Friday, June 29, 2012

Luke in Hell

Working our way through the Gospels, we just covered a very strange parable about how believers should act more like criminals, in a certain way. It was actually a lesson on how to use money. This upset the Pharisees, so Jesus rebuked them for seeking the praise of men over that of God (Luke 16:14-15). Then Luke provides a few miscellaneous teachings without context, despite their verse-parallels in Matthew having robust context: now is the time when people are forcing their way into the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:16), none of the Law will disappear (Luke 16:17), and people who divorce and remarry, or those who marry divorcees, commit adultery (Luke 16:18). From there, Luke takes another abrupt turn.

Luke in Hell
It is difficult to reconcile the concept of a perfectly benevolent and loving God with the concept of eternal torture; the concept of Hell. At least it is for some people. In the middle ages, the doctrine of Hell was practically unquestioned inside the mainstream of the faith. But in our time, it seems that the ultimate fate of the unsaved is not quite as sure. Now, some denominations suggest that Hell is just a metaphor for an eternal separation from God, or instead suggest a permanent annihilation awaits the unsaved. Yet such positions require selective amnesia of one particular parable.

Luke 16:19-31 is where Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. It goes like this:
There was a rich man living in luxury who never shared anything with the beggar, Lazarus, outside his door. When Lazarus died, angels carried him to Abraham's bosom. When the rich man died, he went to Hades (a.k.a. Hell) where he was in a fiery place of agony. The rich man could see Lazarus with Abraham, and called out to Abraham for Lazarus to bring him at least a drop of water for some relief. Abraham reminds him how he had been given good things while Lazarus had been given bad things while they were alive, but now their fortunes were reversed; and that there was a chasm preventing travel between the side of comfort and the side of torment. So the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his still-living family, but Abraham answered that if his family does not believe Moses and the Prophets, then they will not even believe someone who is resurrected. (My paraphrase)
In some ways, this is a picture of Hell in the classic sense. In fact, check out Luke 16:23-24:
In Hades, where [the rich man] was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' NIV
There are several different views on what this story may represent as opposed to being truly about Hell. To some extent, the different views can seem justified, such as when we consider how odd it seems that the rich man could see Abraham from Hell. That seems to suggest that this is just a metaphorical parable.

However, do you remember Mark's version of Hell, where the saved would look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled for all eternity? Luke's version here seems to be just a small evolution beyond that Hell; and one which had its foundation established in apocryphal Scriptures before the time of Jesus, as we see by the reference to the Bosom of Abraham in Luke 16:22.

What you do not see here is Jesus explaining what is going on in Hell. The rich man is obviously in a fiery torment, but there was no need to explain that Hell was a place of fiery torment; nor a need to elaborate on the finality and enternality of Hell. That was a given. Hades was a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus did use parables and extended metaphors to illustrate points. These literary tools did not necessarily represent literal truths. However, they were based in facts; or at least based in known concepts which could actually happen. Take any other parable in Jesus' teachings and you can, at least, understand what is going on in the literal sense because they are grounded in reality; a farmer sows seeds, a shepherd looks for lost sheep, vines produces fruit... and Hell is a place of torment after death, at least according to Jesus.

It is true that there are a handful of verses which would challenge the classical take on Hell, but these verses really do nothing more than highlight the level of self-contradiction in the Bible.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Strangest Parable

Following Matthew from the recommendation to cut off sin-causing body parts, we came to the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Luke had a parallel version of that parable, but with a different focus; celebration over the conversion of a sinner. Luke carried that same theme through in the subsequent Parable of the Lost Coin and the more-famous Parable of the Prodigal Son. In Luke, these parables are within a contiguous section of Jesus' teachings and parables, and that section continues on with...

The Strangest Parable
Although Jesus had spoken in parables to prevent people from understanding, and despite the fact that there are some accuracy problems within them, these parables often do provide a convenient platform and vivid illustrations for teaching purposes. Some parables are better than others; becoming favorite sermon starting points. This study is not about one of those better parables. Instead, this is about one parable which most pastors would prefer to skip or gloss over.

