Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Odd moments and Issues in the New Testament Part 2

Odd moments in the New Testament

Odd moments, though rarer than the Old Testament include:

1. The nativity story, the inspiration for many Christmas events, has an odd moment at its end. When Herod decides to kill all the children under two in and around Bethlehem Jesus is taken to safety. Yet no attempt is made to stop the massacre of innocents that results at the end of this story, unfortunate for the messiah. This was written in fulfilment of a prophecy, according to the author, from Jeremiah 31:15, in Judaism it is argued that this is part of a lament not a prophecy, indeed in the context of the narrative this was a period of lamentation for the Israelites as they had been exiled to Babylon. Whether or not this event actually occurred is disputed by historians and most believe that it never happened due to the lack of accounts outside Matthew’s gospel, even the other writer’s must have thought it was noteworthy to mention but apparently did not.

2. Matthew 27:53 mentions a number of saints rising up from their graves following the resurrection. No mention is given to what happened to these people, or what they did apart from appearing to lots of people. They receive no other attention other than this verse, not counting Revelations as they are set in two different times. There is no mention of this bizarre event outside the gospel of Matthew or the Bible, despite such an event being very difficult to ignore. Nor did historians at the time write about it. Modern scholars therefore believe it did not actually happen. Theologians will say it did happen but when asked about it remain silent on its obvious absence from the rest of the gospels or recorded history.

2. Some passages in in the Bible suggests that Jesus went to hell for three days and preached to the fallen souls in there, one verse pertaining to this idea is Ephesians 4:9 and another is 1 Peter 3:19. The Apostle's Creed adopted by the Catholic Church, agrees with this idea. However the idea that Jesus went to Hell is not in agreement with Mark who writes in his version of the crucifixion narrative that Jesus told a thief on a cross next to his that he would see him [Jesus] in paradise on that same day (Luke 23:43).

3. In general in the New Testament there seems to be some discontinuity in the idea of Jesus repealing the Old Testament Laws so they no longer have to be followed. The verse used to support this idea is that Jesus came to fulfil the law, that doesn't mean he revoked or repealed them. It simply means he obeyed them. By obeying a law, we fulfil that law. There is no evidence to suggest from the passage in Matthew 5:17-18 that Jesus meant the law no longer had to be followed, despite this not being entirely in agreement with Paul’s writings. Jesus to, and his family, are shown as keeping the Jewish laws except the Sabbath when it is used to save another person’s life, which provided a person is in danger of dying is allowed. A common tactic among street evangelists is to question potential converts as to whether or not they have ever sinned based on the ten commandments, however if the Old Testament was not relevant to Christianity then this seems an odd tactic to use. If the Old Testament is relevant then the evangelist should be following all the rules in the Old Testament, not simply cherry picking the 10 commandments and ignoring the multitude of other rules in the Torah (e.g. Leviticus). Unfortunately for them, any evangelists who enjoy squid, bacon, ham (especially at Christmas time), or a multitude of unclean culinary delights amongst other things have will have broken the rules laid out in Leviticus. Also Christian’s say that God cannot be in the presence of sin, hence why sinners cannot enter heaven, yet despite that Jesus, who is God according to Christianity, walked among sinners in the gospel, conversed and ate with them (even to the discontent of his companions). The argument that God and sin cannot co-exist in the same place does not hold much weight when applied to the Old Testament either as Adam and Eve spoke to God after they ate the fruit even though they were reluctant to do so.

4. The Eucharist, or communion, originates from the story of the Last Supper, in which Jesus breaks bread with the disciples and refers to as his body, the wine they drink is referred to as his blood. Some denominations consider the wine and bread to literally be the blood and body of Jesus. This would be very odd to a Jew to whom the concept of drinking blood was forbidden (in Leviticus) and presumably all the disciples were of Jewish descent.

5. The prophecy of the virgin mother mentioned in the gospels is believed to be an incorrect interpretation of the text in Isiah where the prophecy originates from. The original text in Isiah 7:14 when translated from Hebrew refers to a young woman, not a virgin. The implications are rather significant especially for Catholics who worship Mary as a saint. It may however explain Mary's confusion towards her son's actions.

6. The ending of Mark is absent from the earliest texts of this gospel.

7. The passage in Matthew in which Jesus walks on water (14: 25 – 31), is followed by a section in which Peter goes to join Jesus on the water, panics and ends up having to be rescued. It is suggested that Peter could not swim, or else he would not have panicked or needed rescuing from the water. This seems odd for a fisherman, since if Peter could not swim it is unlikely he would have been a fisherman for very long. Fast forwarding one of the several accounts of Jesus' post resurrection appearances in John 21: 7, Peter sees the risen Jesus on the shore and upon recognizing him clothes himself and swims 100 yards ashore. For someone who could not swim, and was fully clothed which would make swimming difficult even for a confident swimmer, this is quite a feat and suggests there is something fishy about the two passages. That is to say, there is in fact a blatant contradiction.

