Friday, March 29, 2013

Body and Blood

It was time for the last meal that Jesus would share with His Disciples before His death. According to John, during the meal, Jesus humbly washed the Disciples' feet. Then, according to Matthew, Mark, and John, Jesus revealed that one of the Disciples would betray Him. According to Luke, that revelation came after the subject of the following study. According to John, there is no record of the subject of the following study, and Judas left the group right after Jesus identified his treachery. So then in John, Jesus explained to the remaining Disciples that seeing Jesus was the same as seeing God, and that people were now guilty because they had heard Him and had seen His miracles.

Is that clear? Well, do not worry. All will be revealed.

Body and Blood
The Eucharist, "The Lord's Supper", Communion or "Holy Communion", "Divine Liturgy", "Blessed Sacrament" or Sacrament; that little wafer of bread and sip of (possibly) wine you can get from your local church. Given the wide variety of names for the same activity, it seems only natural that different churches hold different understandings of this rite; everything from a simple symbolic mnemonic to a transubstantiation where the bread literally becomes Jesus' body, and the wine literally becomes Jesus' blood. In turn, this results in a wide degree of the rules and restrictions governing the ceremony, as I discovered in an awkward way. Let us take a closer look at this divine snack.

Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, and Luke 22:14-20 each cover this sacred meal. Mark was obviously the draft for the other two, so we will start with his account.

Jesus gave thanks for bread, and then shared it with the Disciples, saying that it was His body (Mark 14:22). He then gave thanks for the "fruit of the vine", and then shared it with them, saying that it was His "blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:23-24). He explained that He would not drink that again until doing so "in the Kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). Then they all sang a song and went to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26).

As opposed to our standards, where bread is something we may have with dinner, this scene depicts the bread as an actual meal itself. Bread was a common meal by itself in those times, particularly among the poorer classes, which is why The Lord's Prayer speaks of "daily bread," not daily steak with a side of mashed potatoes. So getting a little wafer from the pulpit is a far cry from the actual intention of eating a meal together.

"Fruit of the vine" is a bit ambiguous, given that many different fruits which grow on vines. Plus, there is no reference here about it being either fruit juice or a fermented fruit wine instead. However, tradition suggests that it was grape wine, and when you read Paul's chastisement of some members of the church performing this rite all wrong in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, it is obvious that it is wine that is to be shared, just not in excess.

Matthew's account is nearly identical with Mark's, so much so that it is obvious that he was copying from some version of Mark, but there are a couple of notable changes.

In Matthew 26:28, explicitly claims that Jesus' blood is poured out "for the forgiveness of sins." This makes Jesus' blood multipurpose; both forming a covenant and cleansing sins. That is not at all foreshadowed by the Old Testament, where there were separate acts for confirming a covenant and for cleansing sins.

In Matthew 26:29, Jesus said that He would not drink wine again until He did so with the Disciples "in My Father's Kingdom." Much to the Baptist's dismay, there will be alcohol in God's Kingdom. Of course, that softly implies a very physical existence in the afterlife; having both fermented beverages and presumably feeling their intoxicating effects.

Luke edited things a bit more. As you may remember, according to Matthew and Mark, before this meal Jesus revealed that He would be betrayed, and, in Matthew, Judas is identified as the betrayer. They make this meal awkward, because they never mention Judas leaving before the meal. Luke moved Jesus' announcement to after the meal, presumably to make it less awkward. There are a few other, more minor changes in Luke.

In Luke 22:15-16, Jesus stated that He would not eat the Passover feast again "until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God." This particular sentiment is unique to Luke, and it appears to have been used to emphasize the fulfillment of the "prophesy" of the Passover, even though there is no noted future prophetic significance given to it in the original text. It is instead explicitly a remembrance of God of God's slaughter of firstborn children and the subsequent hasty exodus from Egypt.

In Luke 22:18, Jesus said that He would not drink wine again until "the Kingdom of God comes." While Matthew and Mark versions left it a little open as to whether or not the Kingdom of God existed at that time, Luke's version suggests that it had not yet been established.

