24 April 2020

Luke 4:31-44 What Happened in Capernaum?

Luke 4:31-44

In the previous passage, Jesus rebuked his hometown for saying that he would perform miracles and do good works in Capernaum instead of in Nazareth. Understanding this passage really hinges on understanding geography and history.

Nazareth in AD 30 was a village of around 400 people. It was based inland and at that time would not have been well connected to the surrounding region. Capernaum was a town of around 1,500 people and was situated on the Sea of Galilee, a lake separated from the Dead Sea by the Jordan River. Most of the three years of Jesus' ministry was spent crossing this lake by boat visiting its coastal towns. Until Jesus departs for Jerusalem in Luke 19, all of the named locations he visits are situated along this one lake. Had he chosen to remain in Nazareth, he would not have been able to visit all the places God called him to.

Now that we know why Jesus set up in Capernaum, what did he do there that would have made the people of Nazareth so covetous? First, he begins to teach in the synagogue, and the people are amazed because he speaks with authority (31-32). Then he begins performing miracles, healing people (38-40), and driving out demons (33-35, 41). He is so successful in Capernaum that the people would not even let him leave. They search for him, but he tells them that he must go to the other towns also (42-43). In contrast with Nazareth, it seems the people of Capernaum, though zealous, are reluctantly willing to share (44).

Many interpret the miracles in this passage literally. But Luke goes from talking about Jesus teaching with authority, to performing miracles, and then back to teaching. What could these miracles tell us about Jesus' teaching? These miracles give us a clear illustration of Jesus' authority as he rebukes the demons and causes them to come out, and rebukes the fever and causes it to come out. Luke is showing us with these miracles that what Jesus says is true. When he says something will happen, it does. It also illustrates the nature of what Jesus is telling us. When Jesus speaks, it is to improve our lives, to heal our sick and banish our torments.

In the next chapter, we'll see how what happens in Capernaum does not stay in Capernaum.

Peace be with you.

21 April 2020

New Schedule

Salty Bible Study will now receive updates once a week on Fridays.

20 April 2020

Everything to God's Word in Prayer

One of the most important questions when studying the Bible is "how might this apply to me?" It's up there with "does this even apply to me?" Although the Bible itself is universal, not every passage or parable is equally universal. There are passages (shockingly many it seems) for which you are not the intended audience. There are Leviticus holiness codes that only apply to Temple priests, the Law of Moses which only applies to the Jewish people, stories aimed at only one gender, culture, or ancient time and place, and prophesies that have long since come to pass. Passages are not always, or often, intended for a universal, or especially modern, audience.

One way to cut through all the clutter (that is all the stuff in there that isn't relevant to you) is to define who you are and who you want to be, then let the Bible be your guide. This isn't a particularly strange practice for those who set New Year's resolutions, but it is far less simple than it sounds. A video I watched recently by CGP Grey suggested doing away with resolutions and instead adopting a yearly theme such as "Year of Reading" or "Year of Health." It occurred to me that this is how I have been going about reading the Bible for years. I would state what was important to me and see what the scriptures had to say about it.

How you go about getting your answer is up to you. Some may opt for a topical study. You'd check concordances, maybe Google search a phrase, and read a few select passages on the topic. Maybe you know of a book of the Bible that talks about the topic. I prefer this approach because it means getting a well rounded opinion, rather than snippets from various books that often do say contradictory things. There's even the most comprehensive of paths, listen to an audio Bible for two hours a day while meditating on your question and you'll have your answer, having gone through the entire Bible in about 20 days!

The Holy Spirit guides us when we study. The presence of God is near when we read his word, to give guidance, to answer our questions, and to suggest things we would not otherwise have wondered. Notice I didn't say to pray, because when you read this way, reading the Bible is a form of prayer: the form that often gets answers.

Peace be with you.

17 April 2020

God's Promises, Part 5

God promises us Life, Love, and Home. These are his gifts to us, his creation. As proof, he has given us dominion over the Earth, the rainbow, and his love. He has preserved a holy nation to remember his promises. We can read his promises in the Bible and see them in the world around us. He asks nothing for these gifts; he gives them freely. Only that love will make us holy.

