Monday, July 16, 2018

Five Spiritual Senses?

When I first heard the term "Five Spiritual Senses", I was skeptical. I thought it was pushing the physical-to-spiritual analogy too far. But it came from someone I respect, so I began to look into it - of course in the Bible, and of course, on the Internet. It turns out there are lots of web sites talking about five spiritual senses. Most promise to help the reader get in touch with their spiritual side through their spiritual senses, but don't actually tell what those five spiritual senses are. A small handful of sites do map from the physical to the spiritual, but they don't agree with each other.

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Complicating the analogy to five spiritual senses is that science has shown we have more than five physical senses. Counting five senses is credited to Aristotle - BBC(How Many Senses) [1]. However, modern science has described many more, somewhere between 22 and 33 - World Economic Forum [2]. Some of the extra senses seem to me like variations on the sense of touch, for examples, the sense of pain, or hot and cold, or itch, or pressure, but scientists can show each sense involves different groups of sensory cell types that send signals to different regions of the brain - Today I Found Out [3]. Meaning that some of the extra senses can't be explained by the basic five. This is not an exhaustive list of the extra senses, but consider these, gleaned  from Today I Found Out [3].

Equilibrioception:   The sense that allows you to keep your balance and sense body movement in terms of acceleration and directional changes.  This sense also allows for perceiving gravity.

Chronoception – This one is debated as no singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time.

Chemoreceptors:  These trigger an area of the medulla in the brain that is involved in detecting blood borne hormones and drugs.  It also is involved in the vomiting reflex.

Thirst:  This system more or less allows your body to monitor its hydration level and so your body knows when it should tell you to drink.

Hunger:  This system allows your body to detect when you need to eat something.

Some animals have senses that humans don't, like the ability to sense an electric or magnetic field, or see polarized light - World Economic Forum [2]. Recent experiments have shown that spiders can not only detect electric fields, but also ride them for hundreds of miles in a process known as ballooning - The Atlantic [4].

One way to simplify the number of senses is to count the different types of input. Then we arrive at three senses, mechanical (touch, hearing, etc), chemical (smell, taste, chemoreceptor, etc), and light (sight, magnetoreceptor, etc.) -  BBC(How Many Senses) [1], but I don't think anyone will accept that definition of sense.

So rather than looking at the Bible through the eyes of Aristotle (five senses), what does the Bible itself say about senses. Well, I expected to dig in to a list of words translated as sense and gain a sense of what it means (see what I did there?). It turns out there is exactly one occurrence of the word sense, but it is a good one, drawing the analogy between physical and spiritual. The word translated as sense is aisthetikos where we get the English word aesthetic, which changed meaning in the 19th century, but originally aesthetic and the Greek aisthetikos meant "of or for perception by the senses" - Etymonline [5].
Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses [aisthetikos] trained to discern good and evil.
This can't be talking about physical senses, no one lists a sense that discerns good from evil. Since we have senses that can discern good from evil, they must be spiritual in nature. Since there is no agreement on exactly how many senses we have, we can't answer the question of whether there is a one to one mapping between physical and spiritual senses, but we are made in God's image, and we are meant to understand God by the universe around us, so we can learn something by exploring the physical senses.
Romans 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Psalm 19 1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4 Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world. 

And we are meant to see that the physical reflects the spiritual. Notice here in Matthew that Jesus was not talking about physical blindness or physical deafness. People who came to Him could physically see and hear Him, but they did not spiritually see or hear or understand.
 Matthew 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Why did they not understand? Because spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Why are they blind?
2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 

Let's start with Aristotle's five senses, and what the Bible says about them, then we can look at some of the extra senses. Some of this is based on The Spiritual Senses [6] by John Edmiston, though I vary from his interpretation a little.


"The spiritual sense of sight enables the Christian to be perceptive of spiritual realities and truth and to discern good from evil" - JE.

Ephesians 1:17-20 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, (18) the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, and what is the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (19) and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us, the ones believing according to the working of His mighty strength.

"The spiritual sense of sight is not independent of the Scriptures. Rather our spiritual sense of sight works together with our bible study in order to enable us to behold wonderful truths out of God's Law" - JE.


This verse from Romans links hearing with faith.
Rom 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
"It is not just knowledge of God's Word that saves us, it must be combined with faith. The hearing of faith is not just intellectual assent to theological propositions" - JE.
Hebrews 4:2 But the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
However, 2 Cor 5:7 says "for we walk by faith, not by sight", so there is overlap between spiritual hearing and sight.

