Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 2

The incarnation.  It sits at the heart of the Christian faith.  It is this belief, this theological tenet, that forms the bedrock of Christianity.  Without the incarnation Christianity is nothing.  Without the incarnation Christianity is pointless.  Without the incarnation Christians are to be pitied more than any other people for our faith is senseless and without foundation.  Take away the incarnation and Christianity falls.  Remove the incarnation and our faith is no longer apostolic.

Without a doubt, most Christians, especially those who self-identify as evangelicals, hold the view that the incarnation is of the utmost importance.  Well, that is what they say anyway.  The question is:  Do they really believe it?  And further, what are the implications of such a belief?  In this post, I want to explore just once aspect of the incarnation, one that many people born into our American culture of violence simply overlook.  

When Christians think about the incarnation, they tend to think of one thing and one thing only:  The divine became human.  That, of course, is correct; Christians believe and affirm that God became man in Jesus, who was, at once, fully divine and fully human.  This is an orthodox Christian belief and it is at the core of the Christian faith.  Yet, one of the implications of this, an implication that is much too often overlooked is that if God is the God of peace, when God became incarnate, he was now not just the God of peace but also the human of peace.  Put differently, Jesus is the incarnation of peace.  

Or to put it yet another way, the incarnation was an act and event of peace.  In Jesus, the one both God and human, was the fullness of peace.  This, we are called to imitate.  In fact, we might say that the incarnation is a model of peaceable living in this world.  Of all of the things in the apostle Paul's theology, it is his concept of "mimesis" or modeling one's life on the the life of Jesus that is not only one of the most powerful ideas but also one of the most practical.  How and why is it, then, that Christians so easily ignore, overlook, forget, or fail to understand this?  How is it that so many have no desire to emulate Jesus?

When it comes to a matter such as guns, Jesus would never have given his followers the "green light" or "go ahead" when it comes to owning, carrying, or using them.  I know, I know, that rubs many people in our culture the wrong way, especially when our culture of violence upholds, first and foremost, the principle that "This is a free country, I can do whatever I want."  That, however, is not a principle of Christianity, not in the least!  In fact, Christianity offers a different mentality:  Self-sacrifice for others, yes, even the act of sacrificing one's own rights.

In my previous post, I showed how the passage in Lk 22:35-36, which is often used in an attempt to show that Jesus was "pro-weapons," did not and could not finally bear the weight of such conclusions.  It has also been wrongly suggested that in Lk and Mk, when Peter draws his sword, this suggests that Jesus knew all along Peter had a sword on him.  It is then concluded that since Jesus knew this but said nothing, Jesus must have been okay with his followers carrying weapons.  Here, I want address this matter from a number of different angles to show how this argument just does not hold water.

First of all, let's keep in mind that this is a logical fallacy known as an "argument from silence."  In other words, since Jesus says nothing or is silent on the matter, the pro-gun advocate or pro-weapons advocate rushes to the conclusion that Jesus' silence is affirming of carrying weapons.  For most people who make such arguments, however, if you try to use this faulty line of reasoning with other things Jesus does not say, they will not accept it. For example, it is often argued today that because Jesus never said anything condemnatory about homosexuality or gay marriage, he must have been okay with it or even an advocate of it.  While this is a popular argument, in the end, it is terrible terrible logic.  The point is this:  If we use the "argument from silence" approach, we can essentially make Jesus say whatever we want.  The contradiction that pro-gun advocates find themselves in is they want to pick and choose when to use the argument from silence. They will use it for their cause, but usually not for other causes such as the pro-gay movement.  The reality of the situation is this:  The argument from silence is a fallacy that should be avoided altogether.  Thus, the "Jesus knew about Peter's sword but never said anything about it" argument, is just a horrible, illogical attempt at reasoning.

Secondly, we know that Jesus actually did say something about Peter's weapon.  In fact, in Luke's story, as I have shown, Jesus says that he has had enough of the weapons and commands Peter and others to finally be done with the carrying and use of weapons altogether.  Interestingly but not surprisingly, gun advocates overlook this fact!  Why?  Because it disproves their arguments.  Instead, they want to try to build a case from silence, which, as we have seen is a terrible route to go down and a route that eventually leads to falling off of a logical and reasonable cliff.  Besides, at the bare minimum, one has to conclude that even if Jesus did not say anything earlier, at the moment he sees the sword raised in the face of another human, he condemns it.  Really, at that, it should be "Enough said!" but for some, that's just not enough evidence.  Here, we might even consider Matthew's Gospel, where in 26:52, Jesus says, ἀπόστρεψον τὴν μάχαιράν σου εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς· πάντες γὰρ οἱ λαβόντες μαχαιραν ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται. ("Return your swords to its place, for all who raise a sword, by a sword they will die.")  Here, the remark to return the sword to its place can be taken as Jesus devaluing the weapon itself, that is, saying that it has no use other than to sit in its holster or pouch.  Indeed, the only valuation he gives of the sword is a negative one; he says that those who raise a sword will die by a sword.  Sage advice, is it not?

