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

16 September 2019

More than a great moral teacher: The world’s light.

John 8.12-20.

If we skip the Adulterer Story as we read John (as we probably should, ’cause whether it happened or not, it didn’t happen at this point in John), this lesson took place right after Sukkot was over, after the Judean senators had decided Jesus isn’t a relevant prophet. Because, among other things, he’s Galilean.

Which only goes to show they didn’t know anything about Jesus’s family and backstory. They could’ve found it out with some very minor investigation. Talk to any of Jesus’s family members; they knew the entire story. But the senators didn’t bother, and stuck with their fairly superficial observations—which Jesus, in today’s passage, calls judging “according to the flesh.” Jn 8.15 They presumed they knew better, and missed their Messiah.

So when Jesus made really bold statements about himself, they naturally balked: These statements are too bold. You can’t go making unsubstantiated statements like this. Like “I’m the world’s light.”

John 8.12-20 KWL
12 So Jesus spoke again, saying, “I’m the world’s light.
My followers should never walk in the dark, but will have light and life.”
13 So Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t true.”
14 In reply Jesus told them, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true:
I know where I come from and go to; you don’t know where I come from and where I go.
15 You judge according to flesh; I judge nothing.
16 When I judge—and I do—my judgment is true, for I’m not alone:
Instead I and my sender, the Father, agree.
17 It was written in your Law that a testimony of two people is true. Dt 19.15
18 I’m a witness to myself, and my sender the Father witnesses about me.”
19 So the Pharisees told him, “Who’s your father?”
Jesus replied, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you’ve known me, you’ve also known my Father.”
20Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, teaching in temple.
Nobody seized him, for his time hadn’t yet come.

And y’notice Jesus kinda agreed with them: No, he can’t make unsubstantiated statements about himself, but his statements are substantiated, because they’re backed by the one who sent him to us, his Father. Whom, he radically commented, they don’t know. If they did, they’d listen to him, and know from him Jesus is legit.

09 September 2019

The Adulterer Story… if it even happened.

John 7.53 – 8.11.

Today’s passage is called the Pericope Adulterae, the Adulterer Story, about a woman caught committing adultery, and Jesus was expected to judge her, and didn’t. It’s a really popular story in Christendom, and even pagans know the line, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jn 8.7 KJV It’s used as the basis for a lot of live-and-let-live, “who am I to judge?” beliefs.

Two things though.

  • That’s not what Jesus meant by “He that is without sin.” I’ll get to that.
  • This entire story isn’t found in the earliest copies of John. Nor the gospels. It got added in the 300s. It’s a textual variant.

That second thing tends to really freak out Christians when I point it out to them. But just about every copy of the bible but the KJV points this out. The whole passage is put in brackets, or prefaced by “The oldest copies of John don’t have this story.” Some more daring bible translations even put the whole thing in the footnotes, and John 7.52 is immediately followed by John 8.12.

Here’s the story as the UBS has it. Lighter-text parts come from the Textus Receptus, which is where the King James Version’s translators got it.

John 7.53 – 8.11 KWL
53 Each person went to their house, 1 and Jesus went to Mt. Olivet.
2 At dawn Jesus went again to temple, and all the people came to him. He sat to teach them.
3 Scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught red-handed in adultery.
They stood her in the middle 4 telling Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultering.
5 In our Law Moses commanded us to stone such people to death. Lv 20.10 So what do you say?”
6 They said this to test Jesus, so they could have an accusation on him.
Stooping down, Jesus was writing on the ground with his finger,
as if he weren’t listening, 7 while they continued to question him.
Then Jesus stood and told them, “Whoever among you haven’t sinned: Throw the first stone at her.”
8 And again Jesus bent down to write on the ground.
9 The listeners, one by one, convicted by their consciences, left, beginning with the elders.
Only Jesus, and the woman in the middle, were left.
10 Standing, seeing no one but the woman, Jesus told her, “Woman, where are they?
No one condemns you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”
Jesus told her, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and don’t sin from now on.”

02 September 2019

The senators dismiss the Galilean prophet.

John 7.37-52.

