Tag Archives: new testament

The Plot Thickens

So, I don’t know how deep today’s message will be, but at least it has a spiritual bent to it.

Thing is, on the way to Little Girl Blue’s daycare today, I was thinking about some of the novels I’ve been reading lately. And, for that matter, thoughout my life. And it struck me that many of the novels I read have a “hero” or a very small number of heroes. That is, there is one person or a couple people who hold the fate of the plot in their hands. It might be the prophesied deliverer in a swords and sorcery epic or the brilliant tactician in a space opera or the detective who puts all the pieces together in a crime novel.

And then there are other novels and series I read, where it is more an ensemble thing, much like I am doing in my own novel. There are key characters, but no single person is the lynchpin and in some cases, critical characters will never meet or have any reason to interact.

I don’t prefer either type of novel, really, though I do appreciate the reality and complexity of an ensemble piece, even as I relish the focused drama of a hero-oriented story.

The Bible, my friends, has both aspects. Now, I’m not calling the Bible a fiction, mind you. While I think some elements are symbolic or metaphorical, overall I think it is an honest account of God’s plans and the history of humans. Yes, you can quibble over whether God really created the Earth in seven days and made Adam from the dust of the Earth, but then you’re just arguing semantics. Some very complex things are couched in simple terms. But the fact is that God created things, God has a plan for us, we have gone astray from that plan, and He made a way for us to get back in line with it.

But getting back to my original observation, the Bible gives us an epic ensemble piece in the Old Testament, and a hero/savior one in the New Testament.

The OT gives us this sweeping account of where we went wrong and all the missteps we took along the way. There are victories and defeats, successes and failures, love and anger, joy and sorrow, and so much more. Many players, some more effective than others, shape the flow and direction of the story.

And yet it is all a set-up. It’s really a prelude to the NT, when Jesus arrives. Because then we have the hero that everyone else has been paving the way for. The story God gives us takes a sudden and dramatic turn, and becomes very focused. What we end up with is Jesus’ story, and even though there are other people in the NT who are movers and shakers, they are all responding to (and uplifting) Jesus and his role in things. It’s all about the Christ and the fallout from his arrival (most of that fallout good, but with its bitter and bittersweet aspects, too).

It’s interesting that the Bible gives us the harder to absorb and more thorny ensemble piece first, and only gives us the more personal and in some ways easier to digest hero tale last.

I don’t know what that means, if anything. I just thought it was interesting to note.

In Praise of the Non-Paulists

Don’t get the wrong impression from the title. I’m not one of those folks who spits on Paul and claims he co-opted the early church to espouse his own doctrine and shape Christianity to his vision and will.

However, Paul gets a lot of play, and so he often overshadows the other writers in the New Testament (outside of the gospel writers, that is), even when what he says supports, complements and otherwise fits like a glove with other of the writers’ spiritual insights and guidance for us.

(By the way, click here for an earlier post I did on Paul the Apostle, titled “St. Paul the Prickly.”)

Each writer highlighted in the New Testament provides an important piece to our overall education in faith and proper action. Each is important, and Paul is no more important than any other just because he gets more words. His was a special ministry and mission and it put him in a position to have to write a lot and talk about doctrine.

No particularly deep thoughts with this post. Just an encouragement not to be mad at Paul for all his face time (nor to misunderstand him and brand him too quickly as a jerk…modern translations don’t always do him justice as to his intent)…nor to push aside the other writers by assuming that their teachings are any lesser.

As the body has many parts, each with its own purpose, and all of them necessary for proper functioning, so do all the writers of the New Testament serve an important role that should never be minimized.

St. Paul the Prickly

St. Paul…you know, the guy who is responsible for a good chunk of the New Testament thanks to those letters he wrote, mostly to young Gentile churches in the years after Jesus died and rose…well, he’s a lot like my father-in-law. I love him, and I can learn a lot from him religiously. But I wouldn’t talk much politics with him. Nor would I discuss many social issues like, say, feminism. And I sure wouldn’t ask him for much in the way of advice on communications in interpersonal relations.

