Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Questions on the New Testament Part 1

The New Testament

I have no problem with Christ himself, save for a few peculiar out of character moments in the
gospels, my primary issue is the un-Christ like behaviour so often exhibited by his people, some times to the point they are less Christ like than the atheists and non-believers they sometimes criticise. If he did live, Jesus is probably rolling in his grave. Christianity today is likely far removed from the Jewish sect he started, the original sect may have meant to provide hope and meaning to a nation that was being occupied by an empire. The original religion was seemingly adapted and altered by the Roman Empire following several hundred years of Christianity essentially saying ‘stuff you, we do not think you are divine’ to the emperor which did not go down well seeing as questioning the divinity of the emperor was in the eyes of the Romans heresy. The fighting between members of the Roman Empire who had adopted Christianity and the empire itself had become too problematic to ignore and so the religion itself was integrated into Roman society This likely saw Christianity corrupted from its Jewish counterpart. It also seems unlikely that God would appoint any human as the leader of his church (e.g. The pope) after repeatedly pointing out how displeasing humanity’s conduct was to him. It does seem likely that upon integrating Christianity into their society, the newly formed Roman Catholic Church would include the idea of hell into their doctrine to ensure the obedience of the masses. Hell is not even unique to Christianity, many ancient religions including at least one example from Egypt have deities who took less than kindly to subjects which displeased them. Christians claim that the ultimate proof of Jesus is that he fulfilled over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament. We only have the word of the authors to go by on that point, and assuming these authors had a very good grasp of the Old Testament, there is nothing to suggest they could not have written the New Testament with the deliberate intention of linking parts of the Old Testament to Jesus knowing that it would be less convincing if they did not. It may not have been the original authors who did this either. Many of these perceived prophecies are not even prophecies at all, a case which the Jews would, and do, argue quite strongly. Such cases include the massacre of innocents appearing in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:16-18) which is said to be a prophecy but the original text (Jeremiah 31:15) appears to be a lament for those exiled to Babylon rather than a prophecy. The Psalm that is often said to refer to the crucifixion (Psalm 22:18) wherein the soldiers cast lots over clothing does not even refer to a crucifixion or bear resemblance to a prophecy and the popular story of the suffering servant (Isiah 53) is believed to refer to the people of Israel who would suffer a lot and the Jews believe it refers to the people of that land who would suffer because of the mistakes of their ancestors culminating in the exile to Babylon, it is not the only place Israel is called referred to as God’s servant. The other evidence theologians use is saying that a multitude of people other than the apostles saw Jesus after he died and rose again, yet these nameless people never testified to this and therefore the statement that a multitude of people saw him, according to the words of the writer, does not offer much weight in terms of evidence. If this number of people saw Jesus, surely they also saw the dead rising out of their graves as written in Matthew’s gospel and word would have gotten around of this bizarre event. Also, the gospels are claimed to be eye witness accounts, but there is no indication given as to who Mark is and Luke, as is made clear in Acts, was a companion of Paul and not one of the original disciples.

Odd Moments

Of particular note in the New Testament is when Jesus has a few peculiar out of character moments:

1. The cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14 & Matthew 21:18-22), it was out of season. The timing between when it withers changes between the two gospels where it is mentioned. Making it rapidly bear ripe fruit out of season, particularly seeing as someone was hungry at the time, would have been more impressive.

2. Jesus says treat misbehaving brethren who will not be talked back into line as you would a tax collector or pagan. These people were hated by Jewish society, it is odd that Jesus would be condoning this hatred to the point his comment is discriminatory (Matthew 18:15-17). He is essentially saying that this social norm in Jewish society is acceptable to him. For someone who encouraged the idea of love your enemies this seems to be a rather odd statement. This certainly does not fit in line with Paul’s later attitude of Christianity being for the gentiles, or pagans, whom the Jews did not favour. Jesus saying this is kind of like a pastor nowadays saying treat disobedient brethren as you would a parking inspector (aka parking attendant or civil enforcement officers). Not many people like them, especially if their busy placing a ticket on the windscreen of your car which may mean you either parked illegally or stayed too long which usually takes the inspector much less time to notice than it took you find and get into the parking spot.

3. The turning of the temple tables (Matthew 21:12-13), while it sounds cool, was likely to have gotten Jesus into a lot of trouble, this was especially a bad idea when a certain group of Jewish holy men wanted an excuse to have him arrested. It has a parallel in Nehemiah in which a similar incident takes place (Nehemiah 13).

4. The story of Jesus casting a number of demons, named legion, into a herd of pigs is a little odd (Matthew 8:28-34). Not only did Jesus destroy what was somebody’s livestock and livelihood (assuming being God he had no problem with his creation being unclean and it was not just a case of a Jewish person showing how much they disliked pigs or those who kept them as livestock). We are not told that he compensated the owner in any way. For once the people’s reactions are a bit more realistic to this odd spectacle as they are rather unnerved and ask Jesus to leave.

