What happened to Alton Sterling is NOT the same as what happened to Philando Castile!

Not_The_SameThere has been a rush to present both tragedies as identical by far too many on both sides of the political spectrum. Our president, and much of the media, has presented both incidents as identical examples of unjustified police shootings and a pattern of police abuse against our black citizens, neighbors, and friends (even before  the evidence is in). Their irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled response to these tragedies has only served only to widen an already growing division in our country and has escalated violence against the men and women who put their life on the line to serve and protect our citizens every day. Now some conservative sources have begun responding with the same irresponsible, unjustified, and hate-filled tactics, vilifying both men who were shot (again before the evidence is in), and placing the blame for both of these deaths on the shoulders of the men who were shot and killed. Doing this serves no one and only hurts our neighbors who, regardless of their political leanings, need our love now more than ever. ENOUGH ALREADY, JUST STOP!!!

Portraying these two incidents, that are so very different, as if they were the same is unjust and leads only to distrust, hurt, and anger that further divides us all. While it is still early in both investigations, and it is possible that new information could come to light in either of these investigations that would paint a very different picture than what is known today, it doesn’t seem likely. Without new evidence, justice requires that we look at each of these incidents very differently. If we, as a nation, continue to huddle into our own political corners, looking for “facts” to fit “our” narrative, while ignoring the facts that don’t, we will only exasperate the problems that continue to further divide our country.

Why are they different?

Philando Castile had no criminal record and apparently was legally carrying a firearm and informed the officer of this fact. His girlfriend, after the shooting, was completely compliant with the officers and there is currently no reason to believe that Mr. Castile was not also fully compliant with the officer’s orders before the shooting took place. While there are some rumors that suggest that he may have been pulled over based on a case of mistaken identity, that alone does not justify the shooting. Having been in a similar situation where I was held at gunpoint by officers who believed I was a criminal fleeing from a crime scene, I am very thankful that most officers do not shoot their suspects with such ease. In this situation, not only was someone shot without cause but after the shooting took place, neither officer handled the situation appropriately. Neither officer made any attempt to administer medical aid to the person whom they had just shot, but instead they arrested, handcuffed, and transported the girlfriend to the police station, treating her as a criminal. She was not permitted to be with her boyfriend who was shot and dying, nor was she permitted to be with her daughter who had just witnessed this tragedy. While I would not conclude, based on the evidence we have today, that this shooting was motivated by race, I do believe that it is an example of extremely gross negligence by both officers, and if what we know now proves to be true, both officers should be fired, and the one who pulled the trigger should be charged with felony manslaughter.

Alton Sterling was a felon with an illegal firearm and was unwilling to comply with the officer’s orders. Because of his unwillingness to comply, he was wrestled to the ground by the officers and was still fighting them when one officer believed that he was attempting to use his gun against them. While, given the evidence we have at the moment, it is unclear whether the officer was mistaken, there is little doubt that this is what he believed at the moment he fired his weapon. In the midst of a struggle, like the one that was taking place, it is entirely understandable that something could have been miss-perceived but such a miss-perception (if it was a miss-perception) would not change the circumstance of this case. People need to put themselves in the shoes of the officers involved and recognize that if the officer was right and had hesitated for even a tiny fraction of a second, one or more of the officers could have been killed. Officers, who put their lives on the line daily to protect and serve their community, deserve to come home to their families at night, and the constraints that many desire to place on them would mean than many more of them would not make it home. While it is horrible tragedy when anyone is killed, the blame for this killing must lie on the shoulders of the one who initiated the situation and, in this case, that person was Mr. Sterling. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, anyone who chooses to become physically violent with a police officer should understand that he is putting his own life at risk when he chooses to do this.

Please, please, let us step out of our political corners and come together to look for real solutions to the real problems that confront our nation! If we are going to survive as a nation, we must be willing to truly listen to those on all sides and set aside our own misconceptions. Ultimately this begins when we are willing to look at everyone through they eyes of the one who created us all and who loves each of us so dearly. Only then will we begin to understand the value of each life that has been lost and weep, as God does, for each and every one of them.



Note: For those who will automatically assume that I wasn’t shot only because I am white, I can assure you that the officer in my case could not have known the color of my skin until after the perceived threat was over.  He saw only a man in a car with his high beams aimed at him. Additionally, while I was completely unaware, the officer had more reason to believe that I was acting aggressively towards him than it appears that the officer who shot Mr. Castile did.