In Luke 16:1-13, you find the Parable of the Unjust Steward/Shrewd Manager, as well as some associated teachings. The parable goes like this:
A wealthy man heard that his hired manager was wasting that wealthy man's money, so he confronted the manager and demanded that he produce a record of his management. The manager knew that he would be fired, so he contacted people who owed debts to the wealthy man and recorded that their debts at a much reduced charge than what they should be, thinking that he would then be welcomed into the debtors' houses after he lost his job. When the wealthy man discovered the manager's actions, he commended him for acting wisely. (My paraphrase)
That makes sense, right? The wealthy man was going to fire the manager for wasting his money, but then turns around and commends the manager for reducing the debts owed to that wealthy man, which thereby cost the wealthy man money. What a brilliant parable. It really reflects reality, does it not?

Perhaps we should not be too hasty here. We need to consider the meaning of the parable. Luke 16:8-9 begins the revelation of meaning:
"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I (Jesus) tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when [your wealth] is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." NIV
It appears that Jesus is saying that the "people of the light" need to be more like the "dishonest manager!" Indeed, in a sense, He is saying just that. Not that you should be dishonest, but that you should use your wealth for your salvation. Except that the manager was not using his own wealth, but that of the wealthy man. Yet on the Biblical side of things, your wealth is given to you by God, as verses such as Genesis 24:35 and Deuteronomy 12:21 suggest. So in a manner of speaking, the rich man in this parable is like God, and manager of the resources represents you, or rather the parable indicates the level of shrewdness (not dishonesty) which you should have in your wealth management; if you want Salvation.

This parable is tainted. Using criminal behavior as an example of what you should do, even in a metaphorical sense, is as awkward and inappropriate as using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. It is no wonder pastors avoid it... well, not all of it. The meaning and associated teachings are not often lost, because they are far too valuable.

You see, what follows continues on in that same vein. Luke 16:10-12 effectively state that, compared to the wealth of eternal life, the wealth in this life is meager; so if you have not been trustworthy with the meager wealth you have been given in this life, how then would it be justified to give you your own great wealth in the afterlife? This path reaches fruition within Luke 16:13, with "You cannot serve both God and Money."

In an earlier study on the Sermon on the Mount, we had seen how Jesus' teachings promote poverty, including Matthew 6:24 which matches Luke 16:13 word-for-word. However, what Luke is doing here is one step beyond that. As noted in the previous study, this is poverty with a purpose, but this passage in Luke brings into the picture the sense of responsible stewardship of the resources provided by God inextricably tied into that poverty. There is no reasonable excuse for holding on to your wealth.

That may be the key here to understanding this passage. When you see "the people of the light" in Luke 16:8, it appears to be a reference to the church; as in the church which was not-quite-yet-established at the time of Jesus. So it seems as if Jesus' message is anachronistic; not appropriate for the time at which He allegedly said it. Luke was writing in a time when the church was well established, and at a time when the leaders of the church would have financially benefited from loosening the purse strings of the congregation. Just like with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, there appears to be an ulterior motive here. That is (of course) speculation, but combining the oddity of the parable, the timing of the mention of "the people of the light," and its potential benefit to the religious leaders, the speculation appears grounded in reason.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Prodigal Guilt Trip

Jesus is having a discussion with His Disciples, which started with Him explaining how they needed to humble themselves like children if they wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. According to Matthew and Mark, He then discussed how serious sin was, and what extreme measures you should take to avoid it, because you do not want to be cast into Hell. Matthew continues the conversation further, which is paralleled by Luke in another location. Following Luke leads to a famous parable.

The Prodigal Guild Trip
If you are studying the Gospels with an eye for construction, it becomes fairly obvious that Mark, in one form or another, was a primary source for material in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels. However, when you encounter material which is not contained in Mark, the origin becomes more mysterious. Of course, believers would say that this material comes from actual eye-witness accounts. If so, if the same material is covered in Matthew and Luke, we would expect some divergence owing to the imperfection of memory and perception. Details would change. Tone may be altered. Yet the underlying emphasis should be the same, but is it?

Matthew 18:10 continues a conversation where Jesus had used a little child as a living metaphor for how humble they should be, and how cautious they should be about causing such humble people to sin, because then you would be thrown into Hell. So Matthew 18:10 is another warning not to mistreat these humble "children" of God.