Thirdly, another logical fallacy that is often brought into play here is what is known as the false analogy fallacy.  Basically, a false analogy is exactly what it sounds like.  While we all know that analogies are flawed, it is the case that some analogies are strong while others are weak.  The false analogy is either a weak analogy or an analogy that does not work at all.  In the case of Peter's weapon, his dagger or sword, we must ask:  "Is it a strong or weak analogy to compare the sword that Peter carried to Christians carrying guns today?"  The strongest part of this analogy resides in the fact that both are weapons.  This part of the analogy, I can accept.  However, to try to equate the two is simply fallacious and erroneous.  Why?  Because the two are not analogous!  If we think back to the Connecticut school shooting that recently occurred and then also about the school knifing that took place on the same day in China (see HERE), we see a big difference.  In the school shooting, about two dozen people died.  In the school stabbing, a dozen or more people were injured and there were no deaths.  That's a big difference!  One cannot accomplish with a knife (or a similar weapon such as a μάχαιραν) the same type of thing that can be done with a gun!  So, we have a false analogy fallacy at work here.  We cannot simply say, "Jesus was okay with his disciples carrying swords in the ancient world, therefore he is okay with his followers carrying guns today."  As we have seen, the first part of that sentence isn't true (it is an argument from silence) and the second part is a false analogy.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we must bear in mind that Peter and Jesus were two separate people and it is Jesus, not Peter, who Christians are called to emulate.  The appeal to Peter as an example for Christians carrying guns is simply absurd.  As we see consistently throughout the gospels, Peter is rebuked, called out, and challenged by Jesus.  It was Jesus who was perfect, not Peter.  This is why our exemplar is not Peter, but rather Jesus.  It was Peter's choice to carry a weapon, and it was that same choice that led to his eventual rebuke in both Mt and Lk.  Lest we want to find ourselves on the side where Jesus is rebuking us, I contend that we must align ourselves with Jesus' ethics and actions, not Peter's.  Again, it is Jesus who we must follow and appeal to, it is Jesus who we must model our lives after.  Enough of the appealing to flawed humans like Peter!  This, then, brings us back to where we began, namely, the incarnation!  It is because of Jesus, the one incarnated in human flesh as God and man, that we can confront our violent world and cultures with peace.  

It is because of the incarnation of the Prince of Peace that we can walk in the way of non-violence.  It is because of Jesus, who came to bring peace, that we can help fulfill and carry out his mission.  It is the incarnation of Jesus that gives us our template for how to think and believe and live.  It is the incarnation, that event of peace, that calls us to be non-violent, non-militant, non-weapon carrying/owning/using, followers of Jesus.  It is the incarnation that bids us to sacrifice our triumphalist American values of "I live in a free country and can do what I want" on the altar with all other idols.  

In closing, I can't help but think that Jesus' chilling words to Jerusalem (and his disciples) in Lk 19:42 are incredibly appropriate for us today.  There, Jesus says,  εἰ ἔγνως ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ταύτῃ καὶ σὺ τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην· νῦν δὲ ἐκρύβη ἀπὸ ὀπθαλμῶν σου.  ("If only you yourselves had known, on this day, the things which make peace, but now you are unable to perceive them.")  How ironic that the Prince of Peace, standing before them, speaking to them, teaching them, rebuking them, calling them into a new way of life, was shut down by them!?!  It is not much different today.  What we need is more prophets.  We need more people to stand up in the midst of this culture of death and speak words of hope and life.  We need prophetic voices that issue forth the peace of Christ and not violence in his name.  We need Christians who will finally beat their swords into plowshares, rendering their weapons useless, that is, getting rid of their weapons.  We need Christians to step out of the military machine, to forego careers that mandate the use of guns, and to stop slapping the label "hobby" on gun activities.  

