Monday, December 02, 2013

Who shall ascend into heaven? (Mark 16)

Mark 16 is going to be largely a repeat of all the questions from Matthew 28 (please check that one out as it explains a lot), but I know all of the resurrection accounts have their own quirks that need to be dealt with, so let's see what Mark brings up as new.

"Were the men or angels sitting or standing?" Yeah, this is a contradiction, but a pretty minor point. If I had to give my opinion, I'd go by the consensus of Mark and John's Gospels I guess. I was going to say because they were eye witnesses, but they weren't eye witnesses to this event, were they?

As the SAB points out, Mark's Gospel is largely believed by scholars to have ended at verse 8, making verses 9-20 a later edited better ending. This is probably true, as I understand some very good scholarship points to this being the case. The SAB goes on to address the last verses, however, so I do as well. And anyway, it reads like an add-on as it doesn't seem to stick with the more or less chronological story so far, but adds some notes about the day as a whole.

"Did the eleven disciples believe the two men?" I think this is a manufactured contradiction, as the verse in Luke doesn't say the two men were believed (and I do believe that this passage is talking about the two men from Luke, which I'm sure we'll hear more about when I cover that Gospel.) So they said Jesus had appeared to "Simon", but are we talking about Simon Peter, the apostle, or some other Simon? (You may have noticed that "Simon" "John" and "Mary" are very popular names in the N.T.)

There are a lot of other questions that I've answered in various places towards the end of this chapter, but the last one I see here being new is "When did Jesus ascend into heaven?" I suppose this may be a contradiction, but there are a few things to be said about the whole thing. As I already said, the last few verses of Mark aren't about establishing any kind of chronology of events, so they can be dismissed for this question. With that out of the way, only the passage in Luke 24 remains to be addressed, as the other verses, although listed separately, really do agree. (I mean, forty days is many days, isn't it?) So what is there to be said about the Luke passage? I would say this: There's no reason why Jesus couldn't have ascended into Heaven multiple times, after all, he came back down from Heaven to witness to a number of people long after Pentecost, most notably the Apostle Paul.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine (Mark 15)

Mark 15 once again is going to be largely a repeat of the issues in Matthew 27. Looking through the notes, I see two issues not covered yet, one of which I have an answer for, and one of which I don't.

"Did Jesus drink from the cross?" It may be worth noting that in the two verses shown here, there are two different substances being offered to Jesus to drink. At the Last Supper, Jesus said that he wouldn't drink wine again until in his kingdom, so when they offered him wine, he refused. That doesn't mean he couldn't take anything at all to drink, and so I figure at a separate time they offered him vinegar and he took it.

"When (at what hour) was Jesus crucified?" There does seem to be a true contradiction here, and while I have heard there were different methods of reckoning time in the first century I don't know that any of them make this work out. Mark seems pretty clear that it was the "third hour" which means mid-morning, but the other Gospels all make it sound like an afternoon event.

Oh, and I guess I could make a response to the note on verse 33. If the darkness spoken of (which was not called "complete" darkness) was something like a solar eclipse, that would be noteworthy, but since it doesn't say, it may have simply been a sudden heavy cloud cover, which would hardly be historically notable.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

As for the perfume (Mark 13-14)

Mark 13 has got a lot of notes on it, but it's clearly almost entirely repetition of Matthew 24. The only thing missing is an answer to "Did Jesus know everything?" which I covered here.

Now Mark 14 is mostly a parallel to Matthew 26, but I think it has a lot more differences to cover.

The SAB asks "Is it OK to use perfume?" which I think is one of the biggest stretches for a contradiction I've seen in the SAB. The Exodus verse is a special case in which special perfume was made that was not to be used except for special purposes, and I think that's pretty clear. The Proverbs verse is indeed talking about a whore, but if you're going to say that because she's a whore, everything she does is bad, then you'd have to say that it's also evil for a woman to go outside or use Egyptian linen. While I'm not 100% sure about the Isaiah passages, they sound to me like they're in the same boat as the Proverbs passage.

The SAB then asks "Was Jesus crucified the day before or the day after the Passover meal?" This makes me laugh, because it's a simple misunderstanding. Ask any practicing Jew and they'll tell you that there is a special meal on both the first and second nights of Passover. The verses in John that are referring to the preparation of the meal are talking about the preparing of the second meal.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Filled with the Holy Ghost (Mark 11-12)

As it happens, all of the issues that the SAB brings up in Mark 11 were addressed when I covered Matthew 21 (which also covers the parable of the vineyard at the beginning of the next chapter).

So Mark 12 ends up likewise being very similar to Matthew 22, but there are a few differences there. Verse 26 asks "Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush?" I'm surprised I didn't cover this back in Exodus 3; I assume this is a note that has been added since I covered Exodus. Anyway, the O.T. passages that talk about this occurrence make reference to "the angel of the LORD", and thus the SAB says that it was an angel, and not God. However, most people who study the Bible understand that "the angel of the LORD" is the equivalent of God, so while it may sound strange, it's not a contradiction.

I addressed how many gods there are in Exodus 12. The question of "When was the Holy Ghost given?" is a tricky one that I thought I'd addressed, but it appears not. It gets more complicated than even the linked page lets on, as I think you can rightfully include any mentions of "the spirit of the LORD" which are plentiful in the O.T. Anyway, the answer is that the Holy Ghost was given generally to the Church as a whole at Pentecost shortly after Jesus' resurrection, but there were occasional dispensations that preceded that event.

Those are all the big issues from these two chapters, but I'll make a comment on the SAB's final note on 12:41-44, "Jesus believed in progressive taxation." I'm happy to think that this may have been the case, as I myself am a fan of progressive taxation, but I think reading that into the scene may be a bit much. In fact, given that the widow "cast in all that she had" progressive taxation would imply that Jesus thinks everyone should be taxed at 100%.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Male and female created he them (Mark 10)

Mark 10 has a lot of repetition, but it looks like there are one or two new things here. For instance, the first note here on verse 6, which I think is a bit of an odd interpretation. Whether you think that the universe is billions of years old or you're a young-earth creationist and you think it's just a few thousand years old or anywhere in between, I think you can still say with certainty that humans have always been male and female as long as they have existed, which I'm pretty sure is Jesus' point. Even if you're in the YEC crowd you probably believe that humans were created six days after the earth, so from the literal beginning can't be the point.

So, repeated points: Divorce answered here. Polygamy (although I'm not sure why it comes up in this chapter) answered here. Childishness answered here.

I already answered the question of whether anyone is good here, and whether Jesus is God here, but the verse that brought up both of those questions was addressed in Matthew 19. In fact, that chapter was largely parallel to this one and also has answers for the questions on verses 19, 25, 27, and 29.

Once again, as I've said before, Jesus did tell his disciples about his death and resurrection, and the fact that they failed to understand doesn't invalidate that. Asking Jesus for the best seats was covered Matthew 20 which also has a lot of parallels including addressing the "ransom" questions from verse 45 and the blind man questions from verse 46. (I don't know why verse 42 brings up a question about slavery, nor am I sure what to say about it.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And was transfigured before them (Mark 9)

The first two points of Mark 9 are ones I already answered in Matthew 16 and 17, but I'm going to address them again here since they oddly go together and splitting them into two chapters I think misses the real subtlety of the matter. Yes, Jesus made a prophecy that sounds like he's saying that people there with him would be alive until the end of the world. But what if that's not what he's really saying? Look at the SAB's page for the very next issue, "When was the transfiguration?"and read those quoted passages. My point? The Gospel writers understood that there was something intrinsically connected between what Jesus was saying about "see[ing] the kingdom of God come with power" and the following transfiguration. I put it to the reader that it was this transfiguration itself that Jesus was referring to, and three men (namely Peter, James and John) lived to see it because it was only about a week away.

I answered the question of whether John the Baptist was Elijah in Matthew 11. I'm not sure exactly what the SAB finds so upsetting about Jesus' words in verse 19, so no comment.

The SAB asks "Who makes people deaf and blind?" which I answered back in Exodus 4. The questions about casting out devils I answered in Matthew 7. The question of who is for or against Jesus I answered in Matthew 12. The question about whether Hell exists I answered in Matthew 10.

