Friday, December 31, 2010

Fruity Logic

We are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where recently we revealed the startling Scriptural fact that the majority of the billions of people who have ever lived will not walk the narrow road of Salvation simply because God chooses not to extend His mercy on them. Now it is time to sort the good guys from the bad guys.

Fruity Logic
In an email debate with a friend of mine, he once added as evidence of divinity that Jesus' parables were perfect in their teachings. Listening to the masterful sermons of pastors like Charles Swindoll and Dr. David Jeremiah, it is easy to arrive at such a conclusion. Yet if you take on the parables yourself and try to apply them real life, they often crumble like dry, fallen leaves under foot.

For example, let us look at the rather short parable, so short that it is not even normally recognized as a parable. It is a mere para-parable, but I digress. Let us look at the (for lack of a better name) the “Parable of the Fruit” in Matthew 7:15-20 and Luke 6:43-45.

The Matthew version begins with a warning, defining the parable's meaning. In Matthew 7:15 Jesus warns that false prophets are like wolves in sheep's clothing. If you remember back to a recent study, you recall that it is God who establishes false prophets as a means of testing people (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

In contrast, the Luke version does not mention anything about false prophets, and instead gives the parable a more general meaning. Perhaps the writer of Luke was uncomfortable conveying God's entrapment strategy.

Moving on through the parable, in Matthew 7:16-18 (and similarly in Luke 6:43-44) we read:
“By their fruit you will recognize [false prophets]. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” NIV
Either a plant is completely good or completely bad, and so a person is either completely good or completely bad. Binary code. 1. 0.

The problem is that binary does not match reality. Good oranges come from bad thorny shrubs. Good raspberries come from bad brier plants. Bad (poisonous) horsechestnuts come from good shade trees.

Similarly, some priests who have faithfully shepherded their congregations for decades have also turned out to be pedophiles. Some prosperity preachers who live lavish lifestyles of mansions and private jets have also run programs to help orphans and widows. Even career criminals can still be good parents of law-abiding children.

The truth is that good trees bear bad fruit and bad trees bear good fruit quite regularly. This is one of those cases where Shakespeare's knowledge again trumps that of God's, as we read the more-realistic words from Henry V:
“Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the arbitrement of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers.”
If you favor Jesus' words over Shakespeare's, your discernment becomes seriously impaired. If you see someone do anything good, you have to assume that they are completely good. Likewise, if you see someone do anything bad, you have to assume that they are completely bad. That is not consistent with the real world.

Perhaps this is only supposed to be applicable to false prophets, as Matthew 7:15 suggests? No. Matthew and Jesus close that door of interpretation in Matthew 12:33-37, making this same parable apply more broadly; consistent with Luke's version. So Jesus renders His own words inept.

Officially, this study is complete, but keep reading if you want to see more fruity logic exposed by an illegitimate technique.

Fruit is a repeated theme in the New Testament, such as where Matthew 3:8-10 and Luke 3:8-9 say trees not producing good fruit will be cut down, and where Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-19 speak of fruit in the Parable of the Tenants.

The oh-so-troublesome Gospel of John contains absolutely no parables! However, it does contain some extended metaphors, including one with regards to a fruiting vine in John 15:1-17. Strictly speaking, this is off limits to drawing comparisons with the studied verses above, as a slightly different premise is used in this text from the text from the Sermon on the Mount, but humor me as we take a deeper look.

In John 15:1, Jesus calls himself the true vine. John 15:4-5 say that you are branches, and unless you remain in Jesus, you will produce no fruit. None. Zero.

Now circle back to Matthew 7:16-18, where good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. There is a bit of incongruity between these verses. How can bad trees (bad people) produce any fruit if they are not attached to Jesus?

If you cannot produce fruit without being in Jesus, then both good and bad fruit come from people who are in Jesus. If a good tree only produces good fruit and bad tree only produces bad fruit, then we must conclude that Jesus is some hybrid mix of both good and bad.

