Friday, November 23, 2012

Resurrecting a Comedy of Errors

In Jerusalem, Jesus had angered some of the religious elite with some only-slightly veiled condemnations, so they had tried to get Jesus arrested through entrapment. They tried to get Him to say that you should not pay taxes to the Romans, but Jesus was too cunning to fall prey to them. Yet another prominent sect was waiting in the shadows to try to make Jesus into a fool; the Sadducees.

Resurrecting a Comedy of Errors
Back in the time of Jesus, scrolls were a luxury. It was not at all like today, where the Bible is the best selling book that is never read, where Christian houses often have multiple Bibles. Back then, the synagogues had handwritten copies of handwritten scrolls, and they were treasured. That made it unlikely that the common folk, if they could read at all, would get much of a chance to read the Scripture for themselves. And that means that errors in Scriptural quotations could easily sneak in unnoticed, especially in a new breakaway sect with even more limited resources, as we will see.

In Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-25, and Luke 20:27-38, there is a scene where some Sadducees try to embarrass Jesus with a difficult question. The Sadducees were a Jewish sect with a division from the other believers in that they found no evidence of resurrection in the Scriptures; taking any apparent reference to an afterlife to be metaphorical.

Stepping back to an earlier post for a moment, we had studied Deuteronomy 25:5-10, where a if a man died without producing a son, then one of that man's brothers must marry that man's widow, and the first son to be born of that union would then count as part of the dead man's lineage.

The Sadducees capitalized on this divine law to craft their challenge to resurrection. They asked:
If a man died without having children, and one of his brothers married his widow, per the instructions Moses gave, but the whole scenario repeated itself such that the woman had been married to each of seven brothers in succession without ever having children, whose wife will she be at the resurrection? (My paraphrase)
Jesus gives a two-part answer; first dealing with marriage of the resurrected, and next dealing with resurrection in general. As usual, it seems that Mark provided the source material for Matthew and Luke, and the other two accounts are similar but different, so let us begin with a focus on Mark. Mark 12:24-25 has the first part of the reply:
Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven." NIV
The Sadducees had assumed, as nearly every Christian I know assumes, that the relationships we have in this life will carry on through the resurrection, and so they had simply asked "whose wife will she be," not who will she then marry. In Jesus reply, we see that there will be no marriage at all for the resurrection. Once you die, you will never be married again, even to the spouse you had while alive.

That is an interesting, and perhaps unpleasant, concept to grasp. So much for the sanctity of marriage, as it is not sanctified enough to endure to the next life. That puts a whole new spin on the common marriage vow of "'til death do us part!" The person who you likely had the closest relationship with when you were living, a relationship endowed with a special title and significance, will become nothing more than just another soul when you are resurrected. However, this is consistent with Jesus' other teachings of how you should forsake everyone except Jesus, including your wife and children.

Jesus scolded the Sadducees for not knowing the Scriptures, but there is precious little information regarding either angels or marriage after the resurrection in the Old Testament. In fact, the information that is there seemingly contradicts Jesus' own words!

Jesus claims that the angels do not marry, yet we find in Genesis 6:1-4 that:
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. NIV
The "sons of God" is a reference to angels (see Job 38:7), and these angels interbred with humans, creating a new race called Nephilim who were endowed with super-human size (Numbers 13:33) and ability ("heroes of old"). But, to be fair, Jesus did say "like the angels in Heaven," so maybe the angels who came down to earth to mate with our women do not count. ;-)

Then there is prophesy to consider as well on this matter of marriage. Starting from Ezekiel 40 and continuing through to the end of the book, the "son of man" (meaning Ezekiel, but also a title Jesus was fond of calling Himself, likely due to its use in Psalm 80:17) is shown God's future Temple plan for Jerusalem, from where God will be enthroned and live with the Israelites (Jews) forever (Ezekiel 43:7). Besides having an inconvenient list of rules for animal sacrifice in this yet-to-come Temple, in Ezekiel 44:22 we see:
[The priests] must not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of Israelite descent or widows of priests. NIV
So if we have a prophesy of a forever-enduring Temple where priests will marry, then it appears that Jesus does not "know the Scriptures" either, because men obviously will be marrying for eternity! Furthermore, this prophesy suggests that divorce and death ("widows") will continue forever too! This is not good for Christianity, is it?

Now, on to Mark 12:26-27, where we find in the next part of Jesus' reply:
"Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" NIV
Well, lucky us! The "in the account of the bush" tells us where we can find the verse that Jesus quoted, as it is a reference to the burning bush that Moses spoke to in Exodus 3. In particular, Exodus 3:6 is that verse:
Then [God] said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. NIV
It appears that Jesus misquoted His own Father, completely leaving out the phrase "the God of your father."

As strange as that is, we should take a moment to consider that the verse which Jesus picked from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) as obvious evidence of resurrection that the Sadducees were missing is ambiguous at best. Jesus is making the case that because God said "I am... ... the God of Abraham, etc." that it implies that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living through the use of the present tense "am." However, it is equally valid to interpret that "am" as being the same God that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had worshiped, neither confirming nor denying a continuation of the life of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Fortunately, we do have some context to clarify, but it points against resurrection. In Exodus 6:2-4, we find:
God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by My Name the Lord I did not make Myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. NIV
This suggests that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still do not fully know God, which would be difficult if they had been already resurrected. Also note that God's covenant with them was for the land of Canaan, not for eternal life.

In Exodus 32:13, we see Moses pleading with God to:
"Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by your own Self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’" NIV
If Abraham, Isaac, and Israel were not dead, why would Moses need to remind God about them? Of course, we could also ask why would God need to be reminded about anything! This theme of God's remembrance of these patriarchs is also seen in Leviticus 26:42, Deuteronomy 9:27, and Psalm 105:42.

