Friday, November 30, 2012

The Paradoxical Son of David

While Jesus was teaching in the Temple courtyard, several members of the religious elite had tried to harass Jesus and get Him into trouble with tough questions. They asked Him about paying taxes to Caesar and about the seemingly contradictory nuances regarding Resurrection. They also asked what was the greatest commandment, to which Jesus gave them both the first (love God) and second (love your neighbor) greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34). Then Jesus had a question of His own to ask...

The Paradoxical Son of David
Jesus, being both man and God, creates some theological issues, to say the least. It is no small feat to bind the infinite within the finite. Theologians, and fools like myself, like to pointlessly ponder the degrees in how you could be both omniscient and ignorant, both omnipotent and feeble, both holy and common, etc.. But there are matters in more dire need of discernment, as they are matters of what the Messianic prophesies say and how Jesus could possibly fulfill them; matters with which even Jesus struggled.

In Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, and Luke 20:41-44, we find essentially the same anecdote where Jesus apparently clarifies an issue of prophesy. There was a common belief that the Messiah (a.k.a. the Christ) would be born from King David's lineage, but there is a fundamental problem with Jesus being just another child born in David's lineage because, well, Jesus is God! Also, calling someone a "son of David" applies a greater reverence to David than to that so-called person, but clearly Jesus is supposed to be more honorable than David.

And so, in Luke 20:41-44, we see:
Then Jesus said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ [a.k.a. the Messiah] is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?" NIV
Jesus has quoted Psalm 110:1 here. Psalm 110 is a short, somewhat ambiguous seven verse song which is mostly about God providing military victory and judgement over many nations, heaping up dead bodies along the way. If you want to dig into the details of its ambiguity and why it may not be the way that Jesus said it was, read the "Psalm 110 in Deep Detail" section below. That section should also be helpful if you are having trouble sleeping at night. ;-) Anyway...

Yeah, what is the deal with people saying that the Messiah is the son of David? Now, they do not mean the literal son of David, given that David had long been dead by Jesus' time, but rather someone from David's lineage. You know, like you see referenced in Matthew 1:1, Matthew 1:6-16, Matthew 1:20, Matthew 9:27, Matthew 12:23, Matthew 15:22, Matthew 20:30-31, Matthew 21:9, Matthew 21:15, Mark 10:47-48, Mark 11:10, Luke 1:27, Luke 1:32, Luke 1:69, Luke 2:4, Luke 3:23-31, Luke 18:38-39, and John 7:42.

Now if you study through those references to the "son of David," you will find that most of them are what generic people are saying about Jesus, and therefore are not to be taken as inherently being true. Mark and John contain only these types of hearsay comments, and thus are not in any conflict with Jesus' sentiment here. However, Matthew and Luke are not on that same page. For example, in Matthew 1:1 the Gospel writer opens his tale of "truth" with:
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: NIV
How is it that Matthew could say that Jesus was the son of David? Well, Matthew 1:6-16 goes on to explicitly make that connection in lineage, and further emphasizes that family connection through Joseph in Matthew 1:20.

Now Luke was a better editor than Matthew was. He was too clever to fall into that trap of conflicting with Jesus' own words on genealogy. So when Luke 3:23-31 provides a connection from Jesus to David in genealogy, in Luke 3:23 he starts off with a disclaimer:
Now Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when He began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,... NIV
With the phrase "so it was thought," Luke permits us to believe that really God was Jesus' father, not Joseph, and so there is no conflict with Jesus' later words. Thereafter in Luke, you only find those generic declarations noted above.

However, while Luke was smart, he was not brilliant, and he was prone to error just like any of us. So when he wrote the story of Jesus' birth, he was far too excited, or too distracted with writing fulfilled prophesy, to notice that he did slip up on this issue. In Luke 1:27, he also emphasized Joseph's connection to David, and in Luke 1:32, we have the angel pronouncing to Mary that:
[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David,... NIV
It was not only Matthew and (sort of) Luke, who claimed Jesus to be a son of David, but in Romans 1:3 and 2 Timothy 2:8 Saul/Paul also claims that Jesus was a descendent of David. John, the author of Revelation, claimed that an elder told him that Jesus was of the "root" of David (Revelation 5:5-6). And last, but certainly not least, in Revelation 22:16 we see:
I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” NIV
So there you have it. Jesus has contradicted Himself. Again.

