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22 April 2019

Who gets to define what heresy is?

Not me. Nor you. It was defined long ago.

HERESY 'hɛr.ə.si noun. Belief or opinion contrary to Christian orthodoxy.
[Heretic 'hɛr.ə.tɪk adjective, heretical hə'rɛd.ə.kəl adjective.]

I’m involved in a discussion group or two. In one of them, the subject of Darbyism came up: One of the group members is Darbyist, and wanted a shout-out from all the other Darbyists in the group. Turns out a lot of us aren’t Darbyist at all, and some of us started to condemn Darbyism as faithless and unbiblical. (’Cause it is.) Not that this moved the Darbyist any; everyone in his church believes in that crap, so he’s entirely sure he’s in the right. But I’m pretty sure he was surprised, if not horrified, at the backlash.

Especially once a newbie to the group decided to pitch in his two cents—and declare Darbyism is heresy.

Now there, he went too far. And got a little backlash himself; some of it from the very same folks who take issue with Darbyism. ’Cause that belief system is wrong, but we don’t go throwing round the H-word casually.

To nearly every Christian, heresy means not Christian. Your beliefs went so far outside the pale of Christianity, you’ve gone outside God’s kingdom altogether. You’re teaching stuff that’s actually anti-Christ… and Jesus doesn’t include antichrists in his kingdom.

But I myself don’t describe heresy that generally. ’Cause I’m going with the original definition.

Y’see, before the church split into Orthodox and Catholic (way before western Christians split into Catholics and Protestants and Anglicans), whenever theological issues became particularly divisive, the ancient Christians gathered together in church councils and hammered the differences out. They used these councils to define orthodox Christianity. They didn’t do it comprehensively, but they covered pretty much everything vital, and did it really well. And heresy is defined as the stuff which violates their conclusions.

And only their conclusions. Because after the Orthodox and Catholics split, Christians don’t do these councils anymore. Not that the Roman Catholics don’t hold the occasional council (like Vatican 2, their most recent council, in the 1960s) and claim they speak for Christendom… but obviously no other church considers these councils anything but internal Catholic matters.

So who gets to define new things as heresy? Well… nobody.

Not that Christians don’t try. Many a preacher, many a church board, many an individual Christian, thinks they get to. They read their bibles; they’re pretty sure they understand it perfectly; they’re pretty sure these issues are non-negotiables—they certainly are non-negotiable to them!—and therefore anyone who disagrees must be heretic. So they’ll use the H-word. And figure they’re entirely right to.

But they’re not. Heresy isn’t defined by individuals. Nor individual churches. It’s defined by Christendom as a whole… and since we’re not a whole anymore, we’re limited to the conclusions we came to when we were a whole. And if you don’t care for those conclusions, or wanna add new heresies to the list, I would say you fall in the very same boat as those people who wanna add books to, or take ’em out of, the bible: That’s not for you. That’s been decided long ago.

21 April 2019

Easter.

Or “Resurrection Sunday,” for those who are paranoid about what “Easter” might mean.

On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed only two days before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.

Jesus died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew פֶּסַח/Pesákh, “Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.

But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter.

Because of the pagan origins of the word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” (Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians.)

Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s focus (and certainly that of merchants), but it’s only because Christmas doesn’t stretch their beliefs too far. Everybody agrees Jesus was born. We only differ on details. But Easter is about how Jesus was raised, and that’s a sticking point for a whole lot of pagans. They don’t buy it.

They don’t even like it: When they die, they wanna go to heaven and stay there. Resurrection? Coming back? In a body? No no no. And we’ll even find Christians who agree with them: They’ll claim Jesus didn’t literally return from death, but exists in some super-spiritual ghostly form which returned to heaven. And that’s where we’ll go too: Heaven. No resurrection; not necessary. Yes, it’s a heretic idea, but a popular one.

So to pagans, Easter’s a myth. It’s a nice story about how we Christians think Jesus came back from the dead, but it comes from ancient times, back when people believed anyone could come back from the dead if they knew the right magic spell. Really it’s just a metaphor for spring, new life, rebirth; just like eggs and baby chicks and bunnies. They’ll celebrate that. With chocolate, fancy hats, brunch, and maybe an egg hunt.

But to us Christians, Easter’s no myth. It’s history.

19 April 2019

Jesus is put in his sepulcher.

Descending, as it were, to the grave.

