The Sower – how bad theologies delay the Kingdom

The parable of the Sower as a critique of church and theology?  I was surprised at how easily one might use the text to implicate varieties of Gospel-preachers rather than Gospel-hearers.

“…some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them…” (Mt 13:4)

Listen again to those words, and hear Jesus saying, “Anyone preaching a Kingdom that sounds like humdrum or humbug might just as well be pitching birdseed on the Roman road” – the issue in this verse is lack of understanding, a problem which implicates teachers as well as students whenever man-made doctrines lack the flavor of Christ’s spirit, and come off spiritually or morally flat or unintelligible – and therefore misunderstood.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil…” (13:5)

Can it be that Jesus is saying, “On the other hand, if you use emotional hooks to frighten or entice the people with threats of Hell or promises of cheap grace, you are no better than the hardpan farmer who will not plow” – the issue here is lack of depth, and this implicates teachers as well as students if emotional appeals have cultivated shallow joyous puppets who are unprepared for the very tests of doubt and persecution in which their Savior must come to meet them.

“Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up…” (13:7)

Which is to say: “And it is just as big a mistake to pitch my own sublime cares and delights in terms which resemble too much the cares of the world and its delights” – the issue here is confusion of realms, and this implicates teachers as well as students where preaching strives to resemble the everyday wisdom of the world in so many ways that the Kingdom is confused for the world and the spirit is choked by unspiritual meanings and values.

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On religious afflictions of the eye and ear

“Hearing, they do not hear …”

The hearing impairment to which Jesus referred, quoting Isaiah, was the same one which the Hebrew prophet had diagnosed in his own time – and it is no less prevalent in our day.

Diagnosis implies gnosis.  Jesus, like Isaiah, had a new truth (or more truth) to reveal to his listeners, but the words he had available for the purpose failed to penetrate the framework of every mind.  His choicest words were rejected as strange or irreligious in the context of old ‘tried and true’ principles which were in possession of their understandings.

The malady in question is worse than a physical ailment – with which Jesus had some success.  Instead it affects the listener’s inner attitude, the will, taking away the freedom with which they might break down the old shell of religious meanings from within.

“… and seeing, they do not see.”

It is likewise with the vision problem – the afflicted person has full use of his eyes, but lacks the insight required to get past conventional associations of meaning.

In the minds of the people of Galilee and Judea who suffered from these two afflictions  the man Jesus of Nazareth, qua Messiah, could not help but simultaneously evoke, disappoint, and offend their racial and religious hopes as long as he lived and breathed.  His fellowship with sinners was counted as sin, his healing was called Satanism, his forgiveness blasphemy.  His meekness was counted as weakness and, in our present age, his morality has been called the morality of slaves.

This sight and hearing failure especially affected matters of everyday appearances and social antecedents – things which ‘scientific’ historians most crave to know.  His place of origin (Nazareth!), family background (common!), accent (provincial!), formal training (or lack thereof!), apparel (unpretentious)  – all of the ‘facts’ only created, for his accusers (and for some modern historians), another layer of the unacceptable.

Does it seem unfair to suggest that the principle of interpretation used by believers to gain access to the Jesus of ‘history’ – then as now – must be different from that hermeneutic of suspicion used by the elders and others who rejected him (and by the ‘scientific’ historians who counsel rejection of his eternal truth today)?  How does one access the insight required to become receptive to a previously undiscovered truth?  What is the rational ‘order of love’ in a fruitful hermeneutic of faith?

This post is part of the promised continuation of thoughts posted on this blog last May.

Adam and Zoey? – [Updated]

According to the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (produced about 200 years before Christ), the name given by Adam to “the woman” alleged to have caused all the trouble in the Garden of Eden was not Eve but Zoey.

The text is Gen 3:21 in my edition of the Septuagint (in some versions 3:20)

και εκαλεσεν αδαμ το ονομα της γυναικος αυτου ζωη οτι αυτη μητηρ παντων των ζωντων

“And Adam called the name of his wife ζωη because she was the mother of all των ζωντων”

What’s going on? My questions were answered in a comment made on the first edition of this post by a writer Solomon North:

Eve and Zoe are the same name. Eve (Chawah) is the Hebrew word for life, and Zoe is the Greek word for life. In her first appearance the translator uses translation to show the etymological significance behind her name, whereas in the subsequent passages he uses transliteration (“Eue”) because, as with Adam and Noah and so many subsequent persons, the name is known in the translator’s Greek-speaking Jewish community but not necessarily the etymological significance.

