Liquid Footprints


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In His Image

So God created mankind in his own image ,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 27

We often forget that all of humanity is created in God’s image. It is even said in rabbinic tradition  that the first man was illuminated with glory similar to God’s own.  Christianity focuses a lot upon the Fall of man and our sinfulness.  This makes us forget that even in our sinfulness we are still an image of God. Think on that a moment. We, despite our failings, are created in the likeness of the Supreme Creator.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 3:18

When we look in the mirror or upon another person, we are seeing a some of God’s majesty. Is it any wonder than that Jesus considered the two greatest commands to be love God and love each other? By loving each other, we are loving a part of God’s majesty. What we see within ourselves as an image of God isn’t the way we look. Rather, God creates us in His image of compassion and mercy. God isn’t an old man with the long flowing beard we often visualize. He is Love incarnate and powerful. The face we see in the mirror is a face that can shine with compassion and love for all of creation. Jesus exemplified this Love God is in such a way we can understand. Even His death on the cross doesn’t compare to the Love God is. Dying for another is the only supreme expression of love we can show or understand.

This limitation is why we are an image of God. In some versions of the  Genesis story, God created man only a little less than Himself. We are only a little less capable of being Compassion.

Certainly we sin, but there is a little too much focus on this aspect of being human. The greatest part of being human is being an image of God; no matter how tarnished, it is still there. It can be, as Paul points out, transformed into a greater image; we can grow in Compassion. Realizing this fact, helps us also realize our capacity for love is boundless. We simply do not work to develop it.

Christianity speaks often about God’s grace being a part of salvation from sins. God’s forgiveness is all the is necessary. I argue that we shouldn’t focus so much on this. God will, after all, forgive as He wants to forgive. Our responsibility is to grow in compassion and become increasingly like the Being we are images of. It is only through practicing Love, as Jesus and Paul point out, can we grow into the compassion God originally intended us to be.  We cannot earn forgiveness for sins. We can, however, work toward becoming a representation of God.

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Tithing and Giving

Tithing is the act of giving the tenth of one’s income, typically to a religious organization. I know of many churches that tithe their members. What does the Bible say about this?

First, tithes are practiced in the Jewish Scripture.  It was also very specific. It was the giving of a tenth of what the land produced. In other words, if you didn’t farm, you didn’t pay the tithe:

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. – Leviticus 27:30

There were also various other tithes based on what year it was ( that totaled to around 23%  and not 10% of the harvest). But this regular tithe is what most people consider when they think of tithing. It was an ancient form of taxation. The tithe went to the Temple to support the priest class ( and help support widows and orphans under the care of the Temple).  Jesus wouldn’t have paid the tithe as a carpenter. In fact, He was against tithing when it was a focus:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. – Matthew 23:23

The most important matters of the law: mercy, justice, and faithfulness were considered more important by Jesus than paying a tithe.

So How Should a Christian Give?

Paul tells us that a Christian should give out of the first day of their labor:

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. –1 Corinthians 16: 1,2

By what did they store from their labors? And to whom did were they giving? Paul? No. Paul was making a collection for the saints, but who were they?  The saints Paul is referring to wasn’t the church in Corinth or even the church in Galatia. It wouldn’t make sense for the people in those areas to give to Paul since they could take care of it themselves. Rather, Paul was collecting for the poor at Jerusalem and elsewhere:

 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased those of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers in their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. When therefore I have performed this, and have secured to them this fruit, I will come to you on my way to Spain. -Romans 15:25-28

Paul was collecting food. The first Christians gave to the poor and not to a church organization. They gave of their harvest ( hence no need to be out collecting as Paul asks in the Corinthians verse). There is no set amount offered. Paul doesn’t ask for a tithe. He only asks for something as a person prospers on their first day of labor each week with the goal of feeding their poor brethren.  Paul wasn’t concerned about collecting funds to run a church as we do today. He was concerned with helping those in need.

Consider what Jesus told the Pharisees about their tithing and what Paul taught. What matters is how we give and not how much or what we give. If a church doesn’t help the poor, the hungry, or those in need, we shouldn’t be giving the church a single penny.  We would serve God better in such an instance by giving our money directly to a soup kitchen or even another religious organization that runs a homeless shelter.

