All posts in Bible

  • Christianity: A Tree Growing Up From the Soil of Scripture

    Tree

    Christianity: A Tree Growing Up From the Soil of Scripture
    Brian Zahnd

    This summer I spoke to a group of teens at our youth camp. My assigned topic was, “What’s the Deal with the Bible?”

    I began my talk by reading this passage from the Bible.

    “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” (Exodus 21:20, 21)

    First I made sure the teens understood what this Bible passage said. If a slaveowner beats a slave and the slave dies immediately, there is to be some form of unspecified punishment. But if the slave clings to life for a day or two and then dies, there is to be no punishment. Why? Because, as the Bible says, “the slave is the owner’s property.”

    Then I asked the teens, “How many of you disagree with this?” Slowly and a bit hesitantly every teen raised their hand. (I say slowly and hesitantly, but I do remember some African-American teens shooting their hands up instantly and confidently!)

    I then addressed one of the youngest, saying, “So you disagree with the Bible?” She responded a bit cautiously, “Yeah, I guess so.” To which I said, “Good! You should!”
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  • God Is Love. God Is Love.

    Sunset from the Top

    God is Love. God is Love.
    Brian Zahnd

    The topography of biblical witness is full of peaks and valleys, mountains and plains. The Bible is not flat terrain. The honest reader of the Bible readily admits that the Levitical prohibition against eating shellfish does not reach the same heights as the lofty Christology in Colossians. As we look at the great peaks of inspired biblical witness, none soar higher than the twin peaks of divine revelation given to us by the Apostle John.

    “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. … We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:8, 16)

    Soaring above everything else the Bible has to say about God are these twin peaks found in John’s first epistle: God is love. God is love.

    The Arapaho Indians called Longs Peak and Mount Meeker Nesótaieus, meaning “two guides.” The two peaks of this towering massif are useful for orientation when traveling in the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, just as the two peaks of 1 John 4:8 and 4:16 are invaluable when navigating our way through the Bible. When the aged apostle put quill to papyrus to tell his readers that God is love (twice), and that to know love is to know God, and that to live in love is to live in God, he was making a daring move…and he dared to do it!
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  • When the Bible is Bad for You

    Mafia-Bible

    When the Bible is Bad for You
    Brian Zahnd

    I love the Bible. I read the Bible. I read the Bible every day. I’ve been a serious student of the Bible for over forty years. I don’t know how many Bibles I’ve owned — I would guess close to a hundred. I’ve written 3,247 sermons from the Bible. My point is, I’ve got some serious Bible cred!

    But here’s something else I know: The Bible can be bad for you!

    Bible reading as part of a spiritual formation regiment can be extremely beneficial in helping form disciples of Jesus in Christlikeness. But this isn’t always the case. There are ways of approaching the Bible, reading the Bible, using the Bible that are detrimental to the soul. Because the Bible is such a powerful thing, the misuse of it can be extremely dangerous.
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  • Matthew and the Big Story of Jesus

    matthew

    Matthew and the Big Story of Jesus
    Brian Zahnd

    The Bible tells a big, sprawling story of sin and redemption, of death and resurrection. It takes us from Creation to New Creation — from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem. Along the way, the plot sometimes feels lost and the story seems…stalled. But when we turn the page from Malachi to Matthew, the twisting plot of the Story God is telling is about to come into sharp focus. We’re about to meet the central character of the Story — his name is Jesus!

    A few years ago I read the Bible straight through like you would any other book. I was trying to read it as if I’d never heard the Story. There were moments of elation, but also times when I felt the pain of the Hebrew prophets as they nearly despaired. Would the promises God had made to Abraham and his seed ever come true? Would the longed-for reign of Messiah ever arrive? The wintery day I ended my reading of Malachi and turned the page to begin Matthew was during the season of Advent. I was sitting by a woodstove with a warm fire. Music played quietly in the background. As I read the words of Matthew 1:18, “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born,” the radio began to play the familiar carol What Child Is This? Tears filled my eyes. The Story was back on track, and God was keeping his promise!
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  • Slippery Slopes and Fixed Ropes

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    I have a three hour layover in the San Francisco airport. So…

    Slippery Slopes and Fixed Ropes
    Brian Zahnd

    The “slippery slope” trope is a favorite among fundamentalists. Basically the argument goes like this: The moment you move away from fundamentalist Biblicism you’re on the slippery slope of liberalism and will wind up sliding down into a crevasse with the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher and John Shelby Spong. According to those who believe that serious theology is a slippery slope, you’re either with fundamentalists and young earth creationists like Ken Ham or you’re sliding down the mountain with new atheists like Christopher Hitchens. Of course, this is a ludicrous false dichotomy. But it carries a ton of intimidation. Just about the worst thing you can call an evangelical pastor is a liberal. The only thing worse is to go Def-Con 4 and drop the H-bomb: Heretic!
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  • Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright

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    Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Conversation with Derek Vreeland
    Brian Zahnd

    Derek Vreeland is my friend and a fellow pastor at Word of Life. He has written a book on N.T. Wright’s latest “big book” — Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Derek’s book, Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright is a 118 page summary of Wright’s 1,700 page behemoth. Here’s what I’ve said about Derek’s book:

    With Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright Derek Vreeland has rendered us a great service. N.T. Wright is the most respected New Testament scholar of our era and his work on the theology of Paul could not be more important. But the fact remains that many are not up to the task of wading through 1,700 pages of dense scholarship. Derek Vreeland’s reader’s guide is an excellent distillation of Paul and the Faithfulness of God and thus a true gift.