The last day of the Sukkot festival was treated like Sabbath. Lv 23.36, Nu 29.35 Every day, God was presented a ritual food offering; on the last day they presented a ritual drink offering. The priests drew water from the Šiloakh pool (where Jesus later sent a blind guy to wash himself) then walked round the temple’s altar with the water. Then the officiating priest lifted his hand to indicate the ritual was over… and then this happened.

John 7.37-39 KWL
37 On the last day, the great day, of the Sukkot feast, Jesus stood and called out,
saying, “When anyone thirsts, come to me and drink!
38 When one believes in me, as the scriptures say,
‘Rivers of living water will flow from his womb.’ ”
39 Jesus said this about the Spirit who was about to receive those who believed in him:
The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come, for Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified.

Jesus’s bible quote isn’t an exact quote of anything. He was going for a general idea of water bubbling up from within, as implied in verses like this one.

Isaiah 58.11 KWL
“The LORD led you constantly. He satisfied your soul in scorched lands. He strengthened your bones.
You’re like a well-watered garden, like a water spring which doesn’t produce foul water.”

It’s similar to what he told the Samaritan at the well:

John 4.13-14 KWL
13 In reply Jesus told her, “All who drink this water will be thirsty again.
14 Whoever would drink the water I give them, won’t be thirsty in the age to come.
Instead, the water I give them will become a water spring within them,
bubbling up into eternal life.”

As John said, this is a prophecy about the Holy Spirit, who wouldn’t come Ac 2.1-4 till after Jesus was raptured and glorified. Ac 1.9-11 Come to Jesus and receive the water of life; receive the Holy Spirit.

Still, it galvanized the people, who were pretty sure Jesus was either the Prophet or Messiah… although as you can see, there was still some debate about his credentials to be Messiah. He was Jesus the Nazarene, after all—and they knew Messiah didn’t come from Nazareth.

John 7.40-44 KWL
40 So some from the crowd who heard this word said, “This is truly the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “This is Messiah.”
And some said, “No, for Messiah doesn’t come from the Galilee!
42 Doesn’t the scripture say Messiah comes ‘out of David’s seed’ Ps 89.4
and ‘from Bethlehem,’ Mc 5.2 the village where David was from?”
43 So there became a split in the crowd about Jesus.
44 Some of them wanted to arrest Jesus, but nobody put their hands on him.

We know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I remind you John didn’t include Jesus’s birth story; he just showed up in his 30s to be baptized by John, gather students, and start teaching. John states multiple times he came from heaven, sent by the Father, which was good enough for John. Not so much for the Jerusalemites, who were looking for any reason to disqualify him. Jesus is descended from David ben Jesse, Mt 1.1 and wasn’t just born in Bethlehem but had ancestors from Bethlehem; Nazareth was founded by Bethlehemites. His provenance definitely doesn’t disqualify him from being Messiah. But for doubters, any excuse will do. We get the same way nowadays; all humans do.

26 August 2019

Can’t follow Jesus where he’s going.

John 7.25-36.

Back a few verses, Jesus told his opponents,

John 7.19-20 KWL
19 “Moses didn’t give you the Law, and none of you does the Law: Why do you seek to kill me?”
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

Then he objected to how they violated Sabbath to practice ritual circumcision, yet when he cured people who couldn’t walk, this was somehow worse? Jn 7.21-24 But y’know, even though Jesus had a point, and made it very logically, humans aren’t logical. They did want him dead, Jn 5.17-18 and would eventually kill him.

Meanwhile some of Jesus’s listeners—who apparently weren’t aware the Judean leadership wanted him dead—debated whether that was truly so. Remember, in the first-century Roman Empire there was no such thing as freedom of speech and religion: You could be beaten or killed for heresy. Yet nobody censured Jesus from teaching in temple, so the question came up: Maybe Jesus was somebody important. Like Messiah.

John 7.25-26 KWL
25 Some of the Jerusalemites were saying, “Isn’t this who people seek to kill?”
26 “Look, he speaks boldly, and nobody says a response to him.”
“Maybe the rulers truly know this is Messiah!”

