Friday, October 28, 2011

Jesus' Family

In our progression through the Gospels, we saw how Jesus was accused of working for Satan when He cast out demons, how the one unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and how the story of Jonah was twisted into a metaphor for a sign which would be given to this generation. Mathew 12:43-45 then talks of how this generation will be like an exorcised man who subsequently gets re-possessed by that same demon and seven more wicked ones. Luke 11:24-25 also references the re-possessed man, but without the condemnation of this generation, and before Jesus had told the Pharisees about the sign of Jonah. Also interesting are the two verses which follow that, Luke 11:26-27, because they probably make Catholics shudder in denial as Jesus turns the focus away from His mother, but that pales in comparison with what Matthew and Mark cover next, and what Luke covered long before that...

Jesus' Family
In the popular version of the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12 states:
"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." NIV
This “honor” appears to be in the sense of respecting and obeying your dad and mom, as opposed to the sense of bestowing them with accolades. As you can see, there are no qualifiers. It does not say “if your parents are good, then honor them.” Nor does it say “honor your parents until you have your own family.” This is a lifelong duty you owe your parents. Considering that it appears as though the Law was only fully in effect when children reached the full age of culpability, 20 years old, this commandment was intended even more for adults than for children. With Jesus being God, and carrying out God's will so perfectly, we might expect Jesus to have set a shining enacting example of this fifth commandment. If so, our expectations will be seriously unfulfilled.

Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, and Luke 8:19-21 all record an event where Jesus' mother and brothers arrived to confront Jesus, but they could not get to Him because of the crowd. So they sent someone to let Jesus know that His mother and brothers were outside and wanted to talk to Him. Jesus' reply is recorded essentially the same in Mark 3:33-35, Luke 8:21, and Matthew 12:48-50:
[Jesus] replied to him, "Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?" Pointing to His disciples, He said, "Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in Heaven is My brother and sister and mother." NIV
To the believer, this is just a proclamation that fellow followers of Christ are to be like family to one another, and that may be true, but that is not the complete picture.

Jesus says that whoever does the will of God is His family, and so at the same time it appears as though He is disowning His own biological family, presumably because they are not obeying God's will. Thus it appears as though Jesus is dishonoring his biological mother's request to speak with Him, and thus breaking God's commandment to honor your parents.

That is a bold claim, I know. Right now I am sure any believers reading this reject the notion completely. However, the truth is revealed when you look at the motivation of Jesus' family's visitation. This motivation is only captured in the earliest-written Gospel, in the usually ignored verses of Mark 3:20-21:
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and His disciples were not even able to eat. When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind." NIV
If you do believe your Son is the Messiah, on a mission from God, you probably are not going to think that He is crazy, and you certainly would not try to “take charge of Him.” Clearly, despite angels from God proclaiming to both Joseph and Mary that their Son would be the Messiah (according Matthew and Luke only), Jesus' real family had issues accepting Him as the Messiah. So from that perspective, it makes sense that Jesus was dishonoring and disowning His family for not heeding God's words, even if it does not make sense for Him to break a commandment and somehow remain sinless.

Consider how well this meshes with Jesus' earlier statement about how He had come to set family members against each other. Consider also how well this aligns with later statements where Jesus encourages leaving parents and children to follow Him (Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29-31, Luke 18:29-30).

But that is not the whole story, because there are examples, primarily in the Gospel of John, where Jesus does seem to promote honoring your biological mother. Jesus (begrudgingly) made miraculous wine at His mother's request, hung out with His family (John 2:12), and entrusted the care of His mother to John before His crucifixion (John 19:25-27).

It just does not add up. It is as if Jesus has multiple personalities, or as if there is some fabrication involved in these stories.

The Order of Events
As covered in a previous post, one of the easiest ways to prove the fallibility of the Gospels is just to look at the order of events. The Gospel writers, despite the supposed ability to consult with hundreds of eyewitnesses to get the story correct, could not agree on when things happened. Of the three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, usually scholars will claim that Luke spent the most concerted effort to write everything down in the right order, while Matthew and Mark only concentrated on remembering the most important details and cared less about chronology. The problem is that you cannot give Luke the crown for an accurate timeline without completely ignoring some of the text in the other Gospels.

For example, this episode begins with Matthew 12:46 stating:
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, His mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to Him. NIV
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd” is a phase of sequential conjunction. It unequivocally ties this event into Jesus' last message according to Matthew, which was in Mathew 12:43-45 when Jesus spoke of how this generation will be like an exorcised man who subsequently gets re-possessed by that same demon and seven more wicked ones. Preceding that, according to Matthew, Jesus spoke about the sign of Jonah, which was preceded by Jesus being accused of using Satan's powers.