Clearly, I have gone too far? Not according to the Bible. Remember that God is the one responsible for raising up and empowering false prophets as a means to test His believers (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). God is a double agent.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Family Values

We are working through the law-giving section of Deuteronomy, where Moses is repeats most of God's Law, and appends it, for a new generation of Israelites. (God had killed the previous Israelite generation for being afraid.) Recently we saw how God was planning on providing prophets for the Israelites; prophets who needed to be tested before being believed. In Deuteronomy 19 we see the establishment of refuge cities, requirements for witnesses, and eye-for-eye/tooth-for-tooth justice. In Deuteronomy 20, there are rules for wars of aggression, where the Israelites are to slay all of the men of a captured city, but keep the women and children as plunder. That brings us up to this study.

Family Values
One of the most-often purported benefits of Christianity is moral guidance. When you look at the concepts of this guidance, and when you consider how these ideas are communicated today, it seems like this is true. When you look at the text of the Bible itself, however, you get a different picture. The morals we have today are often dissonant with the morals actually written in the Word of God. Let us consider Deuteronomy 21.

First, on a slight diversion of atonement and redemption, let us take a look at God's law for unsolved murders in Deuteronomy 21:1-9. Find someone murdered in a field, but you have no witnesses? Forget the crime scene investigation, and do not consult omniscient God to determine the guilty party. Instead, determine the closest town. Then have the elders of that town kill a non-worked cow in a stream within some virgin valley, and have the elders wash their hands over the cow while declaring their innocence of the murder. Deuteronomy 21:8-9 are particularly revealing:
"Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man." And the bloodshed will be atoned for. So you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the LORD. NIV
Again in the Old Testament we see true atonement without Jesus. This act does not even foreshadow Jesus, as Jesus is presumed to have worked as a carpenter and certainly did His Father's work, while the sacrificed cow was not allowed to have worked, to say nothing of differences in the manners of death between the cow and Jesus. Note how God has redeemed the Israelites without a sacrifice, referring to their Exodus from Egypt, which again conflicts with foreshadowing Christianity. Finally note how the murdered person is considered an innocent man, as in being quite the opposite of a sinner who deserved to die for his sins.

Moving on to values and morals, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 states that after you go to war (and slay all of the surviving men – Deuteronomy 20:13), you can take a captive woman as your wife after she mourns her family for a month. The woman gets no choice in the matter. If you decide that do not like her, you can let her go, but you can not sell her. Why? Because you have dishonored her... meaning you have had sex with her already. So much for love and the sanctity of marriage.

Do you think that those morals are good? Well, how about Deuteronomy 21:15-17? That passage explains that the inheritance rights of the firstborn always go to the firstborn son, regardless of how many wives you have or whether or not you actually love the wife who bears you the firstborn son. Not only does this passage implicitly approve of polygamy, but it also sees no problem with a man marrying and having sex with someone who he does not love! I guess in reality that goes on all the time, but you would think that God, the purported epitome of love, would push for love to be the basis of marriage. That is not the case. So will you teach your kids that you can not only have multiple wives, but that you can marry people you do not love?

Lest you think I simply cherry-pick the couple of embarrassing laws out of a wealth of good ones, let us continue on to Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Here you find that if you have a stubborn and rebellious child, you are to have him stoned to death. Remarkably, this is the kind of law which Jesus would get behind, as we see in Matthew 15:3-6 and Mark 7:9-13 where Jesus is angry that the Pharisees teach against killing your own children because they teach contrary to what is in God's Law.

