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> What Are You Asking? - October 2007

Tom Ehrich
Tom Ehrich


What are You asking?

Pastor, Author and Speaker Tom Ehrich responds to
your questions about God, faith and
living spiritually

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1 Corinthians chapter 14 verse 34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.” Please tell me what this means.

Although this verse, along with some others, has been used to require male leadership in churches and to deny women an active voice in church affairs, the modern analysis is that Paul was referring to a specific group of gossipy women and was telling that group to be quiet. He wasn’t promulgating a doctrine for church hierarchy, but addressing a specific problem of a specific congregation.

Is it true that “organized religions,” such as Catholicism, Protestantism, or even Judaism are man-made? In other words, are the practices, rituals and rules devised by mortals (as opposed to Divine intervention)? If so, should it matter where one chooses to practice one’s faith as long as one follows the most important precepts taught by Christ: Love God above all things and love one another as we would ourselves? I feel I’m getting too caught up in the “form” in detriment of the “substance” of my faith.

This is a very important question and not one about which all believers agree. I think it’s fair to say that the major branches of the Abrahamic religion—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—all believe that their basic religious practices were revealed by God in religious history and in the form of each faith’s holy book. Thus, Judaism observes the Sabbath because God told them to observe the Sabbath. Christians observe the Last Supper (Eucharist) because Jesus told them to “do this in remembrance of me.” Christians baptize because Jesus was baptized and he told his followers to baptize others.

Beyond a certain fundamental level, religious practices seem less grounded in divine revelation and more grounded in human preference. Such human preference shouldn’t be discounted, because it is an earnest response to God’s initiative. But it is in these human preferences that denominations often diverge and frequently become hostile to one another.

For example, the Gospels suggest that Jesus had no intention of forming an institution, certainly not one with hierarchies of power, guided solely by men, occupying buildings and conferring privileges on ordained clergy. Orders of ministry emerged during the conflicts of the early Church, and were defined and codified after the Biblical era. The movement into buildings (initially converted Roman pagan temples) began after the persecution ended and Christianity became an established power-center in the Roman world. Doctrines and creeds were developed after the Biblical era and are still being formulated. Meanwhile, the Eastern and Western churches divided over disagreements concerning Christology, and the Western church divided over the Pope’s authority and the emergence of secular kings and nationalism.

The United States has well over 300 distinct Protestant denominations, each of which promotes its version of religious understanding.

In my opinion, the point of faith isn’t to find the perfect religion, but to love God and to serve in God’s name. Any denomination and any congregation will entail some compromises, because they are human institutions. But it is possible to find a venue where you feel loved, where people seem to be serving God eagerly and self-sacrificially, and where you find your better self being called forth.

If it is true that the four Gospels in the New Testament were written 100 years after the events described took place? How could anyone know exactly what was said by the principals so that their words could go in quotes? You mention in Just Wondering, Jesus, that the Gospel writers each had a political agenda. Were they putting their words in Jesus' mouth?

The books of the New Testament are generally dated from 47 AD (First Thessalonians) to 150 AD (Epistle of James.) Scholars estimate the four gospels were written between 70 AD and around 100 AD.

The NT books, as preserved in manuscripts of varying quality, were written in Greek and in all-capital letters called “uncials,” with no spaces between words. One job of the early translator, therefore, was to determine how to separate the letters into words. No quotation marks. Once translators agreed on the Greek text in recognizable format, the translators then had to translate so-called “Koine Greek” (common Greek, as opposed to the classical Greek of, say, Plato) into the desired language (Latin, English, German, et cetera.)

Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, not Greek, and the Bible he knew was in Hebrew. So at no point are we receiving the words that Jesus actually spoke, except in a few instances, such as “talitha cumi” (maiden, arise).

Each of the four gospels was written for a different audience and for different purposes. Those purposes, in turn, reflected the theological and political issues facing the particular audience, as well as the author’s sense of what needed to be heard. Thus, Matthew places the great teaching of Jesus in a “Sermon on the Mount,” whereas Luke places the same teachings in a “Sermon on the Plain.” If you examine each story, the way the author positions the disciples and where Jesus sits or stands, you can discern each author’s unique intention.

Did the evangelists place words in Jesus’ mouth? They had no other choice. None of them actually heard Jesus teach, except possibly Mark. They received oral tradition, filtered through many years, many telling and retellings, through the movement of Christianity from a handful in Jerusalem to a series of independent churches around the Mediterranean. It is highly unlikely, for example, that Jesus spoke in the philosophical Greek style of John’s Gospel.

The larger question isn’t whether Jesus said exactly what Matthew presents or Luke’s somewhat different version, but do these stories, taken separately and taken together, reveal Jesus as Messiah? Can you read these four accounts and come to a life-changing understanding of who Jesus was and what your life is about? That was the evangelists’ intent. They weren’t writing biographies. They were trying to convince their audience, and now you, that Jesus was the Son of God and that you will have life in his Name.


