The Great Resurrection Swindle

We have an anomaly. Paul did not see the resurrected Jesus in the body he died in. He is quite categorical about this. The Risen Jesus was revealed ‘within’ him as a vision of some sort (Galatians 1.15-16). Paul then implies that Peter and ‘the twelve’ apostles had previously encountered the Risen Jesus in precisely the same way; that is, though he doesn’t of course use the terms, as an innervision or hallucination:

For what I received (in my vision) I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raisedon the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15.3-8)

From this, Paul develops his idea that every other believer will, either after they die or when Christ descends from the clouds, be given a new ‘spiritual body’ without any of the limitations of the lowly fleshly body in which we spend this life. This is his gospel which, he wants everyone to know, did not come from any other human but from the Christ who appeared in his head (Galatians 1.11-12).

Here’s the anomaly: Paul believed he had encountered the risen Jesus, an experience of a super-spiritual being that was entirely in his own head. The later gospels, however, written decades after Paul’s psychotic episode, had a different view of the resurrected body. The original version of Mark, ending at 16.8, offers no resurrection appearances (Mark 16.9-20 was added much later in an attempt to plug the gap) but from Matthew onwards we begin to get a risen Jesus who assumes more and more of a physical form the further from Paul’s time we go. Luke wants us to know that his Risen Jesus has a real physical body; he asks for food which he then eats (Luke 24.42-43) and his crucifixion wounds are visible (Luke 24.37-39). John then goes even further by having Jesus invite the disciples to poke and admire the wounds (John 20.27), making the point that the body Jesus died in is the same one he resurrected in (even though in other parts of the narrative, for example when he encounters Mary Magdalene, he is suspiciously vision-like.)

As a result, later Christians were adamant that Jesus rose physically, in the body he’d died in. Today’s evangelicals seem to think so too.

So, here’s what we’ve got: Christianity’s earliest advocate, while promising resurrected believers will have a super new ‘spiritual’ body that bears little relation to their old physical bodies, witnessed the risen Christ only as a vision in his head. Yet Luke and John are at pains to point out that Jesus rose physically, in the same body he died in albeit with new super-powers. Luke even tries to distance his risen Jesus from Paul’s by having him say,

Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. (Luke 24:37–39)

Isn’t it fortuitous, and not a little too convenient, that Jesus himself decides to makes the doctrinal point that he’s most definitely not a spirit, hallucination or vision? Of course, Luke (not Jesus) made up this line to address the hallucinated-spirit v. reanimated-corpse anomaly head on. Luke’s risen Jesus, whom, let’s not forget, Luke never met – nor did he meet any eyewitnesses to the resurrection (his sources are primarily Mark and Matthew) – is at pains to point out he is not like Paul’s risen Jesus. No sir, not at all. In the space of 30 or 40 years then, the risen Jesus has gone from being an imagined spirit (1 Corinthians) to a flesh and blood, revitalised corpse (Luke) with extra peripheral details like an empty tomb, added in support of the transition.

The risen Jesus began life as a vision. Paul makes this clear whenever he refers to him. He call it his revelation. As time passed this supposed resurrection began to be fleshed out – literally – until the fantastical stories of a real body returning from the dead took form. Neither was real, neither is real; not the revelatory Christ nor the resurrected man. They are made up; one by a man who had a psychotic episode or bad dream, the other by men who disagreed with him. Anyone who thinks they’re going to receive either a spiritual body or a refurbished version of the one they’ve got now is deluding themselves.

 

 

The Ten Rules of Cult Club

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Which cult?        

        Any.

            All of them.

Let’s call this one The Brotherhood of the Lord.

Rule 1. Give your heart and soul to the Brotherhood.

Rule 2. Separate yourself from you family. They’ll just be a drag on you. They won’t understand you’ve found the Truth.

Rule 3. Treat other Brothers and Sisters as your family instead. Put them first.

Rule 4. Be prepared to die for your Brotherhood family. It’s not too much to ask.

Rule 5. Renounce your ego! You can’t enter fully into Truth until you let go of self.

Rule 6. Don’t criticise your brothers and sisters, specially not the leadership. The leaders know better than you; you are mere sheep and little children.

