Christians didn’t start teaching that God expected a 10% tithe of income until the mid-1800s, according to some church historians. Reportedly, there are no sermons on tithing before then. John Wesley didn’t tithe or preach on it. John Calvin didn’t. Martin Luther didn’t. Tithing became a fundraising technique after the American government stopped supporting churches with tax money, beginning in the 1830s. In Bible times, Christians gave offerings, not tithes. Paul said, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give,” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT). Bible Snapshots, p. 226.
I GOT ANOTHER SURPRISE yesterday, while paraphrasing Revelation for the Casual English Bible.
Most Bibles say that the massive end-time army from somewhere east of what is now Israel will tally 200 million soldiers (Revelation 9:16).
These are the bad guys. Some Bible scholars call them a Demon Army (Revelation 9:17). Whatever they are, they seem to be playing on the same team as the ugly critters that some call the Demon Locusts, which swarm the planet and terrorize people (Revelation 9:3).
The original Greek language of Revelation doesn’t say “200 million” soldiers would come from the east.
It sounds worse.
In the Greek original language, it’s literally: myrias dismyrias.
Myrias is where we get the English word “myriad,” meaning more than we can count.
In English, the number wouldn’t be a number. It would be “myriad times double myriad.”
Some put numbers to the innumerable: 10,000. So, they multiply 10,000 times 20,000. And they get an army of 200 million.
By the end of the first century, the Roman army under Emperor Trajan had almost 400,000 soldiers.
That would mean the demons outnumbered the Romans 500 to one.
That’s if there were only 200 million demon soldiers.
In the Casual English Bible, I’m thinking of paraphrasing Revelation 9:16 this way:
“I heard someone say how many mounted soldiers were in their army: uncountable times double uncountable.”
Then I’d add a footnote with the info I’ve put in this short blog.
What do you think?
I got to go because there’s a lightning storm, and it’s getting worse. Tornado watch, too. I want to watch it from the basement.
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul asks for Christians to do what they know God wants them to do, and to do it without complaining or arguing (Philippians 2:14). Some people in the church complain a lot. What do you think is a good way to deal with someone like that—beyond simply telling them, “Hey, you complain too much”?
Well, we could tell them to get the dickens out of Dodge. Or we could give them a voice and hold them accountable for what they say. Let them contribute to the conversation, and then respond kindly but truthfully. Still, there are some people that we might actually need to get stern with and say something like, “This whole thing is getting toxic. We need to neutralize it. Let’s get together and talk about what’s behind this.”
IT SEEMS LIKE A CRAZY WAY to start telling the story of Jesus. John introduced him as “the living Word of God” (John 1:1 Casual English Bible).
What? Try picturing that in your head.
It’s so much easier to picture him as a baby in a feeding trough in Bethlehem.
But John is sounding more like a theologian than a historian. Theologians have strange ways of thinking. There’s something different going on inside their heads. Something that’s often deeper than we’re used to hearing. And something that often makes no sense, at least at first glance.
Doggone, they make us work.
Here’s a footnote to John 1:1 that tries to help explain why John described Jesus the way he did.
The original Greek word is Logos. Greek scholars such as Heraclitus said logos was the wisdom behind all of creation. This all-present wisdom created everything and it guided creation along the way.
For many Jewish scholars then and now, God’s Word pulled the trigger on Creation, whether or not that involved pulling the trigger on the Big Bang. “God said, ‘Lights.’ Lights came on…God said, ‘Land, grow a garden.’…The land grew a garden” (Genesis 1:3, 11-12).
John doesn’t identify Jesus as the Word until a few paragraphs later, gradually working up to it by describing the Word as the one who “came to this world that belonged to him. But most of the people—his people—wouldn’t have anything to do with him” (1:11).
Jesus came to earth as a living, breathing expression of God’s message to humanity, summed up in what is perhaps the most famous Bible verse, John 3:16.
If someone wants to get a message through my thick head and into my calloused heart…on the pain of refugees, for example…they might begin by putting it in writing: a news story for the Associated Press.
Better still, put it on TV. That way I can see the faces and feel the emotions.
Best, put a refugee in front of my face. Let him tell me his story. If he can convince me that he’s telling the truth, his story becomes my story. I wouldn’t be able to help it.
I know that to be true of myself because I’ve been put in similar situations on mission trips.
I don’t think I’m unique that way. Humans, by nature, are drawn toward honesty. It’s who we are in the depths of the heart.
We respond to a true Word, whether it’s written, filmed, or standing before us in the flesh. We always have. God knows that. So did John.
See if this makes sense to you:
“Eternal life comes from the Spirit. Our bodies have nothing to do with it. These words are spirit. They are life” (John 6:63 Casual English Bible).
Whatever Jesus meant by that, after he said it, “That was the turning point for many of his followers. They stopped associating with him” (John 6:66).
“Words are spirit”? I know they can be spiritual. But my goodness. Look at this.
“Eternal life comes from the Spirit.”
“These words are spirit.”
