Tag Archives: scholarship

When is Church Not Church?

Long before the church was called the church, it consisted of an assembly of Jewish believers who practiced Judaism as part of their devotion to Yeshua of Nazareth.

In the days that followed the spiritual outpouring of Shavu’ot, the disciples found themselves shepherding a large community of new disciples in Jerusalem. Three thousand men and women received the message about Yeshua and immersed themselves for his name. Many of these joined themselves to the community of his disciples in the holy city.

By devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the community of early believers continued in the Jewish mode of faith and practice, which prioritizes study above other pursuits. Judaism places a heavy emphasis on study, learning, and Torah education. Jewish life structured itself around study, and the study of Torah permeated every aspect of Pharisaic Judaism. Rabbinic literature frequently extols the virtues of study and praises the man whose “delight is in the Torah of the LORD, and on his Torah he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The sages had numerous axioms about the greatness of Torah study. Judaism regards the study of Torah as a mitzvah incumbent upon every Jew and the primary obligation of Jewish life.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Before the Church Was Called the Church,” pp 16-17
Messiah Magazine, Spring 2014 issue

I wanted to juxtapose the above statement with a definition of the Church as a spiritual body, but all I came up with was this:

1. a building used for public Christian worship.
“they came to church with me”
synonyms: place of worship, house of God, house of worship; cathedral, abbey, chapel, basilica; megachurch; synagogue, mosque
“a village church”
the hierarchy of clergy of a Christian organization, esp. the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of England.
noun: the Church

Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (dōma ) ‘Lord’s (house),’ from kurios ‘master or lord.’ Compare with kirk.

This is an extension, a sort of “Part 2” to my prior blog post Notes on the Church from an Insomniac, except that I’m writing this wide awake after enjoying a reasonably good night’s sleep. But the concept I’m trying to explore is “the Church” as a unique entity of people from all walks of life, including Jews, who have converted to a religion called “Christianity” based on the worship of Jesus Christ as we find him in the Gospels, and because of their faith in Christ, are saved from eternal damnation and when they die, will go to Heaven to be with God in a realm of eternal peace.

OK, that’s an oversimplification and I’ve deliberately employed more than a little “tongue-in-cheek” in crafting that description. Let’s see what happens when I put “Christianity” in my Google search string.

noun: Christianity
1. the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices.
Christian quality or character.
“his Christianity sustained him”

Not much help there.

But consider, as I understand it from the teachings at the church I currently attend. “The Church” (big “C”) was “born” in Acts 2 by the Holy Spirit inhabiting, first the apostles of Christ in the upper room on Pentecost (Shavu’ot) and then a body of thousands of Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus. So far, that’s semi-consistent with Lancaster’s description, except that he doesn’t say something incredibly new and disconnected from prior Jewish and Biblical history was established on that occasion. As I read Lancaster and understand his teachings on the New Covenant, I can only interpret the Acts 2 event in terms of previous Biblical history and see it as the logical and natural extension of God’s plan going forward in time without the requirement to make the train “jump the tracks,” so to speak, and violently diverge from everything written in the Bible (in this case, Torah, Prophets [Navim], and Writings [Ketuvim] or “Tanakh”) up to this point in history.

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsThe classic New Covenant texts in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 clearly identify Israel as the focus of the New Covenant, a Covenant with identical conditions to those listed in the Old Covenant given at Sinai through Moses. The only difference, and I’ve said this before, is that the covenant would be written on the heart by the Spirit, not on tablets and scrolls, and internalizing the Torah makes it possible for the Jewish people, that is, the nation of Israel, and those who attach themselves to Israel through an Abrahamic faith in the Jewish Messiah, to wholly obey the instructions of God and live a life of holiness.

The New Covenant was inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit was given as a pledge (2 Corinthians 1:22) that when Messiah returns, he will complete what he has started and the New Covenant will be fully enacted in our world.

Revisiting my quote of Lancaster regarding the vital importance of Torah study, even the Gentiles were required to do this (Acts 15:21) as the means by which they (we) could understand the teachings of our Master and learn to also strive to live holy lives in anticipation of the Messianic Era and the age to come.

So what happened? The original assembly or ekklesia (which also can be interpreted as synagogue) of Messiah was first wholly Jewish, and then it was legally determined that Gentiles had standing in the Jewish ekklesia of “the Way” without having to undergo the proselyte ritual (Acts 15). That is, we people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), can be equal co-participants in the blessings of the New Covenant without converting to Judaism and being obligated to the entire set of responsibilities in the Torah. Make no mistake, though. This does not make us absolved of great responsibilities and does not render us “Law-free,” and we indeed have a unique obligation to the Torah of Moses. If we repent of our sins, receive atonement through Messiah, and daily pick up our cross and seek our Master, we will become the crowning jewels of the nations, but only because “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) through the centrality of Israel and her firstborn son, Yeshua of Nazareth, not because we convert to Christianity and join the Church.

Confused? Am I repeating myself?

What I’m asking is if this more “Judaic” viewpoint on the Bible is correct, and the ekkelsia, in terms of Messianic community simply means “assembly” rather than requiring the creation of a unique body called “the Church” which after being “raptured” to Heaven and subsequently returned with Jesus to Earth, remains separate from anyone who came to faith during the “tribulation” (which doesn’t make a bit of sense), then how did things get so messed up?

Whole books have been written trying to answer that question (including this one, which I will start reading soon), but something I read on New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog seems to (somewhat) apply.

In the article I note one or two “fashions” in NT studies of past decades, ideas or emphases that seem all the rage for a short while but then seem to have faded just as quickly as they appeared. In this case, I cite “structuralist exegesis.”

I also discuss a couple of “fallacies,” by which term I refer to ideas that obtained wide and long-lasting currency but have subsequently been shown to be errors. The question here is why this happens. How do a wide assortment of scholars take something as given when there never was adequate basis for it?