Challenge: How many can you identify?

One of the most beautiful poetic passages of the Hebrew bible is found in Ecclesiastes 12, and the richness of this passage is too often missed because people have failed to understand the rich poetic imagery that Solomon has employed. Throughout this passage, word pictures are employed to describe the process of aging and all that comes with it. How many of these word pictures can you identify and correctly interpret?

The most challenging word pictures found in this passage are in verse 5; their challenge lies in the fact that we no longer have a clear understanding of the intended imagery of the almond blossom, the locust [tree], or the caperberry. Many translations have opted to interpret some or all of these word pictures for you, often without indicating their departure from the underlying Hebrew text. While the NLT attempts to keep the original imagery, it adds the common interpretations of that imagery into the text i.e. before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire.However, I believe Robert Alter, in his book “The Wisdom books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes,” offers a better solution when he notes that “It is less strained to read these lines simply as images of the cycle of growth and decay in nature as man is about to depart from that cycle.” Alter also offers a possible solution to one of the most challenging word pictures in this text. He notes that “The most puzzling reference is to the laden locust. Some see this as indicating a plant, not an insect (in fact a meaning carried by the English word as well); others detect a reference to the female locust heavy with eggs, after laying which she dies. Perhaps the least strained construction is a locust tree heavy with ripe fruit.

How many of the word pictures employed by Solomon can you identify?


caper berry

Remember your Creator while you are still young,

before the days of misery come

and turn into years in which you say “there is no pleasure in them.”


Remember him –

 Before the light of the sun, and the moon, and the stars grow dark,

           And the clouds return after the rain.

 When the guardians of the house tremble

and the strong men stoop,

 When the grinders are idle because they are few

and those who peer through the windows fade away.

 When the doors to the street are shut,

           And the sound of the mill grows faint.

 When one rises to the sounds of the bird,

           But the daughters of song have been subdued.


Even heights bring fear,

           And the streets terrify them.

  — the almond tree blooms,

the locust tree is heavy laden,

and the caper berry breaks open —

Because a man goes to his eternal home,

           And mourners go around in the streets.


Remember him –

 Before the silver cord breaks

and the golden bowl crashes to the ground,

 Before the well’s pitcher is smashed

and it’s crank wheel broken.

 Before dust returns to the earth from where it came,

           And the spirit returns to God who gave it.


Futility, futility, said the preacher, all is futility.

(Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)



A favorite verse —- misunderstood?

humbleSeldom have I read a text in the Hebrew bible and have been as surprised by how differently that text sounded in our English bibles than I was when I read 2 Chr. 7:14 this week. Most English versions read something similar to this rendering from the NIV.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

When I followed along as this verse was read in English, my first thought was “Where is the ‘if’ in this verse?” In Hebrew, this verse reads like we began in the middle of the sentence and we missed something important that came earlier. This is how it sounds in Hebrew.

“…and my people, who are called by my name, are humbled and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I certainly will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.”

As I looked back at the prior text to see what I had missed, the text appeared even stranger. Chapter 7 begins with the joyous celebration dedicating the Temple. Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication, and fire had come down from heaven,  consummating the temple dedication. Following this, there has been three weeks of celebration with praise, music, and feasting, and then when this had been completed and the people returned to their homes, God appeared to Solomon:

“And Lord appeared to Solomon at night. And he said to him, I have heard your prayer and I have chosen this place to be my house of sacrifice. Thus I will restrain the rain from the heavens, and thus I will command the grasshopper to eat the [produce of] the land! And if I send a plague against my people, and my people, who are called by my name, are humbled and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I certainly will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.”

At first glance, this appears to be a rather strange response to the dedication of the Temple. Why would God promise to withhold the rain, and send plagues against his people in response to the dedication of the temple? The answer is that he didn’t, God’s answer here isn’t an unsolicited response to the dedication of the temple, it is a direct response to Solomon’s own prayer. Only when we look back to Solomon’s prayer recorded in Chapter 6 does God’s response begin to make sense. Here is a portion of Solomon’s prayer.

“May you hear the petitions of your servant and your people Israel who pray towards this place. Hear from your dwelling place in heaven, hear and forgive.

If a man sins against his neighbor, and is compelled to take an oath before your alter in this house, may you hear from heaven, act, and judge your servants, repaying the wicked for his deeds, and vindicating the righteous man, and rewarding him for his righteousness.

