How Should Christians Vote?

Tomorrow countless people will be going to polling stations to place their votes in the British general election. During the election campaign, there has been a number of articles written advising Christians on how they should vote. But really when I look at scripture it’s very clear to me that Christians shouldn’t be voting at all. Romans 13:1 tells us that all authorities have been established by God but if people are out there voting then it’s not God who is establishing authority – it’s the people who vote that are establishing the authority.

I know some may say ‘well God is using our votes to establish his authority’, but does the creator of the universe really need you to vote? Surely if he’s as powerful as Scripture states then he’d be able to intervene in an election without any help from us. Upon reading Romans 13 it seems to me any Christian who votes is really doubting God. Instead of heading to polling stations tomorrow Christians should be holding prayer meeting because really it is God who decides.

So is that what I’m going to be doing? Well no actually, I won’t be doing that. Does that mean I doubt God? Maybe so. But really I don’t think we should trust what Apostle Paul wrote back then. Sure it was a hopeful way to look at those in authority back then but the fact is the Apostle didn’t live in a democracy. I think what Paul said was only meant for those who were alive when he was. In his writings, he was making a comment on the way he saw his world operates.

But in my view, if you think the Bible is the literal, inerrant, infallible word of God then you should stay away from the polling stations tomorrow.

Contact me at joelsblog@aol.co.uk

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Where I Am Spiritual – Eschatology (Part 1)

Words like end times, last days, second coming, rapture, tribulation, antichrist can cause people to react several ways. Christians may react with excitement or fear, then cynics may react with mocking or eye rolling. For me, fear has been a common reaction when I hear of such things. When I was younger there was only one way of viewing eschatology and that was the Pre-tribulation Premillennialism view (rapture, tribulation, second coming, last judgment). But that changed about 3 years ago when I was reading through the gospel of Matthew.

In Matthew 10:23 Jesus says to his disciples that they will not go through all the towns of Israel “before the son of man comes”. After reading I was amazed because the text puts holes into the prophetic teachings I had heard. In weeks that followed I discovered that there were those who rejected Pre-tribulation Premillennialism and embraced something called Preterism (majority or all prophecies being fulfilled in or around AD 70) by listening to a debate between Terry Boyle, Dee Dee Warren and Andrew Whyte. Then in the next months or so I found out there were two kinds of Preterist beliefs – that being Partial Preterism and Full Preterism. Keeping it brief, Partial Preterism is the belief that majority of the prophecies in scripture have been fulfilled meanwhile, Full Preterists will say that all prophesies have been fulfilled. After discovering Preterism I then found out about Post-tribulation Premillennialism (like Pretribulationalism except that there’s no rapture).

I was surprised because I thought all Christians believed the same thing when it came to eschatology. Yet if you have a closer look at the Bible you can see how different theories would be thought up. People also seems to get mixed up with Pre-tribulation and Post-tribulation, and really it’s hardly unsurprising since they’re very similar. And then there’s some who seem to be unaware that Preterism is an actual belief. I do think we should be aware of all eschatological interpretations since there could some Pastors and ministries that could exploit our ignorance.

An idea for a  successful (yet unethical) business could be to start a TV show, have guests in to invoke fear by talking about all things regarding the end times, and then tell them to buy overpriced products from a website to survive the tribulation. And of course, people would buy such products since fear causes people to do irrational things. This isn’t something I’ve made up, there are actually shows on Christian TV (like The Jim Bakker Show) that are constantly talking about how the end is nigh, and offering products like food and torches to help their viewers supposedly survive the last days. I don’t know why Jim Bakker and others do what they do. Maybe they genuinely believe what they’re telling people but equally, it’s possible they could not believe a single word they say. It’s possible they could be just wanting to deceive people so they could make a lot of money.

I think it’s undeniable that if all Christians stopped believing in some sort of futuristic interpretation of the book of Revelation, and chose to believe in one of preterist theories, quite a number of authors and TV presenters would lose out financially. I’m not saying all Christians should become preterists but we should read and consider what Jesus actually said on the issue. I don’t see that done much, I see a lot of ignoring or dismissing of certain prophetic words that Jesus spoke. The fact is Jesus said some things in regards to prophesy that are rather disruptive towards the evangelical narrative.

In part two I’ll be looking at Preterism further, the inconsistency of futurism and revealing what my eschatological position is.