Finally, I explore very briefly some possible future emphases in the field, such as the growing internationalization of those who comprise NT scholars, the growing interest in “reception history,” and one or two other things.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

A pre-publication version of Dr. Hurtado’s article Fashions, Fallacies and Future Prospects in New Testament Studies (PDF) is freely available for you to read. Hurtado spends much of this article describing how brief “fads” in certain New Testament studies gained traction momentarily, but then…

I turn now to consider some other approaches and ideas that had much more impact and much more “staying power,” but were subsequently shown to be erroneous. These ideas are much more important to consider precisely because they won such wide acceptance and over a goodly period of time. These were not passing fashions. They were firmly held and confidently asserted widely, in some quarters treated as solid truth, but are now clearly seen to have been fallacious.

-Hurtado, pg 4

Hurtado says nothing to discredit current Christian doctrine, but the fact that Christian scholarship had gained an attraction and wide adherence to theories and interpretations of the New Testament that have subsequently proven to be unreliable or just plain wrong is compelling to me. For one thing, it establishes that really anything we believe about the New Testament in specific and the whole Bible in general is up for examination, just like any other scientific endeavor. That’s actually pretty huge since from the point of view of sitting in a pew at church every Sunday morning and listening to the Pastor’s sermon, we are generally intended to take everything we hear at face value and consider the message as (mostly) unquestionable fact and truth.

I say “mostly” because I know Pastor doesn’t expect everyone to agree with him all the time, and because it’s possible to ask questions about the sermon in Sunday school class, but even within that context, there’s a limit and one does not cross the line of (so-called) “sound doctrine” or “solid truth” to consider perspectives that, from an Evangelical point of view, would be considered “cultic” and even “heretical.”

But while we may consider the Word of God as Holy, inerrant, and inspired by the Spirit of God, subsequent human interpretations don’t fall in those categories and therefore are “up for grabs.”

Judah Himango in his blog post Torah demands interpretation: an example from Deuteronomy 16, states:

My modus operandi for the EtzMitzvot.com project is to restate each command in the broadest, least-interpretive way possible, keeping faithful to the text without inferring or assuming what those words mean. As I came across Deuteronomy 16:16, I wrestled with this standard.

For some commandments, this standard is near impossible to apply without some creative interpreting/inferring/assuming.

For example, “just the facts, ma’am version of this mitzvah is, “Appear before God at the place he chooses for the 3 pilgrimage feasts.”

OK, that’s nice, how would you actually apply this in your life, today?

Judah also says:

You might think I am arguing for rabbinic or church interpretation; leaving the hard work of Bible interpretation to people smarter and more studied than us. But the take-home here should be: commandments are not always straightforward. Practicing them requires study and learning. Jewish and Christian traditions can guide us as a point of reference, but should not be elevated beyond the educated guesses they are.

So Biblical interpretation is not only normative in our studies, it’s unavoidable. It is impossible to understand everything we see in the Bible without running it through some sort of interpretive matrix yielding a hopefully accurate but undoubtedly biased set of conclusions. Bias isn’t necessarily bad and as I said, in any event, it’s unavoidable. The trick is to come to a set of conclusions that not only fits the immediate text being studied, but the underlying and comprehensive theme running through the entire body of the Bible. If isolated or “cherry-picked” bits of scripture contradict the overall tapestry of the Bible as a whole, chances are something’s wrong with your hermeneutics.

These musings are necessarily limited and selective, and others will no doubt offer observations additional to or even critical of mine. This is to be welcomed. But, if NT studies is to continue as a viable field, I suggest that the future approaches taken will have to demonstrate that they offer something substantial, something “value-added” to the study of the fascinating texts that comprise our NT and the remarkable religious developments that they reflect. Trying out this or that new speculation, or appropriating this or that methodological development in some other field will (and should) continue to be part of the ensuing discussion. But, I repeat, to amount to something more than a passing fashion, our approaches will have to be both well-founded and substantial in what they produce. And to avoid the sort of serious fallacies that we have noted, we will have to exercise both committed scholarly effort and self-reflective critique.

-Hurtado, pg 21

Carl Kinbar
Rabbi Carl Kinbar

This summons questions about the level of Messianic Jewish scholarship today, and I explored that question, thanks to another blog post by Dr. Hurtado, almost a year ago. Rabbi Dr. Carl Kinbar responded in part:

Here are a few thoughts about peer review. The “peer” in “peer review” is used in a very specific sense: it is someone who has recognized expertise in the subject. For example, the scholars who reviewed my doctoral dissertation are peers in the study of rabbinic texts rather than people “just like me” (since I was only a graduate student at the time). You cannot have a peer review process without experts. Although it is possible for someone to become an expert through self-study, such people are as rare as hen’s teeth and the reason is very simple: 99.9% of people who have never been discipled in their field have not learned the basic habits of scholarship and have not been exposed to the sort of critique that would help them to avoid errors of method and fact. With very few exceptions, even the best of the self-taught are like talented basketball players who have only played in pick-up games but have never been involved in organized basketball on any level and therefore have never been coached or received high-level input. I suspect that there are thousands of such basketball players, some of whom have a lot of talent but none of whom have learned the moves that are required even of entry-level NBA players. Becoming a professional player will depend on how others evaluate their talent, not on their own sense that they are NBA-quality. A true peer in “peer review” is someone who has been evaluated as an expert by existing experts.

As a Messianic Jewish scholar, I try to make up for the lack of peer review by submitting my work for review by a range of people, including both scholars and non-scholars. Before I received a significant amount of traditional and academic discipling, I thought that self-study was enough. I now know that it isn’t.

So on the one hand, we may conclude that the current state of Messianic Jewish scholarship would not yet meet the standards set in the realm of New Testament scholarship at the highest academic levels, but on the other hand, it’s headed in the right direction. Does that mean we are forced to accept Evangelical Christian interpretation as the de facto standard? I personally don’t think so, especially when, thanks to Hurtado’s aforementioned paper, we see that even long-standing and popular opinions on the New Testament can be subsequently discounted or discredited.

