Friday, September 30, 2011

Misquoted and Misguided

Recently, Jesus and His disciples were confronted by the Pharisees for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus explained that, just like how David broke God's Law by eating the consecrated bread and it was OK, what He and His disciples were doing was OK too. The Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath, which prompted the Pharisees, and possibly the Herodians (see Mark), to begin plotting to take Jesus' life (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11).

Misquoted and Misguided
Prophesy. It has become my favorite point of contention with Christianity, perhaps endearing me to the Jews. :-) For all of the contradictions in the Gospel accounts can be rationalized by believers, and all of the Old Testament absurdities and harsh punishments under God's instruction and control can be swept aside as things which God needed to say or do at that particular time in order to orchestrate the climax of the story; the Salvation though Jesus. However, the prophesies which the New Testament authors employed for support are often so twisted and cherry-picked from their original content that anyone with scruples enough to turn an honest eye on them would be forced to recognize the indelible fingerprints of man, not God, such as we will see in this study.

Jesus had angered the Pharisees by healing on the Sabbath, so they sought to kill Him. Jesus knew this, so He fled the scene. Crowds of people followed Jesus, and Jesus healed them and told them not to tell anybody who He was (much like He did with His exorcisms). This was all to fulfill the words of Isaiah (Matthew 12:15-17). Which words? Matthew 12:18-21 misquotes Isaiah 42:1-4. Here they are side-by-side in the NIV:

Matthew 12:18-21
Isaiah 42:1-4
"Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. "Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
In his name the nations will put their hope." he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope."

First, notice that it is somewhat difficult to directly correlate what Jesus had just done with the words of the prophesy, regardless of which version you look at.

More importantly though, I have made a mistake in saying that Matthew misquoted Isaiah. He completely changed the text with a biased intent to tie the prophesy to Jesus. This is most clear in the last verse of the four. For a detailed look, examine Isaiah 42:4 and Matthew 12:21 in the Bible Lexicon.

Matthew leaves off the part about establishing justice on earth. He uses “In his name,” implying in Jesus' name, as a substitute for the Hebrew word “torah,” which can mean instruction or precept, but is most commonly used to designate God's Law. He uses the term “the nations,” which, in the original Greek, the word was commonly used to designate people other than the Jews (and so is also rendered “the Gentiles” in other translations) in place of the Hebrew word for coastlines or islands. Matthew altered, twisted, and forged the prophesy until it was bent to his will; to bolster the claim that Jesus was the Messiah while dismissing the more common ideas of what the Jewish Messiah was to do.

I know. You are not convinced. Well, then, let us have a look at the full prophecy of Isaiah 42. This prophesy was supposedly written at a time after the Babylonians had conquered the lands of Israel and Judah. Many of the surviving Hebrews were scattered; some had fled to other countries while others were captured and taken back to Babylon. In effect, there were small islands of Hebrews scattered in the seas of Gentile nations, which is most likely the reason for the island metaphor used in verse four of the prophesy. These islands would have been indeed hoping for a day when they could return to their homeland and worship God, and obey His Law. That is what I would suggest, but let us keep reading to see if that is accurate.

In Isaiah 42:5, God just talks about Himself; how He made everything and makes everyone live.

Isaiah 42:6-7 sure sounds like it is about Jesus. God is saying that He will make this Servant a “covenant for the people” and a “light for the Gentiles” (with the Hebrew word “goy,” meaning foreign nation, being interpreted justifiably as “Gentiles”), as well as how the blind will see and prisoners in darkness will be released. A less obvious alternative interpretation is that the word “covenant” is often used in close association with God's Law in the Old Testament, and the idea might be that when this Servant establishes God's Law again, the wisdom of God's Law will shine out to the Gentiles. That may seem like a stretch now, but let us keep reading.

In Isaiah 42:8, God says that He will not share His glory with anyone, which simultaneously supports and refutes the idea of Jesus.

Isaiah 42:9 speaks of how the former things have taken place, and now God is proclaiming new things before they happen. One way you could look at this is that the time of the Old-Testament-style divine interaction will come to an end and this prophesy has to do with what is coming through Jesus. Another interpretation is that previously prophesied things have come to pass (the conquering and scattering of the Hebrews) and that God is just proclaiming a new prophesy.

In Isaiah 42:10-12, God says that the whole world should rejoice and praise God, which may again be tempting to side on supporting this as a prophesy for Jesus. Or it could be a general call for everyone to praise God because, well, He is God.

Up to now in the prophesy, there is a relatively strong case for suggesting that this is all really about Jesus. However, this is where it all turns around and the truth is more clearly revealed.

In Isaiah 42:13-15, God says that He has been quiet for a long time now, but will soon sound the battle cry and triumph over His enemies, laying them to waste. That is very different than Jesus on earth. At best, from a New Testament perspective you could associate that with Judgement Day, but let us keep reading.

