The “poor soul” in Psalm 34 testifies to many aspects of life that find expression in my own heart. One of the most wonderful are these words,

I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears” (v.4).

What a testimony of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel the worshippers in Israel reveal. Life with God delivers us from one of the most primal instincts among us humans, “fear.”

Did you know that one of the most frequent commands in the Hebrew Bible is some combination of the words “Do not be afraid,” “fear not” or the like (the competition comes from some form of “remember/do not forget”). It spills over into the “New Testament” as well. Moses exhorts the People of God no less than eleven times in in his farewell message in Deuteronomy “do not be afraid” (1.17; 1.21; 1.29; 3.2; 3.22; 7.18; 18.22; 20.1; 20.3; 31.6; 31.8)

The Thread in the Hebrew Bible

God said to Abraham “do not be afraid” (Gen 15.1)
God said to Hagar “do not be afraid” (Gen 21.17)
God said to Israel at the Sea “do not be afraid” (Ex 14.13; 20.20; etc)
God said to Moses “do not be afraid” (Numbers 14.9; 21.34)
God said to Joshua “do not be terrified/afraid” (Josh 1.9; 8.1; 10.8; 11.6; etc)
Yahweh said to Gideon “Peace be to you; do not be afraid” (Judges 6.23)
God thru David said to Solomon “do not be afraid” (1 Chron 22.13)
God said “O my people who live in Zion, do not be afraid” (Isa 10.24)
God said “do not be afraid for I am with you” (Isa 43.5)
God said “do not tremble, do not be afraid” (Isa 44.8)
God said “do not be afraid” (Jer 40.9)
God said “Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon” (Jer 42.11)
God said “do not be afraid” (Ezekiel 2.6; 3.9; etc)
God said to Daniel “do not be afraid” (Dan 10.12, 19; etc)
God said “do not be afraid” (Zech 8.13, 15; etc)

The Message in the Middle Testament (i.e. Apocrypha)

Tobit says to Tobias “do not be afraid” (Tob 4.21; 5.16; 5.21)
Sirach said “do not fear death” (41.3)
Jeremiah exhorts the exiles in Babylon repeatedly “do not fear them” (Letter of Jeremiah 6.23, 29, 65, 69)
God said to suffering Jerusalem “Do not fear, mother of children” (2 Esdras 2.17)
God said to his “elect ones,” “do not fear or doubt, for God is your guide” (2 Esdras 16.75)

The Preaching of the New Testament

The angel said to Joseph, “do not be afraid” (Mt 1.20)
Jesus said “do not be afraid of them” (Mt 10.28)
The Risen Jesus said to the women before commissioning them to announce the Good News, “do not be afraid” (Mt 28.10; cf. v. 5)
Jesus said to Paul “do not be afraid” (Acts 18.9; 27.24)
John was told “do not be afraid” (Rev 1.17; 2.10)

Some form of the exhortation “do not be afraid” occurs in the Bible enough times for us to hear it each day of the year.

But the testimony of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is that God’s People are not to be fearful … if God is on our side then whom, or what, shall we fear?

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

(Psalm 27.1)

It is something I am working on.

I playfully say I am a “Stoned-Campbellite.” Neither Barton Stone nor Alexander Campbell were inspired nor even perfect. Yet I grew up in a fellowship of believers profoundly shaped by these men. But my goal is simply to be a Christian as best as I can. One of the great values of these two men, and the rhetoric was passed on to us, was always to go the Scriptures and see what they actually teach.

Our Spiritual forefathers and mothers never smile more than when we decide to become a student of God’s word for all its worth – even when we may disagree with something they understood. We grant no past understanding infallibility and beyond question … nor our own. We question ourselves as much as others.

Being Born is not the Same as Living as a Disciple

The Bible is a big book. We do not have to know the names of the books of the Bible to become a Christian. In fact we may not even know which books are in the Bible to become a Christian. We do not have to know the names of the Twelve apostles to become a Christian. We do not even have to know there is an “Old Testament” and a “New Testament” in order to become a Christian. In fact not a single Christian in the first century knew there was such a thing people today term “the Old Testament.” We do not have to be able to give a dissertation on the doctrine of baptism in order to become a Christian. We do not have to know the marks of the “one true church” in order to become a Christian.

Becoming a Christian is as easy as being “born.” The baby does nothing to be born, it is the mom that does all the work. Babies are born. Christians are born. Peter once praised our Father because “by his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope …” (1 Peter 1.3).

Alexander Campbell thought long and hard on this matter. He noted, correctly I believe, that the NT makes only two conditions for the “birth” of a disciple of Christ. First, a person must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah. Second, that person expresses their faith in Jesus the Christ by being baptized into his name. If you have faith in Jesus the Christ and you have been baptized in his name you have been “born of God.” As Campbell understood it, correctly I believe, these are the only requirements made in Matthew 28.18-20. The Ethiopian Eunuch was the test case, if the Ethiopian was genuinely a Christian than nothing beyond what he knew can be a condition for being born. In Campbell’s words,

“But the grandeur, sublimity, and beauty of the foundation of hope and of ecclesiastical union, established by the author and founder of christianity, consisted of this, that the BELIEF OF ONE FACT, and that upon the best evidence in the world, is all that is requisite, as far as faith goes, to salvation. The belief of this ONE FACT, and submission to ONE INSTITUTION expressive of it, is all that is required of Heaven to admission to the church. A christian … is one that believes this ONE FACT, and has submitted to ONE INSTITUTION, and whose deportment accords with the morality and virtue of the great Prophet. The one fact is expressed in a single proposition – that JESUS THE NAZARENE IS THE MESSIAH … the ONE INSTITUTION is baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Every such person is a disciple in the fullest sense of the word” (Alexander Campbell, Gospel Restored, pp. 118-119)

Being born, becoming a Messiah follower, is easy. A person does not have to be able to discuss Christology and the doctrine of baptism to have faith that Jesus is the Christ and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Spirit as Matthew 28 indicates.

Mom’s do the work in having babies and it is God who does the work in making baby Christians.

Being Born is not the Goal of Being Born

But being born is not the goal of life. Likewise being born is not the goal of Christianity. Living is the goal of life and living is the goal of Christianity. Babies do nothing to get born. But babies must do something to live. They must eat and grow. If a baby does not eat then tragic consequences result.

Some Christians are content with nothing in their life but being “born.” But as with a baby, if they do not grow, if they do not develop, then tragic consequences typically result. Some vigorously protest growing, learning, anything. If it is not a requirement to “get saved” then don’t waste time on it is the attitude. Is it any wonder that these believers exist, like actual infants, in a perpetual state of immaturity with all that entails? The Hebrews Preacher put it this way. Prefacing his/her remarks with these honest words, so often denied by many, “About this we have much to say that is hard to explain,”

since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5.11-13)

The Hebrews’ Preacher is accusing those believers of “failure to thrive.” But we are to grow. We are to eat. We are to live. While knowledge of the Bible is not a prerequisite to being born, for those who want to live it becomes as necessary as eating and breathing for a baby. The goal of growing is to become a living, contributing, part of the family. To become what we were born to be: a graced image bearer with unique gifts to be shared with the community of faith.

Growing. Living.

