Friday, February 28, 2014

And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin? (Luke 5)

In Luke 5, the SAB finds absurdity with the opening story of Jesus helping Simon Peter catch the huge amount of fish. Really, it is a ridiculous story; that's actually sort of the point of miracles isn't it?

As I said in commentary on the last chapter, while "they forsook all" might mean that Peter left his wife, it's not necessarily so.

The story of Jesus healing a leper is an interesting one for a number of reasons. One thing is the fact the Jesus chose to touch the leper, since lepers were "unclean"; I've actually heard it argued that the leper must have been healed before Jesus touched him, otherwise Jesus would be "unclean". Another thing that is interesting is that Jesus tells the man to go to a priest and do what the law of Moses commands a person cured of leprosy to do; it's odd that the law has such a provision, as there is no cure for leprosy.

In the story starting in verse 18, the SAB says that "Jesus cures a paralytic by forgiving his sins, thereby proving that he is God (since only God can forgive sins) and paralysis is caused by sin." I don't think that this is quite right. First of all, it appears to me that in the story, the forgiveness and the healing are two separate acts. Secondly, Jesus never says that paralysis is caused by sin.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek (Luke 4)

Here's where I'm really going to feel like I'm repeating myself, as this scene in Luke 4 doesn't change much between the Gospels.

Jesus goes off into the wilderness and fasts for forty days. Note that it doesn't say that he drank nothing, only that he ate nothing. As it happens, I have known people who have gone on a forty day fast from solid food, but really, that's beside the point, as Jesus is meant to be understood as being rather exceptional. If a guy can walk on water and bring people back from the dead, going for forty days with maybe only water should be a cinch.

When the devil takes Jesus up on a mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, I never took it as being a literal thing, but more a sort of a vision. Even if the world were flat, you can only see so far, so I don't think this passage is suggesting such a thing.

Who is the Lord of all the earth? As is implied by this passage, the devil is, but then why all the verses saying that God is? Rather than a contradiction, this is a sort of complicated feudal matter; God is Lord in the end, but for some reason that's never fully explored in the Bible, when Adam ate from the tree in the garden of Eden, a certain amount of control over the earth was given to Satan. Anyway, if I remember from the first time I addressed Jesus' misquote, yes the word "only" doesn't appear in the verse Jesus is quoting, but it's strongly implied. So yeah, technically a misquote, but Jesus hasn't changed the meaning of the verse.

Can God be tempted? I answered this at length once before; let me try to give a short answer this time: You certainly can try to tempt God, but that doesn't mean it would be effective. Is it OK to test (or tempt) God? Generally no, but clearly there have been exceptions. Not only is it not a hard-and-fast rule, but the page on the SAB is missing an important verse, Malachi 3:10, in which God commands Israel to test him! (Perhaps the SAB will add the verse once this goes up? I think it's a big one for this issue.)

The SAB has a few issues with the comparison of Luke 4:18-19 to Isaiah 61:1-2. First of all, the SAB claims that the verse in Isaiah refers to Isaiah, and not to a future prophet. While yes, the verse does refer to Isaiah, that does not mean that it's impossible that it might have another layer of meaning. It actually comes up a lot in the New Testament that a verse that people thought referred to a past event is reinterpreted to have a secondary fulfillment; that's what's going on here. Secondly, the SAB points out that this appears to be yet another case of Jesus misquoting Scripture, and asks idly if Jesus made the mistake or if Luke added it in later. I don't know how to answer that question, but I do have some insight into what's going on here. In Jesus' time, Greek was a very commonly-spoken language, and a lot of people read their Old Testament from a Greek version known as the Septuagint. As is happens, the Septuagint does mention "typhlois anablepsin" or "recovering sight to the blind" in this verse. Jesus could have been reading from the Septuagint, or Luke could have gotten his verses from the same, but we don't really have any way of knowing for sure. Admittedly, this does still leave the verse open for questioning in a number of different ways. Is the Septuagint a bad translation? Was it wrong for whoever quoted from the Septuagint to do so? If Jesus actually read correctly from the Hebrew text, and Luke substituted the Septuagint, what does that imply? These are all potentially big issues that I admittedly don't have answers for; although its not a contradiction, it is an inconsistency, which some people may consider just as bad. Please feel free to share your thoughts one way or the other in the comments.

How long was Elijah's drought? The SAB claims a contradiction here, but I seem to be failing to see it. The Old Testament doesn't seem to be at all specific as to the length of the drought. I'd be curious as to where James and Jesus got three and a half years.

In verse 38, there is mention of "Simon's wife" which implies, as the SAB says, that the "first Pope" was married. I don't know what Catholics believe about this, or even if it would be an issue, as I'm pretty sure that celibacy among clergy was not a thing practiced in the early church. The SAB also implies that Simon Peter abandoned his wife to follow Jesus, but I don't know that one could say that with certainty. Sure, it's possible, but just because verse 5:11 says "they forsook all" doesn't mean that it should be taken quite so literally; at the very least one might assume that they didn't leave behind their clothes, and if they took something at all, who knows what they may have taken overall?

In the rest of the chapter, there's a lot of healing and casting out "devils", and while the SAB marks all of this as absurd and/or scientifically wrong, we're talking about miracles once again. Just because Jesus cleared a fever by rebuking it doesn't mean that the Bible is saying that's standard medical practice. As for the casting out of devils, the SAB brings up a question that I don't have a good answer for.

