Just Released: The Between-the-Lines Bible (KJV)

Note: The following is satire. References to organizations and individuals are fictitious.

Genesis 1:1-8 (KJV) with lots of space between each lineSpeculative Publishers Inc. (SPI) just announced its latest Bible resource designed especially for readers who are not satisfied with just the plain text. For the very first time, the “Between-the-Lines” Bible (BTL) gives you all the room you need to expand upon the revelation of Scripture. Instead of the usual cramped line spacing of regular Bibles, the BTL Bible provides ample space for your imaginative and fictitious additions and comments. Instead of having to jot your thoughts in the margin, you can now add your ideas right into the words of the Bible itself.

Pastors and teachers alike are delighted with the BTL. “I always found traditional Bibles cramped my style,” remarked Rev. Bernie Clarke, founder of End Times Now Times Ministries. The BTL Bible is like opening a window to infinite interpretive possibilities.

SPI is so proud of its first edition. President Bartholomew Eisegesis exclaims: “We are confident that our readers will appreciate the BTL’s beautiful print and layout as well as the extra line spacing in the books of Daniel and Revelation.”

SPI is working on a digital version in which users can expand the lines in between the text as much as they like.

Do You Know the Messiah’s Name?

Names of Jesus in Hebrew, Greek, and EnglishOne of the challenges for my wife and I in having ten children was names. Besides the fact that my wife wanted to have their names in hand from the moment we knew of their conception, while I tended toward leaving that important decision much closer to their birth, we shared pretty high standards. We preferred characters from the Hebrew Bible, but only those of noble character and they had to be sufficiently easy for English speakers to pronounce. It helped that we didn’t feel the need to provide more than one name per child, though three did get middle names. All in all, we wanted to give our children names that would be meaningful to both to us and to them.

God takes naming seriously. The Bible tells us he invented it, when he called the light “day” and the darkness “night” (see Genesis 5:1). While he would pass on the naming of animals and most people to humans, he would from time to time intervene, providing names to particular individuals either before birth as in the case of Ishmael and Solomon or change them afterwards, as in Abraham and Jacob.

Tragically, the meaning of the most important name God has ever given anyone has been lost to most people, partly due to the English translation tradition. In the great majority of English versions of the New Testament, we read the angel’s words to Joseph the betrothed of Mary as “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

To most the name “Jesus” is exclusively associated with the Messiah, which is fine. But the name actually given by the angel was common at that time. The name “Jesus” is an attempt to provide an anglicized version of what is actually recorded in the New Testament. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, it itself translates most of the dialogue and speeches in the Gospels and the Book of Acts from the original Hebrew or Aramaic. The name normally translated in English as Jesus is the Greek Iesous (pronounced yay-soos). But that is not exactly what Joseph heard from the angel. Nor is it what people in his day called him. What God named him was more along the line of Yeshua, a proper name derived from the Hebrew word for “salvation.”

Yeshua is certainly a fitting name for the Savior, and associating his name with the concept of rescue (which is what salvation in the Scriptures means) is most likely intended. But connecting with the concept of salvation is not the first thing that the people of his day would have thought of upon hearing his name. Whether a person regarded him as Messiah or not, Yeshua was and is the common short form of Yehoshua, the Hebrew name normally rendered in English as Joshua – the same name given to the son of Nun, the successor of Moses and the military leader who led the conquest of the Promised Land. It is still common in Hebrew today to refer to people named Yehoshua as Yeshua. That said, it is almost certain that the New Testament Greek derivation Iesous may not be representing the short form, Yeshua, after all. That’s because the name Iesous is used in passages referring to Joshua the son of Nun, thereby following the lead of the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, where Joshua is translated as Iesous.

This is all to say that when God named the Messiah it was clear that he would be associated with Israel’s prototype military leader who led the conquest of the Promised Land. As people came to consider the possibility that this Joshua might be the Messiah, it fueled their expectation that he had come to engage in a new conquest of the Land. Instead of overcoming “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exodus 3:8), this time it would be the vanquishing of the Romans.

For most of the time since returning from Babylon centuries earlier, the Israelites were under foreign domination, a certain sign that they were the objects of God’s disfavor. Messianic expectation became associated with the restoration of God’s favor and the end of foreign oppression. By God naming the Messiah “Joshua,” he affirmed their expectations.