That isn’t a knock, by the way. Both my father-in-law (who was once my pastor) and Paul show a lot of intellectual power. They are both strong in their spiritual faith. Both of them have a lot to teach me about how to be a better person: for God, my family and others in my life. I respect both of them greatly. And I pay attention to them.

But they can both be jerks, too. They can both be narrow-minded. To their credit, both of them also tend to qualify their statements (Paul in his letters and my father-in-law in church) when they are indeed their own thoughts as opposed to biblical doctrine. Admittedly, the line can blur sometimes, and there are moments in my father-in-law’s sermons when you know his personal feelings have crept in…just as there are moments in Paul’s letters when it looks like perhaps he was going off on a personal tangent without remembering to warn us.

None of this dilutes the value of their messages, but it requires a certain willingness to forgive the man for his faults and focus in on the message. Paul was a learned, disciplined, committed man. He was a Pharisee and was all too willing to take on the mission of hunting down and persecuting Jews who were preaching Jesus as the Messiah and as having risen from the dead to ascent to the right hand of God his father. Despite his conversion to a belief in Jesus as the son of God, Paul didn’t suddenly get a personality transplant and thus much of what he says is colored by the way he was raised and the way he saw the world.

Here’s a funny take on St. Paul from cross-dressing British comedian Eddie Izzard (there is some foul language, but you’d expect that with me, now wouldn’t you?). Watch it for a nice palate cleanser, and then we’ll continue…

So, there were a lot of people who probably would have liked to give Paul the middle finger and many more who still do today. Certainly, he doesn’t endear himself to modern women with this:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)

First, some have argued that the misogyny was added later after Paul was long dead, but I’m going to give credit to Paul for this because…well, why the hell not? The man lived in a society far more male-centered than what Americans are accustomed to today. Women didn’t hold positions of power generally, and educating them certainly wasn’t a priority, so why would he want a woman telling him what to do? Jerky, yes. But for the time and place, pretty normal thought process. Besides, I think the intent of that passage is a bit more narrow than it seems, as I noted in this post. Just for the record, I talked about Paul and the Pauline letters a bit here, too.

That certainly isn’t the only place where Paul exhibited a certain prickly streak, but it is one of the most telling for our modern times. So, if the guy has some old-world, old boy network chips on his shoulder, why care about anything he says?

Well, the man’s writings lay out a huge chunk of the fundamental doctrine of the church. The other apostles actually listened to him (once they figured out he wasn’t trying to infiltrate them as some sort of trick to destroy them) when he challenged what they were doing. He challenged himself and was open about many of his own flaws. This isn’t the kind of guy who seems to be out to create a church to suit his own ends but someone who was on a mission. In this case, a mission for Christ.

Now, consider also the fact that while the other apostles focused on teaching the Jews about Jesus and his divinity, Paul was tasked with reaching everyone else. The Gentiles vastly outnumbered the Jews and represented a whole host of different belief systems or lack thereof. If Paul seems like a hard-ass at time in his letters, let’s remember that he had to try to stamp out heretical fires at every turn, often when he was far away from the churches that were under fire, and thus unable to counter the false doctrines in person. You’re trying to keep people in line under God’s laws and strengthen their faith while battling their very human natures and being persecuted yourself at every turn.

I’d be a bit salty too.

Fact is, there is little that Paul writes that isn’t fully in line with the teaching of Jesus and the laws of God. And what bits of personal bias he might show at times can often easily be reconciled with societal changes today without altering the core intent. I know a lot of women won’t like the fact that I agree with Paul that women aren’t meant to be pastors. But with educational levels being what they are today, I think they belong everywhere else in the church, and I think Paul would agree on that front as well, given that he recognized a couple women who were important in the evangelism of the early church.

I suspect Paul would hold fast to views against sexual immorality and other desires of the flesh, as well he should given that God doesn’t want us to sin in those ways. But I also don’t think he’d be pleased with people bombing abortion clinics or trying to force secular lawmakers to hold to biblical law on issues such as sexual intercourse.

Paul was a sonovabitch at times, but he was an honest one and a faithful one, and that gives him a lot of credit as far as I’m concerned.

