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Searching Sabbath 04: Jesus

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In this week’s video I’m addressing the fourth of my church’s fundamental beliefs: our teaching about God the Son. Or, as I like to call Him, Jesus.

The actual text of our belief statement says: God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things.

As the video above makes clear, I’m just crazy about Jesus. More than anything else, admiration for the person of Jesus as described in the Gospels, and dedication to His teaching, define my faith. And I’m not alone in this, of course. Not only is Jesus central to the faith of many if not most Christians, Jesus also has a lot of fans in the non-Christian world. People of all faiths and people of no faith at all admire the Man from Galilee, even if — and there’s obviously a crucial question here — their interpretations of who He was differ widely.

My beliefs about Jesus are pretty basic mainstream Christian beliefs, as are those of my church. I believe — we believe — that Jesus was the divine, eternal Son of God, who took on human form in the Incarnation, was both fully God and fully human, lived an exemplary life of love and self-sacrifice, died in a way that somehow (I don’t know how) makes forgiveness and new life possible for all of us, and rose again to live eternally.

I can’t explain most of this and I will admit to taking a lot of it on faith. As a story, it makes sense to me. I want to believe in a God who becomes one of us, and so I do believe. I am not the person you want for a serious debate about Christology from a theological point of view. It makes sense to me at some basic, gut level, and so I believe it while admitting there’s much I don’t understand.

I do think it’s important to keep both those sides of the picture — Jesus as God, Jesus as Man — in balance. Jesus as only God — Divinity simply pretending to be human — loses sight of the fact that Jesus is our example; His life shows what a human life at its best can look like. Jesus as only Man, only the great moral teacher whose divinity was tacked on by overenthusiastic later followers, can be a great inspiration (and is to many) but lacks the power to show us what God is like. I am happy when people share my admiration for Jesus even if they don’t share my beliefs about His divinity, but Jesus’ divinity is key to my concept of God. Without Jesus, I don’t think I’d be able to believe in the God of the Bible at all.

Once again, though, it does all come back to the Bible. As I’ve said before, I’m inherently suspicious of Christians who claim to follow Jesus, rather than following the Bible, because what do we know about Jesus outside the Bible? If we’re to curb that tendency we all have to re-create our own Jesus in our own image – from hippie-peacelovin’-Jesus to a tough, manly Jesus who can kick  your butt — we can only do it by revisiting the Jesus of the Gospels, who so stubbornly refuses to fit into our tidy definition boxes. And if we are to take from Jesus our picture of what God is like, we’d better be able to trust the documents that tell us about Jesus.

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 10-15 years reading up on debates and research about the “historical Jesus” and the historicity of the Gospels. While, at the end of the day, I can sleep quite peacefully without knowing for sure whether the Genesis creation narrative is literal or mythical (more on that in a future week), I can’t have that same laid-back attitude to the Gospels. I have to know whether I can trust their stories — and, after a very long process, I have come to believe that the Gospels are trustworthy, but always with the awareness that I am still, to some extent, believing it because I want it to be true. Because the Gospels are how I learn about Jesus, and everything else I believe on is built on that foundation. My hope, you might say, is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

There’s so much more I could say, but I’m trying to keep these short — and as you can see, the video (which covers some of this same territory but also talks about whether Jesus is, in fact, my Boyfriend) already went a bit long this week. Comment if you’ve got something to add; I’m always happy to continue discussing these topics in the comments section.

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28 thoughts on “Searching Sabbath 04: Jesus

  1. “I believe it because I want to believe it” is certainly one of the most honest statements of belief that I have heard. I appreciate that! I also appreciate the fact that you look at shared admiration of Jesus as a bridge between yourself and others who might not see him in a divine sense.

    I find it ironic that today’s Christians focus so exclusively on Jesus that they tend to downplay or disregard altogether the God that Jesus himself knew. Jesus – at least in the 3 synoptic gospels – attempted over and over to point people toward his Father. Clearly, the God he knew was not the same one that you see reflected in the pages of the Bible, or you would not be so repulsed by a “non-Jesus” God.