Peace be with you.

Song: Ancient Words

16 April 2020

God's Promises, Part 4: Love

The Christian Covenant

In the Gospels, Jesus promises the Kingdom of God for all peoples. The covenant is made during the Last Supper (Luke 22:20), sealed by his sacrifice on the cross, and the sign of the covenant is that we "love one another" as Jesus himself loved us (John 13:34-35). This is the only "command" given by Jesus, and it is the sign of his covenant.

Song: Jesus Loves Me

15 April 2020

God's Promises, Part 3: A Holy Nation

The Abrahamic Covenant

In Genesis 12-17, God makes three covenants with Abraham. God promises that Abraham will have descendants as numerous as the stars. God promises to make a nation of Abraham's descendants. God grants Abraham the land of Canaan and establishes circumcision as the sign of this covenant. Note that this covenant is given to Abraham and his descendants only, not to all the world.

God would go on to make many more covenants with the nations that descended from Abraham. God made covenants with Hagar (Ishmael's mother), with Moses, with Moses' brother Aaron, and with David. These covenants establish Israel as a holy nation and a holy people. The sign of Israel's covenant is that they keep his commandments and observe the Sabbath. These are not covenants that most Christians need be concerned with (unless you live in Israel), except that they give proof that God keeps his promises.

Song: To Canaan's Land

14 April 2020

God's Promises, Part 2: Life and Home

The Edenic Covenant

God's first covenant is found in Genesis 1:28-30. In it, God blesses all the life he has created, gifts the ability to procreate and gives every plant for food. To humanity, he gifts dominion over all the Earth.

Song: As The Life of a Flower

The Noahic Covenant

In Genesis 9:8-17, God makes a covenant with humanity and with all the animals. God promises to never again destroy the world. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow. God did not promise to stop humanity from destroying the world, so please reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Song: There's A Rainbow

13 April 2020

God's Promises, Part 1

The God of the Bible is a God of covenants. He is a god who keeps his promises. That is what a covenant is, a promise. The many forms a covenant may take are as varied as the forms promises may take. God's covenants are promissory covenants. This kind of covenant is like a gift, it benefits the one who receives it and has a cost only to the one who gives it. A covenant requires a sacrifice and a sign. The sacrifice shows the sincerity of the promise, while the sign is the literal proof that the promise has been given and accepted.

This article is in five parts, to be released over the course of a week. God's promises are numerous, but this series will focus on those most important to Christians. As it says in 1 Peter 3:15-16, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear, having a good conscience."

Song: Standing on the Promises

10 April 2020

Scripture and a Song: All The Way My Savior Leads Me

May God's Spirit guide your reading and carry the praise of your heart to divine ears.

Luke 11:11-13 World English Bible

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he won’t give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he asks for an egg, he won’t give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Matthew 10:29-31 World English Bible

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for [a penny]? Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows."

All The Way My Savior Leads Me

The sheet music is posted if you'd like to sing along. Alternatively, just click on the link to the YouTube performance, the sheet music is posted there as well.

Sheet Music by Public Domain Hymns

YouTube Performance by Elliot Bowman

08 April 2020

Luke 4:14-30 Jesus Tested by His Hometown

Luke 4:14-30

After his testing in the wilderness, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and began teaching there (4:14-16). He reveals himself to be the Messiah by the reading of Isaiah 61 (4:17-21). Jesus' message seems well received in verse 22, "All testified about him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, and they said, 'Isn’t this Joseph’s son?'" This makes Jesus' reaction seem strange in the next verse. He rebukes them, telling them how they will mock him on the cross "Physician, heal yourself!" and what they will ask of him once they hear of the miracles he performs elsewhere, "Whatever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in your hometown" (4:23). He then tells them to whom he is called, how he will teach all over Israel and do miracles even for foreigners. He cites how this was even the case for the prophets of old (4:24-27). This enrages the people of Nazareth (4:28) and they attempt to kill Jesus (4:29) but Jesus just walks right through the crowd and departs (4:30).

