Preachers: don’t believe everything you see!

Have you seen the memes that go like this?

A pastor friend just mentioned something that I had also wondered, that the figure 365 seemed really high! So I ran it through my Bible software, and within a few minutes found that the number indeed was way off.[1]

“Fear not” is a Kings-James-ism; the NET and the NASB versions each have it a few times, the other modern versions do not, including the New KJV; the earlier English versions do use it: Douay-Rheims, Coverdale Bible, Geneva Bible. So, checking the KJV, I would say that are exactly 70 examples of the phrase “fear not.” But only around 44 are in the sense of, “Fear not, because God is with you,” as said by God or some messenger. The other 26 examples are more mundane: “Fear not, your baby is almost born” (Gen 35:17) and other things.[2]

33 “fear nots” are from the Old Testament, 11 from the New Testament; Isaiah is the winner with eight instances; taken together, the Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke have four.

#1 is this well-known verse: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Gen 15:1

#44, the last, is Rev 1:17 – “And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last.”

Even if one expanded the search to include other versions of the phrase (“do not be afraid,” for example), one does not attain the magic number of 365.

That is to say, the Bible has 365 “Fear not” passages if and only if you own nine copies of the King James Bible.

Of course, if one wanted to say that there are hundreds of verses which, whether they use the specific phrase “fear not” or not, serve to allay our fears with God’s promises, they will get no argument from me! To begin with, Matt 6:34 – “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” My point here is not to be finicky with regard to the semantics, but rather that, (1) it’s too easy to pass along “facts” without checking them, and (2) that preachers especially, more than are the laity, are under an obligation to check the facts before repeating them.

PS – To mention another “fact”: I have lately seen “Prophecy Experts” claiming that unless the United States backs the permanent unification of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Palestinians, then they will fall under God’s final judgment. This is based on “… there will I deal with and execute judgment upon them for their treatment of My people and of My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations and because they have divided My land” (Joel 3:2).[3] In my opinion this is a poor interpretation indeed of the Joel passage; but my point here, again, is that the preacher who hears this being passed around is under obligation to determine for him/herself whether this really means that Jerusalem must be the capital of the modern State of Israel and not (simultaneously) the capital of a Palestinian state.

NOTES:

[1] Here is one example among many: https://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-warren-why-god-encourages-christians-to-fear-not-365-times-in-the-bible-163029/

[2] Here is the list of 44: Genesis 15:1, 21:17, 26:24, 46:3, Exod 20:20, Deut 1:21, 20:3, 31:6, 31:8, Josh 8:1, 10:25, Judges 6:23, Ruth 3:11, 1 Sam 12:20, 22:23, 2 Kings 6:16, 1 Chron 28:20, 2 Chron 20:17, Psalm 78:53, Isaiah 7:4, 35:4, 41:13, 41:14, 43:1, 43:5, 44:2, 54:4, Jeremiah 46:27, Lamentations 3:57, Daniel 10:12, Daniel 10:19, Joel 2:21, Zech 8:13, Matthew 1:20, 28:5, Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10, 5:10, 8:50, 12:7, John 12:15, Acts 27:24, Revelation 1:17. The verse mentioned in the second meme, Joshua 1:9, has “fear not” only in the older Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheims.

[3] Here is one of the more extreme versions of this idea, but in all honesty I have not found anyone who takes this viewpoint do anything better with these key Old Testament passages. David Jeremiah takes a similar view.

“Preachers: don’t believe everything you hear!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Putting Christ back into Christmas

Putting Christ back into Christmas is not as simple as getting our neighbors to agree to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”

No, it is a daily spiritual discipline: speaking the truth about the incarnate Savior; abstaining from the addictions of materialism, anxiety, family squabbles and a critical spirit, in fact, all the variations of being unloving; and above all, anticipating his Advents, first in Bethlehem and second on the Mount of Olives, as our King.

Will it Kill your Pastor if he Visits You? A Response to Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and has a very popular blog on church life. Having read with approval a number of his other articles, I was surprised to find one that I roundly disagreed with.

It is titled “FIFTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR PASTOR SHOULD NOT VISIT MUCH”

And he is serious. He is really not happy with churches which expect to see their pastor in their home any time soon. Unless it’s an emergency. A big one.

So with all due respect, I responded to him on his blog, and will offer much the same thoughts here. (Here is another, very useful, response, by Andrew Roy Croft, who offers a positive argument for pastoral visitation).

To begin with, I thought this was one of those stealth articles that start off, “10 Reasons to Vote the Socialist Ticket,” but turn out to be pro-Republican. But no, I read it through a number of times, and it’s not ironic.

His point is that pastoral visitation a newfangled idea, that there’s altogether too much visitation going on, and it should be slimmed down and (perhaps) limited only to extreme situations. Otherwise pastor visitation is the Zika virus that will kill your church, leave your pastor burned (out) beyond recognition, and make him/her leave! Oh yes he will!!

