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Showing posts with label #ChristAlmighty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #ChristAlmighty. Show all posts

06 May 2019

A gospels synopsis.

You wanna compare the same story in different gospels? You need a synopsis. Here ya go.

Our word “synopsis” usually means a brief summary or overview, but when we get into biblical studies a synopsis is a comparison of two different parts of the bible which overlap. Like Psalms 14 and 53. Or David and the census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. Or the story of Ahab and Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. Or Hezekiah and the sundial in 1 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38.

Or, naturally, to compare the gospels.

Christians have been comparing ’em ever since they were first written. Sometimes to see if we can fit them all together, like Tatian of Assyria did with his Diatessaron, or A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels. Thing is, when you combine then into one narrative, you gotta remove parts of the other gospels—and change their order, their structure, and various things which their authors deliberately put in there. You also lose a bit of the three-dimensional picture of Jesus they provide.

It’s why I prefer a gospel synopsis: We compare the stories, but don’t remove anything. We look at what each of ’em have, and compare. We deal with the difficulties they might produce. But we get a better, fuller picture of Jesus. That’s the point.

Obviously in my posts on Christ Jesus, I’ve been comparing similar texts. It’s sort of my own gospel synopsis. You can follow it if you want, but today I’m actually providing someone else’s. Basically it’s the table of contents from bible scholar Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (called Synopsis of the Four Gospels in the English edition). His synopsis compares the texts line by line from his Greek New Testament, 26th edition (the current edition is the 28th), or from the RSV in the English edition. But if you prefer another translation, the links below will take you to Bible Gateway, where you can read ’em in any translation they have. Sound good?

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.

16 April 2019

The “unbelieving” thief.

When one of the guys crucified with him, threw in his lot with him.

Mark 15.27, 32 • Matthew 27.38, 44 • Luke 23.32-33, 39.

Okay. Did the believing thief, now the unbelieving thief.

The gospels state two thieves were crucified with Jesus—

Mark 15.27 KWL
They crucified two thieves with Jesus: One on the right, one at his left.
Matthew 27.38 KWL
38 Then two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one at right and one at left.
Luke 23.32-33 KWL
32 They brought two others with Jesus, evildoers to be done away with.
33 When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified Jesus and the evildoers,
who were at right and at left.

—but they never did identify them, so Christian tradition named ’em Dismas and Gesmas. Never did say which one was on the right, and which was on the left. All we know was at first, both were railing at Jesus—

Mark 15.32 KWL
“Messiah, king of Israel, has to come down from the cross now, so we can see and believe him.”
And those crucified with Jesus insulted him.
Matthew 27.44 KWL
Likewise the thieves crucified with Jesus insulted him.

—and then Dismas had a change of heart, asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus offered him paradise.

Whereas all Gestas has gone down in history for doing is saying this:

Luke 23.39 KWL
One of the hanging evildoers was slandering Jesus, saying,
“Aren’t you Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Popularly this is interpreted as Gestas’s unbelief. Because he was slandering Jesus: He was calling him things he’s not. Most folks misinterpret ἐβλασφήμει/evlasfímei as “hurled insults,” like the NIV has it. (It’s similar to the KJV’s “railed.”) But the proper translation is to blaspheme, or slander. Gestas wasn’t simply cussing Jesus out. He was saying stuff he deep-down knew wasn’t so. He knew Jesus is Messiah—but was too angry, too much in pain, to confess it.

Same as a lot of antichrists. They know who Jesus is. They realize he’s not exaggerating; his followers haven’t just taken an obscure Galilean rabbi and made up stuff about him; Jesus is on the level, and he’s Lord. But they don’t wanna follow him. Don’t wanna repent. Don’t wanna submit. Don’t wanna let go of their rage and bitterness. They’d rather die first. As Gestas literally did.

15 April 2019

Jesus comforts the believing thief.

When one of the guys crucified with him, threw in his lot with him.

Mark 15.27, 32 • Matthew 27.38, 44 • Luke 23.32-33, 39-43.

Jesus was crucified at about “the third hour [after sunrise],” Mk 15.25 and died at the ninth. Mk 15.34-37 Sunrise on 3 April 33, in that latitude (and before daylight-saving time was implemented), is at 5:24 AM. But “third hour” and “ninth hour” are hardly exact times; figure roughly from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM he was on that cross. Six hours, slowly suffocating.

His cross was in between that of two evildoers Lk 23.33 or thieves. Mk 15.27 Christians like to imagine these guys were worse, like insurrectionists, or highwaymen who murdered their victims. ’Cause karma: If you’re getting crucified, it’d better be for murder or something just as awful. One of these guys implied they were getting their just desserts, Lk 23.41 so shouldn’t that make ’em murderers? Death by crucifixion sounds like way too extreme a penalty for mere thieves.

But we have to remember we’re dealing with Romans here. For them, everything merited death. They didn’t care the penalty didn’t fit the crime: They just wanted thievery to stop. So, one strike and you’re out. Thieves knew this was the risks of the job. But like all criminals, they figured they were smarter than the authorities, and they, unlike their dumber colleagues, would get away with it. These guys didn’t: The Romans caught ’em and crucified ’em. And that’s the way the game is played.

We don’t have their names. But you gotta call ’em something, so Christian tradition calls these guys Gestas and Dismas. Meh; whatever. Since Dismas was the guy who turned to Jesus and got into paradise, he’s now St. Dismas. (And 25 March is even St. Dismas’s Day. How ’bout that.) Whatever his actual name is, that idea isn’t wrong: He’s in the kingdom now.

Two of the gospels make it sound like they neither thief had any love for Jesus. They joined right in with all the non-crucified folks mocking Jesus.

