Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

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

15 July 2019

Curing a blind man… on Sabbath.

John 9.1-14.

Previously I wrote about some blind guy Jesus cured with spit. Today I figured I’d jump to the other story of Jesus curing a blind guy with spit. That one is only found in Mark; this one comes from John. And this story is probably better-known because it created a huge controversy… ’cause Jesus cured the guy on Sabbath, ’cause he’s the Sabbath’s master.

The story begins with a lesson, ’cause Jesus’s students see the blind guy and make the typical human assumption: He’s blind because of karma. Either he did something, or his parents did something, and now he’s suffering the wrath of God for it. It’s a poisonous attitude too, ’cause people use it to justify not doing anything for the needy: Hey, they’re needy because they deserve it, and who are we to undo God’s righteous judgment? (Or the judgment of the universe, or the marketplace; whatever god you’re into.)

John 9.1-3 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person, blind from birth.
2 His students questioned him, saying, “Rabbi, between this man or his parents,
who sinned so he’d be born blind?
3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents.
He was born blind so God’s works could be revealed through him.”

Determinists make the mistake of presuming Jesus’s answer applies to every situation. This, they say, proves every disability, every birth defect, every type of human suffering, is so God’s works can be revealed, and God can gain glory. God makes people suffer so God can cure their suffering, and show off his power. God makes us needy so he can take care of our needs, and show off his power. And then we’ll worship him.

Um… if you set fire to a building so you can rescue people from the burning building, you’re not a hero; you’re an arsonist. Likewise if God creates evil so he can save us from this evil, he’s not good; he’s evil. Don’t go there.

I’m sure determinists mean well, but their beliefs really mangle their theodicy. God’s not creating problems just so he can solve them, and look good in so doing. God’s solving the problems we created with our sins. Jesus died for our transgressions, not for our falling into the booby traps he sovereignly set in our paths. He’s not the trickster god the nontheists imagine. He’s rescuing us from the natural consequences of our sins: Suffering and death.

And yeah, sometimes blindness is the result of those natural consequences. Sometimes a man is born blind because his parents did sin. Sometimes a woman later goes blind because of her own sins. Jesus’s kids knew this, so it wasn’t totally invalid for them to presume sin was the root cause of this man’s circumstances. But neither is it the only possibility. Sometimes accidents happen; some meaningless thing which has nothing to do with sin or judgment or God or any conscious decision. Life sucks that way.

In this specific person’s situation, he was blind because God was gonna do stuff through his blindness. Talk to certain blind people, and they’ll tell you their blindness was an unexpected blessing. Because they can’t see, they have to depend on their other senses. (Usually this is described as “all your other senses get sharper,” but they don’t just do this on their own; they get sharper because you pay more attention to them.) As a result they feel things others don’t notice, hear things we overlook, smell and taste what we take for granted, and are much better at discerning their environment than people who solely depend on their eyes. Disabled people tend to hear God better than able-bodied people. (That is, when they’re not bitter at him for not curing them on their timetable.)

And that’s what you’ll see later: This blind guy realized who Jesus is. Much better than the other folks in this chapter. His mind was sharper than theirs. Which of course it would be; without his eyes, he had to use his mind to observe his world. His blindness was preparation for God’s revelation.

08 July 2019

Jesus cures a man… in stages.

Mark 8.22-26.

People are fascinated by healing stories where Jesus cures people with spit. ’Cause he didn’t just do it the one time. Twice he cured blind men with it; here, and in John 9. Previously in Mark he cured a deafmute, and spat in the course of doing it—and while I don‘t believe he spat on the guy, or touched the guy with his saliva, plenty of Christians believe otherwise.

What mainly gets us is the ick factor. Our culture doesn’t think of saliva as sanitary. Even though people spit-shine things all the time—glasses, phones, jewelry, shoes, their children—a number of people cringe at such behavior, because spit has germs in it. And yeah, human saliva has bacteria in it. But it also has a lot of digestive enzymes and white blood cells in it. Saliva protects us from a lot more than we realize.