Monday, November 18, 2013

He anointed the eyes of the blind man (Mark 8)

Mark 8 opens with the story of a miraculous feeding, and while the SAB suggests this is the result of "two oral traditions of the same story" just as in Matthew, there is a moment (in this Gospel in verses 8:19-20) where Jesus refers to the two feedings as two clearly separate events, so I don't think so.

I responded to the question of signs and wonders in Matthew 12.

The SAB asks two questions about Jesus healing a blind man, "Where did Jesus cure the blind man?" and "How did Jesus cure the blind man?" Frankly, I think the two stories are so different that there's no contradiction, there's just two completely different blind men.

I know I've already answered the charge somewhere that "There were various opinions about the identity of Jesus...With credulity like that just about anyone could later be passed off as the risen Christ." but it's worth addressing again. In one case, you have a bunch of people who are trying to figure out who Jesus is from rumor and speculation; in the other you have a specific claim about a specific person that nobody seems to be willing to question. It's food for thought, but I don't find it convincing.

I'm also sure I addressed the question of whether Jesus forewarned his apostles, but the response is simple enough to give again: just because John says they didn't understand doesn't mean they weren't told.

Yes, when Peter was acting adversarial, Jesus called him "Satan" which means "adversary".

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? (Mark 7)

Most of the content and issues of Mark 7 are a repeat of Matthew 15, reply to which I hereby link to. Factoid of interest to very few people: the first draft of Mark 7 was one of my main contributions to the lolcat Bible. (Actually, even though it's been revised, it's pretty close to what I wrote way back when, go figure.)

Anyway, that being said, there is very little here that hasn't already been covered there, with perhaps the exception of "What should we eat?" I've probably addressed this before, but since I don't know where and I've got nothing better going on, why not here? First of all, not all of the verses listed on that page are necessarily saying what the SAB is implying they say. In the category of "You should not eat animals." The Genesis verse is the only one that may be saying that, as some have inferred that before the time of Noah, people were vegetarians; but I think the main thing that the verse is saying is that there is a lot of good plants out there to be eaten, and that may be all it means. The verse from Proverbs I think has the key word of "riotous" and is not arguing against meat eating, but against gluttony. The Daniel verse is a special one; Daniel was going to be eating food off the table of a pagan king, and his main concern may have been that the food had been offered up in a sacrifice to pagan gods, thus he suggested an alternate diet to keep himself undefiled. The Romans verse in context is not saying not to eat meat so much as it's saying that it would be polite in the company of vegetarians to eat meat. (It's a little more complicated and particular than that, but I'm going to simplify it that way because it's good advice in general.)

Now of course the "Only certain kinds of animals may be eaten" category is concerning itself with kosher laws, which only apply to Jews, but then there is some question as to whether kosher laws apply to Jews that convert to Christianity, and some of those questions are going to be raised in the "You may eat any kind of animal." verses. The Genesis verse was from before the kosher laws were set. The Mark verse here may indeed be saying to forget about Kosher laws, because they are not as important as other moral laws. I'd have to check the context of the Luke verse, but if Jesus is sending them among Jews, it shouldn't be an issue anyway. Now all of the remaining verses (except the 1Timothy one) are definitely saying to Christians that they may eat whatever they wish with no regard for type of meat. The 1Timothy verse is a warning against people who may wish to imply that it's spiritual to only eat certain things.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is this not the carpenter? (Mark 6)

Mark 6 has a few interesting notes off the top that are of minor importance, but make for good discussion. Apparently verse 3 is the only verse in the Bible that says Jesus was a carpenter, but it may have been altered from the earliest manuscripts. Yes, I'd say that while Jesus is popularly thought of as a carpenter, it's entirely possible that that wasn't his profession; there certainly isn't any record of him actually doing any carpentry work.

The next note points out that Jesus had many siblings, and suggests that the Catholic belief that Mary was an eternal virgin can't be true because of this. I believe that the Catholics would suggest that these were half-siblings by an earlier marriage of Joseph.

In response to both questions on verse 5, I would like to say that the reason Jesus was unable to do great works in his hometown was simply that people weren't interested in asking him for help.

As for whether or not Jesus commanded his disciples to go without certain things, I addressed that in Matthew 10.

On verse 11, I don't think Jesus is talking about destruction of cities, but rather judgment. Of course, this judgment could include destruction, in which case the SAB would be right, I suppose.

The SAB notes that many people had odd ideas about who Jesus was, including Herod who thought he might be John the Baptist back from the dead, "even though John had just recently died and the people must have known what he looked like." While technically true, I think it's worth noting that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins, and may have looked very similar to one another. Anyway, I addressed Herod mistaking Jesus for John the Baptist in Matthew 14. I also addressed whether there was ever a just person in Matthew 13.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Again there shall be heard in this place (Mark 3-5)

I'm pretty sure Mark 3 is entirely issues that repeat from previous posts, let's see...

"Are those who believe Jesus is the Christ of God?" is one I addressed back in chapter 1, at which time I admitted that I didn't have a good answer. Looking at it again, I might note that none of the devils referenced actually refer to Jesus as the "Christ", but merely the "Son of God". This doesn't resolve the issue, though, at most it suggests that the SAB should rephrase the question, as it still contradicts with 1John 4:15.

The proper names of the apostles I addressed in Matthew 10. The question of an unforgivable sin I addressed in Matthew 12. The question of how parents should be treated I addressed in Exodus 20.

That was so short, I'm going to hit all the repeat issues from chapter 4 as well as chapter 5.

Jesus' "secret teachings" I addressed in Matthew 13, where I also addressed the issue of the mustard seed parable.

The number of demon-possessed men was addressed in Matthew 8. Where the devils asked not to go is a new one, but I have no response for it. The health status of Jairus' daughter was addressed in Matthew 9. Whether Jesus knows everything was addressed also in Matthew 8. Whether or not death is final I addressed in Joshua 23.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Go, and sin no more (Mark 2)

I think everything in Mark 2 is a repeat of something from Matthew, but I suppose I can take the opportunity to broaden the commentary a bit. The SAB says that Jesus healed a paralytic by forgiving him of his sins and that paralysis is apparently caused by sinful behavior. I'm pretty sure I said before in the parallel passage in Matthew 9 that I believe the forgiveness and the healing were two separate issues. (I also argued there that Jesus was God, as that question came up there as well.) Something I think could be said to further the discussion is that while it's not always true that misfortune happens to people because of sinful behavior, the latter certainly can make one more susceptible to the former. Most sinful behaviors are dangerous in one way or another, and certainly can lead to disease or injury, which may have been the case in this man's life or not.

As for the rest of the chapter, there are only a couple questions about David, which I addressed in 1Samuel 21.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

It seemed good to me also (Mark 1)

Well, I disputed with myself for quite a while whether or not I should simply continue with the Gospels. On the one hand, it seems sort of logical, and on the other hand...well, there are a few reasons why not. My main reason had been repetitiveness. Years ago, a friend of mine who was not a Christian told me that she was going to read through the New Testament, straight from beginning to end. I actually advised her that this might not be the best idea, and that once you read Matthew, the act of jumping into Mark will have you saying, "Didn't I just read all this?" I think it's easier for a Christian who has some enthusiasm for the subject material, but for the casual reader, the first three books of the New Testament can get boring especially for this very reason.

In my case, as I would have to work my ways through the issues brought up by the SAB, it's probably bound to be boring to be covering the same issues all over again, and thus I would have a similar experience. There's going to be a lot or repetition, I think.

I'll admit that when it comes to Mark 1, there is the additional issue of what to do with the very first note the SAB presents, which is an unusual one. Generally, the SAB uses the King James version, and as such, sticks to it with admirable devotion. Here on the very second verse, however, the SAB points out an issue not with the KJV, but with the ancient documents on which the KJV may have been based. I'm not an expert in the ancient documents myself, but I am somewhat familiar with the expert being consulted here: Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is the sort of author that anyone who finds the SAB an enjoyable read would enjoy. Apparently once a devoted Christian (if I'm remembering his story correctly) he decided to embark on a course of study that would allow him to examine the original manuscripts upon which the New Testament is based. Rather than finding enlightenment as many do, he was shocked to find that these manuscripts were not telling the unified and clear story that he expected them to tell, and thereafter set forth on a career of publishing books that examined what he considered to be important errors, not in any particular translation, but in the manuscripts on which the translations are based.