Contact me at joelsblog@aol.co.uk

 

Where I Am on my Spiritual Journey – Gospels (Part 4)

I remember in 2015 there was a post by Erica Campbell that went viral on social media. In it, Mrs Campbell criticised the NIV for removing 45 verses from the Bible.

Verses are missing but there’s a reason for that, and it’s not just the NIV, many newer translations take out the verses. Those translating such versions came to the conclusion that those verses shouldn’t be in scripture due to the fact that certain manuscripts don’t include such verses. Older translations of scripture like the Authorized King James include such scriptures because they were written before such manuscripts were discovered.

The fact that a leading gospel singer would post something and then would be shared and retweeted by so many Christians, shows that many don’t understand how the gospels – let alone the Bible – was written. When it comes to the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John probably weren’t following Jesus around taking notes like news reporters. Most historians believe that the gospels were written 20 – 70 years after the crucifixion of Jesus and also some think the disciples who are credited with writing the accounts of those gospels may not have written anything after all. While the literacy rate improved in Israel under Roman rule research suggests that it was still under 3%, so could it be that all the disciples were illiterate? Before and after Jesus life on earth there was the tradition of passing information by the word of mouth (rather than the written word). So at first the stories of Jesus told and retold audible for about 40 years until someone decided to actually write them down.

But who actually wrote down the accounts? I think anyone has the image of all four disciples sitting down at a desk and writing accounts of Jesus life may be mistaken. Due to the fact that Matthew was a tax collector and Luke a doctor, I think it’s likely they both had a good enough education that enabled them to read and write, but I’m not so sure about the other disciples. Maybe the gospels of Mark and John weren’t written by the actual disciples? Even some conservative scholars think of the gospel of Mark being the memoirs of Peter. I don’t know who wrote it but possibly it could be the life of Jesus according to Peter. But whoever wrote the actual accounts of Jesus in the Bible they never identified themselves by name. So I think we can’t truly know who actually wrote them.

When reading scripture I think we need to bear in mind the historical evidence (that denies or confirms what we’re reading), as well as using logic and reason in our interpretation of what is said. That’s what I do when looking at something like the Sermon on the Mount. As I mentioned in a previous blog I love this particular sermon but when I look at how it’s arranged I can’t accept that this is the actual full record of what Jesus preached. If you look at the way the gospel of Matthew records what was said you’ll see how scattered and disjointed it is. It goes from one theme to another without anything connecting the themes. It’s my opinion that what we’re reading in Matthew 5-7 is highlights of a sermon or a series of sermons preached by Jesus. It’s likely the writer of Matthew compiled the teachings of Jesus about 60 years after the actual sermon, so it’s possible those recalling the teaching could only remember certain parts.

Sometimes I think Christians have such an emotional attachment to the gospels and the Bible that they refuse to consider that there are mistakes in the writing of it. Then there seems to be a lack of thinking about how the actual scriptures were written down. Yet I think if one studies the scripture and consider what historians have discovered, with an open mind, one can’t help but notice certain aspects aren’t in line with scripture inerrancy. Just because there are errors in it doesn’t mean we abandon our faith (I certainly don’t) but it should make us rethink our faith.

I know sometimes historians can come to wrong conclusions but if there’s no reason to doubt their claims I won’t. I accept that I could be wrong and am open to changing my mind. But for me, the bottom line is if there’s nothing causing me to doubt the text I will consider it to be true. But if reason, logic and/or historical evidence that gives me a reason to doubt certain claims in the gospel, I will.

Where I Am on my Spiritual Journey – Gospels (Part 3)

The last blog post I wrote was written with me putting aside any doubts about the trustworthiness and accuracy of the gospel texts. But in the next two posts I’ll be looking at certain texts that cause me to question if everything written in the gospels can be trusted.

I think it’s right to say that there are mistakes in the gospels. I don’t write such things lightly but I think it’s unwise to deny such things. I remember listening to a discussion between Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona, in the debate Bart talks about the time when he was at Princeton Theological Seminary and he wrote a paper on the contradictions between what Jesus said in Mark 2 about David eating the showbread in the house of God. In his paper, Bart tried to show that there was no contradiction, while his professor liked his work he wrote that the gospel writer had made a mistake. After hearing Bart describe what happened I felt very distressed because this was the first time I had ever heard of such a contradiction. But after looking it up I found the idea of there being a contradiction undeniable. In Mark 2 Jesus clearly says Abiathar was the high priest (when David eat the showbread in the house of God), yet in the account of the actual event, it says Ahhimelek is the priest. I think the conclusion we can bring from the text is that either: Mark misquoted Jesus, Jesus didn’t know who the priest was, Jesus was messing with the Pharisees by giving them misinformation or the record in 1 Samuel 21 is incorrect. Either way, things don’t add up.

