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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Why Would a Hurricane Hit Texas and Florida, and not, for example, Alabama?

Related essay: “False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

I offer the following difficult theme with, I hope, all respect to those who suffer and with prayer God’s blessings on the residents of Texas as they pull their lives back from the flood and the Caribbean and Florida and especially Puerto Rico. And we will close with an appeal for donations.

Hurricane Harvey, 2017

Human beings are wired to look for cause and effect. The car won’t start; that means the battery must be dead! That bell keeps ringing; there must be someone at the front door!

But we don’t always get it right. If, for example, you are one of those people who get to the the kitchen, only to say, “Now what did I come in here for?!”, a false explanation might be that, e.g., there must be a gas leak in the kitchen that causes temporary amnesia.

My favorite “false cause” story comes from the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Millions from Ontario through Pennsylvania went without power for hours. When it hit, a Conway, New Hampshire, boy was on his way home from school. As boys will do, he was hitting stuff with a stick. He swung with all his might at a telephone pole, and just as he connected, the lights went off all over town! He ran home distraught, telling his mother that the blackout was all his fault! (more…)

Israel and Palestine and a Hope for Peace

Seminario ESEPA held a conference in 2014 on the topic of “Israel and Palestine.” They asked me to be one of the participants; I offered the following thoughts, which I have updated a bit, with the warning that they come from a Bible student with only cursory knowledge of world affairs.

Good evening, and thank you for allowing me to participate tonight, alongside of my esteemed colleagues.

1. Where are the answers?

In my case, and I think in yours, there are answers to the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Word of God. There are many other levels, of course – historical, political, military, etc. – but our focus and our authority will be the Bible. And from the gospel I offer you two basic truths:

First – “God’s people” today is not equivalent to the modern State of Israel; rather, we define “God’s people” as those who believe in Christ, no more and no less. As it says in Romans 9:24-26 – “even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” And in Galatians 3:7 we have – “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” That is the promise for the gentiles and the Jews who believe in Jesus, period; and there is no other manner for anyone, not even Israelites, to be saved, as some teach today, falsely teach, in my opinion. Any believer in Jesus is now a true descendant of Abraham. That is not Replacement Theology (or Supersessionism), by the way, as we shall now see, since:

Second – our other, corresponding, gospel truth is from Romans 11, which speaks of the olive tree, in which Gentile believers have been “grafted.” But in his conclusion, Paul adds a surprising note in Rom 11:23 – “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” and 11:26 – “and in this way all Israel will be saved.” I take this passage, admittedly a difficult one, to predict a universal conversion of Israelites to Christ as an eschatological even at or around the Second Coming. Paul does not, however, speak of a return of Israel to the Land in unbelief, nor of any mandate to control both halves of Jerusalem, nor the need or desirability to build a Third Temple – the temple he is concerned with in his letters (1 Corinthians, Ephesians) is the temple that is the body of Christ.

2. How does the Bible help us to solve modern questions about the Middle East?

I am not at all convinced that current events in the Middle East are specifically predicted in the Bible; that is to say, I see little to nothing in the prophets that speaks directly to 2017, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ISIS, Iranian nuclear development, Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan, and so forth. Taking the two truths described above as a basis, I will offer some brief thoughts to some of the main questions regarding Israel and Palestine, and will conclude my time with a positive suggestion. I will focus on Israel, because that’s the side that seems to interest my fellow Christians tonight.

Should Christians regard the modern state of Israel as God’s chosen nation? Or to use the language of one group, Christians United For Israel (CUFI), are we obligated “to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel and to speak out on their behalf whenever and wherever necessary until the attacks stop and they are finally living in peace and security with their neighbors”? I say no, or at least I reject that this encapsulates the whole truth. I would suggest we say that, God’s ancient people will be redeemed in the End, when they come to Christ, but as of now the State of Israel has no special claim on our support, other than the justice we should seek for any nation; nor is it proper to call them “brothers and sisters” any more than we would say of any fellow human being.  A commitment to the Bible does not lead one to “Christian Zionism.”

Should Christians defend Israel, just as some hid Jews during the Holocaust? I say that, yes, Christians are always obligated to defend the persecuted. If we are speaking of Nazi persecution, we would have been under the solemn obligation to defend and protect the 6 million Jews and the 5 million non-Jews, which included Slavs, Catholic leaders, Gypsies, the mentally and physically handicapped, and – oh, yes! – Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. When ISIS looked about to exterminate thousands of Christians and Yazidis in August 2014, it was our obligation to pray for and aid all of them, despite the fact that theologically we Christians have been at odds with the Yazidis for almost 2000 years.

Does the modern state of Israel have an absolute, immediate right to annex all the territory God promised to Abraham, which would include not just all of Palestine but also parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria? I say no. In Genesis 15:18 God says to Abraham “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.” This is repeated almost wholesale in Joshua 1:4 – “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.” There are people who say that if Israel allows even a square meter of the West Bank to be under Palestinian control, then it is acting out of wickedness and unbelief. For example, in 1967 Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook argued that all land west of the Jordan had to be occupied by Israel: “Yes, where is our Hebron? Have we forgotten it? And where is our Shechem? And our Jericho? Will we forget them? And the far side of the Jordan, it is ours, every clod of soil, every region and bit of earth belonging to the Lord’s land. Is it in our hands to give up even one millimeter?”[i] To this I must say No. Israel has never in any one moment of time occupied all of the territory of these two texts; so why, all of a sudden, do they have to, are they obligated by God to, occupy Palestine and not, one should hasten to add, the areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Egypt that are also implied?

Are the Palestinians an “invented” people, as said US politician Newt Gingrich? That they do not deserve a state, and should just pull up stakes and “go elsewhere”?[ii] I say no. (more…)

Why I left party politics and never looked back

One of my infrequent thoughts on politics, written in 2013 and revised in September 2018 in the run-up to the midterm elections.

2003 blog

It was March 20, 2003. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Then I walked out on my political party, the Republicans. I did so principally in protest against President Bush’s attack on Iraq that week, which was the culmination of months of insistence that we must rout out their weapons of mass destruction and chase out Al Qaida. With many others, I saw no serious evidence of either claim. I believe there was no conscious deception, but a severe case of cognitive bias on the part of the administration: it saw what it wanted to see. And here in 2018, there is still no trace of a single WMD ever, and overwhelming evidence that Al Qaida was not in Iraq, that is, until after we invaded and opened the door to them. All this cost the US 2.4 trillion dollars, which the government had to borrow.

I also had to conclude that two Americans whom before that point I admired, Colin Powell and Condi Rice, had been co-opted to make the case for war in Iraq, when there was no case to be made.

In the run-up to Iraq, many evangelical leaders urged caution. Others signed the Land Letter (October 2002), which tried to put together a theological justification for a military strike: claiming that a pre-emptive strike was in fact “defensive” in nature; that it was a truly “last resort”, due to their WMDs and harboring Al-Qaida; and because the US would try to not harm non-combatants. It will repay Christians of later generations to read the Land Letter and at the same time examine the actual results of the Iraq war to demonstrate how wildly – and if it were not for the massive death toll, hilariously – off-target such sentiments can be. (more…)