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.

Friday, March 14, 2014

For he that is not against us is for us (Luke 11)

Luke 11 opens with another side note from the works of Bart Ehrman, who I know came up in an earlier post. It always seems a little strange to me when the SAB takes a bit of time to go outside of simply using the KJV, but at least I'm inclined to agree with this particular note. It is my understanding that the prayer here in Luke did not match the similar "Lord's Prayer" in Matthew in the original Greek manuscripts, and somewhere along the line some people tried to change it so that the two would be more similar. As I said the last time he came up, if you're interested in things like the SAB, Ehrman would probably be excellent additional readings, as he comes up with similar criticisms, but from a more technical viewpoint as a scholar of ancient manuscripts.

Can God be found? the SAB asks. I'm going to say yes and no on this one. As a general principle, God can be found, but there are exceptions, and there are times when God will hide himself from someone seeking him.

Who is for or against Jesus? While these verses can seem like a contradiction, I think they really boil down to Jesus saying there is no neutrality involved when it comes to him.

In verses 24-26, Jesus gives an odd illustration about casting out demons, in which a man with a demon cast out of him ends up with seven more demons in the end. The way that I've always heard this discussed is that if a man has a demon cast out of him, it is important that the exorcism is not the only thing done for the man, but he needs to be saved, so that he has protection from God from further corruption by evil spirits.

Was Mary blessed? I don't know why this wasn't covered when I did Luke 1, but that was a long time ago, maybe this is a new note? Anyway, I would say that Mary was blessed, and that the statement by Jesus here does not negate that fact. If Jesus says, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." that would only mean that Mary was not blessed if she didn't keep the word of God, which I have no reason to believe was the case. I do think that Jesus is making a statement about the importance of keeping the word of God over the adoration of any particular person; not that one can't admire Mary and recognize her importance, but it's simply secondary to a right relationship with God.

Did Jesus perform any signs and wonders? This always comes across as a confusing matter, as Jesus repeatedly says that he will not perform signs and wonders, but clearly, he does. It's always been my understanding that the real meaning of this is that Jesus performed signs and wonders when they served a purpose, but never did anything just to show off.

Who was the greatest: Jesus or Solomon? I think that Jesus and Solomon (and John the Baptist) were each the greatest in their own way. Note that it never says that Solomon was the greatest, only that there would never be a king like him. Solomon was exceedingly great in wisdom, but Jesus is in a class of his own.

Is it OK to call someone a fool? I don't think that the point of Matthew 5:22 is to say that the word "fool" is forbidden, but rather that it is bad to speak epithets in anger. There's a big difference between getting angry with someone and calling him a fool because he hurt your feelings and calling someone a fool because they have done an actual foolish thing.

At the end of the chapter, the SAB says, "Jesus blames all the deaths of the prophets (from Abel to Zacharias) on his generation." I don't think that's exactly what's going on here. Jesus actually says, "It shall be required of this generation." Which is not to say that they are responsible, but this is something like a long overdue bill that is finally coming due paid. He may be referring to the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (Luke 10)

Luke 10 opens with a repeat of a question from the last chapter, so I'm skipping it. Since Jesus tells his disciples to eat whatever is given to them, the SAB asks What kind of animals may we eat? While there may be some general confusion regarding this subject, I think this verse may not belong in the discussion. It may be fair to assume that Jesus is having them only stay in Jewish houses, therefore they'd always be eating kosher meals.

The SAB makes an interesting point about verses 10-15, and it's something that I'm not really sure what to say about it. (Although I think I touched on it in a previous post, I don't think I shed much light on it there, either.) There is a concept that is mentioned in the Bible in various places that God sometimes judges not just individuals, but cities and kingdoms. I'm not sure how this works out from a larger perspective. I mean, if you were a good person who lived in Bethsaida that happened to have faith in Jesus, does that mean you would be judged as part of the city as Jesus seems to be saying here? Or is this sort of statement from Jesus even meant to be taken literally? Perhaps when he says Bethsaida will be judged, he's just saying that the majority of the people there will be judged, I don't know.

In the midst of this, the SAB asks, What was Sodom's sin? For me, the definitive answer to this question has always been Ezekiel 16:49-50:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
In other words, Sodom had a number of sins, most of which had to do with social justice, although the "abomination" mentioned may indeed have had something to do with homosexuality. Let me say, however, that when you read the story of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19, what you're seeing there is not typical homosexual behavior, but gang rape, which I hope anyone would see as being very, very wrong regardless of the genders of the parties involved.

A note on verse 16 is marked with "intolerance" and makes a statement about Pat Robertson. I think that statement makes a huge assumption: that Pat Robertson is speaking for God. I don't know that that's the case, and I've heard a number of things from Robertson that makes me doubt that.