Am I right and you’re wrong? I can hardly say that and that’s not the point of this missive. My point is that Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine sits on its own laurels at its great peril, as does any position, system, or intellectual endeavor. Intellectual and spiritual honesty and integrity requires continuing investigation and study. The minute you stop questioning your own assumptions and take a position of static dogma, is the minute you lose a living relationship with the Word of God and perhaps even God Himself. That’s not intentional, of course, but it often is a sad result.

Just remember, at one point the Church thought the earth was the center of the universe based on the Bible. At one point, the Church burned people as witches (Europe) or pressed them to death under heavy stones (America) based on the Bible.

Now we are finally facing the idea that much of the Church’s “sound doctrine” and “solid truth” is based on a two-thousand year old mistake, and worse, that we’re taking our major cues, not from the Judaic understanding of the scriptures as they were viewed during the Apostolic Era, but from a group of European reformers who lived barely five-hundred years ago and who themselves may well have been anti-Judaism and anti-Jewish people.

Up to JerusalemIs that what Jesus taught? Is that how Paul interpreted the scriptures? Is that the way James the Just, brother of the Master, determined Gentiles should be included in the branch of Judaism then known as “the Way?”

When is Church not Church? When it’s the assembly of Messiah longing for the coming of the New Covenant, when God’s instructions are written on hearts, and the spirits of men and women, young and old, from the least to the greatest, know God.

We aren’t there yet, but we have a responsibility to strive to be better than we are and in spite of our assumptions and traditions, to continually “be in the Word” (to employ a Christian aphorism), and to realize that our perspective might not be the best vantage point from which to view the full panoramic scope of God’s overarching plan for His people Israel, who are absolutely necessary and central to the Way of salvation for the rest of the world.

To find out more about why the word “ekklesia” and the word “sunagōgē” which we translate into English as “synagogue,” could all be translated as “meeting place” or “assembly” and don’t have to be translated as “church,” read What does Synagogue mean in Hebrew? by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg.

A final note. I’m quite aware that I’ve scheduled this “meditation” to automatically publish on the morning of Easter Sunday or Resurrection Day. This is probably the most holy day on the Christian calendar and I suppose my interpretation of “ekklesia” into something other than “Church” could be seen as an inappropriate criticism. And yet, who we are and to what body we belong is of vital importance, on this day as much as any other, for our Master is Risen, and he is returning. The Kingdom is at hand, and the New Covenant is unfolding. We must be ready, but to do that, we must understand the actual and authentic nature and character of King, Kingdom, and Covenant. It is to that purpose I have dedicated this blog post and all of my writing.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Where are the Scholars?

Separating-the-Wheat-from-ChaffLast week a friend pointed me to a web site where a guy, claiming expertise in something else (cryptography, I think, but it doesn’t matter) also claimed to have established beyond dispute and for the first time in modern scholarly studies the “true” meaning of a particular Greek word used by Paul. Moreover, on this basis the guy claims a radically different understanding of what Paul had to say on the topic with which this Greek word is associated. So, what did I think?

Well, I have to say that it’s curious that someone with no training in a given field, lacking in at least some of the linguistic competence required (both relevant classical language and key modern scholarly languages), thinks himself able to find something that has eluded the entire body of scholars in that field who labor year-upon-year to try to discover anything new and interesting. It’s also curious that, as is typical, the guy doesn’t submit his findings to scholarly review for publication in peer-reviewed journals or with a peer-reviewed publisher, but flogs his thinking straight out on his web site, complete with bold claims about its unique validity. We mere scholars in the field, by contrast, do submit our work for critique by others competent in the subject. We present at symposia and conferences where other scholars can engage our views. We strive to get published in peer-reviewed journals and with respected publishers. Even after publication, we hope for critical engagement by other scholars.

-Larry Hurtado
“Expertise and How to Detect It”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

I was reading the various articles and blogs I use for morning studies and came across this piece by Hurtado. It brought to the forefront something that Messianic Judaism and particularly the large number of Hebrew Roots bloggers seem to struggle with. There are a great many pundits in the religious blogosphere and, as Dr. Hurtado points out, not all of them are scholars in a strictly defined sense. And yet, like the individual Hurtado describes, that doesn’t stop most people from presenting an opinion as fact without any significant scholarly or educational basis.

Before continuing, I want to say that I don’t describe myself as an expert or scholar in religious studies. The purpose of my blog is not to lay down doctrine and theology as if I’m a teacher or instructor of any kind. My blog is simply an expression of my thoughts and feelings on any given morning. I ask more questions than I provide answers and even when I seem to present conclusions, they are my opinions and often, I publish them on the web to inspire conversation so that I can learn more from my readers. I do not fit Dr. Hurtado’s definition of a scholar nor would I ever claim to.

But what about scholarship in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces (I separate the two movements because to me, they don’t represent the same emphasis, at least in terms of population)?

I believe there is a growing scholarly expression existing within Messianic Judaism. Educational organizations such as The New School for Jewish Studies and The Messianic Jewish Theological Institute kinbaroffer the promise of an organized educational basis for producing scholars in this specific area of religious studies. I’ve not taken any courses from either school so I can’t personally attest to their quality, but there is at least an effort being made to build a valid, intelligent, and organized teaching framework from which to produce teachers and researchers within the Messianic Jewish space.

I’m less familiar with any organized group of teaching institutes within the wider collection of Hebrew Roots groups. The only two that immediately come to mind are TorahResource.com, which was founded by Tim Hegg and TNNOnline.net which seems to be edited by someone named J.K. McKee (I should say that I’ve met Hegg on several occasions and, while he and I may not always agree, I more than acknowledge his educational and scholarly background, however I’ve never met McKee and don’t know what he brings to the table, so to speak).

Dr. Hurtado continues:

Now, of course, I believe in freedom of speech and thought, and I wouldn’t press for a gag on the sort of dubious stuff that I criticize here. But in scholarly life the peer-testing of claims/results is absolutely crucial, and it’s really considered rather unscholarly (and so of little credibility) to present as valid/established claims that haven’t gone through such testing. People (specifically those not clearly qualified in a field) have always been able to make bold claims about a subject of course, asserting their idiosyncratic “take” over against whatever view(s) is/are dominant in the subject. But before the World Wide Web I guess it was much more difficult to get such unqualified opinion circulated. Now, however, ”the Web” and the “Blogosphere” make it so easy.

