. Though I may not agree with her methods and reasoning, I do know that she’s doing what she’s doing because she wants to help other women and herself find wholeness, acceptance and love. She isn’t driven by a desire to put others down but to uplift them. It’s just the “how to get there” and the master one serves that make all the difference, right?

This personally hopeless experience reminded me that often people need more our prayers than our opinions. I may be powerless but the good news is that I don’t depend on my personal power or even on the prayer itself but on the one who hears my prayers – the All-powerful. And so I pray. I pray that God by His power and His Holy Spirit uses this woman’s brokenness and allows her to stumble over the cornerstone. I pray for all the other hopeless cases… even Dawkins that God gives him dreams and visions which he wouldn’t be able to escape, and falls face down submitting to Jesus. I pray that God uses such people… just as he used the most hopeless of all cases, the murderer Saul to turn him into one of the greatest saints, our beloved Paul.


The message: an exegesis on 2 Timothy 4:1-5

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, “I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom. Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience, and instruction. For there will be time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths. You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry.”

Second Timothy is an epistle that was written still within the generation of Jesus by Apostle Paul. This was his second letter to Timothy, and he wrote it while in prison in Rome. Timothy was a student of Paul and a pastor of the church in Ephesus. Its purpose was to give Timothy final instruction and encouragement. Final because it was Paul’s last words as he was arrested and executed under Emperor Nero. Paul wrote this letter as a way of passing the torch to the next generation of Christian leaders. As Paul’s last letter, this epistle reveals the heart of the Apostle and his priorities – sound truthful doctrine, steadfast faith, lasting love, and endurance. Timothy was one of the first second-generation disciples of Jesus. He became a follower of Jesus not because he saw a loud evangelist preach a powerful sermon but because his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois taught him the Holy Scriptures since he was a little child. (1)

The Roman world had magnificence and beauty beyond what one can imagine but it was also a place of terror, pain and decadence that is beyond our wildest imagination. Jesus was born into the Roman world, in Roman occupied lands of Asia that today we know as the land of Israel and Palestine. He was born during the reign of Augustus, the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. During his reign and for the next couple of centuries, the Roman empire established an era of peace and prosperity. But as R. Webber writes “…woven in the fabric of that era, Roman culture was rotting” in its very heart. Because of its decadence, Roman society was falling apart from the inside. Paul captures this crumbling reality of the great Roman world in the opening of his letter to the Roman Christians. Outwardly we see the beauty of this strange, magnificent, and of one of the greatest civilizations of human history, but Paul knew exactly what was going on inwardly in the hearts and minds of that society. (2) Because they chose not to glorify God, He “… gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!…  For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions….And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless.” ( Romans 1:24-25, 28-31)

Paul saw the reality of Rome first hand. And indeed, life for many was harsh, especially under the successors of Augustus – Tiberius, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian Diocletian, and Marcus Aurelius. These tyrants ruled with an iron claw. They were cruel and treated inhumanely all who dared to oppose them, especially the Christians who were persecuted to death during their reigns. During the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180) for example, a war broke out in Germany and Persia and moved the Roman era away from its period of peace. Many Roman soldiers caught a deadly plague, and when they returned home, an epidemic spread throughout the Roman Empire, taking as many as 2,000 lives a day. Political leaders decided the plague came as punishment from the Roman gods who were offended by the existence of the Christians and their eastern religion Christianity. The government turned against the Christians and “…attempted to get rid the empire of them in order to recover the favor of the Romans gods.” (2)

The Roman world was a world of moral relativism. It was characterized by many different philosophical beliefs – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, those who were Sophists, and Cynics, Stoics, and Epicureans and so on. There were small Jewish neighborhoods around. Sophists shaped the Greek culture, which was conquered by Rome. According to them, truth cannot be discovered and so they argued, that truth does not exist, or if it did, it is impossible to know it. They believed that because there is no knowledge, people must take things into their own hands and try to live a good life, much like secular humanism today. The school that emerged from Socrates and his student Plato questioned the Sophists’ rejection of universal truth. For Socrates and Plato, there was no such thing as co-existence but rather contradiction when it came to their theology and the Sophists’. Socrates was convinced that one must discover what is right and act on the basis of that truth. He taught that if humans are the measure of all things, they could agree on a principle that is wrong, which would lead to ultimate catastrophe. The question was how could one discriminate right from wrong? Socrates’ student Plato tackled this question and so became the dominant philosopher in the Roman world. Plato taught the existence of universal ideals. He argued for a world outside the visible world we live in. The visible world, he taught, was “but a shadow of the invisible,” which was the real world. He reasoned that through philosophical reflection we can learn truth and know right from wrong. According to him, reason, or the logos, brings us to truth. (2)

And it is into that world and its narrative that Paul sent Timothy out to “preach the message” of God’s eternal incarnate Logos that is Jesus. In Jesus the Christ, “God’s essence, his own wisdom and reason, became incarnate. Jesus is the display of truth, a living embodiment of the right way to live. Truth is not abstract, it is real, concrete, right there before your very eyes in this very world. Christians proclaimed moral absolutes in a morally decadent world. So the way the Christian narrative confronted Plato’s modern day thought was that according to Christianity, it is in Jesus’ life that we see what humanity was created to be. For God in Christ, who became one of us for our salvation, also became one of us to model what true humanity looks like. Jesus himself is the ethic and reason of the Christian. We are to follow him and to do what he did.” (2) Timothy was to be ready whether it is convenient or not, to reprove, to rebuke, to exhort with complete patience, and instruction. Because Paul knew the Roman world (after all he was a Roman citizen), he knew what the times were and will be – that “ people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.” Timothy however was to “be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work,” fulfill his ministry.

It is difficult to accept correction, or as I call it constructive criticism. It is difficult to have the light shine on us revealing the places in ourselves that need cleaning up. It is especially difficult if one thinks high of himself. That is why for many people lies are soothing and truth hurts. But no matter how much the truth hurts, we must be willing to listen to it and to allow it to mold and shape us thus freeing ourselves into the Spirit of God “we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord,” will be “transformed into the same image [of Christ] from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We must always remember about the false teachings. Many spiritual speakers, teachers, gurus, and writers talk about spirituality, enlightenment, evolution, the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. But in reality, often they do not want any of it. What they want is power and fame. Such people don’t care about “sound teaching” or the council of the Living God. Instead, they are “turned into fables.” You can see it everywhere – from modern day churches and spiritual centers to college campuses and popular media. People who claim to have divine revelations and enlightenment; and who tell you, narrow-minded bigots to throw away your prejudiced Bible. (No, I am not politically correct. I am Eastern European). Such people have few things in common. They do not tolerate the truth, or shall I be politically correct once and say the Truth of Jesus, even though their spiritual talks are all about tolerance, non-judgment and acceptance. They have no interest and respect for absolute truth or any standard for justice that differs from their own. They reject truth for sensationalism and popularism. They want truth only as long as it fits their situation and makes sense for them. What they feel, what works for them, what makes them claim their power, what seems fascinating – that is the truth they are interested in and no one dare to tell them otherwise (even though we live in a free speech society). They gather different viewpoints – ones that suit their personal desires, thinking and goals, from different religions (i.e. spiritual traditions). Although they profess objectivity, their only defense for their beliefs is not objective evidence but simply their personal opinion, anecdotal opinion from so called spiritual self-proclaimed teachers that is not based on the evidence but on what feels right in their heart. (3) Let’s not forget though that as Jesus has said “out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19)

Today is as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Many were, are and will claim to know God. But how do we know that their words are coming from God? For the follower of Christ, truly this is easy. Apostle John put it plainly that by this we know when one comes from God and knows God: it is the one who keeps his commandments. “The one who says, “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. But whoever obeys his Word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in him [God]. The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:4-6) Looking at the lifestyle of a professed personal “life coaches” will quickly tell us what they value and who they walk like. The way we live says much about what and whom we believe.

Here in 2 Timothy and throughout his letters to the young generation of pastors and teachers, Paul continually emphasizes the significance of sound teaching. When a teaching is sound it combines correct knowledge and understanding with consistent practice. It is biblical, is fruitful, promotes spiritual health, and always keeps Jesus central. It is grounded in the truth of Scripture. Then and only then, people won’t be swayed by the powerful speaking skills and supposed miracles and oracles of false teachers, or tragic circumstances, stress or emotions. Those responsible for preaching and teaching must challenge people to understand what sound teaching is. (3) We must learn the Scriptures, live and breathe the Scriptures, deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. Daily. (Matthew 16:24) A preacher or a teacher especially must remember that his character is a most important element in his ministry, especially in the sense that “who ‘we are’ is more important than what we do.” Since the responsibility is to proclaim precisely the whole council of God, the cardinal virtue of preaching is courage to speak the message without fear or intimidation, and its cardinal vice is cowardice, thus failing to say what God has entrusted because of fear of others or risk of suffering (4).