Then, depending on which version you are reading, in Matthew 18:11 you find:
"For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost." KJV
This has been removed from new versions because it was not included in the oldest copies of Matthew. Instead, this is an insertion from a later transcriber, probably based on Luke 19:10.

Following that, we get to the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18:12-14:
If a man had 100 sheep, and one of them had wondered off, the man would leave the 99 to find the one. If he were to find that one errant sheep, he would be happier about that one than about the other 99. God is like that; not wanting to lose any of these "children." (My paraphrase)
Of course, there are a couple of difficulties with this parable. God represents the man who owns the sheep, and He already owns the full 100, yet according to Hebrews 6:4-8, if you are Saved, and then you wander away, it is impossible for you to rejoin the flock. Even more significant is the fact that the man, God, anxiously and diligently searches for the lost sheep. How then it is possible for the sheep not to be recovered? How is it possible for God to fail in His effort? The saving of the sheep is not reliant on the sheep in any way.

Luke 15:1-7 also has the Parable of the Sheep, but in a completely different setting. There, Jesus had been teaching the crowds, and Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were upset because of the type of people He was teaching. The parable itself also takes on a different focus:
A man loses one of his 100 sheep, and so he eaves the 99 to find the lost one. When he finds it, he throws a party. Similarly, there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent. (My paraphrase)
In Luke's version, the man is not a stand-in for God, except for his similar expression of joy at recovering his lost sheep.

(Luke's version has its own slight problem, in that due to the relatively close proximity of mention of Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, the mention of the 99 "righteous persons who do not need to repent" appears like it refers to them, but it does not.)

Luke 15:8-10 continues this party theme in the subsequent Parable of the Lost Coin:
A woman loses one of her ten silver coins, and then, after a fruitful search for her missing coin, she celebrates with her friends. Similarly, there is rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents. (My paraphrase)
Then, as if the third time was the charm, Luke 15:11-24 continued that same party theme yet again with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but with a little twist:
One of two sons of a wealthy man asked for his inheritance early. Then that son left and squandered his share of wealth on prostitutes and other luxuries in a foreign country. When the money ran out, he became a pig-feeding servant. He realized what he had lost, and decided to return humbly to his father at the level of a servant, not of a son. However, upon seeing the son return, the father rushed out to embrace and kiss his son, and then threw an extravagant party for him. (My paraphrase)
So far, this parable maintains the theme of joyous recovery, and goes further to provide an explicit example of a sinner and the caliber of repentance which is worthy of celebration. This again confirms Luke's emphasis of this series of parables; that of the joy in a sinner coming to repentance.

However, this parable drops the owner-search aspect. The father does not go out looking for the lost son. Rather the lost son "came to his senses" all by himself. In contrast to Matthew's Parable of the Lost Sheep , this speaks of personal responsibility in your own recovery/repentance instead of God coming out to find you.

I promised a twist, and here it is, as we continue the Parable of Prodigal Son in Luke 15:25-32:
The other son, who had stayed with his father the entire time, became angry with his father for throwing the extravagant party for his brother, because his father had never made any gesture of reward for his own loyalty and obedience. The father answered him that all the father owned belonged to him, but the celebration was right for his brother, who was once dead but now lives. (My paraphrase)
This twist ending is exceedingly odd. Story-wise, there is nothing wrong with it. We can easily understand the loyal son's indignation, even if we cannot imagine ourselves acting that way. But this is not just a story. This is a parable. While not every single facet of a parable needs to have a corresponding meaning, this final section accounts for well over one third of the total parable. Its prominence implies significance. So what does it mean?

Due to the Pharisees and the Teacher's of the Law being present, it would be tempting to say that they represent the indignant son who is already entitled to the father's possessions, especially given that this series of parables was kicked off by their own indignation. However, this part of the parable is not likely to be targeted at them, given the condemnation of the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law in Luke 11:39-52.

So who was the target? This falls squarely into speculation, but my theory is that this was actually aimed at existing believers. When exactly Luke wrote his Gospel is questionable, but it was clearly after Mark's Gospel had been written, and it was likely multiple decades after the death of Jesus. This means that the early adapters to Christianity had already been "harvested." New converts for any given region would have been trickling in; one here, one there. Meanwhile, much of the body of the church had been laboring for Christ for years upon years.