But, frankly, when I’m shown something that hasn’t been through the rigorous scholarly review process (often, it appears, peer-review deliberately avoided), and comes from someone with no prior reputation for valid contributions in the subject, I’m more than a bit skeptical. If the work is really soundly based, then why not present it for competent critique before making such claims?

Obviously, Hurtado sets some very specific standards for information he’s willing to take seriously, which makes about 99% of the blogosphere unacceptable as sources of theological scholarship. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether or not either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots movements have any process in place for a “rigorous scholarly review process” and have access to writers with “prior reputation for valid contributions in the subject(s)” being addressed in their respective areas (I’m not being snarky here, I’m asking a serious question).

I do know based on my ten plus years of history within Hebrew Roots that it tends to be a magnet for just about anyone with an opinion. Some of the individuals presenting information are well-meaning and are trying to work through both intellectual and personal issues in regard to how they see Christianity and Judaism. Others, unfortunately, have theological axes to grind and produce vast amounts of dreck designed to provide religious “thrills and chills” but which have absolutely no basis in fact or scholarly research.

For example, I’ve heard people claim that the lost ark of the covenant was hidden underneath the crucifixion site of Jesus and that his blood “anointed” it. I’ve heard people say that the “lost years of Jesus” were spent with the young Yeshua traveling through India at the side of his “uncle” Nicodemus. I’ve heard some folks claim to have possession of the lost original Hebrew manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. I even read one individual say on a blog that the reason the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed was that the Jewish priests failed to share the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton with the nations of the world, thus preventing the Torah from going forth from Zion (see Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2).

All of that stuff is baloney, but it’s important to remember that Hebrew Roots is an extremely wide container and its contents are enormously varied.

yeshiva1I more or less regularly read a few blogs in the Hebrew Roots space, not because I agree with their opinions but so I can be aware of them. I absolutely avoid the kind of “crazy” material posted on the web that makes claim to the sort of “hidden truths” I listed above.

Mainstream Christian and Jewish educational and research foundations have a long, world-wide history and are well established, but the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements are in their infancy. I place Messianic Judaism as an entity in a rather narrow field in order to exclude the more “loosely defined” collections of non-Jewish folks out there who have shall we say, rather unusual and unsubstantiated statements to make. Unfortunately, that puts them in the same container as others in Hebrew Roots who are sincerely attempting to study and research the Bible in a manner that will provide illumination within their own context.

But at this point, I’m asking a question because I don’t know. Given the brief set of statements made by Dr. Hurtado (I provided a link to his blog post above), do either Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots in its various forms, have or are they building an educational and scholarly system that would provide the same level of peer review and well researched papers as Hurtado describes from his own experiences as an educator and researcher?

One of the books produced by those I would consider established scholars in Messianic Judaism is Introduction to Messianic Judaism. Do you think this book would meet Dr. Hurtado’s expectations for scholarly and peer-reviewed work? Are there other books and papers that would do so within Messianic Judaism? What about Hebrew Roots? Do the writings of Hegg and McKee fit the bill? Are there others doing similar work within that space?

The Internet is a wild west show with no oversight and anyone can create a blog and start publishing anything they want within minutes. It’s important to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In order to do so, where do we begin?

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Four, Wind and Sail

wind-sky-spirit-ruachAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Is given by inspiration of God – All this is expressed in the original by one word – Θεόπνευστος Theopneustos. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, God-inspired – from Θεός Theos, “God,” and πνέω pneō, “to breathe, to breathe out.” The idea of “breathing upon, or breathing into the soul,” is that which the word naturally conveys. Thus, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life Genesis 2:7, and thus the Saviour breathed on his disciples, and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost;” John 20:22. The idea seems to have been, that the life was in the breath, and that an intelligent spirit was communicated with the breath. The expression was used among the Greeks, and a similar one was employed by the Romans. Plutarch ed. R. 9:p. 583. 9. τοὺς ὀνείρους τοὺς θεοπνεύστους tous oneirous tous theopneustous. Phocylid. 121. τῆς δὲ θεοπνεύστου σοφίης λόγος ἐστὶν ἄριστος tēs de theopnoustou sophiēs logos estin aristos.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible for
2 Timothy 3:16

You may be wondering how this connects to my ongoing discussion with Pastor Randy about D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. The answer is, “not much.” Frankly, we started our discussion last night with trying to clarify his thoughts on Divine Election (Pastor has a paper he wants to loan me that describes all of the various positions), but then moved to how we can understand the Bible (Pastor has some reservations relative to how Lancaster derives certain conclusions in his book from the Galatians text). We addressed Sermon Four of the book eventually, but it didn’t occupy the significant portion of our time together, nor was it the most compelling topic upon which we touched.

Going back to “God-breathed,” Pastor said that the Greek word used has the implication of wind filling a sail and pushing the boat along (Correction, according to Pastor Randy’s comment below, “the phrase about ‘the wind filling a sail’ has to do with the II Peter 1:21 passage and the meaning of men being ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’.” See the following quote). He told me he believes that as God gave His inspiration to the human writers of the Bible, the authors did not say anything, at least as originally given in their manuscripts, that contradicted what God intended.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

People, that is, prophets and those people who have written the Word of God we have in our Bible, did not hear something from God and then interpret what it meant through their own intellect and emotions. God used their personalities, their vocabulary, their style of writing, their perceptions to craft His message, but the message was and is His message, not the prophets’, and the message “carried them along” as it was first given and recorded in the original documents, and the message was and is exactly what God meant to say and meant to carry us along as well.

But then we have a problem.

We don’t have the original documents…any of them.

Also, Bible reading and translation is an enormously complex task.