Whenever Jesus cured people with spit, it was reflective of the ancients’ attitudes about spit. Like us, they cleaned with spit. And when Jesus cured people with spit, it represented cleaning. The Hebrews thought of sickness as a form of uncleanness. It made you ritually unclean for worship, obviously; and if you suffered leprosy you were expected to warn people away with the shout, “Unclean!” and stay away from people and the local well, lest you infect anyone. ’Cause the ancients figured uncleanliness, or unclean living (i.e. sin) caused your illness.

Blindness too. ’Cause let’s face it, sometimes people get stuff in their eyes, and it blinds them. Happens to me every allergy season. In the apocrypha we read where this happened to Tobit:

Tobit 2.9-10 KWL
9 That night I sat shiva, and slept by the courtyard wall because I was unclean. My face was uncovered.
10 I didn’t know there were sparrows on the wall.
My eyes were open, and the sparrows emptied their bowels into my eyes.
My eyes became white as tablets. I went to “physicians,” and they didn’t help me.

Tobit spent the next four years blind, till an angel instructed his son Tobias to cure him by anointing his eyes with fish-gall salve. And while this story isn’t in the Hebrew bible, it wasn’t unfamiliar to people of Jesus’s day: Blindness was related to uncleanness. People had stuff in their eyes. Tobit had bird poop, Paul had scales, Ac 9.18 and everyone Jesus cured had something which needed to be washed away. So, spit.

Yeah, I’ve heard theories the ancients thought spit had magical properties. Did not. People cleaned with it. So did Jesus. When he felt it necessary, he spat.

Nowadays when people ask for prayer ’cause they want God to heal them, sometimes they ask for certain things. They want us to put our hands on their head, or on the affected area. They might want to be daubed with oil. They might want a certain prayer. They don’t actually need any of these things, y’know. They only need Jesus. And sometimes they know they don’t… but it comforts them, and there’s nothing wrong with comforting people. Jesus didn’t need to cure anyone with spit, but he recognized his patients needed it, so he provided, because he’s kind. Let’s follow his example—although I’m pretty sure nobody’s gonna ever ask us to spit on ’em. But you never know.

Oh yeah, the story:

Mark 8.22-26 KWL
22 Jesus and his students went to Beit Chayda.
People brought him a blind man, and encouraged Jesus to touch him.
23 Grabbing the blind man’s hand, Jesus took him outside the village.
Spitting in the man’s eyes, placing his hands on the man, Jesus asked him, “Can you see anything?”
24 Recovering his vision, the man said, “I see people—like trees. I see them walking around.”
25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again.
He saw clearly, his vision restored. He gazed at everything clearly.
26 Jesus sent him to his house, telling him, “You ought not enter the village, nor say anything in the village.”

01 July 2019

The yeast of hypocrisy.

Mark 8.14-21 • Matthew 16.5-12 • Luke 12.1.

After the most recent encounter Jesus had with Pharisees—namely where they wanted an End Times sign from him, not because they wanted proof Jesus is Messiah, but so they could shred his “sign” as bogus—Jesus decided to remind his students what sort of people they were dealing with. Not that all Pharisees were this way… hence his choice of metaphor.

Mark 8.14-15 KWL
14 The students forgot to take bread,
and they hadn’t one roll with them in the boat.
15 Jesus instructed them, saying “Listen. Watch out for the Pharisees’ yeast and Herod’s yeast.”
Matthew 16.5-6 KWL
5 Jesus’s students, coming to the far side of the lake,
forgot to bring bread.
6 Jesus told them, “Listen and pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
Luke 12.1 KWL
When the crowds of 10,000 gathered together such that they were trampling one another,
Jesus first began to tell his students,
“Watch out for yourselves about the Pharisees’ yeast—which is hypocrisy.”