Rule 7. Sell everything you own; you won’t need it now. Give what you make to the poorest members of the group.

Rule 8. Listen to your leaders. They will tell you secrets about life that no-one outside the Brotherhood can possibly understand.

Rule 9. Don’t stop believing: if you’re obedient to the cult, your sins will be forgiven and you will live forever.

Rule 10. Be prepared: God is coming real soon to rescue you from this wicked world and elevate you to a place of glory

Or, as Jesus put it:

Rule 1. Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.33). No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9.62).

Rule 2. If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.26).

Rule 3. Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12.48-50).

Rule 4. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15.13).

Rule 5. If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Luke 9.23).

Rule 6. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6.37). Anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire (Matthew 5.22). Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18.3).

Rule 7. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10.21).

Rule 8. This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand (Matthew 13.13)

Rule 9. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish (John 10.27-28)

Rule 10. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23.12). I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. (John 11.25-26).

Two questions:

1. How many Christians today do all the things demanded by Jesus?

2. Who decided he said these things? Did Jesus say them – or was it the cult that arose in his name who put them retrospectively in his mouth?

Next time…

Christian charity?

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Over at the distastefully named Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge has been considering what Christians should do when a homeless person asks for money. Jordan wants some means of weeding out the fakes (fair enough, though he doesn’t really have any clear strategy for doing this) and also attaches conditions to his giving – the recipient of his largesse has to listen to him ‘sharing the gospel’. Jordan reports that none of those he treats to a free meal object to him doing this – probably because they fear going hungry if they don’t listen to him droning on about Jesus.

Most of the comments following Jordan’s post betray the Christian eagerness not to have to follow the command of Jesus’ to give unstintingly. I felt moved to add one of my own:

It’s good that you’re considering ways you can help the poor and homeless, but Jesus says to ‘give to everyone who asks’ (Luke 6.30). ‘Everyone’ is a pretty inclusive! There’s no mention of ‘weeding out the fakes’; just give to all. Seems to me you’re hedging around this command.

This met with variety of responses, shown below in italics, followed by my replies:

Mike: By that logic, if a homeless person asks you for your home, are you then to sign it over to them? If they simply ask for your car, are you then going to hand them your keys? Of course not. That’s not what Luke 6 has in mind. Otherwise YOU would be left on the street naked and homeless simply because someone ASKED you for everything you owned…

You’re right, Mike – it’s completely absurd and unreasonable. But it’s Jesus’ absurdity and unreasonableness, not mine. If you want to say he’s wrong – as you do when you say ‘that’s not what Luke 6 has in mind’ (you know what it ‘has in mind’, I take it?) – then your dispute is with him, not me.

Jane: I believe your atheism qualifies you as the one having the dispute with Him.

Well, Jane, you’re the one who claims to obey him as Lord and Savior and yet here you are trying to figure out ways not to. It brings to mind another of his sayings from Luke 6: ‘Why do you call me “Lord, lord,” and not do what I tell you?’ Why indeed.

Craig: The passage in Luke 6 is not instructions for the body of Christ. In the gospels Jesus has come to Israel as their Messiah to bring in the kingdom that was promised to them. Jesus is telling them how it will be if they accept Him as Messiah.

It’s not, Craig? How’d you know?

What you’re really saying is ‘we Christians don’t much care for this commandment, so we’ve decided it doesn’t apply to us.’

However, if we were to go along with your argument, that Jesus is not addressing the ‘body of Christ’ here, then it follows neither can he be addressing it anywhere else in the gospels. You can’t simply delete the bits you don’t like.

4CommenceFiring4: “Give to everyone who asks” doesn’t specify what to give, or how much. The other commands–like going the second mile or giving them your cloak when they ask for your shirt–has to do with attitude, not mathematical formulas.

The Jews asked Jesus for a “sign” that He was the Christ. Did violate His own standards by not providing a sign? If you think He did, then it would be fruitless to get into the subject any further.

Really? It’s to do with attitude not action? Who says so? I thought the Bible was the literal word of God, meaning Jesus’ commands here should be taken at face value. Thanks for enlightening me; I’m relieved to learn there’s enough wriggle room not to have to do what Jesus says.

