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  1. The spirit of my question was wondering why you seemed so quick to deny my assertion that an almighty God could still use atheists for his purposes, not debating whether or not atheists are themselves willing participants. I note that this thread, in general, carries a slight air of preconceived bias against atheists, which actually prevents us from reaching such people. In raising doubts to a statement that God can't use atheists, I'm hoping to illustrate that the objects of so many forumites' hatred really needs to be an object of love. Jesus asked for forgiveness for his executioners because they "know not what they do". That should be our attitude toward atheists.
  2. Harmonizing Paul and the Twelve

    Hi there, Hawkins; welcome to the conversation! As I've stated on this thread already, Jews were never saved through obedience to the law. The Bible even records that no human ever kept it perfectly, since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Galatians 3:11 echoes Habakkuk 2:4 in asserting that the righteous live by faith. You cite Galatians 2:11 as support for your statement, but your own emphasis on the quoted verse highlights the concept of forcing Gentiles to observe Jewish customs. Paul wasn't a Gentile, so please explain why you believe this was related. Furthermore, I have cited already an example of Paul's intentional choice to take actions to prove he kept Jewish law; please share how your statement can harmonize with these things, as described in Acts 21:23: “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.’ 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them” If Jewish laws were unnecessary within the new covenant, why didn't Paul simply TELL the Jews that...instead of going to great lengths to prove he kept Jewish laws? This is simply not true. I have explored many denominations of churches, including visiting a Messianic Jewish church. These are Jewish people who believe in Jesus.
  3. I'll second Willie T's frustration here. Many times, answers are given on this forums either with misguided intentions, ignorance, or even both. This isn't helpful, especially to those of us who ask the questions we do out of a genuine desire to know God better and enable ourselves to do his will. It seems there's an overwhelming desire for many to answer the question who aren't entirely sure of the answer themselves. This seems to result in a lot of frustratingly vague answers. I share his question regarding which OT laws are applicable to us today, and what clearly distinguishes those that are applicable from those that aren't. For example, most Christians I run into these days agree that being gay is wrong but that eating shrimp is OK. Or, they refer to the Acts 15:28 Council of Jerusalem decision concerning the handful of things the Gentiles were instructed to abstain from but continue to partake of some of those things (blood in meat as well as eating strangled animals, most commonly). There's an insistence that Christianity doesn't have any "rules", yet it becomes apparent that there are indeed rules when I bring up the hypothetical situation of someone breaking them and still being saved. The Bible likewise presents confusion in that it portrays Paul as a man who goes to great lengths to prove that he follows Jewish law (Acts 21:23), right alongside a Jerusalem Council writing to the Gentiles of only a handful of things they had to abide by (Acts 15:28). Willie T, you're not the only one wondering what's going on here It would be very helpful if anyone has any well-researched information regarding which OT rules were thought to be applicable, especially in the apostle-led early generation of Christians, and why such decisions were made.
  4. Harmonizing Paul and the Twelve

    I find it interesting that you responded to a bunch of my specific points but then posted another post in the name of not wanting to do that. A little confusing, but, ok...Now I'm not sure whether you just wanted to have the last word or whether you actually wanted me to respond...Anyway, I'll assume the former and just respond to your second post only, in the name of avoiding "lengthy conversation": They can be interpreted that way, yes. They can also be interpreted from a more Jewish perspective. I've heard both sides of the coin and am still looking for evidence that gives one side the winning edge. The question as to how/if Paul harmonizes remains. The gospels present a picture of a Jewish, Torah-teaching and law-abiding Jesus, who focuses on the fact that the kingdom of God is near. Paul's writings seem to suggest the possibility of freedom from the law, when interpreted a certain way. The difference in focus and the difference in what Paul and Jesus teach still stands out to me. Again, both sides have arguments but neither convinces me fully. Paul addresses which issues as referring to this? I'm not sure I understand your objection here. I still see this as a possible harmonization. Salvation has never been based on faithfully adhering to a set of rules, even in the Old Testament times. We know this because even those who are listed as "righteous" still sinned, and yet we have the concept of Old Testament people who were saved. If I had to make an observation as to why