Now, will you teach and practice these laws from God, or will you seek a higher moral ground? Will you teach your children that polygamy is wrong? Will you teach your children that both people who get married should consensually agree to do so? Will you teach your children that slavery is wrong? Will you promote the liberty to kill your own children for disobedience? Or will you instead align yourself with the “moral” God of Christianity? What are your family values?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Prove a Prophet

We are halfway through Deuteronomy, where now Moses is repeating most of God's Law, as well as appending to it. After reminding the Israelites to participate in holidays in Deuteronomy 16, God provides rules for Israelite kings in Deuteronomy 17; a kingship which He will later consider to be sinfully requested. Deuteronomy 18 begins by defining the Levites' share in the offerings to God, their permanent role as God's ministers, and their freedom to live anywhere in the nation, and then provides a warning against divination, witchcraft, and consultation with the dead. What follows next is perhaps one of the most important Old Testament passages in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Prove a Prophet
When reading the Bible, there are times when a slight change in interpretation of a single word make a huge difference in the overall meaning. For someone trying to parse out the truth, this is an incredibly dangerous pitfall, especially if you already have an idea you are trying to support. Remaining true to the full context is often your only hope for accuracy. In the passage we examine in this study, we will see how Christianity and Islam both change the interpretation of words and ignore the context to promote their own agendas.

Deuteronomy 18:14-22 has Moses describe how God will send a prophet to guide the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses says:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like [Moses] from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” NIV
First, we will consider the misinterpretation specific to Islam. The claim is that this verse refers to Muhammad, because they say the reference “from among your brothers” refers to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 16) instead of the Israelites, because Muhammad lived and died as a mortal man like Moses, and because an angel of God told Muhammad what to say (Deuteronomy 18:18).

The problem is that the context of “brothers” in the extended sense beyond immediate family is the same as it has been used throughout the Torah since the Exodus, and that is referring to the limited kindred of the Israelites specifically (Leviticus 21:10, Numbers 8:26, Numbers 20:3, Deuteronomy 33:9, Deuteronomy 33:16, Deuteronomy 33:24). So, from a single misinterpretation, the entire foundation of the Islamic faith is seriously challenged.

Yet even a step before figuring out what “brothers” really means, we find a misinterpretation which both Islam and Christianity stumble on; the meaning of “a” prophet. Both Islam and Christianity interpret this “a” as referring to a singular person, but that is far from what the context would allow.

Preceding the first statement specifically about the prophet, we find this in Deuteronomy 18:14:
“The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” NIV
So other nations seek means of telling the future or gaining other guidance from occult resources, but God will not allow the Israelites to do that. The implication is that these other nations seek this guidance on a regular basis, or at least whenever troubles or great uncertainties arise, which is going to be often throughout life.

By contrast, what God says in the next verse is that He will provide a prophet to the Israelites, with the implication being that such a prophet would provide this often needed prophesy and guidance. As Deuteronomy 18:18 later makes clear, this prophesy and guidance would be coming directly from God, being voiced through the prophets.

These verses suggest that a string of prophets will be provided throughout different generations, as opposed to there being only one prophet in the future. Coincidentally enough, that is exactly what we see in the continuation of the Old Testament. There were several prophets and other leaders who were not specifically known as prophets, but who had direct connection with the knowledge of the will of God as these verses depict.

Deuteronomy 18:18-19 claims that God will put words into the prophet's mouth, and that God will personally hold non-listeners accountable. It seems odd that God (the Father) would put words into God's (the Son's) mouth, but this is exactly what the Gospels claim. Oops, did I say “Gospels”? I meant only one Gospel; the rather-suspect Gospel of John records this curiosity on multiple accounts while the other three Gospels never mention it (John 8:28, John 12:49-50, John 14:10, John 14:24, John 17:8).

The chapter closes out with an interesting twist. In Deuteronomy 18:20-22 we find:
“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?' If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” NIV
First, again note the use of “a” prophet denoting any particular prophet, not one single entity.

Next, we see how God calls for killing a prophet who speaks falsely, and the test of such a prophet is whether or not what the prophet says comes true. That implicitly means that the prophet will prophesy things which will occur during his lifetime. Otherwise, how could you kill a false prophet after he is already dead?