The note on verses 25-28 is one worth discussing. Anyone following my writing closely will have noticed that I've generally avoided responding to the repeated question What must you do to be saved? Although it's a very important question, the page linked to is frankly too much for me to process in a simple way, as it's quite extensive and in no particular order. However, I do like this exchange that happens between the lawyer (in context, this isn't what we'd call a "lawyer" in the 21st century, but an expert on the works of Moses) and Jesus because I think it does manage to encapsulate some important principles. Is salvation about works, or is it about faith, or is it about saying the right prayers or something? I think the real substance of salvation is encapsulated here: Love God and love people. If you love God, then you will have faith in him. If you love people, then you will do works which are pleasing to God. I think the confusion of the SAB's page on salvation is from the fact that while salvation is in some ways a simple thing, it has many facets to it, so it can seem complicated if you over-analyze it.

Lastly, the SAB says that the story of the good Samaritan is probably the best story in the Bible. I don't know if I agree, but I'm certainly inclined to. And the thing to remember about the story is that the Jews didn't like the Samaritans, but a couple of people of high standing in the religious community don't do for the hurt man what a supposedly evil Samaritan did. So the message is twofold: You should always practice kindness towards people, even if they're strangers, and you shouldn't judge people by their ethnicity or what they may look like. Indeed, it's a very uplifting and positive message.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Neither shoes, nor yet staves (Luke 9)

In Luke 9, Jesus sends the apostles out to do work such as healing the sick and casting out demons. In examining Jesus' instructions here and elsewhere, the SAB asks, Did Jesus tell his apostles to go barefoot and without a staff? I dealt with this before, and it was a subtle one. My understanding of what seems to be a contradiction here is that Jesus told them not to bring an extra staff, and wanted them to wear sandals rather than heavy shoes.

Apparently some people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead, and the SAB wonders if Herod was among the people believing this. I think there's room for that interpretation in the Luke passage; although Herod doesn't actually say it, he does seem to be worried by the rumors.

Verse 27 has the cryptic message, "But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God." This is an odd statement, and many people have interpreted it to mean that the second coming of Christ would be within the lifetimes of some of his apostles, but I don't think that's what it does mean. In all of the Gospels recording this claim, it is immediately followed by the event known as the Transfiguration, and many Christians believe that it was this event to which Jesus was referring, that is, seeing Christ transfigured was equivalent to seeing the "kingdom of God". (Luke says the Transfiguration was eight days after the speech, which disagrees with the other Gospels; I don't believe I have anything useful to shed light on the discrepancy.)

Shortly after this, Jesus cures an epileptic boy by casting a demon out of him. The SAB says that the Bible is implying that epilepsy is caused by demons, but all I think you can say is that the Bible is claiming it was in this particular case. For some reason, Jesus has some harsh words for his disciples for not being able to handle the demon on their own, I have no idea why.

A following passage that discusses casting out demons leads the SAB to ask two similar questions: Who can cast out devils in the name of Jesus? and Is casting out devils a sign of a true Christian? I don't think there's a real contradiction here, both really depend on a very particular interpretation of Mark 16:17, which in my opinion means that if you're a Christian, you should have the power to cast out demons, but that doesn't mean that if you can cast out demons you must be a Christian. Furthermore, I don't think that the people being discussed in this passage are necessarily not Christians, they're just not part of the main group of Jesus and his Apostles.

Did the Samaritans receive Jesus? This is a simple one to answer. Some of them did, some of them didn't. The story happening here is a different one than the one in John 4, and in this particular case, Jesus was not received. While I don't agree with the absurdity of Jesus' disciples asking to call down fire from heaven, I readily admit that it opens up some questions. Were they right in being angry? Would they have really been able to call down fire? What did Jesus' response to their request really mean? I don't know that anyone has answers to those questions. I sure don't.

Final note on this chapter: the man who asks Jesus, "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." doesn't have a dead father, he's saying "I'd like to follow you, but can I wait until my parents are dead?" Perhaps one can still consider it cruel for Jesus to deny the request, but it's not what the SAB makes it sound like.

Friday, March 07, 2014

The maid is not dead, but sleepeth (Luke 8)

The SAB opens up Luke 8 with a verse marked as absurd. I'm sure I've commented on it before, but I'm never quite sure what to do with charges of absurdity, mostly because it's largely a matter of personal opinion. The SAB finds a lot of stuff in the Bible absurd, but usually it makes sense from a spiritual perspective, I hope.

Did Jesus have any secret teachings? The issue here is that the passage in John says that Jesus did not have secret teachings, but it seems as though the other passages imply that he did. I think what Jesus is saying in the John passage is that although clearly not every single word Jesus ever said was in public, he'd always been open about his purpose and had nothing to hide.