that might be, it seems that their hearts were in the right place, they trusted God, and they tried their best to adhere to the rules regardless of the fact that they inevitably all fell short. No one was ever saved by the Law of Moses, to my knowledge. The new covenant obviously does have rules...you seem to have rephrased them as "not doing things that offend God", but "don't do any of these individual things that offend God" is exactly the same as saying don't do X, Y, or Z in the Old Testament, since the very REASON not to do X, Y, or Z OT things was because X, Y, and Z offend God. The new covenant either a) uses the rules from the original covenant or b) has its own set of rules. Even the hyper-grace ideas ("pray once and you're saved forever" types of ideas...which lack biblical support, given the high number of verses focused on DOING the will of God) represent the concept of rules: there is still the requirement to "believe" in that paradigm. I still see a new covenant, which replaced the old, as a possibility. Sounds like we have some ambiguity on the requirements of this new covenant, though, as well as why Paul mentions a number of specifics that Jesus didn't even allude to. It's only 'exaggerated' if you doubt these Bible verses, which depict Paul indeed proving to the Jews that he DID keep the law: “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.’ 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them” (Acts 21:23-26). This again seems strange if Jewish rules are no longer required, Jesus was the final sacrifice, etc. I have yet to see a good explanation of this which supports Jewish laws having been done away with. Not sure what you're getting at. I'm here because I have questions, and the multiple explanations I get on harmonization of Paul and the twelve disagree with each other...this includes your points as well as the interpretations of others, many of which I've presented in response to your opinions. I'm here trying to figure it out, and so far, I again do not see evidence for one interpretation over another. I've raised a lot of doubts, and the responses received to such doubts are largely the repetition of the same interpretation rather than an explanation of why it's correct. There are still verses on either side that can't be explained away if we are to take one interpretation over another. There is still a huge lack of clarity here. Jesus kept the Sabbath and biblical feasts and never alluded to these things going away. He alluded to the temple going away. There remains confusion as to which OT provisions still apply and which don't. Even if we accept Paul as scripture 100%, his opinions on these things can be interpreted in a very Jewish manner and likewise a very Gentile manner. The question of how he harmonizes remains, even if we establish that he does harmonize. I can mostly at this point accept that he does harmonize...but HOW is not clear. There are writings referring to Polycarp preaching on the Sabbath, and even the date of his martyrdom is referred to as a Sabbath (which also could refer to a biblical holiday). The Martyrdom of Polycarp records that he was taken on the day of the Sabbath and killed on a Great Sabbath. Those references would be fairly odd for someone who has done away with the Sabbath; one who keeps biblical holidays and preaches on Sabbath, referred to as Sabbath, likely doesn't do those things and then hold to a Sunday doctrine. Seeing as Sabbath keeping was the default (Jesus and disciples were Sabbath keeping Jews,) a departure from it is what needs to be justified and explained, not the maintenance of the status quo. If you're referring to Justin Martyr, I'm not sure that he necessarily proves anything, either. First, his most-quoted references to the "Lord's Day" are arguably better translated as "Lord's Way". Second, the further we get from the apostles, the more we start to see ideas departing from them. Polycarp is significant, though, because he was likely the leader of the blessed church at Smyrna at the time that the letter extolling its virtues, found in Revelation, was written. Sunday observance has, in its favor, popular acceptance and a few early adherents. Saturday observance has what Jesus and the apostles did as well as what's written in stone into the 10 commandments. I again do not see a definitive answer here (but see a more convincing story for Saturday). This is an interesting interpretation; what is it based on? What evidence is there that Matthew 23 is about "obeying authority" rather than obeying Jewish law? That's not what it says, though: 17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”[a] 20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” 21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
  5. Yes, because God is almighty. He might use an atheist to answer someone's prayers, even if that person doesn't know it. Example: Citizens of a hungry village are praying for a miracle--maybe some food, clean water, etc. God arranges for a humanitarian aid organization to distribute food in their area, answering their prayers. All members of that humanitarian org happen to be atheists. It simply makes no sense to believe that God can't use the good deeds that atheists do to help others, simply because those good deeds came from atheists.