I have Mr. North to thank for curbing my excitement over the novelty of my discovery of ‘Adam and Zoey’, but I’m still wondering why ‘the woman’ in Genesis is not identified by any name whatsoever (neither in Greek nor Hebrew) until the end of Chapter 3.  The whole story of disobedience in the Garden is finished at Gen 3:8 without a single mention by name of either ‘Eve’ or ‘Zoey’ (not until Gen 3:21).

Has an ancient story about an original pair referred to only as “the man” and  “the woman” been combined with a later Adam and Eve story?  Take a look. When the story finally names Adam and Eve together, the narrative is much more concrete.  Rather than a tale of an original pair, by late Chap. 3 and into Chap. 4 the Garden is history, and the narrative frankly implies the existence of other humans all over the place.

I think it is not out of the question that Gen 4-5 might have had a ‘heart’ of its own before it got mixed into the creation stories of Gen 1 and Gen 2-3. Maybe this Adam was not a first man but a first revealer – a tradition-source leading to other teachers and men of God like Seth (Gen 4:25ff) and Enoch (Gen 5:22)

It’s anybody’s guess how the idea of a fall or of a link between Adam and Christ (taught by Paul) applies to a being who was a first truth-teacher. But we cannot deny that the world needs such beings – and something must have gone very wrong if Adam’s ‘teachings’ were lost and had to be re-started so many times – i.e. by Seth, by Enoch, by Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and finally Jesus.

The Markan bombshell

The evidence that Mark is the oldest of the canonical gospels was not examined systematically until the 1830s, but the argument has by now gained general acceptance among non-fundamentalist scholars, and I have endorsed the principle of Markan priority here and here .

There is a tradition that believers at Rome rejoiced to have Mark’s account – they were, after all, over 30 years removed from the living ministry of Jesus and had only recently been deprived of the presence of Peter and Paul (if we accept the view which places Mark late 60s AD, probably after the death of Peter).

However, as I suggested in an earlier post, the date of Mark’s ‘publication’ (i.e. the day a first copy was sent to Ephesus or Jerusalem) might be called one of those “good news / bad news” days for God and the church. Think of it – this abbreviated record, suddenly authoritative at Rome, is dumped into the laps of other tradition-communities by a writer who has failed to consult with them about their own traditions before going public with an epoch-making narrative about an epoch-making career. In these apostolic communities I think Mark must have had the effect of a literary ‘bombshell’.

[Note: the next two paragraphs are a revision of the original, re-written Nov 23, 2011]

The canonical status of Matthew, Luke, and John is equal to that of Mark, and this only affirms a basic condition of all testimony – that somebody must go first, and that it would be absurd to argue from the literary priority of testimony to its primacy over later testimony with regard to fact.  We should not be surprised if a large amount of narrative and logia was still ‘out there’ when Mark ‘hit the streets’ – and I think we can trust that most of it is represented by what we find in the three later-appearing gospels.

So Mark’s priority in time gives it no a priori privilege over the theological or christological content of the three later-appearing Gospels.  We might even question the motive and good faith of anyone who would attempt to finesse the literary priority of Mark’s threadbare account into an implied authority for a ‘minimalist’ interpretation of Jesus based on Mark alone (or on Mark and an imagined ‘Q’ document). I would certainly question the motive and good faith of a non-christian writer like Adam Gopnik for example, who has indulged his sophisticated New Yorker editors and readers with a very uneven and gently mocking article, What did Jesus do? (May 24, 2010), based very strictly on Mark alone.

For better or for worse (and I touched on some of Mark’s ‘positives’ in an earlier post), we should view Mark’s narrative premiere as a kind of material antithesis of the Incarnation, an epochal event which sets in motion an inevitable dialectical process by which three additional compilations of equal authority appear within about 35 years.

“He is not here!”

“..you seek Jesus of Nazareth …  He has risen.  He is not here.”  Mk 16:6

I remember the Easter service, many years ago, in which I first heard these words of the tomb-angel spoken as if they were a prophecy against the church: He is not here.”

It happened during the sermon, in which the pastor was giving far too much time to his representation of what the world would be like – without the resurrection!

In fact, I think the Easter Morning Gospels present a perfect figure of the failed church: we read that some sincerely devoted women gather at a deserted place with gifts that our Lord is not disposed to receive.