I say all of this as one who used to think differently.  I used to have no problem with this.  In fact, when I was running my web design business, I helped design a logo and site for an organization (run by a friend who self-identifies as a Christian) that was all about teaching "self defense" in terms of using weapons.  Today, I think terribly differently about the matter.  Never again would I consider doing design work like that.  In short, the God of peace has deeply convicted me on this matter.  My mind has been changed.  My heart has been changed.  At this point I can only hope and pray that such things will happen to those who used to think like I  did.  Indeed, I do not want to be found on the other side of Jesus' comment in Lk 19:42, no, I don't want to be one for who the "only if" remark holds true.  And it is that realization that has allowed me to be able to perceive that violence is not okay, more guns is not the answer, and firearms have no place in the Christian's life.  Some might say that's naive and too broad of a generalization but I would disagree.  I also think Jesus would disagree.  I say it is nothing more than the fact that the incarnation, God's act of bringing peace to us, has taken hold of me and settled within me.  I hope to address such matters in future installments of this series.  For now, thanks for reading and may the peace of Christ be upon you.


Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 1

While many of the talking heads in the media are beginning to call for more "conversations" about guns and gun control these days, as a Christian, I believe it is time for those who consider themselves followers of Jesus to stop hiding behind secular governmental laws and institutions and to start working towards a "theology of guns." Indeed, the all-too-frequent appeals made by those who supposedly align themselves with Jesus to the American Constitution rather than the Bible, should raise some red flags. When it is not Scripture that is being held as the gold standard of how we should think and live and conduct ourselves in this world but rather, a secular document, then we have a problem. The Constitution is not the Christian’s benchmark but rather, Scripture is.

Yet, the fact is, Scripture can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused. In many cases, the Bible is not all that easy to understand. Even more, sometimes, what we think we can simply take at face value, upon a second, third, fourth, fifth look, etc., cannot really be understood with such naiveté. This, in my view, is particularly true of the passages in the Bible where God and violence seem to go hand-in-hand. What I want to do in this new series then, is to focus on many of the arguments that Christians use in the debates about gun arguments. Some of these, of course, will be directly related to the Bible. That is, some of the posts in this series will deal with passages that people have used or cited in the course of discussions about guns and gun laws in the modern world and particularly America. Some of the posts in this series, however, will deal with arguments that are loosely related to the Bible or perhaps, not at all. Yet, the fact that it is Christians who are making such comments gives me the green light on addressing such issues from a Christian theological perspective.

In this initial post I want to show how the common appeal to Lk 22:35-36 is often used by Christians in discussions about guns. We shall have occasion to gain a fuller understanding of this passage by situating it in its ancient context and discerning its ancient implications. This, then, will allow us to understand the passage’s implications in our modern world. Here’s what Lk 22:35-36 says (followed by my translation):

(35) καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ὅτε ἀπέστειλα ὑμᾶς ἄτερ βαλλαντίου καὶ πήρας καὶ ὑποδημάτων, μή τινος ὑστερήσατε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· οὐθενός. (36) εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς· ἀλλά νῦν ὁ ἔχων βαλλάντιον ἀράτω, ὁμοίως καὶ πήραν, καὶ ὁ μὴ ἔχων πωλησάτω τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀγορασάτω μάχαιραν.

(35) “And he said to them: ‘When I sent you without a purse and a travel bag and shoes, did you all not need anything?’ And they said: ‘Nothing.’ (36) And he said to them: ‘But now the one having a purse, take it, and likewise a bag, and the one not having, he is expected to sell his cloak and buy a sword.”

Now, on first glance this passage seems pretty straightforward. Verse 35 seems to point to the fact that earlier, when Jesus had sent his disciples out with very little, they found themselves not in need of anything. Verse 36, however, appears to presuppose a different or changed context. On the surface, it appears that Jesus is contrasting this new situation with the previous one. What is disturbing about this is not that Jesus sanctions the taking of a purse or travel bag, but rather, the purchasing and carrying of a sword. Swords, of course, were used in situations of violence, whether in a defense or offensive manner.

For many, it stands to reason. then, that Jesus is sanctioning the carrying of arms or weapons for self-protection, self-defense, and use in violent situations. In what is the typical response of many commentators, we find the following by T.C. Butler [Luke (HBC; Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2000), 371] who says, “The present situation was quite different. Take whatever supplies and resources you have, Jesus told them. You will especially need a weapon for self-defense. Go sell whatever is necessary to get one. Satan had come after Jesus and his followers in full force. The persecution and arrests were about to begin. They must be ready to protect themselves.”

