Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery (Luke 16)

So, Luke 16... Did I mention that parables are weird? Let's just move down to verse 15.

The SAB says "That which is highly esteemed among men [love, wisdom, honesty, courage, truth, beauty, etc.] is abomination in the sight of God." I don't think that that was what Jesus was referring to in that verse. Coming right after "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," I would assume that Jesus is referring to money, but I may be biased, I'll admit.

In verses 16 and 17, Jesus talks about the law, and the SAB feels that what is being said there is a contradiction. I've always said that when you read two verses that are side by side and they seem to contradict, you're almost certainly misunderstanding them. Still, the question Must Christians follow the OT laws? points right to the heart of the matter. I've always taken the position that the answer is no, so what is Jesus saying by verse 17? I think he's saying that the OT law is important, and even if it doesn't apply to Christians living under grace, it does continue to serve a purpose. Paul talks a lot about how the Law points to our sinful nature and a need for God's grace, thus the OT law is a big part of the new covenant for Christians.

Verse 18 talks about divorce, and in some of the strongest terms you'll find in the Bible. Is divorce ever permissible? and Is it OK for a divorced woman to remarry? I ended up asking a friend who is a pastor for advice on this chapter, since there was a lot that was tricky, and his view was that much of what appears in this chapter is specifically aimed at misguided ideas that the Pharisees had about various things. One of the things that the Pharisees believed was that you could get a divorce for any reason at all. It may be because of this that Jesus speaks so strongly about divorce. Note that the verse that the SAB pulls from Deuteronomy says "because he hath found some uncleanness in her," which indicates to me that even this verse is talking about unfaithfulness. I think that Jesus is saying that if you up and divorce your wife for petty reasons, it's not really a proper divorce, and instead of divorcing because of adultery, you're really causing adultery.

The chapter ends with the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus. According to my friend that I asked for help, there may be more to this story than we're seeing on the surface. The Pharisees believed that the poor would receive comfort in the afterlife, and therefore it was better not to help them, as you would be reducing their rewards. Jesus is pointing out that by that logic, rich people such as the Pharisees must end up with punishment in the afterlife, since they had plenty of rewards just in their life in general. So this story is mainly to make a point of the Pharisees' beliefs. Note however that there is an interesting point at the end of the story: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Very suggestive of Jesus' resurrection, isn't it?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Take now thy son, thine only son (Luke 15 and a look at parables)

Luke 15 has only two questions, both of which are very easy, so I'm going to do something a little different here, but first the questions: Has there ever been a just person? Answered in this post. Is dancing a sin? Answered in this post.

Now, I'd like to take this post to point out in more detail something that I've hinted at before: Jesus' parables are really weird. Let's examine in detail the parable of the prodigal son:
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
First of all, note that what this son is asking for is far from conventional. He's saying that he wants his inheritance without having to wait for his father to die, so in essence, it's like he's saying, "Dad, you're dead to me, so give me a third of all your money!" (The firstborn son gets a double portion of the inheritance, so the younger only gets a third in this case.)
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
So this guy runs off to a foreign country and spends all his money on partying. There's a lot of speculation by pastors as to what sort of things this meant, but the fact that he did it in a foreign country might be a clue that he wanted to do things that wouldn't be legal in Israel. (Note later there's mention of "harlots".)
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
So things go bad, and he ends up a slave feeding pigs, and thinking about swiping the pigs' food, a pretty lowly position for a Jewish man
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
So this is actually a pretty good plan considering his predicament. He figures he's disgraced himself too much to go back and be accepted by his father again, but maybe if he humbles himself and asks to be a slave at his father's house, he'll get better treatment than he's getting in his current situation.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
This is sort of weird. This is a rather undignified way for a man to act in general, and considering how he'd already greatly insulted his father, it should be as much of a surprise to us as it is to him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
He decides to go through with his prepared speech anyway.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
So despite the ungrateful way that the son treated the father, the father gives him the royal treatment! But there's a problem with this...
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
What a lot of people miss in this parable is that the older brother has every right to be pissed off. If the younger brother insisted on his inheritance, and the father divided everything up and gave it to him, that implies that everything left in the house--including the "fatted calf"--belongs to the older brother. In essence, the father is stealing from the good son's inheritance to celebrate the bad son!
29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
The older son points out the ridiculousness of the situation...
31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
 ...but the father says a bunch of stuff about how great it is that the younger son is home, although it's not really clear why.

Now most people take this parable to be a story about how God just wants to forgive us and love us, and that's all quite good, but there's an awful lot that's left to be explained. Is Jesus saying that we should all run off with prostitutes and then realize what a mistake that was and come back to church? Why is the prodigal son welcomed back before there was ever any hint of repentance on his part? I mean, for all the father knew, he could have been coming back to ask for more money. What the heck does the older brother represent in this parable? He does all the right stuff and stays by his father's side, but gets nothing for being good. Did the father really have the right to kill the fatted calf, given the overall situation?

Now don't get me wrong, I"m not saying that Jesus' parable is a bad parable. What I'm saying is that the meaning is rather obscured by a number of factors; it's not 100% clear what Jesus wants us to learn from this. For that matter, the first two short parables that appear in this chapter before the prodigal son are iffy. Is a shepherd really going to leave 99 sheep unattended to find one that wandered off? Is a woman really going to throw a party because she found a coin she dropped?

