How Does the Whole Miracle Thing Work?

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. -James 5:14-15 (NIV)

The mere suggestion that God may not work a miracle, or does not very often, would rock many people’s faith. “Pentecostals believe in religious experience the way electricians believe in electricity,” writes Earl Creps in his book Off-Road Disciplines -Spiritual Adventures with Missional Leaders, “without it, we have no reason to show up for work. The Spirit moves in profound and observable ways, and our heritage teaches that most everything else just takes care of itself.” A very open and honest admission by a guy who has taught in the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and I’m told pastors a church these days.

He follows that with something akin to a bombshell when he speaks about his experience pastoring a church: “Our congregation’s story failed to line up with what our movement’s culture taught us to expect. At one public rally, for example, the only ‘testimony’ from two years of renewal came from one person who thought he might have quit smoking.” (p.12)

As this account shows, miracles haven’t always happened when we expected them to. Let’s admit it. People have had their faith rocked. Why didn’t God always come through? Why do miracles seem random?

And what those outside the church don’t always realize is that God has seemingly ignored one prayer while answering another. In fact, God ignored prayers in the Bible occasionally, AND answered others miraculously. As you can probably guess, there was always a reason. Here in the book of James, the Bible tells us to do one thing, but does it mean God will always, always, always answer with a miracle?

What do people think when church leaders proclaim with bravado that God has answered a prayer, or brought a miracle or WILL do wo-when in fact the prayer is not answered and the miracle never arrives? The simple answer of “God works in mysterious ways,” or “God answered no” does not fit with the stuff we were saying when we were so sure of ourselves and so sure God would do something miraculous. Compared to what we said beforehand, those statements seem like lame excuses.

However, our insistence God does what we want… well what does that seem like? Selfishness? Arrogance that we could demand things of our Creator as if He were simply an employee of ours? Even in this Bible of ours, God has refused to listen and answer prayers before, with good reason.

They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers. Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. -Jeremiah 11:10-11

Even James, the very same guy who wrote the verse at the beginning of this post which details what to do when someone is sick and needs healing, also happened to write this:

You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. -James 4:2-3

So even James, in context, wasn’t giving us a blank check. I know, I’m just as disappointed as you are.

But don’t think for a second that people haven’t been driven away from God or turned their back on salvation because their very faith in God’s existence and the truth of Christianity was shaken because God didn’t do what they asked. It has happened. Most atheists in fact would cite something along these lines when explaining why they don’t believe in God.

More people than we care to admit believe Christians are delusional because we believe in miracles that don’t happen (according to them) and no one is currently walking on water to prove them wrong. If they did, I’m sure 20/20 or Dateline NBC would discover they were being held up by invisible cables…

Americans long for something real, something tangible, that speaks of a greater power than what we have on this earth alone. Our enjoyment of “Super-hero” movies even as adults speaks to this. Our emphasis of it in religion is evidence as well. The popularity of magicians and illusionists such as David Blaine and that “Mind Freak” guy who seem to do the impossible give further proof. The popularity and curiosity directed toward medium John Edwards cannot be overlooked. John claims to speak to the dead and draws crowds by the thousands all over the nation while managing time to write books, appear on news programs and produce his own television show.

We want the miraculous. Not just Christians or atheists, but people from all walks of life and all backgrounds. The miraculous gives us proof we hope, or at least some assurance that there really is something else, that this life isn’t all their is.

Problem is…

With all of the charlatans, illusionists, and dubious claims made without tangible proof, Christians, with our seemingly random miracles, get lumped in with the people who actually believe David Blaine levitates, John Edwards speaks to the dead, and the city of Atlantis was real. Much of the world thinks we’re just another group of people who chase after ghosts. (For the record, I like the Ghost Hunters TV show as much as the next guy. Those dudes are cool.)

We probably deserve the stereotype because we have built for ourselves a Christianity which emphasizes “Me” instead of surrender and submission to Christ. Instead of preaching what Paul and Barnabas preached in the Bible: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.” –Acts 14:22, we have preached a Gospel that presents God as our personal Cosmic Assistant.