Unfortunately, there are two factors that commentators such as Butler miss in their exegesis and interpretation of this passage, which are very significant. One of those elements is historical-contextual and the other is literary-contextual. Put different, those who take Butlers view either overlook or ignore one very important social dynamic and one incredibly significant literary element. In what follows, I want to draw attention to these two items, which will then put us in a much better position to interpret this passage with more clarity and understanding. I should say at the start that what I do not believe is that either Jesus or Luke are simply speaking symbolically or metaphorically here.

On a historical and social-cultural level, what readers such as Butler often miss is an Israelite tradition that Luke—and Jesus within Luke’s narrative—were drawing on. This has been called by K.L. Moore [Why Two Swords Were Enough: Israelite Tradition History Behind Luke 22:35-38 (Ph.D. diss., University of Denver, 2009).] the “Two-Sword Traditum.” Here, I will simply refer to this as the “Two-Sword Tradition.” Drawing on Moore’s work, we see that this tradition may have its origins in Gen 34:25-26. Here, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, each take their sword (μάχαιραν) and attack and kill many men, including Hamor and Schechem. This act essentially has four aspects to it that need to be realized: 1) Wielding the sword to preserve family identity and honor is acceptable; 2) Using the sword to vindicate an honored one is acceptable; 3) Putting to use the sword to preserve national identity and honor is acceptable; 4) Swords can be used in cases where vengeance is justified.

Interestingly, following this narrative, we see this tradition develop over the course of Israelite thought and in Israelite literature. This tradition can also be discerned in Moses’ call in Ex 32:25-29, Phineas’s judgment on sexual immorality in Num 25:1-18, Judith’s beheading of Holofernes in Jdt. 8:1-16:25, Levi’s violent but celebrated actions in Test. Levi 2:2, 5:3, 6:4-8 and 7:3, and the conduct of Simeon and Levi when they defend Aseneth during an ambush in Jos. Asen. 23:1-28:8. In each of these stories and contexts, the “Two-Sword Tradition” is at work as are the four aspects mentioned above (i.e. vindication of honor, preserving national identity and honor, etc.). The carrying and use of “two swords” then became a narrative that shaped Israelite/Jewish thought. Following Moore, I contend that this mentality is also at work in the Gospel of Luke and particularly Lk 22:35-36. Initially, arguing that this tradition is present would seem to bolster the claims that Jesus (and Luke) are adherents to and proponents of this tradition. That, however, is a surface reading and it acknowledges only the social and historical aspect while overlooking an important narrative or literary aspect. To be honest interpreters, both of these things must be held together. In short, a socio-literary or socio-historico-literary reading is necessary.

Literarily speaking, it matters that we consider both the broad sweep of the Gospel of Luke when thinking about Lk 22:35-36 as well as the immediate literary context, that is, the passion narrative and so-called Farewell Address. We being with the former. At the very start of Luke’s account, he introduces his auditors to one of his major themes: peace. For example, in Lk 1:78-79, John the Baptizer is hailed as the one who will “guide our feet into the way of peace (εἰρήνη).” An important question to ask here is: What sort of peace? Further, we might ask, How will he guide persons to peace? Lk 2:14 holds the answer: Jesus. There we hear the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace (εἰρήνη) among those whom he favors.”

When Simeon later sees Jesus in 2:29, he leaves the boy and departs from him in peace (εἰρήνη) for he has seen God’s salvation, who is a light for revelation to the Gentiles. In 7:50, when Jesus heals a woman, he tells her to go in peace (εἰρήνη) and in 8:48, he says essentially the same thing when he heals a female. In sending out his disciples in 10:5-6, his command to them is to enter the house and pray peace (εἰρήνη) upon it. In 19:38 and 42 Jesus also refers to peace and in 24:36 his parting words are “peace (εἰρήνη) be with you.” Basically, the theme of peace and being peacemakers forms something of an inclusion for Luke’s Gospel account; it is one of the brackets that holds together his entire narrative about Jesus.

However, there are points where this theme of peace seems to be interrupted. For example, in 11:21, we read of how a strong man with a weapon feels at peace about his belongings. Further, in 12:51 Jesus comments that he did not come to bring “peace” (εἰρήνη) but “division.” The question is: How do we square comments like this last one with the overall thrust of Luke’s story? Here, Moore’s exegesis shows us—exegesis which is quite indisputable in my view—that this is all part of Luke’s literary mastery. Let me explain. I liken it to the fact that nobody likes to be told what to do. For example, if I step into the pulpit and start issuing orders, it is going to turn people off and likely tick people off. However, if I desire for congregants to take a certain course of action, I need to be tactful about it; to do that, I’ll need to be persuasive. That’s precisely what Luke is doing. Luke is drawing his hearers into the story, finding common ground with their beliefs (and even egos) and then trying to persuade them. In large part, he is doing this with those who are part of the ancient tradition that advances a “Two Sword” mentality.