“Maybe the rulers truly know this is Messiah,” some speculated—for if Jesus is really Messiah, the Pharisees taught those who opposed Messiah would be destroyed with the breath of his lips. Is 11.4 (Paul later swiped this idea for 2 Thessalonians 2.8, and John transforms it into a sharp sword in Revelation 19.11.) Messiah would vanquish his opponents, take his throne, and rule the world. So if the Judean senate suspected Jesus is Messiah, it explains why they’d be hesitant to arrest him: They didn’t wanna get vanquished. They were hoping he’d vanquish the Romans, but certainly not them. So they let him be.

Others weren’t so sure he’s Messiah:

John 7.27 KWL
“But we know where this man is from.
If Messiah ever comes, nobody knows where he’s from!”

Y’might not be familiar with this idea, “Nobody knows where Messiah’s from.” This is the only time we see it in the New Testament. Not all Pharisees believed it—as proven elsewhere in the gospels, including this very chapter. In John 7.41-42, some Judeans stated they know Messiah comes from Bethlehem, Judea. Not Jerusalem; not Nazareth nor Capernaum; not the Galilee. And of course when the magi sought Messiah, the head priests and scribes pointed Herod to Bethlehem. Mt 2.4-5, Mc 5.2 They did so know where Messiah’s from.

But some Pharisees believed they couldn’t know. Not till after Elijah’s second coming, when he’d identify Messiah for everyone. Then they’d know… but till then, Messiah would be hidden, invisible, unseen, secret. The idea loosely comes from the apocryphal book 2 Esdras, also called 4 Ezra, in which Ezra had this conversation with God:

2 Esdras 13.51-52 KJV
51 Then said I, O Lord that bearest rule, shew me this: Wherefore have I seen the man coming up from the midst of the sea? 52 And he said unto me, Like as thou canst neither seek out nor know the things that are in the deep of the sea: even so can no man upon earth see my Son, or those that be with him, but in the day time.

In St. Justin Martyr’s dialogue with the Jewish philosopher Trypho, apparently Trypho likewise believed Messiah was hidden.

“But Christ—if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint him, and make him manifest to all.” Dialogue with Trypho 8.4

But like I said, not every Pharisee believed it. Christians today have differing theories about the End Times; so did Pharisees. Those who believed in a secret Messiah, figured knowing Jesus was from anywhere meant he couldn’t be Messiah. The rest probably didn’t know Jesus was born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth. Not that either group wanted Jesus to be Messiah: He cured people on Sabbath, y’know.

19 August 2019

Fair judgment.

John 7.19-24.

The people of Jerusalem found Jesus teaching in temple, and wondered where he got his education; Jesus pointed out if we really pursued God instead of our own bright ideas, we’d know where he got his education.

Then he took a bit of left turn:

John 7.19-20 KWL
19 “Moses didn’t give you the Law, and none of you does the Law: Why do you seek to kill me?”
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

Where’d that come from? Well, largely the fact, two chapters ago, they totally sought to kill him.

John 5.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus answered them, “My Father works today, just like I work.”
18 So the Judeans all the more wanted him dead for this reason:
Not only was he dismissing Sabbath custom,
but he said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God.

And they still wanted him dead. Oh, they might’ve pretended otherwise, but Jesus knew better. So he bluntly called them on it: “Why do you seek to kill me?” And they flagrantly pretended otherwise: “You have a demon”—that culture’s way of saying, “You’re nuts.”

Yeah, certain Christians claim the Judeans meant “You have a demon” literally. Y’might recall the other gospels, in which the Jerusalem scribes decreed Jesus’s exorcisms were done by devilish power. John’s gospel doesn’t include that story; in fact Jesus never performs an exorcism in John. But this wasn’t an accusation of Jesus working via Satan’s power; it was the culture’s presumption about how madness works. Nowadays we’d leap to the conclusion you’re off your medication (or need some); back then they’d leap to the conclusion you had some critters in you. So we can dismiss the Judeans’ comment as mere hyperbole… for now.

But Jesus wasn’t nuts. He knew they intended to destroy them; he’d known it since they first started plotting. He knew they’d ultimately succeed. He was gonna use it as part of his grand plan to save the world. But he didn’t want them to think they were cleverly slipping anything past him, or getting away with anything. He knew what they were up to.

