Thursday, September 25, 2014

(Not) everything Biblical is Christian. Part 8 - Jesus and nocturnal emission laws

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 8. See part onetwothreefourfivesix and seven to catch up. See the briefest of reviews at the bottom.

Dear Johnboy

I know if you read this ten years ago, you would write me off, because I am not dealing with one of those verses you memorized repeatedly through your AWANA childhood.
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I want to clarify how I can agree with verse 16 and write a series called, Not everything Biblical is Christian.

As I tried to remind you of those topics and issues in the Bible that bothered you, and did not align with who Jesus is, as revealed in the gospels, I wanted you to understand that the Bible is not flat. Jesus and the New Testament is unashamed in asserting that a new and better paradigm has arrived. It's like the ending of a great 66 installment story. For example, at the end of the Harry Potter series you learned why Snape was a good guy, despite all his actions that indicated otherwise. Until that reveal, you were certain Snape was working for Voldemort, or was about to turn back to him. After learning the truth about Snape, everything he did was cast in a new light.

I am not saying Snape is a representation of Jesus. What I am saying, as Jesus himself says, is the Old Testament reveals Jesus. As Jesus says in John's gospel
John 5:37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
It could be since you know the solution to the mystery that is the Bible, it's less interesting to play "Where's Jesus" and instead want to become a master at versa obscura and versa obnoxia. As John says in the opening of his gospel, Jesus is the revealed word of God in the flesh. Your task in reading the obscure laws of Moses is not to figure out how to apply to your life rules on mildewed houses and nocturnal emission cleanliness rites, nor is it to talk about how avoiding pork is God's wisdom for all ages. Your task is to seek Jesus, as the church has done since the beginning.

Twice in Hebrews, the temple and its rituals are described as shadows (Hebrews 8:5, 10:1). Before the light appeared, all these things in the OT were complicated and obscure. After the light appeared, what was concealed is now revealed. Shadows and types are replaced with clarity.

It's Jesus who talks about God as Father. Jesus gets God correct. Because of Jesus we know God is love. The Eastern Orthodox church uses this concept as the starting point for all theology. They don't start from the beginning of the series. The answer is in the back. God is love.

Let me assure you that even though not everything Biblical is Christian, Jesus is hiding throughout the scriptures, that is why they are God-breathed and useful. You will enjoy the beginning of the book much more if you use your time in those parts of the Bible looking for Jesus, and imposing back on them the correct view of God, as revealed by/in/through Jesus. Sometimes Jesus stands in contrast to them. Sometimes he fulfills the typology. Sometimes you will scratch your head.

I still don't know where Jesus is in this passage though. Deuteronomy 23:10 If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. 11 But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp.

Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the  Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 7 - Slavery

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 7. See part onetwothreefourfive and six to catch up. See the briefest of reviews at the bottom.

Dear Johnboy

Here is a short summary of the reasons American Christians before the Civil War believed slavery was biblical. They used Bible verses. They used Old Testament and New Testament verses.

Recall the previous letter, part 6. In Acts we see the church retaining a few Old Testament rules but shortly thereafter, dropping even those. Paul says to the church in Corinth, "look, if you want to eat food sacrificed to idols, fine, just don't flaunt it." As far as Paul is concerned, the loving your neighbor law is the one that matters. Otherwise, food is food. We see this principle in action - the church continues to figure out what loving our neighbors looks like.

After the apostles died, some people in the church realized that owning a slave is not the way one would love oneself, thus not fulfilling Christ's Golden Rule. This took centuries to gain widespread acceptance. Shameful, I know. Even great revivalist theologians in America did not see slavery that way. For example Jonathan Edwards owned an African slave and George Whitefield not only owned slaves, while leading the First Great Awakening, he successfully argued against Georgia's anti-slavery laws. As you know, America could not settle this topic theologically, but by an horrific civil war. the south was deeply Christian, yet it seems they were more biblical than Christian.

The early church did not oppose the culture of slavery, but accommodated it. Most of the early church's converts were poor, even slaves themselves, yet slave owners were also welcomed into the fellowship. The cultural imagination of the church was limited. Eventually, the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of individuals who began to champion the idea that slavery, though Biblical, did not conform to Christ's law of love.

