Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Version of the Truth

After the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus healed a leper. Or did that happen right after Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law, or right after getting Fishers of Men? Who knows? The Gospel writers could not figure out exactly when it happened, or at least could not agree on it. According to Matthew, another, more popular miracle followed on the heals of the healed leper...

Another Version of the Truth
Are the Gospel accounts divinely inspired, meaning that God had a hand in guiding and choosing what would be recorded? Are they historical accounts simply recorded to the best that the eye witnesses could remember? Are they both, or none of the above? These are not easy questions to answer, if you are a believer and you study the details across the Gospels. Take the episode of Jesus healing the Centurion's servant, for example.

Matthew 8:5-13, and its parallel in Luke 7:1-10, both have the same basic elements: There is a Centurion with a deathly-ill servant in Capernaum. The Centurion solicits Jesus to save the servant, but tells Jesus not to come into his house to heal the servant, instead believing that if Jesus just says the word then his servant will be healed. Jesus is amazed at the faith of the Centurion, and Jesus heals the servant without going to see him. It sure seems to be the same story, but not so fast...

In Matthew's version, the Centurion himself asks Jesus for help for his servant (Matthew 8:5). The story continues to have Jesus heal the servant only moments later while standing in the same spot (Matthew 8:13).

In Luke's version, The Centurion first sends the town elders to convince Jesus to come to heal the servant (Luke 7:3). Convinced, Jesus heads towards the Centurion's house for some distance (Luke 7:6). The Centurion then sent friends to tell Jesus not to enter his home, but just say the word to heal the servant, and in fact the Centurion did not feel like he was even worthy to meet Jesus face-to-face (Luke 7:6-7).

(You have to wonder why the Centurion did not tell the elders this message in the first place, to prevent Jesus from walking most of the way to his house. The Centurion was too humble to meet with Jesus, but not too humble to waste His time!)

So, right now, you may be thinking; “OK, so the details are a little different. Nobody has a perfect memory. So what?” Well, let us take an even closer look.

When Luke's elders spoke with Jesus, it went down like this in Luke 7:4-5:
When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, "This [Centurion] deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." NIV
So the Centurion loves Israel and the Hebrew religion enough to finance a synagogue. No wonder why Jesus helped him!

But wait. Skip back to Matthew's version. Check out Matthew 8:11-12, what Jesus says after marveling the Centurion's faith:
"I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the subjects of the Kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." NIV
Oh, snap! Jesus is condemning the Hebrew religion and its adherents, “the subjects of the Kingdom,” also known as the Jews in this context.

Luke's version does not mention this stinging, anti-Semitic condemnation at all, instead painting the Jewish elders in a more favorable light. These are two entirely different and conflicting messages set on the same story framework. This contrast is well beyond what should be considered simply different versions from different memories of the same story. These seem more like contrived texts with a specific messages tailored to the intents of the authors.

The tailoring does not stop there. You may remember a previous study in which Jesus seemed to be a reluctant healer; supposedly Jesus' second miracle in the region of Galilee. That tale is from John 4:46-54. Recalling some of the details, see if you notice any similarities:

There is a royal official with a deathly-ill son in Capernaum. The royal official solicits Jesus to save the son. Jesus heals the son without going to see him. The kicker: John 4:53 records that the boy was healed at the exact time when Jesus said that the boy would be healed, just like Matthew 8:13 records that the servant was healed in the very hour Jesus said he would be healed.

John's Gospel never records a story like this about a Centurion. Instead, this appears to be John's version of that same tale. Just like the other two authors, John tailored his version with a completely different message: a rebuke of those who look for miracles in order to believe.

These different and determined versions each speak of a creator, but not a divine one. As we see here, each Gospel was written with a purposeful intent of the author, and that intent was clearly without regards for reporting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This may be one of the earliest documented cases of what we today call “spin.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

God According to Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy. It is the final book of the Pentateuch/Torah/Law, and the final chance for Moses to teach the new generation of Israelites the ways of God before they enter the Promised Land. It is time now to reflect on what we have learned about God's ways in this book.

God According to Deuteronomy
Piecing together some information from earlier books, we figure out early in Deuteronomy that God believes that when you reach the age of 20 years old, you are fully accountable for your actions. As far as any arbitrary number goes, that seems like a reasonable age.

God believes that the Israelites have not lacked anything in their 40 years since the Exodus began. But God is obviously out of touch with reality, because the Israelites complained about not having good food and, even more importantly, about not having water, on multiple occasions. God even sometimes punished them for making these requests for basic and essential needs.