If your people are struck down by an enemy because they sinned against you, and they return and praise your name, and they pray and seek your favor in this house, may you hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land that you gave to them and their fathers.

When the heavens are restrained and it does not rain because they sinned against you, and they pray towards this place, praising your name, and turn from their sin because you have punished them, may you hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants. And teach your people Israel to walk in your good way, and send rain on your land, [a land] that you gave to your people to possess.

When there is famine in the land because of a plague, whether it is blight or mildew, locust or grasshopper, or because their enemies have raided their fortified cities. All are afflicted and all are ill. Every prayer and petition for every man and for all your people Israel, each man knowing his own affliction and pain and spreading out his hands towards this house, may you hear from heaven, your dwelling place. May you forgive and repay each man according to all his ways. You know his heart because you alone know the human heart. Do this so that they will fear you all the days that they live in the land you gave to our fathers.”

As we look at Solomon’s prayer, we can see that God’s response was not unexpected, it was a direct answer to thing for which Solomon had already prayed.


Some additional difference in the Hebrew text

  • While most versions translate‎ יִכָּנְע֙וּ reflexively i.e. ‘they will humble themselves,’ this Hebrew verb form is primarily used as a passive. ‘they will be humbled.’ The Hebrew text conveys a bit more strongly God’s part in humbling his people, while still conveying the idea that man has a responsibility to respond when God has humbled him. God’s response in 2 Chr. 7:14 mirrors Solomon’s declaration (2 Chr. 6:26) that it is God who punishes.
  • Most English texts use the conditional ‘if’ three times in verse 13 i.e. ‘If I will restrain the rain,’ ‘if I will command the grasshopper,’ and ‘if I send a plague’ but the first two instances in the Hebrew are not conditional. The Hebrew word used here is הן and is most often translated as ‘behold,’ ‘thus,’ etc… The text communicates that this is something God will do, and not something he might do.


Why then do our English translations read the way they do?

The LXX (an ancient Greek translation of the OT) of these verses reads much more closely to our English translations, and it includes all of the conditionals missing in the Hebrew text. The KJV relied heavily on this Greek text, and subsequent English translations very often follow the textual tradition set by the KJV translators. Additionally, some scholars have suggested that the Hebrew text may align closer to the Greek, positing the idea that ‘הן’ is an example of an Aramaism in this Hebrew text; ‘הן’ can be used in Aramaic as a conditional in some circumstances. If we accept this proposal, it could account for the two missing conditionals in verse 13, but it does not explain the missing conditional in verse 14. While this is a possible explanation for the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts, it is much more likely that the author of Chronicles, who lived at a time when the Jewish people primarily spoke Hebrew, used this word with its Hebrew meaning, and the translators of the LXX, who lived centuries later at a time when Aramaic had become the prevalent spoken language used by the Jews, simply misunderstood the meaning of this word.


Concluding thoughts

Solomon, in his prayer, acknowledged that God, in his sovereignty, may choose to use life’s difficult circumstances to guide his people to repentance. He recognized that God’s punishment is not that of a tyrant ready to pounce, but rather it is that of a loving father who desires the very best for his children. When God appeared to Solomon, he himself confirmed that Solomon had correctly understood God’s heart for his people. The idea that God, as a loving father, uses the difficult circumstances in life to guide us back to his path is a theme often repeated in Scripture. Hosea describes God as blocking the wrong path of sinful Israel in order to bring them back into fellowship with him, and the author of Hebrews expounds on this idea in Chapter 12, declaring that God’s punishment demonstrates that we belong to him and that he truly loves us.

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:5-11 NIV)

The story of the Gospel that is threaded throughout all of Scripture is not an instruction about what we must do to please God, but rather it is a description of what God has already done for us, and how we should respond to the God who first loved us and is always trying to draw us into true intimacy with him.


Slight of hand in the Aramaic English New Testament

AENTThe new “Aramaic English New Testament (AENT)” claims to have resolved a number of issues in our understanding of the biblical text by translating directly from an “original” Aramaic text. However, these claims are better categorized as slight of hand than they are new discoveries in biblical studies. In this article, I will investigate a number of the claims made and show why these are not nearly the earth shattering discoveries that the translators of this text have claimed.

Was the NT really written originally in Aramaic?