Therefore, this passage could not be referring to Jesus. Jesus' own prophesies referred to things after his death, such as the Temple destruction (Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6). Plus, there is the glaring fact that Jesus' prophesies about the Kingdom of God coming within one generation were dead wrong (such as Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27), which, per God's own instructions, certainly makes Jesus a false prophet worthy of death.

As we have seen, when you consider the entire context of a passage, its true meaning can come out. In this case, the truth irreparably damages the claims of both Islam and Christianity in the most fundamental aspect of all; confirmation of what is to be expected from God's prophet, or rather God's prophets, as it truly is intended. The claims of John 1:45, John 6:14, and Acts 3:17-22 disintegrate.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rules for Unwanted Kings

In Deuteronomy, Moses is now repeating and appending most of God's previously given commandments. Recently, we saw how God promoted loaning to the poor and a periodic debt forgiveness, but He did not extend that forgiveness to foreigners. Next, in Deuteronomy 16 God reminds the Israelites to celebrate Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles, establishes a system of impartial judges, and warns against idolatry. Deuteronomy 17 begins with another call for intolerance, but requires more than one witness to kill someone for idolatry, and then establishes the absolute power of the priests.

Rules for Unwanted Kings
There have been a couple of major anachronistic events in the Bible so far. First, we observed how Abel sacrificed the fat of the firstborn of his flock, long before people ate meat or God demanded fat to be sacrificed. Next, we saw how Moses collected extra clean animals before the Flood, and sacrificed clean animals after the Flood, long before clean animals were defined by God. Well, God has bestowed one more time hiccup in the Torah, one regarding kings.

In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God provides rules for the kings of the Israelites.

When the Israelites have taken the Promised Land into possession and decide to promote a king, they must promote the person of God's choosing, and their king must not be a foreigner (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).

The king must not acquire large amounts of horses (particularly from Egypt, even though they would not have any left after the plagues), many wives, or lots of gold and silver (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). People who claim that the Bible does not support polygamy would be wrong, as this does permit the king to have multiple wives, just not “many” wives, however many that is.

Finally, the king must personally copy God's Law, keeping that copy with him and reading it every day, because the king is not above obeying the law (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Thus you can see how much emphasis God puts on obeying the Law, which is contrary to the modern Christian sentiment.

A reading of these rules, or particularly the first couple verses of this section, make you think that God expected and wanted them to have a king. After all, if God had not put this section in the Law, they may not have even thought of having a king, but now it would seem to them like an expectation. Yet, let us jump ahead in the storyline to see how this all plays out.

The book of Judges tells the story of what the Israelites did when they entered the Promised Land. For over 400 years, they lived without establishing a king. In that time, they went through a repeated series of angering God, being punished by God (through other nations) for some time, God raising up a leader known as a judge to unify the Israelites to defeat whatever nation was oppressing them, and then the Israelites returning to God. As Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 both put it:
“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” NIV
Eventually, Samuel became the judge of the Israelites. His sons, who were set to inherit Samuel's leadership, were corrupt, so the Israelites pleaded with Samuel to establish a king over them (1 Samuel 8:3-5). That certainly seems like a reasonable request, but apparently it was not.

The saga of appointing the king unfolds in 1 Samuel 8 through 1 Samuel 12. Samuel gets angry. God gets angry. Saul gets anointed as king. Saul organizes an army and successfully slaughters invading Ammonites. Samuel officially steps down from leadership. In Samuel's departing speech in 1 Samuel 12:16-18, he says:
“Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.”

Then Samuel called on the LORD, and that same day the LORD sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel. NIV
So Samuel and God thought that it was evil for the Israelites to ask for a king, and God even punishes them for doing so! In fact, God considered it to be a rejection of God being their king (1 Samuel 8:7). Yet way back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, it sure seemed like God expected them to have a king, putting no negative connotation on it.

