Saturday, February 26, 2011

Speaking in Foolish Tongues

I have added on a new blog!  Check out Speaking in Foolish Tongues for a less technical, more personal journey through apostasy.  I cannot promise you that God's Word will be there, but I can assure you that there will be the word God.  ;-)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Combinations and Permutations

Jesus has just completed His epic Sermon on the Mount with a parable, explaining that if you completely obey His teachings, you will be on a foundation of rock. Yet anyone who followed all of these teachings would be on a foundation of sand in terms of making a living in this life. Jesus then walks down the mountain with huge crowds following Him (Matthew 8:1).

Combinations and Permutations
Sequence is not always important. When you order a combo meal at McDonalds, it does not really matter if they put the burger or the fries on the tray first. It just matters that you get both of them. Order independent events are known as combinations. Well, at least they are to geeks. ;-)

However, sometimes the sequence is important. If someone told you that U.S. President Ronald Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”sometime after the ninth of November, 1989, the date when the tearing down of the Berlin Wall had begun, you would have to seriously question that person's grasp on facts. History is not a combination. In a manner of speaking, history is known as a permutation, because its order does matter.

The four Gospels are touted to be historical accounts of Jesus' life on earth which originated from four separate eyewitnesses, regardless of if these witnesses were the first to write the accounts in their present form. These four people witnessed the most significant and memorable event in the realm of mankind since creation; the incarnation of God. So let us take a closer look at this history.

Right after coming down from preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 8:2-4 records that a leper knelt before Jesus and said to Him “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus touches the man and says “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately the man was cured. Jesus commanded the man not to tell anyone, but to go make offerings per God's Law for the cleansing. Mark 1:40-45 and Luke 5:12-16 both record a healing of a leper using wording so similar that scholars believe it to be the same healing recorded in all three accounts. (Apparently, John did not think that this healing was important enough to record.)

Let us take a bird's eye view around this healing according to these three accounts:

Jesus gets Fishers of Men (Matthew 4:18-22) Jesus gets Fishers of Men (Mark 1:16-20) Jesus casts out a demon (Luke 4:33-37)
Jesus heals many, and gets followed (Matthew 4:23-25) Jesus casts out a demon (Mark 1:21-28) Jesus cures Simon's mother-in-law, healed others, and prays alone (Luke 4:38-44)
The Sermon on the Mount Jesus cures Simon's mother-in-law, healed others, and prays alone (Mark 1:29-39) Jesus gets Fishers of Men (Luke 5:1-11)
Jesus heals the leper Jesus heals the leper Jesus heals the leper
Jesus heals the Centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13) Jesus heals a paralytic carried by men (Mark 2:1-12) Jesus heals a paralytic carried by men (Luke 5:17-26)
Jesus cures Simon's mother-in-law and healed others (Matthew 8:14-17) Jesus calls Levi and eats with tax collectors (Mark 2:13-17) Jesus calls Levi and eats with tax collectors (Luke 5:27-32)

When did Jesus heal this leper? Before or after curing Simon's mother-in-law? Right after going fishing for men, or later than that? The answer: Yes. ;-) You do not find a unified historical permutation. You see a combination of episodes. This is not even the worst case disorder found in the Gospels.

The sequence discrepancy is fairly typical throughout the four Gospels. Trying to wrangle these accounts into a harmonized history is a dizzying task full of cut-and-paste rearrangements and arbitrary decisions. If you think that I exaggerate, check out this sample of the Gospel hatchet job required to harmonize the Gospel accounts into one coherent timeline.

The usual defense is that the writers of the Gospels were not trained as historians, and that they were more interested in recording the content accurately than preserving the timeline. That defense holds up like a wet paper bag. Historian or not, people tend to remember chronology, especially chronology regarding particularly special events, such as God embodying Himself as a man.

To think that these writers could remember the words exactly but that they would haphazardly make a combination of these anecdotes, while possible, does not seem probable. Any eyewitness intent on recording the life of Jesus for future generations probably would have tried to get it right. When you consider that two of the writers took the time to learn and record the (conflicting) lineage of Jesus, it seems like they were putting in a lot of effort to be accurate and complete.