The authors of the AENT suggest that our Greek NT texts are a “re-translation” of original Aramaic texts, stating that “Most people are shocked to learn that the bible they grew up with was not translated directly from original Aramaic texts but rather from Greek versions that were re-translated into English.” However, there is very little evidence to support this conclusion. The oldest Aramaic text that we have in our possession comes from the late 4th century, but the earliest Greek text we have is dated to the mid 1st century i.e. within a decade of the time we believe it was original penned. While there is speculation that there may have been an Aramaic ‘Q’ text that was used as a source by the author of the NT, very few Syriac scholars believe that the text of the Peshitta that we have today represents that original ‘Q’ text. The majority of Syriac scholars believe that the Peshitta is an Aramaic translation of  Greek (or Latin) original texts. The suggestion that the Peshitta text represents an original text that was later translated into Greek is a very minority position that has no direct textual support.

Is “my God, my God, why have you spared me?” really a better translation?

The translators of the AENT suggest that Jesus didn’t really say “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” during his final moments on the cross as reported in the Gospels (Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34). By reading the Aramaic, it is suggested that a new meaning is revealed. We will examine some of the problems with this claim. Let’s first begin by looking at a few of the texts involved.

AENT Mt. 27-46


1. It presupposes that the NT authors (Matthew and Mark) misunderstood Jesus words.

The proposed translation of the Aramaic is highly unlikely, and because the NT authors explained their own understanding of these Aramaic words spoken by Jesus, we must conclude that the NT authors themselves misunderstood Jesus’ words in order accept this proposition. Such a suggestion would would significantly damage a belief in the inspiration of the of the Scriptures.

2. It ignores the fact that שבק was the expected translation for עזב used in both the OT and NT.

Aramaic translations of the OT that pre-date the Gospel accounts use the very same words in translation as were quoted in the Gospel (See above). This was the expected Aramaic word choice to communicate the idea of being ‘forsaken’ which is clearly communicated in the Hebrew text of Ps. 22:1. There is very little reason to believe that the intended meaning of the Aramaic word used by Jesus on the cross would be different than the same word used in the text of Ps. 22:1 or from the meaning conveyed in the explanatory Greek text provided in the Gospel account.

3. It ignores the fact that the Greek word ἐγκατέλιπές used in the explanatory text, is the same word used in the translation of Ps. 22:1.

As with the Aramaic translation of Ps. 22:1, the Greek LXX translation of the OT (which also predates the NT) uses the same vocabulary as is used in the Gospel account. In both the Gospel account and in the LXX, it is clear that the meaning communicated in Greek was “to forsake.”

4. The suggested translation of the Aramaic is uncommon.

While the suggested translation of the Aramaic is not impossible, it is very unlikely. The common understanding of the Aramaic mirrors the understanding of the Hebrew and Greek words used in translation. The following is the definition provided in HALOT (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament).

HALOT 11161

Is “rope” really a better translation than “camel” in Mt. 19:24?

The translators of the AENT suggest that the Greek text on which our English translations are based contains an error that is resolved by reading the text in it’s “original” Aramaic. Here again, the evidence presented for this interpretation is far more “smoke and mirrors” than substance. Before we examine the evidence, we should begin by looking at how the word גמלא is used in Aramaic translations of the Old and New Testament.

AENT Mt. 19-24

 1. The word is not used anywhere else in Scripture to mean “rope.”

Aside from the “disputed” texts, גמל/גמלא is not used in either the OT or NT with the meaning of “rope.” In the OT we see many usages that refer to “camels” i.e. Gen. 24:10, 22, 30, 32, 61, 63, 64, 31:17, 32:16, Lev. 11:4, Deut. 14:7, 1 Sam. 15:3, 30:17, 1 Chr. 5:21, 27:30, Neh. 7:68, Job 1:3, 17, 42:12, Isa. 21:7, Tob. 9:2, Jdt. 2:17, 1 Es. 5:42. In the NT, aside from these “disputed” text, even the AENT translates גמלא as camel (check Mk. 1:6, Matt. 3:4, 23:24 in the AENT). Note: while a simplification, the suffixed ‘א’ in Aramaic is roughly equivalent to a direct article.

2. Neither ancient Greek or Latin translations support the meaning of “rope.”

Both ancient Greek and Latin translations of this passage understand the word here to be indisputably “camel.” Neither the Latin ‘camelum’ nor the Greek ‘κάμηλον’ can be understood to mean ‘rope.’ There were many Aramaic speakers during the period when these Greek and Latin texts were being distributed that would have recognized a mistake if one had truly been made.