Really? Embalming spices? And yet the churches persist in ‘spicing up’ this untidy idea of our Lord’s physical, bodily resurrection when varying scripture accounts give us a clear choice between a physical or a spiritual resurrection. I think we should be paying attention to those texts that say It was never about tombs or material bodies.  Did the risen Lord not ‘appear’ to his disciples at Emmaus and again in the upper room while the doors were locked? Does anybody think Paul beheld a material body on the road to Damascus?

What if the women had remained in hiding with the apostles long enough for the authorities to take back control of the spin by securing the re-opened tomb from inspection?  Do we think this would have mattered to – the risen Lord?

“He’s not here!”  Maybe the words were spoken today about you – when family and friends noticed your absence from church.  For you I have this advice:  Seek the truth again.  It may be obscured by all the outward stuff which the church is focusing on.  Don’t allow your negative feelings about any specific church to compromise your independent right to truth and your right to worship where and how you want – even to wait upon the Spirit in that inner place of meeting with “my Father and your Father.” (Jn 20:17)

The early English defense of the Fourth Gospel

If you are someone who thinks modern New Testament criticism contains unanswerable arguments against the historical value of the Fourth Gospel, I think you have never studied the critical defense of John’s Gospel by English scholars of the nineteenth century.

Beginning about 1848, the British scholars who took up the task of refuting the negative German criticism of the Fourth Gospel followed in the footsteps of Germans who had already begun to counter the negative arguments point by point on valid historical and textual-critical grounds. But fundamentalists beware – the best of this early defense of John’s Gospel (both English and German) was not buttressed by special pleading for plenary inspiration.

So I’m saying that a ‘battle of modern scholars’ was fought over 150 years ago and was by 1900 fairly won by the side supporting the Fourth Gospel’s authenticity. I can’t blame you if you ask – Why then do we find so many scholars of repute today who hold the Fourth Gospel in less esteem than the other three? I can only urge you to consult the ‘British defense’ and judge for yourselves whether it has had a fair hearing among negative critics.

Here is a story told by archdeacon Henry Watkins, canon of Durham Cathedral in 1889, of a conversation he had with the Bishop of Durham, J.B. Lightfoot.

“One day while walking with the late Bishop of Durham, when we hoped he was regaining strength, I took the opportunity of asking him how he accounted for the fact of the frequent assertion that the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel was disproved by modern criticism, in the presence of the strong and accumulating evidence in its favour.” (Modern Criticism Considered in Relation to the Fourth Gospel, 1890, p.viii)

Lightfoot was age 61 at the time and suffered from an illness which was to end his life that same year. It was at the bishop’s urging that Watkins prepared a review in rough outline of the chief issues of the convincing 40-year campaign to defend Johanine scholarship against the negative critics. Bishop Lightfoot then gave the last effort of his life to securing the archdeacon’s appointment as the next Bampton Lecturer at Oxford.  “No subject,” he wrote before his death, “could be more useful at the present day, and I think that the time has arrived when it can be effectively treated”.

Last year I began a defense of the historicity of John on this blog, and I mean to keep pushing this point.  Last month I found Watkins’ 1890 Bampton Lectures in my favorite old seminary, and I want to get some results of reading posted in the near future.

It should come as no surprise that I feel the history of fundamentalist bluster against the higher criticism can play no real part in the issues at stake with John’s Gospel.  The evangelical mind seems to have neither taste nor capacity for this kind of argument – due to its habitual abdication of reason in the presence of texts conceived to be almighty.  Even the ex-evangelical mind seems unsuited to the task of positive criticism.  The negative German critics themselves were often ex-evangelicals who, after losing their belief in the Bible’s divine authorship, also lost their way in critical scholarship.

Empyrean Dialogues 8 – Temptations

In the Empyrean Moses and the Son discuss the transition to the public teaching career and some of the temptations which  might come up – both worldly and other-worldly.

MOSES:  Again, Sire, we know Father will announce his expressed approval of your incarnation in the presence of the Forerunner, but as to timing, he has not revealed whether this will come before or after your teaching mission, or during that mission.

THE SON:  Certainly it cannot come before I have proved my obedience to Father’s will in every aspect of the normal human walk with God.

MOSES:  Whenever it comes, the sign from Father is likely to present something of a crisis for you, Sire, from the perspective of your humanity.

THE SON:  So I understand.  The fullness of my human nature will be so complete that this sign will probably constitute my first real assurance of my divine pre-existence.