    You stated that you don’t understand it, but somehow Jesus’ shed blood “makes forgiveness and new life possible for all of us”. You stated as well that “without Jesus, I don’t think I’d be able to believe in the God of the Bible at all.” Millions of Christians feel the same way you do, and with good reason; the God they see in the pages of their Bible – most especially the parts written by the bloodthirsty priesthood and also those portions written by Paul – is not the same God that Jesus himself knew or taught about.

    It is unfortunate that because of Christianity’s insistence on God’s supposed requirement of blood in order to forgive (this is the most repulsive characteristic of God that we see reflected by certain parts of the Bible), our heavenly Father’s reputation for mercy and compassion is being sacrificed on the altar of presumed Biblical infallibility.

    • Where do you think Jesus’ image of God came from, if not from the Hebrew Scriptures available to Him at the time?

    • interesting take on God’s mercy and compassion, but the idea that a blood sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sins goes back to the earliest sections of the old testament and bring about a beautiful biblical unity of Jesus’ shed blood absolutely atoning for our sins as a final and complete sacrifice.

  2. Too many people BELIEVE in Christian doctrines because they really don’t research, study or understand the history of the development of many of the dogma’s we now say today are somehow “God’s honest truth”.

    You offered, “And if we are to take from Jesus our picture of what God is like, we’d better be able to trust the documents that tell us about Jesus.”

    The problem here again is that too many Christians put their faith not in GOD, but in the writings of men. When you know the history of the development of the Bible canon, as it was assembled by the proto-Roman Catholic Church apologists (mostly unknown and obscure pagans who should have remained unknown and obscure but unfortunately later became all too well-known under Constantine law and the traditions of the Catholic Church) you beging to unravel the Christian mystique the surrounds the Bible and suddenly the light dawns on you that this Bible is nothing but the twisted history of a handful of contrarians and interlopers who really didn’t follow the Jewish Messiah but rather set out on their own to manufacture an entirely different religion; a religion that was not the same faith OF Jesus, but rather a religion that was now all ABOUT Jesus.

    Jesus was Jewish. Rome hated Jews for what should be obvious reasons to anyone studied in first century politics. The Jews were rebels. Yet somehow this “Jewish” faith became the religion of Rome?!?

    Hardly.

    The so-called Christianity that would develop out of pagan Rome was not the same Jewish faith as taught by the Messiah and his Apostles. Rome’s “Jesus”, Rome’s “gospel” and Rome’s “spirit” was a pagan import of the pre-existing pagan faith known as Mithraism.

    The true founder of the mainstream modern Christian tradition was NOT Jesus, but rather Paul of Tarsus. It is Paul’s (version of) Jesus that mainstream Christianity follows now. The historical Jesus and the historical Apostles were JEWS and remained so.

    So can we trust the books of the Bible to be an accurate history of Jesus? Partially. There are indeed historical truths here, but we must also wade through a bevy of Roman Catholic apologist tripe as well.

    For instance, critical (meaning exacting) scholars of the Scriptures have been well noting for millennia, and especially the latter couple of centuries, that the books of the Bible have been “massaged”, that is edited, by early Roman Catholic scribes and apologists to say what they wanted them to say and support.

    Most of this apologetic meddling came from Paul’s own group. Luke, the only acknowledged Gentile author within the Bible, gently massages Paul’s wayward gospel making the renegade Paul into a friend of the Apostles when historically the exact opposite is in fact true. Paul of Tarsus was an adversary of the Apostles in Jerusalem.

    The Gospel of John was not actually written by the Apostle John. Scholars note that this book was produced by a “group of Johannian” adherents” and supposedly imports what John the Apostle would really have written … well that is had he been alive to do so. So John never actually wrote the Gospel of John, a group of early Roman Catholic (ie. Pauline) apologists did. How nice of them to attach John’s name to their fabrications.

    Likewise Peter never authored either of the books of Peter. Peter was long dead when these books were authored, again, by Paul’s group and not by the Apostles in Jerusalem.

