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Judge Not

Someone last week accused me of being “judgmental.”  My first thought was to respond, “how judgmental of you!”   But I thought better of it.  Instead I submitted my “questionable” comments to other people whom I trust and they disagreed that my tone was judgmental. I did later tweet the following: “If you accuse someone of being judgmental, are you being . . . judgmental?”

I looked up the word “judgmental” in  Here is what it says: “1. involving the use or exercise of judgment; 2. tending to make moral judgments.”  Based on that definition, it seems to me all of us need to be “judgmental.”  All of us need to exercise judgment, hopefully good judgment.  All of us should be thinking about morals and ethics, pondering the consequences of our actions, and advocating for what is good and true and right.  Seems to me we do this all the time.sawn-off-boards-wood-sawdust

Generally, Christians who want to accuse others of judging point to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1ff).  Here is the King James Version:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

If you study it carefully, you will notice that Jesus’ teaching has four parts:

(a) an admonition . . .  do not judge

(b) a rationale . . . for you will be judged in the same way, by the same standard 

(c) an example (in this case a particularly ludicrous example) . . . the log in your eye/ the dust in the other’s eye 

(d) a restatement and clarification of the initial admonition . . . take care of your own issue before you try to address someone else’s

Some people have thought Jesus prohibited his followers from ever exercising judgment or expressing an opinion.  Not true.  If so, then Jesus violates his own principle time and again.  In fact in the very next breath Jesus says: “Don’t give precious things to dogs.  Don’t cast your pearls before swine. . . . “ (Matthew 7:6). Now Jesus isn’t talking about pets and barnyard animals.  He is talking about people. Some people are dogs.  Some are swine.  In other words some people are like animals, unable to distinguish between one thing or another.  You don’t share with them holy and precious things; they will ruin them and then turn on you.  Later in Matthew (chapter 23) Jesus criticized the Pharisees for loving attention, keeping people from God, and stealing from the poor.  He says, “Woe to you Pharisees, woe to you who teach the law, hypocrites!  You traverse hills and mountains and seas to make one convert, and then when he does convert, you make him much more a son of hell than you are. . . Woe to you , teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like a grave that has been whitewashed.  You look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside you are full of moldering bones and decaying rot” (Matthew 23:2-39). Seems to me Jesus has made a judgment.  Seems to me he has expressed a judgment. Seems to me he is not being very PC.  So what do we make of it? 

First, let’s recognize that Jesus was a deeply polarizing figure.  People either loved him or despised him.  He made a lot of people angry, particularly people in power. Ultimately, he was crucified on a Roman cross for sedition. Let’s leave behind the silly, adolescent notion that Jesus walked around spitting out witty aphorisms and telling everybody to get a long.  Jesus’ wasn’t crucified for being “nice” and urging everyone to be “nice” too.  He came into a world deeply marred and broken.  Some powerful people had vested interests in maintaining the status quo.  Jesus muddied their water.

So what does Jesus want us to do?  Well, he wasn’t saying: “don’t form an opinion.”  He wasn’t saying: “don’t express an opinion.”  Based on the entire teaching–admonition, rationale, example, and restatement—Jesus was urging his followers to examine themselves first before seeking to correct another brother or sister.  In other words, correction is needed in the church. Your friend may have something in her eye.  She needs help getting it out. But before you can help her, you must remove the obstruction in your own. 

If you are addicted to money and what it can buy, don’t go around correcting others for the same problem. Do they need help? Absolutely.  But you are not the best person to offer correction.  If you have trouble being faithful to your husband, don’t condemn somebody who is struggling with the same problem.  Does she need help?  Absolutely.  But you are  not the best person to offer counsel.  If you have a tendency to lash out in anger, don’t be hyper-critical of a brother with an anger-management issue.  Does he need help?  Absolutely.  But you’re not the one to be able to bring correction.  At least not until you have dealt with your own issue successfully.

Here is the punchline of Jesus’ teaching: “Remove the plank from your own eye, and then perhaps you will be able to see clearly how to help your brother flush out his sawdust” (Matthew 7:5, The Voice)

A. O. Collins Lecture featuring Dr. Richard Bauckham

The School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University is pleased to announce that Professor Richard Bauckham will deliver the A. O. Collins lectures for fall 2013.  Professor Bauckham’s title for this lecture is: “Mark’s Topography: The Cognitive Map of a Capernaum Fisherman.”

The geographical information in Mark’s Gospel, especially about Galilee, has often been thought to be confused and certainly presents some problems. The lecture uses the idea of a ‘mental map.’ The way we construct our spatial environment in our minds is very different from the maps we see on paper or on screen. A close look at Mark’s geography shows that it makes very good sense if it reflects the mental map of a Galilean fisherman based in Capernaum.