But here’s where we must ask, “Might there have been persons in antiquity, particularly those who held to the ‘Two-Sword Tradition,’ who would have heard passages like those just mentioned differently?” Our answer here is in the affirmative. But again, we must understand Luke’s literary mastery. Luke starts with peace and ends with peace. But at the same time, he wants to draw those who believe in violence, into Jesus’ story. Luke’s task is this: How can he draw people who hold to a violent tradition, in to the peaceable life and story of Jesus so that they might ultimately change their views and practices?

He does this by appealing to their beliefs…at first. Thus, when these persons, perhaps for example, zealots, would have initially heard these words, they would have understood them as a call to protect Jesus; to use violence to establish the Kingdom and to defend themselves. In this sense, they feel affirmed and drawn into the story and life of Jesus; they see themselves as his protectors; they feel good about themselves. At several points, Luke plays to this view. However, it is at the very end of the story, at the climax, that is, the passion of Jesus, that Luke subverts or attempts to show the invalidity of this tradition for followers of Jesus. More specifically, we see this just a few verses away from our focal pericope here, that is, at Lk 22:49-52. In this story, Jesus’ disciples draw their swords (μάχαιραν). They ask permission to strike but wait for no answer and proceed to take action into their own hands. When they do, a man is struck and his ear is cut off. And finally, the crescendo has built and the climax has been reached when Jesus issues his rebuke in the form of a command/imperative: ἐᾶτε ἕως τούτου (No more of this!). In this one moment, Jesus completely subverts the “Two-Sword Tradition.” He does this first by rebuking the violent act with his words, and secondly by subverting the act of violence by healing the man. He does it in a third way by asking his followers the rhetorical question that expects the answer of an emphatic “No!” when he says, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with clubs and swords (μάχαιραν)?” This is all topped off, as was alluded to above, with Jesus’ parting words (24:36) after his resurrection, namely, the words for his true disciples—those who will walk in his ways and by his life and his traditions—to go in peace (εἰρήνη).

The ancient implications of this seem clear enough: Jesus’ way is the way of peace. Those who align themselves with him, must walk in this way. His response to violent self-defense, his response to violence at all in fact, is forbidden. The need for a sword or weapon has been overturned. His followers are called to value human life above all else and even to the point of laying down their own life for someone who might not appear to be worth it. Think about it, if there were ever a time for Jesus to be “okay” with weapons and violence, it would have been the time for him to sanction it there in the garden. Instead, what he does is subvert it and put an end to it! Enough! Indeed, enough is enough! No more can God’s people cling to a Two-Sword Tradition; the call to the “This Is Enough! Tradition” is our mandate. According to Jesus, there is no room for weapons in the hand of the Christian. He essentially tells them to have weapons on them so that he can show them the pointlessness of them and the lack of need for them.

The modern implications, unsurprisingly, are the same. In America, where toy aisles are lined with guns, grenades and violent weapons, where video games and music are latent with violence, where cartoons, television shows, and movies are steeped in gun violence and murder, where the nightly news recounts violent act after violent act, and where our military launches violent assaults on many other countries, it is fair to say that this culture has its own traditions of violence. Indeed, we start our kids out on it from day one. Then, when someone shoots up a mall or theater or school, we wonder where it all came from? How can we be so moronic and ignorant? The root of the problem today, as with those bent towards zealotry in the ancient world, is our own violent traditions. We think it is cute to give our kids toy guns, toy soldiers, toy battleships, killing video games, etc. Further, many raise their children in homes where abuse and violence are rampant. For Christians, this should all be off limits!

The resurrection is about life; resurrection is a theology of valuing life. Thus, those of us who find ourselves in a culture of murder, a culture of violence, and a culture of death, should be subversive to such ideas. We should guard the innocence of our children from this. We, of all people in this world, should teach them to respect and value life, not devalue it by playing mock-murder games. Christians need weapons of no sort. What I have shown here in this post, one of many to come, is that Lk 22:35-36 cannot, in no way, shape or form, be used to justify Christians carrying weapons. To read it this way is to ignore the evidence on purpose. To use it this way is to try to justify oneself like the zealots did. However, such readings are irresponsible and just do not fly.

