Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Salvation is about healing

Deborah Caldwell of Beliefnet interviewed Marcus Borg about a year ago regarding his book, "The Heart of Christianity". I found Borg's response to Caldwell's question on salvation to be very interesting because it really shows the relation between salvation and establishing the Kingdom of God in the here and now through mission and peace & justice efforts.

I very much like Borg's view that salvation is not about going to heaven and living happily ever after, but rather about healing. I am also fascinated by Borg’s view that relating salvation with going to heaven “impoverishes” the meaning of the word. I believe that the moment you start talking about salvation and heaven in the same sentence, that’s when you start to divide humanity by creating a sort of competition between those who may go to heaven and those who may not.

Suddenly, as Borg points out, “Christianity ceases to be a religion of grace and instead becomes a religion of measuring up to what God requires.”

Question: How do you talk about a word like "salvation" in this new [post-modern] paradigm?

Answer: In the Bible, salvation is mostly concerned with something that happens in this life. Even in the New Testament, the primary meaning of the word "salvation" is transformation in this life. One can see this in the roots of the English word salvation, which comes from "salve," which is a healing ointment. Salvation is about healing. We all grow up wounded, and salvation is about the healing of the roots of existence.

Question: Sounds like a mid-life crisis.

Answer: Well, yeah. And the Bible has specific images of salvation. Salvation is about light in the darkness, liberation from bondage, return from exile, or reconnection with God. It's about our hunger being satisfied, our thirst being quenched, and so forth. The identification of salvation with "going to heaven" in much of popular Christianity not only impoverishes the meaning of salvation but I also think really distorts what being a Christian is all about.

Whenever the afterlife is made central to being Christian, it invariably turns Christianity into a religion of requirements. If there is an afterlife, it doesn't seem fair that everyone gets to go there regardless of what they do before death, so there must be something you have to do or believe. And then suddenly Christianity ceases to be a religion of grace and instead becomes a religion of measuring up to what God requires.

Monday, November 21, 2005

We average Christians

I recently attended a forum in which one of themes had to do with the question… Why are our youth not embracing Christianity more than that they are? Why do we not see more people in their teens, 20s and early-30s in church on Sundays? The first thought that came to my mind in response was… “They’re just not buying what the Church is selling.”

Frankly, I’m not sure that young people have ever flocked to the church. But there seems to be a sense that the situation has worsened. If this is so, I can’t say that I am surprised, given what we see and hear in the news about the Church, be it Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Mormon. I won’t go into specifics. You all know what I’m talking about.

Indeed, why should anyone in their youth wish to be a Christian? In theory, Christianity offers a great deal. However, when you see Christians in our society, there really isn’t much that distinguishes them from other people.

Christians are happy and sad. Christians are nice and not so nice. Christians are easy to get along with and some are difficult to be around. Christians have answers for some of life’s problems, and sometimes they haven’t a clue. Christians are tolerant and intolerant. Christians have huge egos and tend to focus on themselves, and some are very giving and selfless. Christians are forgiving and also vengeful. Christians are gentle and kind, and some of us are violent and aggressive. Christians are committed to their families and communities, but some are not.

In other words, Christians are average human beings. Aside from the promised “reward of “salvation” sometime in the future after we exit the physical world, what is it exactly that makes being a Chrisitan attractive? What are the tangible benefits in the here and now? What do we think, do, and say that is so radical and revolutionary that will contribute to making us better human beings and our world a noticeably better place to live for everybody?

I know that in theory, we Christians have some pretty good answers to the problems that people, communities, and nations encounter every day. We have some of the most powerful ways of dealing with both the simple and complex stuff.

The question is, “Do we practice what we have learned from our Teacher?” For it is the practice of what we’ve been taught by the Master that creates that kind of energy and excitement that draws people to our movement, especially those who are young and hungry knowledge, wisdom, and truth.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Missional hesitation

I think one way for Christians to overcome the hesitation of becoming missional and venturing "out there" versus remaining overly content staying within the boundaries of the Church is to move away from the traditional dualistic view of salvation... the sense that it's "us versus them".

When we believe that ours is the only way to attain eternal Oneness with God, then we automatically create division within humanity. It is this perception of division, I feel, that pushes us toward "our kind" and encourages us to keep away from "them".

We can only be truly missional by emptying ourselves completely, always looking outward beyond our safe borders... and never seeing the differences, never judging. It's not up to us anyway.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Peace through justice

I just read a recent interview with New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, which I found very interesting. However, it is the part that deals with the attaining of peace that mostly caught my attention.

Traditionally, movements, governments, individuals seeking to attain peace in the world have tried to do so through winning. Unfortunately, victory usually means that someone wins and someone loses. As a result, victory consistently fails to establish real, long-lasting peace.

We in the West especially place a high value on winning, whether it has to do with sports contests, political elections, or job promotions. All of these things are ego-based... they are about us.

I think that we followers of Jesus, we humans, we citizens of the world must learn to empty ourselves to others and place less emphasis on winning and more emphasis on sincerely caring for and about others. These are the first steps toward living a life focused on seeking justice. And it is justice that leads to true peace.


QUESTION: What analogies would you draw between 21st-century America and the Rome of early Christianity?

ANSWER: The Roman imperial program could be summarized in the motto "First victory, then peace." Or, alternatively, "Peace through victory." The program of Jesus, and, following him, of Paul, was establishing peace not through victory but through justice.

The great theological clash in the first century between Caesar as divine or Jesus as divine was a choice between two methods of establishing global peace. After 2000 years, we are still using those same two methods – violent war, or nonviolent justice.

Generally speaking, the option of peace through victory has nevere stablished peace, but little more than a lull. Afterwards, the violence starts up again and always even more violent than before.

Monday, November 14, 2005

John 14:6

"I am theway, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)

This verse has always nagged at me because it is so often used to"prove" that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to God. Instinctively, I've disagreed with this for as along as I can remember. In my opinion, itis one of the most destructive verses in the Bible because it has beenused throughout the ages to justify intolerence and many moreunpleasant ways of treating those who are not "Christians".

Obviously, I have a huge problem with this because it is so utterly un-Jesus-like (to me, anyway). To use this verse as anything akin to "proof" that would justify exclusivism is in my opinion extremely simplistic.

Additionally, it assumes many things... not the least of which is the unquestioned authority of the community or individual who wrote the Gospel of John. Many traditional scholars attribute authorship of the Gospel of John to the "beloved disciple" of Jesus - John of Zebedee. But this is not anywhere close to being factual. John of Zebedee was apparently beheaded by Agrippa I in 44 CE, long before the Gospel of John was written (sometime around 100 CE).

Without knowing really who wrote the Gospel of John, my tendency would be to read what the writer(s) wrote and reflect upon it... and see in which ways the wisdom points to God, and in which ways it does not. Of course, one can debate endlessly about such things as the meaning, the interpretation, and the authority of Scripture. At some point, you have to simply agree to disagree. I accept that.

What I do not accept are poor or inaccurate translations of theoriginal scripture written in Aramaic or Hebrew.

Note that in the original Aramaic, the word that was translated into the Greek to mean "I" in John 14:6 is "ena-ena". The problem is that ena-ena does not actually mean "I" as we understand it. It does not mean the "individual I", but rather "I-I"... In other words, the "cosmic I", as in "I AM THAT I AM (Exodus 3: 13-14).

My understanding of John 14:6 is that Jesus was referring to his Father in heaven... the great "I AM" or Yahweh.

Also, in the original Greek version of this scripture, the word for"comes" is "erchetai"." Erchetai" has a very present tense meaning, feel. It does not apply to all people for all time. In John 14:6, Jesus was speaking to his disciples, trying to comfort them after telling them he would soon die.

My understanding is that the more accurate translation of John: 14:6 is:"Yahweh is the truth, the way, and the life. No one of you here comes to the Father but through me."

Keep in mind, though, I am not an exclusivist. I am a universalist. I believe that there is one Creator of the universe. I believe the Creator reveals truth and enlightenment in different ways to different people in different cultures in different worlds in different galaxies at different times.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What would Jesus say, do?

The other day when Pat Robertson made his rather bizarre comments about killing Venezuela's president, I immediately thought... "What would Jesus say?" Rather than debating whether something is biblical or not (which often depends on one's interpretation or personal biases), I usually go the more direct route and try to visualize Jesus of Nazareth either shaking his head forcefully and frowning or nodding slowly with a slight grin on his face.

