Bible, Trust

Tempted in Every Way?

Scriptural translation is (like most translation work) not an exact science. The fact is that translations from one language to another can have a lot of difficulties, and can result in confusion about what a text actually means theologically. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

This translation of the text adds a few questions we’d need to deal with since it is unlikely that Jesus dealt with specific sins that we would have. He could not be tempted to covet his coworker’s new computer, nor could he be tempted to anti-native Canadian racism, both because the opportunities did not present to him in 1st century Palestine. More to the point, the reference to Jesus not having sin would also mean that the specific forms of sin that come from addiction would likely not be part of Jesus’ experience, because he had never (for example) drunk alcohol to excess with enough regularity to become addicted to it, since with drunkenness being a sin, Jesus Christ would not have ever been drunk.

More difficult would be the questions of issues such as anorexia, bulimia, cutting and other similar behaviours. While these are not listed as “sins” in scripture, they are clearly temptations that people can struggle with and have very negative results in the destruction of a person created in the image of God. Did Jesus when he was human have temptations like these? 

I am going to have to say “yes” and “no”. Part of this answer comes from looking at the translation of scripture itself. Here is the likeliest Greek construction of the verse that the NIV translates with “tempted in every way”.

οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ἀρχιερέα μὴ δυνάμενον συμπαθῆσαι ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθʼ ὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.

Hebrews 4:15 (NA28)

The phrase in question is “πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθʼ ὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.”, which is (based on my terrible translating) “tested according to all varied likenesses, yet separated from sin”. The ESV translation team (made up of scholars much smarter and well-trained than I) rendered it thusly:

 but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 

Hebrews 4:15b (ESV)

I think this gets us closer to an answer for whether or not Jesus would have struggled with self-destructive addictions. The text is not saying that Jesus has every individual temptation that we do, but that in every class of sins, he has that experience, and so is able to sympathize with our temptations. I think that includes the temptations that come from physical and psychological dependencies.

Jesus Christ in his earthly ministry would have had all of the weaknesses that flesh is heir to, and thus would have dealt with similar temptations to those created by physical dependency (which is the level of some forms of alcoholism). From the way it feels, I’m told that there’s little difference between a physical and a strong psychological dependency, and we do have an example of Jesus recorded as having dealt with having to resist what would have been, in his context, a sinful dependency, namely his temptation to break his fast in the wilderness in a sinful way. 

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ”

Luke 4:1–4 (ESV)

Jesus could have sated his hunger by sinfully turning a stone to bread, but that would have ended the fast he had intended for Godly reasons and done it in a way that would have misused his power as God. Jesus had a physical need for food, and yet was unable to fill that real felt need in a Godly way, and managed to defeat the temptation. In the sense of dealing with a dependency that could only be filled by sinning, Jesus was in fact tempted that way and did not sin.

I think this is actually akin to the experience felt by those dealing with addictions and self-destructive compulsions. It feels like a very real need from the inside (and in some cases may actually be a real need in the case of physical dependency), but to fulfill that need by the easiest felt means would be sinful (whether by cutting, purging, or dangerously refusing to eat, and thus damaging or destroying a person created in the image of God). Jesus does not need to have struggled with the specific sins (drunkenness or self-destruction) to have dealt with the class of sin, and thus to meet the encouragement intended in Hebrews 4. 

The upshot is that if you are dealing with an addiction, a psychological compulsion, or any other compulsion that can lead you to sin, the Christian claim is that Jesus has dealt with similar strong temptations, and so is able to sympathize when you come to him to ask for help to deal with the temptations you’re facing, and even to grant mercy and forgiveness when you fall into the sin. He knows the power of sin, even as he has not fallen to it.


Bible, Christianity, Church and State, Civility, Discipleship

Online Reading (March 11, 2022)

Some things I have been reading in the midst of this busy week. 

On Ukraine from the ERLC: “Thus far, the leader of Ukraine has shown the world that, contrary to what we’ve seen among many global leaders recently, virtue is not dead”

On “purity culture” from desiringGod: “They may not have dated young or kissed someone before marriage, but they didn’t get to taste what God means by purity either.”

Scotty Smith on praying for an evil ruler: “Father, either bring him to yourself, put him down, or take him out. You are “sovereign over all kingdoms.” You alone are God, You alone are worthy of our adoration, affection, and allegiance.”