Parables are weird.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Honour thy father and thy mother (Luke 14)

Wow, Luke 14 has very few notes; this could be another short one, especially since I'm skipping the note on verse 11, as I somewhat explained a few days ago.

The question of Has there ever been a just person? was one I answered in the second-to last paragraph here, where I said that the verse in Ecclesiastes is probably hyperbolic in nature. The question of Is death final? is one I dealt with back in chapter 7.

Verse 26 is definitely hyperbolic, though. Jesus is not really asking people to hate their families, but is saying that the love we have for Jesus should be so strong that the love we have for other people and things should seem like hate in comparison. Similarly in verse 33, it's understood that what Jesus is asking is not that you get rid of everything, but that you take everything in your life and dedicate it to Jesus. That's my understanding, anyway.

So long as this was so short, let me take a moment to comment on another page that is linked to in this chapter, What the Bible says about family values. I suppose I can't fault the SAB entirely for the way that particular page is structured, because the purpose of the SAB is to show the Bible to be a bad book. But sometimes I wonder if the SAB could still be a good website and present a balanced account of what the Bible really has to offer. That page has a grand total of six verses about "family values", but I assure you that the Bible has more to say about family values than just six verses. I mean, you could go back to Genesis 2:24 where we learn "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." as perhaps the first bit of "family values" the Bible imparts, but obviously we're cherry-picking only the dysfunctional "family values". You could go to a verse like Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." in order to discuss the feminist aspects of the way the Bible structures families, (Note that Eph. 5:22 is marked with the "family values" icon, but doesn't appear on the page.) and it could be compared to 1Corinthians 7:4, which notes, "The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife." I mean, isn't that family values as well?

There's a lot more I could say, as the Bible is really full of stuff that could be termed "family values", and a lot of it is, I think, good in a way that even atheists could agree with. I guess what I'm really saying is that I wish the SAB could sometimes be a little less biased. If the Bible is as bad as it's being made out to be, then even an unbiased look at its content should readily show that, don't you think?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway (Luke 13)

At the beginning of Luke 13, Jesus gives an admonition to the people listening that unless they repent, they will perish. The SAB marks this as unjust and cruel, but I think Jesus is just talking about the natural consequences of living a sinful life.

In verse 13, Jesus heals a woman from a "spirit of infirmity" and the SAB says that "All illness is caused by devils." Once again, I don't think that this is borne out by the scriptures, not only did Jesus heal people who did not have devils/demons in them, but I'd say it's not entirely clear that that is what's happening in this instance. First of all the phrase "spirit of infirmity" sounds pretty different from other passages that usually in the KJV call them "devils", and secondly, it doesn't say that Jesus cast anything out of the woman, but simply healed her. I'm not sure to what extent, but this just feels different in tone to me from passages where people were delivered from demons.

Verses 23-28 prompt the SAB to bring up again a question I answered in chapter 11, and I'll stand by that answer.

Finally, the SAB marks on verses 31-33 as absurd, and I suppose this time I can see it a bit. The Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is going to have him killed, and Jesus replies that he's got to hang around Jerusalem a few more days "for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." A strange little speech that almost sounds like Jesus is challenging Herod to come and try to kill him.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth (Luke 12)

In Luke 12, the first question given by the SAB is Should we fear God? The answer is yes, but I suppose the given verses imply a need for some explanation. I think the real point of those verses in the No column are actually closely related to the speech that Jesus is giving in the beginning of the chapter here. The main idea is that if you righteously fear God, then that fear will drive away all other fears.

Verse 7 is marked for "Science" and verse 9 is marked as "Injustice", and I have no idea why for either one.

Verse 10 brings up the issue of unforgivable sin, which I'm not going to rehash, but rather link to my answer here.

The middle of the chapter contains a lot of verses that the SAB marks as absurd, and they seem to be on the topic of learning to trust God to take care of you. Perhaps they may be absurd to an atheist, but to someone who believes in God, it may not seem so outlandish.

Next up in the chapter is a very strange parable that elicits a bunch of notes and questions from the SAB. Honestly though, I'm not sure what to make of it. As a parable, there's no real reason to take it literally, but I'm not sure what the symbolic lesson is, other than that people should be doing the will of God and looking forward to Christ's return (and even that second part's iffy). I feel sort of lame for not having more to say, but there it is.

Is Jesus peaceful? It's a surprisingly tricky question. As the SAB rightly points out in the next few verses after the one that raises this question, Jesus himself says that one of the effects he will have on the world will be the dividing up of families into factions. Jesus here is saying that he came to bring "division". So why is it that there do seem to be many verses that paint Jesus in the light of a peace maker? One thing that's important to note first of all is that Jesus never promoted violence. On one or two rare occasions, he suggested that his followers might wish to defend themselves against attack, and on many occasions he said that violence was likely to come because of their belief, but he never said this was a good thing, nor something he wanted to have happen. For the most part, however, the sort of peace that Jesus had to offer, if any, was peace with God. In James 4:4, it says "know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." While it doesn't expressly state it, the reverse is true as well, and that is the source of the strife that Jesus brings: when you find peace with God, you will often find that most people who do not share this peace will be your enemies.

The final note on this chapter is on Jesus calling people "hypocrites" for failing to recognize "this time." I'll admit I don't see what Jesus means by this, as the problem could be called a lot of things, but I don't see hypocrisy as chief among them.