Faith is more than just belief in a set of doctrines, and it is more than knowing God exists. Faith is trust in God, submission to God, that is, faith leads to actual works of righteousness. Knowledge and belief together are not enough.
James 2:18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

Please visit Faith Comes By Hearing [7], who have made audio recordings of the Bible (or parts of it) in over 1100 languages using local speakers. Their mission is "to provide people everywhere with free access to God’s Word through Audio Bibles in every translated language".


In English, we have the expression "Does it pass the smell test?" The expression started because we use smell as a first indicator of spoiled food (apparently this does not work for cheese, or for Surstr√∂mming, see Youtube(Stinky Fish Challenge) [8], highly recommended), but it turned into a way of expressing a first response to any new situation, for example, sizing up a person selling a used car. Here's one definition of smell test - "An informal method for determining whether something is authentic, credible, or ethical, by using one's common sense or sense of propriety" - Wiktionary(smell_test) [9]. Likewise, the Bible tells us to try the spirits, we might say "do they pass the smell test?" Do we want to consume the spiritual food they are offering?

For this meaning of smell, more than one source maps the sense of smell to discernment or judgment.

For the most part, the Bible refers to smells as good and pleasing. Over and over again, especially in the book of Leviticus, we read the phrase "a sweet savour unto the Lord" (KJV spelling), referring to sacrifices in the Tabernacle. And of Jesus Christ's sacrifice we read:
Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.
And it keeps coming back to knowledge, as in this verse from 2 Corinthians.
2 Co 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
Nearly all references to smell, savour, aroma, fragrance, odor, stink, or stench are talking about the smell itself, not the sense of smell. Few verses actually refer to the sense of smell, this one from Isaiah is not obvious, but relevant.
Is 11:3 KJV And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

Brazen altar where sacrifices were made
As best I can tell, the literal translation for "make him of quick understanding" is "make him to smell". Many translations have "His delight is in the fear of the Lord". I think what it is really saying is that He (referring to Jesus Christ) will judge by smell, odd as that sounds. Not by sight, not by hearing. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), and at the end of our lives, we should be a "sweet savour to the Lord", just like the sacrifices in the Tabernacle, just like Jesus Himself. Will we pass the Biblical smell test?


Ps 34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good

I puzzled over this verse for years. Now I see that it could be a reference to Passover where we take of the bread and wine which symbolizes the body and blood of Jesus, AND it could be an invitation to take in the Word of God like food, chew on it, and digest it. The Bible describes itself in different places as milk, solid food, or honey.

1 Peter 2:2 long for the pure milk of the word
1 Co 3:2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.
Ps 119:103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

It seems people want to get their inspiration from anywhere but the Bible. They look to private revelations, or false prophets, or mediums, etc. - anything but the Bible. But the fact is there is only one way.
Acts 4:12 there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved
We must get up close and personal with the Word of God, and nothing is closer than taste. We need to feed on the Bible*.


The entire body experiences the sense of touch mostly through the skin, which is the largest organ of the body. But Biblically, the sense of touch seems focused on the hands. Speaking of idols, Ps 115:7 says "They have hands, but they cannot feel". Edmiston argues that touch transmits God's power. "The spiritual sense of touch transmits spiritual power and through the laying on of hands we can receive healing, the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts." To me, this implies a two way street, where we can pass on God's power through our hands. At its simplest, touching with our hands may simply mean to embrace. And if it isn't obvious by now, I mean embrace the Word of God.

Extra Sensory Perceptions

Beyond Aristotle's five, what can we learn about spiritual perception from the extra senses described by science?

Balance - This can mean more than one thing. We are supposed to eat a balanced diet. Spiritually, do we do that? Some focus too much on prophecy, or NT without OT, or OT without NT, etc. Do we live by EVERY Word of God? Perhaps balance means we are not to rely on one sense alone. Grant Luton of Beth Tikkun [10] teaches that all Biblical truth comes in the form of a menorah (a lamp with a center stalk and an equal number of branches on either side), the left and right sides balance each other. In other words, consider both sides of an argument. Christ is both lamb and lion, both king and servant. When balanced, the menorah gives light to the holy place.

Hot/Cold - hot is often associated with zeal.
Rev 3:15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Hunger/Thirst - desiring righteousness.
Matt 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Itch - never a good thing.
2 Tim 2:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

Eph 5:15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 

Are things like knowledge, faith, discernment really spiritual senses analogous to our physical senses? The Bible makes these mappings here and there, so we can't ignore them. I have trouble thinking of faith as a sense, a means of perceiving, but that is what it says. All of the spiritual senses rely on knowledge and understanding of the Bible. It takes work, that is time and effort chewing on the Word, to train our senses to know good and evil. Eat from the Tree of Life, the Word of God.