Luke give us an entirely different, incompatible timeline across multiple chapters. Even the setup is different. According to Luke, Jesus gave the parable of the Sower. (Luke 8:4-15, which Matthew places right after this on the same day in Matthew 13:1-23) Then Jesus gave the parable of the lamp on a stand. (Luke 8:16-18, covered by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14-16) Then Luke 8:19-21 parallels the account from Matthew regarding who Jesus' mother and brothers are.

From there, Luke covers lots of ground, including these highlights:

Then, finally, Luke gets to where Jesus is accused of using Satanic powers to cast out demons (Luke 11:14-20). That is followed by the Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign, to which He replies that they will get the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32). According to Luke, this was followed by the parable of the lamp of the body (Luke 11:33-36) and Jesus playing the ultimate rude house guest by condemning the Pharisee who had invited Him to dinner because of his good sanitation practices (Luke 11:37-53).

So the next time someone comes to you and claims that the Bible is infallible and inerrant, ask them to produce a timeline of Jesus' life which is in perfect harmony with the four Gospels before you will believe them. Then, do not be surprised if you never hear from them again. ;-)

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Fishy Fisherman's Tale

We are progressing through the Gospels, where we recently examined when Jesus was accused of using Satanic power to cast out demons, and discovered that the one unforgivable sin is saying anything bad about the Holy Spirit. This next study follows immediately after Jesus saying that people would be condemned or acquitted based on their words.

A Fishy Fisherman's Tale
Have you ever made a reference to something to draw a more vibrant mental image, yielding a deeper meaning to your words? For example, instead of saying “my father is very frugal,” you might instead say “my father acts as frugal as if he had lived through the Great Depression.” But if you misapply such a reference, it can make you look like you are out of touch with reality. For example, let us look at Matthew 12:38-42.

The passage begins with the Pharisees asking Jesus to perform a miraculous sign (Matthew 12:38). Presumably, these particular Pharisees were asking for Jesus to prove to them that He was operating as a prophet with God's blessing. Jesus makes the bad reference shortly into His reply. We find in Matthew 12:39-40:
[Jesus] answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." NIV
Quickly, let us discuss the word “generation” in Jesus' reply, so we know who Jesus is talking about. The word “generation” comes from the Greek word transliterated as “genea,” which can denote a family, a race of people, a nation, a period of time (an age), or people living during a particular time. So while Jesus was replying to the particular Pharisees who were confronting Him at that moment, He is speaking about a much larger group in His reply; perhaps the people of that region, perhaps all of the Jews, or maybe even to everybody living at that time.

Next, note that Jesus states that no sign will be given to this group of people other than the sign of Jonah. This is in huge contradiction to the rest of the Gospels. Jesus has already worked miracles in front of other Pharisees in that same region of Galilee, such as healing the man with the shriveled hand earlier in this same chapter (Matthew 12:9-14)! The miracle of the few loaves and fishes feeding thousands would happen in the same region after Jesus had made this proclamation (Matthew 14:13-21). Plus, the entire chapter of Matthew 24 is full of various signs of the times which would supposedly come to pass (and would be visible to everyone), including the proclamation in Matthew 24:34 that all of those signs would come to pass before that generation passed away. There is no way to reconcile Jesus' words here with the rest of the Gospels.

Now, what about that reference to the “sign of the prophet Jonah?” The story of Jonah is in the small, four-chapter book of Jonah. You can read the entire book for yourself starting here in about 20 minutes, or read my chapter-by-chapter summary in about 5 minutes. In my opinion, it stands out as being the one books in the Bible which were most likely to be written as purely allegorical, yet Jesus references it like it is fact, so we will too for this study.

So according to Jesus, the sign of Jonah was Jonah being swallowed by a whale, or a big fish, for three days. As mentioned above, a miraculous sign would be used to indicate that God authenticated a prophet present God's message to a particular people.

However, when you look back at the story of Jonah, you find that Jonah being swallowed by a fish was not a sign at all, but rather it was a slight punishment and big route correction. God had told Jonah to deliver a message to the people of Nineveh (located in present-day northern Iraq) (Jonah 1:1-2), but Jonah tried to run away on a boat headed in the opposite direction (into the Mediterranean Sea, leaving roughly from present day Tel Aviv in Israel) (Jonah 1:3). God had made the sea so rough that the men in the boat cast Jonah over board in an attempt to pacify God's rage (Jonah 1:14-15). With Jonah overboard, God “provided” a big fish to swallow him whole for those three days and nights (Jonah 1:17). The fish then barfed him up onto dry land (presumably still in Israel) (Jonah 2:10). God then told Jonah again to go to Nineveh with a message, and this time Jonah obeyed God (Jonah 3:3).

