Thursday, June 05, 2014

Shut up and Forgive

It seems that any time a preacher or even a translator approaches Luke 17:6, you are in for an exposition on the power of faith. Usually one, I might add, that makes no sense whatsoever.

When Jesus told his disciples, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you,”  He was not talking about the power of faith at all. He was talking about the necessity of obedience.

For the biblically impaired, the backstory is this:  Jesus is traveling through Judea, delivering some of his more famous if misunderstood parables, such as the Parable of the Unjust Steward and the Parable of Lazarus.*  Then he gets to the matter of forgiveness among men and especially among his followers. 

Now, I’m going to present the entire teaching below, but I’m going to lay out the gist of the conversation here so you can use it as an interpretive framework.  Unfortunately, too many people divorce the teaching from its context, and so draw horrible lessons from it.

Here’s the framework, which is deceptively simple:
  • Jesus: “Forgive your brother.” (Luke 17:3-4)
  • Disciples: “We can’t do that.” (Luke 17:5)
  • Jesus: “Do it anyway.” (Luke 17:6-10)
It’s wholly in line with scripture - and human nature - that the disciples try to make their shortcomings God’s problem and that Jesus uses a parable to illustrate the depths and riches of even the simplest command. That's what happens, so let’s get on with it.

Jesus said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him.” - Luke 17:3-4

Now here’s a pretty tough command.  The idea here is that the brother is sinning against you personally - burning your house down, banging your wife, whatever. But it’s a sin that you must forgive, which means that you must let it go. You must release him from any sense of debt to you and you must give up any feeling of “getting him back” for it.  It’s a hard saying. But it’s also how God forgives us. 

How many times have you asked God to forgive you for theft or lust or drunkenness or whatever, the same sin you’ve committed for years, even decades? That’s how you need to forgive: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And, For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  It’s a hard saying, but if you ask it of God, God demands it back of you.

The Disciples were having none of that:

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" - Luke 17:5

Here’s the part that preachers ignore: the Disciples’ plea is a response to the command to forgive.  They do not say, “Yes, Lord.” They don’t say, “OK, we’ll try.”  They say, “Increase our faith,” as if it’s some kind of a religious shortcoming that they don’t forgive.**  They want Jesus to do something about it, to make it easier, to push it off to people who are more holy. But it’s never easy.  It’s not easy for us, and it’s not easy for God.  The parallel is the point.

Cook their response how you wish, but it boils down to “We can’t forgive like that and it’s not because we choose not to. We don't have it in us.”  It’s a pushing of responsibility off of themselves.  To understand Jesus’ next statement, you have to understand it as a response to that claim.

And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.’” - Luke 17:6

Whatever preachers preach about the power of faith, the fact remains that Christianity is not filled with examples of mulberry trees flying into the ocean. Jesus is not speaking literally, but metaphorically to illustrate a point. And the point is not the power of faith at all.

He is saying that more faith will not help them.  They do not need greater belief in God or his goodness to do this. If even a little faith allows one to do great things, and they rebel at doing this little thing, then it’s obviously not a lack of faith that is their problem. He swats their objection away by saying that they have all the faith they need.

What their problem actually is Jesus then illustrates by the next 4 verses:

"Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink '? [The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" - Luke 17-7-10

And therein is the true answer and the teaching.  God tells you, his servant if you are a Christian, to forgive those who sin against you.  God is not going to thank you for doing that. He’s not going to praise you or give you a whizzo button. When you do what you are commanded, you are simply acting out your service.  If you claim the forgiveness of salvation, as every Christian, every slave of God does, then you are commanded to forgive the same way.  And when you forgive, you don’t get to be a martyr about it, you don’t get to claim a halo for it, and you don’t get to demand that God give you something more to help you to do it.  You do it.  Or not.

“As we forgive those who trespass against us” puts us under a debt to God. It sets a standard to which we hold God and he holds us. If you want to be a Christian, then you must forgive as God does. But if you want God to thank you, if you want God to praise you, if you want God to reward you for your epic forgiveness toward others, then out-forgive God.

Good luck with that.

* Which is more misunderstood than this section, if that were possible.
** After all, if they did forgive, they would have no need to ask for increased faith.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

We've moved.

Myopia is not coming back, except on the rare occasion I feel the need to bloviate on matters religious. 