In the case of Pat, I regularly visualize a frowning Jesus.

I've been thinking about Jesus and Scripture a lot lately. I've been focusing on the many times that Jesus set aside the Torah and opted to respond to human need. There seems to have been a pattern within Jesus' thoughts and actions when it came to following the Law or giving his love and compassion to human beings. The pattern is that love and compassion always won out.

In the third chapter of Mark and the sixth chaper of Luke, Jesus was quoted as having said... "The law was made for man, not man for the law, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath".

There is sometimes a tendency to view Scripture as infallible, inerrant because supposedly it is the "Word of God", rather than the human interpretation or experience of God's wisdom (... my preference, of course). In my opinion, when this happens the danger is that we may be tempted to view Scripture as God and ultimate Truth, rather than something pointing to God and ultimate Truth. In other words, we start to worship, idolize Scripture... and that is precisely what Jesus was critical of. That is precisely what I view as dangerous within Christianity.

In the words of one of my favorite authors, Fr. Joseph F. Girzone... "Where there is a human need the law must bend. It is God's children who are sacred to God, not laws. Laws are to protect or assist God's children. If a law does not do that, it should be re-evaluated, and, perhaps, abrogated."

"One cannot help but think of religious laws and customs today that may have had meaning at one time but are a hindrance to the healthy practice of spirituality in our times. This is not to say that morality should change, but there are many religious laws that have nothing to do with the moral law. They are merely arbitrary ordinances that could be changed. Often people's attachment to traditions and customs resist changing them even though they may cause of occasion untold damage to many good people. When religious leaders see the damage done, one would think as good shepherds concerned for the sheep they would be the first to recognize the need for change. It is difficult to understand their obsessive attachment to customs and practices when they more often give rise to scandal than inspire goodness. It might do well for the religious leaders of all the denominations to re-evaluate practices that are totally out of sync with the mind and spirit of Jesus, and which many good people no longer observe because they know they are foreign to the mind of Jesus."

One can twist Scripture to support any thought process, any speech, or any action in which one might choose to engage. Some are laughably, obviously twisted and un-Jesus-like... such as Pat's comments about Hugo Chavez. Others are more debatable.

Again, though, my litmus test is always... "What would Jesus say (and do)?"... based on what we know of Jesus' personality and teachings.

Original blessing

I am currently reading Matthew Fox's book, Original Blessing. I like Fox's exploration of the myth of "original sin", on which so much of Christian doctrine is based. Probably the guy that has harmed Christianity is Augustine with this invention of his. So much of Christian thinking is based on the inherent sinfulness of humanity, based on original sin, and the need for atonement. This whole concept God becoming incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth for the sake of him/her becoming the ultinate blood sacrifice to make up for the fall of Adam and the passing on of original sin has always sounded silly to me. But I always thought, "What the heck... nice story."

Unfortunately, the story has done a lot of damage because it has been used throughout the centuries by the Church to make people feel unworthy, guilty, and inherently evil. The focus has been on attaining "salvation" from this evil through acceptance of the ultimate price that God/Jesus paid to rescue us. The line goes, "By accepting that Jesus Christ died for our sin(s), we are cleansed and thus saved."

It is refreshing to read the contrary view that humankind is essentially good because we are the perfect and divine product of God's creation. Creation theology is much much older the the theology based on Adam's fall. It is positive rather negative.

The problem for traditional Christianity is that does not provide the same opportunity to coerce people into following the teachings of the Church. Take away guilt and feelings of being unworthy, and people perhaps don't need the Church as much. It also makes it much more difficult to explain the Incarnation, the Death, and the Resurrection. What's the point of the God's sacrificial lamb when human's have nothing for which to atone? What's the point of this myth when the relationship between God and his/her creation has always been just fine, thank you. God created us as an act of love, grace. We were "originally blessed", not originally damned.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Do-it-yourself" religion

A few days ago, I ran across a quote from Pope Benedict that disturbed me. It was taken from a speech he gave before the World Youth Day festival in Cologne, Germany. The Pope acknowledged growing frustration and dissatisfaction with the institution of the Church, and the phenomenon of a growing interest in "religion". His problem is that the religion people are increasingly turning to has little or nothing to do with traditional religion.

He's probably alluding, at least in part, to some of the post-modern thinking which is gaining ground these days, questioning many of the core tenets of traditional theologies and doctrines. The Pope was quoted as saying, "But religion constructed on a 'do-it-yourself' (DIY) basis cannot ultimately help us."

I have not read the full text of the Pope's address, and I obviously was not present to listen to the tone in which it was given. So I will reserve full judgment as to the Pope's intent. However, I do get the feeling that this yet another effort by the Church to discourage individuals from thinking for themselves and seeking a relationship with God in a way that is not limited to those things that are "authorized" by this earthly institution.

One of the discussions in which I would love to engage has to do with the authority of Church and the authority of the Bible. To me, the authority of any human institution, tradition, or document is either derived from superior force or from the consent of the people who they serve. The Church will of course claim authority from God. Many also claim the Bible's authority comes from God. But what good is this authority if no one acknowledges this authority? What good is it to have wonderful cathedrals and churches that are empty? What good is this authority when most people regularly ignore the Church doctrines and dogma. What good is this authority when the Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant? Irrelevancy is authority's great enemy.

Increasingly, I am sensing frustration and even desperation within the Church that it no longer has the force that it once did to enforce its rules and regulations, nor does it have the consent of the masses that it once did. My sense is that the reason churches in throughout Europe are empty has less to do with "corruption by popular culture" and more to do with the fact that traditional religion just doesn't make sense to people. It has probably never made much sense in the past, but now people are more willing to question and explore on their own without being fearful.

Another quote that I ran across in my readings is one by Charles W. Slaton in "Biblical Malnutrition & Today's Episcopal Church"... "We should all take issue with the notion that man inherits the right to update and revise Scripture as he sees fit. This is what the revisionist movement is all about, changing God to accommodate man."

Suffice to say, the arrogant tone in this one bothers me even more. No one is seeking to "change God". What people have always sought is to "better understand the mind of God". For better or for worse, all of Scripture doesn't speak to all of us. That does not mean that we are negating or seeking to change God. It simply means that we do not agree with some of the things that a guy or gal wrote a long time ago, and that we prefer to trust the spiritual insights gained through our own personal journeys.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The process of picking and choosing from scripture

There's no question that most of what I know about Jesus originates in the Bible, although I've read much about him within the noncanonical Scriptures as well. Of course, much of what I "sense" is true about Jesus also comes from my observations, discussions, meditations, and readings of works by dozens of theologians and scholars. The totality of this is the core of my "Faith".

I have no problem looking at something that Paul or one of the Gospel writers wrote and saying... "Hmmm, I think he got it right about Jesus" and "Well, I think he kind of blew it... no way the Jesus I know would subscribe to that".

There is nothing that says that I am not free to pick and choose from the Bible. Yes, it may sound "convenient" (maybe perilous)... but that doesn't bother me much. Fear is no longer an active element of my relationship with God.

The Bible was never meant to be a single work that makes sense for everybody throughout all the ages... It is the end-product of many unique and diverse documents assembled, edited, and translated over many years by various councils, motivated by many things (not always God). Thus, I do not feel bound to the work in its entirerity.

Whenever I sense a writer in the New Testament going down a path that runs contrary to unconditional and complete love, forgiveness, and acceptance for all (... especially "sinners"), then my radar automatically goes up. It's that simple. Scripture is
a tool for helping find the way, based on the teachings of Jesus.

Some Scripture is more helpful than others. And some Scripture is completely unhelpful.

Jesus' message vs scripture

There are choices to be made with regard to Scripture and with regard to one's life. With regard to Scripture, there are many choices to be made because "in my view" it is inconsistent and just plain misguided (... okay okay, wrong) in so many cases. I do not adhere to the concept of Bible inerrancy. One can use Scripture to support any cause. Unfortunately, this has been the case throughout history, and millions of people have suffered and died because something was considered to be "biblical".

With regard to the manner in which we live our lives, there are also many choices to be made. No question about that. In my opinion, however, there are two basic choices. There are choices that bring you closer to the Source of all creation and thus closer to each other. And there are choices that create distance between you and the Source of all creation and thus greater separation between us. The first set of choices bring us closer to realizing the true Kingdom of God (... salvation, enlightenment). The second set prevents us from doing so.