In Luke 22:19-20, the personal relationship aspect is emphasized with the addition of "given for you" regarding Jesus' bread-body, and the change from "poured out for many" to "poured out for you" regarding Jesus' wine-blood. This was a wise revision by Luke, as pointing at "you" evokes a much greater emotional response than a generic gesture at "many." That is just good marketing. ;-)

As mentioned above, this was an actual meal. Bread and wine were as common as potatoes and soda in the American diet, and that was the point. Each time this staple meal was eaten, they would now be thinking of Jesus. Yet this particular meal was more than common; it was communal. Everyone shared in it. There was no magic transubstantiation going on here, nor was it implied for the future. This rite was simply a call to get together with fellow believers, to share a meal while remembering Jesus. That is why Luke 22:19 adds "do this in remembrance of Me."

Now, you may be asking: Did John have anything to say about this memorable meal? No, but yes. John does not record this particular meal. Yet as we discussed in a previous study, John's Jesus did tell people that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to gain eternal life (John 6:53-58). It was a necessity for Salvation, not a communal meal held in remembrance. Not only that, but in John's version, Jesus was clearly speaking figuratively; implying that a reliance on Jesus' ways and commands to lead to Salvation.

For John to not have the same Last Supper communion, and yet to contain a reference of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood, suggests that some form of the saying of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood was part of the early, oral doctrine of early Christianity. John's sect was likely split off, or perhaps geographically isolated, from the sect that followed traditions we find in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke early in the development of the church. So the difference we see between the Synoptics and John indicates and records the evolution of the original message. Which version is closer to the original? God only knows.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Now You Are Guilty

Following the Gospel of John, after Jesus identified Judas as a traitor, Judas immediately left the group. This prompted Jesus to begin what is known as the "Farewell Discourse" with the other eleven Disciples. We discussed roughly the first third of the discourse last time, where we saw some oddities, signs of crafted dialog, and contradictions, and discussed that seeing Jesus was equivalent to seeing God.

Now You Are Guilty
At the end of the previous study, we noted how Jesus ended with a call to action ("Come now, let us leave."), but His "Farewell Discourse" continued for three more chapters. That call to action has prompted some liberal Bible scholars to suggest that the real end of the discourse came at the end of John 14, and the next three chapters were insertions from a later author/editor. Let us take a look at the next couple of chapters in the discourse to discover why those scholars may be so anxious to trim them out of the Bible.

In John 15:1-8, Jesus metaphorically called Himself a vine. Immediately, we run into a tangled mess of contradictions. In John 15:1-2 we read:
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." NIV
The language here is fairy clear. God will somehow remove non-productive followers of Jesus; removing indicated by the cutting off of the branches, followers of Jesus indicated by the "in Me." Of course, we reviewed in the previous study that people are only "in" Jesus if they obey His commands (John 14:15-20), which would seem to make it impossible for them to be unproductive. Not only that, but the people who are led to Jesus are supposed to be the "good" ones already, because as John 6:37, John 6:44-45, and John 6:65 indicate, it requires God's selection to follow Jesus. It seems rather odd that God would lead someone to Jesus, only to get rid of them soon after they had become a follower.

Just two verses later, John 15:4 contradicts what Jesus had just said:
"Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me." NIV
Here, Jesus commands His followers to remain in Him, but as John 15:1-2 explained, it was God who was controlling whether or not the branches remained "in" the vine!

The rest of the verses using the extended, twisted, vine metaphor divulged how lopped off branches would be gathered and burned, meanwhile those who remain in Jesus would have anything they wished.

In the next section of verses, John 15:9-17 mostly speaks of love and obedience; how if they obey Jesus, they will be loved by Him, and how they should love each other to the point of giving up their lives for one another. It also explains how Jesus considered the Disciples to be friends, not servants, because He has told them what He is planning. This is a pretty nice section overall, but most friends do not say to other friends that they are only friends "if you do what I command"! ;-) There is another apparent contradiction found in John 15:16, where Jesus said that He chose the Disciples, but John 10:29 suggests that it was God, the Father, who instead chose them for Jesus. Although, it is hard to call that a true contradiction if Jesus and God are one and the same! ;-)

Next, in John 15:18-21 Jesus warned that they would be persecuted by the world for following Jesus.

Speaking of the people in the world, in John 15:22-25 Jesus explained why they are now guilty. Check out John 15:22 and John 15:24, respectively below:
"If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin." NIV

"If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and My Father." NIV
Pffeeww! We are all off the hook! Obviously, if Jesus' words are true here, we cannot be guilty because Jesus has not spoken to us, and we have not seen any miracles! Now, Christians may object that "Jesus has spoken to you through the Bible!" Wrong! Such Christians are missing the point here. Jesus did not say that they were guilty for ignoring the Scriptures, of which they had plenty that allegedly speak of Jesus. No, they were guilty because they had personally heard Jesus and were eyewitnesses to His miracles. Us? Not so much.