Also, with so many supposed eyewitnesses (the large crowds always following Jesus around), it should have been pretty easy to resolve any order issues into the proper permutation. Easy, that is, if there really were eyewitnesses...

Putting some circumstantial evidence icing on this combination cake, consider Mark 1:45. Mark records that this healed leper went out and spread the word about Jesus, and "As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere." Yet Matthew 8:5 records that right after healing the leper, Jesus walked right into Capernaum. That is the kind of problem you get, when you haphazardly combine your history. You get a lie.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Blessings and Curses

In Deuteronomy 26, God provides regulations for the firstfruit offerings. In Deuteronomy 27, curses are pronounced on Mount Ebal against those who break a seemingly random subset collection of laws, as well as a general pronouncement of a curse for anyone who does not obey and enact the entirety of God's Law (Deuteronomy 27:26). With the conclusion of the relaying of God's Law to the Israelites, they are now ready to enter yet another covenant with God.

Blessings and Curses
They say that you can often tell what a person likes by gauging how much they talk about a particular thing; a hometown sports team, a new gadget, a favorite travel spot, or perhaps even merciless and prolonged torturing as a form of punishment.

Enter Deuteronomy 28-29. In these chapters, God is entering another covenant with the Israelites, and is explaining the terms of the covenant. The terms are simple. Do everything in God's Law, and be blessed. Skip out on some of God's Law, and be cursed.

The blessings for obeying God's Law occupy Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Fourteen verses. The curses for disobeying occupy Deuteronomy 28:15-68, plus Deuteronomy 29:16-28. Sixty-seven verses. Sixty-seven verses!!! Over four-and-a-half times the number of blessing verses!!! Oh yes, God loves vengeance. However, pure numbers are a bit removed from true meaning, so let us take a closer look.

First, the blessings. Obey, and you will get the following: a nation superior to all others, prosperity regardless of rural or urban location, bountiful children, crops, and livestock, safe and prosperous travels, protection from enemies, prosperity from all labor, God's holy stamp of approval, respectful fear from all other nations, just the right amount of rain, and they will lend to other nations but borrow from none.

Did you notice anything strange about the blessings? Except for God labeling the Israelites as His holy people, the blessings are all physical, and primarily financial, with absolutely no spiritual content or context. Plus there is no mention of eternal life. It is about as far away from the concept of Christian Salvation as you can be. It fails at foreshadowing.

OK, now for the curses. If you do not obey all of God's Law, there will be:
  • a lack of success regardless of rural or urban location
  • reduced and afflicted children, crops, and livestock
  • dangerous and unsuccessful travels
  • failure, confusion, and destruction of all of your labors
  • degenerative diseases
  • intensely hot temperatures
  • drought
  • blight
  • mildew
  • rains of dust
  • defeat at the hands of enemies
  • contempt from all other nations
  • bodies of fallen citizens eaten by birds and beasts
  • incurable boils, tumors, festering sores, and itchiness
  • madness, mental blindness, and confusion
  • groping about like you are blinded by darkness in the middle of the day
  • a lack of success in anything
  • daily oppression with no rescue
  • daily robbery with no rescue
  • rape of women promised to be married
  • theft of houses prior to being lived in
  • theft of vineyards prior to their first harvests
  • slaughtering and theft of your livestock with no recompense or rescue
  • theft of your children by foreign nations
  • capturing of all of your produce by foreign nations
  • enduring cruel oppression
  • more incurable boils from head to toe
  • forced exodus from the Promised Land by a foreign nation which God motivates
  • idolatry
  • scorn and ridicule from all other nations
  • swarms of locusts eating all vegetation and crops
  • grape-eating worms
  • rotting olives
  • the aliens living among you will become superior to you
  • borrowing from aliens, but aliens will not borrow from you
  • hunger
  • thirst
  • nakedness
  • dire poverty
  • attacks from ruthless foreign nation motivated by God
  • this attacking nation will
    • plunder your nation of grain, livestock, wine, and oil
    • siege and conquer all of your cities
    • drive you to selfish and wicked cannibalism out of desperation during the sieges
  • fearful plagues on you and your descendants
  • horrible and enduring disasters
  • severe and lasting illnesses
  • horrible diseases from Egypt
  • every type of sickness not recorded in the Torah
  • every type of disaster not recorded in the Torah
  • extreme reduction of your nation's population
  • scattering of your remnant throughout all other nations all over the world
  • no repose, peace, or rest
  • perpetual anxiety
  • chronic terror
  • return to Egypt in ships
  • refusal of anyone to buy you as an indentured servant
  • and any particular individual who does not heed God's Law will:
    • never being forgiven by God
    • receive God's zealous wrath
    • receive all of the curses listed in the Torah
    • get your name blotted out (cessation of you, your progeny, and your progeny's lineage)
    • be singled out for destruction by God through all of the curses mentioned above
  • conversion of the Promised Land into a burning waste of salt and sulfur
  • cessation of all vegetation on the Promised Land
Did you notice anything strange about the curses? They too are all physical, and primarily related to financial security and painful suffering, with absolutely no spiritual content or context. Again, there is no mention of eternal life. Nor is there mention of eternal punishment, aside from ending a family lineage. The curses are all temporal, dealing with life as the Israelites would have known it.

