Friday, August 26, 2011

Wanting Judgement

John the Baptist, upon hearing about Jesus preaching and working miracles in Galilee, sent messengers to question whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus performed some more miracles and preached to the poor as proof of who Jesus was for those messengers. Jesus then explained to the crowds around him that John the Baptist was Elijah, who had been prophesied to return to prepare the way for God. Then Jesus described that generation as being like a bunch of fickle children who could never be satisfied (Matthew 11:16-19, Luke 7:31-35).

Wanting Judgement
One of the crafted, and heavily promoted, images of God in modern Christianity is of a loving father. God's love is so great for us all, that He sent His son to die for us (John 3:16), and He is not willing that any of us would perish (Matthew 18:14, 2 Peter 3:9). Such strong love and devotion! We will surely see that God is doing everything He can to save each and every one of us! Or will we? Let us take a closer look.

Matthew 11:20-24 (and the parallel in Luke 10:13-15) tells us about how Jesus condemned the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, just like He had instructed the Apostles to do. Why would Jesus condemn them? Because Jesus had worked miracles there, but they still did not repent.

I am not sure about you, but if I was God, in the form Jesus, or a burning bush, or whatever shape du jour, I can think of some rather incredible miracles with which I could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that, well, that I was God. When you are not subject to the laws of nature, when you can bend time at your will, when the most solid matter is nothing but primordial ooze to be formed and spirited according to your desires, you can be very influential.

Who knows? Maybe Jesus worked these kinds of truly incredible miracles which only God could do, and yet the people did not repent. Maybe He did do all that He could do, not willing that any should perish. Or maybe he just worked the type of miracles discussed with John the Baptist's messengers; healing people, the kind of miracles which could easily be faked with the right setup of some planted accessories and corroborators, the kind of miracles which happen on a daily basis in modern hospitals at the hands of doctors. That is not to say that such acts would be unimpressive, just that they are, shall we say, lesser miracles in the grand scope of what would be possible for God.

Regardless of what miracles they were, Jesus clearly thought that they should have been enough to turn their hearts. In Matthew 11:21/Luke 10:13, Jesus says that had those same miracles been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. (God had Tyre and Sidon destroyed per the prophesy of Zechariah 9:1-7.)

What? Tyre and Sidon could have been saved with a little divine intervention? And God knew this? Why would God not have stepped in to save them then? Who knows? God is omniscient. Maybe God knew that Tyre and Sidon would have soon backslid, and would have perpetrated some greater evil on the world if left unstopped. Let us give God the benefit of the doubt here, until a couple verses later...

In Matthew 11:23, we find Jesus saying:
“...If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” NIV
Sodom had been so wicked that God did not wait to send an invading army in to capture them, like He later did with Tyre and Sidon. Instead, Sodom, and a similar city named Gomorrah, were so bad that God personally obliterated them with raining burning sulfur from “the heavens” (Genesis 19:24-25). Yet here in the New Testament, Jesus said that had there been a little divine intervention, a little showing of some miracles, Sodom would have repented so much that they would still have existed to the times of Jesus.

Apparently, God is indeed very willing that some should perish. Maybe Sodom perished with a purpose, and that through Sodom's destruction, many more were moved to repentance than would have otherwise, perhaps even outnumbering those who were in Sodom and those who would have been there in later generations. Maybe. But this shows God to use a motivation of fear, not love. It demonstrates that God has a Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means type of modis operandi. Plus, it proves that God is willing to let some perish under the right circumstances, displaying a moral relativism.

Quickly, we should ponder the condemnation of towns themselves. As discussed in the study about Jesus telling the Apostles to condemn towns, this implies an immediacy to the coming Judgement. Over long periods of time, the residents of the towns change completely. It would be unfair for Jesus to condemn the great grand-daughter of someone who was not impressed by Jesus' miracles, so Jesus' city-wide condemnation carries with the implication that Judgement Day will occur within one generation.