However, if you want to talk guns and stuff, No Zombies Aloud is going to have gun giveaways, gun news, pictures of guns, and guns. Because guns.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Retirement party

"There comes a time, Thief, when the gold loses its lustre, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father's love for his child."
-- King Osric the Usurper
New year's is traditionally a time for reflection and re-prioritization.  So after a hard look at where I want to spend my time over the next year or twenty, I've decided that Myopia is going into permanent retirement, effective immediately.

There are a couple reasons for it, but the biggest one is that I simply haven't been satisfied with it for quite a while.  Making it better demands more time, but I have plenty of other projects in the hopper and my time, I concluded, is better spent on them.

So over the next few weeks, all of the posts not labeled "Bible" or "Christianity" will probably disappear - those will remain in hopes that they will prove of value to someone.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, hanging out.  Happy New Year and God bless you all.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's not a coincidence

Ride the Lightning
It's just stupid and evil:
[A]n eerily odd correlation between the president of the United States and 2,000-year-old biblical texts has many scholars scratching their collective heads.

Luke writes in chapter 10, verse 18 that Jesus said: “I saw Satan ‘fall like lightning.’ The Hebrew translation is “baraq o bamah,” according to Strong’s Concordance word numbers 1299 and 1116.

According to some biblical and literary scholars, Jesus’ own words could, in my opinion, have been: “I saw Satan as Barack Obama fall from the heavens.”

Having been a student of all things “end times” for 40 years, many other characteristics are associated to the antichrist as he is conveyed in the Bible, to be sure.

Still, it is difficult to ignore the uncanny similarity no matter who you are.
40 years or not, our author here is neither a good student nor a good witness.*

The actual argument from Luke 10:18 goes something like this:

1. Luke 10:18 reads, "And [Jesus] said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven."
2. Jesus probably spoke Aramaic.
3. Aramaic is descended from ancient Hebrew.
4. In Hebrew, the word for lightning is baraq (Strong's 1299).
5. Heaven doesn't always mean God's home, in this case it means a high place.
6. Isaiah in 14:14 talks about Satan's vow to ascend to the "heights"
7. The "heights" in ISA 14:14 is bamah (Strong's 1116).
8. You could connect the concepts of baraq and bamah by joining them with an o, giving you "Lightning from Heaven" as "baraq o bamah," which kind of sounds like Barack Obama.
9. Therefore, Jesus might have named Barack Obama as the Antichrist.

There are a couple problems with that, as you might imagine.

The first is that we don't know what language Jesus spoke these particular words in.  He knew Aramaic, but he also knew regular old Hebrew.  He might have even known Greek, given his conversations with Gentiles, especially in Luke. He might have used baraq for lightning, or not. He might have used bamah for "heights" or not.  It is simple speculation. I don't mean that as a compliment.

The second is that even if Jesus used the very words mentioned, they could not possibly be interpreted as "I saw Satan as Barack Obama fall from the heavens."  They would be, at best, "I saw Satan as baraq fall from bamah."  If bamah is "heavens or high places" then both cannot appear in the sentence.

The third problem is that baraq** and Barack are entirely different words: b-r-q and b-r-k (the original Hebrew has no vowels). Though q and k sound the same in English, they are different in Hebrew. Barack's name comes from Barak (Strong's 1288), which means to kneel, to bless God.

The fourth is that the words do not appear together in the verse, are not a name, and there is no o*** - giving absolutely no reason to join them together except to intimate that Obama is the antichrist. If we want to get technical, that's probably counts as "bearing false witness."

The fifth is that the Hebrew translation of Luke 10:18 does not use any of these words. It transliterates as “Ra’iti et HaSatan nophel k’varak min hashamayim.”  k'varak here is "like lightning," - another possible word for Jesus to have used - while hashamayim is "heaven." The latter is translated so because of the Greek word ouranou, which they interpret as God's home as opposed to a high place. This is not conclusive by any means - it's a translation from the Greek, after all - but it does underscore the weakness of the author's case since not one of the very important words baraq or o or bamah appear in the Hebrew translation, contrary to his claim. His case would be massively improved if he could provide a single, pre-2000 Hebrew translation that uses baraq o bamah, but alas, no such claim is in evidence.

But the main problem is that this kind of weasely "study" of the scripture pisses me off to no end. It's not just careless, it's filled with guesses, misrepresentations, and lies. As Newton noted long ago, this sort of mishandling of scripture does not just expose the speaker to earned ridicule, but it brings the very words of Jesus into disrepute.  It gives the world a reason to pour derision upon the Bible and upon the Lord.**** It makes it harder, not easier, to reach people with Jesus' message.