Luke, which has this story take place after Jesus had just critiqued several Pharisee behaviors he identified as hypocrisy, straight-up interprets his own metaphor. He wants no confusion. Because in Mark and Matthew there was a lot of confusion: Jesus’s students were fixated on the fact they didn’t bring any bread with them.

As if Jesus was concerned in the slightest about a bread shortage. As he immediately pointed out.

Mark 8.16-21 KWL
16 They talked among themselves about not having bread.
17 Knowing this, Jesus told them, “Why are you talking about not having bread?
You don’t yet think nor understand; you have hardened hearts.
18 You have unseeing eyes and have unlistening ears, and don’t remember:
19 When I broke the five rolls for 5,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Twelve.”
20 “And when I broke seven for 4,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Seven.”
21 Jesus told them, “How do you not yet understand?”
Matthew 16.7-12 KWL
7 They talked among themselves, saying this: “We didn’t take bread.”
8 Knowing this, Jesus said, “Why are you little-faiths talking among yourselves about not having bread?
9 You don’t think nor remember the five rolls for 5,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Nor the seven rolls for 4,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How do you not think?—because I’m not talking to you about bread!
Pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
12 Then the students realized Jesus wasn’t saying to pay attention to bread yeast,
but the teaching of Pharisees and Sadducees.

It’s an all-too-common human problem: We get so fixated on immediate concerns, we miss the bigger, eternal point.

And that’s still true of Christians who read this passage, get some really funny ideas about yeast, and again miss Jesus’s entire point. And wind up misinterpreting other parts of the bible too.

25 June 2019

The street-corner show-off.

Matthew 6.5-6.

Throughout history people have prayed publicly for various reasons. Some noble, some not.

And a regular problem throughout history has been the person who gets up and prays publicly, not because they legitimately wanna talk with God, or call to him for help. It’s because they wanna be seen praying. They wanna look religious. Usually so they can look more religious than they actually are. In other words hypocrisy.

Nothing annoys Jesus like hypocrisy, which is why he tries to discourage his followers from doing this. Although you know some of us do this anyway.

Matthew 6.5-6 KWL
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who enjoy standing in synagogues and major intersections,
praying so they might be seen by the people. Amen! I promise you all, they got their satisfaction.
6 When you pray, go into your most private room with the door closed.
Pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what’s private, will satisfy you.”

Standing was how the ancients prayed. They didn’t kneel, bow their heads, and fold their hands; that practice arose in the middle ages ’cause it’s how European kings wanted to be approached, and since Jesus is a king it seems appropriate. They stood, looked to the sky (where they imagined God is) raised their hands to get his attention, and spoke with him. This posture made it really obvious someone was praying. Don’t need to get loud; just assume the position.

And Jesus notes the folks who prayed in really public places. Like synagogue. Which is not a Jewish church; it was a Pharisee school, where you went to ask rabbis questions. Prayer times, before and after and during the lesson, would be short. But people would stand right outside the building and make a public display of prayer, “getting right with God” before going in. Or similarly praying this way after the lesson, ostensibly to thank God for the wisdom they just got… or maybe to ask him to straighten out some wayward rabbi. Whatever; the point was they were making it nice ’n obvious they talked with God a lot.

“Major intersections” is how I translate ταῖς γωνίαις τῶν πλατειῶν/tes goníes ton plateión, “the corners of the wide streets,” namely the avenues where there was lots of room between buildings for people to shop, interact, people-watch, and otherwise hang out. Street corners were obviously where people were coming in from other streets—so the busy parts, busier than our own major intersections.

In both cases people were on their way someplace, and wouldn’t have had the time, nor spent the time, listening to this petitioner with his hands in the air. That wasn’t the point anyway. They didn’t care about being heard. Not even by God. They wanted to be seen.

The way we pray nowadays, doesn’t assume the ancient posture. Usually it’s heads bowed, eyes closed. Sometimes hands get raised, if the folks in the group have any Pentecostal influences in their background. But generally we’re not as noticeable when we pray. Unless we get loud… or unless there are a lot of us, like when a bunch of people pray in front of public buildings or around a flagpole.