Many assume that all of Scripture provides keys to the Kingdom of God. I do not subscribe to this assumption. I do not believe that all Scripture is inspired by God.

I believe that the teachings of Jesus were/area inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe they hold the key to Truth. I believe that the power and the beauty of Jesus' message of love and inclusion is its simplicity. I believe that the sad part of Christianity is that its leaders and its masses have consistently paid only lip service to the message because it runs so contrary to our ego-based tendencies. Chrisitianity all too often uses Scripture to find "loopholes" to side step the full implementation of Jesus' message, teachings. That is why humanity, at its core, has not evolved very much.

We still do not love unconditionally. We still do not forgive completely. We still practice hatred. We still seek revenge. We still judge each other. We still use religion and the Bible to condemn
things that we are uncomfortable with or fearful of. We still use religion and the Bible to validate those things we find familiar and comfortable.

Most of my choices in life are based on the simple question... "What would Jesus do?" If the answer I receive seems to run counter to certain verses in the Hebrew Scriptures or something written by one or more of the faith communities that wrote the Gospels known as Mark, Matthew, Luke and John or one of Paul of Tarsus' letters to some of the early followers of The Way, then the choice is easy.

In all honesty, the idea of "pleasing God" is not even a consideration for me. My primary motivator is being One with God. I would imagine that that closeness is "pleasing" to the Creator because that is the most natural state of being... in my view. I do not see following a set of behavorial do's and do not's written 2,000 to 3,500 years ago by Jewish communities as a prerequisite to pleasing God.

On self-righteousness

I think we as human beings should be able to disagree on issues without turning against each other. Obviously, this has usually not been the case throughout human history, which is why there continue to be wars and conflicts... and which is why religious institutions/communities continue to divide and go their separate ways.

One would think that institutions whose primary focus is supposed to be spiritual would distinguish themselves from the ways in which other earthly institutions act. Not so.

I think that so long as we continue to have the mentality that "ours is the right way, and the only way"... and that we are superior and preferred by God over all others (... in other words, that we are special), then we will continue to be blind to the idea that we are all One and headed in the same direction, albeit at different speeds.

I believe that it is precisely this mentality that will keep humans from evolving to the point where we can disagree in a manner that is so filled with love, understanding, kindness, and compassion that we can remain family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and yes... members of the same faith community.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the direction the Anglican Communion is heading. In my opinion, the reason for this is that the focus of the ongoing debate has been on "sin" (... the idea of "displeasing God") as dictated by tradition, a few passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, and a few passages in letters from a guy named Paul who lived 2,000 years ago. All of this has superceded love, understanding, kindness, and compassion -- all that "Jesus stuff".

Again, I just don't think we have evolved very much. We know what we need to do. We know what Jesus taught us to do. We just can't seem to do it on a large scale. We just can't seem to accept that our human differences are irrelevant, given that we are all One in the Spirit.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


I am still relatively new to the missions field, and thus I am still trying to grasp why it is that mission is so important... "Why are we engaged in this activity?"

I for one am not in it to convert anyone to Christianity. That's just not my thing. Besides, the people we help through our mission work are already Episcopalians. We'd be preaching to the choir. No sense in that.

I certainly understand the concept of helping those in need. So from that simple perspective, mission work makes total sense to me. However, I guess I've been searching for a deeper spiritual meaning to mission work since, after all, I am engaging in it as a member of a spiritual community, a church.

A year ago, I received a partial answer to my question of why we are doing this. It struck me that we are involved in mission work to let our fellow brothers and sisters in Honduras (and in Africa) know that they are not alone, that they can count on us for support.

So far so good. Still, though... not nearly enough.

Today, I came upon some passages in a book ("Your Sacred Self") by one of my favorite spiritual writers, Wayne W. Dyer, that gives me another piece of the puzzle.

The words reinforce much of what I've been reading lately... that we in the world (and the universe) are all One, and One with God. But yet we continue to treat each other as if we are separate from each other and that God is out there "somewhere" looking down on us. And that this is the central reason many of us feel so alone and fearful, and find it difficult and strange (if not impossible) to treat each other (particularly those who are physically and culturally very different) with complete and unconditional love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and (here's the tough one)... nonjudgmentalism.

I humbly believe that we are just not used to the concept of Oneness. Because we see each other primarily as separate physical beings rather than One in the Spirit. I believe that our true nature is spiritual, and that we are experiencing a temporary physical existence. I've always grown up with the view that we are human beings and that eventually we will transform into spiritual beings. I've always believed that this is who we really are. I do not believe that anymore.

I believe we are spiritual, and that we have to learn how to treat each other in a spiritual manner... meaning we have to treat each other as if we are One. Strange, I know. But look, the way we've been treating each other for thousands of years doesn't seem to work very well... so I figure there must be a better way.

The activity that we call "mission work" is one very good way to learn how to become One because the more we engage in it, the more our eyes are open to the fact that we in the world are more alike than different. And that those superficial physical traits to which we subscribe, in the end, mean absolutely nothing.

Here are the passages from Wayne's book that have provided me with some additional pieces of the puzzle...

"It is insane to continue believing that we are a collection of tribes, each with a separate identity and a special mission. It is insane to believe that anyone who does not fit into our particular tribal mentality is a potential enemy."

"We know that there is not a separate God for each of us, or even for each of our tribes. We know that there is a universal divine intelligence that flows through all of us, and in that sacred space within us we are all one and the same. We know that we are spiritual beings trying to learn how to be human. We know that the best within us is love, kindness and compassion."

I have tended to look at mission work as something we do for others, for those who are less fortunate than us. Surely, that is part of it. But increasingly I am seeing that mission work is something we do for ourselves to learn how to be One with each other.

On the opening page of my church's website, it states that we are a "life-transforming" church.

To me, "life-transforming" means truly learning how to treat each other as One in the Spirit, not as different human beings. Mission work in foreign countries like Honduras and regions like Africa offer another dimension to the work that we can and should be doing every day within our home, our workplace, our church, our neighborhood, our city, and our country.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Leviticus (lĬvĬt´ekes) is the third book of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is believed to have been written by Moses betwee 1440 and 1400 BC, but this authorship continues to be a source of debate between liberal and conservative scholars. Note that in the 27 chapters of Leviticus, there are 56 references to Moses' authorship (e.g., 1:1; 4:1; 6:1, 24; 8:1). Leviticus probably reached its final canonical shape by about the year 400 BC.

Moses also wrote Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--the other four books of the "Pentateuch" (pente meaning "five" and teuchos meaning "volumes" in Greek). The Pentateuch is the name given to the Five Books of Moses, which are the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The first five books are also known as the "Books of the Law" and the "Torah" (instruction in the Hebrew).

What is interesting about Leviticus is that it was specifically written for the tribe of Levi.The word itself means "of the Levites". The Levites were the designated priests of the people of Israel. Yet there is a tendency to use Leviticus more broadly to society, which doesn't make much sense if the book was specifically written for a group of people who had the very unique job of carrying out sacrificial offerings to God.

For example, V'et zachar lo tishkav mishk'vey eeshah toeyvah hee means "And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman". This is taken from Leviticus 18:22, which is part of the so-called "Holiness Code".

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera

There is a 1st century tombstone in Bingerbrück, Germany for a Roman centurion named Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera (Pantera being the Latin form of Pantheras; Abdes means "Servant of Isis".), who served in the 1st cohort of archers for 40 years during the beginning of the Roman Empire's Imperial Period (25 BC - 197 AD). Tiberius Julius died when he was 62 years old.

Tiberius Julius was from Sidon in Phoenicia. The Phoenician name was Zidon, pronounced by the Greeks as Sidon. The word Tsidon in Hebrew implies fishing or fishery. Other variations are Siduna and the modern name Saidon. The name is the same as the oldest son of Canaan, a son of Ham.

It is interesting to note that a Greek philosopher named Celsus (not to be confused with Aulus Cornelius Celsus, the Roman physician who wrote the medical encyclopedia De Medicina), writing a treatise against the early Christians called Alethès Lógos (the "The True Word" or "The True Discourse") around 178 AD (during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius), claimed that the father of Jesus of Nazaraeth was in fact a Roman soldier named Pantera. Celsus, who was an eclectic Platonist and polemical anti-Christian writer, criticized Christianity as a threat to the stable communities and worldview that the "pagan" religious and social system sought to uphold.