Monday, February 24, 2014

And the number of them, after their genealogy by their generations (Luke 3)

The first issue the SAB brings up in Luke 3 is the harsh language John the Baptist uses in reference to the people who come out to see him. While in some of the parallel accounts the phrase "generation of vipers" is used for the Pharisees, here it seems to be addressed to the crowd in general. I'm not sure what to comment on this; yeah, it's pretty harsh. Also, verse 9 has some pretty harsh phrasing, although I'm not convinced that the SAB is right in identifying it as a verse about salvation. I think John the Baptist is talking about a purely earthly judgment, although I could be wrong.

John the Baptist talks to three groups of people, and basically he tells each one to be (in their own way) kind and generous. The group that the SAB makes no comment on, the publicans, is an interesting case that I feel like addressing. Publicans were tax collectors, and the way that they made a living is that Rome would assess a tax to a certain region, and the publicans would tell people what they had to pay to make their quota. It was a common, Roman-approved method of collecting that a publican would charge people more than Rome needed, and then keep the difference for their personal income. It's a cultural thing that was well-known in Biblical times, so it's never quite explained, although it's crucial to understand whenever Jesus associates with "publicans and sinners". (The Apostle Matthew was a publican before he followed Jesus; it wasn't a profession that people tended to like for obvious reasons.)

The SAB does comment on the soldiers, and brings up a very good point. How does it make sense to tell soldiers to "Do violence to no man," when that's essentially their job? I suspect that this is a problem with the translation, as many other versions of this passage say something like "Do not extort money from anyone." The Greek word that the KJV translates as "violence" seems to have a meaning more akin to harassment than actual physical harm. I think that all three things that the soldiers are admonished to do boil down to, "Don't abuse your authority." (When he says "be content with your wages", I think it's not about whether or not their wages are fair, but about whether they may be tempted to supplement their income by extortion of commoners.)

Yes, verse 17's mention of "fire unquenchable" is almost surely a reference to eternal judgment, but that's a big issue that I'm not going to go into here. If the reader really wants my insight on Hell, there are surely a few entries elsewhere with that tag.

How did God address Jesus at his baptism? I'm sure I've said it before, but I'll say it again here that slight changes in wording from one version of a Bible story to another don't bother me, so I'm not sure what to say when they seem to bother the SAB.

Who was Jesus' grandfather on his father's side? It was Jacob. Long explanation in the last two paragraphs of this post.

Who was Zerubbabel's father? This is an interesting point, as throughout the Bible, Zerubbabel is referred to as the son of Shealtiel, with the exception of 1Chronicles 3:19, where his father is claimed to be Pedaiah. If you look at the context of the oddball verse, you'll see that Pedaiah and Shealtiel were brothers, with the latter being the first-born in the (now defunct) royal line. This suggests a possible resolution: if Shealtial had died childless, it would have been necessary for one of his brothers to sire a son and with said son being Shealtiel's heir apparent. It may have been that Pedaiah was Zerubbabel's biological father, while Shealtiel was his legal father, in order to carry on the royal line. (Of course what's really odd is that these names should show up in both genealogies, given the point I bring up in the next paragraph.)

It seems from re-reading my Matthew 1 post that I missed the question "From which of David's sons was Jesus descended?" although in some ways, I think I answered it there. As I explained in that post, the two genealogies are of Joseph and Mary, and each of them were descended from a different son of David.

It was hinted at, but not an actual note in Matthew 1 when I covered it, but "How many generations must a bastard wait until his offspring can enter the congregation of the Lord?" The answer is ten, and the SAB only arrives at a supposed contradiction by counting wrong; Phares is the first generation, so David ends up being tenth. Besides, I'm not at all clear as to what the Deuteronomy passage is saying; I really should ask someone who would know better, like a Rabbi.

Who was Salah's father? is an interesting one; especially in Matthew's genealogy, there is a tendency to telescope generations and leave people out, but here, we have an instance of someone being added in. I don't know why this would be and have no response to this one.

Was Enoch the seventh from Adam? Again, this is a counting error on the part of the SAB; Enoch is seventh from Adam if you start counting with Adam as "one".

How many sons does God have? This is a tricky one. I'm going to refer it back to my post in Genesis 6, where I explain that it has no simple answer, but it has a lot to do with poetic language.

Friday, February 07, 2014

A declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us (Intro to Luke)

I was thinking that I wasn't really satisfied with the way my coverage of the book of Mark ended up. The thing is, it's been my policy in general that when I've covered a topic, rather than going over it again, I prefer to link back to the old post where I covered it in the first place. In general, that's not a bad way of doing things. Except...

When you get to the gospels, you're dealing with essentially the same story told four times over. Yeah, each of the four gospels has its own unique features, but there's a lot of overlap. As a result of that overlap, when I worked my way through the book of Mark (which doesn't have a lot that Matthew doesn't) I ended up having post after post of "I already covered this, let me give a link..." To some extent, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but in another way, it made for rather poor reading.

I've decided that I don't want to do that again, so when I go through the book of Luke (and John as well), I'm going to treat everything as though I'm explaining it for the first time. I just think it will make the posts better, as well as the fact that I assume the majority of my readers are coming here from the SAB, and if they're looking for anything, they want simple answers, not links shunting them off to a variety of other places.

That being said, I'm not going to redo the sections I've already done, so let me just give links to:

John the son of Zacharias (Luke 1:1-25)

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 1:26-80)

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son (Luke 2:1-20)

All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law (Luke 2:21-52)