Seeing What We Want to See

Is the Bible true? Are Bible translations bad? What language is the Bible?

The video below is a bit long, but it illustrates a very meaningful point: we tend to see only what we want to see. Belgian painter Luc Tuymans is apparently very, very famous in the art world. He agreed to help with an experiment.

He painted on a wall on a busy pedestrian street in his hometown to see how many people would notice that they were walking past really good art. Interestingly, an art person (in the video) suggests that (hopefully) 90% of the people passing by would stop and see the amazing art. The result? 96% completely ignored it.

To be fair, one person did explain that context has a lot to do with art appreciation. I find it funny (not being an art person) that these artsy-fartsy folks, immersed in their own little world, think that the rest of the world revolves around art.

You can see that this post is in the Christianity category…because I’d like to make a point. A lot of people (not being church people) think it’s funny that church people, immersed in their own little world, think that the rest of the world revolves around church.

We see what we want to see.

Most people, even non-artsy people like me, can appreciate good art in the right context. Being a web designer, I have to say that I might find artistic beauty in more places than average…but I’m sort of immersed (or slightly dipped, depending on your perspective of my work) in the art world myself.

Most people, even non-religious types, can appreciate the good things that God has to offer…in the right context. The problem, like the problem in the art world, is twofold:

  1. Most unchurched people don’t spent a lot of time thinking about God, and
  2. Most church people assume the opposite.

Like the art-lovers in the video, church people are often willfully blind to the reality around them. How can we wake up the body of Christ and let them see that it is our job to help provide the context in which they’ll see what we see?

Your comments are appreciated.

The Flaw of Postmodernism

Are minds real? Do humans have free will? Is evolution true?

Postmodernism is the idea is that reality is subjective…that there is no absolute truth, and that reality differs from person to person. The phrase “what’s true for you might not be true for me” typifies a postmodern point of view.

Another way to understand postmodernism (or “Pomo”) is to say that no truth can be extended beyond an individual’s experiences. Postmodernists will necessarily have trouble with my definition, since they like to suggest that words only have the meanings we give them…and, in defining postmodernism, we try to give it a meaning for all to share. That’s the contradictory essence of postmodernism: we can’t even discuss what it is without the conversation devolving into an uncomfortable silence.

Steve Taylor referred to the postmodern dilemma in Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Number’s Up:

Sally’s into knowledge
spent her years in college
just to find out nothing is true

She can hardly speak now
words are not unique now
’cause they can’t say anything new

Listen on YouTube

Here’s the point: postmodernism essentially says “there are no absolute truths”. It’s a self-defeating statement, to be sure…but that doesn’t stop some people (like my friend Sean) from trying to live by it anyway. Many postmodernists avoid looking for answers because, were they to find real answers, they’d then have to change the way they live.

The NBC show ER (Season 14, Episode 13) aired an episode that exposes the flaw of postmodernism: it’s completely useless for people who want actual answers. We all believe in absolute truth, yet the postmodern person rejects truth anyway. In this clip, the hospital’s postmodern chaplain can provide no answers for a dying man who seeks forgiveness for his sins:

Your thoughts?

What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?

Do I have to go to church to be a Christian? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven?

Wow. Good stuff! I’ve always wondered whether visitors to my church (not just my current one) felt this way. Is your church totally lame? Do you see yourself in this video?

Upside Down

Is the Bible true? Are Bible translations bad? What language is the Bible?

Despite being a Christian for most of my life (or perhaps because of it) I find most ‘Christian-y’ stuff trite, overdone, derivative or lame. At first glance, I thought this video would be just that. I often stop videos like this one mid-stream, thinking that it’s just one more in a long line of self-congratulatory, Christianity-is-way-cool stupid videos.

That being said, I’m glad I didn’t stop it. It’s a novel and meaningful video that shows both talent and forethought, which is sometimes lacking in what many Christians produce. My hat goes off to the creator…enjoy!

What does Simon mean?

Simon Peter was one of Jesus’ first disciples. His given name was Simon, sometimes spelled Symeon. Simon is the English rendering of the Hebrew name Shimon. Shimon comes from the Hebrew word shema.