God is really, really proud of the the laws and commandments (collectively know at the Law) which He gave to the Israelites. He does not want you to add to or subtract from them. They are good for eternity. God thinks that they are so good that any other nation which studies these laws will be extremely impressed at how smart they are. Are you wearing blended fabrics? Dummy!

Did I mention that God was impressed with the Law? Well, God wants you to teach your children the Law everyday, and speak and write the Law all over the place. Be sure to teach your kids how to treat their slave girls! It is through following the Law that you can be righteous, and you do not even have to be perfect at it to be righteous. (Sorry Christianity.)

God says that He will drive out the Promised Land's present inhabitants, but then confusingly reminds the Israelites to completely wipe out those same inhabitants, killing everything that breaths.

Who is God? Think of God as a Father: you know, the kind of father who constantly tests you to see if you will obey him, humbles you with starvation and thirst, and threatens to kill you if you show an admiration of any other father.

God reminds the Israelites that it is just sheer luck that they are chosen by God; luck that their forefathers had impressed God. Otherwise, God would have already killed them.

Getting to God's impressive, holy Law, God commands having absolutely zero tolerance for other religions within the Promised Land. Censor pagan knowledge. Destroy all pagan symbols and altars. Kill individual pagan worshipers. And if an entire town is pagan? Kill everything that breaths in the town, and burn the entire town as an offering to God. Are you impressed?

God's Law continues, instructing to cancel debts every seven years, but only for fellow Israelites. You should maintain debt records for foreigners. You should also generously loan (not give) to the poor, so that you will be financially blessed by God.

God's Law also has commands for kings to follow with no negative connotations associated with kingship, even though it becomes clear later on that God did not want the Israelites to have a king.

God tells us that He will provide multiple prophets, not just one, and that the Israelites need to test each prophet to make sure that they come from God based on the fulfillment of prophesies during the prophet's lifetime. If what they prophesy does not come true, kill them.

What about the morals and family values of God's Law? God says that women as part of the plunder of war, allowing you to have sex with them and marry them if you want. God approves of polygamy, but your firstborn son must get the inheritance typically allotted to the firstborn regardless of how much you love (or hate) the woman who gave birth to this son. Oh, and you should stone rebellious children to death.

God's Law also says that if there is no blood from a broken hymen during a newlywed's first intercourse, then the woman should be stoned to death because she obviously was not a virgin. Of course, this proves God has a poor understanding of female anatomy, because natural variations in body structure can make it so that no blood is produced during the first intercourse. God also says that a raped woman must be married to the rapist in certain cases. Yes, indeed, God has wonderfully high moral standards. So wise.

God has restrictions of who is allowed to enter His congregation, and who is not. God does not want anyone with damaged testicles, anyone from a lineage from someone born out of wedlock, or anyone of Ammonite or Moabite ancestry.

God believes divorce is OK, but you had better not remarry your divorced wife after she has married someone else. That would be disgusting to God, even though a man having multiple wives is not disgusting to God in the least.

God's Law says that no man should be put to death for the sins of his children, and no son should be put to death for the sins of his father. Yet God has an established pattern of ignoring this rule of morality.

God obligates a brother to marry his brother's widow (regardless of this brother's marital status) if there was no male heir, or else face a shame which would forever endure with his progeny. God also wants you to chop off the hand of any woman who fights dirty to try to save her husband. Plus, God wants the Israelites to hold a permanent grudge against the Amalekites, never forgiving them for what their previous generation had done.

Now if the Israelites obeyed God's righteous Law, God would bless them with peaceful, financial prosperity. If not, God would curse them in so many horrendous ways that they would be tortured into submission.

When the Israelites were again willing to follow only God's will, God promised that He would circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants so that they would love God and obey His Law once again. Of course, this is in dramatic contrast to how Christianity spins the prophesy.

Closing out Deuteronomy with a song, God says that He has perfect works and perfect justice, and that He never does anything wrong. This brands God a liar, because He made man (imperfect), His justice is wanting (as seen above), and He routinely goes against His own moral code (again as seen above). The song ends with God making atonement (without Jesus) for both His people (the Israelites) AND His land (Zion), which is a bit different than the Christian perspective of salvation and redemption.

What We Have Learned
God thinks 20 years old is the age of full accountability.

God thinks that you can be dying of thirst, and still not lack anything.