And there is a very good reason why this family connection was made. The prophesies about the Messiah often claimed that he would come from David's lineage, as you can see in Isaiah 16:5, Jeremiah 23:5, and Jeremiah 33:15, among other places. But this becomes a paradox, because Jesus was not Joseph's son, but rather God's Son, and so there is no bloodline connection to David, and thus these prophesies cannot really be fulfilled by Jesus. It is no wonder why so many Jews had rejected the story of Jesus: it is not what God had promised.

Psalm 110 in Deep Detail
Jesus claimed that Psalm 110 is prophetic, and that David called Jesus "Lord," or specifically "my Lord" as the case is here. Is that a valid interpretation? This is a tough matter to discern, for sure, so let us take a moment to look at it deeper.

The phrase "The Lord said to my Lord" is made up of only three Hebrew words, and those words are in a slightly different order. They are "declared Yahweh lords," or "neum Yhvh ladonay" in the transliterated Hebrew, where "ladonay" is a variant of "adonay." You have to fill in the missing articles and prepositions yourself. If you look at how "ladonay" is typically translated, you will find that it is often "the Lord," and often combined with prepositions; "of", "for", "by", and "to" the Lord. The word "my" never occurs in Bible translation for "ladonay" other than Psalm 110:1, but in common Hebrew speech, adonay (or adonai, yet another variant) is literally translated as "my lords/owners/masters," where the pluralization is done to show extra respect due to a singular, distinguished being. You find the combination "adonay Yhvh," or "the Lord Yahweh," 290 times in the Bible, but Psalm 110:1 is the only case in the Bible where you find the reverse order of "Yhvh ladonay," so we have no other verses to directly compare. With all of that in mind, it appears that the "The Lord said to my Lord" interpretation Jesus used is valid, but you could also make the case that "Declared Yahweh of/to/for/by the Lord" and "Declared Yahweh, the Lord" (similar to "Declared the Lord, Yahweh" we see in Isaiah 3:15, Jeremiah 2:19, Ezekiel 5:11, and 70+ more times) are equally valid translations. That latter option works well, unless you are looking to make a connection to Jesus. ;-)

So as you can see, the interpretation is arguable, but let us consider that it is properly "The Lord [Yahweh] said to my Lord." Who then is "my Lord?" Is it Jesus, as He is claiming? Well, as noted above, the "my" is subjectively added and could easily be other things. If David really did mean "my Lord," it would be awkward for him to be referring to himself, but is that enough to prove that this is about Jesus?

Context is key, but the context here is ambiguously awkward for Jesus as well. For example, Psalm 110:2 has God (Yahweh) saying that He will help extend the power of this "Lord" such that he will rule among his enemies. That seems more like what happens when conquering hostile nations than what Jesus has promised. There is talk of troops being ready for war in Psalm 110:3, but God will not need troops at all in the final battle per Revelation 20:9. In Psalm 110:4, God swears an oath to this Lord, but God swearing an oath to Himself (as Jesus) is a strange concept; yet it makes perfect sense for God to swear to a man to give him some assurance of the promise. In Psalm 110:5-6 we do find references to a day of God's wrath when judgement takes place, but it is hard to say that it is meant to be THE Judgement Day, given that there are other, generic days of wrath and judgement referred to in the Bible, such as Job 21:27-30, Isaiah 3:14, Jeremiah 1:16, and Ezekiel 22:24.

The Psalm is a little less ambiguously awkward if we consider it to be referring to King David himself. David did have several military conquests of enemy nations, many of which are summarized in 2 Samuel 8:1-14, matching very well with the war references within the Psalm. As 2 Samuel 8:6 and 2 Samuel 8:14 indicate, these victories were given to him by God.

In Psalm 110:4, God swore to make this Lord a priest after the order of Melchizedek. It is interesting to note that Melchizedek was the king and God's priest in Salem (Genesis 14:18). Salem would later become Jeru-salem. So David was the king of the same city. There were noted priests at the time of David: Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira was David's priest. However, no one was classified as the High Priest. It is arguable that David acted as the High Priest (the scenes in 1 Chronicles 24:31, 2 Chronicles 8:14, 2 Chronicles 23:18 certainly suggests so), but David was never explicitly called a priest (unless you can count Psalm 110:4). David's sons may have also acted as priests (2 Samuel 8:18), which also suggests David having priestly role, given that priesthood was usually dictated by family lineage.