John 15:26-27 closes the chapter with a reminder that Jesus would give followers the Holy Spirit.

In John 16:1-4, Jesus warned them that they would be persecuted, even to death. John 16:2 is particularly interesting:
"They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." NIV
Why would anyone think that? As we discussed in a study long ago, in Deuteronomy 13:1-18 God demanded zero tolerance for deviations from His brand of religion, even to the point of slaughtering entire towns. That includes killing miracle-working prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-5) and even your dearest friend or family member (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). As Deuteronomy 13:5 makes it clear:
"That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you." NIV
In John 16:5-11, Jesus explained again that He was going way for their good, that He would send them the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit would convict people and Satan. Nothing too exciting there, except that Jesus began with yet another contradiction, saying that none of the Disciples asked Jesus where He was going, despite Simon Peter asking Jesus that exact question earlier in this self-same Farewell Discourse in John 13:36!

Anyway, Jesus then explained more about what the Holy Spirit would do (John 16:12-15). Then He went into how they would soon be grieving, but their grief would turn to joy, alluding to His resurrection (John 16:16-22). After He was resurrected, they could have anything for which they asked (John 16:23-24).

In John 16:25-31, Jesus and the Disciples discussed communication and belief. In John 16:25, Jesus started with:
"Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about My Father." NIV
Why would Jesus have purposely obfuscated His message? The logical reason is that He did not want people to understand. It blows a hole through the Christian apologist's mantra that God is too difficult to understand, because Jesus identified that He had the option to explain about God plain language, but He chose not to do so.

So when was that time coming, when we would get this plain message from Jesus? Apparently, not too long afterward, because just a few verses later we find in John 16:29-30:
Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God." NIV
There was not anything in what Jesus had just said which had made Him more or less believable, or that made Him appear more or less clear, at least by comparison with the rest of the Gospel of John, and yet we are supposed to believe that that was the tipping point of when the Disciples finally believed? That is ridiculous, largely because they had already believed (John 1:41, John 1:45, John 1:49, John 6:68-69)!

The chapter closes out in John 16:32-35, with Jesus telling them that they would become scattered, but that they should have peace because He has overcome the world. I do not know about Him overcoming the world, but He sure has overcome some bad storytelling to continue to be believed, even in our times.

Friday, March 15, 2013

It Is Me, It Is Him

It had been an exciting time. It was the Last Supper Jesus would eat prior to His crucifixion, but it was not the food which was so exciting. Jesus, divinity in the flesh, humbly served His Disciples by washing their feet at the meal. Then, while the Disciples were still marveling at Jesus' leadership by example, Jesus announced that one of the Disciples would betray Him. Depending on which Gospel you read, Jesus revealed that Judas was the treacherous one.

According to John, Judas then immediately left the dinner, and Jesus dropped some heavy knowledge on the rest of the Disciples...

It Is Me, It Is Him
The Gospel of John both beautiful and confusing at times. There are glimpses of brilliance, wrapped up and tangled around logical knots and bizarre statements. In some respects, the Gospel itself is a perfect analogy for Christianity today.

From John 13:31 to John 17:28, Jesus had a dialog with His Disciples, known as the "Farewell Discourse." Its content is almost completely exclusive to John's Gospel. We will take a quick look at that discourse, up to the end of John 14, in this study.

We will start on an odd note with John 13:31-32, which says that, because God is glorified in Jesus, God will glorify Jesus in Himself. Clear? No. Important for the Disciples to know? No. So why is it in there? I do not know, but it sure sounds spiritual and mystical, does it not? ;-)

In John 13:33, Jesus told the Disciples that they cannot go where He is going, only to contradict, or at least clarify, Himself a few verses later.

We see a glimpse of beauty in John 13:34-35, where Jesus commands the Disciples to love one another, which will prove to other people that they are His Disciples. It is a great sentiment, but unfortunately it is infrequently found in the church.

Next, in John 13:36-38, Jesus clarified to Peter that they will go where Jesus is going, but not now, and then prophesied that Peter, despite his enthusiasm to follow Jesus, would disown Jesus three times that same night. Peter's denial is one small point of overlap with the other Gospels, which we may discuss later in a different study.