God thinks that the Law He provided is perfect as is for all eternity, and it should never be amended or redacted. It is a showcase of God's wisdom, providing proof of His divinity to any pagan willing to study it. Children should be taught it, and the culture should be immersed in it, purging all other ideas. God is the kind of father who will have either your complete obedience to His Law or your death. When people drift away, their return to God will always be coupled to their return to His Law. HUGE red flag that Christianity is false...

God wants the present Promised Land inhabitants absolutely and completely wiped out, as well as death for all Amalekites. Short on forgiveness, God never wants anyone from a bastard's lineage or of Ammonite or Moabite ancestry in His congregation.

Just because you are chosen by God, does not mean you are any better than anyone else, which essentially means that decision is arbitrary.

God's wise laws include ideological intolerance, racism, nationalism, and sexism, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of human anatomy. In God's Law, death sentences are a usual form of punishment.

Even in cases where God provides good moral guidance, God Himself does not feel obligated to do what is right and obey His own given morals.

God will reward obedience in this life, not some life beyond death. And for disobedience, if you are not killed, you may wish for death when God gets done with applying curses.

Finally, God has a highly inflated ego and delusions of righteous grandeur.

In short: God is a hypocritical, intolerant, racist, nationalist, sexist, capricious, and delusional megalomaniac with little regard for human life, a poor understanding of anatomy, and an even poorer understanding of what it means to be a role good model for fatherhood.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Swan Song

Previously we discussed how God knew that the Israelites would stray from Him, and how God would curse them and send them into exile for punishment, but would eventually bring them back to Israel when they again turned to God.

In the next chapter, Deuteronomy 31, Joshua is named as the heir to the position of leadership which is now held by Moses. Moses reminds the Israelites to completely kill all of the Promised Land's present inhabitants and to obey God's Law. God then tells Moses again that the Israelites will soon stray from God and His Law, and so God gives Moses a song to have all of the people memorize as a witness against themselves...

Swan Song
Time is drawing to an end for Moses. Now, on the border of a country which God has sworn that he will never enter, it is time for Moses to give one of his last performances as leader of the Israelites, his swan song. Fortunately for Moses, God is a song writer, so He has provided Moses with just the song for the occasion. God wants all of the Israelites to memorize and sing this song; a song about (among other things) the horrible fate awaiting later generations of Israelites in their upcoming, inevitable rejection of God (Deuteronomy 31:19-21).

Like any epic tune, God's song begins with an introduction in Deuteronomy 32:1-4. In case you have difficulty figuring out what to think of God's character, God Himself affirms that His works are perfect works, that His ways are just, and that He does no wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4). Ergo, we know that man is perfect (created by God) and that this covenant with the Israelites was perfect (sorry Hebrews 8:7), that killing someone for picking up sticks on the wrong day is true justice, and that there is nothing wrong with the practice of entrapment.

Then the soul of the song opens with God being disgusted at how the Israelites have repaid Him (Deuteronomy 32:5-6). God recounts how He changed the man Jacob (Israel) from a state of insignificant destitution into a great and richly prosperous nation in the Promised Land, only to have that nation turn its back on God while turning to idol worship instead (Deuteronomy 32:7-18).

With that section is the interesting verse of Deuteronomy 32:9:
For the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance. NIV
Contrary to Christian mantra, what God gets, what God keeps, is not anyone who walks in His ways. His people, Jacob, a.k.a. the Israelites, a.k.a. the Jews are God's allotted inheritance. Nobody else.

Moving on in the song, because the Israelites have rejected God, God rejects them (Deuteronomy 32:19). Parents should keep this in mind when they get to raising those troubled teens, because God's ways are just.

This is not some passive rejection where God simply stops giving His children an allowance of blessings. God illuminates that hand-in-hand with His rejection comes His wrath. The Israelites will be invaded by a pagan nation, have their harvests stolen and their cities destroyed, be ravaged by pestilence and plague, be attacked by wild animals and snakes, and be slaughtered by the sword (Deuteronomy 32:20-25). Again, parents, I hope you are taking notes of God the Father's exemplary behavior.

Next we find that God really wants to kill all of the Israelites, but the trouble is that the pagan nation which God will make conquer the Israelites will not understand. If all of the Israelites are wiped out, that nation might think that God was not the reason for the Israelites' prior prosperity (Deuteronomy 32:26-33).