Isaiah 42:16 continues with how God will lead the blind and those in darkness down unfamiliar paths into the light. But, as Isaiah 42:17 continues, those who worship idols will be shamed. The first part of that you could have associated with Jesus, but idol worship was not a big concern Jesus had in His ministry. In fact, you will not even find the word “idol” in any of the four Gospel accounts.

Now: the coup de grâce on the Jesus theory. Let us read Isaiah 42:18-19 together, where God says:
"Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but My Servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the Servant of the Lord?" NIV

Yes, the Hebrew word for “servant” here is “ebed,” exactly the same word used in Isaiah 42:1. For the same author to use the same word in the context of the same chapter and prophesy, there is no reason for us to think that they are different in meaning. So, was Jesus blind and deaf? The answer is obviously no. No in the literal sense of the words, and no in the metaphorical sense, which is subsequently described in Isaiah 42:20-25. There, you find God lamenting how the Hebrews had not obeyed His Law or paid heed to the punishments which He bestowed upon them.

Everything falls into place. The exiled and scattered Hebrews, Hebrews who were God's chosen people, His chosen servant, were the ones who were blind and in darkness, who God was going to lead to the light down unfamiliar paths; the light of His Law, in the path of obedience.

We have now seen how evident it is that Matthew twisted words and cherry-picked the prophesies to build a case of support for Jesus. If Jesus was the real thing, then such perverse methodology would not have needed to be employed to support the truth.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sourdough Sabbath

Jesus revealed that it is God's pleasure to keep things hidden from certain people, and that He is selective about to whom He shows God. Then Jesus claimed that obeying and following Him was an easy burden and a light yoke, but the reality seems quite the contrary. Next, we move into a couple anecdotes about the Sabbath.

Sourdough Sabbath
If anyone should know what is in the Bible, it is God. The Bible is called the Word of God for a reason. All but the most liberal believers consider the content of the Bible to be at least divinely inspired, if not divinely dictated. It is no surprise, then, that Jesus should know the Bible well, given that He is part of God. The Gospels even record the authority with which Jesus spoke about the Scriptures (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:21-22, Luke 4:31-32). So what are we to think when Jesus gets it wrong?

Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5 all record the story of how Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field of grain one Sabbath. The disciples were hungry, so they picked some grain and ate it. Coincidentally, some Pharisees happened to be around to see this act, and they confronted Jesus because they thought that gathering grain on the Sabbath was against God's Law.

The response Jesus provided varied a little, depending on which Gospel account you read. However, Matthew 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, and Luke 6:3-4 all strike on the same chord as part of the reply. As Matthew 12:3-4 renders it:
[Jesus] answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated breadwhich was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests." NIV

It is interesting to note that in Jesus' response, He implicitly confirms that the work involved in picking the grain would indeed be against God's Law. As we learned in Numbers 15:32-36 where God commanded for a man be stoned to death for gathering wood on a Sabbath, God takes such a transgression very seriously. Yet here, in this case, Jesus seems a little more lenient.

It is also interesting to note that neither David nor Jesus' disciples were to the point of starving to death when they made this transgression. At least that is not the way either story is framed. Besides, Jesus had previously reminded everyone that man does not live by bread alone but by God's will during a 40 day period fasting when He was tempted by Satan. That is a great reminder that this religion promotes fasting! So for Jesus' disciples to skip eating grain to honor the Sabbath should have been no big deal at all!

Yet, perhaps the most interesting parts of this whole affair is the story which Jesus references and the way in which He does so. If you did not know anything of the story, you might get the impression that David walked into the temple and took the sacred bread because he and his companions were hungry. That is not at all what happened...

In 1 Samuel 20, Jonathan, David's beloved friend and one of King Saul's sons, discovers that Saul is planning on killing David. So at the end of the chapter, David is fleeing. Fleeing by himself.

The part which Jesus references is in 1 Samuel 21:1-9. In the town of Nob, David seeks out Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek is surprised to find David traveling alone. David lies to Ahimelek, saying that he is on a secret mission given to him by the king, and that his men are in a secret meeting spot. David does not say “I am hungry, do you have anything to eat?” Instead he demands five loaves of bread, or whatever Ahimelek can find. Ahimelek says that the only bread around is the consecrated bread (reference Leviticus 24:5-9) which David and his men could have, provided they had kept themselves from women! David continues the lie, saying that his men's bodies are holy (thus implying that having sex with women, even their own wives, would have made them unholy!).

Before leaving the temple, David took the sword of Goliath there, which was further proof that he was not with companions, as anyone would have given a leader, such as David, a weapon. According to 1 Samuel 21:10-15, later that same day David fled to the presence of Achish, the king of Gath, where David (all by himself) pretended to be insane for his own protection.