Trust God, and Jesus (John 14:1). That makes sense. Jesus is going to prepare a place in God's house-of-many-rooms for the Disciples, and then He will come back for them (John 14:2-3). That does not make sense, at least not when you really think about. God made the entire universe, and has already chosen who would be Saved (Mark 13:20), but He waited until the last minute to prepare a place for the Saved? That just seems a little... odd.

On the other hand, what does not seem odd, but rather appears to be well-crafted dialog, in John 14:4 Jesus told them that they knew the way to where He was going. That left a Disciple confused, so Jesus explained that Jesus is the only way to get to God (John 14:5-6).

Now, why would I call that a "crafted" dialog as opposed to a real one? There was no reason for Jesus to say that the Disciples knew the way, when He had just told them that He was coming back to bring them there (John 14:3). It is about the equivalent of an airline pilot telling you that you know the way to Denver, because you know the pilot who is flying the plane there. Plus, if the Disciples had not asked about it, then that all-important "truth," that people can only get to God through Jesus, would not have been revealed. This suggests someone writing a dialog, someone who is deliberately choosing the path of discussion to get their message out. That requires knowledge, or control of how participants would react. So either it is Jesus' omniscience at work here, or the work of an author who is not subtle enough at his craft to cloak his message manipulation.

With that subject out of the way, what comes next is likely another crafted conversation, but let us focus on the content here in John 14:7-11. There, Jesus explained that the Disciples have seen God, the Father, because the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Of course, this is in contradiction to John 1:18 and John 6:46, both of which claim that nobody has seen the Father except for Jesus, with the latter verse being Jesus' own words.

Then we come to some more contradictory verses, but these are more contradictory to real life as opposed to Bible verses. In John 14:12-14, Jesus tells His followers that they will be able to work even greater miracles than what Jesus had done, and that Jesus would do anything that they ask Him to do. Today we have a wealth of unanswered prayers and a plentiful lack of miracles which prove Jesus' words to be untrue. Biblically speaking, while there are accounts in Acts of the Disciples working some miracles, they fall short of everything Jesus did, and in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul prayed for Jesus to do something for him, but Jesus rejected his request.

John 14:15-20 speaks of how Jesus would prompt God to send them the Holy Spirit, which will be with them forever! Not only that, the Holy Spirit will help them recognize that Jesus is in God, that they are in Jesus, and that Jesus is in them. It is kind of like one of those Russian nesting dolls combined with a Möbius strip. ;-)

John 14:21 is pretty straightforward: If you love Jesus, you will obey His commands. However, as we will discuss in a moment, His commands are really God's commands, so that should mean obeying everything that God had commanded as well.

In John 14:22-24, a Disciple asked Jesus why He did not intend to show Himself to everyone in the world. That is a great question, because, presumably, if more people saw Jesus, they would believe. Yet Jesus' answer appears to suggest otherwise; stating that those who love Him will obey Him, but those who do not love Him will not obey. While it is difficult to know for sure with such an indirect answer, Jesus appears to be saying "I will not waste my time going throughout all of the world, because that will not really change whether or not people will follow me," which is sort of contradictory to the message found in Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14, Luke 15:1-7) where Jesus described a willingness to search all over for the lost souls.

John 14:24 ended with a rather interesting sentence:
"These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me." NIV
This is not really news. If you have been reading along in John's Gospel, you would know that (allegedly) everything that Jesus said or did was instructed by God, the Father, making Jesus essentially just a vessel for the words and actions of God (John 6:38, John 7:16, John 8:28, John 8:42, John 14:10). So, as mentioned above, when Jesus spoke about obeying His commands, He is inherently referring to obeying what God commanded, which should also mean obeying God's Law from the Old Testament. That message seems to be lost in Christianity.

Let us wrap this up this study in the way that may have Jesus wrapped up this "Farewell Discourse." In John 14:25-31, Jesus reminded the Disciples that they will get the Holy Spirit, wished them peace, reminded them that He is going away for there benefit and that his time with them was short. And verse 14:31 ends with:
"Come now, let us leave." NIV
Summarizing what had just been said and then ending on this call to action implies the end of the discourse, and yet there are three more chapters of Jesus speaking before any action is taken. Some scholars have suggested that this content is a later insertion by another author or editor. That may be the case, but in reviewing the content of those chapters, to me it does not seem any more strange or unworthy than anything else we have already seen in John! :-)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Judas Fish, Part 2: Betrayer Revealed

Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, had a clandestine meeting with the Chief Priests to have Jesus arrested. This helped set up the ultimate fate of Jesus, but left us with many questions.