This is a subtle yet devastating blow to a branch of Christian theology known as Typology. They see Moses as a type of Jesus; playing out different roles and actions which would be echoed and completely fulfilled by Jesus. One of those roles is for intercession to stay God's wrath, as Moses managed to keep God from killing all of the Israelites twice before; once for their making of a gold cow and once for their being afraid of the Promised Land's inhabitants. So too, Jesus intercedes on believers' behalf to prevent them from tasting God's wrath. Yet these verses show that intercession is not necessary. God is willing not to completely annihilate the Israelites simply to protect His reputation. If only He could protect His reputation from Himself.

No good deed goes unpunished. As the song concludes, we find that God will punish this pagan nation to prove that only He is God and to take vengeance on them for enacting God's vengeance on the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:34-43). Sure, that makes sense.

Deuteronomy 32:43, the last line of the song, is particularly interesting:
Rejoice, O nations, with [God's] people, for [God} will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people. NIV
An affront to foreshadowing Christianity, God will make atonement for His people and His land. That land? The Promised Land. Israel. Zion. The Jewish God is concerned with preserving the little patch of actual Earth which He so dearly loves as well as saving people, while the Christian God is only concerned with people; going to whisk the lucky ones off to Heaven, or to a new Earth (depending on the flavor of Christianity).

In an overly redundant theme, the chapter then continues first with a plea for the Israelites to obey God's Law, because the words of the Law are “not just idle words, they are your life”(Deuteronomy 32:44-47). Of course, this is a blow to foreshadowing Christianity too, unless you obey Jesus instead of the Apostles on the matter.

The chapter closes out with God telling Moses to go up on Mount Nebo to die (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). There is a curious expression we find in Deuteronomy 32:50-51 where God says:
“There on [Mount Nebo] that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold My holiness among the Israelites.” NIV
The phrase “gathered to your people” is vague enough to open interpretation. As far as I can tell, unanimously Christianity believes this to be some indicator of the knowledge of the afterlife even in the Bible's (debatably) earliest scriptures (used first in Genesis 25:7-8). The exact details of what it means are not so unanimous.

I could be wrong, but I think that a connection to the afterlife as Christianity knows it is an incorrect interpretation altogether. Why? I base it on a couple factors.

First, in the Christian sense of the afterlife, once the Saved die (such as Moses) they are essentially in paradise with Jesus at that moment. (There are some that say the dead sleep until a final resurrection, in which case, to the dead, it would seem like an instantaneous event.) In that sense, death is practically a reward. Death, where is thy sting? Yet from the text we see that God intends for this death to be a punishment for Moses for breaking the faith.

Second, notice how Moses will be gathered to “your people” while his brother was gathered to “his people.” Why are Moses and Aaron being gathered to different sets of people when they are in the same family and (presumably) both Saved?

Instead, I offer this alternative: Perhaps “gathered to your people” is a euphemism for a funeral proceeding. “Your people” are specific to the ones who would mourn for you, which would explain why Moses and Aaron had different people. This may also be connected with a status of cultural veneration of patriarchs which have died, which ties into the Genesis 15:15 verse where God tells Abraham that he will go to his fathers (plural, not possessive) in peace.

This interpretation appears to be more in line with the text early in the Bible, because there is absolutely no specific mention of eternal afterlife in the early books. Instead you find consequences within the physical, temporal world left as an inheritance for later generations. Surely an eternal reward or punishment would have would have been more important to record than whether or not you went to your people after you die. By that omission, it appears that no such afterlife belief was held.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Return To Truth

Over the past couple of chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses has been relaying God's blessings for obeying His Law, as well as the curses for disobeying it, curses which included exile. Flavoring the text around the curses are words implying that the Israelites' disobedience to the Law was a foregone conclusion, but the story does not end with a litany of punishments...

The Return To Truth
What Deuteronomy 30 contains in terms of implications for and refutations of Christianity is earth shattering. At least it is to those willing to see the truth. We have got a lot of material to cover, so let us begin with the end in mind, and take a moment to review a few Christian positions.

Jesus never once spoke against obeying God's Law. He spoke against following customs of the Pharisees which were not contained in God's Law, but he taught that those who disobeyed God's Law, even the least important laws, and who taught others to do the same would be called “least” in Heaven (Matthew 5:19). Jesus also taught to be prudent in application of the Law, such as to allow healings on the Sabbath (such as Matthew 12:9-14).

Yet after Jesus left the scene, debate raged on about whether or not to obey the Law at all and whether or not circumcision was necessary (Acts 15:1-31, Romans 2:17-29, 1 Corinthians 7:19). Ultimately, the non-law-abidance side won out. In an ironic twist and in direct conflict with Jesus' words, Paul proclaims a freedom from the Law through Jesus in Galatians 5:1-6.

