Monday, May 29, 2023

And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come (John 1:15-51)

Can God be seen? This is actually a complicated question. Strictly speaking, except for in the person of Jesus, God doesn't have a physical body, so the answer is no. However... There are a lot of instances in the Bible where people see things that are a manifestation of God (that is, God makes something visible that is a representation of himself), or they have a vision of God (that is, they have something like a dream where they see something symbolic of God), or there is the strange instance in Exodus 33:18-23, which seems to be God somehow literally allowing Moses to see some sort of physical form. That latter one is the only one I have no explanation for, and I've always thought it was very weird since I read it as a kid. So for the other two, and the distinction between the verses in the two categories on that page, the general idea is when someone is "seeing" God on earth, they are usually seeing a light that is the glory of God's presence (this may also be the "burning bush" in Exodus 3, "a smoking furnace and a burning lamp" in Genesis 15:17, and the pillar of fire in Exodus 13:21), and when they are a prophet seeing God in an apparent physical body, they are having a vision, in which the things they are seeing are symolic (when Habakkuk saw horns in God's hands, horns are almost always symbols of strength). It's worth noting that most Christians, as I think I mentioned in my last entry, believe that the "Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament is a preincarnate Jesus. In such an appearance, often there is no clear distinction between the angel speaking and God speaking. It's also worth noting that while it doesn't say outright that Adam and Eve saw God, in Genesis 3, it seems that God is physically present in the garden of Eden in some form.

Was John the Baptist Elijah? There is really a verse that is missing from this page, and that's Luke 1:17,
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Generally, when there's confusion over a matter in the Bible, you go by what Jesus says. Jesus said John was Elijah (less directly in Mark 9:12), so he was. So why the confusion? Well, one explanation that I have heard--and I don't know how widely accepted this is that the spirit of Elijah was reincarnated in John, but John had no memory of his previous life. Strange to talk about reincarnation in a Christian context, I know, but I've heard it suggested, and it seems to fit the Luke verse.

Where did John baptize? on the face of it, there's no contradiction here, as "beyond Jordan" most likely simply means in the Jordan River, but on the east bank. However, there is the issue raised not on the linked page, but back in the footnote on the John 1 page, which points out that Bethabara (Βηθανια in my Greek version) is not known. My study guides say that "Bethabara" is Hebrew for "ferry-house" which would suggest perhaps that this was not so much a city as simply a place where one could cross the Jordan.

Did John the Baptist recognize Jesus as the Son of God? Yes, but obviously, some explanation is needed here. The verses in the "no" column are coming from John when he's locked away in prison. While he recognized Jesus's true identity at his baptism, he has to be wondering, if the Messiah has come, what am I doing behind bars? There are a couple of possibilities for this message here. One is sarcasm; John is calling out to Jesus and saying, "Hey, I'm in trouble! Are you the Messiah or not?" The other is desperation: because John is in this situation, he's starting to question himself and what he thought he saw. Either way, it's not really a contradiction.

Which came first: the calling of Peter and Andrew or the imprisonment of John the Baptist? There are two things that need to be said about the content of this page, and either or both could explain it. First of all, it should be noted that the so-called "calling" of Peter and Andrew here in John is not the same event shown in the other two Gospels; they look different, and I believe the events in Matthew and Mark happened later. It's worth observing that the behavior displayed by Peter and Andrew isn't the sort of behavior you would expect from people who didn't already have a history of interaction with Jesus; you don't just walk up to a stranger and say, "Follow me!" and have them come. The event in John's Gospel is just some of the people who would later be his Apostles meeting Jesus for the first time. They are "following him" in the sense that they want to see where he goes and what he does, not in the sense of yet being dedicated disciples. The second thing that needs to be said about John's Gospel in general is that John is not really trying to tell a linear story. Until we get to Palm Sunday, John's Gospel is just a bunch of stories thrown together in no particular order; once get to Holy Week, John is more concerned with getting events in order.

How did Peter find out that Jesus was the Messiah? This is actually a matter of understanding the difference between what's going on between these two verses. Yes, Peter's brother told him that Jesus was the Messiah, but I think the difference is that by the later time that Jesus is talking in Matthew 16, Peter had truly internalized the truth and fully believed in him. I mean, if you think about it, if someone just told you, "Hey, there's this guy, and he's the Messiah!" you would probably check it out, but questioningly. After you had been with Jesus for a while, heard his teaching and seen his miracles, you wouldn't be questioning any more.

How did Peter and Andrew become Jesus's disciples? Part of this I answered above: the story in Matthew and Mark happened later than the story in John. However, how does the story in Luke fit in? There are two possibilities. One is that Luke is simply telescoping events and Peter follows Jesus after this event, but not necessarily immediately. The other, which seems more likely to me, is that Luke is giving greater details of the story than Matthew and Mark did. This may be a bit strange, because as I may have noted when I went through Mark, it's generally understood that Mark's Gospel is largely made up of material Mark got from Peter.