So to live – to grow – we dig in. I confessed Jesus as the Christ, what does that mean? This first question takes us into the story of Abraham, Ruth, David, Hezekiah, Huldah … it takes me into seeing a Story that I am now part of. The Gospel of Matthew, like the apostle Paul, denies that it is possible to embrace the Messiah without Israel, he is Israel’s Messiah. Messiah is King, to say Jesus is Messiah is to confess “Jesus is the King of the Jews!” He was born king of the Jews. He was lynched as king of the Jews. He was raised in the flesh as king of the Jews. He reigns on the throne of David as king of the Jews.

I was born, but for what? For what purpose? My previous question about the Christ leads me into the Mission of the Christ. To be baptized is to become part of the Christ’s mission in the world. I have a reason for being that is beyond being born. Our Lord wants me (and you) to be his partner in the mission. To do this I must grow and mature to become who I was born to be.

Growing is, however, a natural thing unless we ourselves get in the way. Children naturally explore. Teenagers naturally ask questions. Growing – living – disciples of Christ do the very same thing. A sixteen year old simply will not accept the same kind of challenges that are given to a 4 month old or 4 year old. Nor will they accept the same answers given to the challenges. They explore.

The sad thing is, is that many many disciples refuse to do in their Christian walk what they do as a preteen and teen: ask questions, explore, and grow. They want formula out of a bottle, even strained bananas are unwelcome.

But growing, becoming, is the point of being born. The growth of a sixteen year old does not invalidate the growth of the four year old. The four year old, if doing what four year old’s do, is exactly where she is supposed to be.

But a sixteen year old that acts like a four year old is an indication that something massively has gone wrong in her life. But four year old’s do not know what a sixteen year old is supposed to know and comprehend. And a sixteen year old does not know and comprehend what a forty five year old is supposed to know and comprehend. But for the forty five year to get there, she must live not just exist.

She must DO. She must GROW. She must LEARN. We are born into a journey.

Paul said of the so called Old Testament that reading it, devouring it, meditating on it, “makes us wise unto salvation.” Isn’t that an odd phrase? The readers of 2 Timothy 3.14-17 are already “saved.” They are already “born.” But Paul’s point is that we grow in understanding what salvation actually is and what it is all about.

Salvation is not just about being born. Salvation is not simply about going to heaven. Salvation is about exploring, comprehending, growing, learning, and living .. it is about becoming who we were created to be in the first place.

Being born is easy. Growing beyond formula and strained bananas is natural. Becoming who I was born to be requires that I let God teach me something new … to become “wise” in the ways of salvation.

For this very reason you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness and goodness with knowledge …” (2 Peter 1.5)

Just some thoughts.

Related Blogs:

Spiritual Growth Goals for 2017: Some Suggestions

Grow in Grace & Knowledge: Purposeful Discipleship

Alexander Campbell: Lessons in Fearless Bible Study

I have been reflecting a lot lately on how an “ordinary” person would have encountered the “Bible” in the first century. The fact that no ordinary person actually owned a Bible for many, many centuries – fifteen of them in fact – after Jesus is a truth we have not wrestled with. Most ordinary people would never have seen much less owned and held in their hands even a portion of the Bible much less the Bible itself. The Ethiopian eunuch is only an apparent exception to this: he did not have a Bible but a scroll of Isaiah and he was hardly ordinary, but rich and powerful. The world of the early church was an oral culture not print. They heard things rather than read things.

An Illustration

When I was young, my family lived in a small white house in Cloverdale, AL. We did not have a TV. We played games at the kitchen table. One day my mom discovered some old time radio shows on cassette. So we would sit and listen to “The Shadow” a detective show from the 1930s. There were no images, only us sitting there listening to the story. We got really caught up in that story. To this day I can hear in my head the voice of the narrator and the images that popped up in my imagination. We learned about the characters and most important we learned the story.

In Communal Worship

People in the first century encountered the Bible in ways similar to how my family encountered The Shadow. A father or mother would tell the story. A rabbi would tell the story with his disciples. They memorized the Story. These stories would be told around a table.

Going to the temple or attending the synagogue (not all synagogues would have the whole bible btw and the scrolls belonged to the community not to individuals). But in the festivals the “Bible,” or more precisely the “story,” was relived and that is how the word was given and experienced. As one scholar recently put it, Israel did not read the Bible they acted it out. The festivals reenact the central features of the Story of Redemption (Passover, Booths, Shavuot, Purim, Hanukkah, etc). One of the great lessons learned from how people encountered the Bible for centuries is that it focuses upon the essential part of the Story. I think we would do well to learn that. These early disciples were indeed “People of the Word” but they were not “People of the Book.” There was no book for many centuries.

The Bible is Neither the Holy Spirit nor the Gospel

Some folks have practically come to believe that the printed page is the Holy Spirit. Early on in the Stone-Campbell Movement there were people that advocated the heresy that the Holy Spirit had retired from work in God’s world. Some of these literally came to think of the printed Bible as the Spirit. Walter Scott satirized these folks in this quip, “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive a New Testament.” This position is not materially different from that held by a number like the famed false teacher Foy Wallace Jr. Wallace wrote

Apart from the inspiration of the apostles and prophets, it is impossible fro spirit to communicate with spirit except through words. God and Christ never personally occupied anyone; and for the same reason, the Holy Spirit does not personally occupy anyone.”

Wallace goes on to say “Now the Word of God is in the Book – THE WRITTEN WORD [his emphasis] – and the direct possession of the Holy Spirit is unnecessary and superfluous.” (Mission & Medium of the Holy Spirit, pp. 7-8. As a side note this is why Wallace thought K. C. Moser was a heretic!)

There is not a person in the first century that could have endorsed Wallace’s position. They never had the written word, that is they did not have a Bible. Before the end of the first century virtually no congregation had anything remotely like what people typically call the Bible today. We mentioned the eunuch above. When he returned to Meroe he had nothing whatsoever of our written New Testament all he had according to Luke was the scroll of Isaiah. The Gospels do not start appearing in written form until the 60s. Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 and Peter, Paul, James were all dead by then.

How did those people encounter the Bible? Not as Wallace suggests. They encountered the Word of God like I did the Shadows as a kid. It was spoken. The actual writing the New Testament church did have was the collection of scrolls we call Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, the Prophets.

The oral Story focused upon God’s work thru Israel and culminating in Jesus. And like my family years ago they encountered the Word most frequently at a table where some one would tell the Story … or related an “episode.”

Paying Attention to Context, Theirs and Ours

We need to reflect on how radically different our experience of the “culture” of the Christian faith is from people living in the first Christian centuries. This may produce fewer divisions among us for one thing. It may also help us realize that, contrary to Wallace’s claim, God’s word is not equivalent to a written page. The written page may be (and is) a RECORD of the word of God.

But the written page is not what the Bible itself calls “the word of God.” The word of God was heard and empowered by God’s own Spirit. “Blessed is the ONE {singular} who reads ALOUD the words of the prophecy, and blessed are THOSE {plural} who HEAR …” (Rev 1.3). This is how the ordinary person encountered what came to be the Bible for centuries on end.

I am sooooooooooooooo grateful to have my own “Bible.” Anyone that knows me, knows I have a fascination with anything that has to do with the Bible. I have (and have read) old “Bibles” from cover to cover like Wycliffe’s Bible, Tyndale’s OT and NT, the Geneva Bible, I was part of nerd FB group in 2011 to read the whole KJV including the Apocrypha cover to cover for its 400th anniversary.