MOSES:  It’s going to be a lot to ‘take in’ in one afternoon.

THE SON:  Like I said, I hope to get away for awhile.

MOSES:  You will need both time and wisdom to decide whether to grasp or deny certain innate spiritual rights attached to your divine person.

THE SON:  Even with the dawning of my true self-awareness I doubt I will see the form of divinity as a thing to be grasped.  It should mean only a new phase of Father’s plan for the Incarnation.

MOSES:  The saints believe it will mean the beginning of the end, Sire.  Recognition of divinity will bring more problems than solutions.  Especially if there is resistance from the religious authorities.

THE SON:  We’re projecting a 1 to 3 year mission – probably no longer.

MOSES:  Right.  By the requirement of the No Thrones Rule you should always have in view some kind of fit termination of Father’s plan.

THE SON:  I expect to have this whole question of thrones thrust upon me soon after my recognition of divinity.

MOSES:  Sire, the issue of thrones will come up again and again.  Not only with your own self-recognition but every time somebody else recognizes your divinity – from the lowest demon to your closest follower.

THE SON:  But Moses, by that time, if anyone were to suggest that I go crashing kingdoms and playing messiah or prince, believe me I would get him behind me quickly.

MOSES:  I have no doubt that you will worship the Father eternally, and him only serve.

THE SON:  Even so.

MOSES:  There will also be immense pressure to satisfy human need by resort to your creative power.

THE SON:  Father has expressed a preference for No Bread and Circuses, but has not ruled out my discretionary use of powers.

MOSES:  if you get the people too miracle-minded, Sire, believe me you will lose control of the message in a hurry.  And miracles net you zero in the way of anybody’s saving faith anyway.

THE SON:  Right.  Well I wouldn’t think of it as far as a means of personal protection.

MOSES:  Good.  Don’t tempt the angels to get you out of a jam.  And no spectacles or crowd-pleasers.

THE SON:  It’s the ‘No Bread’ rule that’s going to be tough, Moses – tougher than Thrones, in my opinion.

MOSES:  Men do not live by bread alone, Sire.

THE SON:  Got it.  But I already feel compassion for the hungry and poor, and I’m not even one of them yet.

MOSES:  Look, Sire, if the people get a whiff of anything like mass feedings or the old ‘manna from heaven’ you are done, OK?  After that it’ll be earthly kingdoms all the way down.

THE SON:  You mean Father’s kingdom could be mistaken for a free bread program?

MOSES:  Oh verily, Sire.  And that is sure to pancake right back into Thrones.  You could get a popular groundswell to make you king, after which you won’t be able to show your face in Galilee without political harassment.

THE SON:  It really comes down to “No Circuses” then, doesn’t it?

MOSES:  Miracles and wonders are to be kept to a minimum, yes.  Solve that one and everything else should fall into place.

THE SON:  But Moses, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf..., it’s going to be hard to stay on point.

MOSES:  I can’t tell you what do do with your compassion, Sire.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – the Annunciation

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

Empyrean Dialogues 7 – the First Sign

In the Empyrean Moses and the Son discuss possibilities surrounding the transition to Phase 2 of Father’s plan of salvation.

MOSES:  You have convinced me, Sire, that you can be a man in full and still live in obedience to Father’s ‘No dynasties’ rule – his prohibition of your leaving any progeny.

THE SON:  You say ‘his prohibition,’ Moses, but in fact my Father has left the ultimate decision, in this and in all matters, to my own free choice.

MOSES:  Oh yeah.  As if…

THE SON:  Nay, hear me out – for example the ‘No thrones’ rule.  Do you think I will not have power on Earth to take a throne if I willed it, and to have dominion over all the kingdoms of the world – and the glory of them too?

MOSES:  That’s a devil of a question, Sire.   But a Messianic kingdom after the second-temple ideal?  I just don’t see it.

THE SON:  I am only speaking of the sovereign power to make it so, Moses.

MOSES:  OK, if you want Israel’s acceptance badly enough you might be tempted in that regard.  But it is my understanding, Sire, that your sovereignty waits upon a day of Father’s own choosing.

THE SON:  Yes, he has appointed a day in which he will make known to me in full his satisfaction with my conduct of life in the flesh.

MOSES:  A day that’s on nobody’s calendars except his.  Some of the saints hold that this ‘day of sovereignty’ won’t come until you have been obedient unto death.