12 August 2019

Pursuing God’s ideas. Not our own.

John 7.14-18.

After Jesus decided he was in fact going to Jerusalem for Shavuot, he went privately, (KJV “as it were in secret”) Jn 7.9 and at first people weren’t sure he was there. Till he started teaching in temple.

I need to remind you synagogues, at this point in history, weren’t Jewish churches: They were Pharisee schools. They were created and run by Pharisees, to ensure future generations knew the Law and followed it. Specifically, followed it the way Pharisees interpreted; Jesus has his own interpretations. Hence they butted heads.

There were also prejudices among Judean Pharisees about the quality of education you’d find among Galilean Pharisees. So when the Judeans listened to Jesus, they immediately realized here was a guy who knew as much as any of their scribes. (Knows way more, actually. But they wouldn’t always admit this.) Thing is, Jesus grew up in the Galilee. Went to Galilean synagogues, not Judean synagogues. Never attended their schools. Therefore he must surely be “uneducated”—a presumption they’d later make about Jesus’s students. Ac 4.13

John 7.14-15 KWL
14 During the middle the Shavuot festival, Jesus went up to temple and taught.
15 So the Judeans were in awe, saying, “How does this unstudied man know what scribes know?”

Unfortunately, various anti-intellectual Christians make the same presumption about Jesus and his students: “These were uneducated, illiterate men!” and use this to justify their lack of education. Illiterate men? These guys wrote the New Testament, and no they didn’t just hire secretaries to make up for their inability to read: Synagogue taught you to read. You had to read, if you were read the Law and follow it. Jesus can read; Lk 4.16 and what kind of sucky teacher would he be if his students couldn’t likewise read?

Rants about ignorance aside, Jesus was educated enough to engage Pharisees on their level. Even quote their own rabbis back at them. Mk 7.11 But the reason he teaches better stuff than they, more godly stuff than they, is because he knows his Father… and they didn’t. Claimed to, but didn’t.

John 7.16-18 KWL
16 So in reply Jesus said, “My teaching isn’t mine, but from God who sent me.
17 When anyone wants to do his will, they’ll know if the teaching’s from God, or from my own speaking.
18 Those who speak for themselves seek their own opinion.
Those who seek the opinion of God who sent them, are truthful. There’s no wrongness in them.”

See, Jesus teaches the scriptures and the Law correctly because he cares about what God thinks of it. (And yeah, since he’s God, it’s also what he thinks of it. But that wasn’t what the Judeans needed to hear at that time.) He seeks his Father’s opinion on the matter. The Pharisees only sought their own opinions.

Like many people, Christians included, they were self-promoting: They wanted to be recognized for their own wisdom and insight, and be lauded as great teachers. And if you wanna stand out, you gotta be different. Not necessarily in a good way. It’s always easier to be weird for weirdness’s sake, to pitch novel ideas for novelty’s sake, to claim “I’m just trying to be thought provoking” when really we’re just throwing intellectual grenades.

Many bibles translate δόξαν/dóxan, “opinion,” as “glory”—

John 7.18 ESV
“The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

—and yeah, there’s some overlap in the ideas. When you’re promoting your own opinions, it’s usually to get a little glory for yourself as a wise person. Problem is, we’re wrong. And when we teach our own ideas instead of God’s, we’re gonna teach wrongness. Not necessarily lies. Some of us, like politicians, lie to promote political allies or selfish agendas; the rest are unwittingly wrong, and spreading falsehoods because we never bother to fact-check ourselves. But in general we just promote wrong ideas, which is why I don’t care for the ESV’s “falsehood” as an interpretation of ἀδικία/adikía, “not right” (KJV “unrighteousness”). It’s not mere falseness. We’re wrong.

So why’s Jesus the best teacher ever? Because he seeks his Father. And, he points out, everyone else who truly and selflessly seeks our Father who sent us, gets it right.

05 August 2019

When Jesus said he wouldn’t go… and did.

John 7.1-13.

If you read the synoptic gospels (meaning Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the three which sync up a lot), you might get the idea Jesus only went to Jerusalem once—to get arrested and crucified. That’d be historically inaccurate. Jesus obeyed the Law, and the Law decreed every adult male should go to temple three times a year for the festivals. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jesus went to Jerusalem a lot, and John—which largely takes place there—fills in the blanks of what happened during those many Jerusalem trips.