Anyway, I've read at least one of his books, and while I found it interesting, I disagreed with the majority of his conclusions, although not all of them. I don't know if an author like Ehrman is proving anything quite so clearly as he supposes he is. Literary interpretation from any age can be a shaky subject, and I tend to think of Ehrman as being probably as convincing as I am, despite having some advanced degrees and far better knowledge of ancient languages. If you're at all of a curious or skeptical mind, he's probably worth reading, but I don't think I have anything to say regarding his footnote here.

So, to the repetitiveness: As I said in Matthew 3, I don't think that slight differences in wording really should bother people.

"What did Jesus do after his baptism?" I would say that as Mark says, he went to the wilderness for 40 days. The passage being used in the Gospel of John is not talking about the day after Jesus' baptism, but the day after John talked about Jesus' baptism; the time frame is far from clear there.

I answered at length in Matthew 4 concerning the timing of the calling of the disciples, mainly saying that I believe the story in John is a separate story than the calling here.

"Where was the home of Peter and Andrew?" This looks like a problem until you look at a map and see that Bethsaida is just the next town over from Capernaum, it looks like about two miles away by my map, making it easy to have left a synagogue in one town and go straight away to a home in the other.

"Are those who believe Jesus is the Christ of God?" You know, I may have to hand it to the SAB that this is a genuine contradiction; I don't know anything I could say here at all except that maybe John means human beings only? Who knows, so I'll leave it on an up for the SAB.

Monday, November 04, 2013

They came unto the sepulchre (Matthew 28)

Matthew 28 is filled with a ton of stuff. I may have tried to squeeze in too much by making the last chapter one post, we'll see how this one goes.

The SAB has a slew of questions on just the first two verses, so I'm going to list them all here: "How many women went to the sepulchre?" "When did they arrive?" "Whom did they see at the tomb?" "Was the tomb open or closed?" "Were the men or angels inside or outside the tomb when first seen?" Here is my take. A whole bunch of women came to the sepulchre, but they didn't all travel in one group, and in particular, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive, before dawn, alone. She sees the stone rolled away already, why? Because as it says in verse 2, an angel had come and rolled it back. (Yes, I am suggesting that chronologically, verses 2-4 happened before verse 1, and it's my understanding that the Greek can support that.) The angel that rolled back the stone was seen by the guards outside the tomb, but the angel (or two angels, it's not clear) that spoke to the women was inside the tomb.

"Did the women immediately tell the disciples?" Well, they told them as soon as they found them. I would say that the verse in Mark indicates that they were too afraid to go and tell just anyone, so they stayed silent until they found who they were looking for.

Verse nine gives us a ton of questions again: "To whom did Jesus first appear?" "Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus?" "Was it OK to touch the risen Jesus?" "Was Mary Magdalene happy or sad when she saw the risen Jesus?" The question of to whom Jesus first appeared is a tricky one, but the answer is Mary Magdalene. There is a lot of stuff going on that Sunday morning, and in the midst of it, it's easy to miss that as Mark 16:9 says, the story at John 20:11ff is the story of Jesus first appearing to anyone. Although Matthew 28:9 sounds like a first appearance, in John 2:2 we are told that as Mary M. came to the tomb and found it empty, she immediately ran and got Peter and John. While the other women were travelling, Mary came back to the tomb and saw Jesus first. Mary was not with the group of women spoken of in verse 9, and when she saw Jesus, she didn't recognize him at first. While it did seem to be okay to touch the risen Jesus in general, Jesus did for some reason tell Mary M. not to touch him. Whether this was only okay later, or there was something about the way that Mary was touching him (I've heard some suggest that she was clinging to him tightly, and he was telling her that he could not stay) I don't know. Anyway, Mary was indeed sad when she first saw Jesus, but mainly because she didn't recognize him and was still confused.

"Where did Jesus tell his disciples to meet him?" This is simple: He told them to go to Galilee. Once they had gone to Galilee and met with him, he told them to go back to Jerusalem, where they would wait for Pentecost. "How many disciples did Jesus appear to in his first post resurrection appearance?" The linked page might be a problem if any of those verses actually said it was the "first" post resurrection appearance; I'll stick with "One", that being Mary Magdalene. (It's worth noting about the 1Corinthians passage that sometimes the Bible uses the term "the twelve" to refer to the Apostles, even when there were less than twelve present at an event.

"How much power did Jesus have?" I think you have to take into consideration that this is the post resurrection Jesus, and he's more powerful than he was while a mere mortal.

"Should the gospel be preached to everyone?" I thought I had addressed this previously, but not very thoroughly apparently. Yes, the Gospel should be preached to everyone, despite the fact that sometimes the timing is not right to preach to any one particular group.

"In whose name is baptism to be performed?" I don't see a strong reason why it should be one way or the other. That's the end of the book, and I think I'll just let that one drop.

Friday, November 01, 2013

It is finished (Matthew 27)

Matthew 27 opens with the story of Judas Iscariot having second thoughts about his betrayal of Jesus. As with Peter, this leads to a series of interrelated questions: "How did Judas die?", "Who bought the Potter's field?", and "What did Judas do with the silver?" The standard skeptical solution to these questions is that there are two stories. In one, Judas throws away the silver and hangs himself, and the priests buy the field. In the other, Judas takes the silver and buys the field wherein he falls down and dies. The apologist's fusing together of these stories into one coherent whole is that Judas threw away the money and went and hanged himself. Having hanged there for some time, the rope broke and Judas' body fell down and burst in a field. The priests, who had this money that they refused to take back, decided that this money should go towards purchasing the field in which Judas died, and thus Judas vicariously bought the field after his death. For either or both reasons, the field became known as "the field of blood". As the SAB notes, verse 8 saying "unto this day" indicates that the Gospel of Matthew was written long after the events happened; certainly nobody is suggesting that the Gospel accounts were written immediately after the events they record; I'd have to look it up but even generous estimates say something like 30 years later for the earliest.

As for the misquote in verses 9-10, I've heard it said that the Jewish Canon had a bunch of minor prophets all in one book with Jeremiah, so misattributing a prophecy to Jeremiah could happen at times because of that, although I suppose it's still technically an error.

"Was Jesus silent during his trial?" I would say that he wasn't. Note that while verse 12 says "he answered nothing" this comes right after verse 11's "And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest." I think that the point that Matthew 27:14 and Mark 15:5 are making is that Jesus never said a word in his own defense. Nonetheless, Pilate seemed to be inclined to believe that Jesus was innocent and tried to have him released, to no avail.

Verse 25 does indeed blame the Jews for the death of Jesus, but I think those that use this verse as an excuse for Antisemitism conveniently forget that Jesus forgave his killers on the cross.

Eventually Jesus ends up in a robe, but it's not clear who put the robe on him nor actually what color the robe was. I'm willing to concede there are errors coming up here, but they are errors that are tough to fully pin down. Both Herod and Pilate were governors who had Roman soldiers working for them (I think only Luke has Jesus being brought before Herod) and there may have been some confusion in the order of events. Also, Jesus was so beaten and bloodied at this time that it may have been hard for bystanders to tell the color of the robe anyway, what with it being likely soaked with Jesus' blood.

"Who carried Jesus' cross?" While John's Gospel fails to mention Simon of Cyrene, that doesn't mean that he didn't exist, nor does his mention in the other Gospels mean that Jesus did not bear his cross part of the way.

"What did the soldiers give Jesus to drink?" is another question that the SAB brings up, but I think this is a manufactured contradiction. If you check the context of the verses on the linked page, you'll see that the offerings of drinks were at at least two separate moments, as the Matthew and Mark verses were before the crucifixion while Luke and John were during the crucifixion. I would suggest that Jesus was offered a drink three times, twice before his crucifixion, and then once on the cross.

"What did the sign over Jesus' head say?" While it's true as the SAB points out that none of the Gospels agree on the exact wording of the sign, they're pretty close to a consensus, and it doesn't bother me.