On the Bruxy Cavey sandal from Christianity Today:After a three-month-long investigation, Cavey, 57, publicly confessed on Tuesday to an “adulterous relationship.” The church said it amounted to abuse of authority and sexual harassment against a woman under his pastoral counsel, asked him to resign, and removed his teachings from its website.”

ICC reports on the cost paid by some to be Christian online: “The assassination of Iman Sami, who was known as Maria, is suspected to have been retaliation by her family following a TikTok video she posted where she was singing Christian spiritual songs.”

Bible, Love, Mission, Politics, Prayer

How To React to Evil People.

Lightstock 169280 xsmall stephen daweOne of the things I enjoy most about the modern world is the ability to see lectures pretty much from all over the world. I have generally loved to attend public lectures at university and similar places because it stimulates my thinking and can get me to consider things from a different perspective than I had before. My penchant for public lectures (and the discussions afterwards) may be one of the reasons I date so infrequently. It’s honestly not that common to meet people who think an evening of, say, thoughts about the implications of Plato’s Republic for foreign policy sounds like a great way to spend an evening, so I often find myself attending lectures like that alone. Of course, COVID has done a number on attending public lectures, but has made it possible to “attend” lectures online, often from places I’d be unlikely to be able to visit myself for those lectures.

Most recently this was a very stimulating lecture on imprecations in the Psalms (I believe he was also promoting a book on the same topic).  As with most very good lectures in Biblical fields, at least for a pastor like me, it has been helpful as I think through some of the things the Church is facing. The speaker contends that our reading of Psalms, where it interprets the imprecations as merely desires for vengeance, are lacking. We need to see that God is still expressing His love and that God’s people are often through the Psalms, in the midst of suffering still desiring the vindication of God through the conversion of the nations to faith in God.

Why does this matter? As I write, someone I perceive as a very evil man is destroying people for no good reason through lies and through a powerful military under his command. What is a Christian to do in a case like this? Admittedly, I am not one of the people facing this evil, though it is hard not to have some indignation as people are killed for no other reason than being on the wrong side of a border and having political and cultural leanings different from other people. Additionally, there may come a day when as a Christian I face similar injustices. How is a Christian to think through these things?

Of course, we should pray for and positively help those who are victims of evil. That is a given.

The problem comes in one of Jesus’ most undeniably Jesus-like commands (and likely His most difficult)

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27–36 (ESV)

There is an argument that goes around claiming that this text is about the oppressed forcing those with power to face them on equal terms (Walter Wink in “Jesus and Nonviolence” comes to mind), but I don’t think that is the point of the text, which seems to be more about actually loving your enemies, which I take to mean, desiring their good. The lecturer’s reading of the imprecations of the Psalms (at least what I understood from his lecture) seems consistent with this. That is to say, we are to desire the ultimate good of our enemies; that they come to know and love God. 

That is the very radical thing we as Christians are called to do with the evil we face: We love our enemies and we pray for those who persecute, or as Paul puts it in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

For that reason, while people I am praying for defend their homes, and people are dying, and I am advocating for our countries help to end this injustice in Ukraine, I am also praying that God would grant repentance to Vladamir Putin and his inner circle. I do think he will have to face justice for what he has done, but I am praying that God would be merciful and that this war would end, not merely with the withdrawal of troops, but with the surrender of Vladamir Putin to the love and mercy of God, as he then orders Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine.


Bible, Christianity

Is it arrogant to say you are correct about what the Bible says?

A truly great teacher can overcome the inability of a student. 

As a Christian of a more conservative Evangelical persuasion, the doctrine I find myself most commonly dealing with at its heart is the place the Bible holds in my thinking.

Of course, few non-Christians question me directly on the point, as what I do with a specific book is of little import for the modern person. The problem usually comes up in the ways that Christian thinking will run counter to modern sensibilities on some issue or another. It goes a little like this:

Friend: You believe X? Why would you believe that?

Me: Well, I think God has some opinions on it that I feel I need to follow?

Friend: And how do you know what God thinks?

Me: well, in the Bible…

At this point the discussion will go off in several different tangents, some will question my specific reading of the Bible from either more or less ostensibly Christian viewpoints, while others will say that interpretations need to be subservient to an ethic of something or other (usually mercy or grace for my rich powerful friends, usually justice or equality for my more impoverished friends), still others will question the value of the Bible itself as a valuable source.