Celsus was a friend of Lucien of Samosata, who was Syrian rhetorician and satirist.

While none of Celsus' original writings have survived intact, the following passages from Alethès Lógos were quoted by the 3rd century Christian theologian Origen in his eight-volume work Contra Celsum or Katà Kélsou (248 AD), meaning "Against Celsus", for the purpose of refuting Celsus' claims. A copy of Alethès Lógos had been found by Ambrosius and was sent to his friend Origen with a request to refute it.

"Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by working with her hands [spinning]. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthera (i. 32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A disciple of Jesus

I no longer call myself a Catholic. That was not as hard as I thought it would be.

I have little trouble referring to myself as an Episcopalian. But the thing is that that really is not my "culture". I am not tied to the Episcopal Church... although I have a found a comfortable home at one of its churches. It is the particular Episcopal community to which I belong that makes sense to me. So I'll say I'm Episcopalian, but it doesn't mean all that much to me.

I don't come from the tradition of calling myself a Christian. Catholics tend to call themselves "Catholic", not so much "Christian". Also I'm not so big on the whole Christology stuff, and there's just so much associated with being a Christian to which I do not subscribe.

If you truly want to know what I call myself, I guess "a disciple of Jesus" would do the trick nicely.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Longing for Pelagius

It is a shame that Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) won out over Pelagius (354-418 AD), also known as Morien. Christianity would have turned out differently (... and better, in my view) had the Briton won out over the north African.

Mr. Augustine taught that humankind sinful by nature, and that without the grace of the Creator that sinfulness could only earn one eternal damnation. It is a totally negative view of humanity, which it goes contrary to my belief in the perfection God's creation. If God is perfect, then I sense so is the product of God's work.

According to Augustine, humankind's salvation came solely through the grace of God, as presented in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that this grace came only by God's pleasure, to whomsoever he chose to extend it, without requiring any effort on man's part to complete the transaction.

Pelagius, a British monk, denied the doctrine of original sin, and by extension, the necessity for and the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. He had a positive view of humanity and supported the idea that humanity is basically good.

In Pelagius' view, Augustine's doctrine seemed to teach that God only saves specific, chosen individuals, and those that aren't chosen, are, therefore, without hope, no matter how badly they want salvation. To him, this doctrine was cruel and exclusionary, since it appeared to him to be based solely on the whim of a capricious God.

Pelagius argued that individuals have free will. Augustine preached original sin (sinner at conception). Augustine believed that an individual will choose evil over good without the intervention of God (or the government which is empowered by God).

In the end, Augustine courted the Roman emperor Flavius Augustus Honorius (395-423 AD) and with a bribe of 80 Numidian stallions (via Augustine's friend and fellow bishop Alypius), swayed the emperor. In 418 Pope Zosimus excommunicated Pelagius, and Honorius condemned him as a heretic.

Through more than a little underhandedness on the part of Mr. Augustine, he managed to win out over his adversary. The result was that the more negative, sinful view of humankind won out. You have to ask yourself... "What if Augustine had played it straight? What if the guy's theology had lost out to a more Jesus-like teaching?"

Augustine, as bishop of Carthage: "...abandoned the policy of toleration practiced by the previous bishop of Carthage...[and] turned increasingly to force. First came laws denying civil rights to non-Catholic Christians; then the imposition of penalties, fines, eviction from public office; and finally, denial of free discussion... and the use of physical coercion." - Elaine Pagels

Augustine justified government and church subjugation of it's citizens based on his personal inability to choose good over evil and his assumption that everyone else must be as incapable as he. "After various earlier sexual relationships, he lived for years with a lower-class woman who engaged his passions and bore him a son, but then he abandoned her for the sake of a socially advantageous marriage his [christian] mother arranged for him." - Elaine Pagels

Augustine sold this view to Honorius by warning of the dangers of free will to the status quo... in Peter Browns' words: "the ultimate consequence of [Pelagian] ideas... cut at the roots of episcopal authority... The documents claimed that by appeasing the Palagians the Catholic church would lose the vast authority it had begun to wield..."

Note: The most notable event of Honorius' reign was the assault and sack of Rome on August 24, 410 by the Visigoths under Alaric. The shock of this event reverberated from Britain to Jerusalem, and inspired Augustine to write his magnum opus, The City of God.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Made in God's image

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:26-27)

When I read these verses, the two words that stand out for me are "our image"... The word "our" really stands out. In my opinion, this implies that humankind is created in the image (Hebrew: tselem) and likeness (Hebrew: demuth/demooth) of the Creator, the One... not the reverse.

While I cannot tell you which specific characteristics we share with the image and likeness of the Creator, I sense that any "commonalities" we share have more to do with our spiritual nature, rather than our physical, egocentric nature. The reason I "sense" this is based on my fundamental belief that we are primarily spiritual beings experiencing a physical existence. I believe that our true nature is spiritual, eternal, divine, not temporary and of-the-flesh.

Acknowledging that humankind shares some of God's image and likeness "characteristics" is not the same as acknowledging that we share ALL of God's characteristics. By the same token, I feel that neither should we assume that God shares all of OUR characteristics, particularly those grounded in our physical, egocentric nature... such as anger, jealousy, hate, hurt, vengefulness, etc. (although the God of the Old Testament certainly was reported to have displayed such tendencies). My sense (based on the model of Jesus, my experiences/observations/exchanges/ readings, my "spiritual practices", and my evolving relationship with the Creator) is that God is perfect and thus not egocentric. It is precisely that type of perfection based on the elimination of the self in preference to the "Oneness" of our existence (all that is seen and unseen) that is the goal. It is precisely that goal that was attained by Jesus. It is what makes me want to be a follower of Jesus.

If God does not have an ego, then I sense that he probably does not share our negative human egocentric tendences. It is those egocentric tendencies that create division (you versus me)... and "division" to me runs counter to the essence of the Creator, the One. It is those egocentric tendencies that I feel are the cause of our world's problems... you versus me, I am right and you are wrong...

My salvation, enlightenment is focused on attaining the realization of Oneness with God. I cannot do this by continuing to give way to human egocentric tendencies. My understanding is that Jesus was sent to show us a different path... away from our egocentric tendencies. Instead of anger, Jesus taught joy. Instead of hatred, Jesus taught unbounded and universal love. Instead of vengefulness, Jesus taught unlimited forgiveness... and so forth. It is Jesus' teachings, Jesus' faith that represent the Way of salvation, enlightenment, oneness with God.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Using OT prophecy to authenticate NT stories

What is it that they say... "Hindsight is 20/20"?

Throughout the New Testament, the writers seek to give authority to their work by providing specific references from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) that support the stories they've told. By connecting events described within the Gospels or Epistles to prophecies from books in the Old Testament and showing how these prophecies were fulfilled, the New Testament writers dramatized and automatically made their stories more believable.

The rationale would be... "Look, this story that we've told is true, and the proof is that it fulfills what was prophecied hundreds of years ago in the sacred scriptures." In other words, someone from the past predicted that something would happen in the future, and now that prediction has come true. Thus, the predicted event that has come true really did happen and is exactly what the predictor had in mind.

The problem with this method is that it is far from foolproof.

The New Testament writers all wrote from an historical perspective. They wrote "looking back", which means that they already knew what was prophecied when they began writing their stories. At the very least, they were influenced by the information (Old Testament) they had in hand. A cynical person or even reasonable person would assume that a story which claims to fulfill a known past prediction may well have been written for the purpose of fulfilling the prediction.

The only way to somewhat guarantee the integrity of the story with regard to a past prediction would be for the writer of the story not to have had previous knowledge of the prediction. Otherwise, there is an inherent conflict of interest. The writer's independence is in question.

There are many references in the New Testament to verses in the Old Testament which are meant to give authenticity and power to New Testament scripture. Some are extremely detailed.

For example, Zechariah
11:12-13 from the Old Testament reads...

"If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"-the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.

The Gospel of Matthew (26:14-15) claims to fulfill Zechariah...

"Then one of the 12, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, 'What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?' And they covenanted with him for 30 pieces of silver."

Matthew 27:3-10 reads...

"Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me."

One has to ask... "Was the 30 pieces of silver just a coincidence? Or was Matthew simply borrowing from Zechariah?" And what about the references to the potter and potter's field. Coincidence?

It is interesting that Matthew's reference to Jeremy (or Jeremiah) is actually a mistake! There is no prophecy relating to 30 pieces of silver and a potter's field in Jeremiah. The prophecy (which is not even really a prophecy) is found in Zechariah.