"Did both thieves revile Jesus?" This is one I've heard a few times, and I've also heard the standard reply, which is that both thieves reviled Jesus, but one of them had a change of heart, which for some reason is only recorded in Luke's Gospel.

"What were the last words of Jesus?" I can't say for sure, as this is definitely a question with no clear answer, but I will note one thing about the passage here in Matthew: in verse 50, it says that Jesus "cried again with a loud voice", suggesting that verse 46 was not his last words. It doesn't solve the question, but it narrows it down a bit.

"When did the Temple curtain rip?" It must have been a while since I read the Gospels, since I thought this event was only recorded in Matthew. My thoughts about having read this before will, I think, deal with the contradiction: Does it really matter? As far as I can fathom, since Jesus was killed outside of the city, and the veil of the temple was inside the city, inside the inner chamber of the temple, there is no possible way that there was an eyewitness to both of these events simultaneously. I would say it happened when Jesus died, and leave it at that.

"Was Jesus the first to rise from the dead?" I actually addressed this back in 1Samuel 28, but perhaps, no definitely a bit more could be added here. When the verses in the first column speak of Jesus being the first to rise from the dead, they're talking about something very specific; they're talking about rising from the dead to eternal life. There are a number of other individuals who were revived from death to continue their life (as happens today under normal circumstances in hospitals and such) and at least one instance in the Bible of a person's ghost being brought back to speak from beyond the grave. Now the odd occurrence that is recorded here in verses 52-53 is strange in many ways, since only Matthew records it, and it's not clear what the significance of it is. In short, I don't think there is a contradiction, but I'd be inclined to agree that this passage is a strange one.

"What did the centurion call Jesus?" Some have suggested that in fact there were two centurions present, and that each one said something different. It's also possible that a single centurion said two things.

"From where did the women watch?" I think the answer to this issue is that there were many women watching, and while most of them were far away, a small group of them (those mentioned in John's Gospel) were nearby.

"Who buried Jesus?" I don't think there is a contradiction here. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body, and with Nicodemus' help, buried him in a sepulchre. As it happens, both of these men were members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, so it all fits together.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I know not this man of whom ye speak (Matthew 26:31-75)

The SAB has a trio of questions about Peter's upcoming denial, and before I even check, I seem to recall that there was some vagueness there. "Did Jesus say before the cock crow or before the cock crow twice?" and "Did the cock crow before or after Peter's denial?" and "To whom did Peter deny knowing Jesus?" I think there are definite contradictions present in all but the second question, and that's because with the cock crowing twice, it just works out that way; that is to say in a way that I don't think the second question really adds anything to the problem of the first stated contradiction. I suppose I should put in an opinion as to which I think is right; normally if it's three to one, you'd think you'd go with the three, but it's generally understood that Mark's Gospel (the one in which the cock crows twice) was told mainly from Peter's point of view, which makes me lean towards the "twice" thing. As for the third question, again there does seem to be discrepancy, and I'd lean towards Mark's Gospel, but if anything can be said in defense of the discrepancy here, he was in the middle of a large crowd, and there may have been a lot of people talking to him in the end. Beyond that, I've got nothing on these.

"Did Jesus ask God to save him from crucifixion?" I can see how this could look like a contradiction, but there's something important in all of these passages in both columns. In every telling, Jesus says that in the end, no matter what his vulnerable human body might desire, he is there to do the will of God the Father, and that means going to the cross.

"Did Judas identify Jesus with a kiss?" Well, three of the four Gospels say so, and the fourth Gospel doesn't say that he didn't, so I'm inclined towards "Yes." (The answer to the question of whether Jesus came to bring peace was addressed here with an answer of "It's complicated.")

"Was Jesus taken to Caiaphas or Annas first?" This one takes some explanation, and it may come up elsewhere. This was a unique situation in the history of Israel in which there were two high priests, one of which had been appointed by the people and the second of which had been put into the position by the Romans. Since both were serving as high priest, Jesus was probably taken before the both of them. It may not have been simultaneous, but essentially at the same time.

"Did Jesus say, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up'?" At first I was confused by this question, since I couldn't see the difference between the columns on the linked page; then I realized what it was: the verses in Matthew and Mark say that "false witnesses" attested to him saying this. I think you have to look carefully at the wording, and that in the John passage, Jesus is talking about the "temple" of his physical body, while the witnesses are making it to sound like he's talking about the physical temple building. I don't blame the SAB for calling this a contradiction, as it's pretty subtle.

"How did Jesus respond to the high priest?" This is another fairly subtle one, and I say that it's subtle because the three responses given are still very similar, from "Thou hast said" to "Ye say that I am" to the very straightforward "I am". All of them are answering in the affirmative, although as the SAB points out, the first two are less straightforward, but the second includes "I am" within it. A possibility is that Jesus said something like "Thou hast said that I am" and it got misheard in various ways, or he may have been asked multiple times and different responses got recorded by different authors but I'm not sure what is the best way to resolve this. As I've said previously slight difference in wording doesn't bother me in general, but this seems a bit more important, as it's a crucial moment in Jesus' trial. Leaving that hanging, however, it's worth noting that, as in modern law, a witness is not required to incriminate himself. It's one of a handful of things that made Jesus' trial illegal under Jewish law. (The SAB notes that the high priest rent his clothes, which I seem to recall also being against Jewish Law.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

There they made him a supper (Matthew 26:1-30)

So with Matthew 26, we're really getting close to the end of all of this, and Jesus is getting close to the end of his life. (The question as to whether he forewarned his disciples of his death I covered in Matthew 20.)

There's a story in verses 6-13 in which a woman pours some expensive ointment on Jesus' head, and there is a question of whether it was a wasteful thing to do. While I think the case can certainly be made that it was truly wasteful and could have been better spent on helping the poor, but there are a few things to note. The parallel telling of the story from the Gospel of John points out that it was Judas Iscariot in particular who was complaining, and the reason he was complaining was not that he cared about the poor, but because he wanted the money for himself. (The passage also says that the woman, who is there identified as Mary of Bethany, poured it on Jesus' feet, a contradiction the SAB missed, but I'm sure it'll be added soon after this post is published.) Also note that Jesus is making a point in two parts. First, that he's being anointed for burial, which shows that the woman has a deeper understanding of what's going on, and second, that since he's about to die, this is the last time the disciples will have a chance to do anything for/with Jesus before he's dead, while caring for the poor--while yes, it's important--is work that will never end.

Anyway, it's Passover, so Jesus and his disciples get together to have a traditional Passover supper (commonly known as a "Seder") which comes to be known as the "Last Supper". Jesus takes the occasion to reinterpret a lot of symbolic items from the Seder in respect to his death and resurrection. A lot of these are open to interpretation, and the SAB marks the passage with the "interpretation" icon, but I'm not just going to address the items the SAB brings up, but bring up a few others.

In verse 26, it says that Jesus takes bread, blesses it and breaks it, saying "Take, eat; this is my body." (This bread is very specific bread, as it happens. At a Seder, only unleavened bread is eaten (leaven being symbolic of evil) and there is a special thing done with some of the bread which I believe is symbolic of the Trinity and the death of Jesus. Three pieces of bread are set aside in a special pouch, and the middle one of the three (the afikomen) is broken, taken away and hidden, and then brought back to the table. This piece is put back together, and then everyone is required to eat a piece of it.) Then Jesus takes a cup of wine and tells them "Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood..." (This cup of wine is the third of four cups of wine that are had during the Seder, this one being known as the "Cup of Blessing".) So Jesus is taking traditional elements of the Seder and reinterpreting them in a messianic manner, which leads to the issue of various interpretations.

As the SAB points out, there is doctrinal difference among Christians over whether this is literally the body and blood of Jesus. Most Protestants consider it to be symbolic, while Catholics believe in the doctrine of Transubstantiation, that is, that the bread and wine will somehow become the actual body and blood when consumed. What the SAB apparently doesn't know (or I assume they'd mention it) is that the Jehovah's Witnesses believe that communion is meant only to be taken on Passover (while most Christian churches will do it weekly or monthly). Admittedly, there could have been more clarity given, and it's a bit sad that despite the lack of clarity, pretty much every church is 100% convinced that their method and doctrine is correct, and others are mistaken, sometimes to the point of heresy.