Oh, and according to John’s gospel, Jesus provided numerous ‘signs’ for ‘the Jews’ (which he was himself, of course.)

4CommenceFiring4: “The Bible is the literal Word of God” is the claim of someone–believer or otherwise–who hasn’t thought much about what that even means. There are theological debates by serious people about that, so don’t think for one minute that because “literal” means different things to different people means it doesn’t mean anything and we can go merrily on our way thinking we have nothing to which we owe our attention.

A devotion to strict literalism would lead to ridiculous conclusions, as you well know, so if you intend to use that as a defense for why the Bible isn’t to be taken seriously, try again. Smarter people than either of us have devoted their lives to debunking it, and it’s still standing long after they faded away. So don’t waste your time with that empty pursuit.

The bottom line is, are you ready for what comes next? And are you sure? It’s a bet you can’t afford to get wrong. Examine that, and everything else is secondary.

Great stuff. The ingenuity and effort that goes into avoiding doing what Jesus clearly commands is truly impressive.

Am I ready for what comes next? Sure. Oblivion never hurt anyone.

*****

Meanwhile, the homeless go on being homeless and Christians continue to demonstrate that the people who get the most out of their ‘discipleship’ is primarily they themselves.

Jesus: Speak not clearly did he

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Why did Jesus not speak clearly? If he came from God, or was God in some way, why didn’t he express himself directly and with precision? Why did he obscure what he had to say with hyperbole, riddles and demands that even he couldn’t meet?

Don Camp, light-weight apologist and C. S. Lewis aficionado, has been giving me a little lecture over in the comments section of Debunking Christianity. He’s been providing the basics in how some of Jesus’ remarks in the gospels are hyperbolic and are therefore not to be taken literally. I am, of course, already aware of Jesus’ tendency to exaggerate (how far does this qualify as false witness, I wonder?) but Don and I were specifically discussing Matthew 5.29-30 where Jesus advises those who lust after a woman to pluck out their right eye and cut off their hand. Don asserted that obviously this is an exaggeration, to be understood figuratively, not literally. I asked him how one distinguishes between the two.

Don responded by saying one should look for clues in the scriptures (the bible as Murder, She Wrote); clues that might reveal how early Christians responded to Jesus’ assertions. If they ignored what Jesus said (while most did disregard his more extreme commands, such as the self-mutilation statements, there is evidence that some did indeed take him literally), then we can safely do the same. If, on the other hand (no pun intended) they acted on what he said, then it’s fair to assume it’s okay for today’s Christians to do the same. Sounds simple right? But it still doesn’t help anyone decide what is hyperbole and what is meant literally.

For example, Christians largely ignore Jesus’ commands to go the extra mile, give the shirts of their back to those who ask for them, turn the other cheek, love their enemies, disavow wealth, sell all they have, give no concern for the future and do all they can for the homeless, sick, naked and displaced. There isn’t a lot of evidence that even early followers did these things. Does their disregard for these commands mean that Jesus must have meant them figuratively? That there is spiritual truth to be discerned from them but that no practical action is expected or required?

Where do Jesus’ apparent assurances that his followers would heal the sick, raise the dead (Matthew 10.8) and do ‘works’ even greater than his (John 14.12) fit? Are these hyperbole or are they intended to be taken literally? Given early Christians serve as Don’s yard-stick for what is hyperbole and what is literal, what did they think? We don’t actually know, though evidently some considered the promises significant enough to include in the gospels. Among today’s believers, there are those – and not just on the fringe – who accept them as literal, while others scoff at the idea of taking them at face value.

What about Jesus’ promises that God’s Kingdom was imminent and that he would rise from the dead? Aren’t these just hyperbole too? Don says no, because people at the time didn’t ignore them (as they did his ‘obvious’ hyperbole) but believed they would happen. Therefore, they must have been meant literally. Unfortunately, Don fails to take into account that the promises of a resurrection were applied retrospectively; Jesus didn’t actually predict his own return from the dead (for reasons discussed here.) The Kingdom of God, meanwhile, failed to materialise when Jesus said it would. The extent to which early Christians believed these promises hardly demonstrates their literal truth. In any case, is ultimate truth to be determined by how ordinary, largely uneducated, superstitious back-water folks responded to what they heard or read? What a spurious and unreliable way to decide.