The last group is a different situation than I want to deal with here. They aren’t really coreligionists but tend to think they are, but their opinions aren’t in view here.

The issue with the groups based on interpretations will also break down roughly into two categories. The first group will agree with me on the role of scripture, and we will have a coffee or nachos as we discuss those ideas, the second will be honestly questioning the ability to claim any correct interpretation of the text at all, even calling the desire to come to a conclusion as to what the text says arrogant. In this final case, I think they are trying to be humble, but the result is anything but. The reason comes from the role and status of scripture as I understand it, and as I believe is expressed in 2 Tim 3:12-17.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:12–17 (ESV)

Most will simply read 3:16-17, because it’s usually enough to get to the point of making scripture the standard for faith and practice for those of us that generally trust the Bible. The issue with the idea that it is arrogant to claim to understand the scriptures is that the scriptures claim a higher status than that. They claim to be able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ”, which is in addition to the fact that it also claims to be “breathed out by God” (I thinkLightstock 156814 xsmall stephen dawe an allusion to the Holy Spirit) and useful for teaching correction and reproof. 

We can get more deeply into the role of scripture later, but here it’s important to state clearly, scripture is the standard for Christian faith and practice, and is useful. It seems to mean that while it may be difficult to come to correct conclusions, and mistakes are possible, it is still possible to know what the Bible says on a given topic and to thus be correct. 

Quite simply, there is a difference between knowing there is a possibility that you are wrong (true humility, calling you to check your work), and believing that you actually cannot be right. The former means you seek truth, the latter means seeking the truth here is impossible because of your inability. The former says that the teacher is capable and I am fallible, while the latter claims the teacher is incapable of overcoming my fallibility. What started as a desire for humility has become a pride in your own fallibility. It is to say that while the scriptures are God-breathed, our inability is so powerful as to overcome God’s power to lead us into all truth.

My belief that I can be correct about Biblical teaching then, when rightly applied, is not arrogance about my ability to learn, but confidence in God’s ability to accurately teach.


On Finding Yourself

I think it’s flakey to have a trip or time off to “find yourself”. It always seems a pretty vapid and narcissistic hippiesque thing to talk about, as if you yourself are a grand mystery that you need some kind of huge adventure to understand.

Of course, I’m going to have to admit now that there is something to the idea. Not because I feel that I’m a massive cool enigma that I can solve in order to be a more fulfilled person or something like that. Rather, as I have been trying to work on improving the kind of person I am, I’ve found it necessary to understand the kind of person I actually am instead of the person I imagine myself to be. The reason is simple: as long as I remain deluded as to the weaknesses I have, and the things I need to (as we say in Christian parlance) repent of as part of my sanctification, I’m going to find myself repenting of things I don’t do, while I leave the glaring ways in which I mistreat God’s good gifts to me, and the people around me largely undisturbed by my suddenly quixotic tilting at the windmills of my awn shortcomings.

A bit of an example: When I was much younger I convinced myself I was a night owl, and that I would be super effective late at night and by pulling all-Lightstock 128357 xsmall stephen dawenighters. For some reason, I thought a lack of sleep was cool, and so for years, I convinced myself that studying late at night was the best for me. I’d wake up bleary-eyed in the mornings, not because I wasn’t a morning person, but because I’d not gotten enough sleep. I put down my generally taciturn nature to my not having yet had coffee, instead of the fact that it’s because I’ve never really put enough attention into expressing myself verbally (you’ll find these written blogs are far more expressive than my morning devos that I do live on YouTube). The result was that I simply assumed I wasn’t very good at close study, and that there was nothing I could do about my lack of ability in talking to people.

I was wrong on both counts. Tonight I work on this short reflective blog that I’ve been working on in my head since this morning. A morning that I slept in for because I stupidly stayed up too late, but even with that, I was able to do some good reading, conversation and weekly planning out of the way before noon. It’s been this way for a while. You see, I may not particularly enjoy mornings (probably an effect of my years of self-delusion), I am very effective during them. Something I found out as I prayed and reflected on how God has put me together. I needed to do that because, well, the Bible is quite correct when it puts in the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah this:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jeremiah 17:9–10 (ESV)

In any case, it is almost 9:30, so I should be preparing for bed. Perhaps I should also be apologizing to the hippies, or at least thank them for domr (limited) insight.