Here is the cultural (Biblical) imagination the church eventually abandoned, as reflected in Exodus 21.
20 Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
That is an unhappy story. Yet it serves as part of Jesus' story.  It's the culture he comes from and he challenges this culture by fulfilling it. He considers himself a slave. He tells his disciples that the greatest in his kingdom is the slave to everyone else. Jesus's kingdom is not based on power, but on love expressed through submission and service. Jesus acted as a house slave when he washed his disciples' feet at their Last Supper before his crucifixion. Jesus honors the slave by acting the slave. It is our error to take advantage of slaves, instead of serving them, and if we are to serve them how can we own them. Jesus famously says, whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him. How can we beat him? Jesus is incarnate in the least among us. This is the Christ-like approach to the world.

This is a good story. It is good news. If you want to argue biblically against slavery, you will lose. If you want to argue from Jesus' law of love, you win, because that single proof text of the Golden Rule cannot be overruled. It overrules every other one.

As imperfect human beings, growing into maturity as followers of Jesus, we get this wrong. We don't serve everyone. We do take advantage of the least of these, not to the extent of those  before us. George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards got it really wrong. You will as well. Hopefully, you will stop appealing to Biblical excuses to act like an anti-Christ. Please understand, not everything Biblical is Christian.

Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the  Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 6 - Ripping down the scaffolding

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 6. See part onetwothreefour, and five to catch up.

Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Since the last post was technical, I will try to keep this simple if not short, Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts.

Dear Johnboy

It certainly is a good thing that the apostles agreed that baptism would be the initiation rite into the church instead of circumcision. This story is developed in the church history crafted by St. Luke. But let's back up a little.

In the gospels Jesus says the law is summed up in two verses from Deuteronomy, Love God with your all and love your neighbor as yourself. The other 600+ laws that involve ritual purity, sacrificial methods and occasions, land use, proper warfare, property rights including land, animals and people, and anything else that has nothing to do with the big two are done. It's easy to see why the religious establishment considered Jesus a blasphemer. He had little respect for the system they were gaming and profiting from.

Jesus is eventually lynched. But three days he comes back to life. He teaches the apostles a little more and convinces them they are not having a month long hallucination. Then he teleports back to heaven. Luke picks up the story at the teleportation scene. In chapter 1, two verses in the Psalms are used for guidance. In chapter 2, Peter starts unveiling Jesus and his mission from the Old Testament:

  • obtuse apocalyptic poetry in Joel, explained by the resurrection of Jesus
  • weird zombie poetry by David, explained by the resurrection of Jesus

As a result, thousands of Jews join the new kingdom of love instituted by Jesus.

In chapter 3 Peter alludes to Isaiah 53 and quotes Deuteronomy and Genesis, but makes sure to mention Moses, Abraham, and Samuel, as well as all the prophets to say they predicted the Jesus event.
In chapter 4, Jesus is the key to understand a couple Psalms, 118 and 2. For what it's worth, observant Jews, sing through the Psalms every year. So these guys were very familiar with them, even the cursing ones. Now they understood these Psalms through the lens of Jesus.
In chapter 6, one of the first deacons, and the first martyr Steven is accused of two things, "14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." Yes, Jesus did warn of the destruction of the temple and he did change the customs of Moses. However, the apostles has yet to realize either of these things.
In chapter 7, Stephen reviews Israel's history through Genesis and Exodus, then goes on the attack, referencing Amos (using the Greek translation which is different from the Hebrew) and Isaiah.
Next in chapter 8, the Gentiles start believing in large numbers. Together the Apostle Philip and the Ethiopian read Isaiah 53 (using the Greek translation which is different from the Hebrew).
In chapter 9, the former persecutor Saul, converts on the Damascus Road and becomes an enthusiastic apostle.
In chapter 10, the customs of Moses in the church begin to collapse. A Roman soldier converts and exhibits the same supernatural stuff the church did in Acts 2.
In chapter 11, Peter defends himself for not just associating, but fellowshipping with uncircumcised Gentiles. Peter says, hey, the Holy Spirit of God was on these people, and God told me in a dream this was cool, so let's rejoice together.
In Chapter 13, Paul uses a bunch of prophecies from the Psalms, Isaiah and Habbakuk to show that Jesus is the long waited for Jewish Messiah predicted by these prophets. The final prophecy he mentions is a mashup, cut and pasted from a couple places in Isaiah.