In the face of opposition and persecution, Paul charged Timothy to carry out his ministry without fear or shame, and to boldly utilize the gifts of preaching and teaching that the Holy Spirit has anointed him with. We, who live in this age of political correctness, superficial niceties and who have become to resemble more an image of a soft invertebrate than the image of the Living God Almighty, the Lord Who Commands Armies, YHWH who speaks the Word that creates significance out of nothingness, should heed Paul’s advice as well. We must never ever forget than no matter how uncomfortable, shy or weak we feel, our ministry is never to come from a self-empowered “I am place” but Spirit-empowered “God is” place. God’s strength is made perfect in your weakness. So then, if you are going to boast about anything, boast most gladly about your weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in you and so God’s strength may be perfected in you (2 Corinthians 12:9). We must also get over the fear of people and that we might offend someone with what we say. We must speak the truth in love and take our eyes off people, and put them upon God. And as A. W. Tozer wrote in the Pursuit of God, “When we lift our eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of The Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is ‘Thou God seest me.’ When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.” (5)

It seems like that back then as today, it all comes to the fact that being a Christian is offensive to people. It comes down to the fact that the name and person of Jesus cause such a great offense on many. Isn’t it interesting? It is not the name of Buddha or Krishna or Muhammad but it is the name of Jesus, the only perfect one who has ever walked the earth, that offends people. Why is this? It is the same reason for which Rome persecuted Christians. Back than Christianity made claims that threatened the political empire. Today Christianity makes claims that threaten the spiritual, cultural and supposed “right of choice” empires. Historian Stephen Benko writes, “The Romans tolerated a remarkable degree of religious liberty, and they therefore found the Christians’ exclusive claims to truth disconcerting.” (6) Gerald Sittser writes in Water from a Deep Well, “… Christians viewed their faith as ultimately and exclusively true, which threatened the popular pluralism of the day… they were certain that God chose to come to earth as Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world because all other attempts to reach God had failed. The Christian was convinced that he was in possession of the truth because Jesus Christ embodied the ultimate revelation about God [Benko]. In the end, the Christian belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord caused the greatest offense. Critics indicated that they were willing to accept Jesus as a way to God, just as they accepted most other ways to God, but only under the condition that Christians would abandon the belief that Jesus was The way to God. The Christian confession that Jesus is Lord simply flew in the face of Rome’s pluralism and tolerance. It also infuriated the intellectual elite, who understood Christianity well enough to recognize that it  would not fit comfortably, if at all, into Roman culture… the Christian exclusivity – the idea that Jesus is the only way to God- offends the pluralistic assumptions of the day just as it did two thousand years ago. Now, as then, the idea that there is one religious truth runs contrary to the spirit of the age. It is assumed that religious belief could be and often is valuable… but there is no way of knowing which religion is actually true. Christians challenge this cultural assumption when they claim that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Christians have been causing such offense for two thousand years.” (7)

The people of today are more influenced by Greek and Roman philosophy than they realize. To the Greeks (and platonists), this world was nicely divided into matter and Spirit. The first was evil or an illusion. The physical body was viewed more or less like a constraining space suit to be used in this life but the Spirit… the Spirit was good and real. This is in fact in total opposition to the beliefs of Jesus. As Kenneth Bailey writes in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, “The prophets of the Old Testament and the authors of the New Testament emphasized that the spirit can be either good or evil while material things can be a blessing or a curse. Nowhere is this truth clearer than in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.” The biblical understanding of matter begins with the story of creation. God created matter and it was good not evil. Yes, matter provided the stimulus for disobedience… Matter, however (in this case, the forbidden fruit) was not at fault; the willfulness of Adam and Eve, who chose to disobey God’s command as it related to matter, was. Following that disobedience all of life began to fall apart. But the most important event affirming matter as good rather than evil was the coming of Jesus the Messiah (the Christ) in flesh who was born in a good old fashioned body as each one of us, and was born the good old fashioned natural way – the same way I gave birth to my child, and who was a baby and grew into adulthood.(8)

That is why Jesus and his disciples spoke so often about spiritual discernment. Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)”  In Colossians we read, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ,” (Colossians 2:8). Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church, “…for such men are false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,” (2Corinthians 11:13-15). Jesus spoke to the religious leaders in piercing boldness, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44).  Let us be bold like Him.

I will conclude with the first words of these verses of 2 Timothy 4:1-5, God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead,… his appearing and his kingdom.” There is not much I want to say in conclusion about those words but more to cause people to remember Jesus’ own words: God “…the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son… He has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22, 27) “I have many things to say and to judge about you, but the Father who sent me is truthful, and the things I have heard from him I speak to the world….When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he…” (John 8:26, 28) “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind.” (John 9:39) “Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:44) So, “be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth. But stay alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

“The high priest questioned him, “Are you the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

We all will face God one day. Face to face. Truly, there aren’t that many roads to take. There is the road to Jesus and the road away from Jesus. There aren’t that many ways to be either; you are either with Jesus, or without. So we better stop spiritualizing this truth, and start being sober minded realizing that the time that has passed in your life is sufficient to make a choice, and that the time has come to make that choice, because tomorrow “here and now” may not come. And we all “…will face a reckoning before Jesus Christ who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. Now it was for this very purpose that the gospel was preached to those who are now dead, so that though they were judged in the flesh by human standards they may live spiritually by God’s standards.”  (1 Peter 4:5 -8)

Jesus wasn’t in the business of making reputation for himself, or making bad people good. He is into the business of making dead people alive. Do you want to live?

not ashamed

Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

Look! He is returning with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him,
and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him.
This will certainly come to pass! Amen.
(Revelation 1:7)

Sources:

  1. KJV life application study bible, commentator’s notes on 2 Timothy4:1-5
  2. Who gets to Narrate the World. Webber, R.
  3. KJV life application study bible, New Testament commentator’s notes
  4.  The Equipping Ministry. Module 15. TUMI – LA.
  5. The Pursuit of God. A.W. Tozer
  6. Stephen Benko, historian, author
  7. Water From a Deep Well, Sittser, G.
  8. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Bailey, K

How reliable and authentic is the Bible really?

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:14-17,

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“Seriously?! Thank you but I don’t think so. The Bible was breathed out by mere men as the church wanted to control the masses.” – This is what I would’ve told you in response to these Bible verses several years ago. As a matter of fact, I vividly remember how I personally advised a friend to take her child out of a Christian preschool so she is not brainwashed with some Bible non-sense. I mean… I loved Jesus! And would’ve loved my friend to nurture the love of Jesus in her child but the Bible – the Bible was out of the picture.

Often I think that God has an incredible sense of humor. As I look back, I am the one  saying now, “Oh God, please forgive me for I didn’t know what I was saying or thinking.” I grew up in an Eastern European country which communist government suppressed the religion of Christianity but could not suppress the religion of the heart, the love for Jesus. There were no Bibles to be seen anywhere during my life in Bulgaria. I left the country at the age of twenty-two, not having seen a Bible and never having heard a preaching or a sermon in my life. There weren’t any available after all.  Moving to the free and tolerant West in the city of Los Angeles, I found quite a few similarities between the U.S. and my communist upbringing, especially as they relate to the religion of Christianity. Bibles were (and are) all available in the States (after all I had to just go to a bookstore), yet it never occurred to me to get one. It so happened that the friends I made here were all into New Age spirituality heavily influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. When I spoke to them about my love for Jesus, they reminded me of my communist counterparts with their saying that Jesus was no more than an enlightened teacher who was made to be divine by the church, and that the Bible is not a Holy book nor is it divinely inspired but was written by men. The church men in order to control the people made all that up. So I thought to myself that may be the communists after all had it right about at least one thing. I didn’t even think to question, discern, test, or research. It didn’t even dawn on me because the people who fed me with this kind of information were good friends. They were great people with good hearts and great professionals. Yet, in a way I felt like a gay person as I shut down and stayed in the closet in regards to my true identity as a believer in Jesus and in regards to my greatest love, Jesus.

But one day God had enough of my unfaithful in-the-closet behavior and through some personal occurrences led me to the Holy Land of Israel where he turned my life upside-down and brought my insides-out. Upon my return to the USA, He guided me to do three things: to enroll in Ministry school, to move my daughter in a Christian school (seriously?!), and to start reading the Bible for it is His book! The first two – okay, I could manage doing somehow. But reading and believing the authority of the Bible, especially when I’ve lived a life where a whole government had prohibited it and the good people in my life had denied it… that was tough for me. But at the end of the day, the Word of God coming straight from his mouth and piercing me to the bone was way more influential than the word of men who spoke from their opinions.