Now what about the part of being a priest "forever?" I think that this was God effectively saying that He was granting David the title of "priest," and that title would never be stripped from him. He would be a priest as long as he lived. I do not think that the eternal promise of priesthood necessarily extended to his progeny. So, just like Melchizedek died, and no one speaks of priests from his lineage, so too was to be the case with David. David's progeny were not promised an eternal priesthood.

Add to that the references of Melchizedek and David literally ruling the same city and acting as priest, and David's God-helped military conquests, and you have at least a reasonable case that this Psalm is about David, not Jesus. Reasonable, but not "rock" solid. ;-)

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.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Give to God What Is God's

Jesus caused quite a stir when He started teaching in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem. Chief Priests, Pharisees, elders, and Teachers of the Law were upset by this, and they questioned Him about His authority to teach. But Jesus circumnavigated their inquisition with a question of His own regarding John the Baptist (Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8). He then rebuked them with a parable, accusing these leaders of not repenting and seeking righteousness (Matthew 21:28-32). Then He explained that the Kingdom of God would be taken from them, and instead given to others, through the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and the Parable of the Grand Banquet.

Give to God What Is God's
As a skeptic, it goes without saying that I see the Scriptures differently than a believer. While some believers may think that I just prowl around for looking for content that I can twist for my own desires, that is not at all what I do. There are many things I consider while reading, but I do try to find the honest intent in the verses. This perspective allows for interpretation without allegiance to any denominational doctrine, and occasionally yields insight not seen by others of the faith, such as with the enigmatic Kingdom-within-you verse. I think I may have stumbled on another one, a major one, which we will see in this study.

The religious elite were angry with Jesus after He targeted them with one or two scornful parables of condemnation. So, in Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, and Luke 20:20-26, we find them trying to entrap Jesus into saying something against the Roman law. In particular, they were hoping that Jesus would say that you should not pay taxes to Caesar, a pagan authority. All three accounts are fairly similar, so let us take Luke 20:22-25 to read this anecdote's highlight together:
[They asked] "Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
[Jesus] saw through their duplicity and said to them, "Show Me a denarius (a Roman coin). Whose portrait and inscription are on it?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." NIV
When you look at and hear Christian commentaries on this section, they focus a lot on the first half of Jesus' reply in contrasting it with the second half; how brilliant Jesus was in saying to give Caesar his own coinage back, and how we should give God what God deserves: respect, honor, worship, reverence, etc. While I would agree that such sentiment is on the right track, they fall woefully short of the full intent. To reach the full view, we must step back a verse, and back several books of the Bible.

You see, Jesus asked of the coin "Whose portrait and inscription are on it?" That is important when we are evaluating the second half of Jesus' reply; giving to God what is God's. The question we should ask is "what is God's?" From the parallelism of the denarius reference, to answer that question we should then ask what has God's image and inscription?

In Genesis 1:26-27 it states that mankind was made in God's image. So what about God's inscription? As we see in Deuteronomy 11:18 and Deuteronomy 30:14, His Law was written into the hearts and minds of the Jews:
Deuteronomy 11:18
Fix these words of Mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. NIV

Deuteronomy 30:14
No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. NIV

When you put this information together, it appears to me that Jesus' reply could accurately be rewritten as "Give Caesar his coins because, according to their markings, they are his. But you belong to God, so give yourself completely to God." This is a consistent message in much of the Gospels: give up your wealth and forsake the world in favor of unfaltering devotion to God.

I am not sure why Christian exegesis misses this point of view. Perhaps it is an honest oversight. Perhaps it is avoided because of the implication that the original message was just for the Jews. Or perhaps I am the one in error here.

We will close out this study with a quick look at the changes made by the Gospel authors.

Mark 12:13 claims that it was the Pharisees themselves, working with Herodians (Roman sympathizers), who tried to entrap Jesus. Matthew 22:15-16 records that the Pharisees had sent their students (disciples), instead of themselves, along with the Herodians, to entrap Jesus. Luke 20:19-20 suggests that the Teachers of the Law and the Chief Priests sent spies to do this dirty work, and does not mention the Herodians at all. So Matthew somewhat and Luke blatantly play out entrapment more surreptitiously than Mark does; perhaps to make the religious elite seem all the more vile for not trying to trap Jesus themselves.

Mark 12:15 and Matthew 22:18 both have Jesus directly scorning the questioning parties by asking them why they are trying to trap Him, but then Jesus goes on to answer their question. It seems a little odd that Jesus would scorn them for asking such a question, but then answer it anyway. Perhaps that is why Luke 20:23-24 edits out that scorn.