* Here's an example of chewing on the Word I did for this article. I had multiple sources that said that the sense of smell was likened to discernment, but I didn't have a Bible source for it, so I went looking for how the word smell was used. That is, it seemed logical to me, but it's better to have a quote. I made the statement:
Nearly all references to smell, savour, aroma, fragrance, odor, stink, or stench are talking about the smell itself, not the sense of smell.
How do I know that? I looked up every word in that list in multiple translations using Bible Gateway [11]. From there, I looked for a word translated as smell where it means "to smell", not "a smell", and I saw it was used that way in Ps 115:6. Using [12], I looked at the word itself, which is ruach, which normally means breath or blow, but in one verb tense (riach) means smell. So I dove deeper, using a QBible feature to go straight to the Strong's concordance/lexicon for the word "smell" - [13], which showed the main meaning is smell, but it also lists all the places the Hebrew word is used. It showed that in ONE case, Isaiah 11:3, it is translated as "quick understanding", so I went there using Bible Hub [14], which gives the option of seeing a verse in 26 translations simultaneously. I didn't get it at first. How do you get from smell to "quick understanding"? By looking at Is 11:3 itself, which talks about judging, but not by sight or hearing.  The Jubilee Bible 2000 translation reads "and shall make him of quick olfaction in the fear of the LORD" - I didn't find that helpful. The process wasn't as linear as I described it here - it took hours, a few rabbit holes, and some head scratching. And still, I'm not 100% confident of my interpretation, but it fits.



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Filthy Rags

Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

This verse seems to summarize four related stories in the book of Genesis. These four stories don't seem related at first glance, so let me explain.

The first story is that of Jacob and Esau where Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau.

The second story is that of Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery in Egypt.

The third story is that of Rachel, who stole her father's idols when Jacob's family left Paddan-Aram, home of her father.

And the fourth story is of Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce Judah.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

OK, they don't seem related, do they? But there are elements that occur in each and every story, sort of like a theme and variations. Three elements that repeat are deceit, blood, and cloth, admittedly an odd trio. There are other repeating elements, but these three are sufficient to show the stories are related, and they show the tie to Isaiah 64:6.

The story of Jacob and Esau begins with their mother Rebecca, who was given a prophecy before the twin boys were born. 
Gen 25:23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”
Jacob Deceives Isaac
Then when their father Isaac is old, he gives Esau directions to hunt some game, and make him a savory dish, so that he can give Esau the birthright blessing. He may or may not have known that Jacob already wrested the birthright away from Esau. He also may not have known he would live another 20 years. Rebecca overhears Isaac and makes a plan of her own. Remember, she knows this prophecy that the older shall serve the younger, she's been holding that memory for decades now. So she tells Jacob to get two goats from the flock, she will make the savory dish, Jacob will bring it to Isaac, and HE will get the blessing. It is not clear from the text whether Rebecca meant for Jacob to deceive Isaac, or whether Jacob ad libbed that part. However, she did provide Jacob with Esau's garment, and goat skin for his arms and neck in case Isaac touched him, which isn't honest and straightforward. Afterward, she disowns her own involvement by telling Jacob to go to her brother Laban till "he [Esau] forgets what YOU did to him", not what WE did to him.

Rebecca and Jacob deceive Isaac.
Two goats are slaughtered for the savory dish.
Jacob wore Esau's garments.

Joseph Sold Into Slavery
Joseph was 17 when his father gave him a special coat. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his older brothers. All of them had different mothers from Joseph, and all of them were keenly aware that Joseph was dad's favorite. Joseph didn't help his cause when he told them of his dream where their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf, or the dream where the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowed down before him. Joseph had 11 brothers, so they all immediately saw the meaning of this dream. 

Gen 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. 5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 
The brothers hatched a plan to "kill the dreamer", they changed their minds, and sold Joseph for 20 shekels to Midianite traders who brought him to Egypt as a slave. The brothers deceived Jacob into thinking Joseph was dead by putting goat's blood on Joseph's coat.
Gen 37:31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; 32 and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, “We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.”
Jacob was deceived by his sons.
A goat was slaughtered.
The goat's blood was put on Joseph's coat.
Rachel Steals Her Father's Idols

Jacob served his father in law Laban for 20 years, then God told him it was time to go home. He and his family sneaked out while Laban was away. Unknown to Laban and Joseph, Rachel stole Laban's idols. Maybe she thought that Laban used them for divination, and without them, he couldn't find them. But he did find them. He looked everywhere in Jacob's camp, but couldn't find them because Rachel was sitting on them. In effect, she was saying "you don't want to see my bloody rags".

Gen 31:19 When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. 20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. 
34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. 35 She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols.
Jacob and Rachel deceive Laban.
Jacob offered a sacrifice (verse 54), I'm guessing it was a goat.
Cloth was implied.