According to Pastor Randy, and I agree with him, we have to start with what the text literally says. We also have to apply the immediate context of the scripture, not taking it out and making it stand on its own. Beyond that, we have to consider the history, the culture, and the circumstances in which the scripture was written. On top of that, we have to connect the scripture to the larger context of the entire Bible, including other times when similar circumstances were mentioned and similar or identical wording was used. If, for instance, in describing the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, in understanding the Matthew 22 passage, we must also take into consideration the context, history, culture, and circumstances in which Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 take place, including the author and his personality, vocabulary, style of writing, and personal experiences. We cannot separate what Jesus was trying to say from what Moses was trying to say, however Jesus and all that was in play when he was talking may modify the original meaning, giving it a somewhat different shape, color, and texture.

paul-editedOh, and let’s not forget the intended audience. Moses may not have been aware that what he was writing was ultimately intended for the entire world, but we realize that God has a greater scope. Jesus may well have understood that his words would eventually be consumed by all of humanity across time, but his immediate audience, like Moses’ was the Jewish people or more specifically in Jesus’ case, the Pharisee he was addressing at that particular moment.

We must take all that into consideration when reading the Bible and seriously attempting to understand its message.

And we must constantly remind ourselves that it is all God-breathed.

Pastor Randy and I spent most of our time together exploring how to understand the Bible, with the promises and pitfalls built into such an effort. We discussed how we don’t necessarily have to “reinvent the wheel,” since many people have read and observed the literal meaning of the text from a variety of perspectives, and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard their work and rely only on our own. Pastor described how he approaches understanding texts looking at those who came before him. He reads a variety of expert analyses and takes into consideration what the scholars they did and didn’t take into consideration.

For instance, a particular writer may have a good grasp of the original language but not sufficiently address the history involved, or another writer may have a good handle on the historical context, but not the cultural context. Pastor said he looks at the various scholarly opinions in that manner and ultimately settles on which one he…wait for it…

…which one he likes best.


Pastor Randy is a literalist, an educator, a scholar, a linguist, and is very serious about pursuing as accurate an understanding of the Bible as he can achieve, but after much discussion we agreed that even under the best of circumstances and intentions, there will always be this little, fuzzy, grey, area in the middle of our understanding where we fill in the blanks with our own personalities.

Geordi La Forge (played by Levar Burton): I don’t know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy’s trying to tell us.
Data (played by Brent Spiner): Your gut?
Geordi: It’s just a… a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
Data: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
Geordi: You’re right, sometimes they do.
Data: Then… why not rely strictly on the facts?
Geordi: Because you just can’t rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.

-from the Star Trek: the Next Generation Episode
The Defector (original air date 30 Dec. 1989)

In the scene from which I just quoted, Data concludes that in any meaningful analysis, the observer must fill in whatever blanks there are in the facts and other available information with their personality. In Data’s case, he was in a bind because effectively, he had no personality. All he had were the facts. By the way, it turns out Geordi’s “gut” was wrong. The defector in question had been fed disinformation by his superiors to mislead the Enterprise and ultimately to provoke a war. Fortunately, Picard’s “gut” proved to be more accurate and the ruse was exposed.

All this doesn’t mean that we can never understand the Bible or that we should always equivocate on its meaning, but we should be a little less than one-hundred percent certain that we always know what everything in the Bible means all of the time.

It also means that when we realize we’ve made a mistake based on subsequent study and analysis, we should admit it.

Pastor Randy says that’s one thing he admires about Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). When Boaz and the organization came to the conclusion, several years ago, that they had made a significant error in understanding what the Bible said in relation to Jewish and Gentile covenant responsibilities to God, after much prayer and soul-searching, he announced that FFOZ was making a major shift in its theological and doctrinal position. Boaz knew it would cost FFOZ much of its income and might even result in the organization collapsing completely. Thank Hashem that the latter did not occur, but many sacrifices had to be made. Sadly, to this day, Boaz and his group continue to be severely criticized and harangued by their detractors as a consequence.

That’s the price of integrity and following God where He calls you to go. That’s also part of the ongoing struggle of understanding God through His Word and maturing as people of Spirit and of faith.

ancient-sail-boatI tried to get Pastor Randy to say that you can have a room full of people with equal intelligence, equal qualifications, all people of good character, and they could still disagree with each other on what parts of the Bible mean, but he wouldn’t go for it. He said that we’re all human and we’re all capable, not just of making mistakes, but of following our own human desires. We all can and do sin.

Does that mean there is only one right person (or close-knit group of people) who understands the Bible correctly and it is because he or she is the best person morally and ethically that their understanding is right? Does that mean all of this person’s critics are liars and haters who purposely want to bring the “right” person down in order to elevate their own agendas?

I don’t think it’s that simple. I think that you can gather a group of people together who are of good will and intent who will disagree. Sure, some of the people in that room will be liars and haters, but they should be easily spotted by their lack of integrity and good character (their fruits) in how they treat others and how they walk with God. Even the best of us can allow our personal, pet theories and biases affect our judgment. We all want to be right and to be admired and respected.

But at the end of the day, the best of us (and I’m hardly saying I’m among the best) will put all that aside, suck it up, and make the hard call, even if it costs them, because that’s just what God’s true servants do. Once we realize that the evidence is solid about some piece of scripture, even if it’s not what we want it to mean, we’ll go forward and accept it and embrace it, because that’s part of who we are if we are disciples of our Master. We’ll also continue to study, to learn, and to mature, because God continually breathes in us.

For a ninety minute conversation, last night’s talk with Pastor Randy inspired a lot in me that I could write about…and maybe I will, but I won’t try to cram it all into a single “meditation” today.

But I do want to be a sail. And I do want to be available to the wind. And I do want to let my sail conform to the wind, to the shape it causes me to manifest, to the direction it drives me, toward the destination to which it guides me.

I don’t know yet what distant and alien shore God has planned for my future, but I can feel His hand on me. Do I have the integrity and courage to let Him take me where He wants me to go? I hope so. I pray to possess those qualities that I may serve Him…even in something as “simple” as reading the Bible.