In working towards a theology of guns, then, my first step is to say: Get rid of them! No responsible Christian needs to own a gun. To fear for your life and to hide behind a gun is to short-change the rich theology of resurrection. Besides, if someone is coming at you as a Christian with a gun, the truth is, that person needs Jesus more than you do. To take his or her life robs him of the potential of hearing about Jesus. The loving thing would be to give him or her that opportunity. You can’t do that by gunning them down. The first truth in working toward a theology of guns, then, is that as a believer who has full confidence in the resurrection and everlasting life, I need not be afraid. Secondly, since I am not afraid, I need not own a gun or any other weapon that I can use on people because after all, if they’re attacking me, they clearly need to know the peace of Christ and that’s something they’ll never have a chance at if I shoot them up. I conclude with this: Christians, lay down your traditions of violence and in doing so, lay down your weapons and follow the path of peace forged by our Savior, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.


Christians, Turn In Your Guns

In a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I made the call for Christians to turn in their guns.  Of course, it was not my blog post that brought the following about, but I must say that I was glad to see that this week, in L.A., the police department offered citizens grocery store gift cards for turning in their guns.  I did some looking and found that other states, such as Illinois and Maryland, have done this in the past too.  I would love to be a part of helping organize something like this in Kentucky.  Even more, I would love to see churches helping set up these types of events all over the country (and world for that matter).  Pastors, elders, deacons, and congregants, why not take the lead in your place of worship and try to get something like this in the works?  It is Christians, those who claim to be sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace, those who claim to align themselves with and follow the Prince of Peace, who should be leading the way on these sorts of initiatives.  Christians do not need to own guns.  Plain and simple.  Get rid of them.  And help others get rid of them.


"More Guns" Is NOT The Answer! - A Call Away From Arms

Yesterday was another sad day in this country.  With the continual rise of theater shootings, mall shootings, and school shootings, it is high time that we who call ourselves Christians, that we who identify ourselves with the Prince of Peace, finally act on the convictions we mouth.  If you are a Christian, it is time for you to lay down your guns.  Turn them in.  Hand them over.  Get rid of them.  More guns is not the answer.  The stupid  suggestion that "If more of us had guns then we would be able to take out shooters" is absurd.  The fear-mongering grip that the NRA has on both citizens and politicians is sickening.  They continue to promote an agenda of fear leading people to believe that more guns equals more freedom.  This is patently a lie.  It is a lie that lines the pockets of gun makers, bullet makers, and the military machine that drives so much of this country.  But we as Christians need to finally stand up and say "Enough is enough!"  Nearly two dozen innocent people were shot yesterday and murdered and the majority of them were elementary school children.

Some are suggesting that we need to arm our teachers.  Some are suggesting that we need to put armed guards in the schools.  Some are suggesting that 18 year old students in high school should be allowed to carry guns.  Somehow these people convince themselves that more people carrying guns will lead to more peace.  This logic is hogwash.  The opposite, however, is true:  less guns will equal less mass murders.  A case in point, which was lost in the news yesterday is that in China, there was also an attack on a school.  There were also nearly two dozen victims in this attack.  However, the man had a knife, not several guns and hundreds of bullets.  The difference:  Yesterday in America, two dozen people died.  Yesterday in China, about two dozen people were wounded.  Those children in China are still alive!

Of course, this is not to say that death cannot be caused by knives, surely, they can.  In fact, there have been a number of knife rampages in China in the last several years where people have died.  Yet, the fact is, a man with a knife cannot do nearly as much harm as one with one or more guns.  In China, for the most part, private citizens are restricted from owning and carrying guns.  Gun laws are incredibly tight and it is very difficult for anyone outside of military or government rank (e.g. police) to own and carry a firearm.  I dare say that had America had such laws, those children in Connecticut would likely still be alive and able to celebrate Christmas with their families.

Instead, what we have is nearly two dozen children who have died, whose presents remain under the tree, who will not get to sing Christmas carols with their parents, who will not get tucked into bed on Christmas Eve with visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads, and who will not live to see another day.  And sadly enough, one of the things that makes this so disturbing is that so many who call themselves Christians continue to advocate gun ownership and gun laws.  To be blunt, how can people who call themselves followers of Jesus be so stupid?  Prior to this post I had taken a sort of middle-of-the-road position where I would say that I don't think it's wrong to own guns.  Now, I recant that position.  I do think it's wrong.  There is no reason a Christian should own a gun.  I don't care if you are a hunter, a sportsman, or whatever, there is no reason for it.  Plain and simple!