Tamar's Veil

Tamar was Judah's daughter in law. Judah's son Er, her husband died so it fell to his brother Onan to raise up an offspring for Tamar. He wouldn't, so God took his life. Judah's third son Shelah was young so Judah told Tamar to wait. Alas, Shelah married and Tamar was neglected. She devised her own plan to get offspring by seducing Judah. She got pregnant and had twin boys.

Gen 38:14 So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. 16 So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.”

Tamar deceived Judah.
The goat made a narrow escape from being slaughtered. There's always a goat.
She removed her widow's garments, and put on a veil.

Connection To Isaiah

Now it's time to dig into Isaiah 64:6 a little deeper. The phrase translated as filthy rags is from "idim beged". Idim actually means menstruation or menstrual blood  - Strong's(idim) [1]. Beged means a covering, translated as apparel, cloth, clothes, garment, raiment, rags - Strong's(beged) [2]. 

Each story mentions clothing, or cloth in some way. The link to Isaiah is that three of them use the word beged, the Rachel story doesn't use the word beged, but euphemistically refers to her bloody rags. The Tamar story does not mention blood, but definitely the clothing.

Genesis 27:15 — Then Rebekah took the best garments [beged] of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son.
Genesis 37:29 — Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments [beged].
Genesis 38:14 — So she [Tamar] removed her widow’s garments [beged] and covered [herself] with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife.
Genesis 31:35 - She [Rachel] said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women [ki derek nashim li] is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols [teraphim].


These three elements of deceit, blood, and cloth occur over and over again in these stories of the last half of Genesis. All the characters were trying to solve an injustice. Rebecca knew Jacob was to get the birthright over Esau and helped him get it by deceit. Jacob's sons suffered the favoritism shown to Joseph and set about to even the score. Tamar was being cheated out of offspring and worked out her own way to get them. And Rachel knew her father had cheated Jacob and would cheat him again so she helped him escape. All of them did it their own way.

When Isaiah wrote that our righteousness is as bloody cloths, perhaps he was saying that our means of seeking justice are wrong. In a way, it is equating our righteousness with deceit. The Hebrew word for righteousness tzedek also means justice. It seems fair to say that if our means of achieving justice begins with deceit, or involves deceit, like in these four stories, it won't accomplish God's righteousness. Our justice is going to end with blood and rags.

Is it possible for man to work God's justice, His righteousness? I think so. He gave us the Ten Commandments as a guide how to do it. "For all Your commandments are righteousness" - Ps 119:172. If we follow His rules, His justice will result. His laws are universal, He backs them up. In the end, God did not allow Laban to cheat Jacob, nor allow Joseph to stay in prison. When we do things our own way to get justice, in violation of the Ten Commandments, blood and rags result. However, we know that in this life there is injustice, even for believers. I think we can all recall injustices in our own lives. Even animals can recognize injustice and unfairness - The Story About Dinah Is Not About Dinah* [3]. How do we reconcile the realities we see around us with statements like this, "For I the Lord act with kindness, justice, and equity in the world; for in these I delight - Jer 9:22"? 

White Robes

What would be the picture of God's righteousness? I think the opposite of bloody rags would be white robes. This is what the saints are wearing in Revelation, robes made white by the blood of Jesus Christ. This hearkens back to Joseph, whose coat was dipped in blood to deceive, the difference is that Jesus' blood makes the saint's robes white.

Rev 7:13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

*Dinah's story is also about injustice, but has no mention of cloth. 




Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How Can The Law Set You Free?

"There is no freedom without the Law."

The Commandments in Paleo Hebrew
This is a quote from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments (clip, 30 seconds in) [1]  when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments written on two tablets of stone, and then confronts Korah the troublemaker. That quote isn't actually in the Biblical text, though James 1:25 and 2:12 refer to the Ten Commandments as the Law of Liberty, many translations read Law of Freedom.

But what does it mean, that there is no freedom without the law? It seems contradictory,  freedom implies choice, law implies restricting choice. Well, which is it? Is it true? How does the law give freedom?