That is how you can tell that Deuteronomy 17:14-20 is an anachronism. Reading these verses into the overall storyline, they do not fit, because they make God appear both having omniscience (knowing the Israelites will want a king) and lacking omniscience (not knowing how those verses would inspire and promote a request for a king, an act which God Himself views as sinful). On the other hand, if you instead consider the possibility that these kingly verses were installed into the Law at a later revision, when kings had already been established, then it is not surprising to find a little contradiction in the text.

One more piece of circumstantial evidence suggests Deuteronomy 17:14-20 to be an anachronism. In the process of anointing Saul as king, Samuel explains and writes down the rights and duties of the king (1 Samuel 10:25). If these laws were already written down, why did Samuel have to write them again? If anyone had to write them again, why was it Samuel and not Saul, as Saul was required to write a copy per God's Law (Deuteronomy 17:18)?

On a final note, consider what this says about God's Plan and a foreshadowing of Christianity. If God viewed their request to have a king as a sin, then it seems odd that God's Plan for an eternal kingdom would hinge on King David being in existence. Also, by God displaying anger at the request for a king, it becomes clear that God does not want an intermediate person between Him and ruling the people. Jesus will rule God's eternal kingdom, who both is and is not an intermediate person, so this sends a bit of a mixed message.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Narrow Minded

We are progressing through the huge Sermon on the Mount, a sermon so impressive in its length and content that only the writer of Matthew seems to remember it; although the Gospel of Luke does capture much of the same content elsewhere. Recently, we discussed how Jesus wants people to non-hypocritically judge people, even to the point of deciding whether or not they are worthy to hear the Gospel.

Jesus then tells you to ask God for anything that you want because He will give it to you (Matthew 7:7-11, Luke 11:9-13), but we did learn previously that you should be very careful when asking for something from God.

Next, Jesus provides what may be His best teaching, the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. That must have been a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, because what follows sure leaves an icky taste in your mouth...

Narrow Minded
A common Christian mantra is that whatever, wherever, and whenever God has chosen to set up and interact with humanity, it is to do the most possible good, have the most positive net effect, and ultimately to Save the most souls for eternity. It is an inescapable conclusion, because anything less suggests a God who is less than perfect in His omniscience, good will, and love; contrary to how the Bible describes Him. Yet other verses in the Bible make you wonder how true that sentiment is.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” NIV
Unpacking this statement, first we find that there appears to be a call to personal responsibility. Enter through the narrow gate seems like a command for everyone, with the implication being to do so by obeying the will of God; that being done by obeying His Law, which is in essence (God believes) is the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).

Second, this statement is a warning. Take action, obey God, or be destroyed. That is a unique twist in a loving relationship. Sure, you could see some similarities in a parental love, where parents demand obedience to preserve their child's life, like by not allowing their child to play in the street. The difference is that the parent is acting to protect their child from outside forces, but God is acting to protect people from Himself. It is God who will do the destroying, so this is a direct threat.

Lastly, and most revealing, this statement is an harsh reality check. The overwhelming majority of the people who have lived, are living, or will ever live are destined to be destroyed by God; a destruction which may very well include eternal torment.

If this destruction was solely based on personal responsibility, the personal decision to accept or reject God's forgiveness, that would only be a slight consolation to the troubled mind who walks around knowing that almost everyone he sees is destined for an unsavory end. Yet there is another factor to consider. In Luke 13:22-27, when answering a question about the Saving of relatively few people, Jesus tells a parable where some of those who commune with God will actually find themselves subject to damnation at the final judgement. Why?

As we have seen in our study of Deuteronomy 9 and the words of Paul in Romans 9:16-21, God chooses those who are destined for His Salvation, but this decision is not based on their own merit. This decision is only based on God's will and arbitrary mercy. So the apparent command to enter in at the narrow gate is rendered vacuous; simply yielding a commentary about what is happening.

Ultimately, this reveals that God is not trying to Save the greatest number of people. In fact, God made, or chose to destine, billions of people for destruction only because it suited His will. I ask you, how can that be perfection? How can that be love?