  6. Reluctant new believer with some challenges

    *Sigh* I wish notifications on this forum worked properly. Apparently you wrote this months ago...I'll reply anyway, just in case, as I appreciate your honest and helpful post. I did that, too, and what I got was: * Trolls * People responding with their individual interpretation but zero evidence to back it up...often getting hostile when I asked for WHY they interpret the way they do * Mods shutting down my thread, leaving me with not only the same questions and problems but the disappointment that so many "Christians", especially here, just seem to be unkind, illogical, unhelpful, and hypocritical. It's really just been more and more disappointing the more time goes on. As I read the New Testament, I pray for discernment and understanding, and I still don't receive any. I just see more and more ways that it looks like you can lose your salvation, and I'm getting to the point where I'm not even sure salvation is open to me at all. There are a few helpful people on this forum, but I have been on here less and less because it becomes less and less worth it to deal with the legalists and hypocrites. As time goes on, I have less and less of a clue what God wants from me. I started documenting out all of the commands of Jesus as quoted in the New Testament, and the more I go on, the more questions I have. Jesus commanded Torah observance, so why do most modern Christians ignore that? Why is it that there are all kinds of different opinions on whether/how one can lose salvation...and of course no logical evidence to support any of those interpretations? Why does everyone ignore logic when we have brains? Why is everyone so convinced that their interpretation of the Bible is absolute truth, with literally no reason besides "just believe" to back it up? They can't all be right. The more I search, the less I find. The more I pray, the further I feel from God. Pray a while without getting any answers and the idea that God actually cares about us gets harder and harder to believe.
  7. “God's Not Dead” movie

    Was reporting this discrimination incident to an advisor and the administration not an option? Interesting premise for a movie, but not sure how it would be legal to treat one student different than all others on the basis on religion.
  8. Shen Yun ??? What was it?

    It's a music and dance performance, and according to several Chinese people I know, it is indeed associated with the religious group Falun Gong, which is banned and persecuted in China.
  9. Hatred and blanket judgements like this will surely prevent those who make such statements from effectively witnessing to one. Sorry you think this way about atheists, though; I can't speak to what experiences you've had. I'll also affirm, as others on this thread already have, that I know a lot of really kind and loving atheists. In fact, I observe that more often, Christians are the ones most likely to be acting "arrogant, ignorant", etc. However, I know that not all are like that, and that God is able to work with Christians and atheists alike to make positive changes in our lives.
  10. Harmonizing Paul and the Twelve

    * sigh* I feel like we're going in circles. "The New Covenant was instituted at the time of Jesus death – consecrated through His blood." I'm still wondering why Paul went to great lengths to prove he kept the law, or why favored early church leaders kept sabbaths and Jewish holy days (Polycarp was one I mentioned). "Paul tells the Thessalonian Church that Satan will use “signs and lying wonders” to deceive (2 Thes 2:9-10)" And at other times, Paul uses his own miracle workings as "proof" that he's legit. Which is it? (Regarding Matthew 7:21-23): "The passage tells us who the people were – they were those who thought there part was to focus on working for God, rather than sitting at His feet and getting to know Him." Does it say that? Interesting idea, but I do not see any declaration that these people "thought there [sic] part was to focus on working for God, rather than sitting at His feet and getting to know Him." Is this your interpretation, or what the verse actually states? Here is the verse: 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Seems to be the former. Also, I don't see convincing evidence that all the Gentiles in the Jewish synagogues are converts to Judaism rather than Christianity. In fact, Christianity was, at that time, a Jewish sect. On what basis can you claim a distinction? This is an interesting interpretation, but I am interested to understand how it is you came to it. "The Law requires absolute obedience – or else condemns us as transgressors." Sure, I'm familiar with the verses that tell us that. Question still remains how popular Christianity makes the distinction on what laws do and don't still apply. Jesus asks us to obey his commandments, which include the entire Torah in Matthew 23. Seems that we then ought to be doing the best we can. Maybe sacrifices are impossible at this time, as you state, but following food and clothing laws are still very possible: On what basis can we say those disappeared? "Under grace, you can wear or eat whatever you choose. It's only when we start thinking that makes us better Christians than those who choose otherwise, that we defer from grace to Law. Murder and adultery have always been wrong – regardless of it being written down in the covenant between God and Israel (2500 years-or-so after Cain murdered Able) – and will continue to be wrong; regardless of the Law." Again, on what basis are these distinctions made? Because remember shrimp are an abomination (Leviticus 11:9-12)...Which is especially interesting as a segue into the next topic: "If a denomination condones homosexual practice, then they are teaching against the clear morality espoused by scripture." I don't yet have an opinion on this yet. I've looked into why the churches which accept it do so, and it seems that it is largely because the verses which appear to condemn the practice have more to do with idolatrous temple prostitution than committed gay relationships, which weren't really a thing that people did back then. They have an interpretation of the Bible. You have an interpretation of the Bible. For me to accept that any interpretation is correct, I need reasons, and I need to see how they are more correct and how they harmonize...which is why I still doubt both. Maybe the norm for churches in your region is different than in mine...but these differences were apparent to me after even just visiting a handful of churches. "The others are issues of non-essential doctrine" You've just made a claim that 'homosexuality or not' is essential doctrine. Some of these churches would say the same about the issues mentioned. (modest dress standards, make-up, Saturday sabbath, practicing homosexuality among members, jewelry, Torah observance, marriage to non-Christians) Again, differing interpretations, and I'm still left at "I don't know". We need a basis for establishing what is and isn't essential. Everyone seems to disagree on this, and for most of the issues, I've yet to see an argument convincing enough to prove their opinion is the right interpretation. We all like to think the Holy Spirit leads us, but let's face it--the real result is we all come to different conclusions. Anyways, we've digressed. This might make an interesting thread on its own, though. "There is no objective reason to classify the Christian celebration of Christ's birth as pagan." That's not exactly what we were disagreeing about, though, is it? "Most Christians don't deny the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter and instead insist that such origins are irrelevant due to the new meanings assigned to them after Christians adapted these holidays." (the above is my quote) The above pretty much says it all. In some way, perhaps you agree with me then...that these were pagan holidays that eventually got adapted by Christians who gave them new meanings. "Does that mean we can't do anything the pagans did – because that is a ridiculous standard?" Hmmm, I never made that argument. I did, however, state that we can't accept something just because it's widespread. Here's the original snippet: "...pagan customs made their way into just about every church in existence today. I already mentioned this--Christmas and Easter are pagan, as are wedding rings and even the requirement of government or church weddings in order for a couple to be truly "married"--and yet, these things are also generally accepted by churches. Again, we can't accept something just because it's widespread." “Luke was Paul's companion, so this isn't surprising (that he agrees with Paul). It was mentioned that 2 Peter endorses Paul, but when I responded that this was and is indeed one of the most disputed authorships in the NT, no one has provided any additional information regarding why it should be considered to be Peter's writings genuinely, and thus my doubt surrounding this remains.” (The above is my quote) You accuse me of "dogma over doctrine", but this is interestingly fallacious, for all I've done is state that circular proof isn't exactly convincing, which I'm sure any logical person would agree with. Christians also ought to be logical people. Luke, Paul, or anyone else can still potentially be valid and convincing, but we need more than circular support among contemporaries to establish that. The fact that Polycarp, who studied with John the beloved disciple and who led the favored church of Smyrna, for example, mentioned any of Paul's letters in his "Letter to the Philippians", is FAR better proof of this, because we can track the teachings which were handed down back to Jesus and because in Revelation, Smyrna is praised as doing things right. It's stuff like that which I've been looking for. So far my observation has been that most Christians can provide only circular proofs, act like that's sufficient evidence, and then start discouraging me on the basis of my continued doubt, which is puzzling. Sometimes pride keeps us from realizing our arguments aren't really as convincing was we think they are...this is a bit of a pet peeve, as I observe that such tendencies are literally killing modern evangelism. (The "well I gave you the proof you need, so just believe" attitude...) Good thing I've been able to ignore this sort of behavior for the most part, since otherwise I would have never run into the proof I needed to realize Jesus was who he said he was. "For a Christian, the Law is obsolete in its entirety (with regards to righteousness – not knowledge). There are exactly no such written rules that apply to, or in any sense obligate, sincere Christians - none." Really? Because a few paragraphs ago, you said that condemning homosexuality was 'essential doctrine'. Furthermore, my doubt remains: Yes, a new covenant is foretold, with Israel. Where exactly do we see this distinction between what was and wasn't changed? There is much disagreement even on WHICH rules changed. I just don't see any clarity on this matter. "For example, there were Egyptians who fled Pharoah along with the Israelites. They were welcome to come along as long as they also followed the rules.”" (the above is my quote) "Therefore, to