I know I already have a link to some biographical info on Paul embedded in the first word of this post, but click here for a Wikipedia entry on him should you like to learn even more. I rely on Wikipedia for a lot of the informational hyperlinks around here and I just feel like I need to branch out sometimes.

Who picked this stuff out?

So, there were a lot of letters from apostles floating around in the days of the early Christian church, but there wasn’t general agreement as to which ones were the actual canon of Christianity until around the middle of the second century—and it still wasn’t “official” even then. So, based on that alone, why do we accept the current books of the Bible as being the “right” ones? Couldn’t it just have been a bunch of guys in a religious old boy’s network screwing with us to promote their own power and their own ends? Why should we trust that they picked out the right books to put into what would eventually come to be called the Bible?

Well, here are a few reasons that I think are good ones.

First, let’s handle the Old Testament. Aside from some reordering of certain books and the addition of a couple in the Catholic version of the Bible, the Old Testament is pretty much the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh. Now, there are some things in there that I don’t take 100% literally (I’ll get around to starting my Old Testament series soon), but as far as being the inspired Word of God, I have to accept those books because that’s what Jesus taught from. If it was good enough for Christ, it’s good enough for me, and for the most part early Church leaders didn’t muck around with it, so as far as I’m concerned, it stands strong.

But what about the New Testament? Folks point out rightly that the epistles in there (the letters written to various cities and groups by apostles and others who were setting the foundation for the church) certainly weren’t the only letters out there by church leaders. How can we know that they ones that were picked were the right ones? Folks say it was inspiration from God, but anyone can say that. In general, I think that with opinions flowing and changing, the fact that certain letters stood out and were widely accepted by the mid-second century is probably a pretty good indicator of their resonance and staying power, and thus their inspired nature.

As for the gospels, why only the four “synoptic” gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and none of the others, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary? or the Gospel of Binky the Elder, for that matter?

Well, Judas didn’t write the Gospel of Judas—so there’s a big ding right there—and the document seems to be no older than the second century, which puts it well after Jesus’ death, unlike the synoptic ones that have origins much closer to Jesus’ lifetime, written by people who knew Jesus. Basically, it’s a work of fiction in the Gnostic tradition to recast Judas and his role. It might be interesting, but it’s ultimately no different than historical fiction that authors write today. It cannot be trusted.

As for the Gospel of Mary, it isn’t even clear which Mary (Mary Magdalene or Jesus’ mother) is the supposed author. Also, even if it is accurate (and the oldest surviving copy is missing several pages, so there’s no way to figure out what it was supposed to say in its entirety, unlike the synoptic gospels, which have hundreds of copies in multiples languages that can be compared and contrasted to ensure the whole story is there). Besides, this “gospel” isn’t focused on the teachings and life of the adult Jesus, and thus really isn’t a gospel at all. Again, interesting reading, and perhaps not fiction, but also not suitable for advancing the great commission.

As for the Gospel of Thomas, it’s not clear enough whether it was written anywhere near as close to Jesus’ lifetime as were the synoptic gospels, nor whether it was actually penned by the apostle Thomas. The stark ways in which is departs from the synoptic gospels in terms of philosophy and theology make it too likely to have been a heretical work and not something truly in the spirit of God’s new covenant with humans.

In general, though, looking at the whole Bible, what strikes me is this: In at least three gatherings of big muckity-mucks of the church in the years 393, 397 and 419, they all agreed to keep the books in the Bible as they were, which mirrored an Easter letter in 367 by the Bishop of Alexandria that listed the books of the Bible that should be considered canon. So, why don’t I hold to the old boy’s network conspiracy theory, even though it was an old boy’s network meeting each time? Because if I were among a bunch of guys and we were trying to figure out how to control people through religion, I would probably be trying to slip in some newer stuff (Hell, it worked for John Smith when he invented what would become the Mormon church and bilked everyone into believing his ridiculous new gospel of Jesus).