Extra Credit: Textual Study
Luke was an editor. Or, at least the author of Luke was an editor. While he was not an eye-witness to Jesus, it is suggested by believers and Luke 1:1-4 that his Gospel was derived from investigative reporting of eye-witness accounts. Who was that, or who were those eye-witnesses, nobody knows, but some people of faith make the case that there are enough differences to suggest that neither Matthew nor Mark were direct sources for Luke. From this perspective, there are several unique eye-witness accounts to give inherent credibility to the Gospel story. However some Christian scholars, and skeptics as well, theorize that both Matthew and Luke were assembled using the Gospel of Mark and perhaps some version of another non-extant document, often referred to as Q. Why would they think this? Take a look at these passages for an example:

Matthew 11:21-23 (NIV)
Luke 10:13-15 (NIV)
"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths... "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.

Of the 75 words, 67 words are identical, with only eight different words (in bold). The differences are easily explained:

The word “sitting” added in Luke is a clarification. The “I tell you” in Matthew is a kind of a flavor phrase, if you will, not at all altering the meaning by its absence in Luke. Matthew's “on the day of judgment” is essentially the same as Luke's “at the judgment,” and really only demonstrates Matthew's preference for the phrase “day of judgment,” with Matthew's Gospel being the only one to use the words “judgment” and “day” in the same sentence, and he used “day of judgement” multiple times (Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22, Matthew 11:24, Matthew 12:36).

For the words, their order, and their sentence structure to match this closely, with the minor exceptions of the preferences of the authors, it strongly suggests that both parties got there information from a single source. That source could be actual eye-witness memory of what Jesus said, or it could be a single document.

Memory is notoriously faulty, but you have to remember (wink) that back in those days, when paper was still a luxury and there were far fewer everyday distractions, memory was relied on to a much greater extent than now. As with any regularly practiced skill, memory of the general population was probably more acute back then. It is possible that eye-witness memory could have been that precise, especially in the context of a highly unusual event, like God becoming a man for example. ;-)

However, memory is undermined by itself in this case. First, the context Matthew wraps around these verses is that Jesus has sent out the Twelve Apostles on their first mission, and so Jesus had been wandering around Galilee alone, preaching and working miracles. According to Luke, the Twelve Apostles had gone out on and returned from their mission, Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus got Transfigured, Jesus exorcised a demon from a boy, Jesus was rejected in Samaria, and (finally) we find these verses where Jesus was giving instructions for 72 other disciples to go out on a mission. Matthew does not mention the mission of these 72 disciples at all. So we are expected to believe that the eyewitnesses could remember the words perfectly, but the memories of the events leading up to and the surrounding context of those words were a little hazy.

Second, if this was from such a precise memory, how is it possible that Luke version completely omits the content in the second half of Matthew 11:23 as well as all of the content of Matthew 11:24 in regards to how Sodom would have repented, which was part of this same speech from Jesus? It is unlikely that an eye-witness simply did not remember, having remembered the preceding so perfectly.

So the eye-witness memory theory seems unlikely. What about the Q source document theory? What if this Q document was just a collection of random events, sayings, and episodes associated with Jesus which the authors of Matthew and Luke had to puzzle together into some cohesive story? What if this snippet of Jesus condemning cities had no surrounding context in that Q document, leaving it at the author's discretion as to where it fit? Under the Q theory, the precision of the words are no mystery, nor is it surprising that this section would show up in completely different locations in these two Gospels.

Even with the Q theory, one mystery still remains: Why did Luke skip out on the last part of the message regarding Sodom? One answer is that it may not have been in the Q, but was added by Matthew. Another answer is that the author of Luke edited out those lines based on the theological difficulties which we discussed above, because it clearly demonstrates that God could have saved people but chose not to do so. I lean towards the second answer, based on the fact that Luke appears to have edited other parts as well, such as the verses regarding Jesus' condemnation of divorce. Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:2-12 record that Jesus said that Moses was the source of permission of divorce, which was not accurate to the Scripture which clearly has God establishing that divorcement. Luke sidesteps this difficulty by trimming the passage down to a one-liner (Luke 16:18) which avoids mentioning Moses at all.

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