Mark 15.27 KWL
They crucified two thieves with Jesus: One on the right, one at his left.
Matthew 27.38 KWL
38 Then two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one at right and one at left.
Luke 23.32-33 KWL
32 They brought two others with Jesus, evildoers to be done away with.
33 When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified Jesus and the evildoers,
who were at right and at left.
Mark 15.32 KWL
“Messiah, king of Israel, has to come down from the cross now, so we can see and believe him.”
And those crucified with Jesus insulted him.
Matthew 27.44 KWL
Likewise the thieves crucified with Jesus insulted him.

But at some point during those six hours, Dismas had a change of heart, and when Gesmas was sniping at Jesus, Dismas decided to stand up for him.

Luke 23.39-43 KWL
39 One of the hanging evildoers was slandering Jesus, saying,
“Aren’t you Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 In rebuking reply, the other said, “Have you no respect for God? We’re under his judgment!
41 And we rightly so, for we got the consequence for what we practiced.
But this man did nothing wrong.”
42 He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus said, “Amen! I promise you’ll be with me in paradise today.”

11 April 2019

The women who watched Jesus die.

His male students had run away, but his female students stood by him. Typical.

Mark 15.40-41, Matthew 27.55-56, Luke 23.49, John 19.25.

Various Christians like to point out, “There were actually two groups of people following Jesus: There were the disciples, and there were the women.” Though y’notice they seldom bring up the women till we get to one of the stories in the gospels about the women.

With some due respect to these Christians, there were not two groups following Jesus; there was one. His students. The people who supported him, served him, and listened to his teachings. The Twelve were a special group of students whom Jesus singled out, and of course there were plenty of students who didn’t stick around after Jesus taught something too hardcore for them. But everyone who followed him, he considered a student. That includes the women.

Yes, history describes Pharisee rabbis as only instructing young men—and I remind you in Jesus’s culture you were “a man” at age 13, which is why I keep referring to his students as kids. That was their expectation, anyway: If men were gonna live under the Law, they needed to be trained, while still young, how Pharisees interpret the finer points of the Law. But let’s be blunt: The rabbis taught ’em all the Pharisee loopholes. This way they could appear religious, but not have to struggle all that hard when it comes to the things which really tempt people. It’s what Jesus called straining out the gnats, but swallowing camels. Mt 23.24 Basically lessons in hypocrisy. And as we know, Jesus taught no such thing; he totally expected his students to be authentic God-followers. Still does.

But rabbis didn’t just get teenage students. Friday nights, when they held Sabbath synagogue, people of any age showed up. And sometimes throughout the week, these same people might show up and listen to a lesson. And bring questions.

Synagogues segregated women in the back, and in open-air classes like Jesus taught, they’d still customarily sit in the back or on the sidelines. Ostensibly they were waiting for their brothers or spouses or kids, or were only there to tend to the rabbi’s needs. In reality they were also getting an education. They weren’t permitted to ask questions, and in so doing spoil the cultural illusion. They weren’t allowed to sit up front with the boys, like Mary of Bethany totally did, Lk 10.39 and be overt students. But Jesus was totally fine with Mary’s behavior. Lk 10.42 And most rabbis approved of the women listening in. (After all, mothers were expected to raise good Pharisee kids, and how’re you gonna do that if you don’t know what Pharisees teach?)

So the women were Jesus’s students too. Same as the boys. So they weren’t among the Twelve; why should this stop anyone from likewise sharing Jesus with the world? Or stop Jesus from sending ’em on their own missions?

Okay. This said, I oughta point out the women who were at Jesus’s cross, the women who watched him die, were not necessarily students. One certainly was: Mary the Magdalene. But the others who were listed by name, were actually Jesus’s family members: His mother and aunts.

Mark 15.40-41 KWL
40 There were women watching from far away,
among them Mary the Magdalene, Mary mother of little James and Joses, and Salomé.
41 When in the Galilee, these women followed Jesus and served him.
Many other women had traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Matthew 27.55-26 KWL
55 There were many women there, watching from far away,
who followed Jesus from the Galilee, who served him.
56 Among them was Mary the Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joses,
and Salomé mother of Zebedee’s children.
Luke 23.49 KWL
Everyone who knew Jesus were standing far away, watching this,
including the women who followed him from the Galilee.
John 19.25 KWL
Standing by Jesus’s cross were his mother, his mother’s sister Salomé,
Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene.

So according to John, Jesus’s mother was there. And according to all the gospels, so was Mary, the wife of Joseph’s brother Clopas, the mother of his apostle James “the less”; and Salomé (some ancients called her “Mary Salomé,” maybe mixing the aunts together), Jesus’s mother’s sister, the wife of Zebedee and mother of his apostles James and John.

Yep, family. Now you see why they stuck around.

09 April 2019

Nope, Jesus didn’t sweat blood.

It’s a misinterpretation of the verse… and Luke didn’t write the verse anyway.

Luke 22.44.

Before his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane and spent some time in intense prayer. ’Cause he didn’t wanna get beaten and tortured to death. Who would?

Certain preachers love to point out that Jesus was so incredibly stressed out by his soon-coming passion, he was sweating blood:

Luke 22.44 ESV
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Turns out this is an actual medical condition. It’s called hematidrosis (from the Greek for “bloody sweat”) or hematohidrosis (“bloody water”). It’s rare, but possible. Blood vessels under your skin break from the stress, and blood comes out your pores. It looks creepy. But not a lot of blood comes out of you this way, so it’s largely harmless. Might cause a little dehydration, so drink some Gatorade; you’ll be fine.

Preachers find this fascinating. And they love to point out how Luke, the traditional author of this gospel, was a doctor! Cl 4.14 So he’d know all about such medical conditions, right? Including this one.