The people of Nineveh never saw this “sign” of Jonah, but they did repent when they heard Jonah's message from God according to Jonah 3:5. Jesus cites this repentance in His next sentence as if Jonah's prophetic message had completely turned the people of Nineveh onto the right path (Matthew 12:41).

The funny thing is that God supposedly continued to pronounce judgements against Nineveh. The three-chapter book of Nahum is essentially one long prophesy that God will destroy Nineveh in the process of restoring the Hebrews to their former glory, and in Zephaniah 2:13 God says that He will make Nineveh desolate. Curiously enough, the actual history suggests that the city was sieged in 616 BC, and destroyed in 612 BC, leaving the city essentially desolate. So if the people of Nineveh did repent, then either God destroyed them anyway (via the army invasion prophesied in Nahum 2), or their repentance was only halfhearted and they soon went back to their old ways. If it was a halfhearted repentance, then it does not make sense that somehow the men of Nineveh would stand in judgement of anyone like what Jesus suggests in Matthew 12:41.

All of this evidence suggests that by making this reference to the Jonah/Nineveh tale, Jesus was out of touch with reality. Technically speaking, that should be impossible, so believers should discredit these verses as false. If these verses are false, then which other ones are untrue, and are the other Gospels tainted? (I hope you have got a sled, because the slope is looking long, and rather icy.)

Speaking of the other Gospels, you should know that John omits this episode altogether.

Mark 8:11-12 does cover the Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign from Heaven, to which Jesus replied that there would be no sign at all for this generation (not even the sign of Jonah). Mark's anecdote happened right after Jesus had fed a bunch of people with a little bread and fish. Curiously, Matthew's Gospel repeats the request for a sign after feeding those same people too, but again Matthew says that there will be the sign of Jonah (Matthew 16:1-4).

And we cannot forget Luke. Luke 11:29-32 parallels the Matthew 12:38-42 account, and is placed in roughly the same timeline presented by Matthew; right after Jesus had been accused of using Satanic powers. However, as noted in other studies, Luke appears to be a bit of an editor. Here it seems that he had recognized the issue created by claiming that the sign of Jonah was Jonah being swallowed by a fish, and so Luke recast that the sign of Jonah as simply Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh (Luke 11:30). Unfortunately, Luke did not research far enough to know that God had still directed the devastation of the entire city of Nineveh, so he also makes the claim that the people of Nineveh will stand in judgement of this generation (Luke 11:32).

Yet again, the credibility of the Gospels is diminished when you look into the details.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Unforgivable Sin

Matthew mangled a prophesy to associate Isaiah's metaphorical Suffering Servant with Jesus. Then we came upon the story where Jesus is accused of casting out demons through the power of Satan. Jesus could not think of a good reason why Satan would do such a thing, despite knowing that Satan is a top-notch deceiver. The topic of this study is directly hooked to this blaspheming of Jesus by Matthew and Mark, but Luke tucks it away in a different location.

The Unforgivable Sin
The gift of divine forgiveness is unfathomable. There is nothing you can do which cannot be forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus. That goes anywhere from garden variety sins all the way up to world changing evil. Hitler, the man most frequently referenced as evil incarnate in our times, could have been forgiven by God though Jesus. After all, who knows if he finally saw the light of God and repented of his sins in those final moments in the bunker? Whether or not God would have accepted such a last-minute repentance would be up to Jesus, but we know that through Jesus anything can be forgiven. Well, almost anything...

You see, there is one thing which really gets under God's skin, if He has skin to get under. Matthew 12:31-32 and Luke 12:10 both capture this pet peeve similarly to the more-blunt-and-concise Mark 3:28-29:
"I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." NIV

You can torture and slay a thousand people and still enter heaven. You can scream at God for being a wicked despot and still enter heaven. You can call Jesus an hypocritical zombie and still enter heaven. However, if you merely mention that the Holy Ghost is just a tramp in a white bed sheet, then you lose all hope of Salvation, because that sin cannot be forgiven.

The idea that the words you say, even if just said once, can condemn for eternity is difficult to accept from a loving and patient God who perfectly understands the emotional roller coaster that is human life. In fact, the believers of the more-loving version of God which I have encountered reject such a notion. Instead, they try to recast this as a statement saying that this pertains only to who reject God continually throughout their lives.