We finally get to the confrontation in chapter 15, where the customs of Moses finally start to collapse. Some of the Jewish Christians visit a mixed race church in Syria and freak out when they go to restroom and realize their fellow Gentile believers still have their foreskins attached. They run down to Jerusalem to complain to the apostles there. In the midst of debate, Peter speaks up for a doctrine based on experience.
8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.
9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.
10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
Jesus' brother James pulls a quote from Amos (using the Greek translation which is different from the Hebrew) and offers a compromise proposal that does not involve delicate surgery.
15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’—
18 things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” 
I imagine when Jews read this prophecy of Amos they believed that one result of Gentile men seeking after God would be eager circumcisions. James, Peter and Paul point out the text here does not say that. Curiously, they add a couple rules, that served a short term purpose, but were negated by the time Paul wrote the church in Corinth.

What's left of the customs of Moses after the Jerusalem council? Not much officially. We learn from Paul's letter to the Galatians that he confronted Peter about keeping kosher around believing Gentiles when other Jews show up. Paul writes in Galatians 2:15-16 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." This kernel of theology about the abolishment of the Old Testament laws in the life of the Christian is developed much more in his letter to the Roman church.

The apostles finish what Jesus started. The accusation against Stephen was correct. The customs of Moses ended with Jesus. They were like the external scaffolding around the building while it was being built, but once the building was finished, the scaffold was no longer needed. The church, the bride of Christ, is the final product and the early church tore down all that Old Testament scaffolding, finishing what Jesus started, because not everything Biblical is Christian.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 5 - not all texts are equal

Not everything Biblical is Christian, part 5. See part one, two, three, and four to catch up.

Part one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part 5 will look at another angle of this theme, that not everything Christian is in the Bible you have today.

Dear Johnboy (that is my younger self)

I am going to write you a short summary of this post then put all the technical stuff afterwards to see what I am talking about.

The way the author of Hebrews uses the Greek translation of the New Testament, especially where it disagrees with the Hebrew version is an example of New Testament authors using a different OT text source than you do. Most Protestant translations today use the Masoretic Text as the basis of the OT translations. You learned that the OT we have today is so reliable because the Masorete community had so many rules for copying texts. Then you learned the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea scrolls confirms how good the Masoretic text is because of their agreement. What you didn't know is the early church scholar Origen collected six different Hebrew texts with similarities and differences. What you didn't know is the Masoretic texts we have are younger than the NT texts we have. What you didn't know is the Qumram community that kept the Dead Sea scrolls also had multiple versions of Jeremiah, a version similar to the Greek OT and another similar to the Masoretic text. The point is the Greek and Masoretic texts are very similar but have key differences, especially in Psalm 40, which Hebrews 10 references. When Hebrews references the Greek version, it makes sense that Jesus had a body prepared for him, when he came into the world, to serve as the sacrifice for mankind, not an open ear.

Despite the fact that the New Testament author of Hebrews chose the Greek version as the one God wanted to predict Jesus' mission, most of the western church chooses to ignore that, and translate from the Masoretic text, thank St. Jerome.

What you didn't know is that Psalm 29 is a modified Canaanite song. This is not a secret among Evangelical scholars, but it changes what we mean when we speak of Old Testament inspiration by God. However, it does not have to threaten anything about the message of that Psalm.

What it does mean is the psalmist was able to take something made by worshippers of other gods and modify it to worship God. What it does mean is the Old Testament was never as static as you were taught. What it does mean is those extra Old Testament books found in the Greek Old Testament are still full of allegories of Jesus, and mined for great spiritual benefit by the early church. It means that when you eventually read the Apocrypha with healthy skepticism, it opens up an avenue to also read the rest of the Old Testament. When you see some stories from the Apocrypha show up in the gospels (a woman married 7 times, a problem posed by the Sadducees to Jesus, is a main character in the book of Tobit) you realize that not all pre-Jesus stories are doctrinal for the Christian, but give context for the Jesus story. When you realize Jude references an apocalyptic story about Moses' body in his short epistle, it does not mean it is a doctrinal issue the Christian needs to affirm, but it serves a bigger purpose.