The SAB asks "Is it okay to drink alcohol?" and I'll stand on my answer given in the middle of this post, which boiled down largely to a common sense stance of "It's okay in moderation."

Friday, October 25, 2013

I will not keep anger for ever (Matthew 25)

Matthew 25 opens with the parable of the ten virgins. I've dealt with the issue of polygamy before, but let me take a moment to reiterate the important misunderstanding involved in this passage: the ten virgins are not brides, they're bridesmaids. The man in the parable isn't coming to marry them, they're just the welcoming committee to lead him to the party. (Although polygamy was probably still pretty prevalent in Jesus' day, I think men still married one woman at a time.) This parable is about being ready for the second coming, but once again, I'm not real clear on what the oil represents.

The next parable is of a businessman with some servants. The SAB thinks it's strange that the master was glad that the servants invested the money, but I think it's loosely implied that that is what they were meant to do. The SAB marks the parable as cruel and violent, and honestly, I've tended to feel the same; why punish someone for not investing? At least he didn't lose it, right? This is a troubling parable, as most people have, as far as I've heard, interpreted this as being about Jesus entrusting his followers with the Gospel. If you don't share the Gospel, are you going to go to Hell, then? Parables like this one and the previous really can be confusing and troubling, I'll readily admit.

Then Jesus goes on to describe the manner in which judgment is going to come at the second coming. In this case, while most of the time there does seem to be the sentiment that salvation comes by faith, here the judgment seems clearly to be based on how people treated those less fortunate than themselves (something which the SAB marks "Good stuff"). All of this leads to a lot of questions. One thing that may explain discrepancies with other concepts of eternal judgment is that it is said here that Jesus is judging nations rather than individual people. It's always been my understanding that God deals with people not just on an individual level, but in groups; what this means for said groups is a bit hard to say. If a nation was made up of mainly cruel people, but there were a few good people mixed in, then how does the judging go? I assume that the good people get accepted, but if the nation as a whole is rejected, then who or what gets judged? In case I wasn't making it clear, I'm saying that I'm a bit fuzzy on this event overall, but I'm going to go to the individual questions that the SAB raises.

When was Heaven created? I'm going with Heaven being created when (or even slightly before) the earth was created. While the verse in John says Jesus is going "to prepare a place for you" that doesn't mean that Heaven does not exist, it means that Jesus has work to do to get Heaven ready for everyone coming there. (It was probably spiritual work, not actually physically making rooms or whatever.)

How should strangers be treated? I'm going to go with "Be kind to them." I think the verses in the second column are meant for a special purpose, and that there are certain situations that were particular to the early Israelites that required them to deal mercilessly with strangers, but those were not general rules.

"What must you do to be saved?" is a question I keep glossing over because the way the SAB puts it, it's a big question to tackle, so I'm honestly procrastinating on it. However, "Has there ever been a righteous person?" is one I addressed back in Genesis.

"How long does God's anger last?" is a good question, and I see the page there has a lot of food for thought. I think there needs to be a few things said that clears away some, but not all of the issues here. First of all, not all of these verses are intended as general statements, but rather some of them may pertain to particular incidents. Secondly, "how long" is a rather subjective matter, especially when you're dealing with a being like God who is eternal; being angry for forty years might be to his mind "but a moment". Thirdly, the length of God's anger may not be commensurate with the length of the punishment. (Maybe God was angry just for a moment, but they had to wander for forty years anyway?) Just because there's an everlasting punishment doesn't mean that there was an everlasting anger to go with it. So all that being said, I would say that the only verse on this page that clearly states God will be angry at someone forever is Malachi 1:4. Does that still leave a contradiction? Maybe, but I think the rest of these verses are more vague than the SAB makes them out to be.

"Does Hell exist?" I addressed here, and while I didn't have a good definitive answer for it in the end, I think, "Is death final?" was an issue I addressed back in Joshua.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation (Matthew 24)

Wow, chapter 24 looks pretty intense, at least there are a ton of notes on it, so I get the feeling this is going to be a heck of a lot more work than the last chapter.

So Jesus points out the Temple, and tells his disciples that the whole of it is going to be torn down (which I know the SAB doesn't keep track of prophecies that came true, but before the end of the 1st century, the temple was destroyed, and has yet to be rebuilt), this leads to the disciples asking Jesus to tell them more about the future, and Jesus unloads a whole lot of stuff on them. Note that while the SAB says this is all talking about the end of the world, Jesus actually says in verse 6 that "the end is not yet." Still, the general thrust of Jesus' speech here is the events leading up to the second coming and thereafter the end of the world, so make of it what you will.

I'm not sure what to make of the hodge-podge of icons the SAB tosses up over this chapter, including prophecy, absurdity, science/history, injustice, cruelty/violence, contradiction, and interpretation. Women and family values get tossed in about half way through as well. Perhaps I should address this chapter by icon?

Prophecy: Yes, this is all Jesus talking about the future, and I assume that the SAB brings out the "prophecy" icon when it feels that there was a prediction made that didn't come true. I think it's not hard to see that a lot of the things that Jesus talks about here have indeed come to pass, and since the world isn't ended yet, anything that hasn't happened (there are a few, admittedly) still could. I think that the issue that the SAB has with this is the idea that "all of these things will happen within the lifespan of Jesus' contemporaries" as they seem to take verse 34 as saying. Verse 34 actually says, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." I think the interpretation hinges on what you think "This generation" means. It's not unreasonable to take the position that the SAB takes, but I've always taken the position that he was talking about the generation that sees certain things come to pass will see the end. What certain things? Some have suggested that the generation that sees the recreation of the nation of Israel is the generation talked about here, and that's a possibility. (The SAB even mentions this possibility with respect to the failed modern-day prophecy of Hal Lindsey on verse 32.) Another is the generation that sees the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, as that sets the stage for the "abomination of desolation" which is something horrible that's supposed to happen in the temple. There's a lot of room for interpretation here, and I think it's a bad idea for even (maybe especially) Christians to try to read too much specific in here. (The supposed failed prophecy of verse 14 I discussed back in Matthew 10.)

Absurdity: As usual, I have a hard time figuring out what the SAB specifically finds absurd here, so I don't think I can address this one.

Science and history: I don't see any obvious historic problems with this chapter, so I'm guessing the issue here is the scientific note on verse 29? This all goes back to some similar things I said when going through the early part of Genesis. Just because the verse says "the moon shall not give her light" doesn't mean that Jesus is making a scientific statement about the nature of moonlight. The very fact that English has the word "moonlight" means that we can talk about it while being aware that it is, by nature, reflected sunlight. Now, as for stars falling from Heaven, this could just be a description of a meteor shower, which people today who know the true nature thereof still refer to as "shooting stars". In short, I think the SAB is reading way too much into this short verse.

Injustice, cruelty and violence: I'd be willing to say that there's some unjust and violent stuff happening here, but usually when the SAB calls something unjust or cruel, it's trying to say that God in particular was being unjust or cruel, which I don't see any particular basis for here. Some awful stuff happens during this time described, but I don't see any of it explicitly said to be the doing of God.

Contradiction: The SAB marks a handful of passages with contradictions. The only one I haven't covered elsewhere is Will Jesus' second coming be visible to all? to which I would say that the single verse in the "no" column is not meant to be taken as for all time.

Interpretation: Not sure how to address this one since I'm not sure which verse(s) it refers to, and I tend to find these interpretive differences uninteresting to me, since I usually care very little what the Watchtower Society or Hal Lindsey might have had to say about it.

Women, family values: I guess verse 19 is the particular verse that this issue refers to, but I think it's easily addressed. Jesus isn't saying that pregnant and nursing women are especially cursed, but only points out that when things get really difficult, it may be especially difficult for this subsection of society.

Monday, October 21, 2013

And thou shalt bring it to thy father (Matthew 23)

Chapter 23's first issue is a familiar one, the question of whether we should let others see our good works. I'm standing by my answer in chapter 5, namely that it's not so much whether you're seen, but what your intentions are.