I want to have an amazing relationship with God, but I don't know how. I feel like there is a wall in-between God and me, and I want to break it down so badly but I can't. I have always prided myself on being an honest person and treating others how you want to be treated, but I never seem to get the same back. I have just lost my best friend and boyfriend of four years and it hurts so badly. I try to turn to God, but I don't feel any peace. I have been so sad for weeks now and I can't snap out of it. I feel like turning to God is the only way. Can you please help me?

There is clearly a lot going on in your life right now. My first suggestion is that you be patient with yourself and not expect everything to come right quickly. A lost relationship, for example, could take months or years to get over. The journey of self-discovery can take a lifetime. We hear stories of rapid conversions in faith, and they do happen. But we also hear of faith journeys that go up and down, extend over long periods, and still feel unfulfilled. We are complex creatures, and life is a complex business.

If you can decide to be patient, my next suggestion is that you undertake a simple spiritual discipline, like a regular time of morning prayer, or an end-of-day prayer time, or, as I follow, a morning time of prayer, reading and journaling. It could be saying the Lord’s Prayer and then sitting in silence. Or praying for other people and for yourself. Or using a prayer guide like the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. There is no one right way to seek a relationship with God. The main thing is to try and to trust God to respond.

Third, I suggest that you ground your faith journey in the community of a healthy church. It helps to have Christian friends, a pastor, worship, and opportunities to serve


What questions, in terms of a spiritual inventory, can a believer utilize to be more mindful and responsible toward their relationship to God and not be misled or self-deceived? In particular, when the believer, unknowingly through their speech, deed, thought or opinions, magnifies and/or glorifies their own egotistical tendencies or others’ egotism, they diminish the greatness and hallowedness of God. Hopefully those questions would better the believer's personal relationship with God , and maybe, they would guard against egotistical tendencies that mess up individuals, families and communities.

It seems to me Jesus gave us a clear way of assessing our lives. Did we love God? Did we love our neighbor? We can parse those two standards into myriad regulations and expectations. But the point is always, in what I said and did today, did I show a love of God? Did I show a love of neighbor? All else follows from those two commandments.


I was in a Bible study the other night and the question arose on name changes, i.e. Sarai to Sarah, Abram to Abraham. No one really knew why God changed people’s names. Can you tell me?

Names were important to the ancient Hebrews. The power to name someone or something (as Adam named the creatures of the earth) was a sign of the namer’s sovereignty. We can see that same impulse today in the names that colonial powers gave to nations (i.e. Rhodesia) and the new names that indigenous people declared after independence (Rhodesia became Zimbabwe).

Names also communicated meaning, sometimes cleverly so in plays on words. Thus, Abram (Avram, meaning “exalted father”) became Abraham (Avraham, meaning “father of many”) after God called him to be the father of a great nation. Sarai (meaning, “my woman of high rank,” linking her status to that of her husband) was given the name “Sarah” (meaning “woman of high rank,” reflecting her singular status). Similarly, after Jacob wrestled with God, he was renamed “Israel,” probably meaning “struggle with God.”

It is considered likely that Israel’s tradition, at first an oral tradition and later written over many years by numerous authors, transmitted more than one name for the same person. Thus, Jesus had a disciple named Levi and one named Matthew. Both were remembered as having been tax collectors. Maybe they were same person, either because Matthew was from the tribe of Levi, or because Jesus gave a new name to Levi to demonstrate his new calling.


What scriptures state that we were created from the dust to praise God?

The creation story in Genesis 2-3 tells how God “formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen. 2.7) God did so in order to have someone to tend the garden that God was about to create and to till the ground. God then created woman so that the man would have a helper in this work.

After the first couple sinned, God punished woman by giving her pain in childbearing, and punished the man by making his work difficult, saying, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (The name “Adam” is a play on the Hebrew word for “ground.”)

Over the years, people have speculated on why God created man. Some say God wanted a partner in creation. Some say man was created to praise God. Some say God wanted a creature to rule over creation. The Book of Genesis doesn’t exactly say, except to say that the ground needed tilling and God placed man in the garden to do that work.

It was your opinion that when Jesus said, "I am way, I am truth, I am life," he was adding himself as another way to God! You misquoted the scripture and did not complete it. John 14:6: I am the way, the truth, and the life. The word the was omitted, but that word changes the entire meaning of the scripture. It doesn't make Jesus just another way, but THE way, meaning absolute, only, solely. To quote it as you did could easily make Jesus just another way unto salvation. However, you did not complete the scripture, and it is most profound: "No one comes to the Father except through Me."

It is important to recognize that the English translation of John 14.6 isn’t what Jesus said (he spoke Aramaic, not English), and that it is a translation of a Greek manuscript, not an Aramaic original. In the Greek, the English word “the” doesn’t appear. The text says, “I am way, I am truth, I am life.” So, while the word “the” would “change everything,” as you said, that is a translator’s convention, not an exact rendering of what Jesus said.

To learn more about Tom Ehrich’s writings, visit www.onajourney.org.

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