My previous letter shows Jesus doing some Old Testament criticism. Today's letter shows other New Testament authors doing the same, picking and choosing what to use and what to negate. Reading the extra books in the Septuagint as the Eastern churches and Roman Catholic churches do will bring you into a bigger story that contributes to the good news of Jesus. Not everything Biblical is Christian, and not everything Christian is limited to the Masoretic Hebrew text. Most things in the Old Testament still serve as preparation for Jesus' new kingdom, even when they get the fully revealed kingdom wrong.

The next letter shows the church thrashed this out in the New Testament book of Acts.

------------Technical stuff-----------------------------------------

Did you ever look up the cross reference from Hebrews 10?
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, "See, God, I have come to do your will, O God' (in the scroll of the book it is written of me)." 8 When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, "See, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
Here is one example of how the first is abolished. The author of Hebrews is referencing Psalm 40. I'll quote the verses, as translated from the Hebrew by the New Revised Standard Version.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
7 Then I said, "Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
Did the Psalmist write God opened his ear or prepared him a body? In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, Psalm 40 is translated much like the Hebrews author's quotation.
40:6 Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and [sacrifice] for sin thou didst not require.
 40:7 Then I said, Behold, I come: in the volume of the book it is written concerning me,
 40:8 I desired to do thy will, O my God, and thy law in the midst of mine heart.
Because Hebrew was no longer the popular language of Jewish people a few centuries before Jesus showed up, Jewish scholars in Alexandria produced a Greek translation. Entire books and academic studies are devoted to the use of the Greek Septuagint versus the use of the Hebrew Old Testament in the New Testament.

The early church fathers also used the Septuagint to find the allegories of Jesus. The Eastern Orthodox churches have continued in this tradition. The Western church led by Saint Jerome, translated the Bible, Old and New into the common Latin, and produced the Latin Vulgate, using several sources, Greek and Hebrew and Origen's critical text containing six Hebrew versions of the Old Testament side by side. The Vulgate version of Psalm 40 aligns with the Hebrew version.

Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate also include the intertestamental books called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books. The early church fathers mined these books as well, as they were part of the Septuagint, for allegorical references to Jesus. Here is a short Catholic defense of including the Deuterocanonical books in our Bible reading.

The Bible was not dropped down from heaven in the complete version we read in English today. The Old Testament is a book that argues with itself and which Jesus disagrees with himself. As the Hebrews 10 passage says, the establishment of the second abolishes the first, not everything, just anything that disagrees with the new nation Jesus is establishing, the nation based on love.

*Many of the links are to wikipedia. But the more difficult concepts can be explored by investing the time and money into a couple books. Who wrote the Bible? by Friedman and Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation.

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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 3 - descendant punishment

This is part 3 of the series Not everything Biblical is Christian. See part 1 and part 2 to catch up.

Dear John (that is my younger self)

Some Bible verses threw you for a loop when you read the Bible with equal authority front to back. You weren't able to resolve tensions like this one, so you shelved it in your brain, hoping that one day, before the afterlife, the back office would come up with something.

Your older self may have something, but let's look at one those Bible difficulties. It's in the 10 commandments. They show up twice in the Bible, in Exodus 20, shortly after the escape from Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5, forty years later, before the people enter the promised land.

The second commandment, forbidding graven images (idols), comes with a threat and a promise, a stick and a carrot.

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God promises to punish grand children and great grand children for the sins of their ancestors, but bless the descendants to a thousand generations those who love him and obey these commandments. He says it again in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 5:8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

To be honest, that is a raw deal for a kid, whose great grandpa did not care for God or his commandments. It's how punishment works in North Korea. I have heard this softened by Bible teachers who point out that family dysfunction does seem to perpetuate. For example, alcoholism runs in families, so does domestic violence. But that defense of this part of the commandment disregards the active, not passive, intentionality of God.

Why is God and North Korean tyranny alike? But then they are not. In fact, God changed his mind on this whole thing. He does that a few times in the Bible, this is one of those examples. It's a little longer to provide more context. It seems that God is not changing his mind, but blaming his people for this idea that children should expect punishment for their parents' sins.

Ezekiel 18:18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, he dies for his iniquity. 19 Yet you say, "Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?" When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. 21 But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? 24 But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. 25 Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Someone's way is unfair back in the 2nd commandment, and Ezekiel has God saying it's not him and he thinks that descendant punishment stuff is stupid. He also is saying the righteous don't accumulate sin credits to cash in later on. It's not a game or a quid pro quo transaction.