3. The meaning of ‘rope’ is not even given in Lexicon’s of ancient Hebrew / Aramaic.

The root גמל is common in Semitic languages, and as noted below, Hebrew, Aramaic (Syriac), and Arabic roots have the same meaning. The following is the entry for גמל provided in HALOT:

HALOT 1823


Like so many publications of the past that have claimed new, never before understood discoveries about the bible, the claims made by the translators of AENT do not represent new discoveries; the suggestions made by these translators have been made many times before, and have been rejected by the majority of scholars over and over again. Other translations made directly from the same Aramaic texts (like the Lewis Translation of the NT Peshitta  in 1896) read nearly identically to our English texts in both of the cases presented above. A quick check of other translations of these same Aramaic texts (yes they really do exist) will quickly confirm that reading from the Aramaic texts does not change our understanding of these texts in the ways suggested by translators of the AENT. The Aramaic interlinear is not provided for those who can read the text for themselves, for they would recognize the slight of hand being presented, but only to provide the illusion of credibility for the vast majority who are unable to read the Aramaic text.

Peter, do you love me?

peter's-renewalIt is often suggested that Jesus used a the word ‘agape’  in John 21:15-17  to describe a higher form of love when speaking to Peter, but when Peter chose to use ‘phileo,’ he did so because he was indicating a lower form of love. According to this theory, Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him if he “really” loved him according to the lower form of love (phileo) that Peter had already confessed twice before. The crux if this interpretation relies on the belief that ‘agape’ and ‘phileo’ carry significantly different meanings; however, this is a claim that is not supported when we look at the weight of the evidence. Let’s take a look.

1. Scripture tells us why Peter was grieved.

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” (Joh 21:17 ESV)

Note that there is no indication in the Scripture that Peter was grieved because Jesus had used a different word for love. The reason given in Scripture about why Jesus was grieved is very different from the one suggested in the Agapeo / Phileo theory.

2. The conversation was originally in Aramaic.

In Aramaic, it is likely that only a single word would have been used for every instance where ‘agape’ and ‘phileo’ are used in the Greek text. The following is the translation of this passage found in the Peshitta (an ancient Aramaic translation that some scholars believe was derived from an original Aramaic source document that may have also been a source for the synoptic Gospels i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke)

 (Do you love me more than these?)

רחם אנת לי יתיר מן הלין

  (Yes Lord, you know that I love you.)

אין מרי אנת ידע אנת דרחם אנא לך

 (Do you love me)

רחם אנת לי
(Yes Lord, you know that I love you.)

אין מרי אנת ידע אנת דרחם אנא לך

 (Do you love me?)

רחם אנת לי
(It grieved Caphas because he said a third time “do you love me?”)

 וכרית לה לכאפא דאמר לה דתלת זבנין דרחם אנת לי

(Lord, all things you understand. You know that I love you)

מרי כל מדם אנת חכם אנת אנת ידע אנת דרחם אנא לך

—– Note the consistent use of רחם to denote love in this passage —-

3. The idea that there was a distinction in meaning between agapeo and phileo is a very modern idea.

This passage was frequently commented on by the writers of the Early church, some who were fluent in Greek, but none ever mentioned the idea that the change of word affected the meaning of this passage. In the fourth Century, Augustine, in the City of God, uses a Latin translation of this passage to prove that ‘dilectio’ and ‘amor’ are completely synonymous; he uses this passage because it uses both Latin words and he assumes that his readers will acknowledge that the use of these two distinct Latin words is synonymous in this context. It is unfathomable to believe he would chosen this example if there was any debate on whether the underlying Greek words were or were not equivalent. After presenting the Latin translation, he concludes with the following statement:

“I have judged it right to mention this, because some are of opinion that charity or regard (dilectio) is one thing, love (amor) another. They say that dilectio is used of a good affection, amor of an evil love. But it is very certain that even secular literature knows no such distinction.”

4. Most Greek scholars reject the idea that John intended to make a distinction by changing the word used for Love in this passage.

Carson, Bruce, Bauer, Danker, Borchert, Morris, Mounce, and others have all rejected this interpretation of this passage.

5. The few Scholars who do believe there is a distinction in the meaning of these words do not even agree on what that distinction is or even which word denotes the “greater” love; they offer very contradictory assessments of each word’s meaning.