But in those places, same as with the people Jesus critiqued, the point was to be seen and noticed by other people. Not so much God. And that’s what Jesus objects to.

24 June 2019

When the unclean spirit leaves a person…

Matthew 12.38-45 • Luke 11.24-26.

Previously I wrote about how some Sadducees and Pharisees in Dalmanuthá approached Jesus demanding a sign, and Jesus’s response was to say they’d get the Jonah sign, and nothing more.

But Matthew has a second version of this story, where Pharisee scribes approached him for a sign, and Jesus likewise said they’d get no more than the Jonah sign—then tacked on an odd little story about an evil spirit leaving a person, and coming back later. Luke tacks this lesson to when people accused Jesus of throwing out evil spirits with Satan’s power, and it seems to fit rather well there. It’s a little more odd when this lesson is placed together with the people who requested a sign.

People who are fascinated with evil spirits and demons—and paranoid about the possibility of being possessed by these creatures—have spent the past 20 centuries trying to glean information from this bit about how devils work.

I’ve decided to include Jesus’s Matthew statement so you can see its context. But yeah, I’ll explain what Christians have historically taught about this bit, and what Jesus actually means by it.

Matthew 12.38-42 KWL
38 Some of the scribes and Pharisees replied to Jesus, saying,
“Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
39 In reply Jesus told them, “An evil, adulterous generation pursues signs—
and a sign won’t be given them other than the prophet Jonah’s sign.
40 For just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights,
likewise the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
41 The men of Nineveh will rise on Judgment Day with this generation and condemn it:
They repented at Jonah’s message, and look, more than Jonah is here.
42 The queen of the south will rise on Judgment Day with this generation and condemn it:
She came from the end of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and look, more than Solomon is here.
Matthew 12.43-45 KWL
43 “When the unclean spirit leaves a person, it goes past waterless lands seeking rest, finding none.
44 Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house which I left.’
It comes to find the person vacant—swept out and set right—
45 then goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself.
Entering, they live there,
and the last situation of this person is worse than the first. Likewise is this evil generation.”
Luke 11.24-26 KWL
24 “When the unclean spirit comes out of the person, it goes past waterless lands seeking rest.
Finding none, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house which I left.’
25 On coming, it finds the person swept out and set right—
26 then goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself.
Entering, they live there,
and it happens the last situation of this person is worse than the first.”

Now y’notice Matthew doesn’t separate the “When the unclean spirit leaves a person” bit from the rest of Jesus’s statement about the Jonah sign. It’s not a separate story. It’s fully part of it. Either Jesus taught ’em together, or the author of Matthew was entirely certain they belong together. So we can talk about the Jonah-sign stuff separate from the unclean-spirit stuff, ’cause Mark does. Mk 8.10-13 But we ought not talk about the unclean-spirit stuff separate from the Jonah-sign stuff.

17 June 2019

Demanding a sign from Jesus, and getting the Jonah sign.

Mark 8.10-13 • Matthew 12.38-42, 16.1-4.

I grew up among cessationists, folks who think God has multiple dispensations, and think he turned off the miracles in the dispensation we’re in. Which is a hard view to maintain, ’cause God still totally does miracles. But they try; they insist their anti-supernatural doctrines are more important than God’s revelation. They know better than he does—although they’d never ever phrase it that way.

So whenever they wanted to defend their worldview, they’d pull up this passage, and spin it to mean Jesus rejected and rebuked miracles. Even though he did miracles. Even though he deliberately did miracles as signs to foster belief. Even though God did ’em all the time to foster belief. It was the entire point of the first miracles Moses ever did!