Finally, in Isaiah 63:16, we find the prophet claiming:
"But you [God] are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your Name." NIV
If Abraham and Israel (Jacob) were alive then, they certainly would know the Israelites (Jews). This is a statement of contrast. The patriarchs Abraham and Israel had been long dead and many generations have passed, so they could not acknowledge the Jews as their offspring, but God is their eternal Father, and therefore can acknowledge them.

Once again we see the evidence stacking up against Jesus, suggesting that Jesus is the one who does not "know the Scriptures."

In closing, we should quickly examine the differences we find in Matthew and Luke.

Matthew's account is essentially unchanged from Mark's text, with one important exception. There are slight rewordings and several places where Matthew and Mark match word-for-word, but there is a curious omission in Matthew. Above we noted how Jesus misquoted the verse from Exodus from the burning bush episode. It is possible that Matthew double-checked the text of Exodus, but could not find the quote. If so, that may be why we find no reference to Moses or the burning bush in Matthew 22:31-32, just a reference to reading "what God said to you."

Luke, normally being more of a careful editor than Matthew, may have realized some issues with Jesus' reply. While Luke 20:34-38 is similar, it is substantially different, with many words added. In court, being that Matthew and Mark agree so well, we would likely throw out Luke's testimony as being inaccurate because it is so different. Yet there are key phrases which Luke retained from Mark, such as "will neither marry nor be given in marriage," "like the angels," "in the account of the bush," and "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

Luke's primary differences involve emphasizing the worthiness of those who will be resurrected, calling the worthy one "God's children," and possibly adding another layer of mystery by saying that "for to [God] all are alive." The parallelism the "God's children" and the account from Genesis with the Nephilim is amusing, to say the least. The "to [God] all are alive" makes it seem like everyone is alive in a state of God's mind, while not in actuality. Like they have the yet unrealized potential to be resurrected. Perhaps the funniest difference is the reference to the quote from Exodus from the burning bush episode. Luke has truncated the quote so that the "I am" is removed, making it no longer a misquote. However, Luke attributes those words to Moses, not to God! In Luke 20:37 we see:
But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' NIV
Wrong! God was calling Himself that, as we have seen above. What is even funnier is that Acts is thought to be penned by the same author as Luke, and yet in Acts 7:32 we find another misquote of the same Exodus verse:
‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. NIV
This time, Luke dropped "the God of" for Isaac and Jacob.

With this many errors made, where even Jesus Himself misquotes and contradicts Scripture, how can we possibly accept that this is accurate testimony of God becoming a man for the sake of our Salvation? It is funny just how much we believe which we should not.


  1. "With this many errors made, where even Jesus Himself misquotes and contradicts Scripture, how can we possibly accept that this accurate testimony of God becoming a man for the sake of our Salvation?"

    And yet, fundamentalists who have read the Bible cover-to-cover multiple times never notice these inconsistencies, and plug their ears when someone points them out. The scriptures are far more fallible than they think, with human fingerprints all over them.

    Happy belated Thanksgiving, Wise Fool! Enjoy the upcoming holiday season, whatever your holiday of choice.

  2. Thanks Ahab! Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

    To me, it is the fingerprints which speak louder than the words themselves. But I guess, just like with a crime scene, you do need to dust for the fingerprints to see them! :-)

  3. Great post as always TWF. And I agree completely with Ahab, it's amazing to me that people can read the bible and think it is divine. When I started my bible reading project at the beginning of this year, it was pretty much immediately obvious to me that this thing is full of mistakes, the more I read the more obvious it becomes.

  4. Thanks Hausdorff! Yeah, it really makes you wonder how people miss all of the issues. I guess that speaks to the power of confirmation bias. If you go in with the understanding that it must be good and perfect, it is more difficult to objectively discern what is bad and flawed.

  5. Yeah, I think you are right, I never read the bible when I was a Christian, but I did hear the contradictory stuff that was told to us in sunday school. I always assumed any contradiction was just me not understanding, even when I couldn't do enough mental gymnastics to make it fit in my head, I just assumed it was a failing of mine rather than the religion. Still, it's hard to imagine how I would have reacted to having read some of the really terrible stories.

    Although I guess I never had any problem with the noah's ark story, which looking back I see as a really horrible story. As a Christian though, I was always happy with the idea that God created those people, it was his right to destroy them. It's kinda sickening to me to think about it now.

  6. You are not the only one, Hausdorff! I never had a problem with the Noah's ark story either. A couple years ago, I visited the Creation Museum. They had a large display set up about the flood, and a video on loop that showed a woman and her daughter playing at a table in their hut, when, unknown to them, in the background a wave of the flood waters was coming. They drowned, of course. I was both shocked by the honesty of the display, and disgusted by it. Well, it turns out that that display is their most popular one, and they are building an expansion specifically for the Flood. Go figure.

  7. wow, that's really crazy. Now that I think about it, I guess if you are completely focused on retributive justice rather than empathy you can spin it into a good story. All of those people deserved to die, God killed them and made room for people who deserve to live. Something like that maybe?

  8. I think you are right, Hausdorff. They deserved to die, both because of their sins, and even more because of their rejection of God. And once these non-repentant sinners are gone, the good guys can live happily ever after. :-) Of course, the "reset" of the Flood did not really seem to work as advertised...

  9. That's where you are wrong. You have no idea how bad it would be if he did wipe out those people. It might not be perfect now, but it's way better than it would have been. :)

  10. Doh! I should have known better. :-)