People are often their own worst enemies, and from this propensity Christians are not immune. But we had better be very, very careful that in our pursuit of political gain or playing prophet we are not making ourselves into enemies of Christ. For he said, "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

If you're a Christian who is taking away the key to knowledge by muddying the scriptures, then you've got a lot more to worry about than who is the Antichrist.

* I hate to use the phrase "Lying for Jesus," but there it is. 
** Bonus error: (1299) is a verb, not a noun.  It does not mean lightning, but to cast forth, to throw lightning.  Strong's 1300, baraq (noun) can mean lightning, glittering, gleaming.
*** In the original presentation of this argument the narrator of the youtube video linked above introduced the Hebrew letter Waw (also Vau), transliterated U or occasionally O, as a conjunction that could be used to join baraq and bamah.  It has since been dropped from the vid completely and without explanation (I suspect a real scholar got ahold of it). But still appears, now without support of any kind, in the letter.
**** Maybe they will anyway, but it makes little sense for Christians to make that act just and reasonable.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alone

Faint light hailed a cold Sunday morning as Mary Magdalene led her co-conspirators through the city's heavy gates. Their mission was as necessary as it seemed impossible: to enter the tomb of a rich man to pay their last respects to a poor man, an itinerant country preacher Rome and the Sanhedrin had condemned and crucified. To do the final duty of women for a man they had loved and who had led them and who had loved them. And who had left them. Now the burial spices they carried were all they could offer his memory.

Mary shook her head as Salome asked again how they should remove the stone from the tomb’s face, a stone that had required three men to place, a stone that had been sealed and was probably still guarded by those afraid that Jesus’ own disciples might poach his cold, bloody corpse by moonlight. It was the third time Salome had asked her, the youngest of the four women yet somehow in this hour of pain their leader. But Mary didn’t know. Why did they ask her, she complained (though only to herself) if she didn’t know? Even among friends, Mary felt alone.

The whole garden seemed a tomb as her feet led her toward a place she had last viewed through tears. The wet, cold ground absorbed the sound of her footsteps. The quiet whimpering of Salome and the heavy breathing of the others were the garden’s only sounds. Then all the sounds stopped, for each of the women had seen what Mary saw: the tomb, dark and quiet. But it was also open. And it was also empty.

The pain in her side was nearly unbearable as Mary bounded back through the gates, fighting her way against the bustle of those leaving Jerusalem for home. The other women would follow at their own pace, she thought. They could not be expected to keep up with her, and she needed to find Peter. None of the explanations that formed in her mind said what she needed to say because she didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t decide how to explain everything she didn’t find. When Peter and John answered the door, she simply said, “They have taken away the Lord, and we don’t know what they have done with him.” With sideways glances at one another they rushed past her, grabbing cloaks to be donned on the run. She tried to follow them but could not keep up, not after having run so far. The two melted immediately into the anonymous mass, leaving her alone once again.

When Mary reached the garden again it was empty, as before. Her companions had certainly reached the city by now, she thought. Peter and John, if they came at all, had left as well. She slowed, walking at last, seeking the tomb though she didn’t know why. She listened for movement but her own ragged breathing and the sound of her heartbeat drowned out any sounds that might have revealed a friendly presence or betrayed the approach of anyone else. She had composed herself by the time she reached the open tomb, and she peered again, wondering if perhaps those who had taken his corpse had left behind a clue. Then she froze. There were two men in the tomb, and one of them was looking at her.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” The voice revealed the hollow kindness of one who lacks human warmth and before she could catch herself she blurted out the same explanation she had given Peter. Then the second man looked up at her, his face strange and perfect and cold. Her courage broke and, mumbling an unlikely explanation for her presence in another’s private garden, she fled as far as her aching legs would drag her - mere yards from the tomb but out of sight of its gaping mouth. She feared being discovered in this strange and lonely place, but her body would bear her no further.

"I don’t know where they have taken him," she said to herself, and the sobs came again. This time she could not stop them.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” The voice was close behind her, but Mary could flee no more. She could not even turn. She knew what she would answer even before she said it; a few familiar words now besieged her whole lonely world.

“Sir,” she said, “if you have moved him, please tell me where, and I will take him away.”

“Mary.” The voice was the same, but this time it seemed familiar. She shook her head, but from confusion rather than stubbornness.

“Mary, turn around.” The voice was urgent and yet edged with a joy unexpected.