Exodus 4.1-9 KWL
1 In reply Moses said, “Look, the Hebrews won’t believe me, won’t hear my voice:
They’ll say, ‘The LORD didn’t appear to you.’
2 The LORD told Moses, “What’s this in your hand?” Moses said, “A stick.” 3 The LORD said, “Throw it to the ground.”
Moses threw it to the ground. Now it was a snake!—and Moses fled from its face.
4 The LORD told Moses, “Reach your hand out and grab its tail.”
Moses reached his hand out, grabbed it—and in his hand it was a stick.
5 “In order to believe the LORD God of their ancestors appeared to you—
Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, Jacob’s God.”
6 The LORD told Moses again, “Please put your hand to your chest.”
Moses put his hand to his chest, then held it out: Look, his hand was leprous, white like snow.
7 The LORD said, “Return your hand to your chest.”
Moses returned his hand to his chest, then held it out: Look, the flesh was restored.
8 “If it happens they don’t trust you, don’t hear the voice of the first sign,
the Hebrews will trust the voice of the last sign.
9 If it happens they don’t trust these two signs, don’t hear your voice: Take water from the Nile.
Pour it into something dry, and the water which you took from the Nile will be blood in the dry vessel.”

God’s okay with giving us signs. Okay with people asking for signs. Jg 6.36-40 What he’s never okay with, is hypocrisy—is people who ask for a sign, but have no intention of believing or recognizing it. He sees no point in providing signs for such people. They’re not worth it.

Cessationists fall straight into this category. Doesn’t matter if you perform a miracle right in front of them. They’ll just do as certain Pharisees did, and claim Satan empowered it to deceive them. (Apparently in this dispensation, God can’t do miracles, but Satan can. Wait, which of them is Almighty again?) Jesus warned those Pharisees they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but good luck warning cessationists they’re committing the same sin: They’re vaccinated themselves against that accusation by redefining “blasphemy” so they’re not really committing it. Then they keep right on committing it. I’d really hate to be them on Judgment Day; I’m pretty sure they’re gonna try to psyche themselves into thinking the entire experience of getting judged by Jesus is also a devilish trick.

Anyway here’s the passage they pull out of context: When certain Pharisees in Dalmanutha requested a sign from Jesus, and Jesus, who knew no sign would work on them, blew ’em off.

Mark 8.10-13 KWL
10 Quickly getting into the boat with his students, Jesus went to the border of Dalmanuthá.
11 Pharisees came and began to debate Jesus, requesting a heavenly sign from him, testing him.
12 Groaning deeply in his spirit, Jesus said, “Why does this generation ask for signs?
Amen, I tell you if anyone gives this generation a sign…”
13 Getting into the boat again, Jesus left the Pharisees
and went to the far side.
Matthew 16.1-4 KWL
1 Approaching Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a heavenly sign to show them.
2 In reply Jesus told them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It’s red; clear sky.’
3 And in the morning, ‘Storms today, for the sky is red and gloomy.’
So you know to interpret the face of the sky—and can’t interpret the signs of the day?
4 An evil, adulterous generation pursues signs—and a sign won’t be given them other than Jonah’s sign.”
Leaving them, Jesus went away.

The Textus Receptus adds ὑποκριταί/ypokrité, “hypocrites,” to Matthew 16.3. Which is fair; it’s precisely what the problem was. These folks had every intention of watching Jesus do a sign, or point to an existing sign… only so they could debunk and dismiss it. They didn’t want proof. They wanted to set him up to fail.

If we ever approach God with the same lousy attitude, of course it deserves condemnation, and we shouldn’t expect God to take such requests seriously, ’cause he won’t. But cessationists treat all requests for a heavenly sign as if they deserve condemnation. ’Cause to their minds, they do: God turned off the miracles, so how dare we ask him to switch ’em back on for our selfish, petty reasons? And so forth.

Basically cessationists are preaching out of their unbelief. But enough about them today.

29 May 2019

Jesus repeats a miracle: Feeding 4,000.

Mark 8.1-9 • Matthew 15.32-39.

So you know the bible’s full of miracles. They’re there not just so we have feel-good Sunday school stories, nor so we can read about what God did in the past and think, “Bible times were cool; how come God doesn’t do such things anymore?” He does do such things. Still! If you’ve never seen it, it means your church has done a lousy job of putting you in the path of miracles. Or it’s full of unbelievers. Either way, not good.