Perhaps this parable is actually an analog to the emergent customs of those times. Perhaps there were feasts or parties held for the newer converts, and some of the older converts had started to grumble against the fuss made about the new converts while no reward or honor had been given to them, despite their loyal service.

If this is close to the actual history, then Luke's political intentions become obvious; snuff out the fire of indignation by turning these new-convert-parties into something implicitly ordained by Jesus.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cut Off Your Reason

One of the times after arriving in Capernaum, Jesus told Peter to get money to pay Jesus' share of Temple tax from the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17:24-27). Then, Jesus discussed with the Disciples which of them would be the greatest.

Then, Mark 9:38-41 and Luke 9:49-50 had the Disciples point out to Jesus a man, who was not a fellow follower of Jesus but who was exorcising demons in Jesus' name. Jesus told the Disciples to let the man continue, because he was on their side. Matthew skipped that, but he did make an earlier reference within the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus claimed that some people who cast out demons in His name would ultimately face damnation (Matthew 7:21-23). (I think this suggests that Matthew was less tolerant of non-followers, as was also shown in Matthew 12:30.)

From there, Matthew and Mark continue on together, while Luke takes a different path, as we will see below.

Cut Off Your Reason
If you have read the Gospels, you may know that Jesus said some rather controversial things. Some of those were scandalous for their time, while others rub our modern sensitivities a little raw. Well, as it turns out, some things recorded by Mark may have even been too controversial for Matthew and Luke to use in their Gospels. We will see this evidence, and a glimpse of the birth of Hell, as we dig into this study.

Our study begins as a continuation of the previous conversation, where Jesus had used a child to illustrate how His followers were to humble themselves if they truly wanted to be great. In the continuation, Matthew 18:6-7 and Mark 9:42 have Jesus explain that the fate of someone who caused "one of these little ones" (meaning either literally children or figuratively meek and humble people) to sin would be much worse than a forced drowning.

Curiously, this is a case where we can see Luke's editing in action, because he makes a glaring mistake in doing so. You see, Luke also has that same content, but he moved it eight chapters later than the earlier conversation. So while Luke 9:46-48 has the discussion where Jesus used the child, Luke 17:1-2 is where the conversation continued. In its later position, the two verses are completely removed from their supporting context, so you have no idea what Luke's Jesus means when He says "one of these little ones." Why would Luke do such a thing? We may have our answer as we continue.

The topic of the fate of those who encourage sin is a convenient segue for Jesus to speak about the seriousness of sin. How serious is it? Well, in Matthew 18:8-9 and Mark 9:43-49, sin is so serious that Jesus recommended self-mutilation of any particular body part that caused you to sin.

Wait. What? Yes, cut off your hand or gouge out your eye if either causes you to sin.

Surely that would be too pernicious for Jesus to say and mean literally, right? Surely we all know that Jesus is just metaphorically saying that you should take extremely aggressive measures to avoid the temptations of sin, right? Possibly, but that does not stop the occasional Christian lunatic from trying to chop of his own, um, sinful parts. Plus, something about that message was apparently too controversial to Luke, because he chose to edit it out from his Gospel, and completely relocate its preceding context, as mentioned above!

On the other still-attached hand, Matthew was far from embarrassed by the message. Instead, he liked it so much that he also aggregated it into the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:29-30). Perhaps Matthew better understood this metaphorical message and the type of extreme behavior it warranted than did Luke, as is suggested later in his unique content in Matthew 19:12, where Jesus says:
"For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” NIV

Matthew's Jesus said to live like a eunuch for the sake of Heaven if you can, not to become an actual eunuch.

Yet Matthew was not keen on everything Mark recorded in this episode. Per both Matthew and Mark, the reason for the (metaphorical) self-mutilation was that it was better to enter into God's Kingdom as a cripple than to have your whole body thrown into "Hell," but what the Hell did that mean exactly?

Gehenna to Hell in a Hand-basket
The concept of Hell evolved within Christianity, and that evolution can be traced within the Gospels to some extent. The Gospel of Mark has obvious primacy to the other Gospels, so it should point us to the earliest concept of Hell; or whatever fate awaited the unsaved.