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Many, including me, see the quote as true. On this point, I agree with Pope Francis who said,
The Ten Commandments are not a limitation, but a pathway to freedom, Pope Francis said in a video message broadcast to thousands gathered in Milan’s Cathedral Square earlier this week. - Catholic Herald [2]
John Rankin, Theological Educational Institute writes,
The “commandments” are literally “words” of freedom. How often do we grasp that reality? For the Israelites, they were gaining freedom from 400 years of slavery. And the ten “words” were instructions that followed and designed to protect their freedom.
The Ten Commandments lead to freedom for creativity, healthy relationships and long life. This was true in theocratic Israel (a community of choice), and is true today in a pluralistic society such as the United States. To willfully break them is to lie to the self, and begin a process of enslavement. - The Nature of the Ten Commandments [3]
Or as C.S Lewis simply said "Obedience is the road to Freedom." - AZ Quotes [4]


Free From Egypt After
Crossing the Red Sea

One answer commonly found is that the liberty ie freedom means deliverance from the bondage of sin. That certainly makes sense. The first thing God says to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai is "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The thing is that God delivered Israel from slavery before giving them the Ten Commandments. So you can't argue that The Law sets you free. God already set Israel free. Michelle Fincher of Calvary Presbyterian gets the order correct and suggests that The Law keeps you free. I will argue below it's more than that, that The Law really does set you free.

"The order of these events is critical. First God freed the people (grace), then came the commandments (law). The law was never given to tell people how to “measure up” so God would accept them or love them.
The law was (and is) given to tell us how to remain free." The Ten Commandments: Signposts to Freedom [5]
In other words, without law, specifically the Ten Commandments, we as humans would be slaves to sin. Ancient Israel wanted at times to go back to Egypt. They were set free, then wanted to return to sin.


Some teach that the freedom that Christ brought was freedom from the consequences of the Law. Explaining the phrase "under the law", John W. Ritenbaugh wrote, "it means to be under the law's penalty because we have sinned. Jesus died so that we can be freed from that penalty." - Law of Liberty [6].  In this life we are not always spared the penalty of our sins; to me, being free from "that penalty" means freedom from the penalty of eternal death, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Rom 6:23. My assertion is that the Law sets us free in this lifetime as well. Some teach that the freedom that Christ brought was freedom FROM The Law, that we do not have to keep the Ten Commandments - God's Only Law Is Love [7]. It sounds tempting, but in fact is twisting the words of the Apostle Paul. Most everyone agrees humans need laws, but I think what we need is not just any set of man made laws (see how many laws we have, it's not working), but we need the Ten Commandments.

Some want to define terms to explain how law makes one free. I will define my own version of terms later, but consider this quote.
 If law is defined as restraint on hu­man action and liberty as the absence of restraint, the concepts are inimical and conciliation impos­sible.
In the words of Bastiat [8] (a French economits of the 19th century), liberty is "the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so… [and] the re­stricting of the law only to its ra­tional sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense….”
Individual freedom is the lack of formal or informal external re­straints imposed by one man or group of men upon another, save for the collective coercion aimed at preventing individuals from acting forcibly or fraudulently against their neighbors. It is the absence of human impediment to the vol­untary action of fellow human be­ings. The permissible limitation on free choice is the recognition of an equal ambit of choice to all other men.
Freedom not only presupposes a system of law but also could not survive in the absence of law. - Individual Liberty And The Rule Of Law [9]
I found that hard to follow, but what it says to me is that you're free to do what you want (liberty) as long as you don't hurt anyone or steal their stuff. I have to think that The Law is more than that.  Bastiat's law sounds self centered to me, not recognizing kindness, or acts of charity towards others. The Ten Commandments are the expression of love itself, given by and backed by God Himself.
Matt 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tree Of Life

My theory is that The Law sets you free from the impossible task of deciding right from wrong, good from evil. Nearly everyone agrees we need laws to keep people from "acting forcibly or fraudulently", but people do not agree on what laws. It all started with Eve in the Garden of Eden. She ate from the wrong tree. The trees were called the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - note it was not called the Tree of Death, it has this long, arguably clumsy name. And Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong, they knew they weren't supposed to eat from it. So the real meaning was deeper than that. Many teach that by eating of Tree of the Long Name, Adam and Eve took it upon themselves to DECIDE good from evil. "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil" - Gen 3:22. I assert that is an impossible task for an individual, but also impossible for all mankind. Again, look at all the laws man has made to address the need for people to live in liberty, you might say to maximize liberty for all, and it hasn't worked yet - men do like to write laws. In nations that base their law on the Ten Commandments, man's laws work better at providing liberty for all, but look at the fruits.
Look at human history, not just Western Civilization. True, Europe was an oppressive place during the Middle Ages, when the Church reigned supreme. And yes, liberty advanced during the Enlightenment, when deists and agnostics dared to reveal their beliefs. But this is too narrow a focus. How did Christian Europe compare with the rest of the world? Compare it with caste system India or Imperial China. The Moslem world was more advanced in learning, but how free was it? Include women in this metric. Compare chivalry and courtly love with the harems of the East. China had its balanced yin and yang – along with foot-binding. These civilizations would consider Pat Robertson to be a dangerously radical feminist. Law Of Liberty [10]
I offer two analogies to the impossible task of deciding good and evil. The first is music. There are an infinite number of frequencies (notes) in an octave. Choosing notes from an infinite "frequency space" is unlikely to produce anything melodic. But constrain your frequencies to the notes of a scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) - now you can create a melody, yet still have infinite choice. The notes of the scale follow a natural, mathematical law, and all cultures have "discovered" the scale. In other words, the Law is like the musical scale, eliminating worthless choices.