Though more than once, I’ve heard a preacher claim hematidrosis actually isn’t a harmless condition: They insist it’s life-threatening. That’s why Jesus needed an angel to strengthen him in the previous verse; Lk 22.43 he was on the verge of bleeding out. After all the verse says great drops of blood. Jesus was bleeding out—and he hadn’t even been arrested yet! You don’t want him dying before the Romans killed him; for some reason that might bungle the atonement. I’m not sure how, but they’re pretty sure it woulda.

Okay, as you can tell from the title of this article, they’d be wrong. Not just about how dangerous hematidrosis is or isn’t. They’re wrong about Jesus sweating blood in the first place. The verse doesn’t say that.

In the ESV (and Amplified, CSB, ISV, KJV, Message, NASB, NET, NIV, and NRSV) the verse says Jesus’s sweat was like drops of blood. That’s a translation of ὡσεὶ/oseí, “to be compared with.” He wasn’t sweating blood; he was sweating like it was blood.

Now in my experience, and probably yours, sweat and blood are equally liquid. Blood clots up, but when you first cut yourself, it drips just as much as sweat can drip from you. So why would a writer compare sweating with bleeding? Well we have to remember their culture: When ancient Jews typically encountered blood, it wasn’t the result of cutting themselves, but from cutting an animal. You had to slaughter animals for food… and for ritual sacrifice to the LORD. (Or, for gentiles, to pagan gods.) And when you did so, it was against the Law to eat blood, Ge 9.4 so you had to first drain all the blood out of them. So we’re not talking about a little bit of blood. We’re talking about blood pouring out of an animal.

So that’s the idea the verse is meant to convey: Sweat was pouring off Jesus. He was drenched in it. Not bloody sweat; not blood at all. Still risking dehydration though.

So yeah, every preacher who claims Jesus was sweating blood, clearly skipped the rather obvious “like” in the verse—no matter what your favorite translation may be; it’s in nearly all of ’em! All because they’re a little too fascinated by the idea of sweating blood, to do a little basic reading comprehension. Rather sloppy of ’em. Don’t repeat their mistake.

Oh, I’m not done.

08 April 2019

Synoptic gospels: The three gospels which sync up.

In other words, all the gospels but John.

SYNOPTICS sə'nɑp.tɪks plural noun. The synoptic gospels.
SYNOPTIC GOSPELS sə'nɑp.tɪk 'ɡɑs.pəls plural noun. The gospels which show a great deal of similarity in stories, wording, structure, order, viewpoint, and purpose. Namely Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

You’ll notice in my articles on Jesus’s teachings I often line up the different gospels in columns. ’Cause they’re telling the same story, but in slightly different ways. But even so, they sync up rather well. The phenomenon is pretty well described by the Greek word σύνοψις/synopsis, “see with [one another],” so three of the gospels get called synoptic.

John is an obvious exception. I can sync it up from time to time, but nowhere near as well. Its author was clearly telling his own stories.

There’s a rather obvious explanation for why the synoptics line up: Mark was written first. The authors of Matthew and Luke simply quoted Mark as they put together their own gospels. Sometimes they quoted Mark word-for-word; sometimes not. The author of Luke admitted other such sources existed—

Luke 1.1-4 KWL
1 Since many people have decided to arrange a narrative about the acts we accomplished,
2 just as they were given to us by the first eyewitnesses who served the Word,
3 it occurred to me to help write out everything accurately from the beginning to you, honorable Theófilus,
4 so you might know with certainty about the word you were taught.

—and it turns out he availed himself of those sources. Mark included.

But—no surprise—there are Christians who have a big problem with the idea the gospels’ authors quoted one another. Including some scholars.

Some are bugged by the idea of anybody quoting anybody. What they’d much rather believe is that each of the gospels’ authors wrote independently of one another… and all their stories happen to match. Miraculously. Which would definitely convince them the gospels are reliable… but nobody else. Y’see, talk to any police detective and they’ll tell you: When every witness’s story lines up too perfectly, they colluded. No question.

A more reasonable problem, which bugs a lot of Christians, is the idea of Matthew quoting Mark. Because the apostle Matthew was one of the Twelve, who personally followed Jesus and learned from him directly. Whereas the apostle Mark was a student of Paul, and later Peter… and therefore didn’t learn about Jesus firsthand like Matthew; he learned about Jesus secondhand from Peter, and thirdhand from Barnabas and Paul. All this stuff was confirmed by the Holy Spirit, but still: Why on earth would Matthew quote Mark? What could Mark possibly know that Matthew didn’t?

So these Christians’ theory goes like yea: ’Twasn’t Mark, but Matthew, who wrote his gospel first. (Maybe even in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and Matthew’s homeland, instead of Greek.) Then Mark later published an abridged Greek version of Matthew. And Luke later quoted Mark… or Matthew; whichever.

Meh; it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. But we’ve no proof there’s an Aramaic original of Matthew, and we don’t know why Mark would want to write a shorter gospel instead of including every Matthew story.

But the more important thing to remember is the names we attached to the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—were attached there by tradition. We don‘t actually know who wrote ’em. They’re anonymous. The apostles and prophets put their names on their books and letters, but the authors of the gospels felt Jesus is way more important than them, so they left their names off. Deliberately; the author of John called himself “the student Jesus loved,” and the only John in his gospel is John the baptist.

We think we know who wrote the gospels, and it’s entirely possible we got the right guys. There’s some hints in Luke/Acts that Luke’s the author, and many more hints in John that John bar Zebedee wrote it. But Mark actually has no such hints. Nor Matthew. Matthew might not have written Matthew. Or it was some other guy named Matthew who wrote it, who’s not the same Matthew in the Twelve.

05 April 2019

Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

Jesus’s passion begins with the place he prayed for this cup to pass.

Mark 14.32-41 • Matthew 26.36-45 • Luke 22.39-46 • John 18.1.