THE SON:  We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, Moses …

MOSES:  Well most of us, Sire, believe Father may reveal his first sign as early as the transition to Phase 2 of his plan – as a judgment of your successful completion of Phase 1.

THE SON:  It’s controversial, but the end of Phase 1 makes sense to me also, if Father truly esteems the early walk with God in any man’s life.

MOSES:  In any case Father has made it clear that at some point, in some manner, he will have it known in no uncertain terms that he is well-pleased with his Son.

THE SON:  I understand it won’t be generally broadcast.

MOSES:    If Father has to repeat himself, it won’t be for your benefit.  But it won’t be a complete secret.  He has indicated he wants the Forerunner present for it.

THE SON:  Yes, John will be witness to our fulfillment of all righteousness.

MOSES:  All righteousness in so far as that can be reasonably manifest in a man’s life.   But the full requirement of the Incarnation is not met until you have also died a man’s death.

THE SON:  To return to my original point, Moses.  Once I have this sign from Father, I can’t imagine I will not recognize therein a confirmation of my own divine identity.

MOSES:  I see where you’re going with this.

THE SON:  Self-conscious recognition of my divinity will entail both a realization of sovereign power and absolute freedom of action.

MOSES:  Sire, whether you attain command of 12 legions of angels early or late doesn’t change the need to do the divine kenosis right – especially if you have not yet been tested unto the shedding of blood.

THE SON:  Let’s keep this about the transition to Phase 2.

MOSES:  Right.  Before Phase 2 gets underway, you will have some monumental choices to make in regard to your conduct of affairs in the business of bringing Father’s message to Israel.  Especially if Father has already vouched for your identity.

THE SON:  I hope I can get away for a few weeks.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

The last 2,302 words from the cross (Pss 22:1 to 31:5)

if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

According to Mark, Jesus is heard by bystanders to have spoken from the cross words which are found in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).  Most commentators will admit (even if they disagree) that an old interpretation of this text claims that Jesus might well have been ‘praying the Psalms’ to himself in Aramaic during that last forsaken hour.

However, Mark further relates that these bystanders believed Jesus was calling Elijah, and offered Jesus a sop of soldier’s wine, waiting to see if Elijah would come for him.  It is not until after this interlude that physical death comes when, as Mark writes, Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mk 15:37).

According to Luke, the addition at Mk 15:37 doesn’t tell the whole story.  Luke has reason to report that the last loud cry which Mark reports on the lips of Jesus just before he breathed his last was in the form of actual words:  “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”  Unbelieving Jesus scholars won’t like this, but I think Luke’s report of more speech is easier to accept than the idea of Jesus letting rip with one of those hideous screams that actors use when playing the bad guy falling off the cliff – AAAAUUGH!  Seriously?

Luke has given us a beautiful devotional window opening onto the mind of Jesus at the hour of his death.  Because these words reported by Luke are also from the Psalms (31:5).  This means that if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

For Lent, then, it might be worth a shot to try ‘praying the Psalms’ with Jesus from the cross (Ps 22:1 – 31:5).  In faith imagine that you are experiencing a bit of what was actually passing through the mind of the Christ in the last few minutes of his material existence.  Put a little cheap wine on your tongue somewhere in the middle of it all.

PS – My word-count 2,302 is based on an English version I found online and copied to word processing for tabulation (minus choir directions and verse numbers).  I don’t know what it is in Aramaic.

Jesus was not illiterate, and he had reasons for not writing

[Revised 06 Mar 2011]

A year ago I mentioned that I thought arguments supporting the literacy of Jesus offered some surprising theological insights.  I touched on it again in May.  To me it is still a question with fascinating implications for the doctrines of faith, of spirit, of divine and secular history, and of the Word of God:

Granted a probability exists that Jesus was able to read and write – what might have been his reasons for deciding not to leave his own teachings, memoirs, etc., in written form?

My position has been that a literate Jesus could only have judged that the consequences of leaving such artifacts were potentially unfavorable for the spread of his Gospel.  That sounds paradoxical and counter-intuitive, but I think it is very interesting to ponder the negatives.

1.  Jesus was reluctant to quench the Spirit

What could possibly be wrong with sponsoring a permanently fossilized, absolute specimen of truth, to be revered by the surviving community even before his death (and resurrection)?  I hope you see my point.  I think Jesus is always looking ahead to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.  A permanent and authoritative text in his name would be the one immovable historical force most capable of frustrating the higher mission of the great truth-seeking Spirit which was to come.