Finally, Mark 12:17 simply ends in their astonishment at Jesus' answer. Luke 20:26 follows suit with that, by saying their astonishment silenced them. Matthew 22:22 goes the extra mile, saying that, in defeat, they took their ball and went home. :-) Of course, these differences do not necessarily contradict each other.

{NOTE:  The coin pictured above is not a denarius.}

Friday, November 9, 2012

Oral Banquet

In the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem, Jesus was confronted by the Chief Priests, Pharisees, elders, and Teachers of the Law. They questioned Jesus about His authority to teach, but Jesus stopped their inquisition by asking them a question of His own about John the Baptist's baptism (Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8). Then, with a parable, Jesus accused these leaders of not doing God's will, which was to follow John the Baptist's ways of repentance and righteousness (Matthew 21:28-32). Next, with the Parable of the Tenants, Jesus explained the Kingdom of God would be taken from them, and instead given to others.

Oral Banquet
Before the Gospels were written down, they were just a collection of remembered stories. Mark was the first of the Synoptic Gospels to collectively commit these stories to writing; at least some of them. Matthew and Luke both had additional stories to tell beyond the backbone rendered by Mark. Sometimes, Matthew and Luke had the same extra stories to tell. Well, almost the same. As we know from the telephone game, oral stories often lose some fidelity in their transmission. We will see some classic fidelity loss, and some theological issues, as we examine the Parable of the Grand Banquet/Wedding Feast.

Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24 both give us the same parable, in a manner of speaking. It is a parable of scorn directed against the Jews, or at least the Jewish elite of the Pharisees, Chief Priests, etc., and it goes like this:
A man (God) arranged a big banquet (Salvation/the Kingdom of God) and invited guests (Jews/Jewish elite) to it. When the banquet was ready, he sent for the guests, but those he had invited opted not to come to the banquet. The man got angry at these ungracious guests. So he invited anyone else that could be found (non-Jews/non-Jewish-elite/Gentiles) to eat at the banquet instead of the originally invited guests. (My paraphrase)
The core message of Matthew's and Luke's parable is the same. If you read either version right now, my paraphrase will match it. This suggests that the parable had the same original source. Unfortunately, that original source carried a huge theological blunder...

Through the parable, we see that God invited the Jews to His Kingdom, but they rejected it, so the Gentiles are coming in instead. This paints the Salvation of the Gentiles as an afterthought. Only because the original invitees rejected the invitation do these others get a shot at entering His Kingdom.

Quickly, we should also note that this parable contains an implied indicator that God's Kingdom was coming soon... way back then. Matthew 22:4 and Luke 14:17 both emphasize how the banquet was "now" ready. This is just a little more evidence that the end was near, or so they thought.

Despite both of these being the same core parable from the same original source, thanks to oral history fidelity loss, and perhaps each author's unique adjustments, Matthew's and Luke's version vary in significant ways:

Type of Banquet Wedding feast for the king's son (Jesus) - Matthew 22:2 A great banquet hosted by a certain man - Luke 14:16
The Host's Messenger(s) Multiple servants (prophets) - Matthew 22:3-4 Single servant (Jesus?) - Luke 14:17
Type of Rejection Refused, ignored, mistreated and killed the servants - Matthew 22:3-5 Excuses - Luke 14:18-20
The Host's Anger Sent an army to destroy the city (destruction of Jerusalem 70 C.E.) - Matthew 22:7 Refusal to let the original invitees taste the banquet - Luke 14:24
Alternate Guests Anyone, good and bad - Matthew 22:9-10 First the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, then anyone - Luke 14:21-23
Host's Own Rejection The king rejected someone who had shown up without wedding clothes - Matthew 22:11-13 N/A
Additional Corollary Many are invited, but few will be chosen - Matthew 22:14 N/A

Matthew's completely unique content of the host's rejection of a guest on the end of the parable may have already been included by the time he heard the story. However, as mentioned in several other studies, Matthew appears to have had a tendency for aggregating material into his Gospel and adapting it as necessary. So it seems also possible, if not probable, that he wove this concept into his story from another small anecdote.

This would not be at all surprising for Matthew to do, especially when we consider another apparent and significant alteration: multiple servants who were mistreated and killed. These servants metaphorically represent the prophets that had been sent to the Jews by God throughout time, and it mimics the how the type of metaphorical servants were treated in the Parable of the Tenants which appears immediately before this one in Matthew's Gospel. So it appears that Matthew may have enhanced this parable to be even more pertinent to the story he was trying to tell.