I love the Bible. But as grateful as I am, I need to be historically aware enough that sometimes having my own personal Bible creates both assumptions and expectations that were not only NOT shared in first century Christianity but simply did not exist in any form, in most cases, until after the Protestant Reformation.

Such awareness is part of having “eyes to see” and more importantly in this case “ears to HEAR.”


23 Apr 2019

“The Commandments”: The Union of God’s Story

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Patternism

I do not want to exaggerate when I say many disciples of the Messiah are functional Marcionites. Though the apostolic writers, there is not an exception, appeal to the Hebrew Bible as authority on a routine basis for directing the “New Testament” church, modern believers cringe at this. In fact many hold that there is nothing of binding value in the “Old Testament” on Christians today. As one correspondent told me, the apostles never appeal to the “Old Testament” for doctrinal purposes.

I have argued many times that the New Testament would not exist without the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible is the source of the God, the Story, the People, the Hope, the Ethics and even the very Words of the New Testament. Scripture is single and beautifully interrelated whole.

Today I compiled a list of commands, in response to a note, that are given in the “Old Testament” that are as binding on Christians as they were were Israelites.

But you ask what law in the Hebrew Bible still applies today. Here are some commands that apply to us today, the list is illustrative not exhaustive.

Love the Lord with all your heart
Love your neighbor
Be holy as I am holy
Have no god before Yahweh
Do not worship idols
Do not misuse God’s name
Honor your Parents
Do not murder
Do not commit adultery
Do not steal
Do not covet
Do not seek revenge
Bless your enemies
Honor the lowly
Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him
Honor the family of God

So many caricature the Hebrew Bible. “Do we keep all 613 commandments!?”

This is a statement that is rooted in either deception or ignorance. There are not 613 commands in the Hebrew Bible that any Israelite had to keep. The vast majority of commands in the Torah are what people today would call “case law.” That is that rule only applied under certain circumstances. Most of the laws would never apply to all Israelites. Then there is the infamous book of Leviticus. Leviticus as a whole never applied to average Israelites, rather it is instruction to priests and Levites on decorum in and around the Tabernacle/Temple. But none of the commands of Torah are divorced or isolated from the Story of God’s loving grace in which he first rescues Israel.

Moses answers directly what the Lord demanded in Deuteronomy 10.12-22.

“So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? … to love him … To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 1Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Love God. Circumcise our hearts. Love aliens.

Off the top of my head I cannot think of a single directive given by Jesus or the apostles that did not first appear in the Hebrew Bible. And these directives are applied to disciples of Jesus not simply because they are brought into the “new/renewed covenant” but directly as commands of God.

For example, James applies Leviticus 19.18 to disciples of Jesus directly because it is “according to scripture” (James 2.8). James does not quote Jesus, though he could have. He quotes the Law of Moses.

Paul offers “the commandments” in Romans and cites the “Ten Commandments” as “you shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet” (13.8ff). Paul quotes, like James, Leviticus and says all these are loving our neighbor and “fulfilling the law.” Paul has no qualms in Ephesians 6.1 that the “first commandment” is directly applicable to Gentile disciples. Paul gives no indication that he considers these commands as binding only because he has reiterated them. Rather Paul quotes Scripture.

So yes there are commands in the Hebrew Bible that apply to us as disciples of the Messiah. Again I cannot think of a directive given by the apostles to anyone that did not come from the Hebrew Bible.

The Hebrew Bible, just like the “New Testament” is approached hermeneutically. Neither the Torah nor the New Testament documents simply fell out of heaven to be binding in all places at all times regardless of circumstances. But Paul considered the Hebrew Bible to be authoritative for the life and teaching of the people of God.

So again, I cannot think of a command in the “New Testament” given to disciples of the King of the Jews that does not first appear in the Hebrew Bible. I may be mistaken but I cannot think of it.

I respond by posting something I wrote back in the Land of Ice and Snow (Gunnison, CO). It was a Sunday when I wrote this

Lord’s Day Theology for June 25, 2017. Many people use words in a very slippery way. We will call a person a “liberal” as a way of dismissing what she has presented. No real discussion or examination need be taken because we can simply dismiss the individual. Many people also use the word “legalist” and there is not much content to the word.

Liberalism, the Real McCoy

In light of the extensive discussion on my K. C. Moser post, I want to visit the idea of “legalism.” I think there is something that is legitimately “Liberalism” and there is something called “Legalism.” Defining theological “liberalism” is far easier than “legalism.” Neither of these words or the ideas they represent can properly be used as a way to shut down conversation, nor thrown at some one simply because he or she disagrees with “me” or “you.”

Real Liberalism is a position that rejects core Christian beliefs. These include: the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the reality of miracles.

Liberalism is essentially Rationalism applied to Christianity. A person that accepts the deity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection, the virgin birth, the miracles as real can never be honestly and legitimately called a liberal. If you accept the inspiration of the Bible you are not a liberal. It is that simple and there are virtually zero genuine Liberals within the fellowship of Churches of Christ.

I, for one, actually believe in the historical reality of the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Jesus, his death, his bodily resurrection in the flesh, and every line of the Apostles’ Creed. The real liberals would never call me a “Liberal.”

Legalism: The Appearance of Christianity without the Spirit

Legalism as noted is a little tougher animal. How do you define “beautiful?” or more appropriately how is “life” defined? We know beauty when we see it, we recognize life when we encounter it. But defining these basic and fundamental realities is exceedingly difficult. We know beauty by the response it elicits from us. We know life by its fruits. Perhaps “legalism” is like that … we know it by its fruit. Yet the difficulty in defining beauty or life in no way suggests these are imaginary concepts.

But I am not going to leave it there. Legalism is an orientation that views the human walk with God as something that is primarily generated, and rooted, in human action rather than divine. Ironically legalism is far closer to classical liberalism because it is humanistically centered. Legalism is a worldview.

Legalism is not about obedience vs disobedience to the King. Legalism is the framework in which such obedience is understood. Legalism conceives the central issue of Christianity as what I do, what I know, what I think. It is about humans attempting to reach the divine.

Let me unpack the previous paragraph with some concrete “identity” markers for “Legalism” flowing from the definition I have given.

1) Legalism conceives of Scripture as primarily a record of divine commands given to the human race. The heart of the Bible is a call to exacting, even precision, obedience to those commands. Scripture is about what humans – must do. What I must do not what God has done.

According to legalism, Scripture is not primarily the inspired Story of the Creator God’s love, of God’s gracious move to make space in the divine life for something as alien as matter, of God’s sacrificing God’s self so that matter can continue to dwell and indeed become partaker in the divine nature! No, Legalism says Scripture is, fundamentally, the commands of God directed to us so we by our own precision obedience can be right with God. The ground of acceptance is not God’s work but human response.

2) Legalism regards the New Testament (the Hebrew Bible is not even on the radar screen of legalism except as a caricature in most cases) as a large number of commands, examples, inferences … all of which are equally important. Exact obedience to each is necessary – essential – to our salvation.

Legalism will, btw, often recognize, and use the word ‘grace,’ that God in his grace revealed the legal code to us, or that Jesus died to give us the code. However we are bound to these commands for our own good. The code/plan/pattern provides the means by which WE can do something sufficiently well enough to be with God. GRACE IS THE REVELATION OF THE COMMAND SO THAT WE KNOW WHAT WE HAVE TO DO WITH PRECISION. Failure to perform each of these commands will result in our damnation.