She looked up and a man stood before her. One she envisioned would have a trowel in his hand instead had on his open hands the scars of nail wounds. She looked up at his face, now expecting to see dried blood from a crown of thorns and a visage shattered by blows, but instead finding a smile on living lips and a twinkle in kind eyes. Her legs forgot their weariness as she leaped into his arms.

“Rabboni,” she cried.

And this time she did not cry alone.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jacob's pillow

The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow. - Cowper
BJT0 asks via email:
So what do you know about stone pillows? 

28:10-11  Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.  So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.  And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
One of my study bibles says he may have used the stone to protect his head, rather than as a pillow. Concealment, maybe?  This must have made sense to the original readers of the story but I don't understand what he did with this rock while he was sleeping.
As you have doubtless noticed, a number of commentators claim that he literally used the rock as a pillow.* But the word itself apparently means "headplace" (Keil and Delitzsch) or "headpiece" (Strongs). It can, but does not necessarily, mean "pillow." In short, it's something he put at his head while he slept and the rest is context. That he put it under his head I doubt – the dude had lots of sheep, so I'm sure he owned a very nice sheepskin pillow.

Though the text does not mention others with Jacob, it was also highly unlikely he was traveling alone through such dangerous country; most likely he had an impressive retinue of guards and servants.** These would not only serve to deter raiders, but would also impress his future wife and perhaps more importantly, her father. It's rather like Abraham earlier in the text – from reading Genesis it's easy to presume he lives alone with Sarah; then suddenly he raises an army of more than 300 men (14:14) who just happen to live in his "household." We're dealing with the tribal described as personal, and the actions of a group epitomized by its chief. So it might have been a very large stone that protected not only him, but many men.

It seems to me that there is something symbolically honorable or at least meaningful about the stone being at his head, though I have no idea exactly what it is, nor, judging from the mass of contradictory commentary concerning it, does anyone else. Perhaps it was a particularly attractive or unusual stone, but I highly doubt that its main quality was that it made a fine pillow.*** For whatever reason, Jacob concluded that this stone, of the many around, would make a fitting monument to his fathers' God; the qualities that made it a good monument probably account for him placing it as a "headplace" in the first place.

But the fact that he placed this stone at his head before he had the vision is explanatory to the original audience, who would have understood that it was a special rock that he used to make a meaningful monument to God.

That's my vague and wholly unsupported opinion, and worth what it cost you.

* The KJV, in v. 18, incongruously mentions "the stone that he had put for his pillows." 
** I'm sure he could have borrowed a pillow from one of them and not slept on a rock. 
*** That's not the sort of quality that makes a fitting monument to any god but Hypnos.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wussy Jesus

Jesus totally not-condoning violence
Robert V. Thompson finds one:
[T]he Jesus I know wouldn’t cast a stone much less shoot a gun...

Jesus would not pack a pistol. Just as he threw the money changers out of the temple he would throw gun bearers out of the sanctuary. He would tell them to come back but only if they were unarmed...

Here is my bottom line. Jesus would not join the NRA, because he never condoned any form of violence.
It would be interesting to discover how Jesus would throw armed people out of church without any kind of violence, but for an answer it might be instructive to review how he threw the aforementioned moneychangers out of the temple the first time:
Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and to the temple, during Passover. Inside he found moneychangers sitting, along with those who sold oxen and sheep. And when he had made a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned their tables...
-- John 2:13-15
That looks just a tad violent to me.* Now I suppose Jesus could have reasoned with those fine, upstanding businessmen. Surely they would have respected his oratory and agreed to peacefully move their market a few yards outside to the court. Instead he made a weapon and whipped their butts with it, then he dumped their stuff all over the floor.

Leaving aside the fact that a "sanctuary" does not exist in Christianity,** I don't see how the same Jesus who made an offensive weapon and drove people out of the temple with it would have any argument with those who would carry weapons for defensive purposes in any other kind of building. Then again, maybe the creator of the universe just doesn't understand guns like liberals do.

* What a disappointment Jesus must be to the peaceful religious liberals of this world.

** We have buildings in which we meet, but God does not dwell there like he dwelt among the Jews. They are just buildings. We even have toy gunfights in them sometimes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How to spot a religious liberal

El B marries two of his best friends at the same time
Steven Prothero tells Jesus to hush:
The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what Jesus looked like. We don’t know where he was or what he was doing when he turned 18. And we don’t know if he was ever married or divorced.

What we do know is that we live in a country besotted with Jesus and in an age obsessed with marriage and sexuality and the body, which is why this tiny papyrus is making such big waves.