Next, it asks whether it is OK to call anyone "father". Frankly, this verse has always confused me, since Jesus doesn't seem to make exception for our earthly fathers, and I've actually met people who feel this is the right interpretation, although it seems absurd to me. I think that the best interpretation (my opinion) is that this verse and the following are saying that people of religious authority should not take fancy titles for themselves, and it has little to nothing to do with parenthood or slavery.

Then Jesus lets loose with some harsh language for his detractors (again I stand on my answer in chapter 5 concerning the term "fool") which I'd say you need to decide for yourself whether they deserve it. After all, in verse 31, when Jesus calls them "the children of them which killed the prophets" he's technically telling the truth. Now when he specifically mentions "Zacharias son of Barachias" there does seem to be a problem there, as the name "Barachias" doesn't seem to appear elsewhere in the Bible, and the easily-identified Zacharias does seem to be the son of Jehoiada. I don't have any easy solutions for this one, the only things coming to mind are that "Barachias" may have been a grandfather or great-grandfather, or alternately (but more of a stretch) "son of Barachias" may have been some sort of title, as "Barachias" means "blessing of Jehovah". I really don't know, although it might be worth noting for better or worse that there was another "Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah" mentioned in Isaiah 8. (That could be source of the solution OR the problem, really.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Doth not your master pay tribute? (Matthew 22)

Matthew 22 opens with a parable of a marriage feast, and it's a pretty strange parable once again. It almost makes sense (well as much sense as you can expect from a parable) until you get down to verse 11, at which point there is some guy without a "wedding garment" which I'll venture to guess meant that he wasn't dressed up properly for the occasion. But then, these guests were just a bunch of random people called in from off of the street, if we're to understand the story, so...? I have to admit, this one has always stumped me on the face of it. There's a symbolic aspect that almost makes sense, but it involves reading in a lot that really isn't there. See, there's this theological concept that when we are saved, our unrighteousness is removed from us, and we become clothed with the righteousness of God, and so it might seem that perhaps this guy accepted the invitation, but thought he could get into the party on his own merits, despite being just some guy off the street. See, it only just barely makes sense of it, and it involves bringing in a lot of theological baggage; it probably was a waste of space and I should just left it, but that's the luxury of blogging I guess: waste as much space as you care to, and just move on. (I've addressed the existence of Hell in Matthew 10 as deeply as I care to, so I'll drop that link and move on.)

After this parable comes the famous story of Jesus being asked whether or not one should pay taxes. There's a lot of interesting material here. Note that the Pharisees and the Herodians (who usually hated each other) were working together to trick Jesus. Note that it was a trick, and that a simple answer of "No" would be considered insurrection against Rome, while a simple answer of "Yes" would be denying the authority of Jewish nationalism. Also, although I'm pulling this from vague memory, note that the "image and superscription" on the coin were enough to make Roman coins quintessentially tiny pagan idols. Like the SAB, I think Jesus' answer is not only saying pay taxes, but that one should keep church and state separate (although it's not very clear as to which is which overall, but the concept stands, I think.)

Now the Sadducees--who were a religious group who didn't believe in an afterlife as the text says--come up to Jesus with a bizarre question that, while clearly made up, was also within the realm of possibility of Mosaic Law. Jesus skips over the whole question to point out that in the afterlife, there is no marriage. (It doesn't say no sex here, but it's not outrageous to imply it.)

Finally after all the tricky questions, someone simply asks him to name the greatest commandment, to which Jesus replies "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." and adds on the second-greatest, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." which the SAB is happy to get on board with as being great, but asks then how should nonbelievers be treated? I may have skipped this before, but I think it's pretty straightforward most of the time. The section that says "Shun them" is not a problem, in my estimation. First of all, I think "Shun them" is an overstatement of what this verse it really saying, which is that you should avoid entering into legal contracts with them, but you can still love them while keeping yourself disentangled legally. It's the "Kill them" section that's clearly harder to deal with, duh. First of all, I don't think that this verse is saying that anybody who is an unbeliever should be treated this way, even in ancient Israel (which this is another verse that I think applies mainly if not only to that context). I think this is particularly for a person who believes in a strange religion and tries to convince others to follow him into that belief. So how does this fit into loving your neighbor? I suggest this: if following after strange gods is going to lead to ruin, then it is best that this sort of theological swindling should be dealt with the same way that purely physical swindling is dealt with. You have ways that you deal with a thief. You have ways that you deal with a murderer. Someone who is enticing people after false gods is a thief and a murderer of people's souls, and should be dealt with seriously, at least in ancient Israel. Yeah, it sounds harsh, and it is, but I think it's for a reason.

The last issue on this chapter is whether Jesus is the son of David. (Remember in Biblical language, this meant ancestor; Jesus was certainly not the actual son of David.) I think that the two verses in the "No" column are not Jesus saying "No", but rather pointing out to those within hearing that the actual relationship between the Messiah and David was a complicated one, and not as simple as just a mere ancestral one. Jesus may be the son of David, but he's greater than David all the same.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil (Matthew 21)

The first question of chapter 21 is the timing of Jesus' "temple tantrum", a term I've never heard before, and while I don't think it's likely to catch on, it does have a ring to it. The Gospel of John clearly puts it at the beginning of his ministry, while the others put it near the end. There are two common interpretations of this discrepancy, the most common one being that this event happened twice, and John's Gospel tells the first time, while the others tell the latter. Another possibility (although this may be my own interpretation alone, as I can't recall specifically hearing this anywhere) is that John's Gospel is simply not interested in chronology, and specifically outside of the last week of Jesus' life, John simply strings together stories he remembers in any old order, which also explains why his Gospel is so different from the other three.

The next question is the manner of transportation that Jesus used to enter Jerusalem. There is definitely some confusion here, but note that while the other Gospels are arguing between a colt and an ass, the passage here in Matthew talks of "a colt the foal of an ass" which would indicate that the colt was an ass nonetheless. So that really leaves only Matthew that seems to be indicating Jesus riding on two animals. Since, as the SAB itself seems to be well aware, this is pretty much a physical impossibility, I would say that Jesus rode on the colt (a young ass) and perhaps the mare (if that's the right term) was brought along.

Anyway, all of this was supposed to fulfill a prophecy in Zachariah 9:9, but the SAB objects that this cannot be correct due to technicalities in the following verses, namely that Jesus failed to have an army or (an earthly) kingdom. This is the sort of technicality that never bothers Christians, though, I'm afraid, as there is an understanding that a future day is coming at which all of that will be completely fulfilled. There are actually a lot of prophecies that Jesus sort of half-fulfilled with an understanding that the complete fulfillment would come in the future. I'm sure most skeptics will call that sort of thing a cop-out once again, but I've got nothing else on this one.

Later in the chapter, Jesus famously curses a fig tree, but how fast did the curse take? In this telling of the story, it says "presently the fig tree withered away" while in Mark's Gospel, we're told "in the morning" they saw the "tree dried up from the roots". This could certainly be an outright contradiction, or it could be that certain members of Jesus' party noticed it at different times, or it could be that there's something else going on here which is a pure guess on my part: perhaps "withered away" and "dried up from the roots" could be different terms for stages of drying out that the tree passed through. I don't know enough Greek (or enough about figs) to say whether that has any deeper merit, I only toss it out as a possibility, as I recall there was a similar issue involved in drying of the ground after Noah's flood. (I think I've mostly been skipping the "What the Bible says about X" pages when they come up, but I think there's a quick note I could make about the fig page: All this destroying of fig trees is, I think a testimony of how good figs are rather than bad. After all, if you want to punish someone, you take away something good, right? You don't see God smiting their poison ivy or some such plant, do you?)

Jesus tells a parable of a rented vineyard in verses 33-41, and the SAB marks it with injustice and violence. I've got to ask, towards whom? I would agree that the people running the vineyard were unjust and violent, but I'm not sure that's what the SAB means, perhaps implying that "the lord of the vineyard" was unjust and violent for taking revenge on these men for killing his servants and son. If so, I can't really agree.