I mean, really. The general population way back then, the rank-and-file believers—they weren’t educated, and they don’t know how to read. So, if you’re the church leaders, why not declare that some of your writings, or those of earlier church leaders whom you agree with, are divinely inspired? Who’s going to challenge you on this? No one. And presto!…the Bible becomes your tool of control and propaganda. All you have to do is find some good stuff that someone else had already written, or write your own stuff (sufficiently in line with established doctrine so as to not be suspect, but spun to suit your needs) and make it canon.

The fact that they didn’t suggests to me that they were trying very hard to make sure they chose writings that were from divinely inspired people who lived during the time that Jesus was alive. Yes, a lot of these bishops and popes and shit from those old days were bastards. A lot of them were power-hungry, greedy, deviant freaks. But not all of them. And clearly, even those that did have personal agendas drew the line at messing with God’s word, which at least says their religious and spiritual aims were on target (in this case, at least), if not their worldly activities and goals.

Deacon Blue vs. Nsangoma

turin-jesus.jpgSo, I was visiting one of my favorite blogs yesterday and made the “mistake” of responding to a comment on one of the topics to correct a gross misrepresentation of history (I guess in hindsight it wasn’t a mistake, because now I have a topic for today). The commenter decided to get a bit obnoxious and when I mentioned I didn’t want to take the commentary off topic with our discussion, he basically turned it around to say that I was simply running away because I would lose the argument. Since his nonsense involves the assertion that Jesus never existed, I don’t feel like that is shit I can let stand. Since I really don’t want to take the comments on that blog off topic, I have decided to reprint the comments of myself and Nsangoma here, respond to the points I wasn’t able to before out, and I will invite him to continue the debate here, where it is appropriate.

Oh, by the way, the original blog post that started all this (and which has nothing to do with Jesus, oddly enough), is at the field negro blog, and it is the March 13th post titled “Hillary You Are Breaking My Heart.” Please check it out when you have a chance.

Now, on to the debate:

Jesus is a myth; Jesus is an anthropomorphism of the Sun. Any Negroe (Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr included) telling you that Jesus existed, is lying. Anthropomorphism, as in the Sun took on human form and dwelled here on earth with human-kind for 33 years.

Kinda like saying Cleopatra didn’t exist man. It was only 2,000 years ago and the man made a splash (and we have reliable history of people’s existence for shite even older than J.C.). Even if you don’t believe he was the son of God, at least give Jesus props for actually being on planet earth. Still, even when you lose me with your line of thought or raise my hackles, Nsangoma, I have to admit you sound awfully cool saying it.

deacon blue, let us be clear. There is no evidence of the physical existence of a Jesus. There is historical physical evidence of a belief in Jesus, but no historical physical evidence that Jesus ever existed.

How much physical evidence do we have of anyone that far back in the day? Anyone have the prophet Muhammad’s body, either? Or busts of him? Much of what we know of the existence of any ancient personage is historical. There is plenty of documentation about Jesus, dating back to within less than a human lifetime of his ministry…whereas we rely on stuff about Alexander the Great and others as “accurate” that was often written generations or centuries after the person died.

I’m just sayin’, ya know? But I respect the fact that you think he was too fringe to be proven and that you don’t trust the source materials…even if I disagree with you. And I sure don’t want to drag this too far off topic. 😉

… And I sure don’t want to drag this too far off topic. 😉
deacon blue 11:56

Why of course you do not, you will lose. The New Testament of the so-called Holy Bible was written a minimum of 70 years after Jesus supposedly existed. And it was written by people who never met this Jesus, who supposedly existed. Saul was struck blind by the Sun; he is the light of the world. Solar metaphors.

I’m not interested in a pissing match. Keep your intellectual arrogance if you must. I was being civil (or so I thought). I admit it, you have a bigger dick. (But I use mine with more finesse).


OK, I admit my last comment was a tad snarky, but I had been pretty accommodating until that point. Fact is, I’m not interested in a pissing match. But I’m also not interested in someone trying to undercut my religion based on some absolute bullshit.

My “you have a bigger dick” comment at least had the virtue of getting him to shut up in the commentary since I presume he is under the impression that I am now cowed by his pseudo-intellectual claptrap (a shame, since most of the commenters at the blog are pretty astute). Fact is, I think Nsangoma is either a bully or someone who was bullied in childhood and now wants payback by metaphorically holding people down and hitting them with his verbal/written arguments until they yell “uncle,” and then sometimes hitting them once more thereafter just for good measure.