Finally, in the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus this way, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

It's a difficult collection of verses Johnboy. If Jesus is the same across the ages, and if he and God the Father are united as the triune God, why did he say one thing to Moses and a very different thing to Ezekiel? Why did he, through 'Zeke, give his people grief (telling them they totally got it wrong) for believing the thing they learned from the ten rules he gave them through Mo'?

I have an idea. I think the brain cells in the back room have something worth your younger brain's consideration. It is based on the example of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 where he pulls an Ezekiel. I will discuss it in the next post, part 4, as this one got too long.

Bonus material.
Has anyone else noticed the reason for keeping the Sabbath also changed between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5? Did God forget? Did he change his mind again?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 2 - Bless your enemies

Dear John of years ago (I'm talking to younger fundagelical self), as you know Jesus is famous even outside of Christianity for his Beatitudes. Here is Matthew's version from the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Among many other reasons, it's noteworthy for it's celebration and esteem of those behaviors that are not typically rewarded or successful in this life. This is exactly Jesus' point. These are behaviors and attitudes that pay dividends into the future, into the life. It's certainly idyllic and utopic, exactly what heaven should be, and Jesus wants his heavenly kingdom to start on earth. It's not like these postures of the heart are repulsive, but they are not keys to success in our dog eat dog world.

Beatitudes are not new with Jesus. They sprinkled in the poetry and prophetic books of the Old Testament and in some of the inter-testamental books. In the Sermon on the Mount they are concentrated by Jesus. In contrast to these hopeful aspirational blessings, one of the Psalms has this,
Psalm 137:8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
But John, cheer up, you don't have to defend verses like this. You don't have to claim David wrote this under a prophetic inspiration from God, predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the ensuing lament, as some do online. You don't have to soften this as righteous longings for justice written hyperbolically. You can appreciate the deeper searching of the early church theologian Origen, who sought the allegorical meaning in this passage, a hatred of his own sin. Origen saw a similarity between this bombastic beatitude and Jesus' own prescription for dealing with sin, in the same Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 
Jesus is provocative and Origen follows Jesus' lead here and applies it to Psalm 137 and focuses inward. If only all members of the church would look inward instead of outward and find justification for all sorts of wickedness literally acted out in the world. Recently, a popular American Christian magazine published an article online, in response to the threats of fundamentalist Muslim terror groups, proposing 3 options for Muslims in American, deportation, sterilization, or genocide. Conversion was not considered an option as the Bible literally reads, in that author's opinion, that the Arabs are under a curse and incapable of conversion. It's horrifying that Jesus' opinion does not rate with that author. I'll talk more about this later on in this series.

The simplest response to this Psalmist's so-called blessing is to say it's not Christian. It contradicts the direct teaching of Jesus. In fact it contradicts Proverbs 24:17. It's biblical, but it's not Christian. Contradiction is a harsh word for fundagelicals like yourself. In softer, non-threatening terms it is part of a conversation within the Bible, between its human authors, with their God. It's only in the full revelation of Jesus do we know for certain, what we suspected all along, this is not approved by Jesus. Unlike the easily recognized snake in the garden of Eden, this one slipped in at the end of a song of lament. It's part of the story, but it's not from Jesus.

Next time I will look at one or two places where Jesus explicitly disapproves parts of the Old Testament.

For further  research about this Psalm please consider these links.

  • Another blogger gives much up front consideration of fundagelical apologetics for this verse and still says, "this is worse than catharsis and in contradiction with other parts of the Bible" referencing C.S. Lewis own struggles with the imprecatory Psalms. 

  • Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, former pastor of Barack Obama spoke from this Psalm shortly after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. He says it as the shocking cycle of violence that needs to be stepped out of and away from, by trusting Jesus and the extremely high risk, but even higher reward Jesus promises. 

  • Old Testament theologian, Julia M. O'Brien writes: "Historically, interpreters disturbed by passages like this have tried to 'fix' them. The church father Origen, for example, read the psalm allegorically: when Psalm 137 says happy are those who bash the enemy’s infants against the rocks, he claimed that it meant to dash your sins against the rocks of reason." Her blog on violence in the Bible is wonderful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 1 - Devil Talk

I am beginning a series here called, Not everything Biblical is Christian. I need to identify the key terms, "Biblical" and "Christian" and my intended audience, the younger me an American Fundagelical.