There are no secondary matters, in fact the secondary matters are likely the most important matters. Here #2 simply puts a fine point on #1 above.

3) Legalism is known by its trinity: anxiety, fear, and arrogance. The slightest infraction of the “code” or “pattern” breaks the ground between God and humanity and legalism never knows if it has been good enough (thus the fear and anxiety). Ironically sin is so externalized and thus made “manageable” that we can affirm our precision obedience and look down our noses on anyone not quite as perfect as we imagine ourselves to be on those measurable items.

Legalism does not feel the need for grace. The words “have mercy on me, a sinner” are hard to utter in a legalistic framework. We don’t need mercy, I simply need propositions and get on with it.

Final Thoughts. Legalism is human centered religion, it is “me-ism” religion. Christianity, however, is a God centered faith. Legalism is more focused on positions on issues than relationships with God and his people.

Conservative is not a synonym for “legalism” but neither is Progressive a synonym for “liberalism.” There are liberal legalists. Conservative is not a synonym for faithful or truthful. Conservative is not a synonym for love of anything much less God and neighbor. Why people equate these is a mystery.

If I find that I have to qualify God’s grace when we hear it or say it, then our orientation may be human one rather than a God centered orientation.

In Scripture it is the divine indicative that is always the ground for response and obedience. It is the divine indicative that enables obedience. The essential and basic issue of legalism is God oriented or human oriented. The chasm between biblical faith, in both Testaments, and Legalism is as wide as the canyon between Abraham’s bosom and the place of torment. I will have nothing to do with legalism.

Legalism and Sectarianism go hand in hand. For previous thoughts on that see my blogs:

A Taxonomy of Sectarianism

Bobby, You Got to Have Balance! Whose Balance? Scripture or Sectarianism?

1835: Tares Among the Wheat: Roots of Sectarianism in Churches of Christ


Passages of the Bible I wish I had known growing up in Churches of Christ. I grew up in a Bible believing home and in a Bible preaching church (supposedly). I learned about TOPICS that were important to our social identity in northwest Alabama. But there was a massive amount of Bible I did not have nay inkling about. While I could quote the textual variant Mark 16.15-16 (while ignoring the fact that it is not genuine but my preacher never told me that), Acts 2.38, 1 Peter 3.21, Jude 3 and Romans 16.16 (always incorrectly btw). But if were to go back in time and talk to a younger me, I would say “Bobby get to know these texts.”

1) Exodus 34.6-7 … one of the most important texts, hands down, in the entire Bible. I had never even heard of it. I now refer to this text as the “God Creed.”

The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness

keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.

This passage recurs in whole, or in part, throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible dozens of times. This was the “anchor” of hope for Israel. I never heard of it.

2) Leviticus 26.11-12 … the marvelous promise of divine presence. God wants to LIVE with US. I had never heard of it.

I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you.  And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

It is a veritable return to Eden. God lives with Israel, God walks with Israel, God marries Israel. I never heard of it. I call it the “Immanuel Creed.”

3) Numbers 6.22-26 … God’s blessing upon his people. I had never heard of it.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord makes his face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you,
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you shalom

What a word of grace, what a word of hope that Yahweh gave to the Israelites when they came to the temple to worship and commune with him. The “priestly blessing” touches the longing of all of us. But I never heard of it.

4) Deuteronomy 10.12-22 … the whole shebang of the Hebrew Bible in eleven verses. I had never heard of it. What did God demand of those Jews? God demanded precision obedience to 613 commandments, I was taught. The slightest lack of precision in one doomed the poor Jew. But that is not what Moses taught at all …

So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today.

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer.  For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe,  who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.  He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.  Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven

Here are three requirements that are really only two: Love Yahweh and Love the alien – all in response to God’s astonishing love. Circumcising our heart is what makes it possible to remove our idolatry of self so we can love God and love our neighbor. But I never heard of it.

5) Deuteronomy 34.9-12 … all I knew about Moses was he gave stuff we wanted to get rid of and failed at precision obedience by striking that rock. For all I knew he was going to hell. But God loved Moses, knew him face to face. Every prophet is measured by Moses, including Jesus. I had never heard of it.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.  He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land,  and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”

But I did not know this wonderful description of Moses and that God knew him “face to face.”

6) 2 Chronicles 34.22-28 … I did not know women did anything in the Bible. Huldah preached the word of the Lord and she is the first person in recorded history to state that a text was Scripture. Here this woman of God instructed the king, the high priest, the secretary of state and others. She brought about a massive reformation. I never heard of it.

7) Esther 9.29, 32 … Esther threw herself before the King. I did not know that she wrote the law for the Feast of Purim … I never heard of it. Seriously, though I knew the story of Esther, the only lesson I can ever recall from Esther was not even on Esther but Vashti who refused to dance! And our lesson was on dancing!

Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus,  and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons … The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.”

A woman exercising authority over the people of God? A woman directing worship? I never heard of it.

8) Jeremiah 3.8 … after seeing many people treated like pariah’s after a divorce, it was quite startling to learn that GOD had gone through a divorce! … I had never heard of it.

for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear

As a divorcee, I find it strangely comforting that God has had a divorce! I never heard of it.

9) Romans 5.6-11 … God sent Jesus to PROVE his love for his ENEMIES. I would tell myself to not be afraid to believe it. I am not so sure I knew that I actually had a Savior.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Is this not an amazing passage? Why didn’t I know it?

10) Jude 24-25 … I had Jude 1.3 drilled into my head. But I would not have been able to tell you what v 2 nor v 4 was about. Today, I would tell my fifteen self, memorize verses 24 and 25 … I never knew they were in the Bible. In fact I knew nothing of the letter of Jude except that our preachers and debaters quoted a single verse but when they quoted it, I am certain they did not include verses 24-25 as part of the “faith once delivered.”

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen”.

What an astonishing text. It resounds like the blessing in #3 and echoes Psalm 124. God can keep us standing and keep us from falling! I never heard of this text!

Ten texts I wish I had grown up knowing. I wish the preachers, teachers, elders, and debaters I knew had stressed these wonderful texts. My life might have been different in those early years. They are awesome. Memorize them.

The Word is Life to the perishing.
Bible believers routinely take verses out of context when it serves their agenda.

The famous New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has opined, “texts matter, but contexts matter even more” (Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 489). This observation deserves full acceptance.

Context is what called for the creation of the text in the first place. Context is why the text exists. Context is what gives the text meaning.

A text without a context, a text is simply used as a pretext.

Context matters because texts must be interpreted. There are those who claim they do not interpret the Bible, they only read it and obey it. Usually this claim arises when a sectarian position that has emotional content to it has come up for consideration.

But recognizing the Bible has context does not imply I am embarrassed by Scripture. Recognizing the context of Scripture is an act of submission to the authority of the Holy Spirit. It is to respect the integrity of the word as it was given. Here is an example,

women should be silent

First to be noted on this text is that not one church known to me actually obeys this text as it is translated in most English Bibles. That women sing proves that the text cannot be understand to “mean what it says and says what it means.” There is no caveat, no exception clause, for singing. But brothers will say that the text has to be understood in light of the “command” to sing. Precisely! The text has to be “interpreted.” They interpret even while claiming they do not.