The first of St. Francis’s stations of the cross was when Jesus was given his cross. (Duh.) But Jesus’s suffering began earlier that day, so St. John Paul’s list also began earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.

In fact he was so agitated at the idea, he sweat blood. Something The Passion of the Christ left out—but to be fair it is a textual variant, possibly added to Luke in the second century. But let’s get to how the gospels depicted it. First the synoptic gospels—

Mark 14.32-41 KWL
32 They went to a place named Gat Semaním/“oil press,”
and Jesus told his students, “Sit here while I pray.”
33 Jesus took Simon Peter, James, and John with him—and began to panic and freak out.
34 Jesus told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake.”
35 He went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:
“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”
36 Jesus said, Abbá! Father, you can do anything: Take this cup from me.
But not what I want. What you want.”
37 Jesus came back, found the students asleep, and told Peter, “Simon? You’re sleeping?
You can’t stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake. Pray, lest you come to temptation.
Though you’ve a willing spirit, your flesh is weak.”
39 Jesus went away again, praying the same words.
40 Coming back again, Jesus found the students asleep.
Their eyes were heavy. They didn’t know how to answer him.
41 When Jesus came back a third time, he told the students, Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.
Stay back, for look: The Son of Man is arrested by sinful hands.”
Matthew 26.36-45 KWL
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gat Semaním/“oil press.”
He told his students, “Sit there while I’ve gone over there, so I can pray.”
37 Taking Simon Peter and the two sons of Zavdi, Jesus began to mourn and freak out,
38 and told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake with me.”
39 Jesus went a little ahead, falling on his face, praying and saying,
“My Father, if it’s possible, make this cup pass over me—
still, not as I want. As you want.”
40 Jesus came back to the students and found them asleep, and told Peter,
“So none of you can stay awake one hour with me?
41 Stay awake. Pray, lest you enter into temptation.
Though you have a willing spirit, your flesh is weak.”
42 Jesus went away again a second time praying, saying, “My Father,
if this can’t pass over unless I drink it, your will be done.”
43 Coming back again, Jesus found the students asleep. Their eyes had been heavy.
44 Forgiving them, going away again, Jesus prayed, saying the same words again a third time.
45 Then coming back to the students, Jesus told them, Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.
Look, the hour comes near for the Son of Man to be given up to sinful hands!”
Luke 22.39-46 KWL
39 Coming out, they went through Mt. Olivet as usual. The students followed Jesus.
40 On reaching the place, Jesus told them, “Pray. Don’t enter into temptation.”
41 Jesus stepped away from them—and taking to his knees,
he was praying, 42 saying, “Father, if you please, take this cup from me—
still, not my will. Your will be done.”
43 [Jesus saw a heavenly angel, which strengthened him.
44 Becoming stressed, Jesus was praying in agony,
and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down to the ground.]
45 Rising up from his prayer and coming to his students, Jesus found them sleeping in their grief.
46 Jesus told them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray, so you don’t enter temptation!”

—and then, just because John’s gotta do things his own way—

John 18.1 KWL
When he said this, Jesus with his students went over the Kidron ravine,
where there was a garden. He and his students entered it.

15 February 2019

No, Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean.

The things people will do for bacon… including twist the scriptures.

Mark 7.19.

Mark 7.17-19 NIV
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Jesus has an actual point to make with this passage, but a number of Christians skip it altogether because of how they choose to interpret it. Namely they take the clause καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα/katharídzon pánta ta vrómata, “cleansing [out] all the food,” chop it off the sentence Jesus was speaking, and turn it into the declaration, “All the food [is] cleansed.”

This spin isn’t just found in the NIV either:

ASV.This he said, making all meats clean.”
AMPLIFIED. “(By this, He declared all foods ceremonially clean.)”
CSB.(thus he declared all foods clean).”
ESV/NRSV. “(Thus he declared all foods clean.)”
GNT. “(In saying this, Jesus declared that all foods are fit to be eaten.)”
MESSAGE. “(That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)”
NASB. “(Thus He declared all foods clean.)”
NET. “(This means all foods are clean.)”
NLT. “(By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)”

It’s not found in every bible. A number of ’em take Wycliffe and the KJV’s lead, and use some form of their “purging all meats.” I did too:

Mark 7.19 KWL
“Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and comes out into the toilet.
All the food gets cleaned out.”

I did it because that’s the literary context. Katharídzon pánta ta vrómata isn’t a sentence fragment Mark inserted to interpret Jesus’s teaching; it’s a clause that’s part of the teaching. Jesus is explaining how food goes in the face, goes out the butt, goes down the toilet, and doesn’t corrupt the heart like our depraved sinful nature can. So when Pharisees fixated on external ritual cleanliness, they were missing the point.

Kinda like we miss the point when we insist this passage is all about how there are no longer any kosher rules… so now we can eat fistfuls of pork.

13 February 2019

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

Paul’s not the only one who put together a list, y’know.

Mark 7.17-23 • Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit (like grace) or work of the flesh (like gracelessness) —and it’s one Paul didn't list in Galatians 5. And every so often I’ll get pushback from a Christian who’s got those Galatians lists memorized: “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits of the Spirit.” Yeah it is. Paul didn’t write a comprehensive list. ’Twasn’t his intent.

Sometimes it’s an honest mixup. More often it’s because they don’t want any more good or bad fruit added to the list. ’Cause it either means there’s more we have to do, or more we can’t do. Fewer fleshly behaviors we can get away with; more character traits we really oughta build. Limiting these lists to Galatians alone provides us Christians a handy Pharisee-style loophole for our spiritual growth only going that far—and no further.

But. In addressing the very problem of Pharisees and their loopholes, and how Pharisee customs let ’em get away with violating God’s Law, Jesus had to explain to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into a person that makes ’em ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the inner person. From the flesh.