With the Parable of the Tenants followed by this Parable of the Wedding Feast, Matthew presents a powerful, flowing, double scorn of the Jews for their rejection of all the times God had tried to call them back with the prophets. However, Luke's version has Jesus giving the parable much earlier time, while dining at a Pharisee's house, and in response to someone saying that those who are able to eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God are blessed (Luke 14:1-15). This divergent parable placement suggests further that it was passed down as an isolated anecdote, which the Gospel writers then tried to fit in the best way that they could.

One more of Matthew's adjustments is worth a second look as well. Many scholars think that Matthew, in its present form, was written after 70 C.E. So the additional content about the king sending an army to destroy the city, which is almost certainly meant to seem to be a prophetic allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., may have been added after the fact. It is easy to write prophesy about what has already happened.

Finally, just in case you doubt my premise of oral evolution in the tales of Jesus, just in case you think I am wrong and that these parables were actually different and spoken at the noted different times, we have one more resource to consult. In Saying 64 of the Gospel of Thomas, you will find the same parable, with yet another variation, but without preceding context to indicate where it belongs in Jesus' timeline. Coincidentally, it better matches the text of Luke than Matthew's enhanced version:
Jesus said, "A man had received visitors. And when he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servant to invite guests. He went to the first one and said to him, "My master invites you.' He said, 'I have claims against some merchants. They are coming to me this evening. I must go and give them my orders. I ask to be excused from the dinner.' He went to another and said, 'My master has invited you.' He said to him, 'I have just bought a house and am required for the day. I shall not have any spare time.' He went to another and said to him, 'My master invites you.' He said to him, 'My friend is going to get married, and I am to prepare the banquet. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused from the dinner.' He went to another and said to him, 'My master invites you.' He said to him, 'I have just bought a farm, and I am on my way to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused.' The servant returned and said to his master, 'Those whom you invited to the dinner have asked to be excused.' The master said to his servant, 'Go outside to the streets and bring back those whom you happen to meet, so that they may dine.' Businessmen and merchants will not enter the Places of My Father." (The Gospel of Thomas, as translated by Thomas O. Lambdin, B.P Grenfell, A.S. Hunt, and Bentley Layton.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Cracked Cornerstone

Now in the Jerusalem area, Jesus was causing quite a stir, even with His own Disciples. They were amazed at the power Jesus displayed when He killed a fig tree for not having any fruit on it. Sometime afterward, the Chief Priests, elders, and Teachers of the Law questioned Jesus about His authority to teach in the Temple courtyard, but Jesus deflected them by asking them what was the inspiration behind John the Baptist's baptism (Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8).

All three of those accounts continue on with Jesus chastising these leaders with a parable, which will be the subject of the study below, but Matthew inserts one more parable prior to that. The parable involved two sons, one who eventually did not do what his father had asked, and one eventually who did. Jesus then accused these leaders of not doing God's will and following John the Baptist's ways of repentance and righteousness (Matthew 21:28-32).

A Cracked Cornerstone
There are many prophesies directly referenced in the Gospels. Yet typically, if you go back and read the prophesy, you will find some aspects that do not exactly match the intent of the Gospel author. Take the prophesy referenced in the Parable of the Tenants, for example. In this study, we will see some oddities in the parable itself, see how the referenced prophesy is not quite right, and trace the elements of story evolution across the Gospels.

The Parable of the Tenants is found in Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-19, but starting with Mark's version allows you to see how Matthew and Luke adjusted the story according to their own unique idioms. Mark's version goes like this:
Jesus told a parable about a man who rented his vineyard to tenants. The man sent many servants over some time to collect some fruit from the tenants, but each time the tenants would not yield any fruit, and furthermore they would mistreat these servants, including by beating and killing them. The vineyard owner finally decided to send his son, thinking that the tenants would respect him, but the tenants also killed the son. So the vineyard owner will soon kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. (My paraphrase)

[Jesus then said] "Haven't you read this scripture:
'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" (NIV, Mark 12:10-11)

The Chief Priests, the Teachers of the Law, and the elders discerned that Jesus had spoken this parable against them, and so they sought to kill Jesus, but were afraid of how the crowd would then likely react against them. (My paraphrase)
Let us quickly note some oddities and intricacies of this parable. First, we should question just what kind of person this vineyard owner is. Why? Well, because he did not seek justice. When the tenants refused to yield the fruit, he did not bring a lawsuit. When the tenants beat, and even killed some of his servants, he just sent more servants instead of seeking justice for his servants (Mark 12:3-5). Given the tenants' record of killing servants, he sends his son to collect dues as opposed to sending law enforcement to arrest them (Mark 12:6). And (surprise!), the tenants killed the son too (Mark 12:7-8). At this point in time, we should judge the vineyard owner as an idiot who foolishly sent servants, and even his own son, to almost assured slaughter.