Shema (also shama) technically means “to hear” but, like many ancient Hebrew words, it suggests much more than that. It means to listen, to understand, and to respond…and more.

You may be familiar with Deuteronomy 6:4-7, which are very significant words for observant Jews:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The first word is “hear,” which is shema. It instructs the hearer to not only listen and understand, but to respond appropriately. Below is a great video explanation of Shema from The Bible Project…it’s worth watching again and again.

When you hear the name Simon, remember to hear what God says, and to understand it, and to do it.

Thanks to Drew for this question.

Related Articles:

Was Junia a Female Apostle?

Let’s look at Romans 16:7.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Two questions about this passage have been debated for many years:

  1. Was Junia a man or a woman?
  2. Was Junia an apostle?

Some would ask, “Who cares?” Well, the reason this is debated – even among non-scholars – is that the passage may show that women could be apostles in the early church. This would undermine those who believe that women shouldn’t teach men, or be in authority over men. If the Bible says that a woman was an apostle, as the argument goes, there’s no reason that a woman can’t be a pastor today.

My conclusions about Junia are entirely unrelated to the question of Christian women in leadership. My conclusions are – as they should be – based on the evidence, and not on some more modern argument about the implications of the text. If the text tells of a woman apostle, so be it. If not, so be it. Our doctrine and practice should come from the Scriptures. So what does the evidence show?

Unfortunately, the evidence isn’t clear.

What is an apostle? Would Junia qualify as an apostle?

If the Bible specifically said that only men could be apostles, that would settle the issue. The Bible doesn’t say that. The Greek word translated “apostle” is apostolos. It only appears in the New Testament, and it means a delegate, or a messenger, sent forth with orders. That could be anybody: a man or woman, a child, or even an angel (though the word used for an angel would more likely be angelos, which means “messenger”). Apostolos is usually applied to Jesus’ twelve disciples, but is also applied to others. For an example of how the word simply means “messenger,” see John 13:16: Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. The word translated “messenger” is apostolos. Here are more examples of apostolos in the New Testament:

  • After Judas betrayed Jesus and killed himself, the eleven remaining disciples chose a replacement. As we see in Acts 1:21-22, they had specific criteria in mind: Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. There were apparently a number of people who witnessed Jesus’ entire ministry. Junia may have been among them. They chose Matthias.
  • Paul was an apostle as well. He referred to himself as an apostle because Jesus appeared to him personally, and commissioned him personally. This is considered a unique situation in Scripture. Paul also wrote that he demonstrated “the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles” in 2 Corinthians 12:12. This suggests that apostles exhibited certain supernatural actions or abilities that could be identified by those who witnessed them.
  • Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14:4.
  • Titus and a number of others are called apostles in 2 Corinthians 8:23.
  • Apollos is called an apostle in 1 Corinthians 4:9.
  • Epaphroditus is called an apostle in Philippians 2:25.
  • Jesus is called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1. Some find this odd, as they believe an apostle must be a follower of Jesus…but the word simply describes a person who has been sent with a message. This obviously describes Jesus (as in John 12:49).

These people are variously interpreted, in English, to have been “messengers” and “representatives” and “emissaries.” Could a woman, based on the above information, be considered an apostle? It appears so. There’s no passage that limits this to men, and nobody seems troubled by the idea that a number of women witnessed Jesus’ ministry from His baptism to his resurrection. If Junia was a woman, it seems reasonable to conclude that she might have been an apostle.

Was Junia a woman?

Ideally, we could just look up other biblical references to Junia and find out. Romans 16:7 is the only biblical reference to Junia, so we get no help there. The Greek construction of the name could be useful…if it was written after the ninth century. Because the accent marks that would tell us Junia’s sex don’t appear in ancient manuscripts, we get no help there, either. The consensus among the early church fathers appears to be that Junia was a woman. Later writers say that Junia is a man’s name, but by “later” we mean those writing in the twelfth century. We should, of course, prefer the earlier references to the later ones…so it’s preferable to consider the early consensus more reliable. Being diligent, we can also look for the name Junia in extrabiblical texts from that time period. If Junia was a common woman’s name and was never used in the literature for a man, we could say with some confidence that Paul’s friend Junia was a woman. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have much information from other documents. There are no instances of Junias (a masculine spelling of the same name) as a man’s name in Greek literature, while there are three of Junia as a woman.