Pastor will be out of the country for the rest of April so naturally, we won’t be meeting each Wednesday evening for the next several weeks. We’ll revisit Lancaster’s Galatians next month and reformulate our study plan for the book…I promise.

In the meantime, I’ll try to continue writing in the spirit of what my Pastor, and ultimately God, provokes in my mind and heart, and move forward with integrity and purpose. Unfurling my sail and setting my course for uncharted seas as the wind sends me forth.

The Uncertain Gospel

The editing done to purge the crimes of the Romans and to delete references to Jesus’ rebellion against them was an intricate and difficult job. Part of it was left incomplete. Remember, thousands of manuscripts were circulating around. Not all could be completely purged. Flashes of accuracy remain. “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be the Messiah, a king.” (Luke 23:2 NIV) This statement in Luke indicates that corrupt priests delivered Jesus to his oppressors, the Roman administration, because he was a rebel against Roman rule pure and simple. Because it is so different from other statements throughout the rest of the Gospels, which take great pains to make Jesus non-political, it is an obvious piece of real history that slipped through, contrary to the intent of editors publishing Paul’s concept of a strictly spiritual Jesus.

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
“Chapter 8: Jesus Never Claimed to Be Divine” pg 51
Kosher Jesus

This is bound to be a part of Rabbi Boteach’s book that will be a major problem with most Christians. Boteach insists that the Gospels were heavily edited to remove any (or most) traces of not only the “Jewishness” of Jesus, but the “fact” that he was executed by the Romans for being a rebel and attempting to lead the Jewish people in a revolt against their Roman occupiers. The portions of the Gospel that seem to support Boteach’s position, he declares as “real history,” while anything that denies his perspective is considered to have been significantly changed by later editors to make the New Testament more palatable to Rome.

You might easily conclude, as a Christian, that Boteach is writing to support a strictly Orthodox Jewish viewpoint of Jesus and “to heck” with the inerrancy of the Gospels. However, he’s not the only one to suggest that the Bible we have today is not completely consistent with the actual, original texts. Amazing? Unheard of? Consider this:

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts. As an illustration: Suppose a papyrus had the word “the Lord” in one verse while all other manuscripts had the word “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt, and have not adopted, such a reading as authentic, precisely because we have such abundant evidence for the original wording in other manuscripts. But if an early papyrus had in another place “Simon” instead of “Peter,” and “Simon” was also found in other early and reliable manuscripts, it might persuade scholars that “Simon” is the authentic reading. In other words, the papyri have confirmed various readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introduced new authentic readings. The original New Testament text is found somewhere in the manuscripts that have been known for quite some time.

Daniel B. Wallace
“Dr. Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?”
February 9, 2012

Many Christians don’t realize that there is an ongoing debate over just how accurate our Gospels really happen to be. Do the Gospels you read in your Bible every day tell you the true story of Jesus of Nazareth? Do they accurately capture his teachings to the Apostles and to us? If we could find and read an actual first century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark, for example, would we be shocked and dismayed at how different (assuming we could translate it from the ancient Greek) the Jesus chronicled on the recently discovered 2,000 year old papyri, is from the person we’ve come to know in our 21st century Bibles?

Dr. Wallace seems confident that not only are these papyri valid documents, but that they will confirm to a high degree of fidelity, that the Gospels of today are the Gospels of yesteryear. However, Jeffrey García in his blog post More the First Century Gospel of Mark isn’t so sure.

In a previous post I mentioned that Dr. Daniel Wallace referred to a hitherto unknown first century manuscript (now fragment) of Mark in a debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman. As I noted before, the blogosphere sparked with suspicions regarding the Wallace’s claim. We are currently lacking any announcement as to its discovery, the so-called world renown paleographer who has dated the fragment remains anonymous, and the Brill publication is still, according to Wallace, about a year away. Unfortunately, Wallace’s new post on this has not alleviated any of these concerns. Texts that remain “hidden” texts are regarded with a significant degree of hesitation, especially when the information is disseminated through one person (a bit gnostic if you ask me). If the long history of the Dead Sea Scroll publications is any indication, when texts remain privately held and controlled for so long, some crazy things begin to leak out or are simply invented. Hopefully, the identification of this text is not based on the conjugation “kai” a la initial claims of the some scholars who thought gospel manuscripts were found in the caves. In any event, see the post quoted below (again, hopefully this text will be released shortly for other scholars to chime in)”

García is primarily dubious regarding the validity of this find, rather than whether or not it will substantiate our current understanding of the Gospel of Mark, but New Testament scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman aren’t convinced that our Gospels tell us an accurate story about Jesus. In his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and many other of his works), he contends that there are numerous internal inconsistencies contained within the New Testament and that it is no where near a seamless, flawless record of the life of Jesus and the origins of the first century church.

One of the criticisms against Ehrman is that he was a Christian who lost his faith, not based on his studies of the New Testament, but over his inability to understand why there is such terrible suffering in the world created by a loving God. I’ve written several blog posts including Faith and the Book of Bart as a response to Jesus, Interrupted, and find Ehrman to be a gifted scholar and (like the rest of us) a flawed human being. That the Bible or life doesn’t line up with our preconceived expectations or our personal desires, doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t the Messiah and that God is a fantasy. It more likely means that we suffer from our own human misconceptions and probably are victims of centuries old teachings and interpretations that are at best mistaken, and at worse, deliberately falsified to satisfy an agenda.

This is something I’ve just recently discussed and perhaps may even be part of God’s intricate plan for how history is supposed to unfold between the first and second appearance of the Messiah. I know, it seems cruel. How can God make us struggle, not only in our day-to-day lives, but in our attempts to understand a Bible that is not guaranteed to be completely, totally, and supernaturally accurate?