Including when Jesus cured that one blind guy. The context of that story was when he went to Jerusalem one year for Sukkót. That trip began a few chapters back; since I skipped that part I figure I’d better backtrack. Here y’go.

John 7.1-13 KWL
1 After these things, Jesus traveled the Galilee.
He didn’t want to travel in Judea, because the Judeans sought to kill him.
2 Sukkót/Tents, a Judean festival, was near, 3 so Jesus’s brothers told him,
“Leave here and go to Judea, so your students will also see you and the works you do.
4 Nobody who seeks publicity, works in private: If you do things, reveal yourself to the world!”
For Jesus’s brothers didn’t yet believe in him either.
6 So Jesus told them, “My moment hasn’t arrived yet.
Your moment is always ready. 7 The world can’t hate you.
It hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.
8 You go up to the festival. I’m not going up to this festival: My moment isn’t fulfilled.”
9 This said, Jesus stayed in the Galilee.
10 As Jesus’s brothers went up to the festival, Jesus then also went up—not publicly, but privately.
11 So the Judeans were seeking Jesus at the festival, and said, “Where is that person?
12 There was much grumbling about him in the crowds.
On the one hand, some said he’s good; others said, “No, but he misleads the crowd.”
13 Even so, nobody spoke openly about Jesus, for fear of the Judeans.

I’ll admit right now: This story has always kinda bothered me. ’Cause y’notice Jesus initially told his brothers, “I’m not going up to the festival; you go.” Then, one verse later, he did go. But “as it were in secret,” as the King James Version puts it. On face value, it totally looks like Jesus lied to his brothers and snuck to the festival.

I know, I know: Christ Jesus never sinned. He 4.15 I’m not claiming otherwise. I don’t think the passage is claiming otherwise either. Certainly no Christian is gonna interpret it that way. But anybody who honestly looks at this passage—including skeptics who have no qualms about accusing Jesus of all sorts of things—are gonna come right out and say, “Looks like Jesus deceived his brothers.” (That is, once pagans get over their initial surprise: “Wait, Jesus has brothers? I thought he was an only child!”)

So instead of letting little doubts poke at the back of our minds for no good reason, let’s deal with this bible difficulty today.

29 July 2019

Claiming to see, but won’t see Jesus.

John 9.35-41.

Picking up right after Pharisees ejected a formerly-blind man from their synagogue for believing in Jesus, our Lord re-enters the story and delivers the punchline, so to speak.

John 9.34-41 KWL
35 Jesus, hearing the Pharisees threw the formerly-blind man out,
upon finding him, said, “You believe in the Son of Man?”
36 In reply, that man said, “Who is he, sir?—so I can put my trust in him.”
37 Jesus told him, “You’ve seen him: This man is talking with you.”
38 The formerly-blind man said, “I trust you, sir,” and fell down before Jesus.
39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for people’s judgment:
Those who don’t see, can see; and those who see can become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”
41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.
You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.”

For some reason, a lot of preachers assume this guy shouldn’t have recognized Jesus when he encountered him: He was blind at the time y’know. But I’m pretty sure he’d have easily recognized Jesus’s voice. And after his trial, he knew plenty about Jesus… or at least what certain Pharisees claimed about him, though he himself was pretty sure Jesus is a prophet. Jn 9.17

Though it appears here, he didn’t know of Jesus’s common practice of calling himself “the Son of Man.” That was the prophet Daniel’s title for an End Times figure who’d conquer and rule the world—you know, like Jesus is gonna do someday. Pharisees expected the Son of Man to emerge directly from heaven, not get born like an ordinary human (well, more or less) and live among us for a few decades. If you didn’t connect Jesus with that Son of Man, you’d presume calling himself τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου/ton yión tu anthrópu all the time was just another way to say “human”—like the LORD meant whenever he called Ezekiel בֶּן־אָדָם/ben-Adám, “son of Adam” (KJV “son of man”) Ek 2.1 You’d be… well, blind.