The lecture will be held November 5, 2013 in Belin Chapel at 7.00 pm (Central) on the campus of Houston Baptist University.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

A Brief Biography:
Richard Bauckham was until recently Professor of New Testament Studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor in the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and is now Professor Emeritus at St Andrews.  He was born in London in 1946, and educated at Downhills and Merryhills primary schools and Enfield Grammar School. He then studied at Cambridge, where he read history at Clare College (gaining a B.A. Honours degree, first class, and a Ph.D.), and was a Fellow of St John’s College for three years.  After teaching theology for one year at the University of Leeds, he taught historical and contemporary theology for fifteen years at the University of Manchester, before moving to St Andrews in 1992.  He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  He retired in 2007 in order to concentrate on research and writing, and is Senior Scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, where he does some teaching for the Cambridge Federation of Theological Colleges. He is also a Visiting Professor at St Mellitus College, London. From 1996 to 2002 he was General Editor of the Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series. He is an Anglican (but not ordained), and was a member of the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England for some years. In 2009 he was awarded the Michael Ramsey prize for his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and in 2010 the Franz-Delitzsch-Award for a volume of collected essays, The Jewish World around the New Testament. He has traveled widely giving lectures and conference papers. Though his permanent home is now in Cambridge, he returns to St Andrews frequently. When he can find the time, he writes poetry, and has also written two children’s story books about the MacBears of Bearloch (published on his website:

His published works include:
Jesus and the God of Israel (Eerdmans, 2008)
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2008)
Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (T & T Clark, 2000)
2 Peter, Jude in Word Biblical Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1983)
The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John (Baker, 2007)
The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, 1983)

The lecture will be held in Belin Chapel in the Morris Cultural Arts Center on the campus of Houston Baptist University.
The A. O. Collins lectures began in 1993 with the goal of bringing recognized scholars to address the university community in current trends in theology, religious studies and philosophy.  The series is named for Dr. A. O. Collins who chaired HBU’s Department of Christianity and Philosophy until his retirement in 1990. Over the last two decades, due to the generosity of former students and friends of the university, top scholars from around the world have lectured on our campus on a wide range of topics on religion and philosophy.

Some of our past lecturers have included:
Dr. James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary
Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary
Dr. Charles Talbert, Baylor University
Dr. Ellen T. Charry, Princeton Theological Seminary
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, Emory University
Dr. Alan Segal, Barnard College, Columbia University
Dr. Samuel Proctor, Duke University
Dr. John Howard Yoder, University of Notre Dame
Dr. James W. McClendon, Jr., Fuller Theological Seminary
Dr. Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary’s Seminary
Dr. Larry Hurtado, University of Edinburgh

Please join us for this lecture.  It is an important event for our campus and community.  Should you have questions, please contact the acting chair of the Department of Theology, Dr. Ben Blackwell, at 281-649-3000.


Christianity is “Hypocritical, Wrong, and Ultimately Doomed”

I received an email from someone recently.  He relates an indictment against mainstream Christianity from a messianic Christian perspective.  I’ve changed the names and edited slightly our correspondence (to protect the innocent).

 Hello, Dr. Capes! My name is Cody Hall, and I am a student.  I looked at your information on the HBU website, and your interests and publications have prompted me to come to you for a few answers (via email).Messianic_symbols

I’m sure you have heard a lot about Messianic Judaism and are familiar with many of their arguments. But in case this particular Messianic congregation is unique, here are its beliefs:

 1) Christianity as we know it is based entirely on an incorrect interpretation of Paul’s writings.  Particularly, we incorrectly misread Acts 15 and Galatians.

 2)  Christianity is hypocritical, choosing to:

               A) affirm the Ten Commandments while rejecting other Mosaic law (such as Kosher laws, Sabbath, etc.)

               B) keeping pagan based holidays such as Christmas and Easter and rejecting Jewish feasts

               C) using religious language based in paganism, such as “Lord”, “God”, “sacred”, the Trinity, etc.

3) Translation errors: Christianity uses incorrect translations of scripture (especially the NT). These translations obscure the reverence of the Torah in the NT and the teachings of Paul. These translations are also “translations of translations” because the NT was originally written in Aramaic and later translated into Koine Greek.

4) Jews and Gentiles are now one in the olive tree. When you are grafted in, you also inherit the laws of Moses.

5) The “lawlessness” described in the NT are those who do not observe Torah. These are the people who will come before the Lord and be turned away in their “lawlessness”.