There is mention of a field in Jeremiah 32:7-10...

"Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, `Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.' Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, `Buy my field at Anathoth in the
territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.' I knew that this was the word of the LORD; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales."

BUT Matthew obviously meant to refer to Zechariah 11:12-13.
Note that the reference to 30 pieces of silver is first found in Exodus 21:32...

"If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned."

It was the price of a slave.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Jesus' siblings

Jesus had at least four brothers and two sisters. The names of the brothers are James, Joses (or Joseph), Jude (or Juda, Judas), and Simon). They can be found in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

"Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?" (Matthew 13:55)

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his siters here with us? And they were offended at him." (Mark 6:3)

Other less specific references to Jesus' siblings can be found in Matthew 12:46, Mark 3:31, and John 11:3.

Some apologetics argue either that Jesus had no siblings or that any brothers and sisters he may have had were half brother/sisters that were from Joseph's previous wife before he married Mary. However, both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke clarify that Jesus was Mary's "first born son" and thus was the oldest of his siblings.

"And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus." (Matthew 1:25).

"And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law," (Luke 2:27)

Note: By law, any first-born must be devoted to Yahveh: You shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb (Exodus 13:12), which is the text quoted by Luke.

The Catholic Church argues that the Greek word adelphos used to describe Jesus brothers/sisters can either mean "brother" or "relative". The word contains some of the same concepts as brother in its range of meaning. The Catholic view is that the verses refer to Jesus' "cousins". The idea of that Jesus had cousins, not siblings, was popularized by Jerome at the turn of the 5th century.

The problem is that the Greek word anepsios specifically means "cousin". So one would have to ask... "Why wasn't anepsios used if that is what was meant?" Doesn't make sense.

The virgin birth

From about 80 CE, Christianity has taught that Jesus was conceived by his mother, Mary, when she was still a virgin. This was believed to have happened through the power of the Holy Spirit, without an act of sexual intercourse. This phenomenon is known as the "virgin birth", although "virgin conception" would be more accurate.

This is the way it was supposed to have happened... At the critical moment of conception, when "God the Son" entered Mary's unfertilized egg, the Holy Spirit prevented Mary from passing on to the fetus her sin nature. The process of conception, pregnancy and birth manifested a sacred and sanctified mystery.

It is precisely because of the virgin conception that Jesus was born without the stain of original sin. Jesus could not sin because it was not in his genes.

Catholics have also taught the doctrine of "perpectual virginity", meaning that Mary lived, gave birth to Jesus, and died a virgin. They have also taught that Mary also without original sin -- the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception". In 1854, Pope Pious IX pronounced and defined that Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."

The virgin conception story is found in the Gospel of Matthew... "Behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel." (Matthew 1:23)

The was apparently foretold by the prophet Isaiah, according to the S
eptuagint (the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek).

Isaiah 7:14 reads
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

The problem is that the verse was mistranslated into the Greek.

The verse in the original Hebrew reads... "
Hinneh ha-almah harah ve-yeldeth ben ve-karath shem-o immanuel".

The Hebrew words ha-almah mean simply the "young woman"; and harah is the Hebrew past or perfect tense, "conceived", which in Hebrew, as in English, represents past and completed action. Were the verse to have been properly translated, it would read... "Behold, the young woman has conceived (... in other words, is with child) and beareth a son and calleth his name Immanuel."

Almah means simply a young woman of marriageable age, whether married or not, or a virgin or not. The word "virgin" in Hebrew is always expressed by the word bethulah. But in the Septuagint translation into Greek, the Hebrew almah was mistakenly rendered into the Greek parthenos, which means virgin.

So what does all of this mean? Well, IF the story of the virgin conception is a fantasy, THEN one could quickly move to assume that Mary had a normal human conception (and birth). THEN, one would have to assume that Joseph or someone else was the father of Jesus. THEN, one would have to assume that Jesus did inherit original sin. THEN, one would start to question Jesus' divinity (since he could sin like anyone else). Of course, original sin is a "doctrine" of the Church, not a fact...

This is the problem with poor or inaccurate translations of the Bible... they lead to the creation of stories, dogmas, and doctrines that become so ingrained in the belief systems of Christians over hundreds of years that we lose sight of the inherent instability of the basis of these beliefs.

It seems like so many core Christian beliefs have been built like a house of cards... pull one card out and the whole thing comes tumbling down. That is why so many give little importance to the acurracy of the translations, and dismiss it as irrelevant since the Bible is the "Word of God" and therefore we must have faith that it is perfect, consistent, inerrant.

Faith is not based on logic. I accept that. I also accept that one sometimes has to be flexible (as well as creative) with regard to the process of scriptural interpretation. However, the stories on which our faith and interpretations are based should at least be based on correct translations. That's surely not too much to ask.

Monday, March 28, 2005


The Hebrew word for "justification" is sadeq, which means "to do justice, vindicate, acquit, prove right". Another Hebrew word, zakah, also means justification, but in the sense of "to be clear, clean or pure".

Justification seems to be the focus of Pauline doctrine. Justification by atonement was the preferred theology of the Catholic Church. During the Reformation, the Protestants rejected atonement as the focus of justification and adopted God's grace as the focus... that we are saved by God's grace alone, regardless of what you do. The problem with the traditional Protestant theology of God's grace is that it is conditional... it is conditioned on our believing in Jesus Christ and accepting him as our "savior".

The Protestant Chrisitian view of God's grace is confusing. Grace by its very nature is unconditional. It simply exists as a result of God's love for ALL his creation. Once you start going down the road of... "It's free, EXCEPT that you have to ACCEPT it", then the unconditionality of it all is diluted.

Note that the concept of justification did not originate with Paul. The use of the the word justification that Paul knew as a Jew was in verses such as...

Isaiah 45:25 - "In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified"

Isaiah 53:11 - "the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many..."

The meaning seems to focus more on "justice", rather than "personal redemption".

The Greeks words for justification are dikaioo, dikaioma, dikaios, dikaiosune, dikaiosis and dikaios, which mean "right, acquittal, righteous, righteousness, justify, justification"

Pistis Christou

I must admit that I have not been a fan of Paul. However, I am willing to give him a more focused evaluation, particularly since I've learned recently that there seem to be different Pauls, depending on which epistle you read and how you choose to interpret his words (... not to mention which translation of the scriptures you have at hand).

One of the insights I received from Jerome Murphy-O'Connor’s book, Paul: A Critical Life, is that Paul was a bit of a pragmatist, and thus his letters to the various early Christian assemblies (or churches) varied in tone and substance depending on the situation. The goal was to convert Jews and Gentiles and resolve problems within the assemblies.

I am fascinated by Murphy-O'Connor's reference to pistis Christou, which means either "faith in Christ" or "Christ's faith". Apparently, there is a fair amount of controversy about the meaning.

... I guess so!

If you take pistis Christou to mean "faith in Christ" then consider what it means to be "saved through faith in Christ" as opposed to "saved through Christ's faith".The former focuses on the person of Jesus Christ, who he was (THE divine "Son of God"). The latter focuses on the way Jesus of Nazareth lived and what he taught. Big difference.

If you focus on the belief in Jesus, the dieity, as the ONLY way to attain salvation (whatever you wish that to mean), then you can better understand the Christian theology of exclusivism (those who believe will be saved, those who do not will be damned for eternity).

If you focus on salvation through the practice of Christ's faith (... doing and saying as Jesus would), then you can better understand the Christian theology of pluralism (universalism)... that everyone is saved by God's grace, regardless. In other words, it is adherence to Christ's faith that allows oneness (salvation) with the Creator, not the faith in Christ.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The great commission

If someone were to have asked me this week what were Jesus' final words, I would've replied... "Well, everybody knows that... 'It's Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani from Matthew 27:46!' or My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I practiced those Aramaic words over and over again so I wouldn't get all tongue-tied and mess up in front of everybody at the 9 am service last Sunday.

While indeed those words were Jesus' last words on the cross before he died (around 3 pm), they were not (as far as we know) his last words.

The last words of Jesus, before he ascended to heaven, are known as the "Great Commission", which Christians used as the basis for mission and evangelism.

The version of the Great Commission which we seem to refer to most often is in the Gospel of Matthew...