Verse 18 is rather cryptic (at least I'm certainly not sure what it means) and the SAB puts a snide remark about Republicans on it. I'm pretty sure it's just meant as a joke, but I might as well comment while I'm here that I always cringe a bit when I hear people put political labels on Jesus. Not only was he obviously not a Republican or Democrat, but I don't think it makes sense to label him as either liberal or conservative. Jesus simply was what he was, and it wasn't about politics, it was about devotion to God and love for our fellow human beings.

In verses 20-21, Jesus makes the statement that "My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it." which the SAB takes as an insult to his actual mother and brothers. I suppose you could see it that way, but then at the same time, I do think Jesus' family were devout themselves, and so Jesus is arguably not denying them, but including them in something bigger.

Verse 24 has the first of several miracles performed by Jesus in this chapter, all of which are marked as absurd (see above) and unscientific. As I said before, it's the very nature of miracles that they are unscientific, so I don't think this is a real problem.

Verses 27-37 tell the story of Jesus helping a man possessed by a demon, or possibly multiple demons, it's never quite clear. (The version of the story in Matthew has two men possessed, which seems to be a pretty clear contradiction, so I don't know what to make of it.) The SAB like many others I've heard before complains about cruelty to the herd of pigs, which is of course what leads to Jesus being asked to leave by the locals.

Was Jairus' daughter alive when Jesus approached? Yes, the Gospels give differing accounts of when the girl may have died, but in all the versions, Jesus says the girl is only sleeping, and I'll take him at his word.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

And when he knew it of the centurion (Luke 7)

Luke 7 opens with the story of a centurion asking Jesus to heal his slave. The story here is told differently than it is in Matthew 8, prompting the SAB to ask "Did the centurion ask Jesus directly to heal his slave?" In Matthew's telling of the story, the centurion comes in person to talk to Jesus, while here, he sends some messengers. (Note that in neither version does Jesus go to the centurion's house.) While I couldn't say for sure, my guess on this matter is that Matthew left out details and simplified the story. Even though this transaction involved messengers, it's still essentially the centurion who's asking for help.

More important perhaps is the issue of slavery here. As the SAB rightly points out, if Jesus was against slavery, this would have been a good time to say something, but he doesn't. The SAB has a page on whether God approves of slavery, but I think there needs to be a distinction made between slavery in ancient Israel (which I addressed here) and slavery in Roman times. That being said, just as when I covered this story in Matthew 8, I have to admit that I know very little about Roman slavery and so I can't say much about it. Maybe if I ever get to the book of Philemon (which is about a runaway slave) I'll have to force myself to do some research.

Did Jesus know everything? While a case can be made that Jesus did not know everything, I think the fact that Jesus "marvelled" at the centurion is more of a statement of Jesus' emotional reaction than genuine surprise.

Next in the story, Jesus raises a man from the dead, prompting two questions from the SAB: Is death final? While I'm sure I've dealt with this before, let me do it here. In general, death is a final thing, but there are occasional exceptions of people who are revived from death, and that doesn't even require a miracle; sometimes a knowledge of CPR is enough. That being said, there is that matter of the concept of the resurrection of the dead, which is always supernatural. In this case in general everyone will resurrected at the end of time to be judged in a new, perfect body. When Jesus died on the cross, he was the first to be resurrected, which leads to and partially answers the second question, Was Jesus the first to rise from the dead? The two verses in the yes column are referring to the resurrection, and not to people who were revived, nor to people whose spirits sent messages from beyond the grave.

In verse 19 we see "And John [the Baptist] calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?" The nature of this question is mostly a rhetorical one. John the Baptist already knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but he's confused about what Jesus is doing because like many other in that day, he expected the Messiah to revive the Israelite monarchy. Since Jesus seems to be just doing spiritual stuff, a lot of people are confused about his mission. (In other Gospel tellings of this event, John is in prison, and is confused as to why Jesus hasn't come to bust him out.)

In verse 28, the SAB asks, Who was the greatest prophet? Well, look at what those verses actually say: the Deuteronomy passage says there was never a prophet like Moses, not that Moses was the best. The verse in Hebrews says that Jesus was worthy of glory, but doesn't say that he was the greatest prophet (and really, even if it did, it would be fairly reasonable to assume that when Jesus praised John as the greatest, he was excluding himself from the comparison. So in short, John the Baptist was the greatest.

Were the Pharisees baptized by John? I don't think that the verse in Matthew 3 is saying what the SAB is claiming it's saying. When John said "I baptize you..." I believe he was speaking in general to the crowd, whether or not any one of them in particular were getting baptized, and the Pharisees were not.