While it seems safe to say that Junia was probably a woman, we can’t say it with the kind of certainty we’d prefer.

Was Junia an apostle?

Based on the definition of an apostle, there’s no textual basis for saying that a woman, including Junia, could not have been an apostle.

Why the debate?

Because so many consider the idea of women in (or not in) ministry so important, and because our information about Junia is inconclusive, this information hasn’t settled the issue. We need to go back to the text. The Greek phrase translated “outstanding among the apostles” is episemos en apostolos. This can be understood in two different ways:

  1. The apostles knew Andronicus and Junia well, or
  2. Of all of the apostles in the early church, Andronicus and Junia were prominent apostles.

The text itself isn’t conclusive. I studied Greek in college, and have used Greek language tools in the decades since, but I’m no Greek scholar. It’s difficult for a layperson to draw conclusions about which translation most accurately reflects Paul’s intent, because most (including myself) lack sufficient experience with ancient Greek. Scholars differ, so we don’t really know whether Paul meant that Junia was an outstanding apostle (when compared with other apostles) or that Junia was simply well-known among those who were apostles. Apparently, this is an issue that we may never settle.

I think I should mention Daniel Wallace here. He is currently a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. His Greek grammar is a standard college and seminary textbook. He’s the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible (which appears to be a very good translation), and he is also the Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. In other words, he is a very well-known and respected scholar. Wallace believes that Junia was probably a woman, but that she and Andronicus were simply well-known by those who were apostles. I respect his opinion on the matter, as I know nobody better able to address the question of Greek grammar. Some will disagree, and – according to Wallace himself – maybe they should. We simply can’t make a final determination at this point.

Implications: what if Junia was an apostle?

Let’s say that Junia was an apostle. What would that mean? Well, it would mean that Junia (based on the definition of apostolos) was sent, by someone in authority, to deliver a message. This could be as simple as being a witness of Jesus’ ministry (sharing the gospel with others) or it could mean being a traveling evangelist, or it could mean that Junia was a local church leader as in 2 Corinthians 8:23.

Some believe the admission that Junia was probably a woman and likely an apostle is problematic, because Paul told Timothy that he doesn’t allow a woman to teach or assume authority over a man. They consider this a universal statement of the way God wants things to be. Others believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy were prescriptive and not universal. As evidence that God uses women in positions of spiritual and political authority over men, they cite the many women of the Bible who taught men, and ruled over them…including some women that Paul mentions specifically. Having studied the issue broadly, I can’t conclude that Paul was speaking of all women, in all situations. Judah didn’t only have kings, for example. Athaliah ruled for six years. Deborah was a prophet, and Judge over the nation of Israel. Huldah was a prophet. Anna worked in the Temple, and taught people, both men and women, about the Messiah. You may read a bit more about that here: Does God Use Women in Ministry?.

Hat tip to David, who sent in this question.

What did the animals eat on Noah’s ark?

Was Noah's ark real? How old was Noah? How did the animals fit on the ark?

Adrian asked a question that I’d never heard before:

If Noah had obligate carnivores (carnivores that must eat meat to thrive) on the ark, what did they eat? I have asked other people and they give me a cliche answer of ‘God told them to eat grass’ or something along those lines. But I don’t think they could survive for 40 nights and 40 days on strictly grass. Since they would die of malnutrition in a short period of time. Thanks in advance.

Thanks, Adrian. The first step to clearing up any confusion is to actually go directly to the source material in question. In this case, it’s the Bible…specifically, Genesis 6. Go read the events surrounding Noah’s ark and you’ll see that Noah was instructed by God to do very specific things. Here’s a quote (verses 19-22):

You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them. Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

They were on the ark to be kept alive, so Noah brought along not just animals, but food as well. I’m not sure why those other people you asked weren’t able to just look it up, but there you go. Easy peasy.

Translate »