Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

And king Herod heard of him (Luke 23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did the Temple curtain rip? I don't think that any of these verses are trying to nail down an exact time; the idea is that the curtain ripped when Jesus died.(See comments for more musing on this topic.)

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thy dead men shall live (Luke 20)

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

And Jesus went into the temple of God (Luke 19)

After a short little bit about Jesus and Zaccheus, Luke 19 launches into another strange parable. I feel that I should point out that this is not a parable that Jesus introduces with "The Kingdom of God is like..." which may mean that this is not the point Jesus is trying to make. Nonetheless, it's not unreasonable for the SAB to interpret it that way; I think a lot of people do. It might be interesting to check out the SAB's side note on What the Bible says about democracy. It seems odd to me when people make claims that Jesus was conservative or liberal, or they'll even call him a communist; Jesus is most definitely a monarchist, and at his second coming intends to rule as a king with absolute power.

Anyway, the parable... This parable is similar to other ones where a master goes off and leaves a group of servants in charge while he's away. Some of the servants manage what they're left with well and get rewarded, some don't manage so well and get punished. If there's a message in this, it's that you should use your resources wisely. The whole business about going off to get a kingdom and people sending a message actually has historical basis. In the days of the Roman Empire, local kings were appointed by Caesar, but he would take into account what the locals had to say about a man who desired to be king. As you may imagine, if a number of people spoke poorly of a potential ruler and he ended up being king anyway, there was always a chance that he might take vengeance on them as in this parable. What this has to do with Jesus exactly is not completely clear. Is Jesus saying that when he comes back, he's going to take revenge on people who spoke against him? Maybe Jesus is saying that while the people are waiting for a good king they may have to tolerate bad kings? I honestly don't know, but of course it is true that when Jesus returns, there is going to be a period of judgment, and some people will be sent to Hell, so that may be the parallel.

On what did Jesus ride into Jerusalem? There's really not so much of a contradiction here as the SAB wants to make. Jesus rode on the colt of an ass, which is the same thing as saying a "young ass" as John's gospel puts it. The real discrepancy is with Matthew's account, but if you take that account literally, then as I pointed out when I covered that passage, you're talking about a physical impossibility.

When did Jesus' temple tantrum occur? I've got to say again that while "temple tantrum" isn't likely to catch on, I personally like the sound of it. Most people believe that this is an event that happened twice, once at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and once again near the end. There is still some discrepancy about whether the event near the end happened on Palm Sunday or the following Monday, but some of the gospel writers may have telescoped some details in their telling of this event.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! (Luke 18)

Luke 18 opens with a parable, and while I have already said that parables are weird, and this one's no exception, I think Jesus explains it pretty plainly. The idea is that if even a judge who seems to care about little can be persuaded to seek justice, then how much more can we depend on God to seek justice?

In verse 17, the SAB asks, Is it good to be childish? I've answered this before, but I'll give a brief response here anyway: While there are some aspects of childishness that are not desirable, the particular childish trait of humility is what Jesus is looking for in this example.

Then comes a story starting in verse 18 that brings up a number of questions. The man in this story is asking Jesus how he can be saved, and Jesus gives him a number of odd responses. First of all, there's "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God." Is Jesus saying that he's not good, nor is he God? No, I think it's understood by most that Jesus is pointing out a belief held by the Pharisees (that only God is good) and warning that since the Pharisees don't accept that Jesus is God, his question, as worded, could be tantamount to blasphemy. Next, Jesus goes to "Thou knowest the commandments," and tosses out a few. I think it is telling that Jesus mentions none of the commandments that mention God, and that's thematic. When Jesus goes on to tell the man to give everything he has to the poor, and the man is sad to hear this, it shows that this man's true god was money. When Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that it's hard for a rich person to go to heaven, I think that is still the point being made: that for a lot of people who are rich, money is their god. I don't think this means that no rich person can ever go to heaven, only that people need to keep money in proper perspective.

While I don't think verse 27 is making the claim that God can do anything, Can God do anything? is a fair question to ask. Of the three verses in the No column, the first two are really a matter of faith: since these people didn't have faith that God/Jesus could do those things for them, he wasn't able to work with them, but it was their failing, not God's. The third item is a more interesting one, because yes, it is believed that God is incapable of lying. The thing to note about this is that it's not like God doesn't have the ability to lie, but rather that it's against his very nature to do so. So you could take that either way.

In verses 29-30, I don't think that Jesus is asking people to abandon their families, but he's pointing out that some people will lose many things that they hold dear because they chose to follow Jesus, and he assures them that they will receive a greater reward in the end.

Did Jesus forewarn the apostles of his death and resurrection? Yes, he did, and repeatedly, but as the verse in John's gospel points out, they didn't understand it.