Yet the last thing we think of Jesus is his being a conqueror of the likes of Joshua son of Nun. What is often taught is that the messianic expectation of the first century Jewish world was wrong. Jesus didn’t come to conquer in that way, rescuing the people from military and political oppression. Rather, he came to save in a spiritual, nonphysical sense.

Obviously Jesus did not aspire to or fulfill the role of a military conqueror. There was much about his methodology that was contrary to expectation. We see this in Peter’s reaction to Jesus’s announcement to his closest disciples of his imminent arrest and death (see Matthew 16:21-23). That Jesus also mentioned resurrection seemed to go over Peter’s head, since suffering and death was so counter to the Jewish messianic concept. However, just because the Messiah’s methods were contrary to expectation doesn’t mean he is any less the conqueror. God didn’t stamp his Chosen One with the name Joshua only to dash the people’s hopes and dreams that he himself gave them through their prophets.

Some see the misunderstanding solely in terms of timing. Much of what was expected two thousand years ago will happen when Jesus returns. In the meantime, God is patient with humankind as he gives us the opportunity to turn to him. But one day, the Messiah will return to judge (see Acts 17:31). The problem with shifting the Joshua concept to later is that it neglects the power of everything he has done until now.

Calling him Joshua is not a shout out to a future time, it’s the Messiah’s God-given identity marker. It’s not that he will one day be a Joshua, who will conquer evil’s minions and establish God’s rule on earth forever. He will indeed do that fully and completely upon his return, but he has been the conqueror all along. As the greater Joshua, he has conquered far more powerful threats than the earlier Joshua ever faced.

The Jewish world, Jesus’s followers included, thought he would beat off the Romans, but instead he beat off sin and death. This is not a spiritual-only victory. It’s spiritually based, but not spiritual only. This Joshua may have not removed the Roman presence from ancient Israel. He did something far more effective. By defeating death, he broke Caesar’s power, thus freeing God’s people to conquer the effects of sin throughout the world.

Coming to grips with the essence of his God-given name is essential to effectively follow him today. His followers are increasingly relegated to society’s fringes. The aggressive tone of our culture’s influencers can be overly intimidating. But it is the people of the messianic Joshua who have been mandated by God to teach the nations the Truth about himself and his ways. This is not a time to shrink back. Instead, we need, like his early followers, to pray for boldness and the demonstration of his power (see Acts 4: 23-31). As he answers this prayer, let us step out in confidence, knowing he will prevail.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

Escaping the Fun House

Illustration of a fun house mirror

When my wife and I were recently in Vancouver, we visited the world-famous Stanley Park for the first time in years. As a treat we took our two youngest children on the miniature train. In the waiting area they had something I hadn’t seen in years: two fun-house mirrors. Not exactly the place where I would expect to see them, as they are normally found in a traditional amusement park attraction called a “Fun House”. Fun house mirrors are designed to provide (hopefully) humorous reflections, by skewing the mirrored image, thus making the subject and others look extremely tall, short, fat, or even upside down. The intended humor is found in how nonsensically people are represented. While the fun of fun house mirrors is related to how preposterous these reflections are, I don’t think most people would find them funny at all if they represented any semblance of reality, especially since they are actually very grotesque.

I grew up in a fun house, but there was nothing funny about it! No, I wasn’t raised in an amusement park. Rather, throughout my childhood and adolescence, everywhere I turned so to speak, I saw skewed, grotesque reflections. The problem was I didn’t know that what I was seeing was anything but normal.

Almost nothing was an image of reality. I had a father and a mother, plus three older brothers. But my family life was extremely dysfunctional. My parents bickered all the time. My brothers hated my parents, and left home as soon as they could. Being as young as I was while chaos reigned, I was helpless to do anything about it, except suffer. What furthered my distortions were words of love and demonstrations of affection that were part of my everyday life. My mother would dote over me and my father would take me out with him quite regularly. But I didn’t realize then that my mother’s love was more about satisfying her needs than mine, while my father’s desire for my presence was a ruse towards my mother as a way for him to get out of the house. My mother worried all the time and feared almost everything, demonstrating to me that the world was a very scary place. Both parents played the victim instead of looking for ways to constructively resolve issues. When he was young, my father determined that might means right, and became a body builder, so that he could beat people up when necessary. He was ashamed that my brothers and I didn’t share his physique, teaching me that my lack of strength meant I was helpless facing life’s problems. Along with that he taught me: “Money makes the world go ‘round,” and did he ever believe it! Almost every blow up was about money and, according to him, the lack thereof prevented us from enjoying life.