Pharisees believed and taught evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish. But we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest come from natural disasters—some of which human behavior has also produced.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him the lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it. They thought this was a parable. It’s not, and Jesus had to spell out how this is one of those instances you gotta take him a little more literally than usual.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “You also don’t understand this?”
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “You also don’t understand yet?”

Hey, when it’s a wholly new idea to your culture, sometimes it’s slow to sink in.

12 February 2019

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

What spiritual blindness looks like.

Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL
12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

11 February 2019

Evil comes from within.

Don’t be so naïve as to think we don’t have any evil in us.

Mark 7.14-16 • Matthew 15.10-11.

So Jesus is lunching with some Pharisee, who has a snit about how he and his students don’t ritually wash when they enter a home, and Jesus turns round and complains how some Pharisee rituals violate the Law.

Now you do recognize it’s a common weaselly debate tactic to change the subject by attacking your opponent, but you should realize Jesus is no weasel: This wasn’t changing the subject, but getting to the very heart of why the Pharisee complained about hand-washing. He wasn’t insisting on it ’cause it offended his sensibilities, his religion, his devotion. He was doing it because it didn’t look good, which is hypocrisy of course. Too much of Pharisee custom was about appearing to follow the Law, but really following custom; the Law not so much.

And as for ritual cleanliness, Jesus wanted to make it obvious the ritual didn’t make anybody or anything clean. The ritual—like all rituals, including Christian rituals—only represents what it purports to do. Ritual cleanliness represents spiritual cleanliness. It’s not the same thing. As proven by any hypocrite—who might be so physically clean you could lick chocolate pudding off his hands, but so nasty inside you never would.

So Jesus took a little break from dinner and went to bring this up with the public:

Mark 7.14-16 KWL
14 Calling the crowd again, Jesus told them, “Everyone listen to me, and put this together.
15 There’s nothing outside a person going in, which can make them ‘common.’
But what comes out of a person is what defiles the person.
[16 If anyone has hearing ears, hear me.”]
Matthew 15.10-11 KWL
10 Calling the crowd, Jesus told them, “Listen and put this together.
11 It’s not what goes into the mouth which makes a person ‘common.’
But what comes out of the mouth—this makes a person ‘common.’ ”

Mark 7.16 isn’t in the oldest copies of Mark; it first showed up in bibles in the 300s, and Jesus did say those words a number of other times. Mk 4.9, 4.23, Lk 8.8, 14.35

I remind you this idea that we’re corrupted from the outside-in: Wasn’t just a popular Pharisee belief. Humans have always taught it. Christians frequently still teach it. Every time we warn our kids about corrupting outside influences—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see”—it’s based on the idea evil comes from without. Not within.

It’s based on Pelagianism, the idea humans are basically good. Pelagians figure God created us and called us good, Ge 1.31 and it’s only pessimistic Christians like St. Augustine, corrupted by Plato’s ideas about how matter is bad, who overlaid his ideas into Christendom and invented total depravity—humans are too selfish and messed up to turn to God without his help. Humans may do evil, but that’s way different from claiming we inherently are evil, been that way since birth; they can’t accept that idea at all.

Well of course they can’t. ’Cause the human self-preservation instinct won’t allow us to believe anything negative about ourselves. No matter what evidence we’ve been shown to the contrary. No matter what Jesus, his apostles, and the scriptures teach us. We choose to believe what makes us feel good about ourselves—and reject history, commonsense, and all the sins we ourselves commit. That’s just how total our depravity is: It inherently makes us not wanna believe in it. It’s no wonder people don’t cry out to Jesus for help: Humanity is in serious denial about how badly we need a savior.

And even when Christians claim we believe in human depravity, some of us think the instant Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit entered us, we were cured of our depravity. We used to be self-centered and corrupt, but once we became Christian we’re good. We don’t need to unlearn bad behaviors and grow the Spirit’s fruit; we already have his fruit and are doing just fine. We don’t have to put on God’s new nature Cl 3.10, Ep 4.24 —it’s already on! And so we’re in the very same boat as Pelagians… but hey, at least we’re orthodox.

Yep, that’s also a product of our total depravity. There’s good reason theologians describe it as total: It’s everywhere.

31 January 2019

Jesus critiques the Pharisees’ loopholes.

So gross. But not a violation of the Law; let’s get that clear.

Mark 7.6-13 • Matthew 15.3-9 • Luke 11.37-41.

So I mentioned when Jesus was accused of not washing his hands, we’re not talking about the kind of washing we do before we leave the bathroom. This was a ritual thing: Stick your arms in a barrel of water, lift them as if to pray (but prayer is optional), then go on your way… with wet hands. It was a Pharisee custom, loosely based on the ritual washing in temple. Had little to do with actual washing; it was barely hygienic. Not commanded in the scriptures either, so Jesus didn’t bother with it. His students likewise.

And when Jesus was challenged about it, he responded by challenging the Pharisees right back.

Mark 7.6-8 KWL
6 Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes, “Just as Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites—
like he wrote, ‘This people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far away from me.
7 They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings’ Is 29.13
8 —you dismiss God’s command and cling to human tradition,
washing pots and cups, and doing many similar such things.
Matthew 15.7-9 KWL
7 “Hypocrites. Just as Isaiah prophesied about you, saying,
8 ‘These people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far from me.
9 They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings.’ ” Is 29.13

Matthew has Jesus say this right after his criticism about Pharisee custom, and that last line of Mark 7.8 is actually from the Textus Receptus, not the oldest copies of Mark. That’s why you’ll find it in bible footnotes and the KJV. It’s a little redundant… and probably got added by some monk who was sick of having to do the dishes every night.

Jesus is briefer in the other gospels, but he has much the same objection: Exactly like Christianists, too many Pharisees had replaced God’s commands with their customs and loopholes.