Stay On The Path

My second analogy is: the law is like a path. If I want to go somewhere, I can look at a map, find the direction of the compass and start walking in that heading. However, it would be easier to follow the roads that already exist. It may not be as short a route as flight, but faster. This analogy I didn't make up, the Bible even refers to itself as a path "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"  - Psalm 119:105. God has solved the problem of what is good and evil, of what laws we need to live together. He has given us a map of the paths. We are set free from the curse of the law, which in my theory is trying to "know good and evil".

The Law keeps one free from slavery to sin.
The Law sets one free from the death penalty.
The Law sets one free from deciding good from evil.



Sunday, April 8, 2018


When I think about reading the Bible in context, I usually think of taking a verse out of context – that is, don’t pluck a verse out of a chapter to make it say something the chapter wasn’t talking about. But it’s also important to read the Bible in its historical and cultural context. When we read the story about Jesus’ birth, odds are that we are influenced by the Christmas story we hear every year. All I have to say is “no room at the inn”, or “away in a manger”, and you know the story I’m talking about. But if we look at the historical and cultural context, we see a different story emerge.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Modern Bethlehem At Night
Let’s start with examining where Jesus was born – Bethlehem. My first thought when I hear "Bethlehem" is the Christmas song “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”. But if you lived 2000 years ago in Judea, Bethlehem was known as the place the lambs came from. And by that I mean the lambs sacrificed at the Temple. Every day, two lambs were sacrificed, one at morning sacrifice (the third hour when Jesus was nailed to the cross), and one at evening sacrifice (the ninth hour, when He died). Every Passover, tens of thousand of lambs were sacrificed in one day, all in the Temple. They all came from Bethlehem. “Every first born male lamb from the area around Bethlehem was considered holy, set aside for sacrifice in Jerusalem.” - Why Bethlehem [1]. In short “Everyone in Israel recognized Bethlehem as being synonymous with sacrificial lambs” - The Birth Revisited [2].

So it’s no surprise really that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Passover, was also born in Bethlehem. This was already planned out from the foundation of the world. The lambs born near Bethlehem were fulfilling a type of Jesus.

Migdal Eder

Let’s dig deeper into the story. The Old Testament mentions the “Tower of the Flock”, Migdal Eder, which turns out to be a place near Bethlehem - Gen 35:21, Mic 4:8. By New Testament times, this became the station where shepherds brought the lambs destined for sacrifices in the Temple. Here is what happened at the Tower of the Flock.

The shepherds who kept [the flocks] were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal that was to be sacrificed had to be, and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged or blemished. During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priest/shepherds would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. Once birthed, the priest/shepherds would routinely place two lambs in the double-hewn depression of a limestone rock known as "the manger" and "wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes," preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves "until they had calmed down" so they could be inspected for the quality of being "without spot or blemish" - The Birth Revisited [2].

Remind you of anyone? Who else was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger? An angel told the shepherds to look for such a baby, but the angel never told them where to look, he just said “the city of David”. They knew He would be at the Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder) in Bethlehem*. The SIGN of the manger makes little sense to us in the West raised on the standard Christmas story, but was perfectly understood by the shepherds of the time. Why were these shepherds told of Jesus' birth? Because they certified all the lambs sacrificed at the Temple, Jesus included. And despite what you see in Nativity scenes, they weren’t led by a Star, that comes from blending the birth story with the story of the Magi, months after Jesus’ birth. See BBC(Star of Bethlehem) [3] or GotQuestions(Star of Bethlehem) [4] for more info.

A little more info on swaddling, not a common term today. Again from The Birth Revisited [2].

“Swaddling bands" were used for subduing animals prior to sacrifice. These swaddling bands were strips of gauze-like cloth used to restrain a lamb being prepared for inspection before sacrifice to prevent thrashing that they not blemish themselves. A sacrifice had to be bound in order to be valid. Binding an animal for sacrifice is specifically mentioned in Abraham's binding of Isaac in Genesis 22:9

Notice that Jesus was buried the same way, wrapped in cloth, laid in a tomb cut in a rock - John 19:40.