Other texts that are routinely interpreted are:

tear out your eye and throw it away” (Mt 5)
cut off your right hand” (Mt 5)
do not store up treasure” (Mt 6)
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mk 10.25)
sell everything you have and give it to the poor” (Lk 18)
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (Jn 6.53)
do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor 14)
when you meet for worship, one person has a hymn …”(1 Cor 14.26)
baptized for the dead” (1 Cor 15.29)
men should pray lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim 2.8)
women … should not wear fancy hair and jewelry” (1 Tim 2.9)
women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Tim 2.15)
laying on hands” (Heb 6.2)
Greetings by kissing” (Rom 16.16; 1 cor 16.20; 2 Cor 13.12; 1 Thes 5.26; 1 Pt. 5.14)
believe on the name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16.31)
we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3.28)
It is by grace that we are saved you are saved through faith, and this is not your own doing” (Eph 2.8)
if any are sick they should call the elders and have them pray over them and anoint them with oil” (James 5.14)
they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5.10)

There is not one of these texts listed that are simply used, obeyed or even preached without some sort of qualification, some sort interpretation. These verses are “explained.”

I maintain that the statement “women should be silent” must be understood in its CONTEXT just like every other text just cited. And every single person that allows women to sing also has already admitted the text does not mean “exactly” what it appears to say (in common English translations).

I am no more embarrassed by Paul’s words on women than Jesus’s words on tearing out our eyes and cutting off our hands. The text must be properly understood in its own context if we are to understand Jesus and be faithful.

It is the height of special pleading to insist that the texts above must be interpreted in their literary contexts and in light of the rest of scripture and then deny that very principle in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 … especially when the texts under question are surrounded by verses that they insist must be “properly understood.”

What drives the special pleading? Is it sectarianism? In Churches of Christ we place the caveat on Ephesians 2.8 because of baptism. So why can we not place a caveat on 1 Cor 14.34 when a mere column over (in Paul’s papyrus scroll) we read about women who are hardly silent but are publicly praying and admonishing the ecclesia (11.4-5; 14.4-5) and know that at least one woman in Cenchrea (the Corinthian port) was a deacon (Rom 16.1-2). And not only so but the biblical witness gives us a number of women who publicly taught God’s people (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, etc).

First Corinthians 14 cannot have a meaning apart from its context and what Paul intended in that context. If we actually believe in the authority of the Bible then we must in fact do diligence to its context.

Context has a way of slaying sacred cows which may be why some dislike it.


The way we talk reveals deeply held beliefs. These beliefs are sometimes so deep, in fact, that we never consciously think about them.  When this happens, that belief is part of the structure of the house hidden from plain view. 

The way we speak projects the worldview – the structural frame – for how we see and interact with the world around us.  Several years ago one of my shepherds, Monroe Hawley, wrote about the significance of language or speech for uncovering our deeper ways of thinking.  His chapter “Your Speech Betrays You” in his classic Redigging the Wells: Seeking Undenominational Christianity, offers this perceptive example, when a person says,

I’m Church of Christ all the way” (i.e. pp. 83-94).

This was an example of a conservative, traditional, Bible believing, and denominational disliking, sister whose speech betrayed an incredibly denominational view of the family of God, even as she denied holding such a position.  While clearly using a “scriptural” term, she had recontextualized that term (“Church of Christ”) thus redefining it in radically anti-biblical ways. 

Modern, western, believers often do the same with the word “soul” and with just as deadly consequences to a biblical understanding of the term. Our use of the word “soul” reveals an entire hidden structure to our understanding of faith. Christians, preachers, and churches constantly speak of “soul winning” or “saving souls” or being a “soul winner.” 

The word “soul” is usually not defined but is simply assumed to be the part of humanity that matters to God that survives the death of the body.  It is the unseen reality of a person that experiences “salvation.” It is the part of us that “goes to heaven”  (i.e. gets saved).

Since we cannot see a “soul” and it is immaterial, our hidden understanding of “soul” is what lies behind such inquiries as “will we know one another in heaven?”  After all how do you “know” what you cannot see or otherwise sense?  But though we cannot see or sense it, the “soul” is of the utmost importance and really the only part of a human that matters at all. This hidden understanding of “soul” is what lies behind our speaking of “spiritual blessings” as opposed to material blessings.  As with the person in Monroe Hawley’s example, the word “soul” has come to mean something different by being placed in a new frame has deadly consequences.  

What I just described, and I do not think it is a caricature nor is that my intent, reveals an understanding that comes from the West’s Greek heritage far more than the Bible.

That Greek heritage celebrates the influence of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other pagan philosophers.  It is Plato in particular who has shaped the way many people think about the “soul.”  Indeed for Plato the soul was “immortal.” The “soul” can, and does, exist prior to and apart from the body. In fact “salvation” in Plato’s thinking is ultimately setting the “soul” free from the body that encumbers it.

But simply because the Bible uses the word “soul” does not mean that it remotely means what Plato meant by the word. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, reflects a Hebraic structure or worldview and not a Greek one.  When it comes to the matter of saving the soul this is of utmost importance.  Our father in the faith, Alexander Campbell, grasped this point with precision,

Immortality, in the sacred writings, is never applied to the spirit of man. It is not the doctrine of Plato which the resurrection of Jesus proposes. It is the IMMORTALITY OF THE BODY of which his resurrection is a proof and pledge” (Millennial Harbinger – Extra, [August 5, 1833], 359). 

Campbell understood something many of his heirs do not, the NT writers were not Greek philosophers but Jewish folk nourished on the doctrine of Moses not Plato.  So Campbell can say that though the language of the NT is Greek “it has the soul of Hebrew” (nicely done there Alexander!). 

So what does the word “soul” mean in the Bible?

In Hebrew the word most often rendered “soul” in our English Bible is the nephesh and in Greek it is psyche. The word psyche occurs in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible over 900x (including the Apocrypha). New Testament writers get the word from the Septuagint.

Most of the time psyche is a rendering of nephesh. If one opens up a standard Hebrew dictionary such as The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed William VanGemeren to the article on “Nephesh” we read “Care should be taken not to import a Greek paradigm of psychology to nepes” (vol 3, p. 133).  We should heed this warning because to ignore it changes what the Bible says and means.

In Hebrew nephesh stands for the whole person and sometimes simply means “I.” It is life itself.  So completely identified with the notion of a whole person that we can read of a corpse, that is a dead BODY, as a “soul/nephesh.”  “He shall not go where there is a dead body” (Lev 21.11, NRSV).  We shall not go near a dead soul, that is a person! In Leviticus 4.2 we read “when anyone sins unintentionally against me” (NRSV) but it is literally when a “soul/nephesh sins against me.”  That is when a person sins against me.  

In the Psalms we come across the notion of “soul” frequently and Westerners unconsciously, reading through the hidden Platonic structure of our Modern world, understand the text as a pagan philosopher might.  We come across famous lines like “Save me, O God, for the waters come into my soul” (Ps 69, KJV). Or in Psalm 44 “For our soul is bowed down to the dust” (KJV).  Or we read that haunting image in Psalm 42 which is prone to misunderstanding

As a deer pants for the living water,  
so my soul thirsts for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God
” (vv. 1-2, NRSV)s

Some read this and think the psalmist is speaking of her immortal soul, the hidden, non-material, valuable part that God loves and wants to save.  But this is, as our brief analysis above shows us, not what is meant at all.  The psalmist is not speaking of anything unseen or hidden.  Rather he is talking about himself, “I.” 