My parents have been members of this congregation for many years. Their congregation is called **********   and they have a website. I used to be very sure this was all entirely incorrect, but being home for the summer has started to fill me with doubt. My parents seem very happy and have many kind, new friends.  It appears many evangelical Christians are converting to messianic Judaism. I also do see glimmers of truth and hear some fair critiques of mainstream Christianity (some even I have thought). I’m sorry this is a bit lengthy, but I hope that maybe you could share some wisdom on the matter. Thank you very much for your time.


Cody Hall

Dear Cody,

Thanks for your email.  I have a number of friends who are messianic Jews so I’m quite familiar with the movement.  However, I’ve never heard of a group that looks down so judgmentally on others calling them hypocritical, incorrect, error-filled, lawless, etc, for not agreeing with their interpretation.  I’d be wary of any group that thinks itself so “right” and everyone else so “wrong.”  God resists the proud but he gives grace to the humble. However we hold faith in the Lord Jesus, we should do so humbly.

The fact that your parents and others are happy in this movement and have good friends in itself is not a measure of its truthfulness.   Nor does it guarantee that they are faithfully representing what other Christians believe.Jews%20for%20Jesus%20color

I’d be glad to discuss these issues with you in some length in person, but let me give a basic response to a few of the things you mention. 

1.  This group claims Christians are “hypocritical” because they keep the ten commandments while rejecting other aspects of the Mosaic law.  I would suggest humbly that most Jesus-followers and even orthodox Jews practice Mosaic law selectively. Do women in this group follow all the laws of menstruation?  Do they put to death children who insult their parents as the law requires?  Do they not wear blended clothing (cotton and polyester, for example)?  Do they forgive all debts in the year of jubilee?

There are principled reasons why Christians read Genesis through Deuteronomy the way they do.  People of good faith try to understand what God was doing, saying at the time.  They take seriously that God made a covenant with the ancestors of Abraham on his way to redeem the world and that the stipulations and laws of that covenant deal specifically with the children of Israel.

Christians take seriously the new covenant established by Jesus with his church.  You are probably aware of the Sons of Noah, and the seven laws of Noah.  The seven laws of Noah are for righteous Gentiles.  There was no expectation that non-Jews had to follow all 613 commands; seven were sufficient.  Again, I suggest humbly that most messianic Jews, Christians and orthodox Jews practice God’s law selectively.

2.  There is no evidence that the NT was written originally in Aramaic.  I’ve heard this, of course, many times but there is no evidence for it.  All the earliest documents and quotations we have from NT books are in Greek.

That said, I have full confidence that the Greek translations we have of Jesus’ Aramaic-speeches are faithful and true to what Jesus said.  God is able to inspire, protect and preserve his Word in whatever languages he chooses.  I study and use the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic) but do believe that God can speak to people in other languages too.   Now I do think that Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic but there is good reason to think historically that he could also speak Greek since he lived in a bilingual area (people who speak Spanish at home often speak English at work or in the market).  Since Americans can often only speak a single language, we don’t realize how people raised in a different environment can speak multiple languages. But they did.

3.  I would differ—as would the majority of scholars and serious interpreters—on some of the interpretive issues mentioned in your email. 

Regarding Acts 15. The purpose of Acts is to show the progress of the Jesus movement from Jerusalem to Rome and from people group to people group (Acts 1:8) (Hebraist Jews to Hellenistic Jews to Samaritans to godfearers to Gentiles).  An important moment comes when trying to figure out what Gentiles must do in order to enter the movement and thus enter into Christ.  Did they have to live like Jews (technical term is judaize) or could they come as Gentiles.  I take Acts 15 as Hebraist Jews deciding to allow Gentiles to enter the community and thus into Christ/baptism/table fellowship without full adherence to the law (circumcision, kosher diet, Sabbath and festival observance).  The four things asked by James in Acts 15 are in tune with the 7 laws of Noah, perhaps a version thereof.  The reason given is because in all the cities where they will be going there are synagogues and Jewish communities.  This is the language of accommodation.  In order to keep from offending Torah-observant Jews please refrain from sexual immorality, idol worship, eating things killed via strangulation, etc. Perhaps the key is James’ quotation of Amos in 15:16ff.  The dynasty of David is to be reestablished (Jesus), Israel is to be restored and the exile ended, and the full inclusion of “the nations” is what God has in mind.  Ultimately the church is a countercultural movement of Jews and Gentiles united in Jesus.  So what unites them is Christ not necessarily uniform practices.   This certainly complicated.  There are many good commentaries on Acts which may help.