The SAB asks of the last story in this chapter How many blind men were healed near Jericho? and When was the blind man (or men) healed? Well, each telling of this story is different enough that it seems to me that it could be actually two or three different events with some similarity. I mean, note also that Jesus touches their eyes in Matthew's gospel, but in the other two he just talks to them. Why does Mark know the name of the blind man, but the others do not? It's possible these are contradictions, but it's also possible that these are completely different stories.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear (Luke 17)

I couldn't remember why I had taken such a long break from writing these entries other than the fact that I'd been a bit more busy lately. Then I looked at Luke 17, and remembered: Luke really is turning out to be tough book, far tougher than I'd imagined it to be!

So there are two things that had been general problems that I'll try to address generally through the first two notes in the SAB. First, statements like "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you." There was an interesting concept that a friend of mine brought up on Facebook the other day (there was probably an article attached, but I'm not going to hunt it down), that being that it's common in Jewish literature to use hyperbole. Jesus may indeed be literally saying that a person with faith can boss around trees, but it's also quite likely that he's saying more generally that if you have faith, you can do amazing things with that faith to bolster you. Admitting the prevalence of hyperbole and its presence in the Bible opens up a can of worms that may be immediately obvious to some: How can you be sure what to take seriously and literally as opposed to hyperbolically in Jesus' teachings? As I've pointed out before, I don't believe that when Jesus says to cut off your hand to save yourself from sin, nor when he says you have to hate your family to follow him, that he really means that. But what other things might I be taking at face value that are not meant that way? It's a big question worth discussing, but I'm not going to take up the whole post with it.

So the second thing that had been a problem in Luke, and really the New Testament as a whole, is the whole slavery thing. While I feel I've given some possibly good insights into Old Testament slavery, in Jesus' time we're dealing with slavery as defined by the Roman Empire, and I know next to nothing about it. So I decided to read the Wikipedia entry on slavery in ancient Rome, and honestly, I still don't know much. It seems in general that slaves who had rich owners (which were most of them) generally lived better lives than peasants. Roman slaves had the right to own property and make money, and they could use that to be able to buy their freedom. Freedmen had the right to vote, but couldn't run for office and were considered second-class citizens; their children would be full freeborn citizens. Throughout most of Roman history, it seems that slaves could complain in court if their masters treated them with cruelty. All that being said, there are certain aspects of Roman slavery that were not so nice as all that. Slaves that had to work in mines lived under harsh conditions, had little hope for freedom, and tended to die young. Slaves that tried to escape were often branded, and slaves that attempted revolt were often crucified. Also, some slaves were forced into fighting gladiator matches, which was sort of a mixed bag since it was dangerous work, but if you were successful, you learned a skill that might lead to you becoming a freed soldier. So once again, while neither God nor Jesus ever spoke out against slavery in particular, even Roman slavery was not much like 19th century American slavery that most people associate the word with.

Anyway, I think this chapter may have some of Steve Wells' best writing; at least I enjoyed reading the notes here. Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is within you." to which the SAB responds, "That has a nice sound to it, but I don't know what it means." Well, yes, it is a bit of a mystery, isn't it? Jesus is clearly talking about something very spiritual, and I think the meaning is that "the kingdom of God" is not a physical place so much as it is a state of mind to be found in people who believe.

In verse 24, Jesus compares his return to lightning, to which the SAB comments "Like the Wicked Witch of the West writing 'Surrender Dorothy' in the sky. Like that." Cute. Like that indeed.

In the next few verses, Jesus talks about Noah's ark and the destruction of Sodom. The SAB (like many Christians!) takes this talking to imply that Jesus believed that these were real, historical events. I personally have an issue with this interpretation; it's entirely possible that Jesus simply used these two stories as ones that he knew his audience would be familiar with. The point that Jesus is trying to make here may be entirely separate from whether these stories are factual, which does mean that some of the points that the SAB brings up about this passage concerning injustice and cruelty still need to be addressed, as clearly Jesus is saying when he returns, he's going to bring some sort of massive punishment akin to what was told of in those two stories. In the case of injustice, I think it's clear that in all of the cases mentioned, the people being punished were wicked people and had it coming; cruelty is a harder issue to deal with because there is quite a bit of difference in opinion on what makes something cruel, but suffice it to say that in all instances, we're talking about near-instant death. Make of it what you will.

Finally, taking verse 34 to be about homosexuality has got to be a joke, right? If it isn't, I really don't know what to say.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Parables are weird.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Honour thy father and thy mother (Luke 14)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Neither shoes, nor yet staves (Luke 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 07, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 03, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.