22 July 2019

The trial of the formerly-blind man.

John 9.13-34.

One Sabbath, Jesus cured a blind guy with spit-mud. His neighbors caught him seeing, and decided to bring him to the Pharisees, figuring these’d be the guys who could identify if this miracle was a God-thing or not.

John 9.13-16 KWL
13 They brought the formerly-blind man to Pharisees:
14 The day Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes, was Sabbath.
15 So again, Pharisees were asking him how he received sight.
He told them, “He smeared mud on me, on the eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
16 Hence some of these Pharisees were saying, “This person isn’t from God: He doesn’t keep Sabbath.”
Others were saying, “How can a ‘sinful person’ make such miracles?” They were divided.

Yeah, they weren’t much good at it.

Lemme start by pointing out the obvious: By definition, miracles are God-things. They’re anything the Holy Spirit does in our physical universe. Might look natural, or resemble natural phenomena. But because the Spirit personally does ’em, they didn’t happen naturally; they don’t have a natural origin; they are always more-than-natural, or supernatural. The sick might naturally get better; or they might have the sort of disease which never gets better, but the Spirit intervened, so they get better anyway. And skeptics object, “Well, there was a chance…” because they don’t wanna acknowledge the Spirit. For two usual reasons:

  • They doubt miracles happen anymore, or ever happened.
  • They doubt the particular miracle-worker.

In these Pharisees’ case, they doubted Jesus the Nazarene. After all, he was notorious for interpreting “Remember the Sabbath day” his own way… and in so doing, violating their Sabbath customs. They didn’t wanna work in any way that inconvenienced them; he feels helping others is an entirely valid exception. Christians should agree with Jesus… and don’t always. (Heck, often we don’t help others the other six days of the week either.)

As usual, when John or the other authors of scripture refer to “the Pharisees” or “the Judeans,” they don’t necessarily mean all the Pharisees or Judeans. Some of these Pharisees correctly recognized a legitimate miracle happened, and therefore it was incorrect to presume Jesus wasn’t from God. Since their judgment didn’t hold sway in this case, it’s clear these believing Pharisees weren’t in charge. (It’s not clear whether they were a majority or not; ancient Israel wasn’t a democracy, so even if they were a majority, ’twouldn’t matter. Synagogue leadership could overrule the majority, same as a judge can overturn a jury’s verdict.)

The rest simply tried to get the formerly-blind man to distance himself from Jesus. That didn’t work, so they turned on the man himself.

John 9.17-34 KWL
17 So they told the formerly-blind man again, “Because Jesus opened your eyes, what do you say about him?
The man said this: “He’s a prophet.”
18 So these Judeans didn’t believe him—
nor even that he used to be blind and received sight.
Not till the point they called the parents of the one who received sight 19 and questioned them,
saying, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? So how can he now see?”
20 So in reply the man’s parents said, “We know this is our son, and he was born blind.
21 We don’t know how he now sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him! He’s an adult. He’ll tell you about himself.”
22 His parents said this because they feared the Judeans:
When anyone recognized Jesus as Messiah, the Judeans had previously agreed they’d be out of the synagogue.
23 This is why the man’s parents said this: “He’s an adult. Ask him.”
24 So the Pharisees called the formerly-blind man a second time,
and told him, “Swear to God you’re telling the truth. We know this person’s a sinner.”
25 So this man replied, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner. I know one thing: Having been blind, now I see.”
26 So they told him, “What did he do to you? How were your eyes opened?”
27 So the man told them, “I already told you, and you don’t listen.
Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to be his students. Do you?
28 They raged at him, and said, “You’re that man’s student. We’re Moses’s students.
29 We know God spoke to Moses; we don’t know where this man’s coming from.
30 In reply the formerly-blind person told them, “This statement you made is confusing:
You don’t know where he’s coming from—and he opened my eyes!
31 We know God doesn’t listen to sinners.
But when one’s a God-fearer and does his will, God listens to this person.
32 Someone opening the eyes of a person born blind is unheard of in this age.
33 If this man weren’t from God, he’d be unable to do anything!”
34 In reply the Judeans told the man, “You were entirely born in sin.
And you try to teach us?”—and they threw him out.

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.