I know such a view may upset some Christians. I was upset when I first listened to Bart Ehrman’s debates and discussions but I can’t deny what I see before me.
This may not be the only contradiction in the gospels, but I’m not going to go into any others since the one I mentioned is the only one I’ve heard serious scholars discuss. I’m aware that there’s a number of websites that have lists of contradictions but anyone can write anything on the internet. So personally I will only take the claims of contradictions seriously if they’re made by published scholars.

However what I will do now is to take a look at the subject of ancient manuscripts and early witnesses dispute a certain event in one of the gospels. Those who read Bible translations like the NIV, ESV, NLT should know that not everything in the gospels is testified by all witnesses. However other translations don’t make such facts clear. So, unfortunately, some believe a certain event actually happened that isn’t supported by all witnesses.

The fact is that the end of the gospel of Mark is a forgery. It wasn’t written by the author of the whole book. I think in a way it doesn’t matter since nothing exclusive happens in verses 9-20, but it is a bit deceitful that certain translators have tried to make out it was part of the original manuscript.

Moving along to an event that isn’t backed by earlier manuscripts and is something more major than the end of Mark. That is the story of the woman caught in adultery.  I think while something similar to that described in John 7:53-8:11 may have happened I don’t think we can say that everything in the text actually happened. I cringe every time I hear the story read in a sermon because preachers never warn their audience that the story isn’t featured in the earliest manuscripts.

If I was a detective investigating a crime scene and I had witnesses agreeing on certain things happening but not on everything happening, I would only present the events that all witnesses agree on in court. I think we should treat the gospel accounts the same way. I just think treating the gospels as they’re a perfectly written infallible work is a wrong way to view it. I would say that the writers of the gospels and other books of the Bible may have been inspired by God, but their words weren’t God-breathed.
I had intended this to be my last post on the subject of the gospels but I’m going to extend it to a part four. Next time I’ll be looking at the missing verses in the gospels and explaining why I think the Sermon on the Mount is incomplete.

Where I Am on my Spiritual Journey – Gospels (Part 2)

I think there’s more to like about Jesus than to dislike, so this blog post will be about the things that I like about him.

A great place to start would be the sermon on the mount.

It is probably  the most influential sermons ever. In a way, Jesus is setting out how he will conduct his ministry – compassion for the downtrodden and a hatred of the arrogant. In it, he challenges and encourages, shocks and inspires, offers hope and warnings. I don’t think you can read the sermon without being affected by what is said. Personally, when I read it I’m encouraged to keep doing good things and challenged to better myself.

I like how Jesus encourages us to be merciful and live in peace. War and revenge are something we naturally desire for. I mean sure some we might say we want world peace, but when we’ve been wronged, I think most would want to get back at that person that has hurts us. Yet Jesus has the audacity to say we should love our enemies and forgive when people do us wrong. He speaks out against judging others and gives us encouragement not to worry. He tells us that when we give to charity and the needy we shouldn’t boast about it, instead we should keep it as secret as possible. He touches on the subject murder and adultery – while most would say just don’t do it – Jesus warns about where such behaviour starts.Speaking of warning Jesus encourages us to not believe everyone who claims to be a Christian. Nowadays it seems like most Christians accept everyone who says they believe, yet Jesus tell us that we will know if someone’s faith is true by their fruits (whether they have love, have joy, live in peace, have patience, are kind, are good, are gentle and have self control).

So yes I like the sermon on the mount. I like the encouragement and challenges it brings.

Jesus is constantly ran into the Pharisees and the teachers of the law as they showed contempt for what he was teaching, doing and who he associated with. Yet that didn’t stop Jesus from doing such things. I like that about Jesus. I like that he didn’t back down even if it caused such disgust from the religious leaders. The response Jesus gives to the accusation of him eating with sinners shows just shows how unmoved he was by their indignation.