The miracles aren’t just there to give us happy thoughts. They show us what God has done—and therefore can still do. He hasn’t lost power; he hasn’t abandoned us like cessationists insist. He’s ready when we’re willing.

And when a certain miracle happens more than once in the bible, it means God’s particularly willing to repeat that one. Because he already has repeated that one. Like when Jesus repeated feeding a huge crowd with a small amount of food.

Mark 8.1-9 KWL
1 In those days, with again many people who had nothing to eat,
Jesus, summoning his students, told them,
2 “I feel bad for the crowd; they’ve been with me three days and have nothing to eat.
3 When I send home those who’ve been fasting, they’ll collapse on the road:
Some of them have come from far away.”
4 Jesus’s students replied, “How will we get buns to feed them here, in the wilderness?”
5 Jesus asked them, “How many buns do you have?” They said, “Seven.”
6 Jesus commanded the crowd to sit on the ground, and took the seven buns.
Giving thanks, he broke and gave the buns to his students so they could distribute them.
They distributed them to the crowd. 7 They also had a few sardines;
blessing them, Jesus said to distribute them too.
8 They ate and were full, and they picked up abundant fragments—seven baskets.
9 There were maybe 4,000 people. Jesus released them.
Matthew 15.32-39 KWL
32 Summoning his students, Jesus said, “I feel bad for the crowd;
they’ve been with me three days and have nothing to eat.
I don’t want to send home those who’ve been fasting, lest they collapse on the road.”
33 Jesus’s students told him, “How will we, in the wilderness, get so many buns to feed so great a crowd?”
34 Jesus told them, “How many buns do you have?” They said, “Seven and a few sardines.”
35 Commanding the crowd to sit on the ground, 36 Jesus took the buns and sardines;
blessing them, he broke and gave them to his students, and the students to the crowd.
37 They all ate and were full, and they picked up abundant fragments—seven full baskets.
38 Those who ate were 4,000 men, not counting women and children.
39 Jesus released the crowd, entered the boat, and went to the Magadan border.

Certain scholars speculate this isn’t really a second miracle of feeding thousands: It’s just another telling of feeding the 5,000, but some of the details got mixed up. The reason they guess this is because Jesus’s students somehow seem to have forgot the previous miracle. Didja notice?—Jesus talks about how he’s got a huge crowd here and wants to feed them, and the students ask him how they’re gonna do that. Did they forget they already did that? Did they forget how the bread and fish multiplied in their very own hands?

But let’s be fair: Every Christian seems to have forgotten Jesus can empower his followers to miraculously feed large masses of people. ’Cause we don’t do this anymore either.

28 May 2019

Jesus makes some funny hand motions.

Mark 7.31-37 • Matthew 15.29-31.

After Jesus cured the Syrian Greek woman’s daughter, Matthew mentions he impressively cured a bunch of physical disabilities.

Matthew 15.29-31 KWL
29 Leaving there, Jesus went along the Galilean lake, went up a hill, and sat there.
30 A crowd of many came to Jesus, having among them
the maimed, the mute, the blind, the disabled, and many other unwell people.
They deposited them at Jesus’s feet, and he treated them—
31 so the crowd was amazed to see the mute speaking,
the maimed made whole, the disabled walking, the blind seeing.
They glorified Israel’s God.

Y’see, quacks and witch doctors tend to claim their expertise is in curing people of the things we can’t visibly see. If you have an illness, any type of cancer but skin cancer, stomach upset, pain, or anything where they could claim to cure you—and nobody can actually see they cured nothing—they’d claim this was their area of expertise, treat you, and charge you. But if you go to them with your hand mangled in a cart accident… well, they got nothing. They barely knew how to set broken bones.

Whereas Jesus can cure everything. And charges nothing.

So that’s Matthew. But Mark zooms in on one specific case of curing a deafmute, and here’s that story.