Matthew 28:16-20
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There are verses with a similar message in the Gospel of Mark (16:15-"He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.' ") and in Luke's Acts of the Apostles (1:8-
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."), as well as in Luke 24:45-49 and John 20:21-23.

Given that the Great Commission is the basis for our mission (and evangelism) work, I would encourage everyone to reflect on what the message means to you, particularly to those who are active in mission work overseas and locally.

Prior to my first mission trip to Honduras in 2003, I had no idea what the Great Commission was all about. Fr. Lou mentioned it one evening, and I recall asking him about it.

Many of us have different views of what mission and evangelization are, along with what are the best approaches (or styles) to engage in this work.

But... What does making "disciples" of peoples mean to you? What does "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" mean to you?

To me, the Great Commission means seeing the light of God in everyone and sharing the light of God with everyone... just as Jesus did. That is what being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth means to me. It means focusing on Jesus' teachings, his message. It means delivering these teachings to the world through example and through the use of words (... but only when necessary). Your model is Jesus, so think of how Jesus would act in every situation in which you find yourself. Think of what Jesus would say in every situation in which you find yourself. Very simple. Very hard.

If someone were to ask me to list words that dominate the personality of Jesus, I would give the following: humility, compassion, merciful, kindness, tolerance, thoughtfulness, nonjudgmental, simplicity, forgiving, engaging, radical, gracious, gentle, patient, loving -- all endlessly so, without restrictions, and unconditional.

It is precisely those characteristics that I think allow us to show people how to always face the light, be one with the Creator of the universe. It is this light that has been conveyed to us through Jesus that I think we've been tasked to convey to the world through the Great Commission. Being the light means being all those things that Jesus was and avoiding all those things that he was not (... you can easily guess what those are).

Note that it is relatively easy to act like Jesus in isolation. It is another thing altogether to act like Jesus and at the same time be engaged actively in the world. That's the true challenge. That's why I think being a "missional church" is an extremely tough undertaking. It puts us "out there" as a mission outpost rather than a safe refuge.

Leviticus and homosexuality

The primary source of Biblical authority for the condemnation of homosexuality is in the Old Testament's Book of Leviticus 18:22.

"You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is abomination."

The next verse prescribes death as the punishment for violation of the Law.

This is the single unambiguous condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible. Other claimed references are inferential or derivative, at best. But there is no lack of controversy about the interpretation and context of Leviticus 18:22. The most important issue is that Leviticus is the book that deals with ritual hygiene of the ancient Jewish priesthood.

The key word in Leviticus 18:22 is abomination, which is translated from the Hebrew toeyvah. What is interesting is that toeyvah also means "ritually impure" or "sinful". Thus, there may not necessarily be a moral judgement implied by toeyvah, only that being toeyvah makes one unfit for Jewish rituals.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Barabbas (Aramaic: Bar-abbâ, "son of the father") was the name of insurrectionary murderer whom Pontius Pilate freed at the end of the Passover feast in Jerusalem. (Matthew 27:16, Mark 15:7, Luke 23:18-19, and John 18:40).

Barabbas was most likely a member of the Sicarii, a military Jewish group that sought to overthrow the Roman occupation.

It is interesting to note that some early texts of the Gospel of Matthew present Barabbas' name twice as Jesus bar Abbas. According to the United Bible Societies' text, Matthew 27:17 reads: "...whom will ye that I release unto you? Jesus Barabbas (Greek: Iesous ton Barabbas) or Jesus which is called Christ (Greek: Iesous ton legomenon Christon)?"

Somewhere along the line, the "Jesus" was dropped of the Jesus Barabbas. In the 3rd century, Origen deliberately left out the "Iesous" in Iesous ton Barabbas for reverential considerations. He did not want the name Jesus to be associated with a sinner.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The last words of Jesus

Right before he died, Jesus, after having been on the cross for about nine hours, is reported to have cried out with a loud voice, saying (in Aramaic), "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani!" (Matthew 27:46)

The translation of Jesus' final words in the Gospel of Matthew is... "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The Gospel of Matthew's account is similar to the one found in the Gospel of Mark 15:34... "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"

The translation of the final words in Mark is... "My God, my God, for what have you forsaken me?"

The slight difference between the accounts of Matthew and Mark are probably due to dialect. Matthew's version seems to have been more influenced byHebrew, while Mark's is perhaps more colloquial.

The Aramaic phrase is Êlî Êlî (or Elohî Elohî) lmâ švaqtanî.

A limited number of scholars have asserted this alternate translation of Matthew 27:46:

Matthew 27:46 (Lamsa translation)- ηλι ηλι λαμανα σαβαχθανι (/eli eli lamana sabachthani/, later Aramaic "E-lee e-lee l-maa-naa saa-baach-taa-nee?")

Researchers from this vein attribute the current wording of this verse to errors in the original transcription and claim that "Eli, Eli, lemana shabakthani" ("My God, my God, for this [purpose] I was spared!" or "...for such a purpose have you kept me!") is more correct. The leading purporters of this theory have been Rocco A. Errico and George M. Lamsa.

The accounts in the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John are substantially different than Matthew and Mark.

Luke 23:46 reads... "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost."

John 19:30 reads... "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost."

It is interesting to see the diversity here. But what I found more interesting is the similarity between the Matthew/Mark accounts and Psalm 22:1 in the Hebrew Scriptures... "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?"

It is generally accepted that in Matthew 27:46 Jesus was quoting Psalm 22:1.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The guys who wrote the New Testament

A total of 9 or 10 guys are credited with writing the New Testament. These include the apostles John, Levi Matthew, Paul and Peter. There was James, who was the brother (or half-brother) of Jesus.

There was Luke, who is said to have been Paul's physician. There was Timothy, an associate of Paul. There was John Mark, an associate of Peter.

There was Jude, who identified himself as the brother of James. If the James he was talking about was the brother of Jesus, then that would make Jude (or Judas) also the brother of Jesus (see Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3 and John 7:5).

It is not clear who wrote the Book of Hebrews, although some believe it may have been Paul.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Who wrote the gospels?

There are four canonical Gospels... The Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John, written during 70 to 100 CE. I have always taken it for granted that these books were written by individiuals named Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Why would I ever think otherwise? Many people agree with my assumption, including many scholars and theologians.

John A. Tvedtness, resident scholar at the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts at Brigham Young University confirms that the author of the Gospel of Matthew was the apostle Levi Matthew and that the author of the Gospel of John was the apostle John. These were the only two of the Gospel writers who knew Jesus personally. (Matthew 4:21; 9:9)

Tvedtness also confirms that the Gospel of Mark was written by an evangelist named John, whose Latin name was Marcus, generally known as Mark. Mark is said to have been the nephew of Mary, the sister of Barnabas (Act 12:12; Colossians 4:10), which would explain why he accompanied Barnabas and his friend Paul on missionary journeys (Acts 12:25; 15:36-40; 2 Timothy 4:11). He later traveled with the apostle Peter, who called the young man "my son" (1 Peter 5:13)).

Several early Christian writers indicated that Mark's gospel comprised a collection of stories about Jesus that he heard from Peter. Barnabas, a native of Cyprus, was an early convert to the church (Acts 4:36), but there is no indication that either he or his nephew Mark had known Jesus.

Luke (or Lucas), was a physician by trade and was one of Paul's later missionary companions (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24). Some believe that Luke was Paul's physician. In the view of Tvedtness and others, Luke is the author of both the gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles (compare Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1 and note the use of Awe in Acts 16:10-13, 16; 20:6, 13-15; 21:1-8, 10, 12, 14-17; 27:1-5, 7, 15-16, 18-20, 26-27, 29, 37; 28:10-14, 16). Luke was at least a second-generation Christian and had not known Jesus.

If you only go by the views of scholars such as Tvedtness (and many do), you would assume that the identify of the Gospel writers is a simple fact of history. It is interesting to note that this is not the case.

Randel Helms, professor and biblical scholar at Arizona State University, is the author of a book titled "Who Wrote the Gospels?".

According to Helms, the names we associate with the Gospel writers are all "second-century guesses". The authors of the four Gospels never explicitly identified themselves. The indication is that the Gospels were written anonymously and that the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were later assigned.

Nearly a century after the four Gospels were written, Christians in the late-second century, eager to give names to the anonymous manuscripts they possessed, selected traditional figures that they supposed should have written them--the apostles Matthew and John, Luke the "beloved physician" of Paul (Colossians 4:14), and John Mark of Jerusalem, the "son" of Peter (Acts 12:12; 1 Peter 5:13).

