Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Until the day in which he was taken up (Luke 24)

Luke 24 is a big one, but what the heck, let's do it all in one big post, shall we?

Was the tomb opened or closed? Were the men (or angels) inside or outside? Were the men or angels sitting or standing? Whom did the women see? Okay, much of the confusion arising from these questions is due to the fact that the verses being cited are describing different events. The tomb was opened; the passage in Matthew describing the angel rolling away the stone is an event that happened before any of the women arrived, and involved the only angel spotted outside of the tomb. When the women looked into the tomb, they saw two angels who looked like men, and thus are described as such in some of the accounts. It's not clear why Mark's gospel says there was only one. At various times they were sitting and standing, notably when Mary Magdalene looks into the tomb, this is much later in the day as she, by herself, had run off to fetch Peter and John, and at the point she examines the tomb more closely, the other women have gone on their way and some time has passed.

Did Jesus forewarn the apostles of his death and resurrection? Yes, but they apparently didn't fully understand it.

Did the women immediately tell the disciples? I believe they did; when it says in Mark's gospel that they told no man, it may mean that they told nobody until they found the disciples. (Mark's gospel is a strange one, as it's believed by many scholars to have ended with verse 8 originally, and someone else edited in the rest later. So the ending there is weird and a little disjointed.)

How many women came? The Bible is far from clear on this, but I think part of the confusion is due to the complexity of the story. It's my belief that there may have been more than one group of women who came to the tomb, as well as more than one group who left separately. In particular, Mary Magdalene was the first woman to come to the tomb, and while she may not have come alone, she did leave alone to run to Peter and John. It would seem that the other women stuck around to see the angels and get instructions, and later caught up with Mary as she was talking to Peter and John. Whoever was with Peter and John seemed either confused and/or skeptical about what they were hearing, but Peter and John went to the tomb to check things out.

To whom did Jesus first appear? Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene; the passages given on that page are describing other, later events. I believe the event that is described in Matthew 28:9 happens after Mary Magdalene becomes separated from the rest of the women. The story here in Luke in which he travels with two disciples clearly takes place long after Peter and John traveled to the tomb (see v. 24), which was around the time that Jesus appeared to M.M. The verse in 1Corinthians makes no claim of who saw Jesus first.

Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus? Most of these verses are taken out of context. I already talked about the Matthew verse; if you read a few more verses into the John account, you find that Mary eventually recognizes Jesus; the guys in Luke had only heard the first part of the story, not how Mary had seen Jesus.

Is it OK to call someone a fool? The verse in Matthew 5 that this refers to does not say that you can't call someone a fool, but rather points out that if you start name-calling in anger, you're spiritually endangering yourself.

How many disciples did Jesus appear to in his first post resurrection appearance? The problem with these verses, especially the one in 1Corinthians, is that "the twelve" was sort of a shortcut way of saying "the apostles" even though in many latter cases it excluded Judas Iscariot, similarly "the eleven" is used to refer to the apostles less Judas, and may have been used to refer to them even if one of them, namely Thomas, happened to be missing. The answer is ten.

Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples? Note that the Matthew verse says "where Jesus had appointed them", suggesting that this was not the first meeting they'd had with him.

Did the eleven disciples believe the two men? I think they didn't believe at first until more reports started coming in of sightings of Jesus.

Were the disciples frightened or gladdened when they saw Jesus? I think they were afraid at first, and then glad. Note that if you read the verses leading up to the verse quoted from John, it says that they were glad after he spoke with them and showed them his wounds.

Was it OK to touch the risen Jesus? It's not really clear what it is that Jesus is telling Mary in John 20:17, because he does seem to be rather generous with other people who want to touch him in other situations. Different Greek verbs are used for touching in all of these verses, which might lend a hint, but I'm not sure what that might be. I suspect that while many people were merely touching Jesus, Mary may have been clinging to him rather strongly, and Jesus was reminding her that she couldn't keep him. That's my guess anyway. Does God have a body? God the Father has no body, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have an appearance.

