Friday, May 13, 2011

Who Needs Help?

Beginning with Jesus healing a paralyzed man by forgiving his sins, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree on the chronological order of a short series of anecdotes. Meanwhile, John skips these events entirely.

Who Needs Help?
Not every issue with the Biblical text is earth shattering or belief altering. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence which suggests issues with veracity, but would never convince a believer to kindle the flame of a healthy skepticism. We will examine a couple of these lesser points in this study.

Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, and Luke 5:27-28 all briefly tell how a tax collector by the name of Matthew/Levi was called by Jesus. Jesus said “Follow Me,” and Matthew/Levi immediately gets up and follows Him. There are a couple issues here.

One issue is the obvious discrepancy between the account in Matthew, which calls the tax collector “Matthew,” and the accounts of Mark and Luke, which call the tax collector “Levi.” It is suggested that Matthew had two names, and perhaps one was a baptismal name, or perhaps an additional chosen name or nickname. So let us assume they are indeed the same person and move on to the bigger issue.

The second issue is that this tax collector, Matthew, is said to be the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Pause just a moment and consider that. We are roughly one-third of the way through the Gospel of Matthew, and yet just now in the story is when Matthew appears. How did Matthew get the information for this Gospel prior to this point of entry into the story?

The preceding chapters of Matthew record material which could only be accurately recorded by an eyewitness, such as exact quotes of what Jesus said and the conversations He had. Furthermore, it contains anecdotes which are unique to Matthew's Gospel, such as the three wise men visiting the baby Jesus, Herod ordering infanticide, and the full version of the epic Sermon on the Mount!

Sure, Matthew could have done some research to find out what happened beforehand, but you do not see any explicit demarcation to indicate what happened before Matthew joined the crew versus what happened after. You do not find “this is what I am told” versus “this is what I saw.” There is no change in perspective from third-person to first- person. That makes Matthew's authorship and eyewitness account at least a little suspect.

Moving on from there, Matthew 9:10-13, Mark 2:15-17, and Luke 5:29-32 record how Matthew/Levi hosted a dinner banquet for Jesus at his house. Jesus partakes. Pharisees asked Jesus' disciples why Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. The three Gospels record similar responses from Jesus, with Matthew 9:12-13 being the longest:
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." NIV
Here is the odd part about Jesus' response: Jesus thought that the Pharisees were sinners (for following man's ways instead of God's ways) and had false righteousness (Matthew 15:1-16, for example, illustrates both). So the literal interpretation is obviously inaccurate.

So, was Jesus being satirical? It appears that way. In effect, cutting through the deep sarcasm, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that Jesus had no time for them because they did not even realize that they were sinners. Fair enough, but is that consistent with Jesus' message? Yes and no.

Yes. This is fairly consistent with how Jesus treats the Pharisees throughout the Gospels. It is consistent with the message of not tossing pearls to swine.

But, no. No, it is not consistent with the message of Christianity. In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus says that we should forgive people essentially an unlimited amount of times, but Jesus does not forgive these Pharisees. Jesus supposedly appeared to the Pharisees' murderous thug and firm supporter, Saul, and changed him into a gentle Christian for the Gentiles in Acts 9:1-31, but Jesus does not earnestly seek to to change these Pharisees. Finally, there is the anthem of 2 Peter 3:9, where God does not want anyone to perish, yet we find that Jesus completely shuns helping the Pharisees.

Who really needs Jesus' help? Apparently, that is up to Jesus' discretion. As someone Christians attempt to emulate Jesus, perhaps they should do well to remember that they should use discretion as well, and they should ignore Scripture which suggests otherwise.


  1. In this post you address the biggest issue I have with the Christian faith: believers are demanded to forgive everyone automatically, even if the offender never asks for forgiveness. Yet God and Jesus demand an apology, repentance in order to grant forgiveness. One of the many double-standards of the Gods of the Bible.

  2. True. The defense is normally that God knows everything much better than we do, so this hypocrisy is like that of a parent telling a child not to do what the parent does. It is a good defense on its own, but not when held against Scripture.

    What is the unforgivable sin? Blasphemy. Blasphemy! Just saying something bad. You could be a mass murder and still get into heaven as long as you don't say something bad about the Holy Spirit. That shows blinding megalomania, not intelligence.

  3. Just like an abusive parent, or my mother in any case, God forgives anything but disrespect.

  4. You were so fortunate to have a mother who was truly God-like! ;-)