Mark 15.42-47 • Matthew 27.57-61 • Luke 23.50-56 • John 19.38-42.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, after a flogging and crucifixion, Jesus died. Roman custom was to just leave the corpse on the cross for the birds to pick at, but Jewish custom was to bury people immediately. On the very same day they died, if possible. And since the next day was Sabbath—and in the year 33, also Passover—they especially needed to get everybody off the crosses and buried posthaste.

Now in previous generations, “buried” means buried: Dig a hole in the ground deep enough for animals to not get at the corpse, put the body in, fill the hole back in. In Jesus’s day, Jewish custom had changed. Now what they did was wrap the body in moist linen strips, and put it on a stone slab in a sepulcher. This way the body would rot quickly—and after a year or so, there’d be nothing left but bones, which were then collected and put into an ossuary. (They figured in the resurrection, all God needed was the bones—same as in Ezekiel’s vision.)

So whenever people make a big deal about Jesus’s empty tomb… well frankly, at one point or another, every Judean sepulcher would be empty. ’Cause they’d take the bones away.

So that’s what happened after Jesus died. Joseph of Ramah (Greek Ἀριμαθαίας/Arimathaías, Hebrew רָמָתַ֛יִם צוֹפִ֖ים/Ramataym-Chofím, KJV Ramathaimzophim), a senator who hadn’t agreed with the vote to condemn Jesus, Lk 23.51 took it upon himself to take care of Jesus’s body. All the gospels give him his due credit.

Mark 15.42-47 KWL
42 When evening came—because it was Preparation, the day before Sabbath—
43 respected senator Joseph from Ramah, who was also awaiting God’s kingdom, came.
Daring to enter Pontius Pilate’s house, he asked for Jesus’s body.
44 Pilate was surprised Jesus was already dead.
Calling the centurion, he asked him if Jesus was already dead,
45 and learning it from the centurion, Pilate gave the corpse to Joseph.
46 Buying linen, taking Jesus down, Joseph wrapped him in linen.
He put the corpse in a sepulcher hewn from rock, and rolled a stone over the sepulcher’s door.
47 Mary the Magdalene and Mary mother of Joses saw where the corpse was put.
Matthew 27.57-61 KWL
57 Come evening came a wealthy man from Ramah named Joseph, who himself was a student of Jesus.
58 This Joseph went to Pontius Pilate to ask for Jesus’s body. Then Pilate commanded it be given.
59 Taking Jesus’s body, Joseph wrapped it in pure linen
60 and put it in Joseph’s own new sepulcher, cut from rock,
rolled a large stone against the sepucher’s door, and went away.
61 Mary the Magdalene and another Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
Luke 23.50-56 KWL
50 Look, a man named Joseph, using his position as a senator—
a good and righteous man; 51 this Joseph hadn’t agreed with the senate and its action—
from Ramah, Judea, who awaited God’s kingdom—
52 this Joseph went to Pontius Pilate to ask for Jesus’s body.
53 Taking the corpse down, he wrapped it in linen
and put it in a stonecut sepulcher in which no one had yet laid.
54 It was Preparation Day, and Sabbath was beginning.
55 The women who had come together with Jesus from the Galilee, followed Joseph.
They saw the sepulcher and how Joseph arranged Jesus’s body.
56 On returning, they prepared spices and myrrh,
and once it was actually Sabbath, rested according to the command.
John 19.38-42 KWL
38 After these things Joseph from Ramah, who was Jesus’s student (secretly, for fear of the Judeans),
asked Pontius Pilate that he might take Jesus’s body.
Pilate allowed it, so Joseph came and took Jesus’s body.
39 Nikodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night, also came
bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloe vera weighing 100 Roman pounds [72.5 English pounds, 32.9 kilos].
40 So they took Jesus’s body and tied the spices to it with strips, as is the Judean burial custom.
41 A garden was in the place where Jesus was crucified,
and in the garden, a new sepulcher in which no one had yet laid.
42 So there, on the Judean Preparation Day,
because it was near the sepulcher, they arranged Jesus’s body.

18 April 2019

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The heretic idea the Father abandoned the Son.

Mark 15.33-36 • Matthew 27.45-49.

Before he died, Jesus shouted out something in a language his bystanders didn’t recognize. And a lot of present-day commentators don’t recognize it either. We know it was Psalm 22.1, but some of us say Jesus quoted it in Aramaic; some say Hebrew. Which was it?

The reason for the confusion is that Mark and Matthew don’t match. Both of ’em recorded Jesus’s words as best they could—but they did so in the Greek alphabet, which doesn’t correspond neatly to Hebrew and Aramaic sounds. So here’s what we got. (And if your web browser reads Unicode, you might actually see the original-language characters.)