So Should We Tithe?

From a doctrinal standpoint, no we shouldn’t tithe. Tithes were based upon the yield of the land and were given to the Temple. Since the Temple doesn’t exist and most of us are not farmers, tithing doesn’t apply.Unfortunately tithing is also a part of the so -called gospel of prosperity (I won’t dignify it with capitals). Many people like to tithe because they think God will return that amount many fold. This is wrong motivation and just plain selfish. It is just like what the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time.

Now, can we tithe if we want? Certainly! Paul teaches that we should lay in store as we prosper on the first day of each week. If you can afford to take a tenth of your income (since most of us don’t harvest anything) then wonderful! However, you have to be certain that the money is going to help those in need and not fund the edifice of a religious organization. Certainly, pastors and preachers  need to eat too, but it cannot be the main purpose of the funds. Most of the funds should go toward helping people.

The funds shouldn’t be used to indoctrinate either. Jesus gave unconditional help to those in need. We also need to do so.  Compassion converts people to a belief system far better than doctrine.

We also have to remember that we must live as a Christian and not just give like a Christian. Jesus’s lesson for the Pharisees remains as a warning for us. A Christian who lives compassionately but doesn’t give is better than a person who calls themselves Christian, gives much and regularly, but doesn’t live compassionately everyday.

Giving is an act of compassion not of compulsion ( 2 Corinthians 9:5 – 7).  We shouldn’t expect anything in return, from those we help or from God. We give because we cannot stand to see others suffer.


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Considering Abraham and Isaac

I’ve been too busy lately with a lot going on in my personal life. But I finally have a moment to post a little something:

You know the story of Abraham and Isaac? God tells Abraham to take Isaac up to an altar and sacrifice him. Abraham, despite obviously being torn as a father, does what he believes he is told. As the story goes, an angel stops Abraham at the last moment. God was only testing his faith.

The story can be viewed as a test of faith – Abraham believes so deeply that he will kill his only son. It can also be viewed as a story that sets the Israelites separate from other people; God doesn’t want or require human sacrifice.

On the deepest level, the story is about a believer becoming faithful; of a man who adheres to doctrine becoming spiritual.  Abraham went up the mountain a believer; he returned deeply faithful. He was, by all definitions, a fundamentalist, but at the last moment he realized God wouldn’t want a human sacrifice. God is love and not command or doctrine. Abraham learned that blindly following doctrine and beliefs is foolish when it goes against God’s nature. He left the mountain a spiritual man. Isaac too learned the difference between doctrine and spirituality.


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Considering the Lord’s Supper

Lord's SupperI grew up believing the Lord’s Supper should be observed every first day of the week. While this is a good practice of mindfulness I am not convinced of how scriptural the practice is. Most of the logic I am familiar with is rather shaky and seems to add to the text. The looming Passover holiday on the calendar as I write this brings my doubts to the front on my mind.

First, we all agree that Jesus instituted His Supper during the Passover celebration, which happened on the Sabbath day – Friday evening on the Jewish way of dividing the days. I don’t dispute that…in fact it is the linchpin behind my doubts. Anyway, let us examines the proofs used to support first day of the week Lord’s Supper. I will add my thoughts after, addressing each section and point. (1a for example). My thoughts will also be in blue.

All quotations are taken from the New King James translation.

1) Acts 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

a) The phrase “break bread” is thought to be the Lord’s Supper. The disciples came together specifically to do this. It is argued that Paul happened to be there so he preached during a normal worship service held on the first day of the week.  This means that it was a regular practice to take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week.

1a) The phrase “break bread” often simply means “eat a meal.” It is argued that sometimes the phrase means this and other times it refers to the Supper based on context. However, given Acts 2:41-43 and  Acts 2:46-47, the first Christians practiced steadfastly and daily met in the temple and house to house “breaking bread” and eating their food with “gladness and simplicity of heart.” Was this the Supper? Many would say no since they were eating food. However, this earliest practice doesn’t designate any significance to the first day of the week. Every day of the week was a day of meeting at the temple and breaking bread house to house.