I started questioning and educating myself. I started questioning my friends to show me the evidence as I was done with the tabloid pseudoscholarship of sensational best-selling books, fascinating Hollywood movies, and talks of self-proclaimed powerful spiritual teachers that people were using for foundation for their belief system. It so happens that modern so-called scholars, writers, movie producers and spiritual teachers are on a never ending quest to find something new. If they can’t find it, they invent it. They are onto advancing sensational theories that do not run on the evidence. And so they end up either distorting or neglecting the New Testament, which results in the fabrication of pseudo-Jesuses and the reinvention of Scripture to say what they want it to say and to suit their biased purposes.

This paper is going to be long. It is not about making you believe in Jesus or Scripture. I cannot make anyone believe anything and I respect every person’s choice of belief. It is about asking you to honestly look at and not deny the evidence, even if it rubs you the wrong way. We must be intelligent and realistic when we speak of such important matters. I ask that we diligently inquire into the thinking, methods, and agendas of scholars, popular writers and modern teachers in their analysis of Scripture’s authenticity. What presuppositions do they hold? What methods do they use? Are they competent on the subject? Why do they move from valid observations to preposterous conclusions? How and why do they fabricate evidence? Are these scholars actually using sound historical and scientific methods, and are they really scholars?

In this paper, I will tackle the untackable (if there is such a word!) – among other things, the reliability and authenticity of Scripture together with an exegesis on 2 Timothy 3:14-17. May God help me with this task, but this verse calls for nothing less than a respectful truthful analysis. May it be only for your glory, Jesus.

How do you judge the Bible?

We all have criteria for passing judgment on many things. When someone voices an opinion or makes a statement, we ask “Why do you think so?” So I ask today, “Why don’t we ever question the skeptic? Is it because we are afraid of what we may actually find out?” There is a tendency in our culture to discount and discredit the historical and interpretative context of Scripture. As James White notes, “Never in the history of the Christian faith has unbelief had the tools at its disposal that it has today. Every kind of argument against the Bible and its portrait of Jesus is picked up and repeated endlessly in published works and on the Internet. Christians are often hit with “scholarly” arguments indicating that we can’t have any knowledge of what the Bible originally said or who Jesus really was. We are told Christianity is not unique and the story of Jesus is patterned after pagan myths…” Our western culture is a fertile soil for conspiracies of any kind about Jesus and the Bible. The seeds of cynicism and unbelief have been sown by the mass media with the help of general anesthesia in the form of a cocktail of entertainment, empowerment and self-realization, and a dose of promised mystical insight. From new spirituality seminars, blockbuster novels and movies like The Da Vinci code to spiritual life coaches and teachers, all have used the popular media (including social networks) to promote their demoted versions of Jesus and the Bible. It seems like in our postmodern evolved Western society, the quest for truth has been replaced by a convenient tolerance for every idea no matter how far off the truth or evidence it is. “That’s just your interpretation!” has become the tired mantra of hurried people who can’t be bothered by a thoughtful evaluation of evidence. It is simply easier to pretend all interpretations are created equal…. The radical skepticism sown in the media and rooted in postmodernism has been cultivated in an environment of biblical ignorance,” (1).

I ask you today to look at the evidence for yourself. I ask that we start asking some questions that demand historical and scientific evidence. I ask that we treat scripture historically rather than theologically because when the tools of the historian are applied to the biblical text, the Bible builds its own case for its unique character. As a British scholar once said, “We treat the bible like any other book to show that it is not like any other book.”  I ask that we ask the hard questions and not settle for anything else but the real evidence. Is the New Testament politically corrupt? Show me the evidence. Is there really tainting of ancient New Testament texts? Prove it. Can we trust the Bible? Did the early church suppress/influence the canon? Is what we have now what they wrote back then? Is what we have original? What criteria of authenticity and scientific methods are so called experts using when speaking about Scripture?

Criteria of authenticity

The starting points of the pre-conditioned non-expert critics of Scripture are cramped, superficial, uneducated and unjustified. Their methods are often invalid. This is truly sad because a lot of what passes for criticism is not critical at all, and a lot of what passes for scholarship is not scholarly at all. It is simply skepticism masking itself as scholarship. So let’s approach the Bible as historians, rather than as theologians. Let’s approach the Bible as explorers and scientists who do not lean on their own understanding and assumptions but who test everything. We must ask questions and apply criteria that assess the historical worth of the documents like: When was this document written? What does the carbon dating says about the material it was written on? Who wrote it and was he really in position to know what really happened and what really was said? Are claims supported by archaeological evidence and geographical realities?

To give an example, let’s use the complaints that the manuscripts we have are written in Greek and therefore they cannot truthfully reflect the sayings of Jesus because Jesus was a Jew and spoke Aramaic. Does this statement hinge on evidence or rather on personal opinions?

Great archaeological discoveries show that the Greek language was wide-spread in the time and place of Jesus. Archaeology shows that parts of Galilee were very urbanized in typical Greco-Roman style during Jesus’ time. As it turns out, Galilee was far more integrated into the larger Roman Empire than we have ever imagined. Jesus’ ministry was centered in Galilee and he grew up in the village of Nazareth, which was a walking distance from another large urban center, Sepphoris. The remarkable discoveries in Galilee and Sepphoris show us that Jesus did not grow up in isolation. Furthermore, the great many Greek inscriptions and Greek literary finds in the Dead Sea region leads scholars to conclude that Greek was spoken by many Jews living in Galilee. This of course does not mean that Greek was their first language, Aramaic was but it does mean that Greek was spoken at the time and place of Jesus, and Jesus himself may have spoken it. For sure we know that some of his disciples did, one of them being Paul who was a well-taught Pharisee fluent in Hebrew, a Roman citizen and well educated in Greek! The situation back then was in a way how it is today with the English language. There are many countries around the world whose language is not English but the natives do speak English because the U.S. is the economic, cultural, political and military empire of the day so to speak. To dismiss the manuscripts written in Greek because Jesus and his disciples were Jewish and spoke Aramaic would also mean that you must dismiss this paper I’ve written because I am Bulgarian and as such speak Bulgarian as well as any translation of any other author from Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra to Richard Dawkins that are not in their native tongue. Today we live in an English speaking world of a Western “empire” just like back then it was a Greek speaking world and a Roman empire. The English of today is the new Greek of the world.

Manuscript data

The Greek New Testament we use today is based on thousands of early original manuscripts, many of which were written within a generation from Jesus’ generation. Some modern scholars view certain Greek manuscripts (the ones used for the Kings James Version/ KJV) inferior because in some parts the scribes (i.e. copyists) added words. But instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater we must ask a smart question, “How much did they add?” The evidence shows that over a period of many centuries only about twenty-five hundred (2,500) words were added to the original text. To put it in other words, the New Testament grew in size from the earliest copies to the latest, which encompasses a period of fourteen hundred (1,400) years, by only about two (2) percent. That is a remarkably stable transmission that, if I may say, can only point to the providence of God in preserving the Scriptures!

Myths about the manuscripts

I often hear people say, “We really don’t know what the New Testament originally said since we no longer possess the originals. There could have been tampering with the text before our existing copies were produced.” But I ask, is this an accurate assessment of the data and the evidence? Is that kind of skepticism and personal opinions true to the facts? No, they are not. And if we have to apply this same analogy and method of criticism and people’s opinions to the rest of ancient literature, “…we would still be waiting for hundreds of years before any text of Herodotus or Livy or Homer were to show up! No one thinks that a copy of these documents that came even hundreds of years later is created out of nothing.” (1) The matter of fact is that “…if such presuppositions are true then we must deny that most facts of ancient history can be recovered because whatever doubts we cast on the text of the New Testament must be cast hundredfold on virtually any other ancient text.” (1) I have never heard people criticize like that the Hindu sacred text – the Bhagavad Gita (or even the earlier Vedas), or the Muslim text – the Qu’ran, or the Egyptian Book of the Dead, to name a few. If we are to measure authenticity and credibility of the Christian sacred texts why don’t we measure with the same measure the sacred texts of the other spiritual traditions? Because if we do, all of these other sacred texts must be dismissed as their authenticity will crumble as it won’t be able to withstand the test of historicity and evidence examination. The plain truth that people do not want to hear is that the New Testament manuscripts are more credible, valid, and plentiful than virtually any other ancient literature.

The materials relating to the Greek New Testament are truly overwhelming. As laid out in Reinventing Jesus, “While scholars of other ancient literature suffer from a lack of data, those who work with New Testament manuscripts suffer from an embarrassment of riches.” These manuscripts fall into three categories: Greek manuscripts, ancient translations in other languages such as Syriac (a sister language of Aramaic), Coptic, Armenian and Arabic, and quotations in the writings of the early church leaders. For example, just looking at the Greek manuscripts, as of January 2006 we have: 118 papyri, 317 uncials, 2,877 minuscules, and 2,433 lectionaries. This is a total of 5,745 manuscripts, most of which date from II to XVI century. The earliest fragment dates from within one generation of Jesus and is known as Papyrus 52 or P52. (1)

To put it another way, if the average sized manuscript were two and a half inches thick, all the copies of the works of an average Greek author like let’s say Homer or Hippocrates or Plato or Aristotle or Archimedes would stack four feet high while the copies of the New Testament would stack up to over a mile high! That is four feet vs. one mile. Yes, that is an embarrassment of riches!