VERSEORIGINALTRANSLITERATION
Ps 22.1, Hebrew אֵלִ֣י אֵלִ֣י לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי Elí Elí, lamá azavettáni?
Ps 22.1, Aramaic (Syriac) ܐܠܗ ܐܠܗܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢ Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtaní?
Mk 15.34, Greekἐλωΐ ἐλωΐ, λεμᾶ σαβαχθανί;Elo’í Elo’í, lemá savahthaní?
(or σαβακτανεί/savaktaneí in the Codex Sinaiticus.)
Mt 27.46, Greekἠλί ἠλί, λεμὰ σαβαχθανί;Ilí ilí, lemá savahthaní?

Just based on how the gospels’ authors wrote the word for “my God,” Elí in Hebrew or Elahí in Aramaic, it kinda looks like Mark was quoting an Aramaic translation of the psalms, and Matthew the Hebrew original.

But it seems to me the most likely Jesus would quote bible in Hebrew. For three reasons:

  1. That is the language King David wrote his psalm in.
  2. It’d explain why the people who heard Jesus quote it, didn’t understand him. Judeans and Galileans spoke Aramaic; that’s what the New Testament meant by Ἑβραϊστί/Evrahistí and Ἑβραΐδι/Evra’ídi, “Hebraic.” Jn 5.2, Ac 22.2, 26.14, Rv 9.11 In the first century Hebrew was a dead language, only spoken by scribes like Jesus.
  3. It’s way easier to confuse Elí with Ἡλίας/Ilías, the Greek version of אֵלִיָּה/Eliyyáhu, “Elijah,” than it is Elahí.

Regardless, in my translation the words in Jesus’s mouth are Aramaic in Mark, and Hebrew in Matthew. ’Cause that’s what the authors were apparently going for.

Mark 15.33-36 KWL
33 When the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—came,
darkness came over all the land till the ninth hour.
34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtáni?
which is translated, “My God my God, for what reason have you left me behind?” Ps 22.1
35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look: He calls Elijah.”
36 One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.”
Matthew 27.45-49 KWL
45 From the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—
darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
That is, “My God my God, why did you leave me behind?” Ps 22.1
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said this: “This man calls Elijah.”
48 One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes, and will save him.”

Awright, now that we have the language sorta squared away, let’s get to what was going on here.

17 April 2019

When Jesus made John responsible for his mother.

And why not any of his siblings.

John 19.25-27.

Only John has this story. Which has caused no end of speculation about Jesus’s family situation.

John 19.25-27 KWL
25 Standing by Jesus’s cross were his mother, his mother’s sister Salomé,
Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene.
26 So Jesus, seeing his mother and the student he loved standing by,
told his mother, “Ma’am, look: Your son.”
27 Then Jesus told the student, “Look: Your mother.”
From that hour on, Jesus’s student took her as his own.

John’s list of the women who watched Jesus die is the same as the other gospels, with the addition of Jesus’s mom and himself. He never referred to Jesus’s mom as “Mary,” because he was trying to refer to as few Marys as possible, so as not to confuse everybody with how common the name “Mary” was. (Same as his own name; notice in his gospel the only “John” in it is John the baptist.)

Anyway. All these people at the cross, save Mary the Magdalene, were family. Salomé was Mary the Nazarene’s sister; Mary “of Clopas” was Joseph the Nazarene’s sister-in-law; John himself was Salomé’s son and Jesus’s first cousin. For various reasons Christian figure John was the youngest of Jesus’s students—maybe 16 or even younger at the time of Jesus’s death—and his youth might’ve been why he was able to get to the places he did, and be a firsthand witness to Jesus’s trial and death. Who’d suspect a kid?

But y’notice despite all this family around, Jesus’s siblings weren’t there.

And there’s no reason they wouldn’t be. Jesus was killed the day before Passover. Jn 19.30-31 We know Jesus’s siblings regularly went to Jerusalem for the feasts, Jn 7.1-10 as required by the Law. Dt 16.16 So they weren’t all the way back in Nazareth; they were in Jerusalem. In fact Luke notes they were still in Jerusalem 50 days later. Ac 1.14 No doubt they knew the Romans were killing their brother. And they weren’t there.

Only their mother, their aunts, and their cousin John had the guts to be there for Jesus. They did not.

So as the only male family member present, who was there for Jesus to call upon? Right: His beloved student.