5. Mary has an out of character moment, despite being in on God’s plan from the start (unusual indeed for a woman) her and her family (it is assumed Joseph is not alive at this point) seemingly forgets whom Jesus is (not to say she had amnesia, she forgot he was the messiah). It is not even explained why Jesus’ family thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21) given that they, or at least Mary, was fully aware of his role as the Messiah.

6. The accounts of the resurrection. On attempting to use all four 4 gospels, and Paul's small account of resurrection from Corinthians 15:3-8, in an attempt to lay out the events in chronological order it becomes clear the accounts do not match up. This includes:
-  Jesus meets his disciple following his resurrection for the first time in at least two different locations quite a distance apart. To clarify, Mark and Matthew say the disciples were told to go to Galilee from Jerusalem which would mean they had a long trek ahead of them, even with the fastest horses it would have been a feat to have made it the same day. In Luke and John the disciples are said to have remained in the same place in Jerusalem and that is where they met Jesus.

- It is never explained why the women would have been taking stuff to the tomb when it had been sealed and they knew this. Somehow it seems doubtful that the guards would have disobeyed orders to let them into the tomb.

- What happens when and after Mary reaches the tomb also changes between gospels.

- Also, if Jesus was resurrected in his human body this does not explain how he was suddenly able to walk through walls or locked doors which would indicate Jesus did not require the stone to be rolled back from the tomb.

- The earthquake on the day of the resurrection is not mentioned in more than a single gospel account.

A more thorough examination of these conundrums can be found here:

 Theologians often use the example of people describing an accident with difference perspectives. Sure the details might be slightly different, but would they be so different to the point you would have two witnesses saying that the incident occurred in two different places located miles apart? If that happened then one of the witnesses got their information wrong. Another tactic, used in regard to the resurrection and the Bible in general, by theologians is something along the lines of 'the writers would not have written it if it weren't true because if it isn't they didn't seek to gain from it'. That could be said of any sacred text that forms the core of the religion of which it is a part and therefore does not prove the Bible we now have is God's word.

7. Some pastors that I have heard have taken a completely literal interpretation of what the New Testament says about forgetting the past, including sayings by Jesus and Paul, an example from the latter is Philippians 3:13-14. At least one of my aforementioned pastors has said that "we should forget the past because it is irrelevant" [sic] as per the sayings of the Bible (an add repeatedly played on a Christian radio station I used to listen to has an add that says the same thing). Although unnoticed by the offending pastor, or the radio station, this was ironic because Christians obviously don't consider the past to be irrelevant, otherwise they would not celebrate either Easter or Christmas, or use the Bible as a learning resource. There are many examples where we can learn from the past, such has implied by the quote "those who do not understand the past are doomed to repeat it". One example is where one of the primary ways science has progressed is by learning from what has been done in the past, i.e. past experiments and research.What the bible, and the pastors reading it for that matter, should say is that we should seek to understand the past but not allow it to control us which is different from forgetting it as the New Testament (and Old Testament to a lesser degree) suggests.

8. The Trinity, father, son and Holy Spirit is a major component of most Christian denominations. It is not named the trinity in the New Testament and the concept is absent from both Islam and Judaism both of which find the idea that God taking on human form blasphemous (the messiah of the Old Testament was not meant to be a person who was God incarnate according to Judaism, neither were they the Son of God). What is odd is that there is considerable disagreement on the concept of trinity amongst denominations, as well as their roles. The Bible doesn't help much either, Jesus says he is equal to the father in one verse (e.g. John 10:30-31) and then in another he is not (John 14:28). Although Christian's agree that Jesus is fully God Jesus prays to God i.e. himself and asks why has God forsaken him on the cross (which is sometimes interpreted to be a reference to a Psalm) but if Jesus is God how could he forsake himself?

Lewis Trillema

The Trillema argument, started by CS Lewis in his writing, Mere Christianity, has become increasingly popular in contemporary churches. It argues that you only have three options in whom Jesus is. That is he was lord, lunatic or liar. This is a false dichotomy as it assumes that there are no other possibilities or that there are numerous theories people can come up with on whom Jesus was. It also ignores a possible fourth argument that Jesus was a legend, this does not deny that he existed rather that his story became an elaborated version of a historical event, or historical events some of which do have evidence but this does not make them true. The Lewis trilemma also assumes that God did write the bible and that his words have been accurately transcribed into the book over the centuries. We would not be calling Christ a liar or lunatic if we do not think he was the one doing the writing. Even in modern times people get misquoted, and even famous historical figures such as Gandhi have sayings attributed to them that people dispute to this day (the ‘eye for an eye’ quote, or ‘God has no religion’ is believed to similar to something he said but whether or not he did is disputed). That does not necessarily mean we think less of them for that, we might not even think less of the person responsible for the misquote if it was just a mistake.