Take this cup, my blood. Break the bread, representing my body.Deciding that the ambiguous phrase “break bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper seems to be adding meaning to a verse that falls in line with common daily practice. Luke uses the phrase “first day of the week,” to denote the timing of their journey. He used the Passover to also denote timing of their journey, which was important. Paul was trying to get to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Luke only sketches until there are main events. Paul reviving Eutychus after falling from a window is an event worth recording. Likewise Paul leaves at daybreak after he had “broken bread and eaten.” They were apparently having a normal evening meal as was the custom.

Jesus instituted His Supper on the Passover and tied it directly to the elements of the Passover: the lamb’s blood and the act of remembrance: Exodus 13:3. The only times the Lord’s Supper is explicitly mentioned is in relation with the Passover: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Mark 14, Luke 22. Attaching the phrase “break bread” with special significance when the Supper is explicitly attached to Passover whenever it appears is adding meaning to Scripture. Could the early Christians be observing the Supper daily when they met house to house to break bread? Certainly. It has as much contextual proof as this phrase from Acts.  However, the only direct correlation of the Supper in Scripture is with Passover. Everything else is an effort to bend scripture to “prove” Christian tradition. Of course, weekly or daily mindfulness of Jesus is an excellent thing.

b) Paul also waited to call the meeting until the first day of the week despite being in a hurry to leave (v8-16). Therefore, the Lord’s Supper cannot be held on any other day.

1b) The passage doesn’t show Paul was in any hurry until he left Troas. In fact, Paul wasn’t in a hurry until they arrived at Miletus since in verse 13 Paul decided to walk to the next destination and arrived after Luke did (vs 14).  The Troas passage shows Paul wanted to spend a full week with the Christians of that area like he did at Philippi (vs 6). This first day of the week was mentioned because of the special events and the fact Paul was reluctantly departing that day, which was a regular work day since ships were sailing.

c) Also, the phrase “first day of the week” is the only day of the week singled out for worship.

1c) There are 8 instances of this phrase in the New Testament. I wrote this article that examines them. Note that the first day of the week began on our Saturday night at sun down. Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, but that is the only significant event. Important events also happen on other days of the week according to Acts and other books. Also note that the Sabbath is referred to in the New Testament 60 times. The argument that the first day of the week is a significant phrase doesn’t hold in light of how many times the Sabbath is mentioned. Also the early Christians were primarily Jews who still practiced the Sabbath as scriptures makes reference throughout.

Early Christian mosaic2) 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. …So then, my brothers,when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34  if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

a) Paul tells the Corinth Church that as often as they come together they are to observe the Lord’s Supper properly.  The Supper should be eaten when they assemble, but this isn’t a common meal – he even tells the hungry to eat at home. Since Acts states Christians met on the first day of the week, the Supper is observed at every first day of the week.

2a) Paul doesn’t say exactly when the Corinthian church met. He does attach the Lord’s Supper with the Passover, however. Because this passage is ambiguous with the phrase “as often as you come together” we don’t know if the church met on the first day of the week as often surmised or if they met daily like in Acts 2:46-47. It is also possible that they met far less frequently when they were persecuted.

3) 1 Corinthians 16: 1,2 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

a) Paul tells the church of Corinth to set aside a gift to the church upon the first day of every week.

3a) There are several elements to note in this passage. First, the collection was for the saints, not the church. Paul uses the same phrase in Romans 15: 25-28 where he takes fruit he collected from other churches to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He is asking the Corinthians for a collection to help the poor and hungry, not the local church. Likewise Paul is telling individuals to set aside some of what they prospered/harvested on the first day of the week for this purpose. The grammar of both the New King James and the King James translations point to this if you look at how the verbs relate to their subjects.

He isn’t telling them to donate to the church on the first day. Rather he is telling each church member to store up a little from the first day of work each week.  Each member is also responsible for storing the item. The grammar is reflexive and returns back to the subject “each.”  Paul doesn’t want any collecting to happen when he arrives. Collecting in this case refers to harvesting when you consider an identical situation in Romans. Paul doesn’t want everyone to wait until the last moment before harvesting for the collection to help the poor. If Paul was just after money, waiting until he arrived to collect the money wouldn’t have been a big deal. However, harvesting foodstuffs would take a lot more time and effort.