Can I give you an assurance here? The Word of God, the Bible, when looked at closely with hard questions, reveals itself as more reasonable, more rational, and more true than ever. The literal truth it turns out, was there all along but often we were reading our own views into it, or ignoring something else that didn’t jive with what we believed. Nevertheless if we are courageous enough allow the Bible to speak and explain itself, you will find the answer to your question. As a person myself who needs/requires something rational, who looks for evidence, who argues with atheism because without the Bible I would have joined their ranks long ago, I have come to appreciate the comfort in knowing that my answers always seem to be right there in the Word. I have occasionally been forced to change my opinion or previously held interpretation influenced by my own traditions, but I’m glad. My faith is stronger because of it. Any time the Bible comes into clearer focus, unaltered and unobscured by the things “we’ve always believed,” we end up stronger spiritually because of it.

So I dare you to look at the Bible for the answer to this question. What you will find is Joseph went to prison unfairly after his brothers sold him as a slave. Lot’s wife was killed. Rachel died giving birth. Aaron’s sons died for one mistake. Daniel was captured, shipped off, probably made a eunuch, and sentenced to death twice. Jesus was tortured and killed. James was beheaded. So was John the Baptist. Paul was stoned, dragged outside and left for dead. He and Silas spent a night in the deepest part of a dungeon, still wounded from the scourging they had received. Many times the greatest men of the faith had to hide or run for their lives.

Why? Because God does not relieve suffering for the express reason of making someone’s life better. I realize we teach the opposite quite often. We point to the miracle of feeding the 5000 and say Jesus came to feed the hungry. We point to a verse nearby and say, “Look! Doesn’t the Bible say Jesus had compassion on the crowds and then healed their sick?” Yes, it does, but God has often allowed his people to cry out to him for hundreds of years before he acted. The reason Jesus healed them was bigger than just to relieve their suffering.

Even King David said after praying for his newborn son who died: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” –II Samuel 12:22-23

Paul would write later about a friend, “For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” –Philippians 2:27

So there’s always that hope, but notice that in both of the verses above, there is an inherent admission that we are at God’s mercy, not the other way around. God acts as it serves Him, not because it serves us. If God served US, then every prayer should be answered, every person should be healed. God however, acts or doesn’t act in order to glorify Himself, and testify about Himself. Jesus came performing miracles not for the sake of our suffering, but for the sake of His message and the salvation of the world.

“…for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” –Jesus (John 5:36)

That’s why he fed 5000. That’s why he healed. That’s why he walked up to the pool of Bethesda, surrounded by many who needed healing and picked out ONE guy who was lame. It was after healing this man that Jesus said the words I’ve pasted above. He healed to testify about himself, not for the express purpose of making people’s lives easier.

Now that leads to some sobering thoughts. If my Christianity is focused around God doing things to help ME, then I will be sorely disappointed. God does what he does for His glory, His honor, and His purpose. He is not my personal cosmic assistant, quite the contrary, it is I who serves Him.

This is why you can read in the book of Acts, chapter 14 that Paul and Barnabas perform some great miracles, but in the end Paul is stoned, dragged out of the city and left for dead. If God can heal and perform mighty works, why didn’t he protect Paul? Because God uses the miracles to promote his message and not to keep his people -or even his Son for that matter- from suffering. No, God actually uses suffering as much as he does the miraculous.

The line by Richard Gere in “First Knight” fits the attitude of the people in the Bible toward God. Speaking to King Arthur played by Sean Connery, Gere said, “…if my life, or my death, serves Camelot, take it. Do what you like with me.”

The great men and women of the Bible had the same attitude toward the Lord. They followed. They suffered. And living or dying, they glorified the God in Heaven. When Christ came to earth, he was the epitome of this.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

-Philippians 2:5-8

And as Paul would later say:
For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. -I Corinthians 4:9

Doesn’t sound like the boasting we often hear from today’s preaching does it? The problem as I see it is this: We often have become Christians and follow Jesus under the pretense of reasons that are selfish. We have married Christianity to our own selfish desires, and continually rebel against the idea that God may want us to suffer. We would say to King Arther:

“if my life can serve Camelot, then take it. Bless it. Give me life abundantly!”

What does Jesus say? Now read this one close, it’s important…

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ “ -Luke 17:7-10

When did Jesus say this?

Right after he said if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we see the most incredible miracles! So I guess that means in context….

God is in charge of the miracles. We are just the servants.

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6 thoughts on “How Does the Whole Miracle Thing Work?

  1. Hello, this is an interesting explanation, but it seems to contradict not only the plain statement in James, but in other books as well.