Migdal Eder?
Let’s take a look at “no room at the inn”, and how that translation hides a wonderful truth. The word “inn” really means guestroom. Mary was pregnant with Jesus when she and Joseph traveled to their family homestead in Bethlehem, a family homestead for a thousand years, who knows, they may have stayed with a relative. Mary could not give birth in the house because it would have made all the occupants ritually unclean. Therefore, women of that day would leave the home and give birth elsewhere, returning home after purification. Many suggest that Mary gave birth to Jesus in the Tower of the Flocks. Not provable, but probable, watch Migdal Eder and the Birth of Messiah [5] for more info. In The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [6], Alfred Edersheim wrote ‘That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, “the Tower of the Flock.”’

Also note that according to the Stephens text [7], Luke 2:7,12,16 should read "the manger", not "a manger".

Now let’s read Luke 2 with the right context.

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration whena Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a [the] manger, because there was no place for them in the inn [guestroom].
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a SIGN for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a [the] manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a [the] manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Behold The Wonder

Sometimes we can miss so much of a Bible story if we don’t understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. It’s impossible to shed our own culture completely, but this story shows how important it is to understand the life and times of Jesus Christ. The proper context is not visible unless we understand the shepherds' point of view and that society’s views on ritual uncleanness.

Sometimes so much is revealed by examining one word, in this case “Bethlehem”. I read the lyrics for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” - Metrolyrics [8], and they give no hint of what’s really happening in this story. There is a whole layer of understanding behind that one word. There’s more too, Bethlehem means House of Bread or House of War - What's In A Name [9].

King David wrote, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonders in Your law” - Psalm 119:18 I find the truth about Bethlehem to be a wonder in His law. I hope you do too.

It shows that God planned this symbolism from the foundation of the world. In the days before Passover, consider this - God planned Jesus’ sacrifice long ago  “a body He has prepared” - Heb 10:5. There are hints about it throughout the Old Testament. He planned it in great detail. And He brought it to pass. And He packed all this symbolism into it so that we can see His hand in it all. We can trust in the sacrifice He prepared, and not rely on our own efforts.

Each year before the Days Of Unleavened Bread, I obsessively clean a toaster. Hopefully I can remember it is Jesus’ sacrifice that saves me, not my own efforts – I had nothing to do with preparing Jesus’ sacrifice. Yes we should clean out the old leaven, and yes we should examine ourselves, that’s Biblical, but we should also remember that God loves us, He is always with us, He sees and feels our pains, our joys, and our sorrows, He hears our cries, He will act, and indeed has already acted - He prepared this sacrifice long ago. In the words of John The Baptist “behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”. John 1:29

* In Jesus' time, Bethlehem was a village as small as 300 people - Horrid Herod [10], but today the population is about 25,000 - Wikipedia(Bethlehem) [11]. Conversely, modern Bethlehem is 4 square miles, but may have been a larger area 2000 years ago.




Wednesday, March 14, 2018


In the West, masks are mostly worn for protection, think of dust masks, ski masks, or surgical masks. But sometimes masks are worn to hide the identity of the wearer. Consider this definition of mask  from Encyclopedia Britannica [1].

Mask, a form of disguise or concealment usually worn over or in front of the face to hide the identity of a person and by its own features to establish another being. This essential characteristic of hiding and revealing personalities or moods is common to all masks.
Masks generally are worn with a costume, often so extensive that it entirely covers the body and obscures the wearer’s recognizable features. Fundamentally the costume completes the new identity represented by the mask.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Origin Of Masks

Where did this practice of wearing masks come from? It appears that the origin of masks is in religious rites and ceremonies. Again from Encyclopedia Britannica [1].

African Tribal Masks
Many masks are primarily associated with ceremonies that have religious and social significance or are concerned with funerary customs, fertility rites, or the curing of sickness.

The mask, therefore, most often functions as a means of contact with various spirit powers, thereby protecting against the unknown forces of the universe by prevailing upon their potential beneficence in all matters relative to life.

In certain cultures, masks are worn to get in touch with the spirit world. This has been the case around the world, with Africa being the most well known, because African masks are sold as collectible art in the West. In order to contact the spirit world, the mask maker and the mask wearer must follow careful rules. The mask wearer is considered to be in direct association with the mask's spirit force, and can lose his own identity, assuming the identity of the mask, possibly undergoing a psychic change, even a trance. Some masks do represent evil spirits. Masks are worn in many religious ceremonies often in an attempt to "impersonate a supernatural power" - Masks: Reflections of Culture and Religion [2]. So in religious ceremonies involving masks, the mask and the wearer either represents a good spirit or an evil spirit.