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The Lord's Supper was once humble. It is now ritual.Sounds like I am against worshiping on the first day of the week eh? I’m not.

I am stating that the evidence used in the New Testament to support first day of the week worship isn’t as solid as it seems. The Lord’s Supper being equated with the phrase “breaking bread” is problematic since the phrase is used for eating meals and isn’t specially reserved. The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week and also daily. They also broke bread on the Passover. Relying on such a phrase to vindicate tradition isn’t building an argument on solid ground.

Likewise the events with Paul, as I explained, don’t single out particular instances of worship. In fact, 1 Corinthians 16: 1,2 seems to contradict this idea. It is on a a first day of the week’s work that Paul ask something be set aside for the poor. Again, he wasn’t asking the members to set aside anything for their own church.

Finally, even Jesus doesn’t place a specific time for His Supper. While He equates it with the Passover, He also tells the apostles simply to do the Supper in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). Paul says the Supper should be done as often as a church meets. So that leaves room for the first day of the week, daily, or even just on Passover.

However, there are proof of first day Suppers outside the New Testament. These proofs don’t appear until 90 CE with the Didache, 100CE with the Epistle of Barnabas and 150 CE with Justin Martyr among other extra-scriptural references. The New Testament gives Christians freedom as to when to observe the Supper. It was attached to the first day of the week traditionally because it was the day Jesus was resurrected.

So I’m back at the beginning. The verses of the NT are inconclusive. The reader can infer the verses I mentioned in this article are proofs of worship practice or are closer to what I consider a proper understanding of the context. Practicing the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week is an excellent practice in mindfulness. It starts off the week with a proper mind. Of course, an even better practice of Jesus centered mindfulness would be to follow Acts 2 and observe the Lord’s Supper daily if we want to equate “breaking bread” with it.

In either case, Jesus tells us to remember Him with the Supper. At the least He equated it with the Passover meal He instituted it on. Paul tells the Corinthians to observe it as often as they meet. Finally, tradition says we should do it on the first day of the week.  What matters more than the frequency is remembering Jesus properly with mindfulness.


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Didache: Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

The Didache is a first century Christian writing.The Didache is an interesting document from the 1st Century. The document was discovered in 1883 in a monastery in Constantinople. The short text of just 16 Chapters provides a general guide for early Christians. It is possible that some early congregations only had the Didache. The document seems to be closely related to the Gospel of Matthew.

The Didache opens with a general guide to what it means to be Christian. I’ll paraphrase:

  1. Love God and your neighbor as yourself. Don’t do to them as you don’t want done to you.
  2. Bless those that curse you and pray for your enemies. “But do ye love them that hate you, and ye will not have an enemy.” 1:3
  3. Abstain from worldly lusts.
  4. Turn your cheek, go the extra mile, and give your coat to those who steal your cloak
  5. Give to everyone who asks. “Blessed is he who giveth according to the commandment, for he is free from guilt; but woe unto him that receiveth. For if a man receive being in need, he shall be free from guilt; but he who receiveth when not in need, shall pay a penalty...’

The Didache continues looking into Christian conduct through Chapter 7, where it has an interesting take on baptism. The Didache lists the Jewish commandments in chapter 2. While chapter 3 emphasizes the need to be compassionate, harmless, and peaceful. Chapter 4 is also interesting. It creates another set of “thou shalt not” commandments for early Christians:

Thou shalt not:

  1.  desire schism
  2. accept the accusations of a person without looking into it
  3. doubt whether something will happen or not (this is curious)
  4. be a hand stretcher but loathe to give
  5. doubt giving or complain about it
  6. turn away anyone in need
  7. turn away from sons or daughters
  8. make servants bitter toward you
  9. abandon the Lord’s commandments (likely referring to all the commands listed in the previous chapters)
  10. come to prayer with an evil conscience.

Chapter 7 goes into baptism with quite a pragmatic view, unlike some churches today. The Didache considers immersion in “living” or running water best. But if it’s not available you can baptize in another water, preferably cold. If you can’t do that, pour water 3 times over the head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also says you have to recite all the previous precepts. It also teaches that the person being baptized and the person doing the baptism should both fast 1 ore 2 days before the event.