Robert Alter’s translation of The Book of Psalms renders correctly (Alter has a brief discussion on translating the Psalms in which he discusses among other things nephesh (pp. xxxi-xxxiii),

As a dear years for streams of water, so I yearn for You, O God. 
My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God

In fact to render nephesh this way (i.e. soul) is misleading in our modern contexts. A number of English translations have corrected it. So the TEV reads, 

As a deer longs for a stream of cool water,
so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for you, the living God
” (cf. NEB, REB, CEV, CSB, NCV, etc)

In the Hebraic worldview, human beings are a psycho-somatic unity.  There is no dichotomy between the spiritual and nonspiritual.  God is the Creator of all and the giver of life.  Life is given as a gift (souls).  There is no “soul” without a body and not body without the nephesh.  When the body and nephesh are not together there is “death.”

The whole personality of the psalmist in Ps 42 is dying for God.  His body is experiencing a drought because of separation from God’s gracious presence. It is a gross misunderstanding to think this is just inner anguish, or mental turmoil, or some hidden part of his being that yearns for God.  He is saying every “fabric of his/her identity” is aching for God. In the words, his or her whole being is afire for the Lord. 

The New Testament 

The notion we see in the Hebrew Bible, carried clearly over into the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Septuagint, is shot through the New Testament.  The NT does not import Greek notions for “soul.”  There is no trading of Moses for Plato.  I will give numerous examples in order to demonstrate that this Hebrew doctrine for humanity remains. As a standard Greek dictionary like The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed Colin Brown, reminds us (as noted with the Hebrew above) “psyche” is “the seat of life, or life itself” or the person (see vol 3, pp. 676-687).

In Mark 8.35 and the identical parallel in Matthew 16.25/Luke 9.24 we read “whoever would save his life/soul/psyche will loose it” … soul clearly means the “life” of the person and not some hidden “secret” part of the person. 

In Matthew 10.39 we read this same Hebraic notion “those who find their life/psyche/soul will lose it …” 

In Matthew 20.28 we read these interesting words “Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his SOUL/LIFE/psyche as a ransom for many.” Clearly the doctrine of Plato needs to be shunned in understanding what the very Jewish Jesus was saying here. It was no invisible Jesus on the Cross. 

In Jesus’s parable of the Rich Fool, he uses the same understanding of “nephesh” in the Psalms, and other places, to tell us how the Fool described himself. “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12.19,NRSV).  This is just as easily translated as “And I said to myself, Self ...” or to make it personal, “And I said to myself, Bobby …” The Today’s English Version renders the passage as “Then I will say to myself, Lucky Man! …”  The Rich Fool is clearly having a conversation with himself.  We humans do these things all the time.  “psyche” simply refers to the Rich Fool.

In recounting the cost of discipleship our Exalted Jewish Rabbi spoke in these words in the Gospel of Luke. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own SOUL/psyche/LIFE, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14.26). 

Speaking of the Good Shepherd’s ultimate sacrifice for the sheep, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his SOUL/LIFE/psyche for the sheep” (John 10.11).  We certainly do not want to import Plato’s doctrine here!

When Peter, a good Jew, was speaking to Jesus, zealously proclaiming his unending devotion we hear these words that make no sense in a Platonic context, “Peter said to him, Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will day down my SOUL for you.” (John 13.37). 

If the soul, as is commonly understood and used in Evangelical/Restoration piety, means that part of the human being most valuable to God and is subject to “salvation” then Peter is speaking pure nonsense. But Peter is not just dedicating PART of himself to Jesus but declaring his “total commitment” (to use a metaphor) to Jesus.  He is giving it all.  There is no dichotomy between soul/body.  It is the whole person that is devoted to Jesus unto death. 

Paul was just as Jewish as Jesus and Peter. He never left Moses for Plato. He uses the word psyche in the same pattern we have observed throughout the Bible so far.  Paul was always grateful to his fellow workers.  For example he testifies that Prisca and Aquila “risked their necks for my SOUL/life/psyche” (Romans 16.4).  

Rabbi Paul loved his Thessalonian (=Macedonian)  brothers and sisters dearly.  It was not only an honor to share the “gospel of God” with them but his psyche.  “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own SOUL/psyche, because you have become very dear to me” (1 Thess 2.8).  Paul has shared himself with his Thessalonian friends. Or as most English translations rightly render here, “Because our love for you we were ready to share with you not only the Good News from God but even our own lives! (TEV, cf. NIV, NRSV, etc)

The very Jewish apostle Peter tells us that on Noah’s ark there were “eight souls” saved in the Flood (1 Peter 3.20).  This clearly means, as in the Hebrew Bible, there were eight people that were on Noah’s ark. 

The only Gentile writer in the New Testament is Luke (and it is not at all clear that Luke was not at least a proselyte) yet he retains this Hebraic understanding of psyche … just as he learned it out of the Septuagint.  Luke records the sending of a letter from the Jerusalem Council to believers in Antioch and other places.  In that letter we read “we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their SOULS/psyche for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15.25-26).  Barnabas and Paul risked themselves, their lives, for the sake of Jesus.  

Luke relates the sea voyage of Paul and the wreck at Malta.  Just before the ship was wrecked we are told that Paul gathers the folks around for a feast in good Jewish fashion (clear echoes of the feasts of Jesus in the Gospel and the Last Supper too).  “We were in all two hundred seventy six SOULS on the ship” (Acts 27.37).   I do not think that Luke meant there were 276 spirits or ghosts or nonmaterial beings on the boat.  The word “psyche” meant the people who were complete people filled with life.  This is in complete harmony with the Hebraic understanding of “soul.”


The word psyche occurs 101x in the whole NT.  The vast majority of these are in the Gospels (37 in the Synoptics and 10 in John) and Acts (15x). Surprisingly, Paul only uses the word 13x across all of his epistles.  With this survey of both Old and NT, we see that the NT retains the meaning and usage of the Hebrew and does not even smell like the Greek understanding of the immortality of the soul (Campbell was correct). The proper frame for understanding “soul” in the Bible is Moses (Hebrew Bible) and not our Greek heritage exemplified in Plato.

A misunderstanding of the word “soul” and the doctrine of humanity results in a corresponding misunderstanding of salvation.  With a pagan definition, ministry focuses upon nothing more than dying and escaping to heaven. In this paradigm we tend to focus on that part of a human being we think actually matters to God and everything is subservient to that.

This is why some churches place great stress on going to church as the “spiritual” duty of humanity. Feeding the poor and caring for the sick may be good but all we are doing is caring for the “physical” needs in order to “save their soul.”

And some actually minimize the “physical” as antithetical to salvation.  This is completely unbiblical, no matter who claims otherwise. Churches in the 1950s and 1960s refused to address racial issues because they were “social” and not “spiritual” (i.e. not a matter of the soul and salvation).  But this is false doctrine.  It is in fact paganism. 

I realize many people hold this view unaware, so I am not accusing them of consciously being a pagan. But the hidden structure holding up our faith comes tumbling down when we try to impose Platonic categories onto these biblical texts. 

In the Bible, the Creator does not simply love souls, as Plato understood that and used that term. There is not a single verse that holds this point of view.  In the Bible, the Creator does not simply save souls either, as Plato understood and use that term. 