Jesus was wrong. David did not share the bread with his companions. David was fleeing for his life alone. How is it possible that Jesus does not know the Word of God? Furthermore, David procured this consecrated bread by lying to one of God's anointed priests, which is not exactly a good example to follow.

Finally, from the way in which Jesus made the reference to this story, you may think that anything David did, be it against God's Law or not, was OK to do. If so, you would be right, almost. Check out 1 Kings 15:5:
For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. NIV

Jesus claimed that it was against God's Law for David and his imaginary companions to eat the consecrated bread. God said that David upheld all of His commands (implicitly including God's Law) except for the case of Uriah. (Uriah was Bathsheba's husband. David had Uriah killed in battle after David impregnated Bathsheba. Reference 2 Samuel 11.) Who is right, God or Jesus?

It turns out that they are both wrong. Jesus was wrong about David's companions. God was wrong because of David eating the consecrated bread and because David had many wives, something prohibited according to Deuteronomy 17:17. How many many wives David had is not certain. He had three before becoming king (1 Samuel 25:42-44), he had some other random wife Eglah (2 Samuel 3:5), then he “took more concubines and wives” after becoming King of Judah (2 Samuel 5:13), then upon becoming King of all of the Israelites he took King Saul's (unnumbered) wives (2 Samuel 12:8), and, of course, he married Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:27).

That, my friends, is a double strike against both Biblical inerrancy and divine omniscience. When Jesus gets the Bible wrong, and God does too, you have pretty good evidence suggesting that, at best, there are errors recorded in the Bible, and, at worst, that it is all make believe and man-made.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Easy Yoke

Jesus has just revealed that it is God's pleasure to keep things hidden from the wise and the learned, which was most likely a reference to the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus also explained that He is selective about to whom God is revealed.

An Easy Yoke
As we well know, there are many schisms within the body of the Christian church today. Beyond the major Catholic-versus-Protestant divide, there are so many variations and denominations available that Christians can practically customize the message they hear every Sunday (or Saturday) to their individually tailored beliefs. However, there is a Christian sub-culture movement seeking to put the focus back on what Jesus wants instead of what they want. They prefer to identify themselves as Christ-followers instead of Christians, as if “Christian” has been tainted. What might it mean to be a true Christ-follower? We will take a look during this study.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said:

"Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." NIV

We have three ideas to consider here. First and fast, the bit about taking on Jesus' yoke and learning from Him is exactly what Christ-followers are pursuing. In a sense, they seek to mimic Jesus; everything but the divinity, of course. In that respect, it is a more pure type of Christianity, and something which does not mesh at all with the Religious Right.

Next, let us take a brief moment to consider how Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart.” When preachers cover this verse, they give the requisite reference of how humble Jesus was when He washed His Disciple's feet (John 13:3-17), meanwhile leaving out the less-gentle, less-humble episodes like when Jesus stormed the Temple courtyard with a whip, overturning tables and chasing out the people who provided the animals for God-mandated sacrifices (John 2:12-17).

We should not forget that when Jesus says that He is gentle and humble at heart, He is claiming that God is gentle and humble at heart. However, there are scarce few examples from the Old Testament of God demonstrating how gentle He is, and there are no examples of God being humble there. Instead, you find a God full of harsh wrath, such as the plagues on Egypt, and a God who begins His list of commandments by telling the Israelites how jealous He is, and later ordered death for those who did not choose to worship Him. Last I checked, it was fairly impossible to be both jealous and humble, but, hey, all things are possible with God. Right?

Finally, how about that easy yoke and light burden? Let us take a moment to review the yoke described thus far:

Sure, several of these things are pretty easy, but many of them are anything but an easy yoke or a light burden. It makes Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30 inaccurate at best, and flat out wrong at worst. Perhaps that is why the Gospel of Matthew is the only one claiming that following Jesus would give you rest.

As I have pointed out in other studies, it appears that the author of Matthew has a tendency to aggregate little sayings and deeds which had come to be associated with Jesus; sometimes doing so well, like with the Sermon on the Mount, and other times aggregating poorly, like with the instructions to the Apostles for their first mission. I suspect that this is just another case where we find Matthew's folly. It seems very unlikely that Jesus would have claimed that following Him was easy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Selective Election

In this part of the Gospels, Jesus was full of condemnation. He likened the generation of people living in His time as a bunch of fickle, unsatisfiable children (Matthew 11:16-19, Luke 7:31-35). He condemned Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for not repented from His miracle shows, and He reveled the fact that God was preventing the wise and learned people from understanding God's hidden things.

Selective Election
Some would say that God gives everyone a fair chance at Salvation. However, the truth of the matter is that the Scripture does not support such an open invitation. As we will see, God is selective about who will be allowed the opportunity of Salvation.