4.  The Jewish festivals go back to the biblical period but the ways in which they are practiced today by Jews and Messianic Christians do not go back to the biblical period.  Most of what is said, done, for example, at a Passover seder is post-biblical, developed in the rabbinic period after Christianity and Judaism had gone their separate ways. 

I applaud Jesus-followers who attempt to understand his Jewishness and prefer to worship in messianic congregations. I am concerned, however, to think that they would think so highly of themselves and so badly of others who disagree with them.  I concur with you there are glimmers of truth and we, as Jesus-followers, need to be self-critical and always reforming our faith to conform to the image and likeness of Christ.  There are other messianic congregations that would have a more generous view of more mainstream Christianity.

I hope this helps.  I’d be glad to visit with you on this and other matters if you’d like.  Let me know.



 How would you answer some of these objections?

Bill Maher, What’s in Your Pool?

I don’t watch Bill Maher.  I don’t find him particularly funny (if I’m in the minority, I don’t mind.  I don’t like potty humor either).  I think he is boorish and lacking in insight.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new except the TV audience.  Unfortunately, today’s crop of militant anti-theists, like Maher, cannot hold a candle to thoughtful atheists of the past like Bertrand Russell or Friedrich Nietzsche.  Now, let me be clear, I have great respect for humble, reflective atheists and agnostics.  I have a number of friends and colleagues with whom I disagree on matters of faith but the disagreements are agreeable.

Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourner’s, appeared on Bill Maher’s program recently and, as could be predicted, Maher took him to task.  To be frank, I don’t agree with Wallis on all matters of theology or politics but I do regard him as a warm, sincere Christian.  Like many he is following Jesus the best way he knows how.  I don’t have time or inclination to deal with the entire exchange between Maher and Wallis but let me deal with two statements made on both sides.Swimming-Pool 

In response to Maher’s attacks, Wallis made the point that religion has been used for great good in society. Most people who talk about the Bible, he said, haven’t actually read it.  He pointed out how religious people were rallying for immigration reform and how Martin Luther King was inspired by the biblical prophets.  He emphasized how often the Scriptures speak of God’s care for the poor and instructs his people to feed, clothe and care for “the least of these.”  Maher interrupted: “You’re cherry-picking the good parts.” 

Maher proceeded to criticize the Bible: “It’s pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it’s homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer—I mean, there’s so many things in it, and I always say to my religious friends, you know, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?” (Maher’s words not mine)

Two responses which are . . . easy.

First, Mr. Maher, you’re a classic cherry-picker.  You rant against all the stuff you don’t like.  You ignore the vast majority of the Bible which speaks of forgiveness, love, charity, and hope.  You accuse Jim of cherry-picking the good parts.  You’re doing the same thing.  Have the decency to recognize it.

Later in the conversation, Maher said, “Fundamentalism is just people reading what’s there and taking it literally.”  True enough, which makes Maher the biggest fundamentalist of all.  He reads the Bible without knowledge, nuance or sophistication. He reads it as flatly as any flat-earthed fundamentalist I’ve met.  More than that, he thinks that’s the way everyone else reads it too.  He boasts that he has read the Bible, but he has done so for the point of condemning others.  And here is a principle for a thoughtful person of any creed:  Whenever you learn about something for no other reason but to criticize it, then you can’t help but misunderstand it. This is why Maher cannot understand religion in general or Christianity in particular.

Maher condemns the Bible for being homophobic while he is biblio-phobic or Christophobic.  Apparently Maher thinks a person can help being religious but can’t help being homosexual.  Again, Maher misunderstands the religious aspect of human existence and how deeply people “feel” their religion.  They can no more simply hang up their religion than a gay person hang up his/her orientation.

Second, and again, this is . . . easy.  Maher criticizes the Bible: “if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump it?”

There is a Buddhist meditation that invites devotees to take a journey inward—not just into their mind but into their bodies.  Think about what is in your body.  There are organs, muscle, fat, blood, bile, feces, gas, and urine. This is what we are made of.  This is what is in us right this moment.  Mr. Maher, you may not want to be in waste, but waste is in you. 

The point of the meditation is to come to grips with the messiness of human life.  To be human is to be, by definition, messy.  Our lives are messy.  Our relationships are messy.  Our sexuality is messy.  Our politics are messy.  And yes, our religions are messy.  We may wish to swim in a totally clean, chlorinated environment but the minute we jump in we have fouled the waters.  What human institution or organization is without some measure of messiness? 