The SAB says "Jesus claims that his suffering and death were a fulfillment of prophecy. But there is no such prophecy in the Old Testament." There certainly is no specific place in the O.T. that says right out that the Messiah has to suffer and die, but that doesn't mean that there are no passages that are prophetic of this concept. Two that come to mind are Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22.

Where did Jesus tell his disciples to go after his resurrection? It would seem that he told them to go to two places, first to go to Galilee where they would see him on a mountaintop, and then to go wait in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

When did Jesus ascend into heaven? First of all, he may very well have ascended into heaven more than once. However his final ascension was forty days after his resurrection.I think the real problem verse is the one at the end of Luke. As the SAB itself points out, the phrase "and carried up into heaven" may not have been in the original manuscript, but more important than that, I don't think we are meant to take the events of Luke 24 to have all occurred on a single day.

Monday, May 26, 2014

And king Herod heard of him (Luke 23)

The first question the SAB brings up on Luke 23 is Who put the robe on Jesus? This is a fascinating question because it highlights an even bigger question that the SAB fails to ask. Why is Luke's gospel the only one that mentions Jesus making a trip to see Herod? It's funny because the idea that Herod and his men put the robe on Jesus almost makes a sort of twisted sense--at least I can't see why the Romans would bother. Luke's gospel as a whole has a number of interesting little vignettes that are missing from the other three, and you end up wondering where Luke got his information. Perhaps as the only non-Jewish writer, he was able to get inside information from the Romans, but that's only speculation on my part.

Who carried Jesus' cross? This one is pretty simple: Jesus carried his own cross part of the way, and Simon of Cyrene carried it for the other part.

What did the soldiers give Jesus to drink? I think there were two points in time that the soldiers offered Jesus a drink. First, they offered him wine, which he refused, and the second time they offered him vinegar, which he took a little bit of.

What did the sign over Jesus say? Yes, it's very interesting that all four gospels get the sign different, but the essential message is the same.

Did both thieves revile Jesus? The general understanding of this supposed contradiction is that while both of the thieves reviled Jesus at first, one of them was moved for unknown reason to repent and defend Jesus. The SAB has a side-note on verse 43 that is worth addressing, even though I'm not a Jehovah's Witness. The thing is, there's a lot of speculation theologically as to what went on between the time Jesus died and the time he was resurrected. Some believe, and with fairly good reason, that when Jesus died, he didn't go to heaven, but rather went to a place known as Sheol where he preached the Gospel to all dead people who were waiting to go to the afterlife. This is more than I really want to go into here, but I do believe that it's written about in one of the later epistles. Actually, I guess the SAB talks a bit about it on the page for Did Jesus go to heaven after he died but before his ascension? Jesus seems to be saying to Mary Magdalene that he hasn't been to heaven, but he could simply mean that he hasn't made his final ascension yet. I'm almost babbling here, but the point in the end is I'm just not sure, so let's move on to a simpler question.

Can thieves go to heaven? I can answer this one! The contradiction page quotes 1 Cor. 6:9-10, which is a verse I have a love/hate relationship with. Yes, Paul mentions a whole list of sorts of people who can't go to heaven, but then in verse 11, he says, "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." The important takeaway? Sin will keep us from heaven, but Jesus is in the business of forgiving sin. There will be no thieves in heaven, but there will be a whole lot of ex-thieves.

When did the Temple curtain rip? I don't think that any of these verses are trying to nail down an exact time; the idea is that the curtain ripped when Jesus died.

What were the last words of Jesus? I don't know.

What did the Centurion call Jesus when he died? The accepted understanding is that there were two centurions at Jesus' crucifixion, and they each had something to say when Jesus died.

From where were the women watching? I think that there was more than one group of women at Jesus' crucifixion, and while most watched from afar, a small group, along with the Apostle John, was much closer to the cross.