But it was the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so Jesus had His Disciples arrange a place for them to feast in Jerusalem with a man carrying a jar of water (Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, Luke 22:7-13).

During the feast, known commonly as the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the feet of the Disciples to demonstrate His love for them and emphasize how they should treat each other. This incredibly memorable, if not shocking, display is somehow forgotten by other Disciples, omitted from the other three Gospels. But what happened next would not be forgotten so easily...

This is Part 2 of a four part series entitled "Judas Fish." The series entries are:

Judas Fish, Part 2: Betrayer Revealed
Judas Iscariot is the ultimate human symbol of betrayal in the Christian world. It may not have always been that way, as the Apocryphal, Gnostic Gospel of Judas renders him as somewhat of the archetype of willing obedience to Jesus. However, those traditions are long dead. So to us, Judas is a villain. On the night when Judas' treachery would be revealed, Jesus let it be known that He knew the deceitful plan.

We will begin with Gospel closest to the original source for the Synoptics. In Mark 14:17-21, we find Jesus eating the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles. In Mark 14:18, Jesus dropped the bomb:
While they were reclining at the table eating, [Jesus] said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me." NIV
Now, it was just Jesus and the Twelve Disciples eating there, so the "one who is eating with Me" part seems a bit redundant. However, that phrase was very carefully placed there. We will see why in a moment.

As you may imagine, the Disciples were shocked to discover this, and so they each started telling Jesus that they would not betray Him (Mark 14:19). But Jesus verified that it would be one of the Twelve, one of the ones dipping bread with Him (Mark 14:20), and in Mark 14:21 revealed:
"The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." NIV
"...just as it is written about Him." What is Jesus talking about here? Written where? It is difficult to say if this is meant to be a reference to one specific prophesy or a more-general notion of God's plan as revealed in many prophesies. However, the references to the traitor eating bread with Him do loosely imply a specific prophesy. While it is vague here, there is an explicit reference which is given by John that helps us find that specific prophesy, but we will cover that in a moment.

Yet, before we move on, we should stop for just a moment at that last sentence. That part about being better for the betrayer if he had never been born; that implies a future punishment in store for him. Without specifics, it is hard to know what is meant, but the implication falls in line with the traditional view of a Hell of eternal torture.

Moving on, Matthew 26:20-25 is almost word-for-word identical with Mark's account; a sure sign of copying as opposed to independent witness. However, Matthew does append one large twist at the end. After the better-not-born verse, in Matthew 26:25 we read:
Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?"
Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." NIV
Wow! How shocking that would have been to the rest of the Disciples! Not only did they know one of their own group would betray Jesus, but now they knew exactly who it would be... assuming, of course, that Jesus and Judas had this little discussion loud enough for others to hear. And that should be a safe assumption, given that it is recorded dialog in Matthew. But that just makes it rather incredible that this trust-shattering news was not relayed in Mark. That seems like kind of an important detail.

Speaking of important details, Judas is not mentioned again in Matthew until he shows up with the squad to arrest Jesus, starting at Matthew 26:46. That matches the pattern written by Mark, but, as noted above, Mark never claimed that Judas was identified specifically as the traitor, and that makes it awkward. Why? Well, following Mark, you can just assume that Judas sneaked away to coordinate the later arrest. With Matthew, however, Judas is identified as the traitor, but he is never given an exit. In other words, it seems like right after Judas was revealed as the betrayer, they all just continued to eat dinner together, including moving on to the Communion Ceremony, like nothing had happened!

Turning to Luke, you will find his account has been adjusted. According to him, Jesus does the Communion Ceremony first (Luke 22:14-20) and then announced that there was a traitor in the ranks (Luke 22:21-23). Just like in Mark, Luke does not claim that Judas was explicitly identified as the traitor, which is very surprising if Matthew's account is accurate. Perhaps even more surprising is that, according to Luke 22:24-27 the Disciples got over their shock regarding a traitor so quickly that they next began to squabble about which of them would be the greatest! How bizarre!