One thing I know is that habits, especially old habits, die hard.  I also know that none of us likes to be told what to do.  Even so, I beg and plead with all of you Christians out there to take a stand.  Help us turn things around.  You lead the way by turning in your guns.  Lay down your arms.  Get rid of them.  Be the example that others need to follow.  Let's lead a revolution and change this violence-driven society.  Stop telling yourself the lies and stop listening to the lies that say you need guns to be safe.  Stop glorifying violence.  Choose peace.  True peace never comes through violence...NEVER!  Follow in the steps of the peacemaker par excellence--Jesus.  Walk in a way that is worthy of him.  Be the first to lay down your guns!  Be the first to spark this revolution.  More peace is the answer.


The "ERV" Illustrated Bible - A Brief Review

This afternoon I received a gratis copy of the ERV (Easy-To-Read) Illustrated Bible in the mail.  This particular version of the Bible is produced by the World Bible Translation Center / Bible League International.  The ERV Illustrated Bible contains over 40 full-page color photos and a very brief, but nice introduction to the Bible.  The print is larger than most Bibles, which is easy on the eyes and easy for children and beginning readers.  Here is a sample reading from Gen 1:1-4:

The Beginning of the World
1. God created the sky and the earth.  At first, 2. the earth was completely empty.  There was nothing on the earth.  Darkness covered the ocean, and God's Spirit moved(a) over the water.
The First Day--Light
3. Then God said, 'Let there be light!' And light began to shine.(b)  4. He saw the light, and he knew that it was good.  Then he separated the light from darkness.
(a) The Hebrew word means 'to fly over' or 'to swoop down,' like a bird flying over its nest to protect its babies. (b) 1:1-3  Or 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  While (2) the earth had no special shape, and darkness covered the ocean, and God's Spirit hovered over the water, (3) God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.'  Or 'When God began to create the sky and the earth, 2) while the earth was completely empty, and darkness covered the ocean, and a powerful wind blew over the water, (3) God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.
As you can see, this is a very readable text.  I like that it has simple footnotes and in this instance, offers several translations.  I also like that the Bible has pictures, even though my children would likely prefer more of them.  I also noticed that with the New Perspective on Paul/Pistis Christou matter, this version offers both renderings with the traditional translation in the main text and the NPP translation in a footnote (see Rom 3:22).  The Bible League website describes the ERV Illustrated Bible as follows, "Easy-to-Read Illustrated Bible gives families and churches a way to introduce God's Word in a simple and enjoyable form that will help anyone understand the plan God has for their lives. The everyday style and colorful illustrations will open up the meaning of God's Word even for those who are not familiar with the Bible. Forty-two full color illustrations and large print."  I think in my house, we will begin reading through this version as a family.  From my initial observations, I would recommend this to families, young children/youth, and those just learning to read English.  Thanks to Daniel Rodriguez for sending me this copy.  Click HERE to pick up your copy today.


The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: A Brief Review

Hot off the press, Kregel has just released Douglas S. Huffman's The Handy Guide to new Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming. Given the subtitle and all the author hopes to accomplish in this volume, just by looking at this almost pocket-size work that is barely over 100 pages in length, one wonders if Huffman can really accomplish addressing all of those topics. In my view, he does.

Huffman divides the book into three major parts. Following the subtitle, the first part deals with grammar, the second deals with syntax, and the third with diagramming. This, I think, makes it a bit different than Mounce's pocket-size handbook. Essentially, the first major section of Huffman's work consists of paradigms. That's right, the first 52 pages are lined with paradigms. Occasionally Huffman will sprinkle in grammatical comments and offer some mnemonic devices. Beyond this, however, the first section is meant to act as a quick-reference guide. One of the things I find unfortunate here is that Huffman uses the Erasmian pronunciation schema, but given the prevalence of this approach in the academy I suppose it is understandable.  Further, he does not make this a point of contention so, it is not repeatedly emphasize throughout the book but rather, just stated at the beginning.  I suppose that others will have less of an issue with this than me, however.

In section two of the book, which is just over thirty pages in length, Huffman basically gives readers lists of syntactical categories and functions. Again, he offers some mnemonic devices and here and there a number of helpful explanations. His comments are not long and drawn out but are short, sweet, and to the point. Some may wish for just a little more "meat on the bones" here, but others will likely find these bite-size descriptions to be just the right size. On page 62, where Huffman speaks about aspect, it appears as though he follows Porter's ordering and understanding of aspect. Personally, I prefer David Alan Black's approach but even after having said that, Huffman does add his own touch to the discussion here and his renaming of the categories to "progressive, summary, and stative" is interesting and possibly helpful (I still need to think on this).