It’s interesting that Jesus never condoned sin yet seemed more angry about the self-righteous, religious hypocrites than the sinners. It wasn’t the tax collectors, prostitutes or other sinners that were at the brunt of a speech by Jesus in his Seven Woes speech. The sinners weren’t called snakes and made Jesus wonder how they will escape hell. No, it was the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that were called out. It seems like the church behaves the opposite nowadays. There seems to be anger about sin but a great acceptance of self-righteous. Maybe that’s why I prefer Jesus over the church. I like that Jesus hated self-righteous and showed mercy to sinners. I’ll be honest there was a time when I was very self-righteous, so I know how nasty it can be. Even now and again I find myself thinking in such a way, and when I do need to remind myself that such attitudes made Jesus extremely angry.

I agree with J.S. Park when he writes, that if Jesus were alive today he would piss off both Fox News and The New Yorker. It’s interesting that both conservatives and liberals both claim him as their own but I think a closer look at the teachings and actions of Jesus you see someone who was neither conservative or liberal. Those on the right would be disgusted that Jesus spent time with prostitutes, and equally those on the left would have been angry that he would have dinner with tax collectors. Jesus seemed to think that offering redemption was better than shaming people for their sin.

I like that Jesus seemed to believe that you couldn’t legislate righteousness, but love could change someone’s mind and then change their behaviour.

We hear a lot of talk from certain ministries and denominations about the end times. But a closer look at what Jesus had to say on the issue shows there are holes in many of the theories. I think the subject of eschatology is a big issue that is worth dedicating an entire blog post to, but I like that Jesus says things that can cause us to not to go along with those who use the subject of eschatology to bring about fear and desperation.

Finally I like the message of the gospel that Jesus brought to our world. A message of grace and acceptance that is (as far as I know) unlike anything taught by any other religion and philosophy. The gospel doesn’t deny how bad sin is but it gives us a solution to the problem, and that solution is grace.

For me, the message of grace that the gospel teaches causes me to be more tolerant of those who are different to me, to not judge, give people a second chance, to stop being arrogant, to be more forgiving because I’ve been forgiven.

Next time, in my final writing on the gospels in this series, I’ll be revealing why I don’t completely trust everything written in the gospels.

 

 

Where I Am on my Spiritual Journey – Gospels (Part 1)

Quite a number of people say they love the Jesus in the Bible. But I think if most were honest they would say there were things about Jesus that they didn’t like. Personally, there are things I like about Jesus of Nazareth and some things I don’t.

Even before I went through my season of questioning there was something that has always bothered me about Jesus. That thing is that sometimes he seems to be out of his mind – at times he seems incapable of having a proper conversation. I can think of two examples of where he appears to be behaving in this particular strange way. The first one is when he was told by the disciples to eat and he responds by saying he has food that they know nothing about, then goes on to talk about doing God’s will. Who talks like that? I have no idea why he couldn’t just say he didn’t want anything to eat. Another time is when Jesus is told that Lazarus is sick, Jesus does a pretty bad job at explaining it to the disciples. When he finishes speaking the disciple seem utterly confused about was happening. By the time they leave to see Lazarus – thanks to Jesus – at least one disciple seem convinced that they were going to die. In both examples, Jesus seems to be over complicating a simple situation. Maybe he was just a bad communicator? Or maybe he was just messing with his disciples and found it funny when they were confused? Whatever it was I just find some of the things that Jesus said to be really strange. At times I laugh at the confusion that Jesus brought about but sometimes I find it rather annoying. It’s interesting that Jesus seems to only talk like this only in the Gospel of John, making me wonder if such situation depicted is more to do with how the writer wants Jesus to come across rather what Jesus himself. While I know many love John’s Gospel I do think he paints Jesus as this flamboyant superhero. I think it’s right to say that out of all the writers in the Bible John is the most talented but I also wonder if he may be exaggerating in certain parts. But as far as I know there’s nothing to disprove that he such things didn’t take place.

Let’s move on to the another side of Jesus I don’t really like, and that is his harshness. Like the time when Jesus told a man who’s father had recently died that he should let the dead bury their own dead and follow him. Recently someone died in my family died and I think if someone were to tell us to let the dead bury their dead everyone in our family would be greatly offended. Yet Jesus has no problem saying such things. Why couldn’t he have waited until the man had buried his own father? Couldn’t he of been more sensitive? Then there’s the time Jesus describes a woman as a dog because she’s a Canaanite. I remember reading a commentary that said that in the original language he isn’t describing her a wild dog but a pet dog. But he’s still describing her as a dog. Why even bring a dog into the conversation? Why couldn’t he just explain to her that his ministry is for those in Israel first? Personally, I think the situation could have been handled better.