Now, Nsangoma, I’m going to respond to your earlier points. And if you’re so damn sure of yourself, come here and try to knock my socks off, man.


Point #1: Jesus is a myth

Highly unlikely that someone made up Jesus to create a new religion, generated so many conversions and spawned so much written material about his life…and no one refuted his existence. The Roman historian Josephus mentions Jesus and, if I recall, there are Hebrew texts from the time that refer to Jesus as some kind of sorcerer stirring up trouble in the region.

Point #2: Jesus is an anthropomorphism of the Sun

This is the kind of shit people come up with when they get some education, start thinking they’re smarter than everyone else, and get wild notions up their asses. This idea is ridiculous. Are we to believe that at a time when there is Judaism, innumerable temples devoted to the Roman/Greek gods and who knows what else, someone decided to just create a new sun god?

Apollo is an anthropomorphism of the sun. Jesus is not. In addition to the metaphors about light, Jesus was said to be the “way and the truth” and it was said that if “you knock he shall open the door” and he was the “good shepherd” and much more. According to Nsangoma’s logic, someone not only made a new sun god, but also made him the god of roads and doors and the patron deity of animal husbandry. Jesus was about much more than light.

If one is going to argue against the divinity of Jesus, one would be better to claim he was an updated rehash of Osiris, an Egyptian god associated with resurrection. Claiming he is an embodiment of the sun is nonsense.

Point #3: There is no evidence of the physical existence of a Jesus.

Unless you were a ruler or other kind of high-flying muckity-muck and people mentioned you on all the papyrus scrolls and made busts and statues of your ass, there isn’t much physical evidence of anyone in the ancient historical record.

But the New Testament documents of the time around Jesus were widely distributed and word of him spread quickly, particularly after his death and resurrection. That no historian of the time refuted Jesus’ existence, and the fact that some mention him, is proof enough he existed.

The church had to start with a fairly sizable number of people in order to be able to grow and spread as fast as it did. Those people would have been people who had been with Jesus or seen him. If Jesus hadn’t existed, there is no way any sizable number of people would have believed in him and formed a religious experience around him because you don’t gather around someone who never existed. Even cults have to have a real person to gather around, much less major religious movements.

Point #4: The New Testament of the so-called Holy Bible was written a minimum of 70 years after Jesus supposedly existed. And it was written by people who never met this Jesus, who supposedly existed.

Actually, the oldest known, surviving copies of New Testament documents date to around 70 years after Jesus’ ministry. Those documents were almost certainly based off older copies and the original texts, which would have likely been written less than a generation after Jesus’ ministry and death. Those would have been written by the authors to whom they were ascribed, all of whom traveled with Jesus.

Furthermore, the accuracy and reliability of these older copies is almost irrefutable (that is, they are very accurate to the original copies) as there are thousands of copies of New Testament documents from a variety of regions and in a variety of languages, which show the same information being transmitted. Pretty impressive for a time and day when no one had phones and photocopiers.

By contrast, the only ancient document that even comes close to having so many copies that remained true to the original through the ages was the Greek Iliad.

In point of fact, most of the ancient history we simply take as truth is based on documents for which the oldest surving copies date to centuries after the chronicled events. Thus, the proximity of the original New Testament documents so close to Jesus’ life means that anyone who wished to refute them (i.e. I was around then and I know there was no Jesus) could have put an easy end to Christianity long before it gained momentum. We trust ancient documents about people like Alexander the Great and Ramses that have fewer copies to corroborate things and which were removed by hundreds of years, yet doubt documents that were 70 years after the fact. Talk about hypocrisy and ignorance.

OK, Nsangoma, the ball is in your court now. Take your best shot. Hell, swing at me a few times. I can take the hits. My savior’s reputation has survived the efforts of the Hebrew priesthood, the Romans and many others to sully it, and the spiritual legacy he left behind has endured and prospered and spread across the world in a way that can only be explained by the fact it resonates with truth. It isn’t going away just because you want it to.