That sounds like Jesus just said, “Eternal life comes from these words because these words are spirit.”
I’ve spent most of my life working as a Christian writer. I know words have power to change people. Words can be spiritual when they deal with matters of the spirit.
But I haven’t thought of a word as a spirit.
I don’t know what that means.
Commentators guess, but danged if they know, either.
Can a word be wrapped in Spirit? Or maybe it’s conceived by the Spirit. Or could it actually embody the very essence of the Spirit of God?
My wife caught me looking out the window this time. Where else should I look after reading the commentaries?
Up? Inward? Anywhere but Amazon for more commentaries?
Sometimes the best insight I have is cross-eyed.
So here’s looking at you.
Read the verse in your favorite Bible version. Tell me how you read it. If you please. Thank you very much.
The typical meal for Jewish folks in Roman times featured
- olive oil
- dried figs
- and a mess of stew made from beans, lentils, and peas.
I wrote about that in a recent article: Ancient diet for a trim look.
Richer folks could add some wine and meat. But women “have no right to wine since the wives of the poor don’t drink wine.” That’s a quote from the Tosefta, a set of Jewish guidelines from at least the AD 100’s, and perhaps earlier.
Poorer folks were more likely to use wine to help purify the drinking water. It killed some of the bacteria from pollutants such as dead critters upstream, algae in the underground spring, and laundry day every day along the shore.
It seems that nearly everyone who could afford to grow some grapes did, which is why archaeologists have found so many ruins of wine and olive presses all over what is now Israel and Palestinian Territories.
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus criticizes the religion scholars of his day for loving to dress up in their religious clothes, get greeted politely in public, get reserved seats at synagogues, and for praying long prayers out in public (Matthew 23:5-7; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47). If Jesus gave warnings about religion leaders today, what do you think he would say? And for heaven sake, don’t mention anyone’s name unless folks have already read them in the news.
Jesus might give today’s religion leaders exactly the same warnings he did 2,000 years ago. Why not? Some rich leaders dress up in expensive clothing. Some of them get celebrity status and love it. Some take their show on the road, broadcasting their ministry on television or radio—and their main thrust is fundraising, sometimes to the point of exploiting the poor and elderly. Also, as a possible add-on, Jesus might suggest that ministers preach shorter sermons, tell more stories, and feed people when they get hungry. But mostly, shorter sermons.
Seriously, just to provoke some brain activity, what critique do you think Jesus would offer to religion leaders today if they invited him to speak at a church leadership convention?
A few ideas, to prime the pump:
- Don’t spend so much time telling 2,000-year-old Bible stories. Jesus didn’t tell many Bible stories. Instead, encourage the people, help them deal with their troubles, and remind them that they are citizens of God’s kingdom and ambassadors who represent that kingdom to the citizens of this world.
- Stop using tithing as a fundraising tool since tithing was an Old Testament Jewish law that is now obsolete, like the Jewish laws about circumcision and kosher meals. (There’s a debate among Christians about tithing, which is the church’s most effective technique for raising money.)
- There’s a bit of a pushy and intimidating control freak in some religion leaders and a lot of control freak in a few. Back off. You’re supposed to be on your knees and washing feet. Like the rest of us.
Paul said that one day Jesus “will change our frail bodies into glorious bodies like his” (Philippians 3:21 Casual English Bible). What kind of body do you think Paul had in mind?
Paul may have been thinking of the kind of body Jesus exhibited at the Transfiguration and after his resurrection.
Transfiguration: “While he was praying, something happened to him. His face looked different and his clothing beamed a dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).
Resurrection: He could disappear and suddenly appear elsewhere, pass through walls, yet eat food with a physical body (Luke 24:13-43). The description might sound like a physical body with super powers.
I remember an editor at a Christian publishing company I won’t identify telling me he thought bodies in the afterlife would be flesh and bone with no blood. He said blood limited our lifespan.
I think it’s just the opposite. The less blood in our body, the worse off we are.
When he told me what he thought about our bodies in the afterlife, the word that came to mind for me was “zombie.”
His point was that the afterlife body isn’t just some kind of energy or ethereal spirit. It’s a punch-you-in-the-nose body, though we shouldn’t do that in heaven.
Paul gave a good description of resurrected bodies when he wrote to the church in Corinth.
What a resurrected body looks like
Some folks are going to ask, “How on earth are people raised from the dead? And what kind of body will they carry around with them?”
Don’t be absurd. It’s as simple as this. When you plant a seed, it has to die before it comes to life.
The body of any seed you plant—whether it’s wheat or something else—isn’t the same body you get when it comes to life.
God gives each kind of seed whatever body he wants to give it.
Not all living creatures are the same. There are humans, animals, birds, and fish.
There are also bodies made for heaven and bodies made for earth. Each kind of body is wonderful in its own unique ways.
The sun has its own brand of splendor. So do the moon and the stars—in fact, each star has its own unique splendor.
It’s the same way when it comes to the resurrection of the dead. The body is buried dead. But it is raised never to die again.