account for gentile converts, perhaps it would be more correct to say that the Law never applied beyond Judaism" And beyond Judaism, was there any salvation available? If going to hell was the alternative to accepting Jewish laws, then apparently the rules given in Judaism did indeed apply to gentiles. "You are suggesting we should read exceptions into what is actually written – therefore it is your responsibility to provide an argument for the case of exceptions." Again, nope. I find it interesting that you seem to to so badly desire to accuse me of saying things I haven't. Why? I'm doubting your interpretation because you have failed to support your claim, but why not just actually support your claim? To shout back that I, your doubter, am making a claim, is rather ridiculous. Doubting your claim != making my own. Here's the verse: Romans 14:5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. You originally brought that verse out hoping to support your position, citing it directly following these words: "We can abstain from bacon if we choose, but there is no value in that decision before God with regards to righteousness (either for or against)." Thus, you're the one making a claim, and the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. I'm still waiting for you to support this claim ("we can abstain from bacon if we choose") Read the verse carefully. There's no mention of bacon; it just says "meat". "I don't think “flat out abandoned their Torah observance” is an apt characterisation of my position. As Paul described in Romans 14, a person is free to honour God through regulating what they eat or when they worship, or, alternatively, a person can honour God by walking in the fullness of freedom offered through Christ. It is no surprise that Jewish Christians continued in many of their traditions – even though it was no longer required." Same question, then, with your position reworded: We need support for that position, then. I've actually been looking into this possibility as well, since I wanted to better understand how these widespread ideas came to be without any explicit point in biblical history where the apostles or Paul encouraged that it was acceptable to abandon Torah observance. "The main advocate of freedom from Law in the New Testament is Paul (along with the author of Hebrews – likely Paul, but not stated). It is very easy to support the superiority of the New Covenant if we are permitted to use these scriptures (see Hebrews 8, for example). What is difficult in our conversation is that you reject Paul on the very basis of this explicit doctrine." I do? Really? I believe I've established my doubts as to how Paul harmonizes with the twelve, and several others along the way. That I'm trying to put the pieces together is saying that I haven't yet reached a conclusion, nothing more. The only circular reasoning I see is the supposition above, suggesting that I can't reach a conclusion because I haven't yet reached one. I enumerated the doubts which I still have in my previous post. I still would love to see those addressed.
  11. Harmonizing Paul and the Twelve

    NB - I'm not sure why the editor made most of my post above bold. I can't seem to get rid of it.
  12. Harmonizing Paul and the Twelve

    I'm not *totally* convinced that commandments = the law of Moses, but it does so far seem to be the most likely explanation. John does indeed list the commandments of loving God and one another, but I still fail to see how we can ignore the many times that other commandments are given, suggesting that "love God/love people" isn't a complete list. For example: Matthew 23:2 "2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe,[a] that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." (Here, Jesus is directly telling the crowds and his disciples to do the things read from the Moses seat, which would have been the Torah.) Matthew 19:16 "16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”" (Here Jesus lists a few more OT commandments right alongside "love your neighbor") Do you see the confusion here? There are places in the Bible where he clearly instructs the disciples and the crowds to obey far more than "love your neighbor". === (Regarding Matthew 7:21-23) "You have overlooked the specific criticism of Jesus. Jesus said their problem was “I never knew you”." That doesn't seem right...in verse 21, it tells us that only those who *do* the will of the Father will enter the kingdom: "21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Right after that is where Jesus affirms that even many people who seem to be real believers, as evidenced by their ability to do powerful works through him, will get rejected! I'm terrified by the notion that Jesus would reject people who call upon his name and sincerely seek him, and even are able to do amazing works of faith and think they're following him correctly...but who maybe get it wrong by accident...to the point that I actually have another thread open trying to figure out who these people are, that Jesus rejects, even after they called upon his name. If people who believe in Jesus and can even do miracles in his name can't get saved, then wow...I guess the rest of us are screwed? Seriously though, there's really no comfortable explanation for this, thus my thread on that topic. === "In your most recent post, you seem to be considering Paul's inclusion based on the standard of adherence to the Law – which demonstrates that you have predetermined the issue prior to consideration." Faulty conclusion, and no, there's nothing predetermined about my doubts. I came into this thread because I genuinely do not understand how it is that Paul fits in, especially given the many varying viewpoints on this matter, many of which raise valid points. So far, this explanation which you quoted makes the most sense to me so far. I'm not totally convinced, though, which is why I continue to explore. I don't yet have a conclusion. I only have the notion so far that certain explanations make a little more sense than others. === “this is where I struggle. Gentiles in synagogues on sabbaths and kept Jewish holy days and other Jewish customs” (me) "I'm not sure where this idea comes from." (you) Acts 18:4 "4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks." Why were there Greeks there, too? Acts 13:14 "14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.” 