Who buried Jesus? The thing to understand here is that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were members of the Sanhedrin who happened to be sympathetic to Jesus, so there is no contradiction here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice (Luke 22)

Luke 22 opens with the intriguing question Did Satan enter Judas before or after the last supper? I suppose the SAB can see this as a contradiction, but it's quite possible that Satan entered into him more than once.

So then we come to the Last Supper, of course in the midst of which, Jesus gives his disciples bread that he says is "my body" and wine which he says is "my blood". The SAB marks this is violent for some reason; I guess they are assuming this is not bread and wine but actual flesh and blood? Even among Christians who believe in transubstantiation (that the bread and wine magically transform into flesh and blood) the Eucharist doesn't start out that way, so I can't see the violence there.

In verse 30, Jesus says the apostles will "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The SAB asks which tribe Judas will judge. First of all, it doesn't say that each of them will get a specific tribe to judge; I assume they all will judge all the tribes jointly. Second of all, there's no reason to assume that this applies to Judas.

Now I have no idea why I didn't cover this in Matthew 26 or Mark 14 (I'm pretty sure this isn't a new note in the SAB), but in the book of Mark, Jesus tells Peter that the cock will crow twice when Peter will deny Jesus, which is different from the other three tellings of this story. The thing that may be especially interesting about this discrepancy is that Mark's gospel is considered by some scholars to have been written by Mark based on interviewing Peter about the events within it. So while this discrepancy is a minority reading, it's in the gospel that one would most expect to get the details right. Whichever version is right in the end, this seems to be a small but real contradiction. (The later note about Did the cock crow before or after Peter's denial? is of course closely related, and I would respond to it similarly.)

Is Jesus peaceful? I'm sure I've answered this many times, but it always could use another answer. Jesus was a peaceful person, and he came to bring peace between man and God, but in the end, the controversy that has ever since been brought up because of his teachings has led to a lot of violence. In this passage, Jesus is warning his disciples that with him dead and gone, things are going to be different, and they will need to defend themselves.

Did Jesus ask God to save him from crucifixion? Sort of. You'll find that in each of the gospels he seems to suggest it, but immediately adds something like, "not my will but yours."

I don't know what to say about the note on verses 43-44. I'm sure the book in the footnotes of the page sheds some light on the matter.

Did Judas identify Jesus with a kiss? It seems to be the case, although it also seems to be the case that John did not mention this fact in his gospel.

Was Jesus taken to Caiaphas or Annas first? Some facts need to be clarified about these two men. First of all, they were both acting as high priest, because the Romans had ordered that Annas be made high priest, while the Jews still accepted Caiaphas. Secondly, Caiaphas was the father-in-law of Annas, so whether at home or at the temple, these two men may have very well been together.

However, I have to admit that To whom did Peter deny knowing Jesus? is a question that just has a jumbled mess for an answer, and I've no idea why. In some sense it doesn't matter, but since it's largely accepted that some of the gospel writers copied from each other it seems strange that there would be so much discrepancy.

How did Jesus respond when questioned by the high priest? Well, while technically the gospels give different responses, they're awfully similar. I think a lot of believers know of these slight differences and aren't bothered by them, but I could be only speaking for me. It's been a long chapter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

For we have seen his star in the east (Luke 21)

Luke 21 opens with Jesus giving commentary on some people giving money at the temple; in particular, he points out a widow who puts in a tiny amount of money as having "cast in more money than they all." The SAB deduces from this that Jesus is in favor of progressive taxation, but as usual I think extending spiritual truths that Jesus teaches into the realm of politics is iffy. Still, there is perhaps a principle at work here, and it may tie in with his claim from two chapters ago that it's hard for rich people to enter heaven. As a political liberal, I'd like to think Jesus favors progressive taxation, I just don't know how strong of a case you can really make from this one passage.

Most of the rest of this chapter is a rambling speech about the second coming: when to expect it, what to expect when it's coming, what sorts of things will happen before it comes, etc. A lot of this stuff sounds very violent and horrible, but I don't think that Jesus is saying he endorses the bad parts, only that they will be coming so be ready. (There's an interesting sub-point in this that the SAB points out, but only in passing; Jesus says some people are going to be put to death and yet "there shall not an hair of your head perish." Seems like a contradiction in terms there, doesn't it?)