John's account of this episode is quite different, and is found in John 13:18-30 as an immediate continuation of Jesus' foot-washing ceremony. Right after Jesus announced that most of the Disciples were now clean, and they should follow the example that Jesus had set Himself, He said this in John 13:18:
"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.'" NIV
Jesus provided a partial quote of Psalm 41:9, and it is a good thing that He truncated it, because to would have begun unraveling the truth. Psalm 41:9 reads:
"Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has raised his heal against me." NIV
Indeed, this is a verse about betrayal, but this is betrayal from a trusted friend. As noted in our previous study, according to John 6:60-71 Jesus knew that Judas could not be trusted from early on, and even implied that that his yet-to-be-manifest treachery was why Jesus had chosen him.

However, it only seems blatantly out of its own context when looking at John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not mention Jesus' early mistrust of Judas, and thereby they leave the door open (at the cost of omniscience) for Jesus to have trusted him. And so, as those other three all emphasize Judas sharing bread with Jesus, presumably as a connection to this same "prophesy" from Psalm 41, their accounts still provide some leeway for Jesus to have trusted Judas originally.

The preceding verses in this "prophesy," Psalm 41:7-8, speak of enemies imagining that the Psalm's speaker was struck with a deadly illness, which is a far cry from them actively conspiring in his death. So we see that, regardless of which Gospel you look at, this is yet another cherry-picked Christian prophesy, where verses taken out of context are used to support the case for Christ.

Moving on, in John 13:19-21, Jesus explained that He was letting them know about the treachery in advance as more proof of His own identity. The Disciples were shocked, and eventually got up the courage to ask Jesus who the traitor was (John 13:22-25). In John 13:26...
Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. NIV
So we see that, whether or not Matthew's Judas-to-Jesus conversation was private, here in John Jesus has explicitly identified Judas as the traitor using a non-mistakable, public gesture. Can you imagine, being one of the Twelve Disciples, hanging on Jesus' every word and motion as He revealed His betrayer? It would have been shocking, and incredibly memorable, which is precisely why it is so odd that this scene does not show up in any of the other Gospels. That suggests that either John or the other three are not accurate, and/or they are not based on original eyewitness accounts.

What follows next in John is strange as well. There, as soon as Judas took the bread from Jesus, Satan entered him, which is an odd event to record given that it (presumably) would have been impossible to witness (John 13:27). Not too surprisingly, Judas left the group as soon as he was identified as the traitor (John 13:30). On the other hand, what is surprising is that the other Disciples do not have a clue as to why Judas just left (John 13:28-29)! Even if they had not seen Satan just enter Judas, they would have at least noticed that Jesus identified Judas as the traitor.

This is all really bad fiction. It does not show the sign of memory which was corroborated over and over again by eyewitnesses. Instead it shows stories which developed on independent paths, with only the most fundamental elements shared in common; Jesus, the Disciples, and the betrayer Judas.

And, as usual, John's Gospel show signs of someone who is writing without fully considering the strange and disparate details within his own story because he is too focused on getting another message out to the public. Our politicians make this same mistake all too often.

Maybe this is not enough to convince believers that their faith is unjustified, but it should, at the bare minimum, be enough evidence to prove that not everything in the Bible is the truth. They have been betrayed by (at least parts of) the Gospels.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Playing Footsie

While Jesus was reclining at a table, an unnamed woman, who may have been Jesus' beloved friend Mary, opened her alabaster jar of nard perfume, and poured it on Jesus' head, or maybe on His feet, and then possibly wiped His feet with her hair. It appears that sometimes the truth is not clear.

Relatively speaking and dependent on the Gospel you follow, after that anointing, Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, met with the Chief Priests, conspiring to provide his help in arresting Jesus. This initiated the chain of events which would end with a life crossed out.

However, before that end, observances had to be made. In the practice of the Passover holiday, it was time for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. According to Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, and Luke 22:7-13, Jesus had His Disciples prepare arrangements for the feast in Jerusalem with a man carrying a jar of water. Possibly just a coincidence, but maybe not, a man carrying a jar of water is the Astrological sign for Aquarius. The Gospel of John does not mention these preparations, but still provides a rather memorable dinner scene anyway...

Playing Footsie
No matter what skeptics might say against religion, unless they are dishonest or blinded by their own dogma, they can not deny that some amount of "good" often comes associated with religion. That is not to say that that "good" only comes from religion, but rather that "good" is often promoted by it. Christians, at least the good ones, strive not only follow the instructions given by God, but also the example set by Jesus Himself, such as in the episode of Jesus washing His Disciples' feet.