    Wow. Did the Jewish Apostles actually write anything? Yes they did. But the early Catholic Church considered those truly Jewish writings “heretical” and destroyed them. There are very little extant copies of these writing available and those that we do have are merely quotes from other extant sources.

    So can you trust what you know about Jesus? The hard cold and wholly unpopular answer is no, if all you’re reading is the Roman Catholic Bible. The Bible gives a version of Jesus based in Mithraic paganism. The real historical Jesus is not as warm and fuzzy as the Pauline version, but he is a lot more interesting and indeed closer to the truth.

    • Interesting, but I don’t agree with you on all points. Yours is certainly one valid perspective (held by many) on the development of the New Testament canon, but I think it’s a mistake to state as fact things that are only speculation (e.g. “The Gospel of John was not actually written by Apostle John.”) That’s a theory; stating it as fact is misleading.

      If I accepted your view of the New Testament I would have no interest in the person of Jesus at all, since by your account we know nothing accurate about Him.

      • I guess my main question is, “Where does your ‘real historical Jesus’ who is ‘interesting and indeed closer to the truth’ come from if not from the canonical gospels?” Which non-canonical gospels do you consider reliable, and what picture of Jesus do they give you?

      • There is a wealth of historical information out there that is “not canonized” by the Catholic church into the Bible that gives other viewpoints and facts about Jesus. Part of that research involves studying those around him. One example? Robert Eisenman’s “James the Brother of Jesus” gives an enormous amount of data and analysis about James the Just and, by extension, Jesus; drawing a lot of information from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other writings of the time. This data was not available to the early Adventist pioneers – the scrolls had not even been found yet! The Clementine Homilies have some very interesting quotes… there are others.

        The problem with Christianity is that it focuses so much on the office of Jesus – the place it believes Jesus holds in the salvation “process” – that it tends to ignore his very foundational message of love and peace. Whether he was divine or not divine, the message attributed to his voice is fundamental. That is why he should be of interest to the seeker – what can we take home from his message?

        Dresden James once stated,

        “When a well packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.”

        To the Catholics of Martin Luther’s day, Luther’s message was the height of heresy. Yet Christians of today see him as a religious superstar. To those who have grown up hearing a certain viewpoint, anything contrary is going to seem completely off base. What we accept as truth is very highly influenced by our perspective.

      • I do intend to read Eisenman due to my interest in James, but have not had a chance to yet. However, I haven’t been very convinced by any of my other reading that there’s much in the DSS that relates directly to Jesus. I am not familiar with the Clementine Homilies. There’s obviously much more to read and research in this area … however I will say that I am inherently suspicious of any view that claims to have uncovered the “real Jesus” in some disconnected fragments as opposed to the four canonical gospels the church has read for two thousand years. Trust in the authenticity of those gospels goes much further back than the formation of the Roman Catholic Church …

        I do agree with you, though, that Jesus’ role as Savior (which I do believe in) has often been emphasized to the exclusion of His actual teaching.

  3. BTW thanks to you both for the comments … and to anyone else who wants to comment … I respond not (just) to disagree (though sometimes I do) but because I’m genuinely interested in dialogue and in how others see Jesus.

  4. loved this one, Trudy, because the idea of Jesus as fully God and fully man is an idea that is way beyond human comprehension, and therefore, one we need to always keep at the forefront of our minds when considering just who Jesus is. This is something my husband and I often talk about and even after being a Christian for pretty much my whole life, has me shaking my head in awe. I’m with you…I want my God to be bigger than me and any problem I could ever face!

  5. What is it about God that required the blood sacrifice of Jesus? Rather a pagan concept. . .

    • Except that the idea of God “requiring” blood sacrifices is pretty well attested in the Hebrew Scriptures, so at best wouldn’t we have to say it’s something the ancient Hebrews shared with their pagan neighbours?

      • OK, lets drop the second sentence and rephrase, What about a God that requires blood, the blood of lambs, rams, oxen, and in the personage of his son? What does that say about him/her?

      • Depends on your interpretive lens. It could say that God is as bloodthirsty as the pagan deities were depicted as being. It could say that the writers of the Bible depicted God that way because that fit their worldview. Or it could say that there’s something about sin that inherently DOES demand blood sacrifice. Any or all of these might be valid ways to interpret the data …

        One thing I’m not comfortable with is any view that claims God the Father “demands” the sacrifice of His innocent Son. Putting it that way negates the divinity of Jesus and the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice was God’s free self-giving, not something imposed upon Jesus by His Father (as if they were two separate human beings capable of being at odds with one another).

      • Couldn’t see how to replay to your answer below so I’m replying to it up here. Why a blood sacrifice? (no pejorative preamble)

  6. Trudy, it is interesting that you mention the Trinity. I used to hold a Trinitarian belief also, but the more I have learned about the Bible and the early Roman Catholic Church, the more I realized that this is just another man-made construct.

    The whole idea of Jesus being fully man and fully GOD was never taught by the Apostles and certainly not Jesus himself. The so-called “Trinity” is a wholly man-made pagan construct, but you will NEVER hear that stated in a fundamentalist or mainstream Christian Church.

    The Hebraic perspective of AHYH [the LORD] God favors a much more or true monotheistic “God is One” perspective (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10-13; Mark 12:28-30). The word “Trinity” never once appears within the Bible and was never used by the prophets or apostles, nor was such a concept ever taught by Jesus the Messiah. The word “Trinity” itself is derived from Latin (the language of Rome) not Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew. Scholars who favor a true monotheistic “God is One” perspective see the “Trinitarian” concept of God as a post-first century invention bordering on—if not wholly crossing the line into—Roman polytheism.

    After the deaths of the original apostles of Jesus, the doctrine of the Trinity was slowly formulated over a period of more than three centuries. It was not taught by Jesus Christ himself, although some may insist that the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 indicates that Messiah himself taught about the Trinity. This passage is generally believed by scholars to be a later, church ritual-driven addition to the text. One of the reasons for this textual editorialization is as generally as follows:

    Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275 – May 30, 339), an early bishop of Caesarea in Palestine who is often referred to as the father of church history because of his work in recording the history of the early Christian church, stated that there was a gospel written by Matthew in Hebrew characters. Based on these earlier Hebrew writings that he possessed, Eusebius stated, “Hence, of course, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Son of God, said to His disciples after His Resurrection: ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations,” and added: “Teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” Book 1 Chapter 3 of Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea’s “Demonstratio Evangelica” (The Proof of the Gospel).

    Nowhere in his writings does Eusebius quote Matthew as saying Jesus said “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” as is currently recorded in our Bibles. Something a crucial to Christian belief would surely have been quoted had it existed in the original writing. (This is what scholars of Scriptural Criticism look at that we in the rank and file of Christianity are never exposed to.)

    Interestingly, the online Catholic Encyclopedia (www.newadvent.org) claims that the Trinity doctrine has no place in Protestantism because it was brought about by “divine revelation” to the Catholic Church! It states:

    “It is manifest that a dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation. When the fact of revelation, understood in its full sense as the speech of God to man, is no longer admitted, the rejection of the doctrine follows as a necessary consequence. For this reason it has no place in the Liberal Protestantism of today. The writers of this school contend that the doctrine of the Trinity, as professed by the Church, is not contained in the New Testament, but that it was first formulated in the second century and received final approbation in the fourth, as the result of the Arian and Macedonian controversies.” (Emphasis supplied.) From http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/ 15047a.htm on 12/25/06.

    In other words, the Protestant Church who maintains its foundation of belief in sola scriptura (Scripture alone) but then takes a Trinitarian view of God really has no basis for its belief in a “Trinity” without adopting the Roman Catholic Church’s “divine revelation” (ie. it’s “man-made tradition”) regarding the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Historically, the doctrine of the Trinity was opposed both during and after its development. (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Trinity”) The Trinitarian Doctrine’s earliest and most recognized proponent (some even say the founder of the doctrine) was the early Roman Catholic leader Tertullian (c. 155-230) who wrote extensively regarding it.

    Both Trinitarian and adherents to a true monotheism (“God is One”) claim the Bible as their basis for belief, but scholars, even the Trinitarian ones, admit that the Trinitarian doctrine of God (in its fully developed form) cannot be derived from the Scriptures alone, and the post-Biblical stream of orthodox teachings (decisions and creeds of historic Ecumenical Councils of the Roman Catholic Church, such as and beginning with the Council at Nicaea which produced the Nicene Creed in 325 AD) must also be consulted (in addition to the Bible) in order to obtain the full doctrine of the “Holy Trinity” as revealed over time.

    In contrast, adherents to a true monotheistic “God is One” view usually consult the Hebrew Scriptures for their foundation of the singular and unique “oneness” of God and consider the creeds and writings of the historic Roman Catholic Church Councils to be merely the opinions of men, not inspired of God and not infallible.

    While the historical record indicates deep friction and debates before, during and after the formal development of the doctrine of the Trinity (Lucian, Arius, and later many of the Protestant reformers), the records of much of the debates are somewhat one-sided because most of the preserved writings in focus were made by proto-trinitarians or Trinitarians who were themselves involved in the debates (Tertullian). In much of the dialogues, either the anti-trinitarian monotheists did not write down their positions or, if they did, their writings were not well preserved, if not destroyed.

    Sorry for the book. Just thought you might be interested in how others view GOD based not on man-made tradition, but based solely on as much of the historical record as is possible to retrieve. :)

    • Thought I’d butt in here. . . All Christians can claim a common ancestry. Both Protestants and Catholics, I believe can legitimately claim the early church fathers as a part of their lineage. Of course Catholics like to claim them for themselves alone. I don’t agree with this because the early church was certainly not the Catholic church of post Constantine. A current example would be the same as the Republicans of today saying “Lincoln was one of us!” It is true that Lincoln was a Republican but in those days Republicans were the party of the poor and the Democrats were the party of the rich (just to put things very simply). So it may be correct to say that the Trinity was a doctrine of the early church but to then conclude it belongs solely to the Catholics of today is a bit of a stretch. imho.

      • Also, it ignores the fact that while there is no “doctrine of the Trinity” formulated in the NT, the “Trinitarian formula” (Father, Son, Holy Ghost/Spirit) is used not just in Matthew 28 but in all Paul’s letters, suggesting that though they may not have a worked-out doctrine of a three-Person Godhead (which I agree the church developed over time), early Christians certainly thought of Jesus as God’s Son and in some sense equal with God and pre-existing His Incarnation on earth (see Phil. 2, considered by some to be one of the oldest passages in the NT).

        If you reject “trinitarian” theology, which part of it are you rejecting? The idea of Jesus as fully equal with God and divine? Or the idea of the Spirit as a separate “Person” equal in some way with Father and Son? I ask because (although this more properly belongs with my earlier post about the Trinity, but hey, I’ll discuss anything anywhere) I’m genuinely curious: I know several Adventists who get very angry whenever they hear the word “trinity” yet assert that they believe in the divinity of both Jesus and the Spirit. But I know many non-trinitarians don’t accept one or both of these concepts.

      • Oh, and Evert, no contribution to the discussion is ever “butting in”!

  7. It seems as if all the the Scripture you are quoting to support the concept of the Trinity are those attributed to Paul. But did Paul really practice the religion of Jesus? Was he even on the same page, religiously speaking, as Jesus’ brother and apostles?

    Critical scholars of the early Scriptures are becoming increasingly vocal about the fact that the “Christianity of Paul” was not in any way the religion of Jesus. Further, he was not “on the same side” as Jesus’ own brother and disciples, but was preaching his own exclusive “gospel” and “message”. James Tabor’s “Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity” is very helpful in shining a light on this disparity.

    Instead of reaching for Paul’s writings to answer our doctrinal questions, perhaps a better practice would be to ask what Jesus says about it. Jesus said, “There is none good, but God”. (Matt 19:17) Would he say that if he felt he WERE God? And why even bother telling his disciples to approach our heavenly Father in prayer to fulfill our needs? Why didn’t he clarify it right then that he was right up there with God and they might as well pray to him?

    • You’re confusing me, Life is a Journey, because in your comments further up the thread, you reject that canonical gospels as a valid source of information about Jesus. Now you’re using quotes from Matthew to support your view of Jesus against Paul. Which is it? Are the canonical gospels accurate or not? If they’re not, then it doesn’t matter that what Jesus says in those gospels differs from what Paul says; you’re not accepting either so why play one against the other?

      • Christianity has been raised with an “all or nothing” mentality, which is well illustrated in your “are the canonical gospels accurate or not” question. Why does it have to be all or nothing? Jeremiah 8:8 illustrates that “the lying pen of the scribes” handled the Scriptures falsely. Does that mean they are all worthless?

        We are also taught by our church that “everything in the Bible agrees with itself. There are no contradictions!” That is why many Christians, upon searching the Scriptures carefully, grow confused and disillusioned. Upon careful examination, it becomes evident that there are two competing versions of God’s Word and Character in the Old Testament Scriptures. Not surprisingly, this very same issue of two competing gospels is happening within the New Testament as well. The version of God that has been brought to us by the priesthood makes Him out to be a bloodthirsty monster that continuously demands all manner of blood and animal deaths. The other version of God, as related by the latter prophets, shows that our Creator does not now and has in fact never in the past demanded, required or even desired any kind of blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of His people!

        This understanding is well illustrated in other early Christian documents, such as the Clementine Homilies which I referred to earlier:

        “Then said Simon: ‘I understand that you speak of your Jesus as Him who was prophesied of by the scripture. Therefore let it be granted that it is so. Tell us, then, how he taught you to discriminate the Scriptures.’ Then Peter: ‘As to the mixture of truth with falsehood, I remember that on one occasion He [Jesus], finding fault with the Sadducees, said, “Wherefore ye do err, not knowing the true things of the Scriptures; and on this account ye are ignorant of the power of God.” But if He cast up to them that they knew not the true things of the Scriptures, it is manifest that there are false things in them. And also, inasmuch as He said, “Be ye prudent money-changers,” it is because there are genuine and spurious words [written within the scriptures].

        And whereas He said, “Wherefore do ye not perceive that which is reasonable in the Scriptures?” He makes the understanding of him stronger who voluntarily judges soundly. And His sending to the scribes and teachers of the existing Scriptures, as to those who knew the true things of the law that then was, is well known. And also that He said, “I am not come to destroy the law,” [Matthew 5:17-20] and yet that He appeared to be destroying it, is the part of one intimating that the things which He destroyed did not belong to the law. And His saying, “The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but one jot or one tittle shall not pass from the law,” intimated that the things which pass away before the heaven and the earth do not belong to the law in reality. Since, then, while the heaven and the earth still stand, sacrifices have passed away, and kingdoms, and prophecies among those who are born of woman, and such like [kingdoms, prophecies and laws that were merely man-made], as not being ordinances of God.’” (Clementine Homily 3 XLIX-LII )

        Whether or not you consider any or part of this work to be inspired, the Clementine Homilies illustrate a stunningly logical historical understanding that the earliest Judeo-Christian believers knew regarding what Jesus taught about the Law: What God did not actually plant as everlasting will eventually be uprooted and done away with. The prime example is that the Temple and the sacrificial laws are no longer with us. Ergo, these systems and laws were not eternal and as such were not actually inspired of (planted by) God in the first place! In fact, we would likely agree that it has been the very hand of God that has done away with and uprooted the falsehoods of the past via the destruction of the Temple, the disbanding of the priesthood and even the destruction of the nation of Israel for a time! Sacrifices have totally passed away from our worship of God in both Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.

        One of Judaism’s most esteemed scholars, Maimonides (also known as Rambam), conceded that Judaism inherited blood sacrifice from its idolatrous (pagan) neighbors and that the God of the Jews never intended for such rites to be included as part of His worship. This is wholly in agreement with the latter prophets, who condemned the practice of sacrifice. The second century Christian writer, Clement, brings up a similar point very early in Christian history. He adds to that understanding by intimating that Jesus himself was the one ordained to correct the people’s understanding regarding sacrifice. (Recognitions of Clement, Book 1, Chapter XXXVI, Allowance of Sacrifice for a Time)

        This viewpoint clearly illustrates a different historical perspective than what we have been given all our lives. And IF – IF indeed this logic is true and God did NOT ordain sacrifices of blood to pay for “forgiveness”, what have we lost? A bloodthirsty God?

        Are we really sorry to lose this, or can we finally take a deep breath and realize that just as we would not ask our children to kill our pets in order to offer them forgiveness, neither would Father!? Does Micah 6:8 actually hold true – that all we must do is “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”? Or is salvation much more complicated, and based only on a blood sacrifice (itself condemned in Micah 6:6-7)?

        We must be prudent money-changers. Are the Scriptures our god? Or do they simply point us to God? If it is the latter, are they pointing us to a God of compassion? Or, are they directing us to a version of god that would fit in well with the pagan societies that the Israelites were continuously exposed to and influenced by, as noted by Maimonides?

        Sorry if this is too long… just wanted to address your question as thoroughly as I could. :)

      • Thanks for the lengthy and thorough reply, Life is a Journey. I am familiar with the “all or nothing” approach to Scripture of which you speak, but I think my question is a bit different: What’s your basis for determining which bits of Scripture are valid and reliable and which aren’t? Granted that we ALL “pick and choose” when it comes to Scripture, what would be your basis for accepting some portions of the Gospels as more accurate than others? I’m always interested to find out what people’s interpretive framework is. A lot of the reading I did on the Historical Jesus question was by scholars of the Jesus Seminar, and while I disagree with a lot of their conclusions, I do at least understand something about their interpretive framework and why they choose to reject some passages and accept others (though even there I see a lot of inconsistencies, particularly in Crossan whom I’ve read quite a bit of).

        Nothing would make me happier than to throw out any passages that seem to me to depict a “bloodthirsty” God but I would want a stronger reason for doing so than just “this picture of God doesn’t appeal to me.”

  8. That is a fair question, Trudy, and one that I have certainly asked myself many times! I started out thinking that every word in the Bible was “inerrant and inspired” and when I began to realize there were discrepancies, it was a real test of faith. Being an information junkie, I started reading everything I could find and discovered that there is a lot of information we were not taught in school about the Bible and the times surrounding it. I had never been told it was okay to question the Bible and in fact, was given the opposite impression – if you question the Bible, you are questioning God Himself!

    At some point, I just wanted to know what “the Truth” was, no matter what it cost me. Over and over I begged with Father to give me His Truth, and over and over I was left in tears as yet another of my Christian “holy cows” was toppled to the ground. I finally realized that you know what? It doesn’t matter. God is bigger than a book; God is bigger than my questions, and God will not lose any glory if I question some of these writings that claim to speak for Him.

    As I studied, I was struck by the differences between the writings of the priesthood (those claiming God needs blood to forgive) and those of the latter prophets (God wants you to repent, God doesn’t want blood or sacrifice!). Looking further I found that no, Moses DIDN’T write the first five books of the Bible and the priesthood added a LOT. (Putting them in charge of the Scriptures is much like putting the US Beef Association in charge of the USDA food pyramid. They were hardly unbiased!) The prophets pointed toward compassion; the priesthood pointed toward blood.

    Eventually you have to look into your own heart. A very compassionate vegan friend of mine once confided, “I think I would have killed myself if I had been alive in Bible times when they were sacrificing animals.” I completely agree! Besides, it doesn’t make sense – in this world of “you must take personal responsibility for your own actions”, how does it make sense to have the death of an animal (or a man, in Jesus’ case) atone for OUR own sins? Imagine this; a rapist is standing in front of the judge and his father/son/brother steps up: “I’ll take his place, judge.” Really? NO! That makes no sense! The latter prophets – like Ezekiel states in chapter 18 – vehemently speak out against this type of viewpoint!

    In response to anyone who dares to question this status quo, the argument is usually presented, “Well, those animals had to die to show us how serious it is.” Really? Think about this. Butchers kill animals every day. Do you suppose witnessing the repeated death of God’s created creatures made them MORE sensitive or MORE callous as individuals? After a while, would it be any more somber of an event than smacking a fly?

    In response to your question as to “which Scriptures are valid and which aren’t”, I’m afraid I’d have to say that there is no hard-and-fast list! That is why I figure, as the Clementine Homilies stated, that if something is reflecting poorly on Father, I am not going to go on record believing that it is valid. Logic and reason need to be involved as well. In our day and age we have “evolved” past believing that God somehow benefits from the death of animals; we no longer believe that when he smells barbecue, he finds it “pleasing” and vows not to send us floods! Thankfully, compassion for our fellow man AND the animals God also made is becoming more accepted and even prevalent in some circles.

    You might find the following to be interesting reading:

    1. Dr. Larry Richards from Andrews University wrote a very interesting article on what makes certain writings inspired? You can find it at http://www.andrews.edu/~larryr/Articles/Richards.Canon.pdf . Very refreshing to find such a logically thought out piece. He is specifically discussing EGW’s writings, but the logic goes for Scripture as well.

    2. Richard Friedman’s “The Bible with Sources Revealed” is very helpful in determining who has written which parts of the Scriptures.

    3. Dr. Shmuel Asher, a Karaite scholar and rabbi has written a book entitled, “The Land of Meat and Honey”. In this book, he digs deep into the Jewish Scriptures and sheds a lot of amazing fact and detail on how there is a vast amount of information that was added into the Hebrew writings way after the fact. In many ways he “throws his own people under the bus” by exposing the problems with the Scriptures head on.

    • Thanks for further expanding on this. Like everything else that I’ll cover in this series, probably, what you believe about Jesus ultimately comes back to the question of Biblical inspiration, whether one believes the Bible is “inspired” and if so, what one means by “inspired.”

      On another related note, I am reading Eisenman’s “James, the Brother of Jesus” now (still just a few chapters in) and finding it interesting even while disagreeing with a lot of his assumptions and conclusions. A review will be forthcoming!!

      • You’re right about how it all comes down to how much of the Bible one believes to be “inspired”. Is the Bible “inerrant and inspired in every detail” as many devout SDAs believe? Or, should one attempt to look at the Bible, this library of written works, through the prism of textual criticism, other historical documents, customs of the time, etc.? It depends on the type of personality one has and the type of Christian one is, I would think. A very orthodox, fundamentalist Christian is going to argue that every word in the Bible is true exactly as given. A more progressive Christian might, on the other hand, give the Creation account related in Genesis the intellectual leeway to be myth or just a pretty story illustrating that God is our Creator and we did not show up by chance. This type of believer might again be more motivated to look through that same lens at what the same Scripture writers SAID God wanted regarding sacrifice. In other words, they would consider the times, and customs, who was in charge, and what those individuals stood to gain (wealth? power?) when making the determination of whether or not God REALLY needed/needs to be offered the blood of animals and/or Jesus in order to forgive a repentant heart.

        I will be interested in reading your conclusions regarding Eisenman’s book. Whether or not one agrees with his ultimate conclusions, it is obvious that he is VERY well studied. He is responsible to a large degree for the fact that the DSS have been released at all, which is quite significant!

      • Just a note if you’re still following this thread; I’ve finished reading Eisenman and my review is posted here: http://compulsiveoverreader.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/james-the-brother-of-jesus-by-robert-eisenman/ . It certainly was interesting but it’s safe to say I’m not a fan of his methodology.

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