Mark 7.31-37 KWL
31 Jesus left the Tyrian border again, traveled through Sidon,
then to the Galilean lake on the Dekapolitan border.
32 The people brought Jesus a deafmute—well, with a speech impediment—
and asked him for help, so he might put his hand on him.
33 Taking him away from the crowd by himself, Jesus put his fingers in his own ears,
spat, touched his own tongue, 34 and groaned while looking into the heavens.
Jesus told him, “הפתח!” (happatákh, i.e. “Open up!”)
35 His hearing opened up, and the bond on his mouth quickly broke; he spoke clearly.
36 Jesus commanded him to tell no one—and many similar commands.
But he proclaimed Jesus all the more.
37 People were completely astounded, saying, “He does everything well!
He makes deafmutes hear, and the speechless speak!”

I’ll briefly mention the geography in verse 31: Sidon is north of Tyre, and the Dekapolis is south; Jesus wasn’t traveling in a straight line. It’s like saying he went from San Francisco to San Jose through Portland. He was traveling all over, preaching his gospel in gentile provinces.

He ended up in the Dekapolis, a province of 10 Syrian Greek communities in northern Israel, east of the lake. You remember he’d been there before: He took his students there for a break, and wound up throwing a legion of demons out of a guy. At the time, he freaked out the locals so bad they wanted him gone. Now they actively sought him out, ’cause word was out about what he could do.

27 May 2019

When Jesus acted racist.

Mark 7.24-30 • Matthew 15.21-28.

Title get your attention? Well this story gets a lot of people’s attention—when they’re not skipping it, or trying to explain away what Jesus did, ’cause it makes ’em uncomfortable. ’Cause he absolutely acted racist.

Lemme state this first, so you catch its full impact when you read the text: Dogs are pets in our culture, but not at all in Jesus’s. They were considered vermin. Scavenger animals, like raccoons, opossums, wolves, wildcats, rats. Wild, untrustworthy, sometimes dangerous. Pack animals which hassled livestock and endangered children. And would eat anything—dead things, feces, their own vomit. Pr 26.11 This activity isn’t just ritually unclean; it’s downright nasty. So Jews considered dogs untouchable. Pharisees shunned ’em like we’d shun rats and cockroaches.

This is why whenever we see the words for “dog” in the bible—every single time!—they’re a synonym for the filthiest of animals. It’s why John wrote this in Revelation:

Revelation 22.15 KWL
Outside New Jerusalem: Dogs. Drug fiends. Sex fiends. Murderers. Idolaters.
And everyone who loves and spreads fakery.

Like all apocalypses it’s not meant to be literal, but to make the point there’s nothing unclean in New Jerusalem. Period. Dogs were considered nasty, so they wouldn’t get in. (Some claim “dogs” is a euphemism for gays, but that’s a serious misinterpretation.)

This mindset about dogs is what makes Jesus’s first statement in this story, really offensive.

Mark 7.24-27 KWL
24 From there, Jesus got up to leave for the Tyrian/Sidonian border.
When he entered a house there, no one should know him. But he couldn’t hide.
25 Instead a woman, quickly hearing of Jesus, fell at his feet as she came to him:
Her daughter had an unclean spirit.
26 The woman was Greek; her race was Syrian and Phoenician.
She begged Jesus so he might throw out the demon from her daughter.
27 Jesus told her, “First, allow the children to eat!
It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Matthew 15.21-26 KWL
21 Jesus came out of there. He went to a part of Tyre and Sidon.
22 Look, a Canaanite woman from that coast, coming to him, called out,
saying “Have mercy on me sir—son of David! My daughter is badly demonized.”
23 Jesus didn’t say a word to her. His students were asking him questions.
They began to say, “Make her go away; she’s making noise in the back.”
24 In reply Jesus said, “I’m not sent to any but the lost sheep of Israel’s house.”
25 She fell at his feet as she came to him, saying, “Sir, help me!”
26 In reply Jesus said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

06 May 2019

A gospels synopsis.

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.

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.

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.