These are from my old blog posts. I'm going through them and posting them here from time to time. The date and the timestamp is as best as I can reconstruct.

Reading the Gospels again

Wed Jul 9 01:11 PDT 2014

This year, I am doing a lot of what I did last year—it really feels like a repeat, in some sense. In another sense, it's not a repeat; I'm doing now some things that I stopped doing by this point last year.

For example, I started reading the Bible regularly again. After finishing Ecclesiastes (my favorite book in the OT), well, I went back to John. Just reading a few chapters each morning. I noticed during yesterday's reading, something I hadn't noticed before. Take this passage:

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

I think when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, there were other disciples with them. I am not sure why, but I always had a picture in my mind that this was a private conversation, but nothing in the passage indicates that. The passage clearly states Jesus sharing breakfast with Peter and other disciples, and when the breakfast ended, Jesus spoke to Peter, referring to other disciples as "these" (this, in Greek, generally means people who are at hand; an image of Jesus waving his hands about the other disciples would almost be appropriate here). Jesus and Peter are in private (not counting John) only after Jesus says "follow me" and Peter follows him.

I think I understand better why this passage is labeled as Jesus reinstating Peter—the Q&A with Jesus and the charge that Jesus gives to Peter, they were all conducted in public, in the witness of other disciples (who, BTW, were also witnesses to Peter's earlier failing).

Royal High Priest

Sat Jan 26 15:13 PST 2013

I noticed something during the reading today. First the passages:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.


And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.

And, of course,

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

So, was Mary a Levite? I guess the question is unsettled; I just thought it would be ... cool if she was—as that makes Jesus union of the royal line of David and the priestly line of Aaron. But unfortunately there is sufficient ambiguity in the text (when I was first reading this I thought Luke said Elizabeth was a sister of Mary, but I guess they were only relatives).

But the priestly birth of John the Baptist settles some of the things I was curious about:

Answer to the first question seems fairly clear: John the Baptist was, in some sense, one of their own, so while they may have taken a hardline on Jesus, who was not a Levite, they could hold back on John the Baptist, whose father was a priest himself.

As for the second question, we all know John the Apostle was first a disciple of John the Baptist:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ).

It doesn't seem so implausible now that John, who was a disciple of a son of a priest, would have some connections to the ranks of priests.

Divine expectations

Thu Sep 27 22:56 PDT 2012

From John 21:15–17

Ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς Σίμων Ἰωάνου, ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων; λέγει αὐτῷ Ναί, κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ Βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον Σίμων Ἰωάνου, ἀγαπᾷς με; λέγει αὐτῷ Ναί, κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ Ποίμαινε τὰ προβάτιά μου. λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον Σίμων Ἰωάνου, φιλεῖς με; ἐλυπήθη ὁ Πέτρος ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον Φιλεῖς με; καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Κύριε, πάντα σὺ οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ Ἰησοῦς Βόσκε τὰ προβάτιά μου.

Some time last week, Tom pointed out subtleties in this passage that are lost in many English translations. I guess in the New Testament Greek DeCal class some semesters ago, we just didn't get this far (we were trying to read through John); I hadn't known it before either—but you don't really have to know how to read Greek to see the subtlety; I've bold-faced above where Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him, and where Peter answers that he loves Jesus—three times.

One speculation Tom shared was that Jesus had to ask Peter three times, because Peter wouldn't give him a straight answer: Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him with agape; Peter keeps answering him that he only loves him with philia—most likely out of guilt, because, in his heart, he felt he betrayed Jesus (just as Jesus predicted). Jesus eventually gives up and asks Peter if Peter loves him as a friend, and, hurt (as John describes him), Peter answers a third time that he loves Jesus as a friend.

On a quick check (in particular, ESV, which I've gotten to reading lately), it looks like word-for-word English translations of John do miss this subtlety (because both words would translate most naturally to "love"); NIV, one of the more thought-for-thought translations, does try to show the distinction (um, apparently only in the 1984 version; the most recent version removed the distinction):

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Anyways. I don't want to read too much into the distinction (apparently a majority of Bible translators must have discussed and agreed that the distinction gives no theological significance, especially since NIV removed the distinction that was present in the old edition—they wouldn't have done that if they thought this was significant), but assuming the distinction does mean something at least, it tells me, well, God accommodates our failings and weaknesses—by lowering his divine expectations for us and making up the difference.

No Plan of Man

Wed Apr 25 15:44 PDT 2012

From my daily reading:

The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies."

It was a foolproof plan. After all if the Ark was in the Israel's camp and her army was defeated somehow, the Ark would be captured. And it would be embarrassing to God. Therefore Israel could not be defeated so long as they were dragging the ark along (at least it seemed to work when Moses used this line of reasoning).


Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight." So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

The fact is, God is no holy concierge. We cannot set up a trap for God. We can scheme, reason, and plan according to the rules we know. We might even delude ourselves for a moment that we have painted God into the corner where we want him. Well. He doesn't follow the rules we set up for him; he's not confined in the picture of our imagination.

When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place.

God will do what he needs to do when he wants to do it, how it fits his pleasure to accomplish it. If it takes a miracle, he will perform the miracle. If agency of his believers will do, he will use that. As Mordecai said to Esther, "if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish."

No matter what we plan, it is God's plan that will happen—the choice left to us is if we will fit within his plan, not whether we can subvert God for our little purposes.

Exceeding expectations

Sun Mar 18 14:38 PDT 2012

From today's reading (I've been behind as, well, the recent illness messed up my daily routines):

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.

Much attention is paid to the servant who received five talents and the servant who received one talent, but I wonder if it isn't the servant who received two talents who is the most remarkable. As the Scripture says that the master gave to each according to his ability, one can say that both the servant with five talents and servant with one talent performed more or less as the master expected: the servant with five talent (the ablest of them all), gave the master 100% return on his money; the servant with one talent (the least able of them all), gave the master 0% return on his money (but did manage to return his money, unlike, ah hem, some modern money managers).

The one servant who outperformed the master's expectations was the servant with two talents: although perceived as less able than the first servant, this servant also gave the master same rate of return on his money (i.e. 100%), which is what counts as performance metric (at least these days).

Which brings us to the question of the day: would you rather meet a high expectation or would you rather exceed a medium/low expectations?

Liberation of the First Commandment

Wed Nov 4 11:52 PST 2009

The first commandment says,

Do not put any other gods in place of me.

Because this command is stated in negative terms, it is easy to misunderstand it as something that restricts our choice—a choice, if we were to make freely and rationally in full possession of the complete information, that we might make differently. But a deeper reading into this commandment should reveal that this is as much a “negative command” as our constitutional rights are “negative rights” (such as one that says that Congress may not make laws restricting speech).

An equivalent way to state this command is this: “No other god will have power over you.” Considering what other (false) gods were around at the time, I would take this commandment more as a promise of protection than an actual command. This commandment is more liberating than it is binding.

This statement is repeated in the New Testament as well:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and are carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest. Become my servants and learn from me. I am gentle and free of pride. You will find rest for your souls. Serving me is easy, and my load is light.”

(Some older translations refer to “yoke”, which I thought was better for the imagery.)

Of course, by this time human sacrifice (as required by some pagan religions) had become a faded chapter of history. But the burden asked for in Christianity has proportionally gone down as well (“… each according to his ability …”). So it still remains, compared to the yokes of other preoccupations, religious or secular, the yokes of Christianity is lighter, and if the latter excludes the former, then by bearing the yokes of Christianity (or, more directly, the First Commandment), we become free of the heavier burden.

Last modified: Wed Feb 17 14:09:46 UTC 2021