Whatever the Christian Scriptures are, they are God’s attempt to meet us in the messiness of our human existence.  They portray us as we really are: broken, deeply flawed, angry, contentious, lustful, arrogant, insecure.  The  Scriptures come to a particular people of a particular culture in a particular language.  This is part of the messiness, for language and culture are incapable of expressing the heights, depths, and breadths of the Divine or human existence.   Ultimately, we see in the cross the depths to which God will go to meet us in our brokeness.  Fortunately, God does not leave us where he finds us.  He calls us to something greater. This is why every great university (until the 1900s) was started in the shadow of a cathedral; why hospitals have names with words like Saint, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, etc.; why when disasters hit, the first to respond are people of faith; why believers give and create charities at a pace which far outstrips those who don’t.  

When comedians and celebrities attempt discussions on serious topics, they often show themselves to be ignorant and bigoted, the same qualities they decry in others.  They prefer sound bites and banal zingers to true understanding.  They are able to get away with their prejudices because such low-level discourse is currently fashionable. Fortunately fashions change.

The Ceremonial Washing of Baptism

We receive a lot of good questions about The Voice translation through this website and our facebook page.  Recently, we received a question from a fellow named Nathan who asked why we used the phrase “the ceremonial washing of baptism” where most Bibles simply have “baptism.”  Here is part of our response to him.

 Dear Nathan,

Let me suggest you take a look at The Story of The Voice (Thomas Nelson, 2013), a brief book which describes our translation philosophy, mission and an explanation of some of our translation decisions.  Perhaps that will explain things more fully. 

Briefly, our goal was to get people who have never read or do not regularly read the Bible started reading.  Many people don’t read the Bible because they find it hard and confusing.  We did this translation for them.  Our goal was not to replace anyone’s favorite translation. If you have a treasured translation, by all means read that.  But there is a growing number of people (hundreds of millions in the USA alone) who do not read the Bible for various reasons.  We wanted to give them a Bible they would understand in order to get them started reading the Bible and hopefully hearing the Voice of the Good Shepherd.baptism-top

As to the question you raised about how we translated the Greek word “baptizein” (verb most often translated “to baptize”) and “baptismata” (noun most often translated “baptism”).  We made a strategic decision in translating The Voice not to simply transliterate key words; we translated them.  For example, the transliteration of the Greek word “baptizein” is “baptize” (simply taking the Greek letters and putting them into a Latin alphabet); but the translation of “baptizein” is “to immerse or dip in water” (taking the meaning of the word from Greek to English).  So transliteration replicates the sound of a word; translation gets at the meaning of a word. Many key words in most Bible translations have simply been transliterated (e.g., Christ, angels, baptism, apostle, etc).  In order to communicate well with new readers we thought it was important to translate.  

Now back to “baptizein” and “baptizmata”.  When people who don’t know anything about the Scriptures read “baptism,” what do they understand?  It is confusing because some Christians immerse, some dip, some pour.  And whom do they immerse, dip or pour?  Sometimes children.  Sometimes teenagers.  Sometimes adults.  And why do they do it?  As a sign of prevenient grace, or as a sacrament to signify their chosenness by God, or to mark a person’s profession of faith.  So there is a lot of imprecision in the word “baptism” for people who know little to nothing of Christian tradition.  So what do we do as translators?

Well we went back to the original context.  The antecedent to Christian baptism is likely the immersion practices of second temple Jews like John the Baptist (John the Immerser).  Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of these immersion pools over the last 200 years.  It is so important that there is a tractate on immersion pools in the Mishnah.  Essentially, the purpose of these immersions involved washing or cleansing.  But the washing was not hygienic—people then knew nothing of germs–it was “ceremonial” or “ritual.”  By this is meant an action taken simply because God required it.  mikvaIf you read the OT carefully, then you realize how often God required people to wash or cleanse themselves and other things.  This is why they built all of these immersion pools around synagogues, the temple and other holy sites. Again, we’ve uncovered hundreds and we have only unearthed about 20% of the archaeological sites. So when we translated “baptizein” and its cognates we rendered it “the ceremonial washing of baptism” or “the ritual cleaning of baptism.”  The point of this translation was to help readers understand the context. Namely, baptism is a washing or cleansing which God required and is done not for and by man but for and by God.  In baptism God acts to cleanse, wash and purify.  Now there is more to the theology of baptism than this (identification with the crucified and risen Jesus, for example) but I don’t think there is less.  If you are a veteran Bible reader, then you probably know all of this.  But most people know little to nothing of this.  We did The Voice to help them. 

I hope after reading this you will understand how seriously we took the original context as well as the context of our modern audience.  That is why we call this a “contextually equivalent” translation.  I assure you it would have been much easier just to do what every Bible translation in English has done before.  But does that help modern readers who are not used to reading the Bible, read it for all its worth?  These decisions were intentional and a number of scholars, pastors, and editors thought through them before we went to print.