Rather in the Bible, the Creator becomes the Redeemer and he loves WHOLES.  In the Bible, the Creator becomes the Redeemer and does not save SOULS but WHOLES! If we mean by soul what the Psalms, Jesus and Paul mean by soul then God loves “souls” because souls are complete persons. God loves every thing about human beings.  He loves our bodies.  He loves our limbs. He loves us inside and outside.  Enfleshed Humans as WHOLES – not as mere souls – are created in the image of God.  The ministry of Jesus is completely consistent with this Hebraic understanding of human beings as a whole.  Jesus’s understanding of salvation, as presented in the Gospels, is incredibly anti-platonic.  The declaration of his ministry is the Year of Jubilee in Luke 4.16-19 (cf. 7.18-23) is manifestly physical in that it address people as wholes.  Note these examples in Luke …

When the Centurion’s servant was deathly ill, Jesus is called to “save” him (7.3)

When Jesus encounters the demoniac and restores him to wholeness, Luke says that Jesus “saved” him (8.36)

When Jesus went to the little girl who had died, he restores life to her body and Luke says that Jesus “saved” her (8.50)

When Paul speaks of salvation, or redemption, he speaks out of this Hebraic worldview.  Romans 8 completely deconstructs false understandings that lead to truncated ministries and half-gospels. Christians believe in resurrection of the body not that part of us gets to return to some whispy ethereal pagan bliss. Paul declares “we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8.23; cf. 8.11). 

The Gospel of God, the Gospel of Christ, embraces the complete human being not simply part of a human being. This is incredibly Good News.  The actual Gospel of Christ does save souls because in the Bible the word soul refers to living, breathing, flesh and blood people!

The Gospel addresses our souls because it address us as a whole.  The Gospel addressed withered hands because that was the need of a person. The Gospel addressed ostracized women with issues of blood because that was the need of a person. The Gospel addressed those who had no food to eat.  The Gospel addressed those who had not place to stay.  The Gospel addressed those who were left out because of their race and color.

The Gospel addressed souls because they are the whole in the flesh people – the objects of God’s unending infinite love.  When we embrace what the Bible actually says about the “soul” then suddenly our mandate to make a difference in our world is actually something the Gospel of Christ commands. 

Some well known preachers want to claim that Jesus and the New Testament “unhitched” themselves and their teachings from the Hebrew Bible and Judaism. That did not happen on the fundamental matter of “soul” and all that goes with it.  In fact when the New Testament is “unhitched” on this matter we have Gnosticism, not New Testament Christianity. 

The New Testament writers never abdicate to Plato.  The world Moses told us about, and the living beings God placed within it, is the same world and living beings God sent his Son to save …

I watch the ripples
change their size
but never leave the stream 
of warm impermanence

– David Bowie 

Christianity has always “changed.”  In fact Christianity has changed drastically over the centuries. Most change, over time, became accepted as “the” way. 

Almost universally these changes produced considerable controversy at the time, sometimes centuries of controversy. As time progressed however the change became the “norm” even forgetting that it was a change. Then the change became a sacred cow. Some historical examples. Some will probably disagree with some of the examples because they themselves have become simply “accepted.”

First, the content and contour of Scripture itself. In the second and third centuries AD, there was plenty of disagreement regarding the status of certain Christian books that are now universally, and without question, accepted. Among examples are the Shepherd of Hermas, Hebrews, Epistle of Barnabas, Revelation, 1 Clement, the Diatessaron, 2-3 John, 2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, and a few others.

Second, the introduction of chapters into books of Scripture. Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton (AD 1150-1228) introduced the system of chapters that western Christians are familiar with in the 13th century when he incorporated them into the Latin Vulgate. 

Third, the introduction of verses into the chapters in the books of Scripture. Robert Estienne, a printer, introduced verses into the Greek New Testament in 1551.

Fourth, the introduction of unleavened bread into communion. This innovation was directly connected with the first major division in Christianity that between the Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox. Most conservative, Evangelical Christians in North America are completely unaware of this historical change that produced centuries of bitter conflict between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity.  For more on that arcane controversy see this link, The Bread on the Table: An Ancient Controversy that Changed the Supper.

Fifth, the introduction of hymnals in Christian worship. There was controversy over what should be in the hymnal as well. Many Christians thought that the only songs authorized for worship were from the book of Psalms and other portions of Scripture. Later it was the introduction of musical notation into the hymnals was also incredibly controversial. No song book in the Stone-CampbellMovement/Churches of Christ had “notes” until after the death of Alexander Campbell in 1866. Campbell thought instrumental music was more acceptable than notes. 

“ I would prefer to have an organ, or a fashionable choir as a means of my worshipthan the words of a hymn set to the notes of a tune on which to fix my eyes while engaged in the worship of God.” (Alexander Campbell, “The Christian Psalmist,” Millennial Harbinger [March 1847], 179)

Sixth, The publication of printed editions of the Bible. As a rule no one in the first 1500 years of Christianity owned a personal copy of “the Bible.” The Bible was encountered in a corporate context in worship. The Reformation certainly bears witness to the controversies here.

Seventh, the place of the Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal books. Before the Reformation there is no known manuscript Bible that does not include these books (i.e. Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Maccabees, etc). There was plenty of discussion on both sides of the matter from the third century on (which just establishes the point being made here) but they were included in the manuscript Bibles regardless of the position accorded them in various Fathers. They were always used in worship and never regarded in the same fashion as Gnostic texts. During the Reformation, Luther rejected the canonical nature of them while affirming the high value of them.  He placed these books in his Bible and all Reformation Bibles followed suit by incorporating them between Malachi and Matthew. Then, when the British Foreign Bible Society decided to print Bibles without the Apocrypha it caused major division among Protestants (not Catholics).  Today most North American Evangelical disciples know nothing of these books. 

Eighth, the introduction of vernacular Bibles into English Christianity in the 19th and 20th century because if the KJV was good enough for Paul it is good enough for us (the KJV included the Apocrypha btw). The American Standard Version, Revised Standard, Today’s English Version, the NIV have all been greeted with bitter controversy and rejection.

Ninth, the introduction of Sunday School, something most churches today do not even think there can be church without them, was introduced after the Civil War into American churches and were the occasion of massive church fights and church splits.

Tenth, the introduction of individual communion cups, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was accompanied by flares and burnouts and permanent ruptures in fellowship.

Eleven, exclusive congregational singing is a modern innovation that folks in my tribe think is the only way it has ever been done or can be done. Going biblical on this one can get you charged with change agentry!

C. S. Lewis once lamented those who imagine the world began with the dawn of their own consciousness. It didn’t. This little exercise can open our minds and, perhaps, be a little less judgmental.

For Shalom

I am frustrated. I admit it.

For many years I have felt that Churches of Christ as a whole have been moving forward biblically and Spiritually. The legalism that I grew up with in North Alabama seemed like it was dying. We talked about God’s astonishing grace more and confessed the role and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It seemed like many congregations were more racially  integrated than ever. And it seemed that we began to see the Gospels and Hebrew Bible as more integral to the faith and mission of the church than previously. Many of these positive steps forward were reflected in my own life.


But recent events have shown me I may have been wrong in my perception. This is what I see:

While indeed there are many congregations and ministers who have moved to a healthier, more integrated, understanding of the whole Bible, and believe the Holy Spirit of God is active in the life of the church, and a retreat from legalism and sectarianism; there has been a corresponding hardening not only of former positions but taking up even more extreme ones than before.

