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.