Our culture tends to presume Pharisees were legalists, so that’s what “pharisee” means to a lot of people: Someone who’s so fixated on the rules, they don’t bother with grace. And yeah, sometimes Pharisees got that way, particularly when it came to Sabbath. But sometimes the early Christians also got so hung up on rules, we forgot grace. ’Cause all humans make that mistake.

But read your bible again: Other than their spin on honoring the Sabbath day, Jesus’s critiques of the Pharisees were regularly, consistently about their loopholes. About how they claimed to follow the Law, but their elders’ rulings permitted them to bend and break it all the time. They only pretended to follow God. That’s why Jesus kept calling ’em hypocrites: Their religion was fake. The outward trappings of Yahwism with none of the real commitment—and a seriously damaged relationship with the LORD.

’Cause if they really knew the LORD, they’d’ve quickly recognized his Son. Jn 8.19 Not tried to get him killed.

So in the rest of the following article: If you happen to see a whole lot of parallels between the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day, the Pharisees of Jesus’s, and the Christians of ours, y’ought not be surprised. Times change, but people still sin, and hypocrites still try to fake true religion.

23 January 2019

Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating. Eww.

So gross. But not a violation of the Law; let’s get that clear.

Mark 7.1-5 • Matthew 15.1-2 • Luke 11.37-38.

Sad to say, your average Christian knows little to nothing about what’s in the Law, the commands the LORD handed down to Moses and the Hebrews in the desert. If they’re on a bible-reading plan, they skim the commands in Exodus through Deuteronomy ’cause they’re looking for the stories. The rest, they consider as effective a sleep aid as melatonin.

This is bad enough considering God still expects us to follow certain relevant commands. But when it comes to studying Jesus, these Christians don‘t know the difference between an actual, God-mandated command… and Pharisee tradition. So when Jesus butts heads with Pharisees ’cause he violated something, Christians regularly and wrongly assume Jesus was violating God’s commands.

In other words sinning. Which he never, ever did, no matter how much he was tempted. He 4.15 But weirdly, we imagine it was okay for Jesus to violate the Law, ’cause he was only violating the commands he nullified. The commands we ignore, ’cause didn’t Jesus come to do away with the Law? Absolutely not, Mt 5.17 but you try telling an irreligious person that Jesus expects ’em to behave themselves.

Jesus never violated a command. Never once. Never ever. For two reasons.

First, sin is defined by the Law. Break a command, even one of the little ones, and you sinned. Ro 7.7-12 And Jesus never sinned. 1Jn 3.5 Had he, he wouldn’t be able to die for our sins: He’d have to die, same as everyone, for his own sins. And if Jesus never paid off our sins, we’re never getting resurrected. When we die, we stay dead. No kingdom. No New Jerusalem.

Second, Jesus is God. The same God, the LORD Almighty, who handed down the Law in the first place. It’s his Law. Breaking his own Law goes against his very nature. He doesn’t get any special God-loophole so “it’s not a sin when Jesus does it.” If that were so, it’d be utterly meaningless when the apostles point out Jesus didn’t sin.

So let that sink in: Jesus never violated the Law. He taught us to follow his Law. His kerfuffles with Pharisees were never about breaking the Law: They were about violating the way Pharisee elders interpreted the Law. Jesus had his own interpretations—because he knew precisely what he meant when he handed down these commands in the first place. His view was the old wine, which is better. Lk 5.39 The Pharisee view was a more recent spin on the commands than the LORD’s original intent, i.e. new wine.

So today we’ll get into one of those disagreements Jesus had with Pharisees. Specifically about their custom of washing before meals.

…Which, when you think of it, is also our custom. And kind of an important one. Because we frequently eat with our hands. Apples, grapes, sandwiches, carrots, pizza, nachos, burritos… we don’t use utensils as often as we imagine. And Jesus’s culture used utensils for food preparation and serving, but eating was done with your hands. Even when you scooped out wet food… from the same bowl as everyone else. You’d better have clean hands.

But it seems Jesus was having a meal with Pharisees, and nobody saw him or his kids wash their hands. Understandably they made an issue of it. As would we. Even if it is Jesus. “Um… aren’t you gonna clean up first? I mean, you’ve been touching lepers…”

16 January 2019

When Jesus loses students.

When people can’t commit to Jesus, they’re not Christian. No matter how much they still do.

John 6.59-71.

So Jesus gave this big ol’ lesson on being the living bread who wants to save us—and expects our response to be a deep commitment. You gotta eat the living bread. And no, this doesn’t mean holy communion; this means really being one with Jesus. Really following him.

Tough teaching for a classroom of people who only wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans for them, then give ’em free bread. Tough teaching for Christians nowadays, who only wanna live worry-free lives, then go to heaven and live in mansions. God did all the work of saving us, so they figure he can do all the work of everything else in Christendom. These folks don’t wanna actually do anything for God; they want cheap grace and passive Christianism. There’s not much difference between our motives.

But there is a big difference in our responses: The Galileans left.

Whereas Christians nowadays will say yes and amen, and pretend we’re all for the idea… then go out and demonstrate by our lifestyles we don’t believe a word of it… but be back in church every Sunday morning acting as if we do. Lemme keep being blunt: Both these behaviors are forms of apostasy. The only difference between the Galileans who left Jesus, and the Christians who pretend we’re still on board, is our rank hypocrisy. The Galileans at least had the balls to admit they were outa there.

Anyway back to the text, where the Galileans are on the fence about Jesus… so Jesus gives the fence a shake.

John 6.59-66 KWL
59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
61 Innately knowing his students kvetched about this, Jesus told them, “This upsets you?
62 So what about when you see the Son of Man rise to where he previously was?
63 It’s spirit which makes you alive; flesh gets you nowhere.
The sayings I tell you are spirit—are life 64 but some of you don’t believe me.”
For Jesus knew from the beginning some didn’t believe—and one was his betrayer.
65 Jesus said, “This is why I told you nobody can come to me
unless they were given me by the Father.”
66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.