In the third section, Huffman focuses on diagramming. About twenty pages in length, this section is well done. Huffman works through various types of diagramming examples, including the traditional approach and more modern ones. Huffman's brief explanations are helpful and informative. That he uses a more modern approach to diagramming is a huge plus. His approach is not far from that which Donald Guthrie espouses, although, there are some differences. For example, Guthrie's approach seems just a bit more emphatic about exposing modifiers. Another nice aspect of this chapter is that Huffman shows readers how to move from a semantic diagram to a sermon outline.

In the end, I would very much recommend Huffman's Handy Guide to those interested in learning, refreshing, and or maintaining the nuts and bolts of their New Testament Greek. While some of the charts in the book were a little blurry here and there, overall, the volume is helpful. Κῦδος to Huffman on this great resource. Thanks to Kregel for the review copy. Head on over to their site right now to purchase your copy of The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek by clicking HERE.


How Do You Tell Your Kids Santa Isn't Real? (A Repost)

This is a post I wrote a few years ago that I have been re-sharing each Advent season.  I hope you find it thought-provoking and helpful.  Happy Advent!  (Note: 1) That I have not really change much of the original post except for this note--thus, my kids' ages have changed since I first wrote this; and 2) I will not be responding to comments on Facebook, so, if you wish to interact, please leave your comments here on my website.  Thanks.)

The question posed in the title of this post is an interesting one. Many times, when people ponder this question, they are also asking something like "How do I tell my kids the truth about Santa?" or "Is it wrong for my Christian kids to celebrate a Christmas that has Santa included in it?" For me, however, I think the question raised in this post's title is a good starting place for all such questions.

This year at Christmastime, my daughter is 3 and 1/2 years old. For the first time, she's beginning to associate Santa with the holiday. Just as well, my wife and I have already started to tell her the truth about Santa. The truth is: Santa was real but no longer exists! However, the truth is, a man named Saint Nicholas, the person on whom our modern day Santa Claus is really based, did exist at one time and to be sure, was real! Saint Nicholas of Myra was a bishop around 4 CE. He was known for both his seriousness and his practice of giving gifts, especially to those in need.

So, when we tell our daughter about Santa, to avoid confusion, we just tell her the truth, the truth that he lived long ago and now, a lot of people, people who are friends of Santa and who dress like him, are doing what he used to do, namely, giving gifts. And we tell her that we give gifts too, just like Santa, because God gave us a gift, the gift of Jesus. And Jesus gave us a gift too, the gift of His love and the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit gave us the present of spiritual gifts and a connection to God. And really, this is a lot for a kid to take in but it is not completely over their heads. Even my daughter can grasp some of these basic things.

So, we have no trouble letting Santa be a part of our Christmas, however, we don't pretend that Santa himself is still alive. We don't have our daughter "ask Santa for things." But if we were to take her to say, a mall and let her sit on Santa's lap (which we have done), we wouldn't have a problem if she told that "friend of Santa" the things she likes or might like to have. Also, we have no problem with singing the songs or watching the movies / cartoons or even embracing some of the fun mythological embellishments of the holiday. Some of those things help a child's imagination. For example, talking about Santa living in a far-off place, well, there's no problem with that because as it stands, where Santa lived was far-off. Or talking about Rudolph the flying reindeer or the North Pole, the more mythic elements of the story, those are not problematic either. Again, I defer to the value of imagination here; we've even explained that we just add such thing to Santa's story because they make it more fun to talk and sing about.  She gets that!  But when it comes right down to it, we have no problem telling our kids that the reindeer were added to the story, as was the North Pole, etc.

We don't think that the story of St. Nick is contrary to the story of Christ; instead, we see it as complimentary. If our child grows up knowing the truth about Santa as opposed only to knowing the myth, well, then she is in a better place for that because she may not have to endure the "heartbreak" of finding out that a mythological figure she believed in really didn't exist and that her parents and everyone else has been lying to her for years. This could even damage a kid's imagination and / or faith down the road. The fact is, Santa did exist and for us, that is something worth sharing. And really, it only compliments the story of Jesus, which really doesn't make it hard at all. Probably, the toughest part is explaining that St. Nick "lived a long time ago" but isn't "living" today. That, then, brings up the issue of death, which is something much harder to explain to a kid than anything about a fictitious man (who, in America has had his identity totally made-over by the Coca-Cola company) who is making a list and checking it twice!