The question Is it OK to use perfume? is, in my opinion, really one of the silliest that the SAB poses, and I'm not going to answer it again.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Judge not, that ye be not judged (Luke 6)

Luke 6 does open with a bit of odd wording, as the SAB notes, but it quickly develops into a story that's a common one for the Gospels: arguments between Jesus and the Pharisees over the technicalities of the Sabbath. It's good to note first of all that what Jesus and his disciples were doing was not considered stealing in that culture. When a person passed through a field of grain or an orchard, they were allowed to pick whatever they could eat as they walked. The Pharisees however still considered the picking of grain to be an act of harvesting, which would be work, and therefore unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus brings up the story of David taking some bread from the Tabernacle in a time when he was desperate, the point being that when you're hungry and desperate, you shouldn't let tradition stop you from eating. (The idea that picking a few heads of grain to eat was harvesting was not part of the Mosaic law, but rather Jewish tradition.)

The SAB asks regarding this story, Was David alone when he asked for the holy bread at Nob? I think this is a misunderstanding of the passage in 1Samuel, as you can see in verse 21:4 that the priest says "...if the young men have kept themselves at least from women." If David is alone, then who are "the young men" being referred to? David was not alone, although he may have come into the presence of the priest alone.

The SAB marks Jesus' act of healing a man's hand with the "science" icon. I'm never sure if I really need to comment on such things. Jesus did a lot of supernatural things, which are of course going to go against science. What is there to say about it?

The SAB asks Who were the apostles? and shows that in each of the four Gospels, there's a list, and none of the lists are completely identical. The most likely explanation for the discrepancy is that many of the apostles had more than one name, and so Jesus may have given a secondary name to Judas the brother of James, and that name was apparently Lebbaeus Thaddeus.

Did Jesus preach his first sermon on a mountain or a plain? This appears to be the so-called "sermon on the mount", but Luke clearly states that this is happening on a plain. There are a couple possibilities. First, this may have been one of several similar sermons that Jesus gave in a few different places. Second, the way the sermon is described in Matthew's Gospel seems to set up the acoustics all wrong; if you stand on a mountain with people below you, it's going to be hard for them to hear, so it would make more sense that Jesus found a place with a mountainside near a plain to set up a sort of natural amphitheater. In that case, the answer would be "both".

In verses 24-26, the SAB has a series of questions that I'm going to answer as one. I don't think that this section of the sermon is suggesting that these people are going to Hell. What I do think is going on is that like the things before Jesus said one would be "blessed" for, Jesus is suggesting that there is going to be a reversal of the status quo. Why he's suggesting this, I'm not really sure, but I've heard it said time and again that the "sermon on the mount" isn't about salvation issues, but rather about earthly issues.

Verse 27 is marked as "Good Stuff", but is also marked as contradicting other passages. In the issue of How should enemies be treated? I think one needs to see that the verses in the second column are, for the most part, not commands about how to treat enemies, but rather individual instances of people having less than charitable reactions to enemies. The exception to this is the very last verse given, but I think that verse fits in better with the second question, How should nonbelievers be treated? In this case, and on that page, there are a few different issues being dealt with. In the first verse, this is a specific law given to Jews with respect to their fellow Jews. Yeah, it seems pretty harsh, but its purpose is to keep religious purity within the nation of Israel. In the second case, I think "shun them" is an overstatement of what's being admonished here. Most people that I know of interpret this verse to mean that it's best to not enter into business partnerships with unbelievers if possible.

Verses 29-30 have Jesus suggesting some rather extreme acts of kindness, taking "Love thy enemy" to its full extent. The SAB marks the passage as absurd, and really, it is. I think it's a difficult passage that the Christian has to decide whether it was meant to be taken literally or whether it may have been hyperbole, but Jesus appears to be sincere.

Is God merciful? It's hard to sugar-coat this one; the SAB comes up with a lot of verses that seem to show God being unmerciful, some of them even saying outright that God is not showing mercy. The fact is that while God called merciful several times, this is not an attribute of God that He displays all the time. It's a common theme of Christian sermons that we can see that God is merciful because every single one of us is a sinner, and yet God doesn't simply send us all to Hell right this moment. That's certainly a matter of perspective that I don't expect too many skeptics to buy into unless they really understand the issue of sin and how it effects our standing before God. It's probably not something I can really explain, but would be willing to try in the comments so as not to make this post twice as long as it already is.

To judge or not to judge? I think most unbelievers are familiar with the Bible verse, "Judge not," but miss that there is more to the phrase. Here in Luke, the full verse goes, "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged." In any case, the verses in the Bible that warn against judging are not saying that a person cannot judge, but rather are warnings that when you become a judge, you are going to warrant others, including God, to judge you in return. While this may not rule out judging completely, it should give one pause. As Jesus goes on to say here, you may be judging someone for a little speck of sin when you have an entire log in your own eye. That's not a good place to be.