Related to this paradigm shift is a peculiar interpretation of a prophecy in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews 8:7-13 contains a quote of Jeremiah 31:31-34. This prophesy speaks of a new covenant which would be between God and the Israelites. Hebrews 8:13 concludes that:
“By calling this covenant “new,” [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” NIV
As the book continues, Hebrews 10:15-18 quotes one line from the same prophecy as part of an argument for ending sacrifices. Hebrews 10:16 regurgitates Jeremiah 31:33:
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds...” NIV
This verse is used as additional fodder in the fight against following God's Law as it is in the Torah. Most Christian theologians, such as Gill (ref. Hebrews 8:10 commentary), argue that by “my laws,” God is not referring to God's Law, but rather either basic moral codes or the doctrine of grace. They see the “new” part of the covenant as bearing God's desired laws internally instead of needing to consult a written code.

Another Christian mantra is that it was impossible to be righteous by obeying God's Law, and tied to that the thought that obeying God's Law could not grant you life (Galatians 2:21, Galatians 3:11, Galatians 3:21).

One final Christian philosophy to bear in mind: It was impossible to keep God's Law in full, thereby necessitating the forgiveness through Jesus. While not explicitly claimed anywhere, this school of thought is somewhat supported by passages like Romans 7:14-25.

OK, now that we have covered Christianity, let us get back to the truth. ;-)

In the previous chapter's list of curses, the Israelites were to experience exile as punishment for not obeying God's Law. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 is the next phase; promising that when the Israelites are in exile, if they again turn to God by obeying His Law, God will bring them back to the land of Israel. At that time, God will circumcise their hearts, and their descendants' hearts to make them love and obey God (Deuteronomy 30:6), and explicitly they will follow God's entire Law again (Deuteronomy 30:8).

Let me repeat for clarity: a circumcised heart is a metaphor for a personal commitment and desire to love God and obey His Laws.

In the rest of the chapter, Deuteronomy 30:11-20 is a plea for the Israelites to love and obey God. Contrary to the Christian opinion, God believes that obeying His Law is “not too difficult” (Deuteronomy 30:11). Why? In Deuteronomy 30:14 God says:
“No, [God's Law] is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” NIV
If something is “in your mouth” in this sense, that means you are thinking and speaking about it; essentially the same as the phrase from Jeremiah 31:33 about the laws being written on their minds.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 closes out the chapter with a plea for the Israelites to choose (temporal) life, not eternal:
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” NIV
The Israelites were very impressed with God's Law, and considered life-giving righteousness could be granted by obeying it. This righteousness is often explicitly claimed, such as in Psalm 37:30-31.

Fast forward now to Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet during the final decades of the Israelite occupation of the Promised Land; before and during the first Israelite exile from their homeland. At that time, the Israelites on average had strayed far from God's Law. They kept the basic mechanics in place, such as circumcision and Temple sacrifices, but other portions of the Law were ignored for corrupt personal gain or pleasure.

In Jeremiah 4:4, he warns that the Israelites had better circumcise their hearts, or else they will face God's wrath (including exile). In Jeremiah 9:25-26, he claims that God will punish those who are not circumcised in the heart.

When you get to Jeremiah 31, the punishment has happened. The Israelites are in exile. Jeremiah is prophesying the very same return from exile as what is contained in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. So Jeremiah 31:31-34 should be viewed in that context. This “new” covenant may better be interpreted as a renewed covenant. Having God's laws in their hearts and minds is a return to the status which the Israelites had when they were making the covenant with God on the precipice of entering the Promised Land.

There is nothing new in Jeremiah's covenant, except for maybe one thing: a claim which is made in the preceding verse of Jeremiah 31:30:
“Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge. ” NIV
This verse is in there because God had developed a reputation of being slack on His Holy condemnation. Generations would go by before the sins from the fathers or grandfathers were punished by God. Here, God is committing to dispensation of timely judgement, so that a man's progeny would not suffer for his own dirty deeds, but rather that man himself would get the punishment.

Now let us summarize what we have learned here: God considers loving Him and obeying His Law critically important for a righteous and lasting life – not life in the eternal sense, but instead having a blessed temporal existence. God's old covenant with the Israelites did not become outdated and did not disappear, but rather got renewed. Having God's laws in hearts and minds referred to His actual entire Law, not some derivative moral code of that Law. According to God, it is not a difficult task to obey God's Law.

Oh, and Christianity is wrong on so many levels that it is no wonder that they had trouble converting the majority of the Jews.