There are other weird and implausible things about the curses. How can mildew spread when the atmosphere will be hot and dry? How will locusts and worms eat the crops when they would not grow well enough to provide for such pests under severe drought and blight conditions? How can you be in dire poverty and yet own a vineyard and build a house? What could an invading nation really plunder under such conditions, and why would they want to invade such a cursed land? These would all be neat tricks, indeed.

According to Deuteronomy 29:19-21, only certain people will experience each and every one of these curses, people who completely disregard God's Law. Obviously from the list of curses, you would not want to live anywhere near such a person.

That is interesting too. If you take the implication of those verses, at least some people will experience some of the curses even though they respect God's Law for the most part just because they have not upheld the Law perfectly. Furthermore, the above-listed curses are so wide-reaching that even perfectly-pious, Law-abiding citizens would be affected. God would punish the innocent along with the guilty.

These curses are obviously not intended to be discipline, such as the way a father may discipline his son to keep him on the right path. Instead, they are the release of the pent-up, unmitigated wrath of God. It is a temporal wrath, divorced of eternal-life perspective, which is applied long after people have gone astray. Is it really any wonder that these curses were ineffective as a deterrent?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Family Obligations

Almost. We are almost at the end of the laws which God is giving to the Israelites through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. Previously, we saw how God thinks that a child should not be killed for the sins of the father, despite the fact that God has a track record of killing children for their fathers' sins.

Family Obligations
Some things are just funny. Funny for irony. Funny because it is not supposed to be funny. Funny because someone managed to think of something so bizarre. Take Deuteronomy 25, for example.

Verses Deuteronomy 25:1-3 are laws handling disputes. Deuteronomy 25:1 begins with “When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court...” Pretty simple, right? Dispute = Court. Ironically, it would take several hundred years for an omniscient God (through Jesus) to recommend first trying to settle the matter privately before taking it to court (Matthew 5:25-26).

Also in these laws is a restriction. You can lash someone 39 times, but not 40 times, because with the fortieth lashing you might loose respect for the person being lashed.

In Deuteronomy 25:5-6, God dictates that if a married man dies without having a son, then it is the duty of the man's brother to marry the man's widow (regardless of how many wives the brother already has), and that the first son born from that marriage would carry on the deceased man's heritage.

Deuteronomy 25:7-10 covers if this man's brother refuses to marry his brother's widow, such as if he wanted to keep a monogamous relationship with his own wife or if he simply could not afford another wife. In that case, in front of the town elders, the widow is to spit in the brother's face and take one of his sandals. Then this brother's lineage would henceforth be shamefully known as “The Family of the Unsandaled.” The word of God. God be praised. ;-)

Next is one of my favorite laws. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 states:
“If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.” NIV
The mental pictures of this situation are hilarious enough, but what really boggles and amuses the mind is pondering why God thought that it was necessary to add this specific law? Was this really such a pressing issue of the day as to need this law? Was it in the name of trying to have a “complete” set of laws, despite the fact that there are no laws against pedophilia? It is amusing, in a sad, sad way.