16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!" (Paul addressed the Jews and Gentiles as two distinct groups) Acts 2:5 "5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”" (Why were there Gentiles there in Jerusalem at Pentecost if they weren't following Jewish traditions?) === "Jesus raised the standard of righteousness from a system of outward obedience to a system of sincere, worshipful devotion. That devotion is a faith/love response to the knowledge that our salvation is entirely the work of Christ; nothing we did (nor could ever do) contributed to our standing with God – and so Christ deservingly gets all of the glory." On this point I do agree. Furthermore, Torah observant Christians will further explain that the law is kept BECAUSE they are saved, not SO THAT they are saved. Tzitzit, kosher eating, and everything else is seen as obedience to God out of love...for the same reasons that we keep other commandments, such as not murdering and not committing adultery. And my suggestion above that Paul was possibly Torah observant and taught such is in line with this way of thinking, as this notion doesn't clash with Jesus' very Jewish way of teaching and living. === "This is a list of rules for the Jews to obey as their part in the covenant with God. No sincere love or devotion is required – just follow the instructions." God DID ask for their sincere devotion, though. The commandment to love god with all your heart which Jesus gave wasn't new...it's right there in Deuteronomy 6:5. === "If you are Christ's, you have scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide you into truth." There are an awful lot of people who think this way and yet come to drastically different conclusions. I again wonder how it is we can verify that we have arrived upon God's intended interpretation. === "None of these examples are “pagan”. Christians celebrated the birth of Christ on December 25th before the Roman pagan festival of Sol Invictus was instituted. Easter stems from the German festival of the East – celebrating the resurrection of Christ with the rising of the sun on the Sunday (i.e. around the time of Passover, when the Bible says Jesus was raised). The history of wedding rings is vague – but as far as I can ascertain, they have always represented covenant marital devotion, not pagan worship. But I agree that they are not a requirement of scripture." Ummm...ok. Most Christians don't deny the pagan origins of these things and instead insist that such origins are irrelevant due to the new meanings assigned to them after Christians adapted these holidays. While scholars debate the origin of Christmas, most believe that it has to do with winter solstice celebrations, which definitely predate Jesus. This, at least, is the opinion of National Geographic. Pagan celebrations around this time predating Jesus are well-accepted. Same story with Easter. Scholars tend to agree that it was originally a pagan festival, but they disagree about exactly which one. One thing we do know is that even as early as the first apostolic successors, the Easter vs. Passover question was causing problems: Polycarp was being pressured to celebrate Easter instead of Passover, and he flat out refused, insisting that he would continue to observe Passover the way that John did and according to the calendar date that John had used. Naturally, I question your statement on the origin of Easter as a German tradition; seeing as this argument happened prior to 100 AD. Wedding rings date back to at least the ancient Egyptians. No, they're not pagan "worship" as you mentioned, but they were pagan nonetheless. So...where did you get this information of the supposed origins of these holidays? Many things you have said up to this point have been credible, but these statements aren't. === "You skipped the argument. You suggested you were testing “the prophets”. I provided the context (1 Jn 4:1-3) revealing the standards against which we are instructed to “test the spirits” - i.e. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God”. In Romans 1:3, Paul explicitly confesses that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. So Paul passes the test." This is still circular reasoning. Paul is still the one proclaiming that Paul passes the test. One reason so many Jews did NOT accept Paul is that he didn't pass the Deuteronomy 13 test. No one had John's writings to refer to until many decades after Jesus' death. === "But not Luke or Peter – who explicitly endorse Paul's legitimacy in scripture." Luke was Paul's companian, so this isn't surprising (that he agrees with Paul). It was mentioned that 2 Peter endorses Paul, but when I responded that this was and is indeed one of the most disputed authorships in the NT, no one has provided any additional information regarding why it should be considered to be Peter's writings