Helms states that the Gospels were written to confirm or convert their readers to Christianity, that they are the highly colored arguments of powerful authors, not just transparent windows upon the historical Jesus.

Others believe that while is it possible that Matthew, Mark, and Luke could have written their respective Gospels themselves, it is perhaps equally if not more probable that these Gospels were written by some student/companion of these important early Christians. It was customary in early times for a relatively unknown person to give to his or her written work the name of a well-known figure in order for it to have more authority and ensure that it would be read.

John's Gospel is more complex: its early redactions may have come from John himself, but the final redaction which we have today may well be the result of a disciple of John finalizing the text.


Paul of Tarsus was the self-proclaimed "13th Apostle". He alone wrote nearly half of the New Testament. His work consists of 13 letters (or "epistles") to various Christian communities during the middle part of the 1st century.

The epistles are arranged into three parts in the New Testament canon.

The first part consists of nine epistles to seven church congregations: 1. Romans; 2. First Corinthians; 3. Second Corinthians; 4. Galatians; 5. Ephesians; 6. Philippians; 7. Colossians; 8. First Thessalonians; and 9. Second Thessalonians.

The second part consists of one general letter, the Book of Hebrews. The third part consists of three pastoral letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, who were pastors of early Christian churches.

Four of Paul's letters (Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians) were written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome during 60-61 AD.

It is interesting to note that Paul did not know he was writing "scripture" when he was writing his letters. As far as he knew, he was just writing letters to pastors and congregations. Paul's letters eventually were recognized as the the earliest scripture by future leaders and councils of the Catholic Church. They, along with the four canonical Gospels, became the primary basis for the New Testament.

What is fascinating is to see how often Paul's letters are quoted to justify theological positions and how seldom Paul is given direct credit by saying... "According to the apostle Paul...". What usually happens is that people will attribute quotes from Paul's letters by saying... "According to scripture... " or "According to God's Word... ".

Another method of attribution is to simply use the name of the particular pastor or community to whom Paul's letter was directed... "According to First Corinthians... "According to the Book of Colossians... ". The effect is powerful and carries more authority than saying... "The apostle Paul said... ". If you were to just say... "According to Paul... " over and over again instead of attributing quotes to the various pastors and communities, eventually people would start to wonder... "Who the heck was this Paul fella anyway and why should I believe him?" After all, wasn't Paul a human being living in the 1st century, with the same faults, guilts and weaknesses as anyone else?

Much of Paul writing suggests that he, along with many other early Christians, was expecting Jesus to return his (Paul's) lifetime to establish the Kingdom of God on earth... in other words, the Messiah would return to free Israel from Roman occupation. It didn't quite happen the way Paul had envisioned.

Paul may have been inspired, but why take his word over more contemporary thinkers and writers that make more sense? Or over your own inspiration from God?

Nearly half of the Bible was written by ONE guy, who didn't even know Jesus personally.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The doctrine of original sin

The doctrine of Original Sin in Christianity is the cornerstone of a number of central beliefs, including the godship of Jesus and the linkage between the crucifixion and salvation.

Amazingly, the core belief of Christianity, which is that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sinful nature and was resurrected to show that through his blood the sin of Adam (Original Sin) has been forgiven by God, seems to be based on a theory developed by leaders of the early Catholic Church, rather than on scripture. Jesus himself doesn't seem to have talked about Original Sin.

The theory based largely on the text contained in some of the epistles of the apostle Paul, including...

"Therefore as sin came into the world through ONE man" (1 Corinthians 5:21)


"For as by a man came death (sin), by a man also has come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made Alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Men such as Tertullian (160-220 AD) and Cyprian (200-258 AD) first formulated the doctrine in their writings. The "theory" of Original Sin, which was later popularized by Origen, Augustine and John Calvin, became a doctrine of the Catholic Church in the 5th century AD.

The question is... "Why was the theory of Original Sin accepted by the early Church if it was not based directly on scripture?

If you study the Bible closely, you see that there are many verses in the Old Testament that contradict Original Sin, including Ezekiel 18:20, which reads...

"The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him".

What could have accounted for the need to adopt this un-Biblical doctrine?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Love thine enemy

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth not because he died, but because of how he lived and because of what he taught. The teachings of Jesus are powerful and revolutionary. It is hard to follow them, and it is precisely this difficulty that makes us humans want to interpret Jesus in ways that make him more palatable, easier to follow.

We humans are extremely creative. We can take any text, regardless of how precisely written it is, and interpret it any way we wish. And even when we have no "proof positive" to back up our interpretation, we can always rely on our backup plan... which is to say, "Well, it's just common sense!"

Probably the clearest, least confusing of Jesus' sayings is to love thine enemy.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39)...Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:38-44) "

If we truly implemented this incredibly difficult (seemingly impossible) practice, imagine what kind of a world we would have.

Obviously, there is a huge range of "practical problems" associated with loving, forgiving, not killing those who seek to harm you or those you love. Humankind has not been able to overcome these problems, and thus we have not come close to implementing the practice.

There have been a few famous individuals such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela who stand out as wonderful examples of adherents to the teaching. There have been many more less famous individuals who have quietly followed the teaching as well.

But the those who practice the teaching remain the exception, rather than the norm.

I would recommend that a good place for many of us to start to emulate Jesus on this point would be to at least pray regularly for our enemies. Pray that people like Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the leaders of Iran and North Korea will feel the grace of God.

In time perhaps, prayer will lead to thoughts of forgiveness and compassion and eventually to the practice of loving thine enemy. I can think of nothing more difficult, revolutionary, and world-transforming. The fact is that what we've been trying throughout history just doesn't work, and so at some point we have to decide to try the other approach... okay, "the other cheek".

In the short-term, while the world is being transformed, it will cost many of us our physical existence. Over the long-term, it will make us better human beings and truer followers of Jesus.

Marcion's canon: Bible #1

Isn't it amazing that the guy credited with creating the first Bible was considered a heretic and expelled by the early Christian Church of Rome?

The first effort to assemble a New Testament canon was undertaken by Marcion (150 CE) of Sinope, Pontus (in Asia Minor). Marcion was the son of Philologus, who was the Christian bishop of Sinope.

Marcion's canon consisted of the Gospel of Luke and 10 epistles by the apostle Paul. Marcion referred to these works as "The Gospel" and "The Apostle". The Gospel was an edited version of Luke. The Apostle, also edited, was composed of Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians combined, Romans, 1 and 2 Thessalonians combined, Laodiceans (Ephesians), Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.

In essence, Marcion's canon was the first Bible. Marcion did not include the Old Testament in his canon. He rejected all the books of the Old Testament. He believed that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of whom Jesus spoke. He wanted to de-emphasize Christianity's Jewish roots, which is one of the reasons he severely edited the Gospel of Luke and Paul's epistles. Marcion eliminated as many positive references to Judaism or the Old Testament as possible.

For example, Marcion eliminated the first and second chapters of Luke because they were too Jewish. He took out Luke 4:1-3, which is the temptation narrative that refers to Deuteronomy three times. He removed Luke 4:16-30, which has Jesus claiming (while teaching in a synagogue) that his ministry was a fulfillment of the Old Testament. He eliminated Luke 5:39 ("the old is good") and Luke 8:19, which refers to Jesus' family.

Marcion took similar liberties with the letters of Paul. Anything that he believed to be inconsistent with his view of authentic Pauline teaching was taken out. From Galations 3:6-9, Marcion removed the mention of Abraham as an example of faith. From Galatians 3:15-25, he took out the connection between the law and the gospels. Marcion eliminated Romans 1:19-21:1, 3:21-4:25, most of Romans 9-11, and everything after Romans 14:23.

In addition to his rejection of the Old Testament and the God of the Old Testament, Marcion espoused a different view from the Christian Church of Rome regarding the identify of Jesus and his relationship to God. He adopted the gnostic idea of "Demiurge" (the evil God of the Jews versus the good God who sent Jesus as savior and redeemer). He thought that Jesus was not human, only appeared to be human. He did not believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the second coming, or judgment by Christ. He rejected the idea of a Judgment, as prophesized in the Old Testament.

Marcion believed that Jesus was sent by God to teach love and mercy for all and to liberate people from the bondage of the Jewish God, not from the bonds of sinful nature.

