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 Chapter 10: The Epistles

اذهب الى الأسفل 
كاتب الموضوعرسالة
أحمد محمد لبن Ahmad.M.Lbn
مؤسس ومدير المنتدى
أحمد محمد لبن Ahmad.M.Lbn

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Chapter 10: The Epistles Empty
مُساهمةموضوع: Chapter 10: The Epistles   Chapter 10: The Epistles Emptyالثلاثاء 22 أغسطس 2017, 5:46 am

Chapter 10: The Epistles
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I had become quite excited exploring the writings and recorded words of God's Prophets. My own reading and interpretation of the message of the Bible had changed greatly from what it had been, and yet what I had believed had been based on almost two thousand years of devout study by others. It seemed almost impossible that so many wise and learned scholars as there had been in the history of the Christian church could have been wrong!

I wanted to discover where Christianity had begun to diverge from what I found to be the words of Christ for two reasons. First, I was curious. Second, I still needed to double-check my conclusions. If I could find further evidence of verse manipulation, I felt that it would confirm that I was not completely off in my own interpretation of the Bible so far. I was left with the epistles.

I had not done a systematic review of the rest of the books in the New Testament. I knew that it was important that I do so, since the writers of the epistles had believed that they were transmitting the Gospel of Jesus with the assistance of the Spirit of Truth.

Although they had been written by apostles and followers, and therefore could not be given the same weight as the words of Jesus himself, I knew that the epistles still carried a wealth of information and advice. As well, they had been centrally important in the development of Christianity. I expected that much of what I read would support modern doctrine because of what I had been taught in the past.

On the other hand, I had already learned to question so much of what I had believed that I was prepared for just about anything. Whatever else I thought, and whatever I found, I realized that it would be as inappropriate for me to avoid the work of Jesus’ followers on the basis of what other people had said they had taught as it would have been had I never explored the rest of the Bible. After all, I had the books!

I began by reviewing the works and words of Peter, because Jesus had said that he would be the founder of Jesus’ approved Church. Matthew 16:18 had said: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” Peter had always been one of my favourite apostles.

In Church, my pastors and teachers had often focused on his flaws, including when he was rebuked by Jesus, or the night he rejected Jesus, when Peter had been afraid for his own life and freedom. To me, Peter had been the most human of Jesus’ followers. Although he had faults, he also showed a powerful yearning to be more and better than he was. I found him easy to relate to.

I wasn’t surprised to discover that Peter did not teach Jesus was God, nor did he contradict Jesus in any other way. In Acts 2:22, Peter was speaking to a crowd about Jesus when he said: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him”, and in Acts 2:36, speaking to another group, he said: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

In Acts 3:13, Peter is quoted as saying: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus”, and in 1 Peter 1:21, Peter wrote this about Jesus: “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” None of these verses supported the divinity of Jesus at all. What they all showed was that Peter was convinced that Jesus was a man, sent, led and exalted by God.

The letters by and about Peter also didn’t say that Jesus was a sacrifice to absolve us from sin. He was quoted in Acts 2:38 as saying: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”, and in Acts 3:19: “Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshment may come from the Lord.” Luke taught in Acts 3:26 that Peter had said: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning you from your wicked ways,” and in 1 Peter 1:13-17, he wrote: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”

I had always been taught that Baptism was an act of obedience that resulted in the absolution of sin and that it in some fashion actually joined Christians to the Christ in sacrifice. Instead of learning that Peter supported this, I found 1 Peter 3:21: “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also -- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” This verse didn't say that Baptism had some mystical effect of forgiveness by itself, only that baptism by water symbolized a pledge of obedience to God. In Acts 10:44-47, Luke recorded that: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.

The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’” Baptism was described as an act of obedience, a pledge of good behaviour, and a sign of God's Grace, but not as the source of forgiveness.

The water baptism was subject to the gift of the Holy Spirit, not the other way around! Once again, these passages showed that there was no contradiction between the words of the Bible and the Quran in Surah 2:138: “(Our religion is) the Baptism of Allah: And who can baptize better than Allah? And it is He Whom we worship.”

The image evoked by the words of the Holy Quran on the subject of Baptism was particularly meaningful to me. Having been raised as a Lutheran, and then choosing to become a Baptist, I was quite sensitive to the controversy surrounding the practice. I had been taught that the sacrament of Baptism could be performed on a child without their volition, simply by sprinkling or washing them with blessed water.

Later as a Baptist, I chose to have my Baptism repeated because I came to believe that I was commanded to actually immerse myself. In the Holy Quran, the Arabic word used (approximated in English) is "Sibghah", the root meaning of which implies a dye or colour. So the beautiful image of Baptism expressed by the Holy Quran is not merely a washing, or even an immersion, but is instead a literal "soaking" in the Will of God, so that every fibre of one’s being becomes indelibly permeated.