    James 5:14-15 is very clear. If you are x, then do y, and z will happen. It doesn’t say, “and z may happen, just don’t expect it, because your Father has decided you need to suffer.”

    We see this same message reiterated throughout:

    Mark 11:24 – “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

    John 14:12-14 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

    Matthew 18:19 – “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

    And so on.

    I see no conditionals placed on these promises.

    So, what do we have? Promises that go unfulfilled, and rationalizations why. If it’s true that “God does what he does for His glory, His honor, and His purpose. He is not my personal cosmic assistant, quite the contrary, it is I who serves Him”, then he’s certainly being misleading with his statements above.

    There is another possibility. Perhaps Paul, James, Aaron, et al. suffered so because they didn’t ask in Jesus’s name. You’ve assumed that they did, and God came back with “Sorry, you’ll just have to suffer.”

  2. Really good questions, thanks for the comment. Rationalizations why are often used, but the other possibility is to dig deeper into the text, the context, the history, and the meanings. It is always easier to read a translation instead of the original language, which often can lead to misunderstandings in any literary work, and conclude very quickly that the case is hopeless. However there is simply more there to consider, without resorting to too many rationalizations.

    For instance, Paul DID ask and was told “Sorry, you’ll just have to suffer”

    “…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” -II Corinthians 12:7-9

    And my main point has been there is no basis by which we can demand the miraculous, but that God is in complete control of when, where, and why.

    We would believe in Him so much more easily as long as He does our bidding, but it was His bidding that mattered in the Bible, not only in the full context of the teaching, but certainly even more clear in the examples. He simply does not allow us to come to him and believe on our terms, but only on His.

    Another example was Christ Himself. He was told no evidently.
    “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” -Luke 22:42 (in the garden before His arrest)

    James 5:14-15 on the surface, and reading just the English translation, (especially the NIV) seems to be a prescription for sure. In context, and looking at the Greek, it is not however -although it is admittedly difficult. In context it is speaking of one of two things, perhaps a little of both: This most obvious is that it was speaking of a sickness that was caused as a judgment of God for a sin, or it possibly was speaking of ultimate salvation of the sick person. The Greek word translated “make the sick person well” is the same Greek word we translate in other places “save.” As in I Timothy 1:15:-Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. The other Greek word for “raise him up” is the same phrase used by Jesus when he says he will raise his people on the last day. It’s a rather vague verse in the Greek, and that in itself makes it dubious to base a doctrine of healing or miracles on.

    I spent a great deal of time on this particular passage here. (although I’m not a scholar, I do read them)

    Mark 11:22-24 is the same passage seen in Luke 17 as mentioned above. In Luke the parable of the unworthy servant is given afterwards, indicating in context it is God who is in charge. The rest of the Biblical examples of people and the church concur with this. James would also write that people weren’t receiving answers to their prayers because they asked with wrong motives. Isaiah 58 records God saying that people fast and pray yet continue to mistreat the poor and live selfishly and therefore He has not answered. In context, the Bible does not give cart blanch to ask and receive at our own discretion.

    The key verse in John 14:12-14 is “whatever you ask in my name,” which again places the miracles under the authority and command of Christ. They would ask on behalf of Christ, according to His will, and as directed by Him. Just as an ambassador speaks in the name of his government or someone might ask that something be done in the name of the king. A custom which would be quite familiar in Jesus day. Which of course, these men did in the book of Acts when they performed miracles as they preached the Word of God. The same writer would later write this:

    Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. -I John 5:14

    Again, the asking is “according to His will” and thus John would finish by saying, “And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. ” -I John 5:15. The petitions did have the conditional that they were to be of the will of God.

    And many would also point out that it was God’s will to work miracles of such a nature through the apostles and at the beginning of the church, just as He did for Moses and the beginning of Judaism. In both instances, God used miracles, and later prophecy in a way that accredited the writers. It gave them authority, signifying they could speak for God. Just as God did not continue to work the miracles of Moses at the same level once the Law was given, he did not continue to work the miracles of the apostles at the same level once the New Testament came to be. But again, if it is up to Him and not to us, it’s perfectly ok for Him to give people power -or not.