genuinely, and thus my doubt surrounding this remains. === "This is a red herring. My claim was that God revealed our freedom from Law to Peter by showing him that salvation was also offered to those who are not under the Law." No it's not. I'm asking what Torah laws might have prohibited Peter from visiting the Gentiles, since you said: "Peter was initially resistant to the message of freedom from Law - God had to reveal this to him in a vision" We know that Peter's own interpretation of the vision was that he could visit Gentiles, yet you suggested that it had something to do with freedom from the law. So, naturally, I'm asking exactly which laws you think he was freed from, since the only change enacted here was that he went from NOT visiting Gentiles to doing so. === "Christians relate to God under a completely New Covenant. But what doesn't change, regardless of the covenant, is morality." This seems to be the crux of your position and what I'd appreciate if you could elucidate. Yes, a new covenant is foretold, with Israel. Where exactly do we see this distinction between what was and wasn't changed? There is much disagreement even on WHICH rules changed. I just don't see any clarity on this matter. You mention that the distinctions between moral and "other" laws are self-evident--but I maintain the question of where GOD makes such distinctions, or where he cancels some and not others? === "None of the “Torah rules” ever applied to the gentiles." They sure seemed to be, according to the old testament. For example, there were Egyptians who fled Pharoah along with the Israelites. They were welcome to come along as long as they also followed the rules. Plus, God's covenants were/are with Israel. We're "grafted into Israel" so that we can partake in that new covenant (whatever its rules may or may not be). === "We please Him by faith in the finished work of the cross – and our subsequent good works will reflect that faith, but not add to our standing before God." I do accept that Jesus has already paid the price for our salvation. The main thing which I am NOT sure of is which works are those which those who love God will do; which works are those without which faith is dead? Jesus' commandments include a lot more than "love God/love people", and without a strong case to disregard them, it seems like doing so might risk living a lifestyle that isn't pleasing to God. I don't think any of us wants to risk intentionally living in sin, so it's utterly important that we define it. Defining the way God wants us to live is indeed one of the things I hope to determine from this discussion and others I'm having. Matthew 7:21 "21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." === "I am happy to let Romans 14:6 speak for itself. For me, there is no reason to assume it means anything other than what it says. You are the one suggesting it might mean something beyond what it says. So you are the one obligated to provide support for “your position, but you are also welcome to not support your position”." Except it doesn't work that way. You originally brought that verse out hoping to support your position, citing it directly following these words: "We can abstain from bacon if we choose, but there is no value in that decision before God with regards to righteousness (either for or against)." Thus, you're the one making a claim, and the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. I'm merely a skeptic; my position is merely that I currently do NOT have a satisfactory explanation for how the teachings of Paul fit in with the very Jewish repentance/kingdom teachings Jesus made during his lifetime. I don't claim that it does or doesn't mean what you say--and I cast doubt on people's explanations hoping to see which position is best supported. And because the "eat anything" position doesn't seem very well-supported, my doubts remain. === “Were we not "grafted onto Israel" and made a part of it?” (me) "We were not. Jesus is the vine onto which we were grafted (Jn 15:1-5). We were grafted into the promise of salvation – which followed the ancestral line from Adam to Jesus." (you) What is the meaning of the following, then: Romans 11:17 "17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree..." Here, our buddy Paul is talking about how Gentiles are made a part of the tree which symbolizes Israel and its inheritance. Corroborating that, we remember that the new covenant was FOR Israel in the first place: Jeremiah 31:31 "“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (By the way, the above verse is one that supports your hypothesis of the differences in Paul's teachings being of the new covenant. We would still have to explain, though, why it is that it's so different than the message Jesus gave during his life on Earth. We could explore this; it would be helpful.) === "Were they differences over morality, or other doctrines? Were they condoning sex outside of Godly marriage, or murder, or theft, or pagan worship etc." Both. I've made a point of visiting a number of varying denominations and seeing how people explain their beliefs. Here are just a few issues on which the varying churches I have seen differ: - Modest dress standards - Make-up - Saturday versus Sunday worship - Acceptance or rejection of practicing gays - Jewelry - Torah observance - Marriage to non-Christians, or even those of another denomination (and more) Churches are kind of all over the map. It's been an interesting experience, but I'm not sure it's brought me closer to any conclusions, other than that I am fairly certain I do not like churches. === "What if God's truth is, as I