Although Peter only confirmed Jesus’ own lessons, I expected that John's would go quite a bit further towards modern Christianity. John had always been a bit of an enigma to me. The Bible implied that he was the most beloved of the apostles, but really said little about his character. I approached his writings with both interest and trepidation. I was pretty sure that if anyone was going to force me to reconsider my conclusions, it would be him. 1 John 5:20 taught: "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.

And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life." I had always thought this verse confirmed Jesus was the true God. Reading it now, I realized that "his" and "him" in this passage actually referred to God, not Jesus, and so the final "He" could have referred to either.

I had also believed that John taught that we were forgiven for our sins on the basis of our belief and acceptance of the substitutional sacrifice of Jesus, because of 1 John 1:7: "And the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin", 1 John 5:12: "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" and 1 John 5:13: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."

But John was the one who had said: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" in 1 John 1:9, and: "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him', but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him; Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" in 1 John 2:3-5.

When I started looking around, although I could find verses where John proclaimed that belief in Jesus brought about forgiveness and reconciliation with God, whenever he became more specific about the actual mechanism of salvation, he seemed to say that belief led to obedience, confession and repentance, and that these were the basis of God's forgiveness.

As well, although John did say repeatedly that Jesus was the Son of God, when I reviewed them, I saw that his writings showed he considered us all to be God's children. 1 John 3:1-3 said: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And this is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure."

So, like I had done everywhere else, I continued slowly through everything that John had written, looking for verses about Jesus, sacrifice, forgiveness and salvation. In 1 John 3:7-10, when he wrote: "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 

He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother", it said nothing about forgiveness because of sacrifice or belief. Instead it was quite a specific declaration that Jesus’ purpose had been to bring obedience through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When I came to 1 John 3: 4-6, I read: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.

No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” This verse had actually been quoted to me by my teachers as proof that Jesus was a sacrifice that had taken away the penalty for our sins. Since I had already learned from 1 John 2:5-6 that being “in Jesus” or "in God" referred to obedience, and not to spiritual possession, I realized that this verse said only that if you obeyed Jesus, you would stop sinning.

Understanding exactly what John had said in 1 John 2:5-6 and 3:4-6 also helped clarify a couple of other verses in the same book. 1 John 2:2 in my NIV said: "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world", and 1 John 4:10 said: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” In this form, both acted as strong supports for contemporary Christian doctrine.

According to my NIV footnotes, however, another version of the verses that was not included in most translations reads: "He is the one who turns aside God's wrath, taking away our sins, and not only ours but also the sins of the whole world" and “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away our sins.”

While by themselves these variations were not particularly different from the first, 1 John 3:4-6 said that the phrase, “taking away our sins” referred to Jesus’ teaching obedience, and not to any sort of absolution.

Seen from this perspective, I had to conclude that they could be interpreted to only confirm Jesus’ own lessons about the result of belief in him and the validity of his message. Finding out which of these versions were actually what had originally been written by John was not possible, since both were presented in different manuscripts, and the original was apparently not available or at least recognized as such.

It had been an interesting year. When I had investigated the Old Testament, looking for a way to show that the Messiah was a divine incarnation, I had been forced to accept that the Christ they prophesied was only a man, albeit a very blessed and special one. Then, when I had gone to the Gospels to find proof that Jesus had said that he was God, and that his death would redeem mankind, I had instead found that he said that he did God's will with God's help, and that anyone who believed he was sent by God would obey him.

Now in John's letters, expecting to find the roots of modern Christianity, I saw that the difference between what I had expected and what he had actually written was pretty much the same as it had been everywhere else. Even John hadn't unequivocally supported modern Christianity.

In retrospect, I had to question whether it was John's intention to expand as much as he was interpreted to have on Jesus’ own words. In fact, the epistles that he wrote carry a particularly dire warning about just this sort of practice. 2 John 1:7-11 says: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”

It seemed to me when I examined these verses that the phrase "teaching of Christ" could be taken in two ways. Either John meant that everyone should teach about Jesus and nothing else, or he meant that they should limit themselves to teaching only what Jesus taught. In sermons to which I had listened, this verse was used to show that Christians must profess that Jesus was the sacrifice for all sins, and that repentance and obedience played a less significant role in God's forgiveness.

Since John himself wrote about subjects other than Jesus, notably obedience and repentance, I now think it most likely that he meant to warn against listening to the words of those who added to the message that Jesus himself had delivered.


Chapter 10: The Epistles 2013_110
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Chapter 10: The Epistles
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