    In the article above, I hoped to, among other things, show that in the Bible, God used miracles to glorify Himself and for His purpose. He would still continue to do that today when He wishes, but at the same time, He also allowed the miracle workers themselves in the Bible to suffer. He used suffering, not just blessing. He allowed his people to suffer, while they might perform some great miracle to accredit the message. It was about God, not the messenger and not us, but about Him and his message. That’s what I see happening in the verses.

    On the others

    Matthew 18:19 isn’t talking about healing or miracles, and by itself, is out of context without the previous verse. In these verses, Jesus used a Jewish figure of speech and thus the disciples knew exactly what he meant, but we often misunderstand it. The previous verse:

    “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” -Matthew 18:18

    This was a common expression of the Jews. Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible explains it this way:

    The phrase “to bind” and “to loose” was often used by the Jews. It meant to prohibit and to permit. To bind a thing was to forbid it; to loose it, to allow it to be done. Thus, they said about gathering wood on the Sabbath day, “The school of Shammei binds it” – i. e., forbids it; “the school of Hillel looses it” – i. e., allows it. When Jesus gave this power to the apostles, he meant that whatsoever they forbade in the church should have divine authority; whatever they permitted, or commanded, should also have divine authority – that is, should be bound or loosed in heaven, or meet the approbation of God.

    Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible put it this way:

    …binding signified, and was commonly understood by the Jews at that time to be, a declaration that any thing was unlawful to be done; and loosing signified, on the contrary, a declaration that any thing may be lawfully done. Our Savior spoke to his disciples in a language which they understood, so that they were not in the least at a loss to comprehend his meaning; and its being obsolete to us is no manner of reason why we should conclude that it was obscure to them.

    And verse 19 is a continuation of the same thought, which would have meant to these Jewish guys that they would have authority to declare what things were lawful, what things weren’t, and to establish the rules and order of the church. They did exactly this by agreeing together in Acts 15 on a ruling that declared Gentiles would not be required to follow the law of Moses. They were given the authority to make these judgments by Christ and they exercised it.

    So I appreciate the questions, but I respectfully disagree. I do see conditionals all the way through.

  3. Thanks for your balanced teaching on miracles. I saw this blog because I had also written a blog called “The Problem with Miracles.” (Our blog site is specialgathering.wordpress.com.) I love miracles and love to see them happen but they often reveal the worst in lives. As in the time of the transfiguration and Peter declared, “Let’s build three tents.” Or the time that Elijah healed Naaman and his servant went out and claimed a reward from Naaman.

    Even more, over the past 40 years of seeing God preform miraculous acts, I have seen that miracles don’t usually change lives. It is in the listening, obeying and living out the precepts of God that lives are permanently altered.

  4. Hello again crazypastor. Thank you for your informative and thoughtful reply, which has prompted a few thoughts of my own.

    You wrote, And my main point has been there is no basis by which we can demand the miraculous, but that God is in complete control of when, where, and why.

    Assuming this is true, one could very well argue that one’s “demand” for the miraculous is a consequence of whatever conditions God created to give rise to the “demand” in the first place. In other words, “God’s complete control” and “demand” may not necessarily be in opposition to one another. If the “demand” arises from some independent source, then quite obviously some things are outside God’s control, and so in what sense does it make to label it “complete”? As well, complete control makes sense when speaking of “God’s plan” and “His will”, but then this clashes with the theory of free will. Is our will (and whatever “demands” arise from it) truly free when everything has been foreordained and foreseen? (Psalm 139:16)

    I understand the need to harmonize Biblical verses and reality, and your explanation is actually a quite common response given by Christian apologists. The problem is, the formula expressed in these verses is just too darned straightforward: ask in my name, and you’ll get it. Period.

    You make the case that “in my name” really means “according to His will”, but this begs the question that “His will” is foreknown, which of course, it is not! If requests are only granted if they’re in accordance with God’s will, then prayer becomes one big guessing game. And if the believer happens NOT to request a thing, would God’s will then not be carried out? If God’s will is independent of a believer’s prayer, then what need of prayer (and why verses like Mark 11:24)?

    Bravely, you touch on how God uses suffering for His purposes. I would love to have a discussion on this topic, particularly how it relates to the Problem of Evil, but we can save that for another time, as it could get quite long. 😉 Suffice it to say, if suffering is a tool of God, then it makes little sense to claim the existence of evil.