Indeed, "Hell" appears three times in Mark, and all within this section: Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, and Mark 9:47. But the word "Hell" is a translation of the Greek word "Gehenna," which is itself thought to be a transliteration of the Hebrew phrase for "Valley of Hinnom."

The common theory is that Gehenna references a valley to the south of Jerusalem where trash, and some corpses, were burned continually, and thus would have provided Jesus' audience with a very visible concept of their fate if they rejected God. The strange thing is that neither archeology nor other written records have not been able to verify the smoldering trash heap within the Valley of Hinnom contemporaneous with Jesus. That Gehenna is a fable.

The reality is that the Valley of Hinnom had already been tainted by past events and not-quite-fulfilled prophesies. 2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 28:3, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31, and Jeremiah 32:35 all record how the valley was used for child sacrifice to pagan gods, particularly Molech. As you may imagine, God was pretty angry about that, and so in Jeremiah 7:32-33 He swore:
"So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom (a.k.a. Valley of Hinnom), but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away." NIV
If that is not repulsive enough for you, go to Jeremiah 19 to read a slightly longer, slightly more-gory version of the same prophesy. These prophesies were made to the Israelites allegedly before their Babylonian exile. While God failed to turn that valley into the necropolis which He described, the Israelites were indeed conquered after a bloody war and a siege of Jerusalem. Regardless of the actual outcome, the Scriptural connection had been made between the Valley of Hinnom, a.k.a. Gehenna, and the concept of the Valley of Slaughter.

Mark was using that connection of Gehenna to a place of great slaughter, but with a different prophesy. Depending on which Bible translation you read, in Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, and Mark 9:48 you will find the phrase after the mention of Gehenna:
where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' NIV
Here, Jesus is making a partial quote of Isaiah 66:24, which is part of a yet unfulfilled prophesy. Bingo! We have meaning! Isaiah 66:24 is the last line of a prophesy which begins in Isaiah 65. While I encourage you to read the whole delightful prophesy yourself, you can get a sense of the Hell Mark had in mind by reading the last three verses, Isaiah 66:22-24:
"As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before Me," declares the Lord, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before Me," says the Lord. "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against Me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." NIV
That certainly is a charming picture of the "afterlife," right? The "new heavens and the new earth" is nothing more than God saying that He will establish a new kind of order on earth. That order will last forever, and if you are worthy, your name (not you personally) will last forever as well through your descendants in a world where everyone worships God. The bodies of those who rebel against God will be on display in a worm-eaten, fire-burnt state.

That is Mark's Hell. That is his fate worse than drowning. Your dilapidated corpse will be a shameful spectacle to subsequent, God-worshiping generations. It exists side-by-side with his version of Salvation.

Perhaps that concept of the land of Salvation and Hell being in close proximity was too disturbing for Matthew, because he severed the link to Isaiah's prophesy by editing it out Jesus' quote. But Matthew did really like Mark's Hell, ultimately using Gehenna seven times; more than any other Gospel.

Yet by the time Matthew and Luke got around to writing their Gospels, the concept had been altered; Hellenize and relocated to some underworld using the Greek word "Hades," as we find in Matthew 11:20-24 and Luke 10:13-15 where Jesus said that on Judgement Day, Capernaum would "go down to Hades." Luke would push that theme even further, providing an explicit conceptualization of Hades as a place of eternal torment in the parable of the rich man and beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

There is a Hell of a lot more to discuss about this evolution, but we will save that for another time.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Arguing with Children

We have recently covered a little side trip of episodes only recorded by Luke as Jesus started His determined final approach to Jerusalem; lastly discussing Jesus' visit to Martha's and Mary's home.

It is now time to rejoin Matthew's timeline, where previously we saw how Matthew, Mark, and Luke all presented different stances on whether or not the Disciples understood Jesus' coming fate. Then Matthew reported his own unique episode, where Jesus tells Peter to get money to pay Jesus' share of Temple tax from the mouth of a fish, which is sometimes suggested to be meant metaphorically according to the "fishers of men" theme, meaning for Peter to go make a new convert and let that convert's money pay for Jesus (Matthew 17:24-27).

