Monday, June 05, 2023

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night (John 3:1-15)

John chapter three is mostly the story of Jesus having a conversation with Nicodemus. This conversation and Nicodemus himself are noteworthy, because in much of the Gospels, Jesus is seen in situations being in opposition to the Pharisees, but Nicodemus is "a man of the Pharisees". It's not commonly noted, but not all of the Pharisees were against Jesus, and at least two of them (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) performed actions indicating that they believed in him to some extent.

Did Jesus perform many signs and wonders? Yes, Jesus performed a lot of signs and wonders, he just refused to do any just for the sake of showing off. All of Jesus's miracles were performed because there was a need for them, but there were a few times when the Pharisees demanded that he do something on the spot to prove himself, and he refused. Of course, it's understood that the "sign of Jonas" was a reference to the prophet Jonah being three days in the belly of a whale; similarly Jesus would be three days in the grave. (Yes the latter "three days" is questionable, but I don't think this is the place for that subject.)

Must someone be born again to be saved? These discussions are always convoluted because there's a lot the Bible says on this subject, and a lot of subjects that are closely related. The specific issue of being "born again" is a particularly sticky point because John 3:3 is the only place in the Bible where the term appears, at which point it's not very well explained, and yet you'll find a lot of Christians who are very hung up on it. (Ask a Christian like that what it means, and they'll probably say something like, "If you are, you just know!") Nonetheless, how I would respond to what is touched on on the contradiction page is that being born again is believing in Jesus, and the SAB seems to understand that the point here is belief, as they group it together. The thing that seems like a sticking point is when the Bible talks about salvation through words and deeds; the solution to the confusion is understanding that if you have the right beliefs, you will speak the right words and perform the right deeds. A pastor friend of mine told me he teaches this subject with an illustration of a coin, where faith and beliefs are on one side, and good words and deeds are on the other; while they are two different things, they are just two aspects of the same state of being. This does open up a whole can of worms theologically with the question of which may be more important, and there are scriptures that seem to support either side, but I'm not going to get that deep here.

The SAB makes an interesting note on verse 8 about Jesus's statement "The wind bloeth where it listeth, and thou ... canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth." I suppose in a scientific note, the SAB points out that it is quite possible to measure the wind. This is true, but I think what Jesus is saying still stands, even without the fact that methods of measuring the wind didn't exist in first century Palestine. Yes, you can tell what the wind is doing at a specific point in space and time, but just because that's possible, can you really tell where it's coming from or where it's going? Wind is very chaotic, and it's not visible, so you can't really have full knowledge of what the wind is doing in general. This article, which I just Googled and is very recent, talks about the technology used to measure wind, and how difficult it is.
"It's a demonstration of the feasibility for our future satellite mission we are pursuing where we hope to provide the 10-kilometer resolution," Zeng said.
The SAB has a lot to say about verse 12 in the footnote. it's a lot of science stuff linked to on other pages. Let's gather it up:
Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were created "from the beginning." But the universe is 13.8 billion years old, the earth 4.6 billion, and humans (depending on how you define "human") for a couple million years.
This comment is on a passage where Jesus is making a point about divorce by essentially quoting from Genesis 1. So, I'm guessing that the SAB is implying that Jesus is a young-earth creationist, which goes against modern science. Maybe, but just because Jesus is quoting Genesis doesn't mean you know what his view on creation is; Christians all accept Genesis as part of the Bible, but views on what it means vary greatly. Some believe in a literal seven-day creation that happened about 6,000 years ago; some believe that the seven days represent indefinite amounts of time that may be billions of years; some believe that Adam and Eve were not the first human beings, but the first ones to have a special relationship with God. I have a particular view that may not be widespread, but didn't originate with me, that I went over in Genesis 2. The point here is that I think the SAB is reading too much into Jesus quoting Genesis, and nonetheless, the first human beings in fact were male and female, which is what Jesus actually said in that passage.
Jesus believed the story of Noah's ark. He thought it really happened and had no problem with the idea of God drowning everything and everybody.
This is actually a pet peeve of mine. I hear a lot of Christians say, "Jesus says Jonah really happened!" just because Jesus mentioned Jonah being swallowed by a fish. Jesus knows his audience is familiar with the Old Testament, so it makes sense to use it as a common cultural reference; this doesn't mean that Jesus is necessarily saying it's all true. The SAB is doing the same thing here: if Jesus mentions Noah, he has to be signing off on the complete veracity of every single aspect of the complete story of Noah's flood! Again, this is a leap of logic that I don't think is warranted; at most, I'd say you can probably say that Jesus recognizes that Noah was a real historical person. It was my view going through that part of Genesis that the story is problematic scientifically and narratively; does that mean that Jesus, when making a point illustrated by the person of Noah, needs to pause to untangle all the problems of that story? Why would he? Jesus is making a point about urgency and danger, and illustrating it with the story of the flood; discussion of physics and meteorology would be a distraction.
Jesus is incorrect when he says that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. (Orchids have the smallest seeds.) And there are no trees in the mustard family (Brassicaceae).
The SAB is completely missing the point on two levels. Jesus's parable of the mustard seed is trying to make a point about something spiritual. His use of the mustard seed as "the smallest seed" is not intended as a scientific statement of fact, but simply that the mustard seed was likely the smallest seed any of his audience would have been familiar with. And it's important that his audience is familiar with the mustard seed, because they would have known that the idea of a mustard seed growing into a huge tree was absolutely ridiculous! Jesus doesn't think this is normal, he's implying that the kingdom of heaven defies expectations! So to sum up the footnote on verse 12, Jesus is only wrong about those things if you make entirely unwarranted leaps of logic based on things he said in passing in various places in the Gospels.

Has anyone ever ascended into heaven? You know, I'm inclined to give this one to the SAB. I mean, I could be nitpicky about the stories of Enoch and Elijah (the Bible doesn't actually say Enoch went to heaven, but if he didn't, then what the heck is the Bible trying to say?) and try to weasel out of this, but honestly, I'm at a bit of a loss as to why Jesus overlooked these two men. I guess I can say that Jesus is making a generalized statement that he failed to mention the odd exceptions to, but it feels like the wording should be different; it just feels so absolute. It's probable that his point is that no man has ascended into heaven and come back to talk about it, because that's certainly true, but his wording is technically a contradiction with other parts of scripture as the SAB notes.

This is getting long, so I'll break it at the famous verse 16, and finish this post with the footnote on verse 14. I'll say once again that just because Jesus uses an illustration out of the Old Testament, it doesn't necessarily follow that he takes the referenced story literally, however in this case, I don't see a reason why he shouldn't. The SAB marks the story in Numbers 21 as both absurd and having scientific issues, but we're talking about two miracles, so to a nonbeliever, any miracle is going to seem absurd and nonscientific. I suppose there is the issue of God making a miracle that hurts people and following it by a second miracle to fix the first; yes, that seems absurd, but I think the reason for what happened was to teach the Israelites something about faith. The snakes came because of lack of faith, and they needed to have faith in God's strange cure to deal with it. (The story has more issues, but I'll save them for whenever I get around to blogging Numbers.) The important thing here is that Jesus is comparing himself to the bronze serpent of Numbers 21, because like the issue of faith I described above, people of the world are subject to the effects of Original Sin because of the lack of faith of Adam, and need to be cured by faith in looking to Jesus lifted up on the cross to pay the price for sin. More on this in verse 16 next post.

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