    I think you’ll have to go back to the drawing board in regards to Matthew 18:19. “Binding” and “loosing”, yes, is quite clear. But 18:19 speaks of the conditions under which requests are granted. If:

    a) two or more (believers) are gathered, and
    b) they agree on a request, then
    c) Jesus is among them, and
    d) the Father will do it.

    For your explanation to make sense, Matthew 18:19 would read something like:

    “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything [lawful], it will be [made so] for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

    Even assuming that your explanation is the correct interpretation, it seems to me it becomes subject to the same “in accordance with His will” rationalization used for prayer. If a church council agrees that a women in their congregation is a witch who should be burned at the stake, does that automatically make their judgment lawful and just? If the “His will” conditional is placed on it, how would they know it was in accordance?

    What is the point of all this? Only to demonstrate the apologetic gymnastics a believer must engage in order to uphold belief in a “divinely inspired” Bible. The same sorts of arguments are used to validate the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon, the Qu’ran, etc. It seems to me the simplest explanation (and one which you’d wholeheartedly agree for every book except the Bible), is that they’re all purely products of human beings, not god(s).

  5. one could very well argue that one’s “demand” for the miraculous is a consequence of whatever conditions God created to give rise to the “demand” in the first place. In other words, “God’s complete control” and “demand” may not necessarily be in opposition to one another. If the “demand” arises from some independent source, then quite obviously some things are outside God’s control, and so in what sense does it make to label it “complete”? As well, complete control makes sense when speaking of “God’s plan” and “His will”, but then this clashes with the theory of free will. Is our will (and whatever “demands” arise from it) truly free when everything has been foreordained and foreseen? (Psalm 139:16)

    Yeah, we could end up writing a book here, but thank you again for the discussion. Here’s my take. According to the examples and the context of the Bible, God is in complete control of what miracles he performs and when he performs them and why he performs them. The Bible also teaches in context and by example that God intentionally does not control our choice, specifically: he allows us to reject belief in him and he often allows people to do what is wrong. Also the Bible states in James, the same writer who you used as an example of a prescription for a miracle, that certain demands (which James says are not met by God) arise from an independent source (independent from God) namely our “wrong motives.” So again, what I see in the Bible is that God does allow us to be selfish, but he doesn’t have to give us what we demand anymore than I am required to give you $50 just because you ask. “Complete control” as I used the words referred to God and his actions. He controls his actions or lack thereof. I can’t make him do something against his will, nor does the Bible teach we can. And no, I do not believe knowing what will happen in the future means I have controlled the future. And Psalms 139:16 does not say everything was ordained. It says all of my days (the plain meaning seems to be the number of days in my life) have been ordained. The Bible teaches God ordains most things in the universe and oversees and manages everything, but according to how I read the Bible, He does not ordain my choice to believe in Him or not, and he often lets people sin and disobey. One could argue that he still has “complete control” because he COULD act.

    I understand the need to harmonize Biblical verses and reality, and your explanation is actually a quite common response given by Christian apologists. The problem is, the formula expressed in these verses is just too darned straightforward: ask in my name, and you’ll get it. Period.

    The “need to harmonize Biblical verses” is in reality an attempt to understand through context and history what the writer was actually saying. I would say there is a need by many skeptics to not take context or history or the original languages into account. It’s very common for skeptics to quote Bible translations in English and use “contradictions” without any reference to historical context or the original languages. At any rate, it’s not unreasonable for two people to disagree over the meaning of an ancient text.

    You make the case that “in my name” really means “according to His will”, but this begs the question that “His will” is foreknown, which of course, it is not!

    Just reading the Bible tells you many things that are God’s will. The Holy Spirit often reveals what God’s will is in a situation. His will is often foreknown. Anyway, I don’t make that case, the writer did. Not only did he couch it in those terms, but the same writer later on wrote specifically “according to his will.” My job is too figure out how he meant it when he wrote it. In context with what John wrote elsewhere, plus the context of history and even present day understandings of doing things in people’s names, it’s reasonable to conclude “in my name” does mean it would be according to his will and direction.

    If requests are only granted if they’re in accordance with God’s will, then prayer becomes one big guessing game. And if the believer happens NOT to request a thing, would God’s will then not be carried out? If God’s will is independent of a believer’s prayer, then what need of prayer (and why verses like Mark 11:24)?