See, Jesus doesn’t want lukewarm followers. He wants us to be fruity. He wants people who connect with him, abide in him, pick up their crosses and follow him. Anybody who doesn’t wanna: It’d be best if they went home.

09 January 2019

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

Probably should put “historical” in ironic quotation marks.

So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.

HE. “Jesus never said that.”
ME. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly states….”
HE. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”

Where’d he get the idea the gospels aren’t historical?—that the Jesus we Christians believe in, is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is what we call the Historical Jesus hypothesis.

When he wasn’t staying in the White House, Thomas Jefferson used to spend his evenings at home in Virginia with four bibles (two copies each, so he could get the text from either side of the page), scissors and paste, splicing together a private book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays we call it “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s version of the story, Jesus does no miracles (except one or two, which Jefferson left in because he liked the lessons in those particular stories).


Displayed in Greek, Latin, French, and English—though Jefferson’s ancient-language skills were iffy, so sometimes they don’t line up perfectly. UVA Magazine

Y’see, Jefferson believed God doesn’t interfere with nature, and therefore Jesus never did miracles. He was only a teacher of morals. Miracles were added years later by supernaturalist Christians. So Jefferson literally cut out the miracles and kept the lessons. Well… the lessons he liked; not so much the hard-for-him-to-believe statements Jesus makes throughout John.

So yeah, the Historical Jesus idea isn’t new. It predates Jefferson. It stretches all the way back to the most ancient church; you see it in Marcion of Sinope. It’s based on the Jesus we know—the Jesus of the gospels and the apostles’ letters, the Jesus who still appears to people, the Jesus who’s coming back. But it’s a Jesus edited with scissors and paste, as people trim away everything they can’t or won’t believe.

26 November 2018

Jesus came from heaven? And you gotta eat him?

The level of commitment Jesus expects of his followers: You gotta eat the bread of life.

John 6.41-60.

Jesus pointed out he, not the stuff he and his students fed the 5,000, not the manna the LORD fed the Hebrews, is bread from heaven. Living bread. Stuff you eat and live forever. Don’t seek temporal, earthly bread. Seek him.

It’s a metaphor, of course, for a relationship with Jesus. One the Galileans and Judeans, steeped in a culture (and a bible) full of metaphors, shoulda understood. One we should understand too… but of course not all of us do, and I’m gonna get into that a bit today.

But at this point in the story, the Galieans appeared to be tracking with Jesus so far. Their objection—the reason they eghóngyzon/“grumbled” (KJV “murmured”) about Jesus teaching this—wasn’t because they misunderstood what he meant; they totally understood what he meant. Their problem was he was talking about himself. Who, they were agreed, was probably a big deal; probably the End Times prophet. But “comes from heaven”? Waitaminnit.

John 6.41-42 KWL
41 So the Galileans grumbled at Jesus because he said “I’m the bread who comes from heaven,”
42 and said, “Isn’t this Jesus bar Joseph? Don’t we know his father and mother?
So how does he say he’s come from heaven?”

If somebody claims, “I came from heaven,” our knee-jerk reaction is naturally, “No you didn’t.” Doesn’t matter how much you know them, how much you like them, how much anything—the only people in the highest heaven are God, the angelic beings round his throne, and those few people he raptured before the resurrection, like Elijah. (We presume a few people because only three get a mention in the bible. For all we know God might’ve raptured way more. But that’s pure speculation.) Nobody can come from heaven but those beings—and we’re quite sure our claimant isn’t among them. Likewise the Galileans and Jesus: Of course he didn’t come from heaven. He was born. He has parents! They knew his parents.

Yeah, Christians are fully aware Jesus existed before his conception, ’cause he’s God. We get how he came from heaven, yet was born. We tend to take that belief for granted. But that was a wholly foreign idea to the Galileans, who presumed God would never do such a thing. He’s almighty, he’s sovereign, he’s dignified… he’s not a man, like Moses said, Nu 23.19 and they figured he’d never stoop so low as to become one.

So the Galileans had to wrap their brains around that one. But Jesus doubled down.

John 6.43-46 KWL
43 In reply Jesus also told them, “Don’t grumble among yourselves:
44 Nobody can come to me unless the Father, my Sender, draws them,
and I will resurrect them on the Last Day.
45 In the Prophets it’s written, ‘And they’ll all be taught by God’: Is 54.13
All who hear and learn from the Father, come to me.
46 Not that they saw the Father—
except the one from God; this man has seen the Father.”

So not only is Jesus claiming he’s from heaven, but he’s gonna resurrect everybody. Which wasn’t at all what the Pharisees taught about the End Times prophet, nor Messiah, nor anyone. Jesus is making some mighty cosmic claims for himself.

And this, folks, is why they couldn’t believe in Jesus. Not because they mixed up his bread metaphors.

19 November 2018

The living bread wants to save us.

Come to Jesus and never go “hungry” again.

John 6.30-42.

To recap: Jesus is the living bread, and wants people to pursue him instead of ordinary bread—or any other ordinary material possession which gets used up, goes moldy or stale, or otherwise perishes. He wants an eternal relationship with us. Whereas sometimes all we seem to want of him too often are the fringe benefits of heaven.

So went the discussion Jesus had with the Galileans who sought him after he and his students fed 5,000. (John refers to them as Yudaíoi/“Judeans,” people from Judea who settled the Galilee centuries after the Assyrians drove the northern Israeli tribes out. I stuck with “Galileans” because obviously they’re Galilean Jews—same as Jesus.) The Galileans figured he was the Prophet from the End Times because he fed ’em bread like Moses fed their ancestors manna. Like they say here.