After years of skewed reflections, I was full of fear and could no longer cope. I was living in a world of lies, caught in a web of illusion in a nightmarish fun house that was anything but fun. No wonder I had a nervous breakdown at age eleven and panic attacks at eighteen.

Then one day I was given an opportunity to escape my fun house. A Friday afternoon in the Cote St. Luc suburb of Montreal, talking to a friend of a friend, I was presented with a whole new set of reflections. Could it really be that I was living in a crazy fun house; that the skewed reflections I had always thought were real had deceived me? As I was hearing a biblical case for Jesus’ being the Messiah for the first time, I was being presented with reflections of a clarity and sharpness that shone of a goodness and truth that I had never encountered before.

I stepped out of my fun house that day and discovered the real world for the first time. I cannot overstate that transition I experienced as God through Yeshua transformed my life. But what I didn’t know at the time is that I would carry with me many of the skewed reflections of my former residence. While God has wiped away many of the old images from my mind, others have stayed with me. Some of the ways my mind interprets circumstances and interpersonal interactions is still via old skewed reflections – old fun house mirrors that still need to be broken.

The thing that works to preserve my remaining skewed reflections is what made them so effective in the first place: I think they are genuinely accurate reflections of the way things are. Instead of perceiving the real world, one that is saturated by the presence and power of a loving God, I see myself alone under the threat of danger in an unsafe world.

The recent events in Edmonton, Alberta or Las Vegas, Nevada, not to mention the devastating weather disasters that took place before them, plus all sorts of personal and large-scale tragedies the world over may support the skewed reflections of my old fun house. But these circumstances, terrible as they are, do not reflect the whole story of the world in which we live. The world is extremely complex. The daily happenings of our individual lives are complicated; how much more are global events? Yet whether from the media, be it main-stream or social, or a chit chat over coffee. we are continually confronted by skewed reflections of today’s world. No wonder we see so much personal and societal breakdown. Our increasing inability to cope is largely due, not to the problems of life themselves, however real and serious they may be, but to the great amount of skewed reflections that distort reality all around us.

It’s not enough to exit the fun house. We have to also smash the mirrors wherever they may be.

That’s what Paul told the first century believers in Rome, when he wrote:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2; ESV).

It’s not good enough to exit the fun house of your old life. It’s starts there for sure. Our journey to reality must begin with being in right relationship with the God of reality by trusting in his Son, the Messiah, who gave his life for our sins. But it doesn’t stop there. Unless we smash our mirrors of skewed reflections, we will never be able to discern God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will. Instead we will continue in our dysfunction of distorted reality, unable to accurately interpret the personal and societal events of life.

But if we have the courage to smash the lying mirrors that continue to haunt our lives, not only will we discover ever-increasing freedom and goodness in our own lives, we will become reflections of reality to others, helping them to see how skewed their mirrors really are.

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Unsolicited Input

I'm always here for you. Indoor shot of warm-hearted young African American man showing compassion to unrecognizable male, patting him on shoulder while trying to comfort and reassure his best friendMany years ago, I was taking a course in Jewish studies at Concordia University in Montreal. Near the end of the term, we had a social. At some point one of the female students, an Israeli, whispered in my ear: “Your pants are open,” which translated means that the zipper of my trousers was down. Was I embarrassed? For sure. Was I grateful? Absolutely. What was most embarrassing for me at the time was not that this woman would inform me of my personal clothing mismanagement, but that others in the room may have already observed it. But would I have rather continued to remain unaware of the truth of the situation? No. Given the opportunity to resolve the situation (which I did as discretely as possible), while momentarily uncomfortable, was far better than possibly discovering the truth on my own later on.

Yet there seems to be a life value controlling most people that would prevent them from ever doing what my fellow student did that day. I can’t say with certainty what that is. Is it the value of personal autonomy? Do people think they lack the right to enter into what they might perceive as others’ personal bubbles? Do they think they are obeying an invisible “No trespassing” sign?

The lady Robin and I encountered in Manhattan last September didn’t see one. We had just arrived and were looking for a place for breakfast, standing outside one particular diner, reading their menu posted on their window. A complete stranger came up from behind us and started telling us why we shouldn’t eat there, referring to her cholesterol research. She then led us down the street to another restaurant before continuing on her way. We’ll likely never learn all the facts behind that situation, but we were delighted by her unsolicited input. We didn’t have to listen, but we’re glad she cared enough to speak up.