The document continues with thanks giving prayers during the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist as usually translated). It also says we should pray 3 times a day using the Lord’s Prayer as a model and privately as Matthew also mentions. Prayer shouldn’t be done in public settings exempting the Lord’s Supper.

The Didache continues with general guidelines to how to assemble for worship, recognize false teachers, and general suggestions on appointing teachers and keeping the faith.

I found the document very interesting. It provides a general summary of 1st Century Christian practices. Their practices were actually quite simple too. Worship involved confessing sins before the Lord’s Supper and brief prayers. That’s it. It doesn’t mention sermons, or singing. The Didache has a pragmatic view on baptism based on availability of water; which makes sense for arid areas. It provides a good overview of the principles presented in the Gospels in a concise format.  The text even has a Zen quality to many of its passages.

The Didache opens a window into early Christianity. Christianity is at its heart a simple spiritual system. The complication and extravagance of modern Christianity distorts the quiet, family oriented heart. Archeology suggests Christians met in small groups of friends and family for several centuries before adopting the pomp of Roman religions. They attended synagogues for Scripture instruction but worshiped in homes. Prayer is done in the closet and not the public square. Love and forgiveness are the centerpieces of Christianity.

It would do us well to stop going to churches and instead worship quietly with friends and family. It would do us well to drop all the loudness, entertainment, and public prayer for silence and simplicity.

Sadly, few want to strip away all the artificial things the centuries have tacked onto Christianity. I often feel alone since not even my family wants to give up “going to church” in favor of home based 1st Century Christian practice found in the NT and supported by documents like the Didache.

If you want to read the Didache, this site offers various translations.


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The First Day of the Week

It does well to consider the origins of traditions like first day of the week worshipIt is Christian custom to meet and worship God on the first day of the week. Interestingly, I haven’t found this practice in the New Testament. There are only 8 verses that use the phrase “first day of the week.” We’ll take a look at these verses and also another phrase commonly thought to refer to the Lord’s Supper, “break bread.”

Note: verses are from the New King James Version of the Bible.

1) Matt 28:1 “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”

It’s useful to remember that Jews consider days differently than we are used to. We think a day is from dawn to dusk (or midnight to midnight). The Jewish people during the Roman era considered dusk to dusk a day as Genesis describes in 1:5. So the Sabbath would begin on the evening of our Friday. The Marys are out on our Sunday morning doing their normal work.

2) Mark 16:1-3 “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ “

This is Mark’s account of the same event. Again, they are out working: buying spices and doing labor on a normal workday. All things they can’t do on the Sabbath.

3) Mark 16:9 “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.”

Here, Mary Magdalene sees a risen Jesus after the Sabbath. We cannot be certain if this is the same day as in Mark 16:1-3 because of the odd wording, but in any case events are happening on a workday. There isn’t any command to keep the day special. It simply dates Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. It could very well be a weekafter the resurrection in the verse since Mark didn’t writhe something like, “on the same day.” The main point is, this is just an event, not a command or anything.

4) Luke 24:1 “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.”

Luke’s account of the Resurrection event. Nothing here about Sunday worship.

5) John 20:1: John’s version of events we already discussed.

6) John 20:19 “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.””

Now we are getting somewhere. The disciples are assembled and Jesus shows Himself to them on the first day of the week. Perhaps the disciples were worshiping?

Doesn’t look like it. The doors were shut and locked because they disciples were afraid of their fellow Jews. Why where they afraid? Jesus was killed only a few days (or at most a week) ago. There could very well have been a man hunt for other troublemakers going on in the city. In any case, they couldn’t have been worshiping in the Christian sense since they thought Jesus was dead up until He showed Himself to them. They also tend to all live together according to Acts 1:13.