Jesus might even have seen at first hand the power of supposedly inerrant ‘scriptures’ to frustrate new life – in the negative effects of prevailing Jewish attitudes toward their scriptures upon his own mission.

2. Jesus was unwilling to risk corruption of the text

We might also postulate self-censorship for Jesus on the grounds that he recognized that no writing of the period could actually be safe from corruption over time.  Here Jesus would be making a very canny move to frustrate any chance that a document carrying the absolute weight of his personal authority might nevertheless be edited, manipulated, or falsified by later copyists and well-meaning editors.

Conclusion

Two things may be inferred from this one very non-miraculous feature in the life of Christ – that he could read and write his native tongue.

(1) Jesus was depending on the Holy Spirit for a kind of assistance that would be compromised by perfect character portraits and a verbatim transmission of doctrine.

(2) Jesus took a negative view of the suitability of ‘historical’ records (even scripture) to be direct purveyors of his transcendent Truth.

NOTE:  I’m celebrating the blog’s 1-year anniversary by starting a policy of revisiting topics from year-ago posts.  I think attachment of a ‘second chapter’ to some of those topics will allow me to develop my thoughts in the light of a year’s growth.  It will also keep me honest in some of those cases where I promised a ‘continuation’ which never materialized.

Empyrean Dialogues 4 – The Mandate

While Moses briefs the Divine Son in the Empyrean prior to the Incarnation, the subject turns to the difficulties inherent in the Incarnation Mandate, and the possibility of rejection by Israel.

MOSES:  All the saints pray for Israel’s acceptance of your mission, Sire, but anyone can see Father’s mandate for your incarnation is bad news as far as priesthood and temple are concerned.

THE SON:  No question.  Father wants me to feature nothing less than the whole truth about his divine forgiveness.

MOSES:  So he’s clearly talking about a complete de-authorization of the temple system of atonement – both ritual and sacrifice.

THE SON:  You know yourself it wasn’t Father’s idea in the first place.

MOSES:  We had no temple – nor any of the current sacrifices – during the 40 years in the wilderness, Sire.

THE SON:  Right.  But what is left of the sacred record of such truths?

MOSES:  The Book of Amos, Sire.  End of Chapter 5.

THE SON:  Yeah great.  It’s going to be front-paged when I’m finished.

MOSES:  Don’t be too sure.  Sacrifice is an ancient meme.  What if they spin you as the new sacrifice?

THE SON:  Oh God.

MOSES:   I’m just sayin’.  Never mind.

THE SON:  We know it won’t be popular with the priests and scribes.

MOSES:  But the temple sacrifices are a lucrative business for some of the biggest names, Sire.  They can invoke the highest sanctions against you and could really hurt your overall numbers.

THE SON:  And it’s not just the temple, Mo.  Father wants a new Sabbath as well.

MOSES:  I saw that.  So the temple gets common cause with the synagogues against you.  Terrific.

THE SON:  A perfect storm.

MOSES:  But I understand why He’s upset about how that day of rest turned out – we set that day aside for the people in order to free them from man-made taboos, not to bind them.

THE SON:  Well He’s calling it all in.

MOSES:  Clearly.  This is the big one.  The saints are in awe of Father’s new dispensation. It looks like He’s preparing to shake both the highlands and the low places.

THE SON:  Even the very foundations of Jerusalem.  Nevertheless I’m getting one more chance to gather her under his wing.

MOSES:  Nice, except she believes she’s already there.

THE SON:  Yes, but I find this very real and present trust in God an irresistible quality in this people Israel.

MOSES:  It can’t be denied – even in the face of all their historic failures.

THE SON:  Their sublime trust in Father’s faithfulness has surpassed in power all human intellectual assent to beliefs about Him and His Anointed.

MOSES:  And always will.

THE SON:  In fact, the hope inspired by such trust is what forbids my knowing their final decision until they make it.

MOSES:  Sire, everybody here is thrilled by your sworn faithfulness and hopes you will be preaching forgiveness in the temple right down to the elders’ last possible moment of decision.

THE SON:  Count on it.

MOSES:  It’s just … You may never be able to convince them.  I know this people.

THE SON:  Nothing is impossible with God.

MOSES:  Maybe not, but I think Father is showing a lot of wisdom in featuring both an acceptance scenario and a rejection scenario.

THE SON:  The thing with that is either one of Father’s scenarios manifests His will for man in full.