Sadly the dispensational hermeneutic, we heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement have inherited, remains parasitic on both “progressives” and “conservatives” in Churches of Christ. Many “out Campbell, Campbell,” on this. Yes, Alexander Campbell delivered his famous, or infamous, “Sermon on the Law” and essentially guts the authority of 76% of the Bible.  The Sermon had unintended consequences that Campbell would not endorse but even sought to steer us clear from. 

You see Campbell, in spite of his dispensationalism,  still believed the Hebrew Bible shaped and was foundational in every sense of the word for Christian theology. That is the doctrinal content of the “Old Testament” determines the shape and meaning of “New Testament” doctrine.  Campbell even states that his Sermon was his most juvenile effort. Campbell, unlike many of his descendants, did not reduce Christian doctrine to ecclesiology (especially its forms, structures and “identity marks” of the church). One gets a much better view of Campbell’s grasp of the sweep of the integrated scope of Scripture in his 1833 mini-biblical theology called “Regeneration.”

But today, the moment you say 2 Timothy 3.16  means the Hebrew Scriptures are good for doctrine some one replies “you are not satisfied with the Christian dispensation and the law of Christ.” OR they say “So when are you going to start offering animal sacrifices?” As if these retorts actually have merit. They are pure ignorance I am sorry to say.

Why you ask? Because it assumes that one comes to any text in the Bible across the massive historical gulf naked and immediately. The authority of the Hebrew Bible is not diminished because we must approach it hermeneutically.

These naysayers do the exact same to the New Testament, that is they interpret it. Not one of them comes to the NT a single subject without a hermeneutical grid, even if they deny it. There is no “one to one” correspondence. Not one of these folks, who make such quoted statements (actual ones btw), can dispute this.

Do these naysayers “share all things in common” (Acts 4.32-37)? Do they forbid speaking in tongues? Are they eager to prophecy? (1 Cor 14.39)? Do we gather in councils to decide what the will of God is (Acts 15)? Do they “enroll the widows?” (1 Tim 5.9ff). Do their elders anoint the sick with oil (James 5.14)? Do they contribute to the poor saints in Judea (Romans15.25-29; 1 Cor 16.1-2)? Do they make women wear veils in public worship (1 Cor11)? Do they break bread in homes daily (Acts 2.42)? Meet in the temple? (Acts2.46)? Do they lift up holy hands in prayer as was commanded (1 Tim 2.8)? Do they allow the preacher to appoint elders (Titus 1)? Do they greet each other with holy kisses? 

You see, not one of these folks practice these things that are “plainly” written the text. Whether good or bad hermeneutics, they INTERPRET these New Testament texts as not applying in the “literal” import of the language. So if this is true of the New Testament, why is it not true of the Hebrew Bible.

But such statements, as quoted, show graphically how little genuine reflection on the text is done. It is simpler to dismiss the text, than wrestle with the text. Simply because sacrifices are done in the Torah does not imply that we are to. Because Paul commands the Corinthians to aid the poor saints in Jerusalem does not mean that is a command to us. In truth Campbell’s views were far superior, and nuanced, than those that are paraded among his descendants. Campbell believed that even the very Greek of the New Testament had “the soul of Hebrew” because the Apostles were so in debt to the language and thinking of the Septuagint (see his Preface to the Living Oracles).

The Bible is a single, unified, narrative and one cannot simply cut off76%, and claim to respect 2 Timothy 3.16 … it is a game of deception called bait and switch. We bait you with this classic text that affirms the authority, not merely the divine origin of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, etc and then SWITCH its referent to something that did not even exist when the verse was penned – the New Testament. Oh then deny it actually affirms the genuine doctrinal authority of those very Scriptures Paul grew up with. Hermeneutically we can apply that text to the New Testament but Paul himselfdid not mean that.

The Gospels 

I have spoken mostly about Hebrew Bible above but the same dispensational extremes are being embraced about the Gospels themselves. The teaching of Jesus is not directly related to Christians because he lived before the “new covenant came into effect.” The Living Word is not directly applicable to how we do Christianity in this view.

Sounds like heresy just writing it out.

This view has so many things wrong with it that it would take a book to point them out. However one immediate problem is that it misses the point of why the Gospels exist in the first place. Many folks think the Gospels are something like evangelistic tracts. That is written to address nonbelievers to prove to them that Jesus is the Messiah. But that is not why the Gospels were written at all. The Gospels are written as instruction TO THE CHURCH. This is so obvious in Matthew, for example, that it boggles the mind that one can even entertain that false view.

Jesus once said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to ME.” He did not say it was given to a book. How the book functions WITH the authority of Jesus we need to wrestle with.

Salvation by Precision Obedience 

Extremes are articulated and promoted that we did not have in the 80s. Salvation by “precision obedience” is just one example. This new doctrine was initially promoted around the end of the 1990s and has gained ground in some prominent corners of Churches of Christ.

This is pure false doctrine. The irony is beyond the pale. The purveyors of this view decry Martin Luther for “adding” to the text the word “only” so we are saved by “faith only” rather than just faith. These folks do not teach one must simply be “obedient” to God but but have inserted the word “precision” obedience.  

I cannot tell you how revolting this is. I am not objecting to the mere addition of the word “precision” but to the theology that affirms salvation is contingent upon laser like perfection. It is nothing but works salvation of the grossest sort. Not only is it the case that no text implies much less says, but it flat out contradicts the entire teaching of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Faithfulness to God is not a claim to having fulfilled God’s commands “precisely.” I have no problem with singing “trust and obey” … simply trusting faith, yielding itself to the best of its ability to God is my sacrifice. The doctrine of salvation by Precision Obedience breeds sectarian arrogance and extremes. A few people whohold this view claim – unbelievably – to hold K. C. Moser in high esteem. I have read every known published and nearly everything Moser did not publish and can say that Moser would quickly brand this as a doctrine of hell. Just saying.


More extremes. I have numerous brothers who have told me that women reading Scripture or serving communion in the assembly is not actually forbidden by Paul, even according to the traditional interpretation of 1 Cor 14.34-35 and 1 Tim 2.8-15. LaGard Smith has stated this both in print and lectures.  Yet these brothers then go on to forbid, and draw lines of fellowship over things they admit are not forbidden. Why?

Stop being so condescending to women brothers! If the Bible does not in fact forbid women from doing these things even according to your interpretation, then why in the name of reason would you have so little respect for the word of God that you forbid what you say Paul did not forbid? Get in the pulpit, get in the Spiritual Sword, get in the Gospel Advocate and write clearly and forcefully that our practice towards women is more restrictive than Paul commands. Write that women can and should be “allowed” to participate in the assembly beyond occupying space.  Be the place where “new creation” reigns! 

I used to be more tolerant than this until my own daughter (after this being explained to her btw) stated “don’t you think that is degrading?” The degradation was forbidding her what you yourself admit she is permitted to do! It is almost – not it is – a matter of integrity. If you hold the traditional view and you admit that it does not forbid women serving communion and yet you forbid it you are self-condemned. Matthew 23 is written all over that man made doctrine. But this is binding of what is admitted as not God’s word is among the extremes today.

Sectarianism is alive and well. I will tell you my own theory of why these brothers do not state clearly and forcefully what they admit … FEAR!! They are afraid. It is easier to succumb to the denominational pressure.

I lament the times. I also rejoice in the advances of God’s Spirit among us. Oh for the courage for Stone and Campbell …  

I could go on with my confession offrustration but my coffee is now gone …