Of course, in this parable, the vineyard owner represents God, the servants represent all of the various prophets that God had sent the Jews, and the owner's son is none other than Jesus. (By the way, the special prominence of the son in this parable supports the idea that Jesus was a literal son of God, as opposed to a chosen, figurative son of God as some more cult-like denominations would render Jesus.)

The verses of Scripture that Jesus quoted are Psalm 118:22-23. Psalm 118 has several verses which seem as though they could be prophetic of Jesus, such as Psalm 118:14, Psalm 118:17, and Psalm 118:21, such that any believer would consider it undeniable applicable. However, that is just a case of confirmation bias, because there is evidence to the contrary that must be ignored to take such a position:
  • Psalm 118:2 is a reference to the traditional Aaronic Priesthood as opposed to Jesus' order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20).
  • Psalm 118:7 is a reference to triumph in a battle.
  • In that battle, the speaker was surrounded by hostile nations and almost faltered in battle, but with God's help he conquered the enemies. (Psalm 118:10-13)
  • In Psalm 118:17-18, the speaker was chastened by God, but not killed, and will live on to personally proclaim what God has done.
  • In Psalm 118:21, the speaker thanks God for being his salvation, which would be awkward for Jesus to say given that Jesus was the means of Salvation and He would not need to be Saved.
  • Psalm 118:27 is a reference to making a sacrifice of thanks on the altar of the Temple.
  • Finally, the Psalm is written in past tense, describing what had already happened long before Jesus.

The quoted verses in the Psalm are a bit ambiguous, for sure, but I suspect that the "cornerstone" being referred to is meant to represent God Himself. However, it is not likely referring to Jesus based on the context.

At the close of the parable, we see that the Chief Priests, the Teachers of the Law and the elders had to work a little bit to figure out that this parable was spoken against them.

Now, what about Matthew's version? Matthew only tweaked some wording here and there, leaving the parable mostly the same. However, Matthew, being a bit of an aggregator, did insert additional content into the story. The additions began with the scathing scorn Jesus gave the Chief Priests and the elders after the Parable of the Two Sons, which was inserted just prior to the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:28-32). Then in Matthew 21:43, we find more unique-to-Matthew direct scorn aimed at the Chief Priests and the elders, given as an interpretation of the closing of the Parable of the Tenants. Despite Matthew's version having this blatantly directed verbal assault, he clumsily leaves in Mark's statement of how the Chief Priests and Pharisees "knew" that Jesus had been talking about them with His parables, as if there was still a need for discernment on their part (Matthew 21:45). (Also note how clumsily Matthew switched Jesus' target from Chief Priests and elders {Matthew 21:23} to Chief Priests and Pharisees {Matthew 21:45}).

OK, how about Luke? As noted several times before, Luke was more of an editor than Matthew. He knew how to redact stories that were a bit too controversial, like the fig tree that Jesus cursed. And if a story just had one or two rough spots in it? Luke would polish it up, like what we find here. You know how bad it looked when the vineyard owner kept sending servants to be slaughtered by the tenants, and even did so with his own son? Well, Luke noticed that too. So in his version, none of the servants were killed (Luke 20:10-12). That way it would seem like more of a surprise that the tenants had killed the owner's son, and the owner would not look like such an idiot. Of course, that broke the link that Mark was trying to make with the parable; that the servants represent all of the various prophets that God had sent through time, but at least it is a better story. :-)

One final Gospel-construction note: We saw in a previous study how it appeared that Matthew and Luke had copied from a different version of Mark than what we have today in the Bible by comparing Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, and Luke 9:41. There, Mark was missing the phrase "and perverse generation," but Matthew and Luke both had it. Here, in the Parable of the Tenants, an entire verse is present in Matthew 21:44 and Luke 20:18 that Mark does not have. This further suggests that Matthew and Luke were building from a different version of Mark.