Why does this enrage them so? Just before they were ready to accept him as the Messiah, and now they want to kill him. The clue is in what Jesus said to them: that he will do miracles elsewhere and even for foreigners. In Jesus's time, it was believed that the Messiah would come to set Israel free by wiping out all the foreigners. Everyone in Israel would be saved, everyone else would be gone. John the Baptist warned that this was not at all the case, that the Messiah would judge based on their pure hearts and the good works they produced, not their nationality (Luke 3:7-18). The people of Nazareth, Jesus's hometown, wanted him to give them special treatment, to help them even if God's plan was for him to go elsewhere. Recall that in Luke 4:5-8, this was the second test given to Jesus. Just like in his testing in the wilderness, Jesus affirms that he will follow God's plan, no matter where it leads him. So now, the only question left is what is he about to do in Capernaum?

Until next time,
Peace be with you.

06 April 2020

Good and Evil: Finding Hope In God's Goodness

In the second chapter of Genesis, God gave the first two people, one called "Humanity" and the other "Life" a choice; they could either trust God, be a part of his family, and share in his abundance, or they could choose to seek power for themselves, apart from God. They made their choice and humanity has been making the same choice ever since. The entire Bible is about how human power structures oppress the most vulnerable in our society and cause them to suffer.

There is evil in the world. We are told by Paul in Romans 3:23-24 that "all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." and by Jesus in Mark 10:18 that "No one is good except one—God." But does this mean that we are all evil and that we cannot be anything else?

Let's assume for a moment that it does. That means that everything we do, or neglect to do, increases the evil in the world. Now think about all the people you know, both Christian and non-Christian. Do they do evil all of the time? Obviously not. Jesus tells us this as well in Matthew 7:9-11, "who is there among you who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

We know how to do good things, we just don't always do them. This is not evil, but it is not good. Jesus calls us evil in order to show how far away the goodness of God is from the goodness of humanity. Perhaps the best way to show this is to show how much greater the goodness of God is from the evil of humanity.

In Genesis 37, Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery in the far away land of Egypt. While in Egypt, he prospers, even becoming the second-in-command under Pharaoh. When there is famine in the land, Joseph's family, including the brothers which sold him into slavery go to Egypt, because they heard there was grain there. When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he assures them, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to save many people, as is happening today" (Gen 50:20).

When Jesus says that God is good, he does not mean that God simply does good. He means that God's goodness is a transformative power that even turns the actions of evil people to serve good ends. God works through famine and flood, transforming evil and destruction into goodness and life. The choice he gave in the beginning is the choice he gives today. We are still invited to join God's family and share in God's abundance, if only we will believe (Rom 4:1-4).

Peace be with you.

03 April 2020

Why We Give

When I was growing up, many of my friends from other churches believed that they were supposed to give exactly 10% of their income to the church. This is called a tithe, and it is a common practice in many churches. I never understood this. Nowhere in scripture is a tithe demanded of Christians. God does not demand an obligatory tenth of your income. However, that is not to say that Christians are not to give. In fact, we are to give so much more than just income.

In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus is approached by a rich man who wishes to "inherit eternal life." Jesus reminds the man that goodness comes from following God's ways, but the man answers that he has kept all the commandments. Then Jesus tells the man how God's ways are more than a list of commandments, they come from the heart.

This rich young man did not want to become a disciple, he wanted to buy eternal life. He would rather pay a tithe, or follow yet another rule. That is why when Jesus tells him to "sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me," he cannot.
This is the meaning of the parable that "it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom." The man was so burdened with possessions that he could not fit through the gates of Heaven carrying all he possessed.

It seems like a radical message that Jesus would intend for the rich to give everything they have to take care of the poor. And in Acts 4:32-35 we see that this is exactly what Jesus intended, as it is what the First Century Church practiced. "For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need." At first glance this seems like an early form of communism, and the story in the next chapter does little to make it seem any less so.