Last issue in the chapter is verse 44, which is marked as violent, unjust, and intolerant. That's a lot to pile on a bit of poetic language, as the stone spoken of is indeed Jesus, but that being so, what does the verse really mean? (After all, Jesus is not literally a stone.) I have my own thoughts, but barring an interpretation of what the SAB thinks it means, I'm not sure what to say.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tell me, what shall thy wages be? (Matthew 20)

Chapter 20 opens with another very strange parable, as the SAB puts it, "The parable of the unfair, lying employer." Rather than try to describe it, I'll let you read it yourself. A note on the face of the parable's content that I think is needed is that "a penny" is not a direct translation (it was actually a denarius, a coin worth ten times another smaller Roman coin, and commonly paid for a days wages), and the agreed wage was reasonable, or else the first group certainly wouldn't have signed on. The latter groups of workers are told "whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive." Now in the matter of unfairness, I can certainly see where the argument comes from: if you've got groups of people working 12, 9, 6, 3, and 1 hours, and you pay them all the same, it does seem unfair, I'll grant. But lying? Look, the first group agreed to work for a penny, so there's no lying there. If all the other groups agreed to work for "whatever is right" then that's subject to opinion, namely the opinion of the owner of the vineyard. The accusation of lying seems like quite a stretch to me.

So what about the unfairness, and the meaning of the parable? As I've said before, I can only guess, but it's always seemed to me that this parable is talking about the gift of salvation, and how even if you spent your whole life going to church and being a good person, spreading the Gospel, you get just as much salvation as someone with a deathbed confession of faith who goofed off their whole life. The SAB asks what the meaning of verse 15 is, and I think I know this one; "Is thine eye evil because I am good?" is, I believe, supposed to mean "Are you giving me such a dirty look just because I've decided to be generous?"

Did Jesus forewarn the apostles of his death and resurrection? Yes he did, but the fact that they failed to understand, as John 20:9 points out, is a separate matter.

When we are told the story of the mother of James and John asking for seats of honor for her sons in the coming kingdom, the SAB points out that the parallel passage in Mark doesn't mention the mother. I figure that this could be a matter of Mark not noticing (or not mentioning) the mother being there, and in the real story, it wasn't her personally who asked, but rather that she goaded her sons into asking. The SAB may not agree, but that makes both versions work out fine in my estimation.

How much power did Jesus have? This is a good question, and I think I addressed part of this previously, but there's a special case here in this chapter. As I think I mentioned before, the passage in Mark 6 isn't about Jesus having a lack of power, but having a lack of opportunity to show it. In Matthew 20:23, the issue is not so much that Jesus can't choose, but that he's allowing that choice to be given over to the authority of God the Father.

The SAB asks "Was Jesus a ransom for many or a ransom for all?" to which I'm going to respond that this is just splitting hairs. If Jesus is a ransom for all, doesn't it logically follow that he was a ransom for many? Maybe I'm missing something here. The SAB further asks "Who (or what) is the ransom for the righteous?" and pulls up some confusing verses. Honestly, the really confusing verses are the ones from the book of Proverbs, and the Hebrew term used there seems to really mean "ransom" (it has other meanings, but none of them seem like they would apply) so I'm not sure what is really meant there. One possible interpretation, although I think it might be a stretch, is the thought that on the cross, Jesus was transformed into our wickedness in order that we would be deemed righteous in his stead, thus making Proverbs 21:18 into a sort of explanation of Jesus's substitutionary sacrifice. I've really no idea at all what to make of Proverbs 13:8.

Finishing out the chapter, we have the story of two blind men sitting by the road near Jericho that Jesus healed. The SAB points out some discrepancies between some similar stories in the other Gospels and claims them to be contradictions. Maybe they are, but the way they could be contradictions is manifold. Perhaps there were two blind men, but Mark and Luke only remembered one. Perhaps there was one blind man coming in, and another going out. Why is it that Mark knows the name of the blind man, but he/they were anonymous in the other stories? In the end, I don't know what's going on here. Perhaps one or more of the authors got their stories wrong. Perhaps this isn't different tellings of the same story, but is two or three different incidents that happened in about the same place. Your guess is as good as mine.

Friday, October 11, 2013

I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off (Matthew 19)

In Matthew 19, verses 4-10, the SAB brings up some questions regarding marriage. Hopefully, I've already answered these elsewhere, let me see. Is marriage a good thing? I addressed this largely in Genesis 2, at which time I said that for most people, being married is a great thing, but Paul happens to point out that as good as it is, marriage complicates life, and one should be careful to think about the implications of that sort of commitment before entering into it. I addressed polygamy most fully on this page, where I said that I don't think polygamy is a sin, but it's far from a desirable state of affairs, usually leading to trouble. What about divorce? I addressed that back in chapter 5, and it's worth noting here that the SAB puts verses 6 and 9 in separate categories; as I've said before, an apparent contradiction that follows so quickly is usually (in my opinion) an indication that one is not understanding the real meaning of the passage: verse 9 is further clarification on verse 6, not a contradiction.

Following this, Jesus has some cryptic things to say about eunuchs in verse 12, and while I don't really know what it's about, I can give some speculation and response to the SAB's speculation. The idea presented that perhaps Jesus is talking about homosexuals is a thought provoking one; I myself had once considered that possibility that this verse was referring to transsexuals, after all, there do exist genetic disorders in which a person does not develop functional genitals. On the other hand, people who "have made themselves eunuchs" does seem to suggest self-castration, but if I can appeal to hyperbole again, it may be that he is referring to people who have taken a vow of celibacy, which doesn't seem too far of a stretch. (This would imply that those who were "born eunuchs" are people with no natural sexual drive, a concept not unheard of.) The SAB links to two pages that are almost identical (and neither of which mention the eunuch from Acts 8, who might be considered noteworthy) to ask what God may feel about castration, both of which hinge on Deut. 23:1 which says that a man with wounded genitals "shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD." I really should do some more research here, and I'm surprised I haven't covered that phrase already. One thing I'm fairly sure it does mean is that such a man cannot serve as a priest in the temple. I don't believe it means that such a man cannot be a practicing Jew (and that is an important distinction, as we're now talking about the N.T. church, not the O.T. "congregation"). I suspect that the distinction is that such a person cannot perform any religious duties, which even non-priests perform at times. (If Jesus is speaking in hyperbole, none of this matters, of course.)

The bit about children was already covered in the previous chapter, and while each of the particulars of verse 17 have been covered, it's an odd verse that deserves some special attention. Jesus says "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God." Jesus seems, as the SAB claims, to be saying that he is not neither good nor God, so what's going on? I seem to vaguely remember hearing before that it was the belief of the Pharisees that "good" was an adjective that could only rightfully applied to God; whether this was the case, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Jesus is cautioning this guy to think twice before applying labels to people and things, even if he happens to be right.

Now the exchange that happens after this is one that's repeated in the other Gospels, and is a source of some contention, even outside of the SAB. Is Jesus really saying that the way to be saved is to keep the commandments? While the consensus is no, there is a strain of thought among Christianity that since Jesus said it, he must have really meant it, so what is the implication? (And the fact that Jesus is shown as listing a different set of commandments in each telling is once again something I think of as being of minimal importance; he was just tossing out a few, not making an exhaustive list.) Well in the case of this guy, Jesus shatters this guy's hope by telling him to give away all of his possessions to the poor. It's been said (even in the Bible) that the whole of the law can be summed up by "Love God with all your heart", and "Love your neighbor as yourself." If this guy couldn't give up all that he had, then he certainly loved money more than God, and he also surely wasn't able to love his neighbor as himself. (As for finer points on stealing and killing, I covered those in Exodus 20.) Jesus may be saying that you could go to heaven IF you could keep all the commandments, but that's an awfully big IF.

Is it OK to be rich? This can be a sticking point in the Bible, and I think the answer is subtle. I don't think the Bible ever outright says that wealth is a sign of wickedness, but rather shows awareness of that saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. If you're a good, honest, and hard-working person, wealth will probably come to you, but once you have it, God will expect you to use your wealth for good things. Sure there are a lot of rich people who are greedy bastards, but I personally have known people with six and seven-figure incomes who are some of the most generous and kind people you'd ever know. I think the N.T. verses the SAB gives, especially the one here in Matthew, are pointing out the danger of the love of money.