Kenneth Wuest (Wuest’s Word studies from the Greek NT)
“In John 21 : our Lord uses ‘agapao’ in verses 15 and 16, ‘phileo’ in 17. Peter uses ‘phileo’ three times. Our Lord uses the noblest word in the Greek language the first two times and changes to Peter’s word the third time, but assures Peter that his coming martyrdom speaks of the fact that his future love for his Lord will be based not only upon his delight in his Lord but upon his apprehension of His preciousness.”

Don Wilkins (NASB translator) says:
“On the more specific question of PHILEO/AGAPAO, I would like to suggest that PHILEO is a higher form of love than AGAPAO. AGAPAO seems to be a ‘charitable’ love in that one provides for another’s needs, without developing a relationship as a friend to the other person (i.e. no personal ties). PHILEO, on the other hand, implies the close connection between friends and the related obligations that were so important in the ancient world. By this interpretation, then, Jesus twice asks Peter if he is committed to him at the lower level of love, and Peter responds by raising the commitment to the higher level of a true friend. The third time, Jesus questions whether Peter is really committed to him at this higher level, or perhaps whether Peter really understands what such commitment really entails, and this would explain Peter’s hurt feelings. So it is not that Jesus asks him the question three times, it is rather (as I think the Greek implies) the fact that Jesus uses PHILEO the third time. Some people object to the notion that AGAPAO would not include the bonds of friendship, but in every passage where the objection would be raised, I think there is a reasonable answer–sometimes that friendship is not being denied, but that it is just not the focus of AGAPAO.”

6. The words themselves are used nearly synonymously in Scripture.

Love for the Father
The Father loves (ἀγαπάω) the Son (Joh 3:35 ESV)
the Father loves (φιλέω) the Son (Joh 5:20 ESV)
Love for Lazarus
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love (φιλέω) is ill.” (Joh 11:3 ESV)
Now Jesus loved (ἀγαπάω) Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (Joh 11:5 ESV)

Love for John
whom Jesus loved (φιλέω) (Joh 20:2 ESV)
whom Jesus loved (ἀγαπάω) (Joh 13:23 ESV)

Loving for evil things
everyone who loves (φιλέω) and practices falsehood. (Rev 22:15 ESV)
people loved (ἀγαπάω) the darkness (Joh 3:19 ESV)
they loved (ἀγαπάω) the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (Joh 12:43 ESV)

Additionally, the word אהב (love) used in the Hebrew OT is translated by both agapeo and phileo in the LXX, sometimes these words are used interchangeably in the same verse even though only one word was used in the original Hebrew text. (ex. Pr. 21:17; Ho. 3:1)

7. The interchanging of synonyms was very common in biblical literature.

When we look at the passage in John 21:15-17, we find that John used a number of synonyms in this passage. The interchange of agapeo/phileo was only one out of four examples of similar synonym usages in these 3 verses alone! It is a pattern we see repeatedly thought the Scriptures.

Jesus: ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων (Do you love me more than these?)
Peter: ναὶ κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε (Yes Lord, you know that I love you)
Jesus: βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου (Feed my lambs)

Jesus: ἀγαπᾷς με (Do you love me?)
Peter: ναὶ κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε (Yes, Lord, You know that I love you).
Jesus: ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου (Tend my sheep)

Jesus: φιλεῖς με (Do you love me?)
Peter: κύριε, πάντα σὺ οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε (Lord, You know all, you know that I love you.)
Jesus: βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου (Feed my sheep).

Love: ἀγαπάω, φιλέω
Know: οἶδα, γινώσκω
Sheep/Lamb: πρόβατον, ἀρνίον
Tend/Feed: ποιμαίνω, βόσκω

Five Pillars of Insider Movements

Ayman S. Ibrahim, professor of Islamic studies and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an excellent review of “Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities” by Harley Talman and John Jay Travis. In addition to addressing some of the significant shortcomings of this book, his review also outlines some of the significant theological problems with the Insider Movement Paradigm, problems he describes as the “Five Pillars of Insider Moments.” Slightly adapted from Ayman S. Ibraham, they are as follows:

Pillars of IMIn his review, Ayman S. Ibrahim hits the mark when he states, “these pillars are seriously dangerous, not only in themselves but specifically in their theological, soteriological, and missiological implications.” For those looking for a quick introduction into the world IM, this book review is an excellent place to begin.


STOP sending people who don’t know their God!