A brief summary lays it out like this. The old KJV from the year of 1611 was based on six manuscripts from X century. The Revised version of 1881 was based on two thousand (2,000) manuscripts from IV century, and the newest bible version which is the New English Translation (NET) is based on five thousand seven hundred (5,700) manuscripts from within a generation of Jesus to mid-II century.

As you can see the New Testament ancient manuscripts are far more plentiful and credible, and as such the evidence for the Judeo-Christian sacred texts is far more plentiful and credible than that of any other ancient text. And if we are going to be skeptical about the Jesus of the Gospels and Scripture itself, any such skepticism then should be multiplied many times more for any other historical figure, like let’s say Buddha, or the prophet Muhammad, or Plato, or Lao Tzu. There is far more manuscript evidence about the person of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ) than there is about anyone else in the ancient world, from Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great to Buddha or Pharaoh.

To take it even further, of about the 138,000 words of the original text, only one or two might have no manuscript support. So truly, when critics claim that we simply have no clue what the original text said, I wonder what drives their narrow skepticism because it certainly is not the evidence. As the credible scholars (not theologians) put it, “There is simply no room for uncertainty about what the New Testament originally taught.” (1) But whether one chooses to believe that is a different matter.

The thing is that in the West people love, feel empowered by and thrive on sensationalism, drama, conspiracies, and simply any queer stuff. And of course they do, this is the movie land after all! The land of make belief and imagination. The land of “you can create your own reality” where no one cares if it actually reflects reality. We would do good to remember that philosophical presuppositions, Hollywood agenda, and personal opinions are not good friends with historical evidence. The former are methods driven by the results one wants to find, the latter is a fact of truth. In the former, differences are exaggerated and evidence is distorted all for the sake of creating novel scenarios, creating a following for oneself of blind sheep, and building one’s popularity and wallet where all that’s needed is imagination, good acting and marketing skills, enchanting and attractive appeal, and the most important – uninformed readership and viewership who simply want to become empowered and successful.

As Scott McKnight professor at North Park University notes, “Whatever problems orthodox Christians have in demonstrating either historical reliability or historical integrity, the problem does not reside in whether or not the New Testament itself contains what was originally written. The facts are that, in spite of a welter of variations, the evidence that survives permits us to know with utter certitude that we are in touch with the original gospels, letters, and writings of the 1st century. Recent skepticism advocating that the orthodox corrupted the text in scripture is simply an overstated conclusion driven by other-than-historical forces.”

And this is where another assumption of lay-persons lay. People presume that the church corrupted the manuscripts. In my many conversation with people who believe that however, I have found a common mistake many make right off the bat. When they say “the church” they assume the Christian church and Christians but they are actually talking about the Catholic church. This is a mistake even a child would know not to make so let’s clear it now. The Catholic church is not the Christian church, and “Catholic” is not “Christian”. I think such concerns are valid, I myself have had them and they are what led me to investigate more. I like how Spurgeon writes about this, “The Roman Catholic Church believes that one function of the church is to be the authorized interpreter of Scripture. They believe that not only do we have an infallible Bible but we also have an infallible interpretation of the Bible. That somewhat ameliorates the problem, although it doesn’t eliminate it altogether. You still have those of us who have to interpret the infallible interpretations of the Bible. Sooner or later it gets down to those of us who are not infallible to sort it out. We have this dilemma because there are hosts of differences in interpretations of what the popes say and of what the church councils say, just as there are hosts of different interpretations of what the Bible says….

The first thing I want to know is, Who’s giving the interpretation? Is he educated? I turn on the television and see all kinds of teaching going on from television preachers who, quite frankly, simply are not trained in technical theology or biblical studies. They don’t have the academic qualifications. I know that people without academic qualifications can have a sound interpretation of the Bible, but they’re not as likely to be as accurate as those who have spent years and years of careful research and disciplined training in order to deal with the difficult matters of biblical interpretation.

The Bible is an open book for everybody, and everybody has a fair shot of coming up with whatever they want to find in it. We’ve got to see the credentials of the teachers. Not only that, but we don’t want to rely on just one person’s opinion. That’s why when it comes to a biblical interpretation, I often counsel people to check as many sound sources as they can and then not just contemporary sources, but the great minds, the recognized minds of Christian history. It’s amazing to me the tremendous amount of agreement there is among Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards—the recognized titans of church history. I always consult those because they’re the best. If you want to know something, go to the pros.” Spurgeon was definitely a pro.

I am reminded now of all the pros who have lost their lives because they were faithful to the Bible and not the Catholic church. When the Catholic church forbade anyone to own a Bible and no Bibles were allowed to exist except in Latin, Erasmus stumbled upon a treasure. He was given original Greek manuscripts from a refuge family fleeing from the East (Greece) to the West because of the Islamic invasion of the Ottoman empire. Reading the Greek manuscripts, Erasmus started to understand the control mechanism of the (Catholic) church. There in the Gospel of Luke, Erasmus read the original wording which said repentance and not penance. Penance was the word that the Catholic churchmen had decided to replace repentance with in their Latin Bible translations in order to start one of the most corrupt and evil systems in human history –  buying your way out for God’s forgiveness, and a way for the Catholic church to get rich. The penance tariff was established in 1316 by Pope John XXII.

Erasmus was a Roman Catholic official, a brilliant man. When he had found out the Greek manuscripts and read the word repentance in Luke, he had fallen on his knees crying out loud, “My God, my God, we have got it all wrong.” He had stayed weeping on the floor for three days. After that, he has gotten up and made one of the most significant decisions in his life that truly has saved our lives – he printed the truth, the original Scriptures. The year was 1560 and the interesting thing is that this same year that he has published the original untainted Bible, the dark ages have ended. Coincidence? May be, if you believe in coincidences.

Erasmus recruited Tyndale, another genius (and Catholic) who was fluent in 20 languages, and Tyndale set himself on the heavy task to not only translate the Bible in a language other than Latin but to translate the original Greek manuscripts. Tyndale became the most hunted man in the history of England. Remember the great inquisition that Mother Catholic church carried out against the pagans and the witch hunts that burned so many women? I keep hearing the blaming angry words of women and non-believers of how cruel the inquisition was. And they are absolutely right. But if we are going to be true to history and the facts, I would like to point my Western brothers and sisters to the part of history that they do not want to talk about. That is the fact that the inquisition was equally targeted against peasants and heretical books as it was against priests, scholars, and bishops; and many of those who were burnt at the stake were Christians (and Catholic believers who didn’t give in) who were called heretics, and many of the heretical books that were burned were actually Bibles that were not in Latin and that the church did not want anyone to possess. That is why Tyndale became the most hunted man in the history of England as he had translated the Bible from the original Greek manuscripts. He, a Catholic, became the most wanted heretic. He was translating and distributing until the inquisition had arrested him and burnt him at the stake. Tyndale was burnt by the Catholic church because of his Bible translations. The fire he was burnt by was kindled by his very own Bible translations. It is because of people like Tyndale and Erasmus, who were nevertheless Catholic and chose to live bold and Godly lives and to die such deaths, that we now enjoy a plethora of Bibles that we take for granted. We in our arrogance, self-righteousness and uneducated minds dare speak so disrespectfully about these sacred texts that have the blood of many innocent people on them.

A particular story comes to mind. It is the story of Perpetua, one of the most famous of all early martyr stories, that illustrates in her time how firmly the Christians resisted the encroachment of the Roman empire. When Emperor Septimius Severus established a policy that banned conversions to Christianity, severe persecution started in Carthage, North Africa. Vibia Perpetua (A.D. 181-203), a young married woman and a mother of a newborn, was arrested with some others and thrown in prison. There, the Holy Spirit revealed to her in a vision that she were to die soon. In the vision, she saw a ladder reaching to heaven. She had to climb it and she did so with ease, despite a dragon that was guarding it. “When she arrived at the summit she saw an immense garden; in the center sat a tall, gray-haired man dressed like a shepherd, surrounded by thousands of people dressed in white robes. He said to her, “Welcome, my child.” Then he invited her to approach and gave her a morsel of cheese, which tasted sweet to her. When she awoke she described the vision to her brother, who was also arrested. “We realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.” Court hearings followed, family passions flared.” (2) Her father kept pleading with her to abandon her faith in Jesus Christ, other people urged her to sacrifice to the emperor and the gods. But Perpetua did not yield. “I am a Christian,” she kept repeating. The governor finally condemned her to the beasts. The Acts of the Christian Martyrs reads that she “… marched [to her death sentence] joyfully as though… going to heaven, trembling if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went [along] with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her intense gaze… Perpetua began to sing a psalm; she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian… then when came within sight of Hilarianus, [they] suggested by [their] motions and gestures: “You have condemn us but God will condemn you” was what they were saying. At this the crowds became enraged and demanded they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced in this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings…the others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.”