    God doesn’t need prayer. He encourages it and invites it as he includes his children in his work. James 4:2 “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (Mark 11:22-24 makes a point that nothing is impossible with God and begins by saying “Have faith in God,” which is the point of what he is saying. I believe it also let’s us know we can ask God for anything, but if he’s a good father, he’ll occasionally tell you no. The verse doesn’t preclude that, and Luke 17 provides the context of God still being in charge.)

    God will is not, evidently, always “carried out.” For instance, the verse above, and it is also God’s will that everyone come to repentance (II Peter 3) but that isn’t going to happen either. Prayer is a lot more than simply putting money in a machine, pulling a lever, and getting what I want. It is a moment of praise, petition, thanksgiving, worship and communion with the Spirit of God. I’ve often grown in many ways when God told me no. Many times it was then that I finally listened to what he was trying to tell me in the first place.

    I think you’ll have to go back to the drawing board in regards to Matthew 18:19. “Binding” and “loosing”, yes, is quite clear. But 18:19 speaks of the conditions under which requests are granted. If:

    a) two or more (believers) are gathered, and
    b) they agree on a request, then
    c) Jesus is among them, and
    d) the Father will do it.

    For your explanation to make sense, Matthew 18:19 would read something like:

    “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything [lawful], it will be [made so] for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

    Again, I’m not trying to think something up, I’m trying to understand the text. Thus, I cannot go back to the drawing board as the terms binding and loosing have a set and known meaning from history. We know what those terms meant to the Jews in 30ish A.D.

    However, if you are arguing that the two sentences are talking about two different things, then ok, I think that’s a valid view, even if I may disagree with it:

    18″Truly I say to you, (A)whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
    19″Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, (B)it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
    -Matthew 18:18-19

    Now we know the men Jesus was speaking to did make decisions on what things would be accepted in the church, and what things would not be. Acts 15 among other places. So I still believe that is primarily what those verses are speaking of, but if I was to separate those sentences from each other, what would verse 19 mean? Well first, at the very least, the context of the conversation is the apostles leadership. We really have to keep that in mind considering we are analyzing one sentence of a larger conversation.

    If as leaders of the church, they agreed upon something and God the Father would do it for them, does that mean they could dictate to God what to do, when to do it, and why to do it? That case is not made by Matthew anywhere, and it was not shown by example of the church. It would be hard to say that the verse leaves out the will of God, and makes God a servant of us, considering the conversation. What they agreed upon as they followed him is the context of those sentences. I think we’re reading too much into that sentence without looking at what was being said around it.

    And in Acts 15, they bound and loosed through agreement:

    For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
    that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well. -Acts 15:28-29

    Even assuming that your explanation is the correct interpretation, it seems to me it becomes subject to the same “in accordance with His will” rationalization used for prayer. If a church council agrees that a women in their congregation is a witch who should be burned at the stake, does that automatically make their judgment lawful and just? If the “His will” conditional is placed on it, how would they know it was in accordance?

    Again, I realize you are taking one sentence to the extreme in order to make a point, but I believe that is taking it beyond it’s context. You could also use an earlier sentence, take it to the extreme and maintain that Christ commanded we cut off our limbs. We could do it all day. I simply disagree with the assumption. I don’t believe it was talking about that, or was meant to take it that far.

    What is the point of all this? Only to demonstrate the apologetic gymnastics a believer must engage in order to uphold belief in a “divinely inspired” Bible. The same sorts of arguments are used to validate the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon, the Qu’ran, etc. It seems to me the simplest explanation (and one which you’d wholeheartedly agree for every book except the Bible), is that they’re all purely products of human beings, not god(s).

    That’s an understandable albeit in my view, an unfair common accusation. And the Bible differs from those other writings because of verified history (as opposed to the Book of Mormon) and the fulfillment of prophecy. Again, it’s easy to take a quick look and lump them all together. I would expect your own beliefs are based on something more substantial than, for example, the Russian astronaut who orbited the earth and claimed he didn’t “see” God so there must not be one. You should also expect that my beliefs are going to be based on looking very closely at the text. If studying the history, noting the accuracy, the context, and understanding the original languages in order to accurately ascertain what the actual meaning of the text is, constitutes apologetic gymnastics, then I’ll glady stay in the gym. In my view, I cannot even arrive at a real judgment against the text before I’ve looked closely at it. I have looked, I continue to look, and I’m a believer more now than ever.

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