As for me, I don’t much care what Jesus thought about marriage, or whether he engaged in it. I think we as a society tend to collapse religion far too readily into bedroom questions, as if Jesus came into the world to tell us with whom we should be having sex, and how.

I’m more interested in what Jesus has to say about wealth and poverty, the rich and the poor. And there is plenty in the available record to read and heed, "if only we have ears to hear."
In the case of the latest "everything you know about Jesus is wrong" kerfuffle, the good professor gets things exactly correct: a) we don't know for certain if Jesus was unmarried, but b) we are on safe ground if we are skeptical of claims to the contrary. The nearly united opinion of Christendom has been that he was single, and it should take a lot more than a 4th-century papyrus fragment of unknown origin to change that. King's "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is an interesting if overblown claim of the type that rises and falls with depressing regularity, though usually around Easter. It is unlikely that this find will fill in any blanks for us. And it is not making big waves anywhere but in the same type of press that presented you with Jesus' tomb.

In fact, we don't know what Jesus looked like, how he wore his hair, how tall he was or what he weighed.  We don't know his favorite color or dish, nor if he was married.  I suspect that the reason we are not told is that it does not matter.

But if that is the case, then what were are told must be what matters. The things the gospel writers recorded, the lines that thousands of monkish hands copied over the centuries on papyrus or vellum, those must be the things that are important*.

And that's where this funny thing called religious liberalism pops up.  For the professor admits on one hand that we live "in an era in which Americans are debating who can marry and have sex with whom," yet on the other hand we must not concern ourselves with what Jesus said about it.  He of whom it is written, "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made" is not allowed to voice an opinion about the single most important, consequential, long-lasting** human relationship, because that opinion does not fall in line with modern liberal thought.  Instead we are to pay attention only to what he said about the rich and the poor, which words are more easily molded into liberal talking points that boil down to, "give us your money."

But why one and not the other?  If Jesus is (take your pick) God, King, Prophet, Messiah, or Savior, then He's worth listening to on all subjects, but especially those subjects that our modern society is admittedly struggling with.***  But if Jesus is none of those, then he's not worth listening to on anything.

He that hath ears, let him hear.

* Assuming any of it's important, as I do and as the good professor must, as he's spent a lifetime studying it.  I'd hate to think all that time and effort was wasted.
** both in humans' individual lives and our collective one.
*** Seriously, what's the point of having a Prophet if you don't listen to Him?

Monday, April 09, 2012

If by 'controversial' you mean 'stupid'

His followers were dummies
then we have a controversial new theory:
As [Thomas] de Wesselow is quick to admit, this idea is only a hypothesis. No one has tested whether a decomposing body could leave an imprint on shroud-style cloth like the one seen on the [Shroud of Turin]...
It's likely, he says, that Jesus' female followers returned to his tomb to finish anointing his body for burial three days after his death. When they lifted the shroud to complete their work, they would have seen the outline of the body and interpreted it as a sign of Jesus' spiritual revival.
So that's the theory. Mary, Mary, Mary, and Mary went to the tomb on Easter morning, saw the marks on Jesus' shroud and, ignoring the stinking, decomposing corpse they had come to prepare, instead posited the cloth "as a sign of Jesus' spiritual revival."  All of that stuff about, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" is just to be ignored.

But it fits the pattern. As is often the case (see: Jesus walked on the ice), whenever someone comes up with a naturalistic theory to explain a miracle,* that theory posits theoretical but unknown natural forces that gullible people interpret as a miracle. And it does so while ignoring everything those people said about it, or puts words in their mouth they never spoke. We therefore are supposed to ignore the testimony Jesus' disciples gave, the fact that no Christians ever returned to Jesus' tomb even though they knew he was there, and the fact that they never mentioned this 'miracle cloth.' We must do this in order to account for how a natural process that no one has seen or tested really explains why Jesus' idiot disciples ran all over the Middle East and Europe claiming that he had risen from the dead.

This, I guess, is what is called science.

* as I may have mentioned before, I neither know nor care if the shroud is "genuine," by which I mean it is really the burial cloth of Christ.  If it is, it's pretty cool. If it's not, that's fine, too.  But there can be little doubt that de Wesselow's argument is designed to get around a potential miracle.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Behold the Man


Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. His soldiers platted a crown of thorns and put it on Jesus's head. They also dressed him in a purple robe. And the soldiers said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their fists.

Then Pilate went out again and said to the crowd, "Look, I bring him to you so that you might know that I find no fault in him." Then Jesus came forward wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to the crowd, "Behold the man!"
John 19:1-5