Fundagelicals are the conservative wing of American Evangelicalism, the tribe I grew up in and still belong to. I know some of the most generous, compassionate people on this planet among my tribe. I have learned generosity and compassion from them. But I also know fear among my tribe, fear of other tribes, of other political tribes, of the end times, of being raptured while still a virgin, even fear of God. I have been learning the truth of perfect love which displaces all fear. I wish my younger self began learning that much earlier.

Here are my fundagelical credentials. I grew up in a Plymouth Brethren church and raised my children in a Calvary Chapel. Each sub-tribe is closer to the center than the tribes at large to whom they belong. This means that head coverings on women are not required, though not discouraged either, a woman's voice during the communion service (1) was not approved,  and young earth creationism is the norm. Both of these examples reflect the tension created by a commitment to biblical inerrancy. Inerrancy is a method of biblical interpretation that assumes the Bible in our hands today has minimal errors, only of transmission without affecting any essential doctrines (since it was inspired and preserved by God himself), and it's plain and simple reading is the best way to engage the text.

My intent in this series is not to argue against inerrancy, but to let the Bible disagree with itself where it does but let the author have the final say on these disputes. This series is about a handful of Biblical things I wish I learned, that my children as well had learned, along with the generosity and compassion. I'm not saying I was not taught these things, but some things get overly emphasized which can drown out other really important things.

"Biblical" means that which is derived from the Bible, usually proof texts in my tribe requiring minimal investigation. For example, snakes and donkeys have spoken human language at one time because the Bible records them doing that very thing.

"Christian" is the name for those who follow the way of Jesus, because they believe in him as the once crucified, but subsequently resurrected and glorified only Son of God.

According to John the beloved apostle the Word of God is Jesus, not the Bible. Growing up I heard the two halves of the Christian Bible described as Jesus revealed in New Testament and Jesus concealed in the Old Testament. This completely aligns with the writings of the apostles of Jesus and the method of Old Testament interpretation used by the church fathers. The method of allegory is a rich vein of theology the church has long mined for insights into Jesus from the Old Testament that my tribes have refrained, even though Paul's and Peter's letters are full of allegorical insights from the Old Testament and Jesus himself says the scriptures testify of him. Jesus also tells his disciples when they see him they are seeing the Father. He is the full revelation of God. As God, he gets to ignore, overwrite, reinterpret everything that came before and after him. And Jesus does. Not all verses in the Bible are of God. They are part of the story but they are not God's words.

I have two easily acceptable examples. In the New Testament, when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan, the demonic suggestions in those verses are wrong, and not from God. They are essential to the story, but are not words of truth and light, but of falsehoods and darkness. The temptation is a parallel of a similar story in the beginning of the Old Testament. Another perfect and innocent man, a couple actually, is tested by Satan in the wilderness with false assertions. Those words are false and dark, and resulted in a turning from God, away from truth, light, and life, to selfishness and death. Those are not God's words. They are essential to the story, ultimately to reveal Jesus' recapitulation, successfully resisting temptation, as the progenitor of a new humanity. (2)

The Bible has many obvious lies and falsehoods in it. They are easily seen when put in the mouths of the villains. Some things are not so obvious without the beacon of Jesus to provide the contrast. But I think the ones above are simple, literal, non-contentious examples showing some things in the Bible, Biblical things, are not of God, who is fully revealed in Jesus, are not Christian.

Next time I will look at one non-villainous beatitude, the blessing of the baby killers.

1- Women speaking during the communion service violated one or two literal readings in the New Testament.
2- Jesus' struggle in the wilderness is also a recapitulation of Moses and the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness. Where Moses and the people failed and died before reaching the promised land, Jesus succeeded and is the new Moses who leads a new people to be part of a new kingdom not restricted to land or genetics. I just did some allegory there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book response: The Natural Building Companion by Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton (2012)

I've been familiar for a few years now with the work of the Yestermorrow Design Build School in Vermont for a few years now. What I did not know is the publication of this work, The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction by instructors Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton.

Lucky for me, one of my local libraries had a copy available and I devoured it over the weekend. There is so much to devour, I did skim some parts, but I read intently much of it.