7) Acts 20: 7 ” Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”

Generations of church goers have enjoyed the social mornings on the pews.Here we go! Sounds like a Christian service here…at first glance. First, meeting on the first day of the week wasn’t special. In fact, the disciples and earliest Christians met everyday to break bread Acts 2:41-43 and  Acts 2:46-47. Next, the phrase “break bread” simply means eating together. Many people, such as the authors of the Apologetic Press, believe this phrase refers to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. If this is true, than Christians are still not practicing properly by observing the Lord’s Supper only on Sundays since in Acts 2:46-47 the earlier Christians “broke bread” daily in the temples. Other verses support the simple interpretation that this was a meal: Luke 24:30 and Acts 27:35.

If we read this passage in context, there were lamps in the room (verse 8) and consider the Jewish day system, this event happened on our Saturday night. In verse 13-19, it is clear that Paul and associates didn’t consider the first day of the week as special. They went about and traveled as they would do on a workday.

This verse also doesn’t say anything about this event being customary, unlike Acts 2:46-47. This verse just accounts a singular event and not a worship practice.

8) 1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”

Here is another verse that is used to support the tradition of giving to the church on the first day of the week. Paul is asking the church in Corinth to “lay in store” every first day so there doesn’t have to be collections when Paul comes.  It doesn’t say anything about giving on that day. Notice too that there isn’t anything about a tithe. It is based on how the person prospers on the first day of the week. The verse is asking the Corinthians to lay aside some what they earn on the first day of the week ( a workday) so when he arrives they don’t have to worry about working when he arrives.

The first verse tells us what type of collection is being made: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:” The collection wasn’t for Paul or a church. Paul was asking the churches to collect for the needs of their fellow Christians, the saints. This wasn’t unusual for Paul. In Romans 15: 25-28, he takes fruit he collected from other churches to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. So the verse in Corinthians has nothing to do with giving to the local church and everything to do with laying aside money to help other people.

Some argue that this means a church collection since Paul doesn’t want collections when he arrives. They state that people would have to go to each home and collect money if people lay aside in their homes as the verse suggests ( lay aside and lay in store are reflexive and often literally translated as “lay by him” as in nearby). They also argue that this would be dangerous since there are thieves and temptation to spend. We have to consider that what is being laid in store isn’t always money as Romans reveals. Paul was likely more interested in food than money to give to the needy. There weren’t banks as we know them, so people tend to hide their money in their homes already. Finally, word of Paul’s arrival had to be spread through word of mouth anyway so people can gather. Paul is just asking people to be prepared ahead of time.

Breaking Bread

As I mentioned before the phrase “breaking bread” refers to eating a meal as opposed to the Lord’s Supper. It is thought that early Christians observed the Lord’s Supper only on the Passover since Jesus instituted the tradition on that day (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Mark 14, Luke 22). The Passover association has further connections with the idea that Jesus was the lamb of God; a lamb that is killed to protect people from death as accounted in Exodus 12.

The Lord’s Supper is only mentioned in association with the Passover. The phrase “breaking bread” is used in reference to the first day of the week and even daily as I pointed to in Acts 2. If we consider the phrase referring to the Lord’s Supper than Christians need to observe it daily as Acts illustrates. However, if we consider the phrase as simply a meal, the Lord’s Supper falls back to the Passover. Consider the early Christians were primarily Jewish, this is the more correct interpretation in light of Scripture.

So is it wrong to have the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week or just doing the Passover? What matters is remembering Jesus’s life and sacrifice. As Paul illustrates in 1 Corinthians 11, the important factor is observing the tradition with the right mind: one of gratefulness and mindfulness.

So What does this mean for Sunday Worship?

Sunday, the first day of the week, was just another workday. Early Christians observed the Sabbath and met daily. It seems the Lord’s Supper was either observed daily or only on Passover. There isn’t any monetary collection for the church in Scripture. Paul’s command for collection applied to donations for the poor as I illustrated. Practically speaking, there wasn’t a need for a church wide collection. Early Christians met in small groups in their homes unless someone like Paul was passing through (1 Cor. 16:19,  Matt 18: 20, Acts 2:46, and various archeological and documentary evidence: Clement of Alexandria, etc). There wasn’t a public building that needed support. Collections were used, as we’ve seen, to help the needy. The only thing special about the first day of the week, is how that day’s work is to provide what you lay aside to help others.