One of our favorite stories in this vein has to do with how our daughter Tikvah got her name. Before she was born, we decided that if the baby were a boy, his name would be Asher (from Hebrew, meaning blessed or happy). My wife, Robin, had seen in a baby name book that the feminine derivative is Asheyra. We liked the sound of that, and a friend who knew Hebrew said it was appropriate. When she was born, we announced her name to our friends and family. Everyone reacted positively, except for one Israeli-Canadian couple, who were very concerned about our choice of name. “You can’t call her that!” they said. “It sounds too much like the ancient fertility god Asherah. She could never go to Israel with a name like that.”

Why didn’t we think of that? So we switched her name to another of our favorites: Tikvah, meaning “hope.” Only God knew at the time how fitting that would be for her.

We were curious as to why no one else had said anything, especially since so many of our friends were biblically literate. Yet when Robin mentioned the switch to one such person they said that they had been similarly concerned. “So why didn’t you say anything,” Robin asked. “It’s your baby,” they said.

What does her being our baby have to do with the fact that we were attempting to inappropriately brand her? It’s one thing when we are oblivious to what’s going on; it’s another to think we lack the right, the permission, the responsibility, or whatever it is to speak into other people’s lives for their betterment.

We didn’t have to switch her name, but how arrogant it would have been to think: “How dare they tell us what we can’t name our baby!” They called us because they cared. But motive aside, they were right, and we did the right thing by listening.

The fact is our lives are dependent on the input of others. It’s often other people who see our needs far better than we can see them ourselves. Our hesitation to give input robs people of the betterment that God desires to provide to others through us. Certainly we might be the ones robbing ourselves when we don’t listen to helpful comments. And of course, some people are busybodies and meddlers, getting involved in the affairs of others when they shouldn’t. But it seems to me that in most, if not all, of the circles in which we currently live, the greatest problem is the hesitation to speak up, not giving others the opportunity to make needed adjustments in their lives.

You might be surprised to learn that the section of Yeshua’s teaching, Matthew 7:1-6, beginning with the oft quoted words,” Judge not, that you be not judged,” is more about speaking up than not. Here Yeshua calls people hypocrites who point out problems in others’ lives all the while having the same problems to a much greater extent themselves. He clearly criticizes those who attempt to take specks out of other people’s eyes, when they themselves have logs in their own eyes.

However, it was not Yeshua’s intent to shame these hypocrites into silence. Rather, he goes on: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” In other words, when we think we see issues in others, we need to examine ourselves and deal with our issues first. Then, we are in a position to address issues in other people. By using the “speck in the eye” metaphor, Yeshua implies that when we speak into other people’s lives, we should do so gently and carefully. Note that to leave specks in their eyes is to give them over to a much worse eye condition. Love demands we gently remove specks as we see them.

I am aware that not everyone wants their weaknesses pointed out. Or what I perceive to be an issue may not be one to someone else. That’s why we need to ask ourselves the question, what’s the benefit in sharing? The final statement Yeshua makes in Matthew 7:1-6 is “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” When we know our input will be violently rebuffed, it might be better to not say anything. But this is a cautionary note to a culture that errs on the side of speaking inappropriately, not the situation in which we find ourselves today, where most of the time we keep too much needed information to ourselves.

The Lord’s teaching here assumes a societal default setting of speaking into others’ lives. I know that this tends to be a cultural thing. Some people need to take care to listen more and heed Yeshua’s instruction on how to patiently and gently relate to others. But we are not to just be quiet and keep all our opinions to ourselves, no matter what the prevailing culture expects. Because that’s not what the Lord expects.

Yeshua called his followers to be teachers of the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). This passage, commonly called “the Great Commission,” is not instructing us to simply “tell people about Jesus,” but rather an extensive God-ordained program to inform all people everywhere of everything Yeshua taught his early disciples (V. 20), in other words teach everyone the whole Bible from a messianic perspective.

Yet there is so much hesitation to speak God’s truth into people lives. I have heard over and over again, that we need to earn the right to be heard. But while we can lose the right to be heard through all sorts of bad behavior, we already have the right to be heard because we have been mandated by the Messiah himself to do exactly that.

But what do my stories of restaurants and baby names have to do with the Great Commission? Shouldn’t we reserve our unsolicited input for the loftier, more supposedly spiritual areas of life? But tell me, do you really think you will be able to effectively disciple the nations if you are too afraid to tell someone their pants are open?

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