John 6.30-31 KWL
30 So they told Jesus, “So what miracle are you doing so we can see it and trust you?
What’d you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.
Like it’s written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Ps 78.24

As I said previously, it wasn’t because they wanted a handout of free manna. It’s because being able to do such a miracle proved to them the End Times had come, and they oughta follow Jesus ’cause he was about to overthrow the Romans. Of course their timeline—and motives!—looked nothing like Jesus’s.

So he threw ’em for a loop by stating something which they’d immediately think was incorrect.

John 6.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven.
Instead my Father gives you actual bread from heaven.”
33 For God’s bread is the one coming from heaven, giving life to the world.”
34 So they told Jesus, “Master, give us this bread, always.”

Whenever Jesus says “Amen amen” (KJV “verily, verily,” NIV “Very truly,” NJB “In all truth”) he’s not kidding. Not lying, not exaggerating; you can take this statement to the bank. It might be a metaphor though. But it’s still entirely truthful, which is why I interpret légo ymín/“I tell you” as “I promise you.” And what he promised ’em was manna isn’t bread from heaven. He is.

Thing is, biblical literalists are gonna insist manna totally is bread from heaven. ’Cause the LORD Ex 16.4 and Nehemiah Ne 9.15 said so! Asaph wrote this in Psalms!

Psalm 78.23-25 KWL
23 God commanded the clouds from above. He opened the heavens’ doors.
24 God made manna to rain down upon them, to eat. He gave them the heavens’ grain.
25 People ate potent bread. God sent them abundant food.

(The word “potent” in verse 25 translates abirím, which means “stallions” or “bulls”—basically any uncastrated animal, who’s mighty strong, but sometimes hard to control. You know, like Hebrews. Pharisees were a little weirded out by that idea, so in the Septuagint they changed it to árton angélon/“angels’ bread” in the Septuagint, even though abirím isn’t translated “angels” anywhere else in the bible. But that’s why we find “bread of angels” in most English translations. Turns out our translators are just as squeamish about testicles. But I digress.)

Obviously Asaph wrote poetry, and was being hyperbolic, as poets will. But literalists don’t know and don’t care what hyperbole is, and only wanna fixate on their favorite literal interpretation: God gave the Hebrews angel food! As if spirits eat. Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus eating after his resurrection to prove he’s not just a spirit, ’cause spirits don’t eat? Lk 24.38-43 Why would any angel need to eat manna?

Manna comes from heaven in that God, who’s in heaven, provides it. But it doesn’t literally come from heaven, as Jesus correctly points out. Get off the manna. ’Cause he’s offering us actual heavenly bread—and again, that’s a metaphor, but one we shouldn’t struggle to understand like the Galileans did.

12 November 2018

Seek the living bread! Accept no substitutes.

Because some of our visions of New Jerusalem are awfully materialistic… and aren’t so much about being with Jesus.

John 6.25-29.

At the beginning John’s chapter 6, Jesus had his students feed 5,000 people with five rolls and fish spread. The people’s conclusion? Jesus was the Prophet, the End Times figure, the “prophet like Moses,” Dt 18.15 whom the Pharisees wondered whether John the baptist was. Jn 1.21 Because Jesus fed ’em bread, just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna. So he’s a prophet like Moses!

The next day they sought Jesus and couldn’t find him. So they returned to Jesus’s home base of Kfar Nahum… and there he was.

John 6.25-27 KWL
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 In reply Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you seek me not because you saw miracles:
Instead it’s because you ate the rolls and were filled.
27 Don’t toil for perishable food! Instead seek food which lasts for eternal life.
The Son of Man will give it to you, for Father God sealed this man.”

Various preachers love to claim this lesson is all about the people coming to Jesus for free bread, and Jesus responding he didn’t come to teach people to expect handouts. And whenever I hear this, it’s obvious they didn’t study the text, and instead they’re preaching their stingy politics instead of God’s kingdom. God doesn’t want us to be dependent on him for daily bread? Have they heard of the Lord’s Prayer? What bible are they reading?

Being dependent on God is precisely what God wants. You do realize he gave the Hebrews free manna for 40 years. The only work they had to do for it, was go pick it off the ground and stick to a liter a day. (Two liters on Friday; no liters on Saturday. Sabbath, y’know.) No planting, no watering, no waiting, no harvesting, no winnowing, no grinding; just free manna. As easy as when we buy flour at the grocery store; easier ’cause you pay nothing. You wanna agitate about handouts? You need to learn about God’s generosity, ’cause you’re deficient in it.

Free bread, free food in general, is one of the traits of Kingdom Come. Because of sin, humanity was cursed to toil for our food. Ge 3.17 Once God deals with our sin, the curse gets lifted and no more toil. That’s what we expect in heaven: Eternal rest! The Galileans expected it too. And suddenly after one of Jesus’s lessons, his students walk round handing out bread the Galileans didn’t have to work for. Then Jesus tells them about “food which lasts for eternal life,” and “the Son of Man will give it to you.” It doesn’t sound at all like Jesus was telling them, “I’m not here to give people handouts.” Just the opposite!

But.

Yeah, there’s a but. A big huge one. A but which also applies to us, because we’re guilty of precisely the same thing as the Galileans. Jesus told ’em to not seek perishable bread, but eternal-life bread. Because they were seeking perishable bread. They were seeking something material. Lots of it; enough so they’d regularly be filled; an abundance of it; so they were seeking a wealth of this material. Do I have to spell it out any more? Fine: Material wealth.

So… how many Christians are hoping to make it to Kingdom Come so they can have a crown filled with jewels, and a mansion on a street of gold?

And instead Jesus wants us to have living bread. Which—spoilers—is Jesus himself. Jn 6.35