Bending Scripture to support a tradition is problematic. Although I am sure many readers will accuse me of doing the same.  As we’ve seen, the New Testament is silent on first day of the week worship. No where does it explicitly say in the verses above that they were worshiping. We can infer they were, but we can also infer differently as well. At most, they were gathering for what we’d call a Bible Study (see also Acts 1: 12-26). The first day tradition isn’t bad practice. What is important is mindfulness and awareness of how Scripture isn’t clear cut in meaning.


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Considering Hell

Photo of Hinnom Valley: GehennaRecently I had an interesting Facebook discussion about hell and its existence. I find the idea of “eternal punishment” an oxymoron; punishment is synonymous with correction. One cannot be corrected if they are in eternity.  I firmly think most of the passages on hell deal more with the internal and external hell we experience when we wrong God and other people than an eternal destination.

I can hear some of you getting riled up already. No, I am not a universalist who doesn’t believe hell exists. Rather I believe hell is an eternal “cutting off” from God. Essentially it is the ultimate consequence of choosing not to love Him and other people.  Fire, brimstone and all that good stuff has nothing to do with it. Simply being shunned by God would be torment enough. After all, Jesus was anguished when it happened to Him (Mark 15:34). Not everyone will make it to heaven; some people are sadly beyond redemption. Such as Albert Fish.

However, most of Jesus’ teachings on hell ( Gehenna when He spoke of it) dealt more with the here and now than after death. Jesus taught morality and how to live as God would like us to live. He didn’t spend much time speaking about eternity. Most of the parables used to reference hell are couched in teachings about changing oneself now. Let’s take a common passage used to build up our 2000 years of developed hell.

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell [Gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched— where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell [Gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched— where

‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

Mark 9:42-47 NKJ

I added the original Greek word “Gehenna” next to the word “hell” to give proper emphasis to the original meaning of the text. Gehenna, also called the Valley of Hinnom, was a trash dump outside Jerusalem where garbage was burned. It was also the site of child sacrifices (via fire) in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 7:31–32). Jesus was also quoting Isaiah 66:24 where the valley is full of dead bodies. The fire burned so hot people couldn’t put it out. All the trash kept the maggots fed, and it looked like they didn’t die. Generally it was an unpleasant place.

Also we need to define “kingdom of God” according to Jesus. When we read this phrase now, we think of heaven. Jesus defined the the kingdom as a spiritual seed that grows within us and as something His disciples would have seen in their own lifetimes ( Matt 13:1-23, Mark 9:1)

Now, let us consider what Jesus was saying.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell [Gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched— where

‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’

Life is used interchangeable with Kingdom of God in this passage.

Is He saying we should literally cut off our hand? Of course not! He is using this as an illustration about the nature of sin. Sin is as painful to cut out of our lives as it would be to cut off a hand. We have to change who we spend time with and what we do. He says this pain is better than the pain of sin’s consequence, which is as ugly as Gehenna.  When Jesus says “the fire that shall never be quenched” He wasn’t talking about eternal hell fire. He uses the verb “quenched” instead of “burns forever” for a reason. When we sin we often try to “quench” the pain and consequence of what we did. We try to put out the fires of our pain and fail to do so. Jesus is saying it is far less painful to avoid sinning in the first place, even if it costs us something as painful as sawing off our own hands.

The pain of sin doesn’t burn forever. He didn’t say that. He said the pain of sin cannot be quenched, or put out. We have to let it burn itself out just as Gehenna had to burn itself out.  And that pain lasts longer than even losing a hand, eye, or foot. Only by removing sin from our lives can the Kingdom of God grow within us (and the disciples He was speaking to).

This passage also doesn’t have anything to do with hell as we consider it because of the way Jesus ends it:

For everyone will be seasoned with fire,[g] and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

He is saying everyone will experience the fire of Gehenna at some point in their lives. That pain helps people grow, even if it is best avoided. Every sacrifice ( the hands, eyes, feet He spoke of), will also help a person grow closer to God. Only through sacrifice and experience can we be “salted” and water the Kingdom of God within us.

This is a far deeper and more meaningful lesson Jesus gave us than our simplistic surface reading of hell fire. It does us well to discard our preconceived ideas of what Scripture says and think deeply about what Jesus was really trying to say.