In Acts 5:1-10, Ananias and Sapphira sell their land and place the money at the feet of the Apostle Peter, just as many Christians had been doing. However, they decided to keep a bit of the money for themselves. God strikes them down for their sin, so the text tells us, but what exactly was their sin? It could not be keeping the money for themselves. There is nothing sinful about keeping your money. However, that wasn't the only thing they did differently from their fellow Christians. They told Peter that they were giving him the entire sale price, not a portion, but all of it. Their sin was that they wanted to look as generous as their peers while lying about how much they actually gave. They could have given any amount, eve3n nothing, so long as they did so honestly.

We see again in 2 Corinthians 8:9-15 that the Apostle Paul asks the church in Corinth to give to the church in Jerusalem that "your abundance at this present time supplies their lack, that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality. As it is written, 'He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack'". Here we see not a binary division between rich and poor, but a cycle of giving, of caring support between believers.

Further, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that those who work to spread the Gospel deserve to earn their living doing so. He reminds them that no worker, soldier, or even beast of burden works for free, they all reap the reward of the work they do. In verse 10, he even states that a worker should receive a share. Years ago, when I worked at a certain popular coffee shop, I calculated that if every customer gave a 15 cent tip (5% of a $3 latte at that time), that I, and every other barista, would make triple our hourly wage. Most workers do not earn a "share" in any meaningful sense.

When you give, you give so that those who work to spread the Gospel do not go hungry, but also to feed the poor in your community and in communities abroad. We never know when lean times will come and the only way to get through them is to be generous that our generosity may be returned as in Luke 6:38, "for with the same measure you [use], it will be measured back to you."

Peace be with you.

01 April 2020

Mythical Beasts of the Bible

Phoenix

Job 29:18

“Phoenix” and “palm tree” come from the Septuagint. “Sand” comes from the Masoretic Text. In my opinion, the word phoenix makes more sense, as there is explicitly a “nest” in this passage and palm trees and sand do not build nests, but also because the phoenix multiplies its days in its nest through a cycle of death and rebirth. This change has a profound impact on the meaning of the passage and offers a glimmer of hope for poor afflicted Job.

Basilisk

Isa 11:8; Isa 59:5

Sometimes a snake is just a snake, unless it's a basilisk. A basilisk, or cockatrice, is a lizard with six legs and the power to turn a person to stone with its bite or gaze. It isn't actually found in the Bible, but mentions of it are still present in the King James Version, for whatever reason.

Satyr

Isa 13:21; Isa 34:14

The word here is “sa’ir” which means “goat,” but also “to wail” or “hairy.” It is sometimes translated as a kind of demon or satyr.

Unicorn

Job 39:9, 12; Psa 22:21; Psa 29:5-6; Psa 92:10; Isa 34:6-7

References to the unicorn come from the Septuagint. In Greek, the word is more reliably translated as “rhinoceros,” but the same word can be translated as “unicorn.” However, since the Bible refers to such unicorns as having one or two horns, it is more likely that it refers to Asian and African rhinos respectively. In Hebrew, the word is “reem” and means “wild ox.”

So why is this translated as unicorn? Look no further than the patron of the King James Bible, King James, himself. His coat of arms, which for the first time in history unified the coats of arms from England, Scotland, and Ireland, features both a lion and a unicorn. Thus, the unicorn is shown as a creature of great power and majesty.

Dragon

Job 30:29; Psa 44:19; Psa 74:13; Isa 13:22; Isa 27:1; Isa 43:20; Isa 51:9

The word “dragon” comes from the Hebrew word “tannin.” The name may derive from a root meaning "howling" or from coiling in a manner like smoke. In modern Hebrew, usage the word means "crocodile." A creature of the same name is referred to in Canaanite mythology as having been defeated by the god Ba'al.

Leviathan

Job 41; Psa 74:14; Psa 104:26; Isa 27:1

The leviathan is a beast unique to the Hebrew scriptures. It is a terrifying sea beast which demonstrates the power of God in that only God may overcome it. This is very similar to the Canaanite story of Ba'al, whose strength is demonstrated by his defeat of the dragon.

Behemoth

Job 40:15-24

Behemoth is a creature unique to the Book of Job. It is very similar to the Hebrew word for "wild beast."

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