Marcion was expelled from the Christian Church of Rome in 144 CE. He went on to establish his own churches in Rome, Carthage, Nicomedia, Smyrna, Phyrygia, Gartyna, Antioch, and Syria. His counterpart,Valentinus, also broke away from Christian Church of Rome and founded a gnostic (from the Greek gnosis meaning "knowledge" and gnostikos meaning "good at knowing") school.

As a result of the stir caused by Marcion, the Christian Church of Rome began a formal process of defining what should be included in the canon.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The canon process

If you asked the question, "Who created the Bible?"... you would probably get a variety of answers. Some would say God created the Bible. Some would attribute the Bible to the writers of the scriptures. There is an element of truth to both responses.

However, the most accurate answer is... "Those individuals who decided what text goes in and what text stays out. Those who determined what would make up the official list or 'canon" (from the Greek "kanon" meaning a measuring rod) of the book." Remember, the Bible did not fall out of the sky as a final, stand-alone composition. The text within the book was written by individuals who never imagined their work would eventually make up a segment of a book entitled "The Bible".

The text that made it into the Bible made it in because a certain group of individuals won the case for its inclusion over another group of individuals who happened to disagree. The fact that there was other text that was considered for inclusion but did not make it in further highlights that there was never unanimoty regarding the canon. There were winners and losers.

The assumption has always been that the winners got it right... that their decisions were inspired by God, while the losers (those who failed to have their text included in the canon) were not sufficiently inspired by God and were thus wrong.

This is a convenient logic for those who want to believe the Bible is perfect, inerrant. But as we've seen throughout history and as we see in daily life, the winners are not always right and the losers are not always wrong.

To those who prefer to believe that humans decisions had little or nothing to do with the creation of the Bible... that the final product came about through "God's providence", I suppose the big question would be... "Which is the final product that came about through God's providence?". If it is solely through God's providence or will, then there must be one authoritative version of the Bible that at least Christians can agree on.

The fact is that that Bible does not exist.

Roman Catholic Bibles contain 73 books (46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament). Protestant Bibles contain 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament). Protestants do not acknowledge the following seven books as scripture: Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees, and parts of Esther and Daniel. These books are referred to as the "Deuterocanonicals" by Roman Catholics. They are referred to as the "Apocrypha" (meaning "hidden," "secret," or "profound") by Protestants.

During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther removed these books from the Bible and placed them in an appendix. He didn't consider them to be on par with the other 39, but still useful to read. The books remained in the Protestant Bibles until around 1826. They were subsequently removed altogether.

How does God's providence gel with this little mess?

It one thing to claim biblical inerrancy on the belief that the writers of scripture were divinely inspired. It is another thing altogether to completely eliminate the human element in the development of the Bible and attribute it all to something called "God's providence". It is a neat trick if you can pull it off.

It's even a neater trick to say... "We know it is God's providence through faith and faith alone". Argument over. How can you reasonably respond to someone who says something is so because they believe it is so? You can't, because the element of reason has been eliminated from the terms of the dialogue.

Whether or not you believe in God's providence as the central element in the development of the Bible, it is a fact of history that human beings were involved in the process. They may or may not have been God's pawns, but they were there and they played a role. Some of these people were winners and some were losers.

To begin to appreciate the probability that the "canon winners" got it right, it is not enough to simply say... "They got were right because they won, and because they won it proves that it was God's will or that they were inspired by God". The flaw in this reasoning should be obvious.

One key is to understand the individuals who participated in the various councils of the Church that put their stamp of approval on Bible canon. What were the processes by which the councils made decisions? What factors influenced the councils?

The assumption of religious "purists" would be that scripture was included as part of the canon based solely on its authenticity and the degree to which it was judged to be inspired by God. That assumption, however, assumes that the councils were pure, had no human agendas, and were impervious to power and influence of others.

We'll see.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

It's the "Cosmic I"

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)

This is one of the most popular Jesus quotes in the Bible. It is this text that is used by some to "prove" that it is only through Jesus Christ that one can be saved and make it to heaven.

The implication is that all "other ways" are wrong.

You can argue forever about the meaning of these word that have been attributed to Jesus. Some will say that it clearly means that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Others will point out that Jesus was simply saying he was one example of how to attain enlightenment and oneness with God, not necessarily the only example.

The more interesting question is... "Did Jesus actually say these words, or did he say something similar but with completely different meaning?"

The assumption is that the translations from the Aramaic into the Greek and then into the English were accurate. What if the translations were flawed?

Note that in the original Aramaic, the word that was translated into the Greek to mean "I" in John 14:6 is "ena-ena". The problem is that ena-ena does not actually mean "I" as we understand it. It does not mean the "individual I", but rather "I-I"... In other words, the "cosmic I", as in "I AM THAT I AM (Exodus 3: 13-14).

Understanding that Jesus was not referring to himself but rather teaching what God says changes thing a bit.

The point is that to make a claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation (and that ayone who believes otherwise will be damned to hell for eternity) and base it on a single verse that does not even appear to be accurately translated from the language that Jesus spoke is, at the very least, irresponsible. Yet, this claim is one of the core tenets of Chrisitianity. Logically, you can understand why some cling so much to this verse even though the ground on which is lies is extremely shaky.

Which Bible is the "Word of God"?

The belief that the Bible is consistent and inerrant is based on the belief that it is the Word of God. "If it is God's Word, then it must be consistent and inerrant". The logic would make sense if, in fact, the Creator of the Universe actually wrote the Bible and hand delivered to us. This did not happen. Rather, the Bible was written by human beings, who may or may not have been divinely inspired.

It is the assumption that the writers of scripture got it completely right, directly from God, that creates a deep divide between liberal and conservative Christians.

There are a number of problems with the view that the Bible is the Word of God, as opposed to it being a book that contains the Word of God. The first has to do with the question... "Which Bible do you mean?"

There does not exist one Bible.

Which Bible is the Word of God? There are more than two dozen versions. Some are more popular than others, but there is not one version that is the recognized one and only Word of God. It all depends on which denomination you belong to and what period of history you happened to live in.

Certainly, if you are a Protestant Christian the Church of England's King James Bible (1611 to the present) would seem to be the version of choice. That version, however, wouldn't work for Roman Catholics. Catholics might prefer the Jerusalem Bible (1966). If you were a Catholic a few centuries ago, you may have opted for the Rheims-Douay Bible (1582-1610). There's the New American Standard (1971) and the Living Bible (1972). There's the New World Translation (1950-60), with 13% more words. There's the New International Version (1978). The list can on and on.

Which group of human beings who voted on Bible canon throughout history got it right? Which group was divinely inspired and which was not? It all depends... but it shouldn't. If the Bible is the Word of God, then there should be one authoritative Bible for all time. If the Bible is perfect, then there is no need for toying with it. If the words contained within are sacred, then they should not be revised and re-edited.

It is the endless revisions, re-editing, translations, and re-interpretations that diminish the argument that the Bible is the Word of God, and that it is thus inerrant. The more humans tinker with the Bible, the more you realize that this book is a human product. There is no doubt that the Bible contains the Word of God. However, it is not the only source of this wisdom and truth.

It's not about the Camel

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).

This is a well-known Jesus saying. It has to do with the potential that wealth has for corrupting and the difficulty of attaining oneness with God when someone places too much value on earthly possessions.

It is also fascinating example of Biblical mistranslation. If you look at the original Aramaic, the word for camel is "gamlo". When the word gamlo was translated into Greek, it was translated literally. However, the translator may not have considered that the word also had a double meaning in Aramaic. Gamlo also meant "A thick rope made of camel hair used to bind ships". Over time, gamlo came to mean either camel or rope.

Given that Jesus was speaking to fishermen, it more likely that he used the second meaning of gamlo, rather than the first. So the original saying is probably closes to... "It is easier to thread a rope through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God"... "

In this case, the mistranslation does not affect the message Jesus was trying to convey. The idea is that it impossible for someone who is attached to earthly wealth to obtain heaven. You cannot have true spiritual wealth and love money. You cannot worship two masters.

Unfortunately, the mistranslation has influenced the interpretation by some individuals who are uncomfortable with Jesus' views about earthly wealth. To justify their "hope" that it is possible for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God, some have taken Matthew 19:24 to mean that heaven's gate are very narrow and thus you have to walk a "straight path" to enter... straight path being a metaphor for living a good life and observing all the laws.

The idea of walking of straight path is much easier to visualize with the camel than with the rope.