The tale is found in in John 13:3-17, and, as is seemingly typical with John, there are some oddities and nuanced confusions found in its words. The strangeness starts in the beginning. In John 13:3 we read:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; NIV
The content itself is not strange. That Jesus came from God and was going back to Him is a theme John often repeated. But what is strange here is that John has recorded Jesus' thought process. We cannot rightfully (at least in this instance) fault John with completely making this up, as it all comes from what Jesus had said earlier in John's Gospel, so Jesus obviously would have known these things. However, to record these words as though those were Jesus' thoughts at the time just seems a little disingenuous because it is not something that could have been witnessed.

Anyway, because He had these thoughts in mind, Jesus got up and started washing His Disciples' feet (John 13:4-5). For those Disciples, you can just imagine how profound this would have been. Jesus, the Son of God, part of God, and the creator of all things (John 1:1-3), was stooping down in one of the most humble forms of service; foot washing.

Foot washing was a custom of hospitality, but the host would usually have a servant wash the feet of his guests, except in cases of a highly honorable or esteemed guest, where the host may have taken it upon himself to wash the feet of that guest in a show of humble appreciation for their visit. And yet Jesus was performing this service for them.

Simon Peter objected to Jesus humbling Himself on his feet, but Jesus told him that "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me," to which Simon Peter then asked Jesus to wash him all over (John 13:6-9). So this has turned a little strange too. Unless Jesus washed their feet, they would not be with Jesus anymore? Simon Peter was referring to a literal washing of his feet, but Jesus' reply seems more in line with the metaphorical sense of Jesus washing their sins away. So while it appears that you have a consistent message on the surface, you have actually got an awkward mix of the literal and the metaphorical. With Simon Peter asking for even more washing, it swings back to a literal sense; that it was Jesus' physical washing of them that was giving them a "part with" Him.

Unfortunately, the message does not get any clearer. In John 13:10-11 we read:
Jesus answered [Simon Peter], "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean. NIV
So the first part of Jesus' reply to Simon Peter is essentially "that is not necessary" because only his feet were dirty. This again appears to be a literal message at first. However, it gets complicated by the use of "clean," which is often used to refer to spiritual/ceremonial cleanliness, i.e. clean before God and without the stains of sin. That type of cleanliness (we will use Clean with a capital "C") is confirmed with the implicit reference to Judas being unclean.

Now, you may be thinking that this is just Jesus giving a clever play-on-words here, but that cannot be the case if we take His initial reply to Simon Peter about needing to wash his feet or else he would not be with Jesus. That speaks of Clean, not clean.

Then again, that type of Cleanliness seems awry. As we discussed from an earlier time in the Gospel storyline, Jesus emphasized that it was not physical cleaning that made you Clean, but rather the content of your heart. So this mandatory foot washing stands off as contradicting that message.

Also, it is implied that this foot washing was performed to all of the Disciples, and yet it did nothing to Clean Judas. So you have got an odd case where Jesus is unable to Clean someone.

Classic Bible commenter John Gill suggests that this episode illustrates that Jesus makes you mostly Clean, but that you still need daily "washing" to cleanse away the little sins that crop up here and there. That sounds rather silly. If Jesus could have died a couple thousand years ago to wash away my sins today, I am pretty sure that He could have gotten all the future ones I have yet to commit as well.

Anyway, despite all of this confusion and mixed metaphor messaging, the rest of the story is truly beautiful. In John 13:12-17, Jesus explained to the Disciples that, despite being their Lord, He humbly washed their feet as an example for them to follow for one another. They are certainly not greater than He is, so if He humbled Himself to wash their feet, they have no excuse not to do so for one another.

So this washing really had nothing to do with being Clean. It had everything to do with a message of humility and service towards fellow believers. This makes me wonder if the dialog with Simon Peter was a later addition to the story by another author who was trying to appear more spiritually knowledgeable than he was clever enough to pull off. Or perhaps this is yet another case exhibiting the strange mind of John.

One more thing to note: Given the remarkable juxtaposition of Jesus washing the Disciple's feet, it seems exceedingly odd that none of the other three Gospels record the episode. That circumstantially suggests that this little episode is completely fictitious.