Judas Iscariot

Despite being in on the plan to have Jesus arrested and even told by Jesus to do it quickly, Judas is often treated as being nearly as evil as the devil himself. Yes, he did betray Jesus but when Jesus tells him to do it quickly this seems to have been planned, and he even points out that it is Judas at one stage that will betray him.

Judas is possessed at one stage by Satan, which begs the question was he therefore, not acting under his own will? If he was not, which when possessed one can assume happens from what the Bible says on the subject, then is he truly to blame for the betrayal and why did not Jesus stop Satan from robbing Judas of his free will by possessing him? Again, according to Jewish belief, the devil cannot act without God’s consent.

Judas oddly dies twice in the New Testament. In the gospels, he hangs himself out of guilt and does not do much with the money he receives for betraying Jesus, in fact he throws it back at the priests who gave it to him. In Acts, he spends the money on some fields and then one day randomly trips over and his guts spill out (Acts 1:18). People do not normally explode upon tripping over, so this verse is not realistic, unless he fell in a pit trap laden with spikes or he fell from a very high cliff which is not what the passage suggests
Some Christians claim that this apparent contradiction is not a contradiction because he hung himself, the tree branch snapped, and he exploded upon impact with the ground, again unless Judas managed to climb an exceptionally tall tree and the rope or branch snapped, or it was hanging over a cliff this is not realistic neither are the two suggested scenarios. Nor would Judas if he was hanging dead from a tree trip over things or fall headlong from tripping. The suggested reason that this is not a contradiction given by Answers in Genesis is rather speculative, not to mention also gross, as well (How did Judas die- Answers in Genesis).


Warning: Some readers may find the description of the commentaries and novels based on Revelations disturbing due to the unfortunately gruesome source material. If you have a weak stomach for descriptions of violence or gore then don't read this last section. You have been warned.

Though it does contain a couple of nice versus towards its end Revelations remains the most bizarre book in the bible. Books on eschatology and commentaries on Revelations are even more gruesome, describing Jesus as being knee deep in the blood of his slaughtered enemies, or God literally crushing people in a wine press made from people instead of grapes. What is more worrying that the gore, is that the 'Christ-faring' Christians writing these things have absolutely no problem with that idea. That idea about the Bible being God's 'love letter' to humanity I mentioned early on? Well, Revelations kind of kills it.

Even odder than gruesome commentaries on Revelations which are in plentiful supply in Christian bookshops, are some of the adaptations and theories based on the book of Revelations. Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind Series is one of the strangest by far, the fact that it sold 60 million copies reflects poorly upon the tastes of its audience who seemed to have no problem with the fact that both God and the anti-Christ are represented as barbaric genocidal maniacs. By far one of the grossest scenes in the series, over 12 books in length and still counting (with spin-offs), is the last battle between the anti-Christ and Jesus. Here, Jesus is described as making the army of atheists explode, in gory detail, with the Christian victors having to dodge the flying body parts (doubles as so bad it is funny). The fact that many Christians in the books audience thought that this was fantastic literature and that it accurately describes whom they think God is worrying. One would have expected Christians to be offended at this representation of God, 60 million copies and a few adaptations later (including a kids version of the series which I hope is less gory to read) only a few softly spoken Christians were labelling the books as barbaric (and I fully agree with them). A couple have even written scathing reviews that I also happen to agree with. The only reason you can find this series outside the Adults Only bookshops is that the writing is so bad the violence more is likely to have one sniggering or laughing at the absurdity of it all than cringing in horror.

Why do Christians have so many theories about Revelations? If the Holy Spirit is helping them they should not be having this problem. Even if he ‘personalised’ the bible for each reader, I doubt he would give them such different interpretations that it leads to nothing but confusion.

Heaven is described as having streets of gold and walls made of diamond. This also presents an issue with the idea of God being humble. These along with other precious stones, jewellery and even some hard to refine metals were used by the rich and powerful as symbols of their wealth. Why would God care for such things? It seems very odd to find this here because most of the authors of the New Testament were highly anti-materialistic and did not encourage showing off one’s riches, Jesus most of all.

On a positive note, Revelations does contain some nice verses easily missed amongst the insanity that is the rest of the book. This includes one frequently cited by evangelists:
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
- Revalations 21:4

In the very last parts of Revelations the author leaves a warning for anyone who changes the contents of this book, one assumes this means Revelations as the bible was not compiled till long after the book of Revelations was made (as far as we know).