We have skipped over good laws in this chapter such as not muzzling an ox while it is treading out grain (Deuteronomy 25:4) and using honest weights and measures (Deuteronomy 25:13-16), but the chapter ends on a sour note.

Deuteronomy 25:17-19 instructs the Israelites to hold a permanent grudge against the Amalekites until they have been completely destroyed. Why? Because of what their previous generation had done to the Israelites as they were on their Exodus. This is in blatant contrast to the message which Jesus would later instruct; to forgive everyone of all transgressions in order to be forgiven yourself (Matthew 6:14-15).

It is so funny, and so sad, that so many believe.

The photo below is of the placard describing the sandal in the photo above. It is funny how the museum description sanitized Deuteronomy 25:7-10 here, stating “if the marriage was not possible” as if to downplay the brother's role of refusal and stating that this ceremony “allowed the widow to marry outside the family” as if it was her choice. There is not a hint of the shame which the law of God actually conveys.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sins of Their Fathers

We are continuing through Deuteronomy, where Moses is relaying God's Law to the Israelites just before they are to enter the Promised Land. Recently we learned that God allows divorces and subsequent marriages, as long as they are not remarriages of the same couple to one another.

Sins of Their Fathers
If you know much about the story of Jesus, you may know that He did not like hypocrites. The Bible mentions hypocrites 18 times. Once is in the Old Testament (Psalm 26:4). The rest come straight from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (It is strange that Jesus never says “hypocrite” in the Gospel of John.) So if Jesus really does not like hypocrites, He needs to have a stern talk to God the Father, as we will see in Deuteronomy 24.

From last time, you remember that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 dealt with remarriage your ex-wife, which is never a good idea. ;-) The rest of the chapter, Deuteronomy 24:5-22, is largely a collection of really good laws, such as: A newly married man is not obligated to fight in wars. Have zero tolerance for kidnappers. Do not take a man's livelihood as security for a loan, and do not abuse the poor in taking loan securities. Do not take advantage of the poor or aliens. Do not deny aliens, orphans, or widows their justice. Share the remnants of your produce with the poor and the aliens.

Let us take a closer look at one of those good laws which we find in Deuteronomy 24:16:
“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” NIV
Death penalty aside, this is a good law. You cannot kill a man for something that his kid did, nor can you kill the kid for something that his father did. This is God's holy moral guidance, His code, His very law. We should review the Old Testament so far to see if God practices what He preaches.
First, we begin with the Flood of Noah. Besides Noah and some of his immediate family, God wiped out everyone on earth in a global flood. Life was going on as normal up to the day of the Flood (Matthew 24:38), so undoubtedly there were innocent children who were killed in the Flood for the sins of their parents.

Next, we find that God destroyed the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sins of the people, with the exceptions of Lot and his daughters. Again, it is likely that innocent children were in those cities at the time of their destruction.

Moving on to Exodus, we find that God almost kills Moses' son (or possibly Moses himself depending on interpretation) because Moses did not yet circumcise his son.

Remember the plagues prior to the Exodus? In the tenth plague, God killed Pharaoh's firstborn son (and lots of other people's firstborn sons) for refusing to let the Israelites go.

Jumping on to Numbers, there is the tale of a rebellion led by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. God slaughters these men along with their entire families as punishment.

Finally, and maybe most significantly from an eternal perspective, in the previous chapter of Deuteronomy we learned that the Ammonites and the Moabites were essentially forbidden to ever learn about and worship God, thereby damning them for all eternity, just because of how their ancestors had treated the Israelites while they were wondering the desert.

Keep in mind that this immoral behavior does not stop with the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. In perhaps one of the more famous episodes of the Old Testament, God kills David's son as punishment because David had slept with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Samuel 11-12).

God is a hypocrite. God kills children for the sins of their fathers. Supposedly, God even had His own son killed (in a manner of speaking) for the sins of entirely different people. In Jesus' own words in Matthew 24:51, God the Father should be assigned to a place “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” for all eternity for His hypocrisy.