MOSES:  Believe me, I think you’ll get a pretty good idea which one is in play before the end of your first year in public.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues:

1 – Annunciation

2 – Of Times and Seasons

3 – The Forerunner

Lustful looking – when is it sin and when is it not sin?

When Jimmy Carter confessed to adultery-of-the-heart in 1976 he uttered a commonplace (and false) assumption that an unexpressed desire is equivalent with actual sin:

Carter:  “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times [cites Matthew 5:27-28].  This is something that God recognizes that I will do and have done, and God forgives me for it… Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us.”

Impossible standards? Well yes, if Carter seriously believes that the profound teaching of Jesus at Mt. 5:27-28 applies to unexpressed desires, or to feelings of attraction or arousal in the act of looking at a woman. A little exegesis, however, should show that Carter has allowed a widespread misinterpretation of the Bible to create the illusion of impossible standards – and the illusion of sin.

I say give Jesus a break! Look for the true point of his teaching by seeking a true moral principle in connection with the true Biblical meaning, and not in a ridiculous evangelical can of corn like ‘psychological sin.’

In Mt. 5:28 Jesus’ meaning comes to us on the back of two Greek words: blepon, watching or looking on; and epithymesai, evil desire, lust, covetousness.  But these two words possess a common meaning tone that make it impossible to equate adultery with every feeling of desire at the sight of a woman’s beauty.

First, look at the scripture meanings generally conveyed by forms of the Greek word epithymesai:

Epithymesai is rarely used of a merely passive desire – it always gets or seeks its fill of its object – it’s not just an empty wish that you had something that was someone else’s – it’s the way the wicked covet other people’s fields before they seize them, as in Micah 2:2, cf. Ex 15:9, where we read, “My desire shall have its fill”

Not only does Epithymesai enthrall the subject, it finds ways of testing its object to see if it will deliver its craving unto it, as in Ps 78:18, “demanding the food they craved” (as a test)

It requires the hands to reach out and get a hold on its object, implied in Prov 21:25-26, “desires kill the sluggard, for his hands do not choose to do anything”

The key to understanding this kind of desire is that it is not random or unconscious or accidental but is headstrong and has a selfish plan of conquest, like the “stubborn hearts” in Ps 81:12, “which follow their own counsel” (see also Ex. 20:17; Ps. 10:3; Acts 20:33; Col. 3:5; 1Tim 6:9-10; Jas.  1:14-15; 2 Pet 1:4).

Now look at the second word, blepon.

In three significant places in the Greek Old Testament, the word used by Jesus is not used to signify ‘looking upon’ nakedness:

Gen 3:7 – blepon is not used where there is a need to express the way Adam and Eve ‘look upon’ each other’s nakedness after the fall.

Gen 9:22-23 – blepon is not used to express the way Ham ‘looked upon’ the nakedness of his father Noah.

2 Sam 11:2 – blepon is not used to express the way David ‘looked upon’ the nakedness of Bathsheeba.

Check it out. The word family chosen by ‘the 70’ wise translators was idein and not blepon.

Why?  Because blepon is used in OT and NT not so much for a ‘seeing’ of things in front of you in space but more often for a foreseeing of things, a looking ahead to a situation that is not yet realized in time, such as things seen in a vision – or in a wicked plan (like a seduction).

So Jesus was indeed talking about a sin that is committed in the heart before it has been enacted, but it involves the kind of looking forward with wicked desire to possess that implies overt action with intent to seduce or allure someone, and not simply the childish indulgence of ‘a look.’

But beware, because Jesus has chosen his words so well that they clearly imply that this flirtatious action with intent to seduce is ‘adultery’ even in cases when it is unsuccessful.  If the targeted partner rejects your tacit invitation, or if your aims are frustrated by the least miscellaneous condition or event – Jesus is saying that is still adultery.  You’re liable even if you failed in your aim.

I think this is quite a serious and godly warning against sin, and doubly effective, since it applies to women as well as to men.

What about pornography?  Well there are issues of involvement that make it sin, but I would argue it is not mortal sin on the level of adultery.  Comments about that?

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

The scene is the Empyrean just prior to the divine Son’s incarnation.  His servant Moses enters.

Son:  “I can see you have good news.”

Moses:  “Everything’s at the cusp, Sire.  Mary will hear your new name by announcement of our messenger as soon as she’s with child.  You’re to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

Son:  “Then call me Je’shua – ‘God is salvation.’”