    Recently I sat down to talk with Derek about this project. Here’s our conversation:

    BZ: How important is N.T. Wright to you personally and to the church at large?

    DV: Wright has become the rockstar theologian of our generation. He is as influential in our generation as C.S. Lewis or Karl Barth were in their generation. I think we can understand his wide-reaching influence in a couple of ways. He is biblical theologian grounded not in a particular theological tradition, but in the historical context of the New Testament. He wants to reconcile the divorce between theology and history. I appreciate systematic theologians who can work with the biblical texts and help construct a cohesive picture of what the biblical writers were trying to do, but sometimes our system forms too rigid of a grid and we actually miss the heart of what the biblical writers were trying to say. Wright has pledged no allegiance to one particular theological system, so his books seem to speak to people across the spectrum of Protestant traditions. He also has the rare ability to communicate effectively at both the academic level and the popular level. His academic books like Paul and the Faithfulness of God are filled with countless footnotes where he interacts with so many scholars and his popular books like Simply Christian speak on a level that the average churchgoer can understand. For me he has become my hero. His interpretation of Jesus and Paul within the context of first century Jewish world have revealed a Jesus and Paul who have everything to do with my life as a 21st century pastor.
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  • The Book of Revelation

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    This week Group Publishing released the Jesus-Centered Bible — a study Bible in the New Living Translation. I wrote the introductions for Jonah, Matthew, Titus, and Revelation. Here’s the introduction I wrote for the book of Revelation.

    The Book of Revelation
    Brian Zahnd

    As a child growing up in church I didn’t always feel engaged by the sermon. On those occasions I would pull out the pew Bible and begin to read. And I always went to the same place — to the end of the Bible, to the mysterious book of Revelation. I was fascinated with its monsters and battles, its angels and demons, and its visions of heaven and hell that parade across the pages in the final installment of Christian Scripture. Like many others, I assumed I was reading some kind of un-deciphered code about the end times. I thought Revelation was a veiled foretelling of the geopolitical events of the late twentieth century.

    But I was mistaken.
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  • Jesus Is What God Has To Say

    >TRANSFIGURATION

    Jesus Is What God Has To Say
    Brian Zahnd

    One of the most mysterious aspects of the Transfiguration is the appearance of Moses and Elijah — these two giant figures from the Old Testament — conversing with a glorified Christ. Of course Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet are representative figures signifying the Law and the Prophets. On Mount Tabor, Moses and Elijah are summoned from the Old Testament past to give their final witness.

    The goal of the Law and the Prophets was to produce a just and worshipping society. Jesus and his kingdom is where that project finds its fulfillment. The new society formed around Jesus was what the Law and the Prophets were aiming for all along. The Transfiguration is where Moses and Elijah find their great successor. The Transfiguration is where the Old Testament hands the project of redemption over to Jesus. The Transfiguration is where the old witness (testament) yields to the new witness (testament.)

    But initially Peter misinterpreted what the presence of Moses and Elijah meant.

    Peter’s first impulse was to build three memorial tabernacles on Tabor, treating Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as approximate equals.

    But Peter’s idea received a strong rebuke when the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

    Jesus is the true and living Word of God. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets point toward and bow to. Jesus is what the Old Testament was trying to say, but could never fully articulate. Jesus is the perfect Word of God in the form of a human life. God couldn’t say all he wanted to say in the form of a book, so he said it in the form of Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say!
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  • Jesus Trumps Biblicism: A Tale of Sticks and Stones

    Abstract-Artist-Lucie-Beardwood-Art-Painting

    Jesus Trumps Biblicism: A Tale of Sticks and Stones
    Brian Zahnd

    This morning I was reading Scripture. From the Old Testament I was reading Numbers and in the New Testament I was reading John. In Numbers chapter 15 we find this story…

    An Israelite guy was gathering sticks on the Sabbath. This was forbidden. The guy got caught and was taken into custody. Moses inquired of Yahweh what should be done. Yahweh told Moses that the guy had to be killed. So the stick-gathering Sabbath-breaker was taken outside the camp and stoned to death by the congregation of Israel. Sticks and stones. (Number 15:32–36)

    Next I read from the Gospel of John chapter 5. This is what happens…

    Jesus meets a guy who has been paralyzed for 38 years. Jesus tells the guy to take up his bed and walk. The man is healed, takes up his bed, and heads for home. But this was the Sabbath. And the guy gets busted for breaking the Sabbath. When the Judean Torah enthusiasts find out that it was Jesus who was behind all this Sabbath breaking, they are prepared to kill Jesus. (Like Moses did in the Bible.) John concludes the story like this…

    “This is why the Judeans were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This is why the Judeans were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:16–18)

    Look at what we have here. In Numbers a guy gets caught picking up sticks on a Saturday and is stoned to death. The text tells us that Yahweh instructed Moses to do this. This is the Moses who spoke to God face to face. (Exodus 33:11)

    But in the prologue to his gospel John says this…

    “The Torah was given by Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only begotten God who is near the Father’s heart, he has made him known.” (John 1:17–18)
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