Should we look for signs in the heavens? This may come across as a bit iffy to a skeptic, but I think that despite the passage mentioning signs, there is no admonition to look for them. It's not clear from context what these "signs" will be, and I actually expect that they will be false signs to confuse people further in the midst of all the chaos already going on. Speaking of which, Does the bible condemn astrology? I'm sure I've addressed it before but in general, the Bible does condemn astrology. Note that the Genesis passage says, "let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years," which suggests to me that the passage is just pointing out the obvious that the positions of stars can work like a calendar. The Judges passage most likely is not talking about actual stars, but rather about angels, which in many prophetic passages are referred to as "stars". The passage here in Luke talks about signs, but once again, I think these may be false signs, which leaves only the Matthew verse to discuss. There are a couple of things to be said about the star of Bethlehem, one being that the people who followed it were not Jews. Secondly, and this is an interesting one that I recently read about in a Jehovah's Witness publication (although I'm not a JW, I read Watchtower Magazine and Awake! just because I find them fascinating), the star of Bethlehem somehow led them to the wrong king and put Jesus in mortal danger, so it has questionable value; the publication I was reading suggested it was a demonic sign, which I find a fascinating theory.

Will Jesus' second coming be visible to all? According to the note at the bottom of the page, I'm apparently not the only one who is interested in the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, as the SAB has taken from them in some way this possible contradiction from a verse in John. I think the solution to this contradiction is a simple one, as there is nothing particular that indicates the verse in John will be forever.

In verse 32, Jesus says "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled." The SAB suggests this is failed prophecy since it didn't all happen within the lifetime of his listeners, but that's making the assumption that "this generation" refers to his listeners. It may very well be that Jesus is saying the generation that sees the signs won't pass away until the end of the world. (Note that he talks about a fig tree; some scholars have suggested that the fig tree is symbolic of the nation Israel, and thus the generation that sees Israel restored is the one that will see the end. This idea has gotten a bit less popular as the time span from the reestablishing of Israel has increased.)

Will the earth last forever? I would say that this one is a rather metaphysical question. I think the theological consensus is that the earth will last for all of time, but eventually time itself shall cease to exist. In any case, when the "new earth" is created something about it is going to be fundamentally different on a cosmic level.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thy dead men shall live (Luke 20)

The Parable in the early part of Luke 20 is once again not a parable that Jesus precedes with "The Kingdom of God is like..." but I think the parallels in this case are too obvious to not assume that the landlord in the parable is representative of God, if only because he sends his son who is killed. Now while the SAB calls the story violent, and I can see that, the injustice label is a little more questionable. These guys who are taking his property have also killed his son, so it's not that surprising that the landlord reacts with violence.

The little story in verses 22-25 are not universally recognized to have the meaning that the SAB appoints to them, but I happen to be in agreement. I think Jesus is definitely saying that people should pay their taxes, and it's not a great stretch to suppose he's suggesting a separation of church and state. (Note that Old Testament laws stated that a man could be a king or a priest, but not both.)

The argument Jesus has with the Sadducees in verses 27-38 is an interesting one, as the Sadducees didn't believe in life after death, and they were trying to set out a ridiculous scenario to confuse Jesus. The general understanding of Jesus' reply is that in the afterlife, there won't be marriage, so the question is meaningless. Is death final? I'm sure I've answered this many times, but no, death is not final, in the sense that when someone dies, they move on to another stage of existence. The SAB suggests jokingly that "Dead people have no God" but it's more proper to note that there's a certain sense in which there are no truly dead people, as their souls last eternally.

Jesus' little speech in verses 41 to 44 is a bit cryptic, as he seems to be claiming that he's not the son of David, even though that's a title he has willingly been referred to in the past. I'm not sure what his point is supposed to be unless perhaps it has something to do with the virgin birth which honestly is not spoken of much in the gospels.