Arguing with Children
Modern Bible scholars often make the case that the Gospel of Mark served as source material for the authors of Matthew and Luke. There is much material that is copied across the Synoptic Gospels, nearly word-for-word, which would strongly support theory, but, to me, the more interesting bits are where Matthew and Luke deviated from Mark's script. These deviations can reveal motives, perspectives, and possibly even different versions of the source material

We will begin with Mark 9:33-37 to unveil the different evolutions of the story. Mark states that the Disciples had argued on the way to Capernaum about whom among them was the greatest. Jesus confronted them about their discussion, and told them that if "anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Then Jesus grabbed into His arms a nearby child and told them in Mark 9:37 that:

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My Name (Jesus) welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the one who sent Me." NIV

Mark has a very physical message: serve everyone and welcome even little children. Of course, if you are welcoming little children and serving everyone, then you are even serving little children. This is one of the better messages in the Gospels. By promoting a sentiment like this, we can see how a spirit of family and community would be developed in the early church, and we can also understand the communist nature which the early church took on (Acts 4:32-37).

Preceded by Jesus arriving in Capernaum and telling Simon/Peter to look for money in the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17:24-27), Matthew 18:1-5 offers a different, less communal, more spiritual message. Matthew drops the Disciple's argument and Jesus' confronting them. It seems that Matthew found the the Disciples arguing over which of them was the best too distasteful for him. Instead, the Disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in Heaven in a manner so vague that you do not know if the Disciples are asking about their own ranking in Heaven, or about that of past prophets like Elijah. After Jesus calls a child over to stand in their group (as opposed to holding him), Jesus gave this reply in Matthew 18:3-5:

And [Jesus] said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My Name welcomes Me." NIV

This is similar, but different to Mark's message. Matthew's Jesus spoke of changing perception, not necessarily of serving. Matthew's Jesus wanted the Disciples to forget about rankings and be humble like a child. A child is no longer literally someone who should be welcomed in Jesus name, but rather a child symbolically represents someone who is humble and meek; the ideal character, and necessary prerequisite perspective for being Saved. A dose of humility can be healthy, but we can also understand how fostering a spirit of humility would have benefited the early church leaders; by yielding power to their leadership and by suppressing people endowed with questioning natures.

By the way, the "servant of all" sentiment found in Mark 9:35 is not completely lost in Matthew. When it does show up, it does so explicitly coupled to Jesus' example in Matthew 20:25-28 (parallels in Mark 10:42-45 and Luke 22:24-27) and Matthew 23:8-12. Jesus leads by example, and given that He truly served all (or at least all of the Elect), there is no question then that Jesus is the greatest in Heaven. Of course, it is a little easier to serve everyone when your act of service is just dying. ;-)

In some unknown location in Luke 9:46-48, we find that Luke is almost a hybrid of Matthew and Mark, but Luke stayed much closer to Mark's original content. Luke kept the argument the Disciples had about being the greatest. Then, after having a child stand near Him, in Luke 9:48 we find:

Then [Jesus] said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in My Name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the one who sent Me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest." NIV

Luke dropped the "servant to all" as well, but kept the "the least is the greatest" theme. Luke appears to be using the child as a metaphor as well, but amplifies the transubstantiation; the vicarious reception of God. If you welcome the least among you, then you are actually welcoming God. Luke's message accentuates Mark's humility, but at the same time neuters it by dropping the servitude.

By the way, did you notice above that Luke 22:24-27 was a parallel with Matthew's later reference to a "servant to all" sentiment? Well, Luke made some interesting tweaks there too, but that discussion is for another study. ;-)

So Mark's Jesus instructs humility put into servile action, Matthew's Jesus demands a humble spirit for Salvation eligibility, and Luke's Jesus speaks of doing things as if you were doing them for God. These are three different views.

While these views are not mutually exclusive concepts regarding Jesus' teachings in general, they cannot all be simultaneously accurate to this one episode. That means that we are seeing the author's different motives and/or perspectives here. If that is the case, then we cannot exactly call it the Truth, now can we?

One final particularly interesting to ponder: Why is it that Mark 9:36's Jesus actually holds the child in His arms, while Matthew 18:2's and Luke 9:47's Jesus just has the child stand nearby? Either Matthew and Luke found the idea of Jesus hugging the child too unsavory, or (I think more likely) Matthew and Luke were drawing from a different, possibly earlier, version of Mark, one without Jesus' embrace of the child.