I’ve been chatting with the blogger J.S. Park on Twitter regarding some of the issues I have mentioned above. In the chat, he brought my attention to the cultural aspects of what Jesus said. In our chats he said:

Coming from an Eastern worldview, I can see the “rough playfulness” of Jesus’s words just as my own family’s way of speaking. To view a Western view we will almost always see Jesus as too harsh or too insensitive or out of his mind. My family, for better or worse, speaks almost entirely in metaphors and narratives, and uses cheeky expression to get across a profound pointed humor.

I’ve never thought of culture playing a part in the way Jesus spoke before J.S. mentioned that to me. Such a point of view causes me to be a bit accepting of what Jesus had to say, but it also makes me wonder why couldn’t God send an individual saviour to every culture – so that difference in cultures wouldn’t be confused by the foreign cultural aspects. But then again maybe the reason why such a thing didn’t take place was because God wants us to understand different cultures better. Maybe he wants us to develop an understand of people who are different to us.

J.S. Park did also mention that such an explanation could seem like a cop out. I would agree, but maybe such a cop out is the only explanation we have. However, would we say the same thing about the positive things Jesus has said? I mean could we say that turning the other cheek or forgiving others was said within that culture and such things don’t apply to us. When the hard and disagreeable things happen in scripture do we just say that it’s a part of their culture so it doesn’t apply to us? I mean we say the same thing regarding what Apostle Paul said about the role of women within the church. But maybe the difference in culture is the actual answer. But no matter what the case is I still struggle with some of the strange and hash things Jesus said.

Next time, I’ll be writing about the things I like about Jesus in the gospels.

Contact me at onthisblog@yahoo.com

Where I Am on my Spiritual Journey – Jesus

Larry King once said that one of the people he’s like to interview would be Jesus Christ. I think that’s a good person to interview because finding who Jesus is should change a person. Personally, I believe every person who is alive needs ask themselves: was Jesus a historical figure? If so who was he? Are the claims made in the Bible about him true? How about what the Quran says about Jesus? What about the Agnostic Gospels?

Is Jesus the son of God or was he a great prophet? Did Jesus executed by crucifixion and then get resurrected three days later? Did he avoid dying on a cross by getting a disciple to take his place? Can the accounts of Jesus life in the Bible be completely trusted? How about what the Agnostic Gospels and the Quran say about the life of Jesus?

Let me get onto what I think, but before I do let me just say that my views right now are not necessarily views I will keep for my whole life. As a person, I am keen to keep on learning but as of now, I think the Jesus did exist. I think the writings of Josephus give good evidence that Jesus did live, and the agnostic Bible Scholar Bart Ehrman says that Jesus was a real person. So yes I think Jesus was a historical figure.

So if Jesus did exist what then? Was he a great man who lived and then died? Or did he die and on the third day rise again. The answer to that question really makes or breaks Christianity. If there was no resurrection then faith in Jesus is useless and the whole world should pity everyone who calls themselves a Christian. I think the way the Roman world reacted to Christians and the fact that Christians believed that Jesus was a part of a Godhead convinces me that the resurrection did take place. Nowadays we’re so accustomed to the image of the Cross and a man dying on it, yet in the ancient world to embrace it was shameful and foolish. But the fact that Christians did was quite telling.

I have to confess when it comes to the subject of the historical Jesus I don’t know enough. On my reading list are books on the subject written by scholars who are cynics and believers. At the end of the day, I need to know that the resurrection really did happen. I can’t just rely on the Bible to give the evidence of its claims as being true. It would be ridiculous for me to spend my whole believing in something that wasn’t true. I get frustrated sometimes when Christians respond to the questions of God’s and Jesus existence in simplistic and emotional ways. When such things happen I feel embarrassed to call myself a Christian and feel sorry for those who are asking the questions. I don’t believe people are born intelligent, I believe intelligence is something one gets when they have a desire to gain knowledge. So, therefore, I think Christians who are simplistic have chosen to be so.

In my next blog, I will explore further what the Bible has to say about Jesus. The parts I have issues with and parts I’m grateful for.

Contact me at onthisblog@yahoo.com