Our Bible is trustworthy. And the blood of all those people who died because they believe in the truth about Jesus is on our hands when we question and disbelieve the authenticity of Scripture. To suggest that Scripture was the conventional creation of a church councils and not authentic does more than make a mess of history; it dishonors the graves of martyrs, who staked their lives on the conviction that Jesus is God and that Scripture is the word of God.

And this is the simple truth about how the New Testament books became canonical. The canon was one of the most natural things to happen. The books of the New Testament became canonical because no one could stop them from becoming so. No one could stop Jesus, not even death itself. And as Bruce Metzger concurs: “The Church did not create the canon but came to recognize, accept, affirm and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church.”

Let’s not forget that the followers of Jesus were not allowed to practice their spirituality and were persecuted until the IV Century when Christianity was accepted as legal religion. That is why at first Christians did not have a New Testament scripture canon. The proclamation of the gospel was by word of mouth and by the penned down letters and gospels, which were not called scripture yet. Even Paul’s letters though accepted as weighty, authoritative and God inspired, were not perceived as Scripture per-say as soon as they were penned. The major reason for this was that to circulate books of an illegal religion in the ancient world was not an easy job. Having lived during communism, I know a bit about that. Also prior to the II century, the writings could not even be collected into one volume because the modern book format was not invented yet, and only so much could be written on a scroll. The largest usable scroll could hold little more than one of the Gospels. As scholar Bruce Metzger notes: “what is really remarkable… is that, though the fringes of the New Testament canon remained unsettled for centuries, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained within the first two centuries among the … scattered congregations not only throughout the Mediterranean world but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia.”

The major catalyst for the early Eastern church to establish the canon was false teachings, such as the gnostics and the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian. One author describes the emperor’s eight year attack on the church (303-311) as “The last war of annihilation waged by paganism against Christianity.” “It was a bloody campaign and included wholesale destruction of the church’s sacred Scriptures: when the imperial police knocked at the door and demanded of Christians that they surrender their sacred books, it became a matter of conscience in deciding whether one could hand over… the persecution under Diocletian may almost be said to have given the touch by which previously somewhat unsettled elements of the canon were further crystalized and fixed.” (3)

So rather than seeing the ancient church as involved in some sort of cover-up, we might question the motives of those who make such claims. They are so selective and arrogant in how they remember the past that historical evidence seems to be a trivial thing to them that just gets “… in the way of a good story. These historical revisionists have carved up the data of history and have told only that part of the story that supports their claims.” (3)

Here, I turn to 2Timothy again. Personally, the only thing that matters to me now is Jesus. Professionally, I have a scientific mind and all the scientific proof and research was needed for me to believe the authority of Scripture. But truly I have a heart full of love for Jesus. What my whole being needed all along was actually and only Him, and to know what He thought of Scripture and how he taught Scripture in order to know about its authority. Jesus’ position on Scripture was all I needed all along.

The question to ask here is, “Well, the Scripture canon was not established until the IV Century and Paul speaks in his letter to Timothy about Scripture, so what does he mean? What Scripture is this? Isn’t that a glitch in the system, a mistake?” No, it is not a mistake. Actually, the correct question to ask is, “What was Scripture for Jesus and his disciples?” The answer is simple, it was the Hebrew Scriptures. That is why though we call ourselves Christians, our faith is more properly to be referred to as Judeo-Christian faith. That is why our Bible includes the Torah and the prophets, which are the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament and what became the Christian scriptures of the New Testament – the gospels (biographies of Jesus), the epistles of the Apostles, and John’s apocalyptic writing. The former being the Old Covenant with God’s chosen Jewish people, the latter being the New covenant which builds on the Old for “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, it is more accurate to refer to the Bible not as one book but as library of over sixty books that were written in a span of thousands of years by over 40 different authors.

Jesus took Scripture seriously. He quoted it, taught it, and debated it with the Jewish religious leaders. Everything that Jesus taught was and is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yeshua, or Jesus in English, quoted or alluded to twenty-three of the thirty-six books of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus referred to and quoted from all five books of Moses (which is the Torah), the three major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, eight of the twelve minor prophets, and five of the “writings” (the Psalms) – in other words, Jesus quoted and referred to ALL of the books of the Law, most of the Prophets, and some of the Psalms writings. He referred to Deuteronomy about sixteen times, to Isaiah about forty times and the Psalms some thirteen times. The canon of Yeshua is pretty much what it was for most religiously observant Jews of his time, including the Essene Jews as evidenced by the Qumran scrolls discovery at the Dead Sea caves. What is more, thanks to the discoveries made through science and technology, there is evidence that villages and synagogues in the time of Jesus possessed scriptural scrolls. (3)

Jesus accepted all the major tenets of his Jewish faith such as the unity and sovereignty of God, who is not just any god; for example Baal or Krishna or Zeus, but who is the Lord God of Israel who is YHWH. Jesus accepted the authority and trustworthiness of the Jewish Scriptures. He accepted the authority of the Torah (that is, the Law). He did not reject the Torah as has sometimes been asserted and many would like to believe. The fact that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets does not mean that he cancelled them. It means that he fulfilled them. Other words for fulfill are to “satisfy,” “realize,” “accomplish,” “bring about” and “justify.” As Jesus himself has said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). What Jesus opposed in regards to Scripture were certain interpretations and applications of the Law that the religious leaders of the day had created in order to control the faithful people (very much like what the Catholic Church has done in the past). But it is important to be truthful to Jesus and be clear that he did not contradict the commands of Moses. He challenged the conventional interpretations and applications of those laws. For example, Jesus agreed that killing is wrong but he added that hatred is wrong too. He agreed that people should love their own people but he added that they should love other people as well, even their enemies. (1)

The evidence is overwhelming that Jesus was at home in a Jewish world that took seriously the teaching and stories of Scripture. He grew up in Nazareth, a village in which there was a small synagogue and it was in the context of this synagogue of Nazareth, his family and elders of the village that he was nurtured in, and not the context of Los Angeles or the Western World.  We would do good to remember that getting the context right is vitally important for understanding Jesus and Scripture. Putting him in the wrong context will inevitably lead to distorted portrait and the same applies to Scripture. Many however prefer no context at all. No wonder then that there is a trend to discount the historical and interpretative context of the sayings of Jesus as found in the New Testament… but take it out of context and with imagination and speculation many find new meaning for it today.

So what was the context of the book of Timothy in the New Testament? First off, the book of Timothy is actually an epistle, a letter that was written around A.D. 67 by Apostle Paul while he was in prison in Rome. The letter was addressed to Timothy who was a pastor of the church in Ephesus. Its purpose was to give Pastor Timothy final instruction and encouragement. Final because it was Paul’s last words as he was arrested and executed under Emperor Nero.

The Apostle was practically alone in prison as only Luke was with him. Paul wrote this letter as way of passing the torch to the next generation of Christian leaders. As Paul’s last letter, this epistle reveals the heart of the Apostle and his priorities – sound truthful doctrine, steadfast faith, lasting love, and endurance. (4)

Timothy was one of the first second-generation disciples of Jesus. He became a follower of Jesus not because he saw a loud evangelist preach a powerful sermon but because his mother and grandmother taught him the Holy Scriptures when he was a small child. (4)

The words prior to v. 14 read, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (vv.12-13). Timothy was surrounded by false teachers. Paul advised him to look to his past… to his childhood, which is the truth of the life of Jesus and to hold on to his teachings which are the eternal truth. In the society he lived, Timothy could’ve easily given up his faith or chosen to modify the teachings of Jesus like we see so many do today. But he did not. Those of us who are truly disciples of Jesus should look up to Timothy and not allow our society to distort our God’s truth. That is why Paul writes about “the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Scripture is not a collection of myths and human ideas about God. It is not a human book though it is penned down by the hand of men. That is what Paul means when he says that Scripture is breathed out by God – it is inspired and illuminated by God’s Holy Spirit. Through his Holy Spirit, God revealed his person and plan to certain people throughout history, who wrote down His message. The writers wrote from their own historical and cultural contexts, with their own hands. So yes, there might be spelling mistakes or two but even the modern print press is not errorless. And truth is that this is what seems so offensive to many people – the claim by Christians that the Bible is the Word of God and is divinely inspired. But let me ask those people, “Why don’t you find offensive the claim of the Muslims that the Qu’ran is from God (they literally say that the book’s information dropped from the sky before being compiled in a whole book), or the Hindu sacred divine texts? Why don’t you scrutinize those religious claims and the abuses perpetuated by those spiritualities as you are fast to do with Jesus?”