“Church, stop sending people who don’t know their God, don’t know their message, and don’t know what it is like to submit to authority. Please, for the sake of God’s glory, stop.”

STOPSteve Jennings, pastor of Immanuel Church of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, in his impassioned plea to the church, describes one of the foundation issues that has lead to our biggest problems in missions today i.e. we are sending people to minister to people abroad who do not have the spiritual maturity or theological training needed to be successful. And rather than helping the ministries of the church abroad, far too often these missionaries are damaging those ministries. Steve asks us (the churches that are sending missionaries) some very good questions, questions that we really need to grapple with before we send another missionary abroad or spend another dollar on missions.

Why would you send someone to plant churches abroad who you would never hire as a pastor or nominate as a lay elder?

Why does it seem that “passion” rather than proven faithfulness is the main criterion for sending men and women to support those church planters?

Why on earth is the bar set lower for the frontlines than it is for the local church?

These are questions we really need to begin asking before we send another missionary or invest another dollar in foreign missions. If we fail to  ask these kinds of questions, they may never get answered because too many of our sending organizations stopped asking these kinds of questions long, long, ago, and the resulting damage done by missionaries and bible “translators” is heart breaking. While the concerns raised in this article are concerns I have heard echoed many times by leaders of churches abroad, these are seldom concerns I hear from the organizations that are sending missionaries. This is not the first time I have heard those in church abroad plead with those sending missionaries to STOP what they are doing and work with the local churches rather than against them. In Bangladesh the local church has tried for decades to stop our western missionaries from undermining their work with unbiblical practices, but to no avail. This video describes the same dilemma that has been described by Steve, in this video a couple of Bangladeshi pastors tell us as they describe the problems they are facing because of missionaries sent from the west that:

“I must say that, yes, this is coming from outside from western countries…”

“It is a shame actually, we don’t know how to stop it. The Isai group (converts from a Muslim Background) they are also against that (practices of our western missionaries), and the traditional people (those from a Christian background), they are also against that, but we don’t know who to stop it.

Please read and consider Steve’s plea to the church, and this video from our Bangladeshi brothers in Christ, and so many other brothers and sisters in Christ that have found themselves powerless to stop the damage being done by the missionaries we are sending.

How can we help?

India_mapIn a recent article published on the Gospel Coalition website several leaders of the Evangelical church in India are interviewed. In response to the question “Are there particular ways we can better facilitate gospel advance in India?”, one of these leaders responds saying:

“Westerners need to give up ideas such as rapid church-planting movements, rapid discipleship, certain extreme forms of contextualization, and insider movements. They need to realize that planting healthy churches is painstakingly slow, hard work. It requires perseverance, tears, sweat, and even blood. Don’t lambast the missionary efforts of the past; rather, trust the good Lord to give growth as and when he wants. We need to be patient, diligent, hard-working, faithful, and biblical in our efforts, strategies, planning, and implementation.” 

This is something I have personally heard echoed by church leaders in many foreign cultures, and sadly it is a reflection of the training that most of our missionaries receive from the agencies that are sending them. It is time for the Evangelical church to hold our missionaries accountable and stop funding those who refuse to work hand in hand with the national churches in the regions they are trying to reach. Too often the cries of the national churches fall on the deaf ears of the missionaries we send to “help.”


Psalm 2

Psalm2Why are nations in turmoil?

Why do people plot[i] in vain?

The kings of the earth have taken their stand,

And they[ii] have united together against the Lord and against his Messiah.

They say:[iii] “We will not be shackled by the Lord or his Messiah[iv].

We will free ourselves from their bonds.”


The one enthroned in Heaven laughs,

The Lord will mocks them.

Then he will speak to them in his anger,

And in his fury he will terrify them, saying:

“Certainly, I have installed My King in Zion, on my Holy Mountain”


His King says:[v] “I will recount the Lord’s decree”

He said to me, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten you

Ask me and I will certainly give you nations as your inheritance,

And the ends of the earth as your possession.

You will crush them with a rod of iron,

As clay pots, you will smash them.”


Now kings be wise, and judges of the earth be warned.

Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.

Give sincere allegiance[vi] lest he be angry and your[vii] path destroyed,

Because soon his anger will burn.

Happy are all who seek refuge in him.



[i] Or “mummer”

[ii] Lit. “rulers”

[iii] The voice change in this Psalm is implicit, the words “They say” are supplied in English.