We need to start by setting the proper context. In the previous study, we observed how, in Matthew 11:25-26 and Luke 10:21, Jesus praised God for preventing the “wise and learned” from understanding the hidden “things” of God. It was God's “good pleasure” to keep them in the dark. The verse we are examining comes right after that notion of praise in both Matthew and Luke, but is not mentioned by either of the other two Gospels. Matthew 11:27 has Jesus say:
"All things have been committed to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." NIV
Luke 10:22 is nearly identical. It just adds “who” and “is” for clarification, as in “...No one knows who the Son is except the Father...”

For this to be true, we have one of two things happening here. Either: 1) There is a double-filtration occurring, where God opts to keep some people from understanding and Jesus opts not to reveal God to other people. Or: 2) The “good pleasure” God found in keeping the wise and learned from understanding God's hidden things is the pleasure of letting Jesus make all of the decisions on who will have the opportunity to know God, and who will not.

One thing is certain though: Salvation is not available to everyone. It is only for whoever God/Jesus chooses. The Elect. If you do not have an invitation from Jesus, you do not have the option. Salvation is not a freewill decision, but rather it is a choice made for you; at least the invitation level, if not deeper. It may even be the case that if you are not chosen, there is no hope for you at all, because God will actively prevent you from attaining Salvation, as the preceding verses suggest.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hidden from the Wise

At this point in the Gospel storyline, Jesus is on a roll of condemnation. With disdain, Jesus described the generation of people living in His time as a bunch of fickle, unsatisfiable children (Matthew 11:16-19, Luke 7:31-35). He then condemned Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for not being convinced to repent by His miracles; miracles which would have made Sodom repent so much so that they would have still existed to that day. There is one more bone to pick.

Hidden from the Wise
The portrait of Jesus many Christians would like to present is full of light, love, and mercy. There are certainly verses to support such an ideal being. However, those who consider all of Jesus' words honestly are forced to face the fact that Jesus had a darker side, dwelling in hate and vengeance, such as what we will see in this study.

In Matthew 11:25-26, like Luke 10:21, we find Jesus saying these interesting words:
"I praise You, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." NIV

What exactly did Jesus mean here? This is a little difficult to discern, because in the context immediately surrounding these verses neither Matthew nor Luke provides much insight. It appears to be an island; a little anecdote which neither author could fit in to an appropriate location.

And it is no wonder there is difficulty. The verses, if literally true, meant that only young children seemed to understand Jesus' message. However, while there were children involved, it seems that the majority of people who were following Jesus were adults. So “little children” is more likely to be a metaphor for something else than referring to actual children.

What are “little children” like? Innocent and naïve, lacking a broad wisdom of the world, not yet educated. To people with these qualities, God has revealed the hidden things. Or, as I have seen some skeptics paint it by playing off the contrast from “the wise and learned,” that only the stupid, or perhaps rather, the more gullible, believed Jesus. But this skeptical slant goes a little too far, because God has no problems with wisdom, as long as it is the right kind of wisdom, like the Proverbs 1:7 kind:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. NIV

God's kind of wisdom is the Psalm 19:7 kind of wisdom:
The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. NIV

So let us take a quick look at the other side of the equation. Who are “the wise and learned” supposed to be? We do not know what these hidden “things” are, but the implication is that they are related to God and Jesus, which in turn would imply that “the wise and learned” are people like the Pharisees and scribes, and perhaps their disciples, who had studied the Scriptures to the point of having their own understanding and knowledge of God and His prophesies. As we know based on Jewish customs and recorded concepts in the Gospels, that learned class had sometimes extrapolated well beyond the Scriptural text in their version of understanding God.

Now that we have a sense of who Jesus was speaking about, let us take consider the meaning of Matthew 11:25-26 and Luke 10:21. Jesus is praising God for finding pleasure in hiding these “things” from people who have devoted great effort into studying God, while instead revealing them to people who have not studied about God much.

While the use of “little children” appears metaphorical, the act of God hiding the hidden “things” from “the wise and learned” is decidedly not a metaphor. Jesus is not saying “thank God these people cannot figure out the truth on their own.” Jesus is instead saying “thank you, God, for preventing these people from understanding the truth,” because the act of preventing their understanding was a “good pleasure” for God. To revel in the fact that certain people cannot understand God is an act of hate, not love.

Contrary to Matthew 18:14 and 2 Peter 3:9, God and Jesus are not only willing that some would perish, but they actually derive pleasure in the thought of some perishing in their ignorance; an ignorance held upon them by God Himself. It is God's thirst and pleasure for vengeance without a chance of Salvation which seems to be hidden from many, otherwise wise, Christians today.

If you think that last statement is a bit overreaching, consider the history of confusion bestowed by God: