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.