It is buried in humility. It rises in majesty. It is buried limp. It rises strong.
It is buried as a physical body. It rises as a spiritual body. Both exist. Just as there are physical bodies, there are spiritual bodies.
The Bible says, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” Well, I’d like you to know that the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.
But notice the sequence. The Spiritual One didn’t come first. The physical one came first, and the Spiritual One came afterward.
The first man comes from the earth and was made of dust. The Second Man comes from heaven.
Everyone on earth has a physical body, just as the man of dust did. Everyone in heaven has a heavenly body, just as the Man of Heaven does.
Right now we resemble the man of dust. One day we’ll resemble the Man of Heaven.
I’m telling you, dear family, this flesh and blood body of ours will not make it into the Kingdom of God. Nothing that decays is fit for immortality.
Listen up. I’m going to tell you a secret. We’re not all going to die. But we’re all going to be changed.
It’s going to happen in an instant, in the blink of an eye. The final trumpet will blow, the dead will rise as immortals, and we’ll never be the same again.
This temporary body of ours needs a makeover. We’re mortal now, but we need to dress for immortality.
When that happens—when this mortal body gets a permanent upgrade to immortality, the Bible prophecies will be fulfilled:
“Death got chewed up and spit out.
Hey Death, you’re a loser.
Hey Death, you sting like a butterfly.”
1 Corinthians 15:35-55 Casual English Bible
In the parable Jesus tells about day laborers working in a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the God character doesn’t seem to come across as the good guy.
Sure, he is generous enough to pay the folks who worked a short day the same as he paid the folks who worked a long day. But he set up the payment scenario in a way guaranteed to irritate people who had worked the long day. They got paid last, after watching the short-hour workers get paid a full day’s salary.
What do you think is the reason Jesus created this story? Pick a point you think Jesus was trying to make, or create a guess of your own.
- God is in charge and he can do what he wants.
- God is generous.
- People who are saved at the end of their life will get the full reward of heaven, like those who were believers all their life.
- “Many people who were last and least in this world will be first and foremost in the world to come” (19:30).
Some Bible experts say Jesus may have created this parable to help answer Peter’s question, “What’s going to happen to us?” (19:27). The short answer Jesus gave appears in 19:30, “Many people who were last and least in this world will be first and foremost in the world to come.”
There is a seniority system going on here on earth. People who work longer and harder out in the field get more respect than people who don’t or can’t work those long hours. Same in an office setting. We reward people for the longevity on the job, unless we retire them early because they’re making too much money. Newbies on the job haven’t earned much respect yet. In a religious setting, we honor the longtime Christians and hold them up as models to help us see what we need to become.
Jesus seems to be saying the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing like any of this. People will be judged by Someone who truly knows them and will reward them accordingly.
When I was a seminary student I attended a church that was also attended by several of the top leaders of the denomination. Sometimes, people would step forward to be prayed for if they were facing some difficult situation or illness. When the denominational leaders were in town, they would join the church ministers and place their hands on those people and pray for them.
I don’t want to diminish the respect I had for the denominational leaders, but when my family and I faced hard times, the people I wanted to join me in prayer were my family and friends—the people who knew me best and loved me most. None of those people were famous, rich enough to fly first-class, or corporate leaders in the boardroom. They were teachers, secretaries, machinists, and stay-at-home moms.
Those folks couldn’t compete in a nationwide status contest. They would have been losers. But as far as I was concerned, they were the winners and the most important people in my life.
Others would call them last and least. I called them first and most.
My goodness, Paul has strong words to describe what sin does to us. Harsh, even.
Take a look at his descriptions in Romans 3:10-18.
“No one is good. No one.
No one understands. No one looks for God.
Everyone has gone off in some other direction. No one is doing anything good. No one. They’re good for nothing.
Their throat is a toxic pit. Their tongues fling lies. Their lips are pockets of snake venom.
Their mouth is an arsenal of profanity and bitterness.
Their feet rush them to victims they can kill.
Wherever they go, they ruin lives and leave people suffering in misery.
They know nothing about peace.
They have no respect for God.”
If you had to describe the power of sin that you’ve seen at work, which of these descriptions nails it for you?
One solid category: anything to do with opening our mouth. We cause so much trouble by what we say.
“Their throat is a toxic pit. Their tongues fling lies. Their lips are pockets of snake venom. Their mouth is an arsenal of profanity and bitterness” (Romans 3:13-14).
Sound like anyone we might know in politics?
Hopefully not anyone on the church board. Or worse, in the pulpit. Then there’s the family; God help us all to be grateful for the kind souls in our gene pool and patient with the [mentally fill in a descriptive word or phrase].
Another contender: “Wherever they go, they ruin lives and leave people suffering in misery” (Romans 3:16).
People sometimes pack up and move “to get a fresh start.” The trouble is that wherever they go, they take themselves with them. It’s not always the location that’s the problem. It’s the moving dot on the map who causes the trouble.