The question of whether God can do anything was addressed in Genesis 18. The issue of the apostles sitting on 12 thrones is not something I've ever addressed, although I recently asked a pastor his opinion on the matter (In the context of Revelation 4) and he suggested that rather than Judas Iscariot, Paul might be sitting on one of the thrones mentioned. Lastly, I don't think that verse 29 is suggesting that people should give up their wives and children, but rather that if they end up having to because of following Jesus, they will get something better as a reward.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

I understood as a child (Matthew 18)

I think I'm going to be a little disappointed in myself when it comes to chapter 18, as the SAB opens with a question that I don't think I have a good answer for, even though it seems like it shouldn't be a tough one. Is it a good thing to be childish? I think it's quite clear from the number of times Jesus makes this statement that being like a child is a desirable state. However, it's also clear that Paul is teaching childishness is bad. As I said, I don't know the resolution of this issue, but I do think I can shed some light on possibilities. You don't have to be a theologian to recognize that there are traits common to children that are both desirable and not. Children are very trusting, full of energy, and generally cute. At the same time, they are ignorant, weak, and prone to temper tantrums. Perhaps the Bible could stand to be more clear on what it means when it compares us to children, whether negatively or positively. The one thing that Jesus does specify here as a positive trait is humility, which is certainly something that young children are very good at, and I could see being a positive trait for a Christian.

I don't think that Jesus is condemning the whole world in verse 7, but rather making an observation that the world is full of bad things. And as I said back in chapter five when similar things were said by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, I think verses 8-9 are hyperbole.

The SAB asks whether God can be seen. I addressed this in Genesis 12, but I think this verse is a special case, because it's talking about angels rather than human beings; I don't doubt that angels can see God.

While the note on verses 15-17 is talking about JWs, which would usually mean I don't care, it's on a noteworthy subject that I might as well address. I think that the Catholic church and the Jehovah's Witnesses have both been excellent examples of how not to deal with child molesters. While I could possibly imagine that there might be an acceptable way for these organizations to deal with such troubles internally, the fact is (as far as I am aware) both organizations have simply not dealt with the problem at all. And after all, in the end, it's turned out to be counter-productive if their main aim was to avoid shaming themselves. Anyway, child molestation is a serious crime, and it should be dealt with severely.

In verses 23-35 Jesus tells a parable about a king and a debtor. The SAB has problems with this parable, and while I understand, I think it's worth mentioning that it is only a parable, and as I said a few chapters back, you can't always take parables quite at face value. Just because the parable involves torture and slavery doesn't immediately imply that Jesus is coming out in favor of those things, but it does say at the end that people need to be forgiving or they will miss out on being forgiven, so take that however you will.

Monday, October 07, 2013

And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings (Matthew 17)

In chapter 17, I am once again impressed by the SAB's attention to detail. "When did the transfiguration occur?" we are asked, and I have to admit that I never noticed that Luke's Gospel says "eight days". While I guess it's a genuine error, and I don't know why Luke disagrees with the others, I'd note that it's not a detail of particular importance, and besides, Luke says "about" eight days, which is strange, but I would say that six is "about" eight. Anyway, the transfiguration happens, and for some reason this prompts the disciples to ask about the prophecy concerning the prophet Elijah, which I addressed in chapter 11.

In verse 14, a man brings his "lunatick" son to Jesus. Interestingly, the odd term seems to be a direct translation, as both the English and the Greek words refer to a person who is made crazy by the moon. I'm not sure what the SAB has against this passage in particular, but it is a strange one, and I admittedly don't know what to make of it. Here's the fairly infamous verse in which Jesus says that faith can be used to move mountains, and yet I don't know of any instances of Christians doing such a thing. It may be hyperbole once again. Of course, the chapter ends with a very bizarre miracle, so who knows?

Friday, October 04, 2013

We have found the Messias (Matthew 16)

Matthew 16 has another disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees (and the Sadducees as a bonus) about showing signs. Yeah, there's some harsh language, but I think Jesus makes a good point; there have already been quite a number of signs performed by Jesus, even in front of them, and as I said back in chapter 12 when there was a similar exchange, Jesus isn't there to perform tricks for anybody.

The SAB asks of verse 17 "How did Peter find out that Jesus was the Messiah?" I can see why the SAB might consider this verse a contradiction with John 1:41, but I don't think it is. Yes, Andrew told Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, but I think Jesus is saying that Peter's finally accepting this truth was a spiritual matter. I mean, I could tell any reader of my blog that Jesus was the Messiah until the second coming, but I think there needs to be something spiritual that "reveals" the truth of this to your heart, so to speak.

Verses 18-19 are open to interpretation, but it does seem on the face of it that this may be Jesus stating that Peter is to be the leader of the church; sure, you can call him the first Pope if you'd like to put it that way, I have no problem with it. Some have suggested that "this rock" that Jesus speaks of is not Peter himself, but Peter's statement of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, and there's some wiggle room for such an interpretation. As for what "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" means, I can't say; as the SAB points out, the Catholic church has had a spotty history, so it's certainly not incorruptible. As a side note, I'd like to point out that protestants who like to wave aside such ugly history with declarations of, "Of, but that's the Catholic church!" can't really take such an easy out when it comes to history of the church before the protestant reformation, as until that point in most of Europe the Catholic church was synonymous with Christianity. Just a thought.

Almost immediately after praising Peter, Jesus ends up having to rebuke Peter trying to rebuke him over his coming death. Harsh, but then even a Catholic will tell you that being Pope doesn't make you perfect. (Remember also that "satan" means "adversary", and Peter was certainly being adversarial at that moment.)

In verse 25, which the SAB marks as unjust and absurd, Jesus says that one should lose one's life in order truly find it. No I don't think Jesus is saying that you should kill yourself, but is suggesting that people should put aside their personal desires and seek Jesus first. Jesus goes on to speak of how God "will reward each according to his works." and asks whether salvation is by faith alone. I think I already addressed this a few chapters back, but my view is that while salvation is by faith, in the afterlife, there are different rewards according to the works that a person of faith has done.

At the end of this chapter, Jesus makes a very strange statement, "There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." The SAB interprets this as a statement about the end of the world, which is not unreasonable, except seeing as nearly 2,000 years have passed since Jesus made the statement and now, and we don't know of any 2,000-year-olds, this would seem to be a problem. The only solution that I know of is that some have suggested the event Jesus is talking about is not the second coming, but the strange, miraculous event that Matthew talks about in the very next chapter, known as the Transfiguration.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Ye hold the tradition of men (Matthew 15)

Matthew 15 opens with an argument between Jesus and the Pharisees over religious traditions. It's important to realize (although easy to miss) that the hand washing that is talked about here is not simply for cleanliness, but rather they're talking about a kind of ritual hand washing; I'm afraid I forget the full details at the moment. Jesus is making a statement about how the commandments of God are of higher value than mere traditions, and uses a couple of passages about a child's relation to their parents. Yeah, the law about putting a disobedient child to death is pretty severe, and I honestly don't feel equal to discussing it at length, but for the purpose of this passage, I think the point that Jesus is trying to make is that honoring your parents is serious business according to God, and the Pharisees had made a tradition that allowed people to not care for their parents. Whatever you may feel about the laws Jesus brings up, the thing is that people were using excuses to not follow them, and placing tradition over the law of God. What Jesus says in verse 13 may sound rather harsh as the SAB takes it, but I think in this context it can be taken as saying that tradition, in the end, is pointless unless it conforms to the will of God.

As I've said before, history is not one of my strong points, so I'm not sure what to say about Ezekiel's prophecy about Tyre. I'm sure there are others who have examined this topic, so maybe if I remember this later and feel ambitious, I'll look into it.

The story of the Canaanite woman in verses 21-28 is an odd one, as it makes Jesus look pretty uncaring. The interpretation that I've always heard of this story is that Jesus was testing the woman to give her a chance to show her faith. Admittedly it's still strange, but if Jesus knew that she would be that persistent, it could serve as a good example of faith and humility to other people.

Again this chapter ends with a miraculous feeding. As with the last one, there is a huge amount of leftover food, and once again, the amount is perhaps symbolic, as this would seem to be a mixed crowd (not just Jews) and seven is considered to be a number of completion. The SAB suggests that these two stories may be "the result of two oral traditions of the same fictitious story." While that doesn't seem too unreasonable, it should be noted that in the next chapter, Jesus refers back to these as two separate stories.