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Friday, September 19, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 4 - Turn the other cheek Moses

This is part four of the series Not everything Biblical is Christian. See part one, two and three to catch up.

Dear Johnboy (that is my younger self)

The previous letter shows God's position on punishment changes from the Ten Commandments era to Ezekiel's era yet in the New Testament Jesus is presented as unchanging. In the first letter, I pointed to the New Testament's assertions that Jesus is the full revelation of God and what was obscure in the Old Testament is clarified in, with, by and through Jesus.

Jesus interacted with the Old Testament in surprising ways. It shocked his original audience and still shocks today. One of the most shocking things he does is disagree with Moses, even when the teachings presented in the five books of Moses are presented as coming directly from God. Here is what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I highlighted verse 38 because Jesus talks of this command as if it were an oral tradition. Verse 43 does not refer to anything in the Old Testament, so it probably was oral tradition, but verse 38 shows up three times in the books of Moses. Here they are with additional context.

After Moses collects the 10 commandments from God on the mountain, in Exodus 20, God has some extra instructions.
Exodus 21:1 “These are the laws you are to set before them:...22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
God is given credit for this legal principle. It's one of justice and not mercy. It's not a bad principle. If I injure someone they can take back in restitution no more than the damage I caused. The principle seems directed towards restitution instead of punishment. Legal restraint is a good thing. However, some of the other laws in chapter 21 are less enlightened.

This principle reappears, in God's voice in Leviticus, when a young man cursed God's name. He was taken into custody until Moses could ask God what to do about it. According to Moses, blasphemy is a capital offense. (Jesus was accused of blasphemy by his enemies and nearly stoned to death himself.) Then God riffs on the legal principle again. The enlightened aspect is the same rules apply to foreigners as well as Israelites.
Leviticus 24:13 The Lord said to Moses, saying: 14 Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him. 16 One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death. 17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. 18 Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. 19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. 21 One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. 22 You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. 23 Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; and they took the blasphemer outside the camp, and stoned him to death. The people of Israel did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The legal principle shows up for the last time in the last of the books of Moses. This book is mostly a very long sermon by Moses. In the context of a false witness in a legal case, Moses says his punishment is that which he sought against the falsely accused.
Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
The legal principle is fair, but the lack of pity is tough for me. I find the end of verse 15 interesting because we have collected three witnesses to this Biblical principle. Thus it is established, except Jesus does not consider it settled. 38 "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. Jesus does not say, "I know Moses said such and such." Nor did he say, "Even though God said this, as God I'm repealing it." As far as Jesus is concerned, this was a saying his crowd heard, the same way he describes the other (non-Biblical) saying in verse 43.

Is Jesus saying that God is not responsible for this legal principle? Is he saying God was falsely credited for this legal principle? It's not a bad principle. But Jesus has a new kingdom with principles that are counter-intuitive. And Jesus is God. When Jesus/God encounters in John 8 a woman guilty of a capital offense, adultery, he did show pity, not just for her but for her accusers as well.

What does this have to do with the issue in the previous letter? Did God change his mind between the Ten Commandments and Ezekiel? Maybe not, if not everything in the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Cs, is of God. Maybe not, if the Mosaic death penalties are also overruled by Jesus. These things are certainly essential to the story of Jesus and his new kingdom, but as foils to the new laws of the new kingdom, the laws of love. Not everything Biblical is Christian. 

Not everything spoken by God's prophets are necessarily correct. Look at this short story from 1 Kings 13.
16 The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’” 18 The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) 19 So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 20 While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 21 He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. 22 You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’”
The old prophet got God wrong. But then he channeled God correctly. And the prophecy against the young prophet was fulfilled. Not everything a prophet says as the voice of God is actually from God. The Bible itself shows this. Jesus seems to take this position on some of the important things Moses said as well.

Johnboy, you are not obligated to believe everything in the Bible about God actually represents Jesus. Just because it comes from a prophet, even the kind honored in the Bible, doesn't mean Jesus agrees with it. Because, not everything Biblical is Christian.

The next letter will get a little more technical, continuing in this theme and it's flip side, the Bible does not contain everything Christian.

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