[iv] Lit. “them” in reference to the Lord and his Messiah (or anointed).

[v] The voice change in this Psalm is implicit, the words “His King says” are supplied in English.

[vi] The text here is difficult, the MT reads נשקו-בר (kiss a son); however, this is difficult for several reasons. First, the verb נשק expects a preposition i.e. ל-. Second, the word בר (son) is Aramaic and unexpected here, especially when the Hebrew word for son was already used earlier in this Psalm. There have been a number of suggestions attempting to resolve the difficulties in this verse. BHS suggest that the text may be corrupt at this point and suggests an alternate reading of “נשקו לרגליו” (Kiss his feet). The NET, Alter, and others suggest that בר is functioning in an adverbial sense meaning pure/sincere, and “kiss purely” should be treated as an idiom for “sincere allegiance” or “upholding purity.”

[vii] “your” is supplied here to smooth out the translation.

My response to a Millennial

MillennialDear Jonathan,

I read your letter to the church, and while I am not a Millennial, I personally share many of the same preferences espoused by you in your letter; I too often long for the liturgy and music of prior generations. Many of the criticisms you raised really have merit and they are things that we should prayerfully consider. That being said, I want to share with you some of the reasons why I believe that any church that responds to your letter by making any of the changes you suggest, would be making just as big a mistake as the churches a generation ago did when they abandoned these very same things in favor of everything that they were told would attract the next generation to their churches. While nothing you have suggested is bad, and some is even necessary, our change should always be motivated out of a desire to conform the church to the call of Christ that is communicated to us in his word. We should never seek to change in response to the call of anyone telling us what their generation desires.

More importantly, what your “Dear church” letter, like so many before it, communicates is a complete misunderstanding about what the church truly is. To the believer in Christ, the church is NEVER “them,” it is ALWAYS “us!” And if the church has failed, it is WE who have failed. The church should never be seeking to conform itself to the desires of any one group, it must always be seeking to conform itself to Christ, who is its head. The church isn’t here to capitulate to the desires of any generation, nor do the failings of the church rest on the shoulders of any single generation. Anyone, from any generation, who wants to place blame for the failures of the church on those from another generation doesn’t understand the church at all. Please, instead of writing another letter to church explaining what the church must do in order to attract those from your generation, please start asking how you, as part of the body of Christ, can strive to be Christ to every generation!

As for your questions, I am very sorry than many of the tough questions that you have asked have been too often ignored, please don’t stop asking! I understand because I too have many questions, and while I have found answers to many of them, often those answers prompt many new questions and so I too am still asking. Here are some things I have discovered as I have sought answers. First, God has not created us all with the same curiosity, nor has he given us all the same gifts. Many will not be able to provide adequate answers to life’s deepest questions because that is not how God has gifted them. Seek answers from those, who share the same God given curiosity and desire for answers that God has placed on your heart. Second, take the time to really read the works of the great theologians of ages past. You will quickly find that there have been many godly men throughout history that have also struggled with many of the very same questions you that you struggle with, and often they have discovered some really good and thoughtful answers through their struggles. Third, recognize that many who claim not to have found answers to their questions, really have had no interest in seeking those answers. While some really do struggle to find answers to questions that nag at them, many use the claim of “unanswered questions” only as an excuse for not following God. The difference is that those who are truly looking for answers quickly engage when there is hope that some of their questions may be answered, but those who only want an excuse become immediately disinterested when any answers are offered. Learn to recognize the difference between the honest seeker of truth, and “intellectual” rebel who has no interest in the truth. Last, but most important, invest your heart into the study of God’s word because the ultimate answers to life’s questions lie within its pages. It often takes time, prayer, and hard work to discover them, but I am convinced that you will find that it is always well worth the effort.

In closing, I would like to share with you my very favorite “letter to the church.” It is a prayer that was prayed by the prophet Daniel, a man whose life exemplified godliness. Notice that when Daniel speaks of how God’s people have fallen short, he always includes himself (count and see how many times Daniel says “we/our/us” in this passage), and notice how often he holds himself (as one of God’s people) accountable to obeying God’s word. Daniel’s desire is to see God’s people conformed to God. Not once does he ever suggest that God’s people should conform to the desires of any man (or generation). Let’s take a look at his prayer, I really believe it is the model we should follow as we seek to encourage the church (which includes all followers of Christ) to change:

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan. 9:4-19 ESV)

May God bless you,

Mike Tisdell