Identity Masks

In the West, identity masks are only used at Halloween, Mardi Gras, or costume parties. The mask allows the wearer anonymity to release inhibitions. In other words, the mask wearer feels free to behave as they really want to, to do things under the cloak of anonymity. I'm pretty sure this doesn't bring out the virtue in people. Their real self is unmasked while wearing a mask. “A mask is not to disguise who you are but to show who you really are.” - Chloe Thurlow [3].

Of course, masks do not have to be physical. Many cultures have the mask of alcohol or other drugs, which lower inhibitions, that is unmasking the real self. Many people use a mask of anger to hide fear, weakness, shame, or embarassment - Psychology In Everyday Life [4]. Humor can also be used a a mask - Masking Depression With Humor [5]. In religion, tradition can be a mask - Behind the Mask of Religious Traditions [6]. Masks can work two ways, hiding the real self or revealing the real self, or perhaps who the wearer wants to be.

Masks and the Theater

Masks became a device of the theater in almost all cultures.

The mask as a device for theatre first emerged in Western civilization from the religious practices of ancient Greece.

Heavily coiffured and of a size to enlarge the actor’s presence, the Greek mask seems to have been designed to throw the voice by means of a built-in megaphone device and, by exaggeration of the features, to make clear at a distance the precise nature of the character. Moreover, their use made it possible for the Greek actors—who were limited by convention to three speakers for each tragedy—to impersonate a number of different characters during the play simply by changing masks and costumes.  Encyclopedia Britannica [1]

What were those Greek actors called? Hypokrites, from which we get the English word hypocrite.

Tragedy And Comedy Masks
The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

It took a surprisingly long time for hypocrite to gain its more general meaning that we use today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”  - Merriam Webster [7]

Masks and the Bible 

Does the Bible have anything to say about masks? Indirectly. It does talk about hypocrites. In Matthew 23 alone, Jesus addresses the scribes and Pharisees seven times as hypocrites, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, ..." - Matt 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29. This is the Greek word hypokritai, the same word as the stage players of Greek theater. The scribes and Pharisees put on masks to appear righteous, not physical masks like other religions, but still a persona, Latin for "false face" - Masks: Reflections of Culture and Religion [2]. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." - Matt 23:28.

Putting on a mask to portray or become an evil spirit is simply bad.
Putting on a mask to appear righteous is also bad.

Portraying an evil spirit allows the evil side of a person to come out and be revealed.

Pretending righteousness allows a person to hide their evil side. This is the warning of  Matt 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits." Sounds like a mask, a whole costume if you will. And this warning in 2Cor 11:14 "No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." But remember, you will know them by their fruits, don't just listen to their words - 4 Ways to Identify a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing [8].

Are masks mentioned in the Old Testament? Possibly. In the story of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), the people don't know what happened to Moses, they panic, and want a replacement for Moses, a replacement that isn't human and can serve as an intermediary between the people and God Himself. They had their chance to see and hear God directly at Mount Sinai, but they chose to have an intermediary instead.
Exod 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god [elohim] who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.

Aaron fashions a golden calf. Rabbi David Fohrman [9] argues that "egel maseka" in Hebrew could be translated as molten calf or calf mask. The people wanted an intermediary that could survive a face to face encounter with God, like Moses did. The calf mask was a shield to protect them. Only it doesn't work that way, the mask is a perversion of the relationship with God, which must actually be face to face. The irony is that Moses ends up being the one who has to wear a veil (masveh) when talking to the people. Moses face shone after forty days on the mountain with God, and when he came down, the people were afraid of him, so he wore a veil, not because he wanted to hide his identity. It's not clear to me how long Moses wore the veil, perhaps for the entire 40 years Israel wandered in the desert.

[paragraph added Mar 21, 2018]

I missed an important connection between masks and the commandment that says - "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" - Exodus 20:7. A reader commented that this verse is really talking about hypocrisy, that is taking God's name in vain is more than using swear words. He paraphrased it like this "You shall not just act like you are one of God's people; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that bears his name in vain." Taking or bearing God's name has to be sincere, not a mask worn for the praise of men.

Masks and the Christian

Anyone who desires to live a moral life, anyone who calls on the name of the Lord, ie. a Christian, is at risk for hypocrisy. I have to think that no one actively seeks out evil deliberately and consciously, but that evil is a result of "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes" - Prov 21:2. That is to say, everyone decides for themselves what is right and wrong. But Christians have given up that right to decide for themselves. The problem is our own weaknesses and habits. Everyone sins, and falls into hypocrisy, "a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” Do we put the mask on and pretend the sin didn't happen, or do we approach God face to face (because He knows anyway), and repent, that is, turn away from our sin, and bring forth fruit in keeping with our repentance?

God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another. - William Shakespeare, Hamlet