However, that liberal interpretation is not supported by Matthew and Mark, because this statement is tied to the Pharisees (Matthew 12:24) or teachers of the Law (Mark 3:22) accusing Jesus of casting out demons through the power of Satan. While it is only an implicit connection in Matthew, it is explicitly claimed in Mark 3:30:
[Jesus] said this because [the teachers of the Law] were saying, "He has an evil spirit." NIV

By Jesus' words, these teachers' words had just condemned them for all eternity. That is why you find Jesus saying just a few verses later in Matthew 12:37:
"For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." NIV
Interestingly enough, this attitude is somewhat consistent with what we find in the Old Testament. As part of the popular version of the Ten Commandments, you find God say the following in Exodus 20:7:
"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name." NIV

Not holding anyone guiltless is the same as saying that the guilty will never be forgiven. Jesus tweaks the message to be a little more tolerant here, making it forgivable to blaspheme God the Father or the Son, but not the Holy Spirit. Even so, with all of the wicked and perverse things that people are capable of doing, it seems illogical that the one sin which could condemn you for eternity is a mere slip of the tongue or a voice of protest.

In fact, the concept of being able to speak ill of our leaders is so important, and considered such a fundamental right, that it is included as the very first amendment in the United States Bill of Rights. It is interesting and revealing that one of our most celebrated and basic human rights is the one thing which can be exercised to yield eternal damnation, according to the God of the Bible.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Jesus Versus Shakespeare

In our progression through the Gospels, Jesus and friends broke the Sabbath by eating, and then Jesus broke it by healing (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11). Thereafter, Matthew let us know about a prophesy regarding Jesus, which did not really seem to be a close match upon further inspection.

Jesus Versus Shakespeare
If there was a showdown of wits between Jesus and any man, Jesus would win. At least, He should win. He is God, and part of that status means the endowment of all knowledge; what is, what was, and what will ever be. So I figured it would be a good idea to pit Jesus against Shakespeare to demonstrate Jesus' clear superiority. Funny thing though; it did not quite work out that way.

In case you are in doubt about just how smart God/Jesus is, a good place to start would be Job 38 and Job 39. There, God brags to Job about how superior His knowledge is to that of any man. You can sum is all up with one verse from an earlier chapter, Job 22:2:
"Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise person benefit him?" NIV

Basically, not even the smartest man could teach God anything. Given that Jesus is God, the same goes for Him. And now, on to the battle of wits!

Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:22-26, and Luke 11:14-20 all record an incident where Jesus was casting out demons. The Pharisees got angry, and accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons; a.k.a. Satan. Mark 3:23-26 gives us the memorable quote below, which is similarly echoed in Matthew 12:25-28 and Luke 11:17-20:
"How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come." NIV

Pretty smart, huh? If Satan went around casting out demons, how could he rule his kingdom? (It is interesting to note that Satan's kingdom implicitly relies on people being demon possessed; that is by Jesus' logic anyway.)

Now let us offer up our human sacrifice, the immortal words of the mortal Shakespeare. The following quote comes to us from Act II, Scene iii of the play Othello. The villain Iago is secretly looking for a way to destroy the life of the black Moor, Othello, largely because of a rumor that Othello had slept with his wife. Iago's “friend,” Cassio, had fallen out of favor with Othello due to a drunken brawl, and he is desperate to restore his reputation. Iago counsels Cassio to have Desdemona, Othello's white wife, plead to Othello to forgive Cassio. It seems like good advice, but Iago plans to tell Othello that Desdemona secretly desires Cassio for herself in order to spur on jealousy. Speaking of the “good advice” he had offered, Iago says:

"When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows,"

In case your Olde English is not up to par, what Iago is saying is that when devils want to commit the most grievous kinds of evil acts, they start by deceiving their victims by doing something good; gaining their trust to fully enact their wicked plots.

Iago's, or more accurately, Shakespeare's words suggest that Satan, embodied in some possessed human, would benefit greatly by casting out a few demons here and there. In that way, people would revere his miraculous powers and treat him like a messenger from God. That is powerful and dangerous deception!

OK, time to check the scoreboard! Who won this battle of wisdom?


Oh, sorry about that, Jesus. It seems that your response just seemed a little naïve upon deeper reflection, especially compared to Iago's words. I am really surprised you messed that up, given that you know that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and that you know that many false messiahs and false prophets will work miracles in order to try to deceive people (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22). Well, better luck next time.