But one thing I have to say. I agree with non-believers when they say that the Bible is not the word of God. I agree with them because the God they believe in and refer to is not the Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible. The question here no one asks is, Who is your God? It is evident that for them who do not believe in Christ, the Lord God of the Jews is not their God. You may believe in a God, in a cosmic consciences God, or the universe, or in Krishna or Goddesses like Kali, or Allah and if you do so that means that your God is not Christ Jesus who is the one claimed to have inspired the Bible by his Spirit. And if you are not a believer in the God of the Judeo-Christian faith, truly you have no right critiquing the sacred Christian writings. It is interesting how I never criticize the sacred texts of my fellow citizens of the world, the Hindus or Muslims or even Buddhist even though Buddhism in its core is atheistic as Buddha himself having grown up in royal Hindu family repudiated Hinduism as a false religion and went on inventing his Buddhist system which he believed was the truth. I never say that these ancient teachings are not inspired by whom their followers claim them to be. I do believe that Hinduism and its writings are inspired by its polytheistic body of gods and goddesses like Krishna and Kali, and not by Jesus. I do believe that Islam and its writings came about from Muhammad, and not from Jesus. Just as Buddhism came about from Gautama Buddha, and not from Jesus. It is the Judeo-Christian faith that was breathed out from Jesus.

On another note, the same people, who deny the divine inspiration of the Bible say that every book written is holy and divinely inspired. But… if every book is holy and divinely inspired that would mean also that the book that is the Bible is holy and divinely inspired, isn’t it? It will also make Mein Kampf (My Struggle) a holy and divinely inspired book? In case you haven’t heard of it, My Struggle is the book that Hitler wrote which became one of the most influential books of a truly demented age and outsold all other books in Germany except the Bible. By 1933, its royalties had made Hitler a millionaire. It is in this book that Hitler laid out plain and clear what he planned to do if he were to ever get in charge of Germany in order to make him “lord of the earth.” His book was warped in the philosophy of some of the most prominent German philosophers of the XIX century that many today in the new spirituality camp subscribe to. Walking the path of the evolution of the human being and looking to how Mother Nature evolves are just two examples. Just consider these examples from the Nazi’s leader book: “Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish… Nature confers the Master’s right on the strongest (most evolved). They must dominate. They have the right to victory.”

So I have to ask those who like to say that all books are holy and divinely inspired to follow their own advice as this would mean that they have to acknowledge the Bible as well as Hitler’s book for holy and divinely inspired. Here however I would like to ask, what do you mean by divine? Because for the Christian there is an abysmal difference from a divine spirit to a divine spirit, and from the above example, it does look like Hitler’s book is inspired just not by the divine spirit of God rather by the spirit of a hellish divine being.

The people of today are more influenced by Greek philosophy than they realize. To the Greeks, this world was nicely divided into matter and Spirit. The first was evil or an illusion. The physical body was viewed more or less like a constraining space suit to be used in this life but the Spirit.. the Spirit was good and real. This is in fact in total opposition to the beliefs of Jesus. As Kenneth Bailey writes in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, “The prophets of the Old Testament and the authors of the New Testament emphasized that the spirit can be either good or evil while material things can be a blessing or a curse. Nowhere is this truth clearer than in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.” The biblical understanding of matter begins with the story of creation. God created matter and it was good not evil. Yes, matter provided the stimulus for disobedience… Matter, however (in this case, the forbidden fruit) was not at fault; the willfulness of Adam and Eve, who chose to disobey God’s command as it related to matter, was. Following that disobedience all of life began to fall apart. But the most important event affirming matter as good rather than evil was the coming of Jesus the Messiah (the Christ) – God came to us humans to serve and to walk amongst us as one of us in a real good old fashioned normal material human body as the person of Yeshua. That is why Jesus and his disciples spoke so often about spiritual discernment. Apostle John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)”  In Colossians we read, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ,” (Colossians 2:8). Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church, “…for such men are false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,” (2Corinthians 11:13-15).

Jesus himself said that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and his words recorded in Matthew 5:18 speak of that too “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Jesus spoke to the religious leaders in piercing boldness, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44).

It seems like that it all comes down to this… to the fact that being a Christian is offensive to people. To the fact that the name and person of Jesus cause such a great offense on many. Isn’t it interesting? It is not the name of Buddha or Krishna or Muhammad but it is the name of Jesus that offends people. Why is this? It is the same reason for which Rome persecuted Christians. Back than Christianity made claims that threatened the political empire. Today Christianity makes claims that threaten the spiritual, cultural and supposed “right of choice” empires. Historian Stephen Benko writes, “The Romans tolerated a remarkable degree of religious liberty, and they therefore found the Christians’ exclusive claims to truth disconcerting.” Gerald Sittser writes in Water from a Deep Well, “… Christians viewed their faith as ultimately and exclusively true, which threatened the popular pluralism of the day… they were certain that God chose to come to earth as Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world because all other attempts to reach God had failed. The Christian was convinced that he was in possession of the truth because Jesus Christ embodied the ultimate revelation about God [Benko]. In the end, the Christian belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord cased the greatest offense. Critics indicated that they were willing to accept Jesus as a way to God, just as they accepted most other ways to God, but only under the condition that Christians would abandon the belief that Jesus was The way to God. The Christian confession that Jesus is Lord simply flew in the face of Rome’s pluralism and tolerance. It also infuriated the intellectual elite, who understood Christianity well enough to recognize that it would not fit comfortably, if at all, into Roman culture… the Christian exclusivity – the idea that Jesus is the only way to God- offends the pluralistic assumptions of the day just as it did two thousand years ago. Now, as then, the idea that there is one religious truth runs contrary to the spirit of the age. It is assumed that religious belief could be and often is valuable… but there is no way of knowing which religion is actually true. Christians challenge this cultural assumption when they claim that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Christians have been causing such offense for two thousand years.”

So I invite you to do what Jesus invited his disciple Thomas to do: examine and see for yourself. When Thomas did not believe that Jesus has resurrected, he insisted that, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. Eight days later… Jesus came and stood among them and… said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-28)

Jesus called Thomas to examine the evidence so he has no doubts. And he calls you to do the same, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

What is your answer?

ScrollIsaiah

Recommended readings:

  1. Reinventing Jesus: How contemporary skeptics miss the real Jesus and mislead popular culture. J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace.
  2. Fabricating Jesus: how modern scholars distort the gospels. Craig Evans.
  3. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eye. Kenneth Bailey.
  4. Water from a deep well: Christian spirituality from early martyrs to modern missionaries. Gerald Sittser.
  5. Who is Jesus? Ravi Zacharias
  6. Simply Jesus. N.T. Wright.
  7. How God became King. N.T. Wright.
  8. The Reason for God. Timothy Keller.
  9. Jesus Among Other Gods. Ravi Zacharias.
  10. The End of Reason. Ravi Zacharias.
  11. Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis.
  12. Who is Jesus? Bruce Demerest
  13. and last but not least, THE BIBLE

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Bibliography:

This paper was heavily inspired by the following works

  1. Reinventing Jesus: How contemporary skeptics miss the real Jesus and mislead popular culture. J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace.
  2. Water from a deep well: Christian spirituality from early martyrs to modern missionaries. Gerald Sittser.
  3. Fabricating Jesus: how modern scholars distort the gospels. Craig Evans.
  4. The Bible (ESV, NIV, and KJV application commentary)
  5. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eye. Kenneth Bailey.

Other sources:

  1. James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries. Author of The KJV only controversy and The Forgotten Trinity.
  2. Scot McKnight, Karl. A. Olsson Professor in religious studies at North Park University
  3. Acts of the Christian Martyrs
  4. Bruce Metzger, biblical scholar and textual critic, longtime professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, Bible editor who served on the board of the American Bible Society and United Bible Societies.
  5. The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler. William Shirer.
  6. Stephen Benko, historian.
  7. Charles Spurgeon, the British Prince of Preachers
  8. and all of my studying in ministry

Why following your heart can be a false religion

The proper questions to be asked about any spirituality are not, “is it pleasant?” or “would it empower me?” or “does it fit with how I feel and what my heart desires and believes?” but plainly, “IS IT TRUE?” The human heart is as corrupt and conditioned as is the mind, and unless man is given a brand new heart by the work of God’s Spirit in the person, that person is bound to remain living a life in the self and not in the Spirit… living a life following what suits himself, what sounds good to his own personal feelings and opinions, and following the dead end path of his deceitful heart. “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked once and continued, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

The ancient Hebrew scriptures (which were also so well preserved in the latest discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls of the Essene Jews and included all five books of the Torah [part of the Old Testament now] and a complete scroll of the book of the Prophet Isaiah) tell us that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Only God its Creator can help us with that and save us from ourselves as he “searches the heart and examines the mind…” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10).

It has been said that truth may feel hurting and lies may feel as if they’re healing, and the key is “may feel” because in reality it’s not so as we all know… after all, we all get upset at politicians because we feel lied and given false promises or may be there are those of us who’d like the politics’ corruption to continue? No matter how painful the truth is, it always heals and no matter how yummy the lie tastes, it is always a poison. But since the creation of this world one of the greatest deceptions has been the substitution of God’s truth for a lie. And so many end up believing the lie because it “feels” healing, comforting, empowering, powerful, or gives a ticket to excusing one’s depraved way of living. We see this on and on in the so called new age spirituality where the focus is to feel your self, to follow your heart’s desires, to trust your heart’s guidance and your inner self, to claim your power, etc. – all about the self, not about God’s Spirit (or your neighbor’s self at least); all about going deep into your self, not about going deep into the Spirit; all about awakening to your self, not about awakening to God’s Holy Spirit; all about worshiping our self as if we are god, not about worshiping the One Living God who is the only One worthy of worship. Yes, I said it – God is the Only One worthy of worship, not us. But the lies of false teachings, which tell us to be our own highest guide and to trust in our self because we are divine beings, feel so good to our wicked heart and egoistic Self that many choose to take this very dead end path of false religion paved by new age spiritualists who are interested only in guiding people to their self thus creating their personal following of seeking souls and filling their own personal pocket. But as I said this ain’t the path to the living God but the dead end path of the mortal man. And as the Apostle Peter has said in his epistle, “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,”and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:17 – 22, Proverbs 26:11).

~

Jesus asked many times, “If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?” “I did tell you, but you do not believe….” (John 8:46, 10:25) Christ has not simply come to convict the world of its sin but to give us the keys to the kingdom so-to-speak by revealing plainly to us not just how to know the truth about God’s Spirit but about the redemptive reign of God. It’s about God’s royal power breaking through on earth and reigning over God’s people and hence, it’s about how to become heirs of His kingdom through and together with Jesus. As He says, Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3).

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. 8:17)

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, 3:6)

heirs-with-christRomans 8 - 38-39

Jesus said,“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41)

Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:13-20)

And Jesus sends to us the Holy Spirit, our advocate and comforter, who Jesus said “… will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

 Of sin, because they believe not on me;

Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;

Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

  …(and) when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:8-15)


Are you in “the Know?” – an exegesis on 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

On a bed of grass, a chameleon’s skin turns green. On the earth, it becomes brown. The animal changes to match the environment. Many creatures blend into nature with God-given camouflage that suits to aid their survival. It is natural to fit in and adapt to the environment but followers of Christ are new creations, born from God above and transformed within, with values and lifestyles that confront the world and clash with accepted ethical standards. – this is a beautiful imagery that I read in my life application Bible, which reminded me that indeed true believers don’t blend in very well with popular society and culture, and that is why many may feel like they don’t fit in. The followers of Jesus in Corinth certainly did feel this way as they were struggling with their environment. (2)

Corinth was strategically located on the narrow isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus and the Greek mainland. It was founded in 44 B.C. as a Roman colony serving as a residence for freed men from Rome. During the first century A.D., Corinth was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Archaeologists have identified about twenty-six sacred places devoted to various “gods” and “lords” in the remains of first-century Corinth. In a way, it may be said that Corinth is a long distance relative of our Los Angeles as it was a melting pot of diverse influences from East and West: from Roman laws, culture, and religion to Greek religion, philosophy, and art to mystery cults from Egypt and Asia to even some Jews and their religion Judaism. The rich lived alongside the poor, who were the majority. They were the artisans, freedmen, and slaves. Corinth was a major cosmopolitan city, a seaport and a major trade center; hence it was the most important city in Achaia.  Very much like in our modern day Los Angeles, it was also filled with idolatry and depravity where journeying philosophers “on-the-road” and unscrupulous counterfeit “spiritual” teachers and healers taught their ways side by side in the streets of Corinth. The mass marketed spirituality in LA and the West as a whole indeed mirrors in some bizarre way the spirituality of the day in ancient Corinth.(1,2,4,5)  It was in Corinth where during his second missionary trip, Paul had established one of the first congregations of Jesus. The diverse mixture of “Jew, Greek, slave, free, rich, and poor inevitably led to tensions and internal rivalries.” (5)

1 Corinthians is Apostle Paul’s written response in the form of a letter to the problems in the church in Corinth. This letter was written only about 15 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. It was written during the end of Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus and was Paul’s third contact with this congregation. Paul’s letter was prompted by the disturbing news from Corinth, which consisted of oral reports from Chloe’s household, a letter from the church, and the visit of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.

It was just a bit over a decade after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. Surrounded by corruption and iniquity, the Corinthian followers of Christ Jesus felt the pressure to adapt. And so when Paul was informed of their struggles, like a loving father, he wrote to aid the Corinthian followers by healing their divisions and answering their questions. Like a loving father, he also confronted them about their sin and their need for corrective action and faithful commitment. Today, our society is challenged by the very same old Corinthian problems and so Paul’s letter is quite relevant to our “now”.

Paul starts with a brief introduction (1:1-9) and immediately turns to the question of unity by addressing the most serious problem in the church, its disunity (1:10-4:21). He repeatedly challenges the Corinthians’ unChristlike arrogant understanding of themselves and of Christ’s Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us not to blend with the world and accept its desacralizing values and lifestyles but to live Christ-centered lives. Remarkably, it retains a painstaking contemporary relevance to us. As Asbury commentator George Lyons notes, the cosmopolitan setting of the church, the individualism of its members and their behavioral aberrations, its self-centered spirituality, and its accommodation to culture strikingly mirror today’s church. Paul’s guidance is still up to date, particularly the call for discipleship modeled after the meekness of Christ, love, faithfulness, edification in worship, and permanent marriages…after all, our lives are just too short to be lived for any lesser values.

Paul explains the paradoxical implications of the good news of a crucified Messiah, who through his very suffering, death, and resurrection reconciles us to God. Jesus willingly and fully surrendered to the will of the Father, even though he experienced dread, pain, and even sweat drops of blood in his agony. As Rabbi John Parsons puts it, “He yielded to the Father’s care even in the darkest hours of his persecution and torment…. By giving himself over to God’s care, he was able to love his enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to overcome evil with the greater power of the good. His love was not reciprocally offered; it did not depend on our acceptance, but was grounded in the power of all love. He loves us as we are, even when we were his enemies: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us” (Rom. 5:8).” Hence, Paul’s personal ministry approach was marked by meekness, love and whole hearted Christlike service. As Lyon says, “His (Paul’s) opposition to the gospel of success (or, prosperity gospel present day) and to its superministers arises from their proclamation of “another Jesus.” As we eavesdrop on these ancient letters, we do so with the expectation that we may learn…” how to translate our spiritual commitment into a life of ministry that is consistent with, not a compromise of Jesus. And that is what we see through Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16:  

But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:9-16 NET)

Paul’s diagnosis of the Corinthians’ problems is that at the root of their division is their arrogance (see also 1 Cor 4:18-19; 5:2) thus he confronts their arrogant self-estimate and self-empowerment seeking. Many people think they are mature or as some put it “spiritually evolved,” when in fact they don’t even truly know what it means to be spiritual. True spirituality comes from the Spirit of God and not from the spirit of man through various cultural traditions, wise sages, substances you ingest or mystical personal experiences you have. Because people choose not to believe God but to believe themselves, they cannot receive the things of the Spirit which seem like foolishness to them. The unbeliever, who is only a prejudiced believer in himself and a consumer of the “spirituality” of his choice, prefers the things of man that will bring him mystical experiences, self- empowerment, self-realization and the approval of people. Paul, who was a former Jewish Pharisee with Roman citizenship and was fluent and well-educated in Greek, knew how to use the Corinthian “slang” to challenge their egotistical self-image and desire for empowerment. The specific Greek word that he uses in this verse as “mature” is τέλειος or teleios with the literal meaning of “perfect.” Teleios was a technical term of the mystery religions during those times that referred to the fully initiated as opposed to merely casual devotees. It is as if Paul is stating that the claim of the popular kings and wise sages to be spiritual is a claim of the one who has an inflated notion of his status and his Self thus mistakenly “thinks he knows something” and “is standing firm.” As he has written “If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know” (1 Cor. 8:2), “so let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12),  and as it is laid out plainly in the verses prior to 2:9, “Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:6-8).

Everyone wants to be wise. Everyone wants to live in “the know” just as in “the now.” We have put wisdom and knowledge on their own pedestal and have made them idols of the modern day evolved human. Yet in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul taught the Corinthians and teaches us that true wisdom is not knowledge, is not insight, is not intelligence, is not some experience. Paul teaches that true wisdom is discernment, which requires the believer to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Because Satan, who is the deceiver, always counterfeits truth, uses half-truth or twists and distorts the truth, he hooks the truth-seeker and so the greatest impact on us occurs when he deceives us by his manipulation of God’s Truth. This is also the time when we need the Holy Spirit’s help the most but we think we need help the least because being fed the counterfeit diet, which is like an appetizing but toxic GMO food, we confidently believe that we are eating the good real healthy thing; and because we know so much in our wisdom we do not let anyone tell us otherwise. That is why we think of God’s wisdom as foolishness and of man’s wisdom as true wisdom. But it is not. Spiritual discernment is true wisdom because it enables us to draw conclusions based on God’s perspective, not ours, to distinguish the correct and incorrect use of Scripture, and to identify and expose false teachings and teachers. In another letter, Galatians Paul beautifully and straightforwardly says, …if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. (Gal 6:14)”

To better understand 1 Cor 2:9-16, we must look back to verse 8, which is the prelude to those verses and in a strange daunting way speaks to us in our age as it did to the Corinthians in their age: “None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Jesus was misunderstood and rejected by those whom the world considered wise and great, both in the past and in the now. Jesus was put to death by the leaders of Palestine – the High Priest, King Herod, Pilate, the Pharisees and Saducees, AND by the crowd, which was both Jew and Gentile. All this was predicted clearly by Isaiah and Zechariah many years prior: “He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3), and “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon.”          ( Zechariah 12:10,11)

In verse 9, we see that in contrast to the wise and great of this world who cannot even conceive the greatness of divine salvation, those who love God know and experience His blessings. In verse 10, Paul speaks of the Spirit who is the one who gives us revelation (“revealed to us by the Spirit”) and the one who “searches everything.” Revelation is firmly tied to illumination and conviction. Illumination and conviction are a result of the direct activity of the Holy Spirit in a person. Stated well by Rev. Terry Cornett, illumination is the work of the Spirit of God that enables us to grasp the meaning of Scripture for “our own life and times.” Apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, God’s revelation cannot be neither understood nor believed. Conviction too is an activity of the Spirit but one that brings for a deep inner awareness of one’s remorse before God. As Rev. Cornett says, “Conviction undermines the sense of self-justification and excuse-making that accompanies human wrong-doing.” Put in simple words, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. Therefore, “true conviction of sin is never a human phenomenon but is always a work of the Spirit of God” (Rev. Cornett). This a good place to briefly mention that as Simone Weil and Barbara Taylor have once said, “All sins are attempts to fill voids” “because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things but only God may fill it” (B. Taylor). Said plainly, sin is the violation of divine purpose and one’s sacredness as a child of God. It is the rejection of God.

The idea of divine searching in verse 10 emphasizes God’s omniscience, especially His power to see what is invisible to humans because “He that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:27). Apostle John says, “He (God’s Spirit) did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25). This does not imply that the Holy Spirit needs to seek knowledge of the Father that He otherwise lacks but rather that the Spirit probes the depths of divine knowledge for our benefit. Jesus himself has said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children” (Matt 11:25).

The words “…so that we may know” in verse 12 stand out, especially to those of us who think we already know. But in the moment of reading these words we are reminded that just because we think we know and understand that may not be so because true understanding is instilled only by God’s decision. These words remind us that “For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus himself has said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:12-15). Jesus is the one who explicitly sends the Spirit to convict the world of sin as he says But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:7-11). (It is important to note that the word “advocate” does not fully convey the greatness of what Jesus was speaking. The word used in the original Greek manuscripts is παράκλητος (Paraclete or paracletos). It can be translated as advocate, helper, comforter, and counselor as it embodies all of these meanings. Hence, finding an adequate translation that will completely sum up the Greek word’s meaning is hard because no single English word has exactly the same range of meaning as the Greek. In the NET bible the translators choose to use the English word “advocate” because as they say, “advocate is someone who “advocates” or supports a position or viewpoint and since this is what the Paraclete will do for the preaching of the disciples…”)

Human eloquence, wisdom, attractiveness and promises of wealth and empowerment seem to so easily hook the seeker as these are life-guiding values for many of this new age we live in. But Paul reminds us that the apostles, teachers, followers of Christ – the whole body of Christ “… we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:13). What he is basically saying is that the truth revealed by the Spirit must be explained in such a way that is harmonious with the Spirit Himself. Apostle Peter in his epistle says, “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

I would like to conclude by drawing attention to the fact that 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 starts with a quotation from Isaiah and ends with a quotation from Isaiah. “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” is a quotation from the Old Testament Isaiah 64:4 and “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him” is from 40:13. These two quotes from two different chapters of Isaiah are not a random use for Paul. Considering chapter 40, biblical commentator Dan Johnson says that “some of the grandest theology in the Bible appears here. The sovereignty of God is portrayed in an exquisite and powerful way…” Chapter 40 is part of Isaiah’s messages to the Jewish exiles and Chapter 64 speaks of their great return and resettlement. Chapter 40 is where Isaiah’s prediction about Babylon had come true. As Isaiah had warned the Jews, in 587 B.C. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem, levels the temple, and takes its treasures and most of its people to Babylon as exiles. In Chapter 64, Isaiah speaks of God’s glory and the future glory God has prepared for his freed people.

Thinking about the habits and tendencies of the young and not-so-young modern day people, I cannot help but think about the thousands of hours that are spent on Facebook and other social media, and in front of the TV, movie, computer and iPhone screens. No longer has one to walk out of his comfortable abode to see poverty, disease, or abuse – you just need to check your Facebook or flip the channel, and it is all there giving you the “feel good” sense about yourself that you are informed and informing others but that is actually a delusionary sense. You think of yourself as a compassionate and well-informed about the world’s depravities person now when in fact you have not even had any real personal touch with the pain of another nor have you laid your very own two hands on another to help pick them up or to heal them. You have simply been a viewer and a consumer of their pain and suffering while actually believing yourself that you have been their wayshower, or helper, or even savior. Modern day media and popular teachers are a good reminder that there are some big vested interests to make you believe in yourself as such in order to control and turn you simply in a puppet in their puppeteers’ hands.

Somehow, reading Apostle Paul’s words I am reminded of how the first universities started. They started as and to this day are one of the biggest control mechanisms. When Aristotle told his private student Alexander the Great, “Kill them all” in regards to the native people in the lands that Alexander conquered, Alexander as a good student answered, “No. I will teach them!” – and what a genius idea that was! And so he built the first universities teaching people Greek, astronomy, and philosophy. Giving people the (false) sense of spirituality, empowerment, righteousness and pleasure by giving them the very sense of superiority, feeling good about themselves, and feeling empowered from their knowledge and the mystical while achieving control over people’s thoughts and intentions, and subverting them to his way without the people even realizing. It also reminds me of many modern day teachers from Chopra to Oprah to Michael Beckwith and Marianne Williamson, who know well how to use the ancient clever techniques to keep the masses following them and so keeping the flow in their bank accounts “following” too.

1 Corinthians teaches us that no matter how powerful and liberating modern day gurus or teachers can be, no one can understand God but by his Spirit and through Jesus, and only as such we have an insight into God. In fact, we have the “mind of Christ.” Those who host anger, belittlement, bewilderment, intolerance, and misinterpretation of what it means to be a Christian (Christ – one), do not see that the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Lord are one and the same, and hence have no authority to teach or examine Him. “By implication, those who accept Paul’s teaching have the blessing of the Spirit and understand the things of God”. (1) They know Christ, and know that He is incomparable.

Who has measured out the waters in the hollow of his hand,

or carefully measured the sky,

or carefully weighed the soil of the earth,

or weighed the mountains in a balance,

or the hills on scales?

Who comprehends the mind of the Lord,

or gives him instruction as his counselor?

From whom does he receive directions?

Who teaches him the correct way to do things,

or imparts knowledge to him,

or instructs him in skillful design? 

Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket;

they are regarded as dust on the scales.

He lifts the coastlands as if they were dust.  

  ~ Isaiah 40:12-16

holy-spirit-by-power5Teach me, O Lord, the lifestyle prescribed by your statutes, so that I might observe it continually. Give me understanding so that I might observe your law, and keep it with all my heart. Guide me in the path of your commands, for I delight to walk in it. Give me a desire for your rules, rather than for wealth gained unjustly. Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!  ~ Psalm 119:33-37

corinth map

Resources:

  1. My Gospel ministerial studies at TUMI-LA
  2. KJV life application study bible, commentator’s notes on 1 Corinthians.
  3. NET bible, Hebrew and Greek translator notes for Isaiah and 1 Corinthians.
  4. Wesleyan bible commentary available at biblegateaway.com
  5. Asbury Bible Commentary available at biblegateaway.com
  6. George Lyons, Asbury Bible Commentary available at biblegateaway.com
  7. Rev. Terry Cornett, God the Holy Spirit, Capstone curriculum
  8. Ravi Zacharias work
  9. NET (New English Translation) Bible, commentary on original earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts
  10. Rabbi John Parsons, hebrewforchristians.com