Where did Peter and Andrew live? This is definitely unclear, but one thing that can be said about this inconsistency is that Capernaum and Bethsaida are right next to each other at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's more likely Mark made a mistake, since John was actually there.

Lastly in this chapter, the SAB notes that what Jesus tells Nathanael as a failed prophecy. I have to disagree with this assessment, of course. It could be that this prophecy was fulfilled and simply wasn't recorded by any of the four Gospels we have; Nathanael didn't write a Gospel. Much more likely, however, at least in my opinion, is that this is symbolic language, and Jesus is talking about some aspect of his ministry in which angels were involved in some way, and Jesus's incarnation in some way facilitated an opening of Heaven.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

For by him were all things created (John 1:1-14)

Okay, so I let this blog go for nearly a decade. I've been busy with a lot of stuff, and I've been working through a lot of personal issues, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm probably not in a place in my life where I have much time for blogging, but I really feel that this is a useful spiritual and intellectual exercise for me. So I'm going to try and carve out time for this again. I'll pick up where I left off, in the Gospels.

The SAB seems to have been reorganized in some way since the last time I saw it. This may be a fairly recent change, as I see on their blog that they switched over to being database-driven. It looks good, but may take some getting used to.

John 1 opens up with a heck of a first verse. There's a lot going on here. The most obvious thing to most readers is that John is calling back to the beginning of Genesis, as this verse sounds a lot like the first verse there. The less obvious thing to a modern reader is the significance of "the Word." There is a twofold significance to this. To the Jewish reader, this would suggest perhaps an embodiment of the Word of God, i.e. the Bible. To the Greek reader, this would suggest the philosophical idea of the organizing principle that shaped the known universe, above all men and gods. In any case, as the SAB notes, Christians believe that the Word is Jesus. This is mainly because in verse 14, it says, "the Word was made flesh," which seems a clear allusion to Jesus's incarnation.

Was Jesus God? I'm going to argue "Yes", so I'll only deal with the items from the "No" section. On the subject of Jesus being tempted, there's a simple answer, but it brings up other questions; Jesus had at various times been offered things that would be considered a temptation, but there was never any chance he was going to give in. This always makes me wonder why the devil would even bother to try, because surely he would know he was wasting his time, right? Jesus never denied that he was God; none of the given verses are saying that. There is definitely some confusion due to the nature of the Trinity: the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, but they are separate persons and not equal, while still paradoxically all being the same, singular God. The fact that the Father forsook Jesus on the cross is actually a great mystery to me as to how it's possible, but apparently it happened. In most of these verses, the intended meaning when Jesus and "God" are mentioned as two separate persons is that by "God" they are referring to the Father. This should clear up the apparent confusion over 1 Corinthians 11:3, which is simply saying Jesus is subject to the authority of the Father.

Who created heaven and earth? Since, as I said above, both Jesus and the Father are God, both of them did. Trinitarianism: one God, three persons. Most of the time there's no need to differentiate.

What was Jesus H. Christ's real name? This is an easy one: all of them, and probably a few more that were missed. All three persons of the Trinity are known by multiple names throughout Scripture; some of these are not so much names as titles, but it's not an important distinction. A lot of Christians believe that "the angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament is also a reference to a preincarnate Jesus. Jehovah's Witnesses believe the Archangel Michael is also Jesus, which, given how many names Jesus has, I wouldn't rule out as a possibility.

How many sons does God have? This is definitely a confusing question, and I believe that the reason it's confusing is that the terms "son of God" and "children of God" are used rather freely throughout the Bible for a number of different reasons. First of all, note that the verses about Jesus refer to him as the only begotten son of God. While this term is usually used to refer to someone who is the biological offspring of someone, and it seems unlikely that the Bible is making the claim that there is anything biological about God the Father, nonetheless there is an indication that the relationship between Jesus and the Father is unique. With the exception of perhaps Adam, when the Bible refers to a human being as a child of God, the intended meaning is akin to adoption; God is making a person into his child because of the relationship between them. When the Bible refers to Israel as God's son, it's talking about the special relationship that God has to the nation of Israel (and Ephraim in Jeremiah 31:9 is just another name for Israel that was sometimes used to differentiate it from the kingdom of Judah). There seems to be an occasional reference to the angels as being "the sons of God", although this only happens in the book of Job for whatever reason.

Are we all God's children? Really, this is pretty similar to the last question. I'm going to say "no" but it needs some explanation, obviously. All of the verses in the "Yes" section are addressing either Jews or Christians. I would definitely say that all observant Jews and committed Christians are children of God, but there may be others outside of those categories. I take issue with the claim that "Jews that don't love Jesus are children of the devil." There is something specific going on at the point in time that Jesus says that verse, in that the people he was talking to were eyewitnesses of his ministry, yet denied him. I don't believe that this means every Jew that doesn't believe in Jesus is a "child of the devil"; certainly there is room for honest doubt.