argue, that the New Covenant of grace is superior to, and therefore replaces, the Old Covenant of Law?" We need support for that position, then. I've actually been looking into this possibility as well, since I wanted to better understand how these widespread ideas came to be without any explicit point in biblical history where the apostles or Paul flat out abandoned their Torah observance. On that note, it seems that whether or not Christians ought to be Torah observant mostly belongs on its own thread. I would have arguments for and against this at present, if I were to participate in such a thread. In support of your theory, though, I would offer the following points so far: * Jesus makes a point of declaring that his own blood sealed the new covenant. This mirrors the way the Mt. Sinai covenant was sealed--also with blood. * We do in fact have several OT verses which prophesy the establishment of a new covenant. * The Talmud records that since about AD 30, (approximately the time of Jesus' death,) the crimson rope which used to turn white as a sign of the forgiveness of sin following Yom Kippur observances in the traditional Jewish manner. (This is one my my favorites, as it's a widely verified, non-Christian source pointing to the legitimacy of Jesus' work on the cross in general. I'm surprised no one mentioned it so far, actually.) But the doubts remain: I've spelled many of them out, but in summary, here are the specific status updates on my original questions: * At what point are Paul's gospel and the twelve apostles' version harmonized? * Possibility: Since we know that the apostles were Jews, Jesus was a Jew, and Jesus told people to follow Jewish commandments, Paul's letters, which are confusing the the apostles' admission, can indeed be interpreted as opposition to the traditions of MAN rather than opposition to any of the laws God gave to Moses. We're left with the question of why he seemed to tell the Gentiles not to be under the law, or if indeed he did. * Possibility: We see in the OT that a new covenant was foretold. If we can establish that the new covenant is characterized by a new set of commandments replacing (and not in addition to) the old ones, then Paul's (again confusing) letters can also be interpreted as supporting adherence to such a set of new rules. We're let with the question of whether the old laws were truly abolished, though, since the apostles seemed to keep them, many early church fathers are recorded as keeping the sabbath and the biblical feasts, and why Paul so adamantly wanted to prove to the Jews in the book of Acts that he indeed DID keep the law. * Why does Jesus never mention during his time on Earth any of the things Paul is teaching? * I still don't know. But I can recognize that the notion that a few things were changing was definitely alluded to on multiple occasions. It's a bit cryptic, though, which doesn't satisfy my black-and-white mind. * Since Paul's version is so different from the apostles' version, how can we be sure he's not a false prophet? (Many people at the time thought he was) * The explanations to this are seen under the first point. * If Paul's truth is the one we're supposed to go by, then why wouldn't Jesus have made any mention of those concepts during his earthly ministry? Why would he choose twelve guys who would ultimately "get it wrong"? * This I am still confused by...especially since those twelve guys seemingly kept on living by the Jewish laws long after the resurrection. I'd love to see some material that demonstrates otherwise. * What early Christian records do we have which suggest that the churches founded by the apostles and NOT touched by Paul were taught Paul's version of the gospel...and were taught so by the apostles and not Paul? (This perhaps would be the most convincing to me, seeing as all biblical attempts to harmonize Paul and the apostles are written by Paul's camp.) * While searching, I found out that people like Polycarp DID keep sabbath on the 7th day, as well as the biblical feasts, which is odd if those things "passed away". I observe that you bring up a myriad of verses which seem to say that sabbaths and dietary laws requirements and such are done away with, but I fail to see how this explanation fits: I fail to see how these verses harmonize with the words of Jesus who told us to listen to and DO the law of Moses (Matthew 23) and who told a man seeking eternal life to follow the ten commandments literally (Mark 10:18). This is part of the information I have been seeking, if it exists, from the start, and this is the information I still lack, if we are to support Paul's differences as a "new covenant" position.
  13. I came to belief largely through studying historical evidence surrounding the resurrection, scientific impossibilities of our universe existing without a designer, and incredibly accurate Bible prophecies which foretold the Messiah. If that is the sort of stuff you are looking for, I would be happy to share. Just say so
  14. How effective are Gospel tracts?

    Tracts I've seen seem pretty ineffective, largely because they don't address the main reason people don't turn to God--they don't believe there IS a God. Posters above have affirmed a few anecdotal stories about traditional tracts being helpful, but my experience has been that most people I know personally, including myself at one point in life, would need to first get over the hurdle of believing that God even exists. I feel like tracts which could directly address THAT in a way that is respectful to one's intellect might be a little more effective. I have never seen any such tracts, though.