Don't answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and destruction for your church!

Don’t answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and apocalyptic destruction for your church!

Pastor Rainer has 15 objections to pastoral visitation, many of which are, upon closer examination, the same reason stated differently. To quote:

  1. It’s unbiblical. 2. It deprives members of their roles and opportunities. 3. It fosters a country club mentality. 4. It turns a church inwardly. 5. It takes away from sermon preparation. 6. It takes away from the pastor’s outward focus (the same as #4, right?) 7. It takes away vital leadership from the pastor. 8. It fosters unhealthy comparisons among the members. 9. It is never enough. 10. It leads to pastoral burnout (see #9). 11. It leads to high pastoral turnover (see #9, 10). 12. It puts a lid on Great Commission growth of the church (see #4, 6). 13. It leads pastors to get their affirmation from the wrong source. 14. It causes biblical church members to leave. 15. It is a sign that the church is dying (see #14). And then later: It’s a key sign of [church] sickness. It’s a clear step toward [congregational] death.

So, it is no exaggeration that his message is that pastoral visitation may even now be killing your church!

Let’s define “pastoral visitation” as, where one or more of the leaders of the church go to where their people are, traditionally but not necessarily in the home, hospital, or long-term care facility, in order to spend time with them and to conduct pastoral ministry (exhortation, encouragement, correction).

Here is part of the response that I wrote on his website, that there were three weaknesses to the argument; I address the author as “you.”

First, the historical. You write that “‘Visitation of the members’ became a common job description of pastors about a century ago.” You imply that it is a recent innovation.

While it may have become more conventional these days to write the thing out in a job description, visitation of the members has been part of the pastoral task since the beginning. In fact, it was a vital aspect (more…)

“But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 2

“…Okay, wait, so then, hah, hah, so then the second guy says to the first one, ἐκεινος οὐκ ἐστιν ὁ κυῶν μου!! Oh, that one gets me every time!"

“…Okay, wait, so then, hah, hah, so then the second guy says to the first one, ἐκεινος οὐκ ἐστιν ὁ κυῶν μου!! Oh, mercy, that one gets me every time!”

In Part 1, I argued in favor of a sharply minimalist use of ancient Hebrew and Greek words during a sermon, especially if there is no compelling purpose or, worse, if the goal is to impress the crowd: it is a pitiable housepainter who departs the job with his scaffolding still up, hoping you’ll notice how far he had to climb. See “But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1 and Part 3.

Now, I believe an interpreter of the Word should invest the time necessary to work through it in the original, just as you would learn Spanish if you were going to teach Don Quixote, week in and week out, for the rest of your life. However, in our sermons we should avoid Hebrewfying and Greekitizing, simply because it is rarely of help.

Now we will explore some issues with the Greek language (more…)

Published in: on June 29, 2013 at 11:15 am  Comments (22)  
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“But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1

Para la versión castellana, vaya AQUI.

Come with me to ESEPA Seminary in Costa Rica: we meet at night around a table, and with me are all my advanced students of Greek. Throughout four semesters we have studied the ancient dialect, koinē, and they have found blessings as they read the New Testament in the original.

Tonight we’ll take a different tack: “I’m about to impart something very important to you,” I alert them. Nodding, they lean forward.

“Here’s the mystical wisdom: (1) With almost no exceptions, whenever I preach, I study  deeply the passage in the original language. But, (2) I almost never mention a Greek or Hebrew word from the pulpit. In fact, I go for years without making a peep in those languages.”

I let that sink in.

Then: “If you cannot state in plain, precise Spanish what you have found in the text, then you don’t really understand the passage and you shouldn’t be preaching on it.” (more…)

May Christians create holidays such as Christmas?

May Christians create holidays? The Bible gives us precedent to say Yes.

First, God’s people have always celebrated holidays that are not mandated in the Bible. To name three, the feast of Purim was established in the 400s BC, when Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews from slaughter. The name Purim is the Hebrew form of a pagan, Babylonian word for “lots”. The feast began when “the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.” Crucially for us, nowhere does God mandate it as a holy day, as he did Passover or Pentecost – it was a human decision.

Second, the Jews invented the holiday of Chanukah or Hanukkah (more…)

Early Frost: A tale of Christmas in Rhode Island

A special story for the season!

It is a scientific fact: the winters of one’s child years are much colder, darker, snowier and more perilous than the winters served to these same people as adults. Nor is this natural law any respecter of generation. Old-timer, post-war, boomer, post-boomer: each child in every era survives to see winter eventually lose its icy chokehold, become indifferent to the point where the Ice Age rolls back. With added years the terror of wolves prowling the suburbs melts into slush and seeps away. Fellow adults begin to step outside, hatless and scarfless. Those cars that still bobble away the spark of combustion are themselves culpable, their onboard computers stripped of the defense of blaming the environment.

(more…)