I’m no Bible scholar, so I can’t comment with any sort of authority on this matter, but I do find it fascinating that within the realm of Christian scholarship, there are questions being investigated that the majority of the people in our churches never, ever hear about. Matters of scholastic contention and mystery are presented as absolute fact from the pulpit, which I suppose is the way most people like it, since dancing on the head of uncertainty is no way to become comfortable with your faith. When I first encountered these sorts of questions, I wondered how my faith could possibly endure, and yet God made it possible. The Bible doesn’t have to be perfect to be inspired. The Bible translations I read from don’t have to represent an absolute fidelity to the original texts in order to mean that the Messiah exists and that faith in God is not in vain.

If I admit to a certain “fallibility” in our current Bible translations, am I then living a fantasy and pretending the object of my faith is real? Not at all, although I can certainly see how an atheist or a person weak in the faith might perceive it that way. God works with human beings using supernatural methods, but it doesn’t mean that the Bible you can purchase in any book store in this country is supernaturally accurate and describes, word for word, every single detail of the life of Jesus with no errors or mistakes whatsoever.

Like so many of my other “meditations,” I’m not writing this to give you answers but to make you ask questions. If faith cannot tolerate a few really hard questions, then its foundation must be sand and not rock (Matthew 7:24-27). No, I’m not being critical of anyone, because when I first met this challenge, I was thrown for a loop, too (which is an understatement). But if we don’t ask these questions, how will we ever know if we can endure the answers, if they exist, or the uncertainty if they don’t? How will we ever know if we really have faith?

The Difference Between Night and Day

In creating the whole of existence, G-d made forces that reveal Him and forces that oppose Him –He made light and He made darkness. One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.

But the one who fails and then returns transcends that entire scheme. He reaches out directly to the Essential Creator. Beyond darkness and light.

And so, his darkness becomes light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Returning Light”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

How do you tell the difference between night and day? In a literal sense, all you have to do is look outside to see if it is light or dark. You can also check any of the devices that tell us what time it is on a 24-hour clock, usually available through the Internet, so that you know not only whether it is day or night, but the precise time as well.

How do you tell the difference between fact and fiction? Well, we know that the things we see on TV shows and movies such as Star Trek are pretty much fiction. No one can really visit other planets, “beam” to destination from tens of thousands of miles away, or diagnose complex medical ailments with a wave of a “tricorder”. We do know that we can only barely visit the moon, which we haven’t done in manned-exploration in decades, launch rockets to an orbiting space station on a semi-regular basis, and that while modern medical technology can diagnose many illnesses, much of what people suffer from remains a mystery.

How do you tell the difference between truth and falsehood? I don’t mean whether or not a used car salesman is trying to cheat you by lying about the condition of a car you are thinking of purchasing, but what about God’s truth? How do you know what is true about God and what is not? You may think you know the answer to that question in some canned way (“the truth is in the Bible”) but it’s not that easy.

Yesterday, Messianic blogger Derek Leman published a missive called Mainstream vs. Crackpot Scholarship, and I enthusiastically congratulate him on this effort. In virtually every established religious tradition, there is solid, well-researched information that acts as the basis for the beliefs and faith of the adherents of said-religious traditions. There is also a bunch of “junk scholarship” which is based on bad interpretation of holy writings, wishful thinking, and outright lies. Before continuing here, please visit Derek’s blog via the link above and see what he has to say in detail.

Learning in the “information age” has become exponentially confusing. Anyone can create a website, blog, or YouTube video in minutes spouting off their particular brand of theology, philosophy, or teaching on “truth”. The proponents of “black helicopters” are no longer confined to “fringie” TV or radio broadcasts. Now they are available via Google and for the many who lack formal training in Biblical scholarship, it can be very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

How does one tell the difference between junk and quality teaching? Besides consulting reliable sources, which Derek has offered to provide, you might want to start by examining your “wishful thinking”. We all have a “theological ax to grind” so to speak. We all have our sacred cows that we are unwilling to slaughter on the altar of established Biblical reality. There are things that we don’t want to give up in our belief system, not necessarily because they are solid religious truth, but because they make us feel better and they sound just so “cool”.

However “cool” is not necessarily “truth”.

In an absolute sense, we search for truth all of our lives. This isn’t just a statement applied to religious people but to all people. We want to find the meaning and purpose of our lives so that we have some sort of context for our existence and our actions. We want a direction. We want a moral and ethical compass. Where do we find it? Some find their reality in secular humanism and the established scientific facts (and I remind you that facts and truth are not the same thing). Some find it among the plethora of religious disciples that exist in the world today. Some find it in sex, drugs, booze, entertainment venues, or whatever distractions and pleasures we find in the society around us. In the latter case, they don’t concern themselves with a “truth” outside of their personal existence, they just hide in a cocoon of unreality and hope for the best.

Some, as Derek pointed out, seek their truth in the fantastic, the amazing, the “gee whiz” junk scholarship that exists at the far edges of more legitimate religions, as if a faith in the One, Supreme, Creative, God were not “fantastic” enough for their imaginations.

What are we looking for? Truth? Not exactly.

We’re looking for a truth that fits who we think we are. We want a truth that we can easily accept without having to turn ourselves inside out and anguish over having possibly been wrong about our existence and about God for all of our lives up to this point. We want a truth that we have control over. To do that, we have to take truth away from God.

OK, to be fair, there is no one person or one denomination or sect that can say they have absolute ownership of total and untainted truth from God. There are plenty of traditions that make this claim, but none of those claims can be established without question. Within Judaism and within Christianity, there are many different traditions and ways to understand truth but they are not truth in and of themselves. We cannot access “pure truth” from God. Perhaps no person has, not even Abraham or Moses, though they certainly came closer than we have today. I would say that Jesus knew that truth first hand, but the Messiah is unique and though we Christians aspire to be like him, we can only travel up the path but not fully achieve the destination, at least not this side of paradise.

Some people just settle for less and after a time, they pretend that they have discovered what they want. Then they truly believe the illusion is real. Here’s what I mean.

The Midrash Tanchuma in Shemini tells a very striking story about how overindulgence in wine can warp one’s understanding: “When a drunk is inebriated he sits joyfully as though in Gan Eden. There was a pious man whose father drank publicly, much to the humiliation of his son. The pious man said, ‘Father, I will purchase fine wine and bring it to your house if you will only stop frequenting taverns. When you go to such places you shame me and yourself.’ Each day he would bring his father spirits to drink in the morning and the evening. When his father would pass out, the son would place him in bed to sleep it off.