Moses:  “The name, Sire, is supposed to help you remember it’s not about you.”

Son:  “We both know that a true Son of Man cannot forget God and neighbor.”

Moses:  “First order of business will be son of Mary and Joseph.”

Son:  “My immersion in the flesh.  Dear Moses, it’s a mystery even to me how I shall ever, in the fullness of my humanity, recall my divinity.”

Moses:  “Trust in God.  His will for you now is that you be made man.  And the child is always father to the man.  You have a nice family there, I’m sure eventually you will find him who sent you.  But you find him best by seeking him first with all your human mind and heart and strength, as the God of your fathers.”

Son:  “I know it must be first things first, if one day the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Moses:  “May those words come to mean more to them than directions for leaving synagogue after Sabbath service!”

Son:  “I so look forward to childhood, youth, and manhood – to know and suffer them as you did.”

Moses:  “Aye, in family and in tribe and temple, for duty and country.”

Son:  “Day in, and day out – until I find him who sent me.”

Moses:  “And remember how you shall seek him.”

Son:  “Neither here, nor there…”

Moses:  “Perfect.  And when he reveals himself within you, you will preach this inner reign of God so that all might hope that a saving measure of what is yours by divine nature may be theirs by divine grace.

Son:  “I’m solid, Mo.  And so is Father.  If I can learn to get some private prayer time down there we’ll be on the same page by the time the forerunner finishes his course.”

Moses:  “Well enough, Sire.  And since you mention your later career – you know Father hasn’t revealed to us whether your person and teaching will be accepted or rejected by the rulers in Israel.  I think we both see the wisdom of that, but it wouldn’t hurt to run down the possibilities one more time before you’re off …”

[to be continued]

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

Paul’s two perspectives on Jesus

I hope it is not controversial to say that Saul of Tarsus before his conversion must have shared what was probably the majority view in Israel – that Jesus of Nazareth was an offender against the Torah and a misleader of the people, who had rightly suffered the death of one accursed.

Even our first record of Jesus’ early career (Mark) moves immediately from a 16-verse introduction to a string of 88 verses in which ten out of twelve stories portray Jesus transgressing the literal sense of seven different points of the Law:

1. Sabbath-breaking (Mk 2:24 & 3:6)

2. Neglect of fasting (2:18)

3. Neglect of family (3:33)

4. Contact with lepers (1:41)

5. Eating with sinners (2:16)

6. Blasphemy i.e. Authority to forgive sin (2:7)

7. Alliance with Satan (3:22) i.e. authority over demons (1:27, 34, 39, 3:11)

Mark’s source for the early career of Jesus clearly relies heavily on stories of apparent law-breaking, most of which are accompanied by Jesus’ own prophetic rationale for setting aside the Law.  Can it be doubted that many reports of the deeds of Jesus were circulating without benefit of the sayings attached by Mark?  I think Mark’s emphasis suggests that lawbreaking was an issue for Jews who criticized the mission of Jesus in his lifetime and after the crucifixion.

To an unsympathetic ear it would make no difference if these stories circulated with or without Jesus’ rationale attached.  Because it was I think a matter of common knowledge – also confirmed by Mark (8:11-12) – that Jesus had refused to provide the test-sign demanded by the religious authorities in proof of his authority.  This constituted for them a warrant of the Law itself for disregarding Jesus’ prophetic claims.

I think this is the perspective of the old Saul – knowing that Jesus, despite his alleged works, had after all refused to authorize his mission by the sign required by Moses, Saul had judged that the Law justly regarded his sin as worthy of condemnation and death.

The perspective of the new Saul is best seen from the standpoint of his brief and electrifying encounter on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:2-9).  I trust this report to represent not a dream or myth but a genuine revelation event.  Saul sees and hears for himself what the martyr Stephen had claimed to see – that this Jesus who for all appearances had set the law aside – who under the Law of God was made to be sin and was crucified – is now in the power of the spirit alive.

Saul’s revelation doesn’t give him faith in the fact of the resurrection (one doesn’t ‘have faith’ in experienced facts).  The true object of Saul’s faith is his rapidly-developing view of the meaning and value of the resurrection.  This view was illuminated by Saul’s faith in God, which was never in question.  In its light he comprehends that it is the God of Israel who has raised Jesus from the dead.  A corollary to this faith is the belief that the risen one is God’s anointed, the hope of Israel.

All of which will be quite formative and quite problematic for the future of Christianity.