My favorite aspect of this book is it's written with a sensitivity to the crazy New England climate. There are so many great ways to build, but what works in California will not work well here. They also differentiate between natural building and green building. Natural building seeks to remain connected to the materials near the build location and minimize the carbon input required to transport a green product. For example, bamboo flooring is a green product, especially when compared to cement, but when the transportation carbon deficit of bamboo is realized in the comparison, a shipment from southeast Asia, across the Pacific, then on rail or truck to New England, cement's CO2 contribution is actually lower. The natural builder also looks to avoid persistent chemicals and plastics, thus turning away from foams and chemicals and turning towards non-volatile and minimally processed materials. In their own business, they use timber frame for the structure, which can be locally harvested and milled, and straw bales for the insulation, which can be harvested in nearby New York State or Quebec. They prefer clay plasters, natural paints, and wide plank floor boards. They are not against blown cellulose and find it the best minimally processed form filling insulation available. They also describe clay slip straw infill and clay slip wood chip infill. I've been intrigued by the wood chip clay slip walls and wrote about them before. The resistance to heat flow, the R-value, is not that great with this system, although they know of a builder who has used this wall system in the NorthEast.

One idea they mentioned, which sounds really cool and has been tried in Canada and Ohio already is the addition of blown cellulose on the outside of the straw bale wall, which brings the whole wall R-value up over 40. This book is full of cool ideas and should be picked up by anyone who sees the need to build differently in our changing world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

cost analysis of American war participation, WW2 and the middle East

If the US did not ally with Stalin (killed 20 million), then the two mass murderers might have destroyed each other. Instead, Eastern Europe went from one totalitarian regime, the Nazis, to another, the USSR for another 40 years. If the US did not ally with China, then the mass murdering regime of Mao (killed 30 million) may never have come to fruition. Mao killed more Chinese than the Japanese ever did.

If the US did not feel the need to seek vengeance on Osama Bin Laden after September 11, 2001, when 3,000 died, then 21,000 Afghan civilians would not have died. If the US did not go after Saddam Hussein and his phantom weapons of mass destruction, then 133,000 Iraqi civilians would not have been killed as a result of our invasion. Additionally, 6,500 American service members and an equal number of military contractors would not have been killed either. The US would not have borrowed, nor lost economic investment and opportunity over the past 13 years to tune of $4 trillion.

Their are other ways to respond to evil and injustice successfully in our western history. Let me quote extensively from the website, Cost of War, where all these links go to.
A Rand report made systematic examination and comparison of 268 groups using terror tactics in the period from 1968 to 2006. It showed that several approaches have been much more effective than military responses at eliminating future attacks. They include criminal justice responses and attempts to address the well-being concerns of both combatants and the broader populace that might support them.
It's possible to use aid and assistance to win the populace over.
The study found that 40 percent of the 268 groups were eliminated through intelligence and policing methods; 43 percent ended their violence as a result of peaceful political accommodation; 10 percent ceased their violent activity because they had achieved their objectives (“victory”) by violence; and only 7 percent were defeated militarily.
Military intervention is the least successful method, but Americans do not want to have their plans interrupted by data from "experts" or limp-wristed pacifists.
Military responses have often created more extensive violent response and terrorism against the civilian population caught between two opposing forces. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have served as an effective recruiting device for new terrorists. For example, contrary to the US government’s rationale that invading Iraq would prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, the country has instead become a laboratory in which militant groups have been able to hone their techniques of propaganda, recruitment, and violence against the most highly trained military in the world. The number of terrorist attacks in Iraq rose precipitously following the 2003 invasion and has not returned to its pre-war level.
Don't Americans get it that when terrorists taunt us online, and we respond just as they hoped, we are following their war plan not ours?
In addition, wars often create the conditions for additional violent conflicts over the new resources and new political alignments created by an initial invasion or occupation. The civil wars and criminal violence that erupted in both Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of this phenomenon.
This was written before the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS.
Now the US government thinks confronting ISIS the same way we confronted al Qaeda in Afghanistan will turn out differently. The odds are against us. But Americans embrace the dystopian young adult novel and wish each other, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

But it's not so utopian to try what Jesus taught, as other nations have done it successfully, to turn the other cheek. This is not a call for withdrawal from the world, but a different way to interact, with more than one tool, a hammer.