‘One rainy day, as the upstanding man walked through the market on his way to shul, he noticed a drunk lying in the middle of the marketplace. Water was streaming over him as children hit him and threw dirt in his face and stuffed it in his mouth. The son thought, ‘I will bring my father here. Seeing the shame of this drunk will finally cure him of his obsession to drink wine.’ When his elderly father witnessed this spectacle, he bent down to the drunk and whispered in his ear. His son was horrified to over hear his father ask, ‘Tell me, my friend. In which pub did you procure such potent liquor?’ The mortified son cried, ‘Father is that what I brought you here for? Do you not see the incredible embarrassment this man suffers because of his habit?’

“The elderly father replied, ‘My son, I have no pleasure in life besides drinking. This is my Gan Eden!’”

Mishnah Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Drunkenness of Lot”
Siman 128 Seif 37-38

I know a secular person could read what I’ve written so far and say to me that by accepting my religious convictions as truth, I have given up and am pretending that my “fiction” is real. I don’t blame that secular individual, because what any person who has faith and trust in God believes certainly seems fictional to one who is not so oriented. Paul even spoke to this person.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. –1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)

Unfortunately, a person that subscribes to what I consider beliefs based on junk scholarship may also say that the “spirit” revealed these “truths” to him. Some months ago, I wrote a blog post called The Irrelevant Drunkard which addressed many of the issues I bring up today. In that “meditation”, I urged my readers not to judge other variants of our faith too harshly, for how indeed to we know in absolute terms that they are always wrong and we are always right? How do we know that there is only one way to pray and it is the way that we pray? How do we know that there is only one way to conduct a worship service and it is the way we conduct a worship service? How do we know that we have our facts and particularly our truth lined up with God and that only we have the inside scoop to those facts and that truth?

We don’t. But we have a place to start.

We have a way to tell the difference between night and day, but to use it, we have to do something we don’t want to do. We have to temporarily suspend our beliefs and our assumptions, then access established and reliable sources of information about our faith. That means, no matter how attractive and fanciful a source may seem, we have to discard it, if it is on the list marked “junk scholarship”. I said before that no person or tradition has unfettered and unfiltered access to God’s truth and the same goes for God’s Bible. It is interpreted. In Judaism, it is impossible to understand the Bible apart from established tradition. You don’t just get to shoot from the hip and call it “spiritual exegesis”.

When you pray to God for wisdom and truth, try very hard not to imagine how God will answer that prayer. In fact, expect God to answer you in a way that you totally didn’t anticipate. If God responds to you in exactly the manner in which you envisioned, perhaps it’s not the Spirit of God speaking but the “spirit” of your own wants, needs, and desires. God rarely gives us what we want in exactly the way we want it, only speaking to confirm that our human imagination was “right” all along.

What is the difference between day and night? In a way, we spend all of our time looking out the window, going outside, moistening our finger and testing the wind, just to try to find out. There is truth. God is truth. I believe that. I trust that very much. But it is not something that once established, can be safely locked inside a drawer in a cabinet after being filed under “T” for truth. It is something that we examine and pour over every minute of every day, like trying to decipher a code written by men separated from us by thousands of miles and tens of centuries. It’s like attempting to loosen an infinite knot looped and tied within the fabric of an endless and inscrutable reality.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein once wrote:

As a Jew, I believe that the coming of the Messiah does not depend on my belief that he will come, nor does it rest solely in God’s hands. I believe it remains our task to bring the Messiah — that he will arrive only when we are in a state of readiness to bring him, to welcome him, to appreciate him. Salvation must be earned. And thus it is what we do, as Jews, that will determine the time of the Messianic arrival.

Rabbi Epstein’s belief is based partly on the fact that he is a Jew. It’s not as if all Jews believe as he does, but he allows his Jewish identity to define his truth. It is not the same truth as other Jews have and certainly not the same truth people who are not Jewish have. A Christian would not typically accept this truth because the Rabbi says that “salvation must be earned” which goes against the church’s belief that salvation through Jesus Christ is a free gift, as if our relationship with God were a completely passive experience for us.

Truth is something of an active choice. I believe there is an absolute truth in God, but no man can access it. We use our religion and our holy books as a kind of “interface” to allow us access to God, but that interface is somewhat symbolic. It’s like the operating system on your computer provides a “graphical user interface” that allows you come control over the hardware and software of your machine, but not direct and complete access. There are interfaces that are better than others. There are interfaces where the code is better written and that perform better and with fewer errors. Like the wise consumer looking for the best computer with the most useful interface, we go shopping. Pursuing the truth is the same. Even once we have “purchased”, we continue to explore our device by accessing and exploring the interface. We discover errors in the user’s manual on occasion. We locate a bug or two. Most of all, if we’re honest, we differentiate between a bug in the program and our own misunderstanding. We admit that how we thought the interface would work wasn’t actually how is actually supposed to work, according to the manufacturer.

The problem isn’t with the interfaces or the truths or the Bibles or the religions, the problem is with our choices; which ones we make and why we make them. The problem is that, having once made a choice, we stop checking in on the purchase. We stop making sure we understand how it works and what our part is in investigating new “truths” about the interface and what lies beneath. We cannot settle. We cannot arrive at the belief that lying drunk in a gutter is Gan Eden. We have to keep searching for God everyday along our path and we have to choose reliable markers on that path rather than fog and illusion. We have not yet arrived at total truth and we will never arrive until the say of the blowing of the great Shofar that announces the Messiah’s return.

But we have a traveling companion along the path and he urges us everyday to be honest with ourselves. The path to truth begins with sometimes brutal honesty, not in satisfying our dreams and wants. God is truth. We just have to want to listen to Him more than we listen to ourselves.

Then our eyes will be able to see when it is day and when it is night, at least as through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).