Which brings me back to my original question. Couldn’t Jesus have been a lot clearer about what he meant? Instead, he dressed up a lot of what he said in what might, or might not be, hyperbole. He issued other ‘truths’ in parables that he didn’t intend the hoi-polloi to understand (Mark 4.12). He offered advice that is of no practical use, some of it positively detrimental. He was neither systematic nor consistent and contradicted himself. So much of what he said is open to interpretation, to the extent that there are now thousands of Christian churches, cults and sects, all at odds with one another because they disagree about what he meant.

The New Testament as a whole too is a muddle of conflicting ideas and advice… though that’s a discussion for another time.

Bible Blunders #568

Zechariah

Over Christmas I heard again the account in Luke, chapter 1, of Mary and Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancies. The story includes one of the most laughable blunders in the bible.

In what is clearly a re-write of the story in Genesis 17 about Abraham and Sarah, John the Baptist’s father-to-be, Zechariah, is told by an angel that his elderly wife will soon become pregnant. Zechariah, like Abraham, has his doubts and is immediately struck dumb because of his lack of his faith. When the child is born, Elizabeth announces he will be called ‘John’ as per the angel’s instructions. However, according to Luke 1.61-63 ‘the people’ (which people?) thought this a bad idea and said to Elizabeth:

“No one in your family has ever been named John.” So they motioned (‘made signs’ in the NIV) to Zechariah to find out what he wanted to name his son. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet.

Wait – they motioned to Zechariah? Why? He’s been struck dumb – he’s not deaf; he’s perfectly capable of hearing them. Then he asks for a writing tablet. He asks? He doesn’t ‘motion’ for it like the others have just done? It seems he can speak again suddenly – but in that case, why does he need the writing tablet?

Looks like Luke got a might confused here, forgot ol’ Zech had been rendered speechless and thought, for these two verses only, that he’d made him deaf.

And this, brethren, is the Inspired Word of God™.

 

The Curious Case of the False News Nativity

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Over on his Biblical Musing blog, Don Camp is eager to show us how, despite their disparities and contradictions, the two very different nativity stories in Matthew and Luke ‘mesh perfectly’.

Let’s take a closer look at some of that perfect meshing, shall we?

Herod v. Quirinius

First, the two accounts can’t even agree on when Jesus was born: Matthew’s gospel claims it was when Herod the Great was king (Matthew 2.1) while Luke says it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2.2). Yet Herod died in 4BCE and Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until nine years later, in 6CE. So Jesus couldn’t have been born at a time when both men were in their respective positions. This anomaly, as we’ll see, is a serious problem for the two accounts.

Census v. no census

Luke contrives to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to fulfil the prophecy of Micah 5.2 which said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. He comes up with the idea that these Nazareth residents trekked all the way to Bethlehem – a journey of about 80 miles – because of a Roman census. The Romans did indeed conduct a census in 6CE (which presumably is why Luke wants the story to take place then) but it would not have entailed anyone travelling to their ancestral home. Why would it? Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? The Romans would not, and did not, impose such a ridiculous demand on an already disgruntled populace.

Matthew, meanwhile, doesn’t mention any census – his Jesus was born about 11 years earlier – and he seems to think the family already lives in Bethlehem (Matthew 2.11 & 16). So, was Bethlehem their home as Matthew implies, or did they have to travel there from Nazareth, as Luke insists? Or had they nothing at all to do with Bethlehem? Matthew and Luke’s contradictory accounts are nothing more than clumsy attempts to show that Micah’s ‘prophecy’ is fulfilled in Jesus.

The Manger v. no manger

If they already lived in Bethlehem as Matthew suggests, there would be no reason for Mary and Joseph to search out an inn in which to stay for a census that had nothing to do with them. No inn, no ‘stable’ (though neither gospel mentions a stable as such) and therefore no manger. Yet there it is in Luke 2.7. It’s totally absent from Matthew’s account where, presumably, Mary simply had the baby at home.

Related v. Do I know you?

Luke has a long fable about the pregnancies of both Mary and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. He says the two women are related, possibly as cousins, making Jesus and John second cousins. The fourth gospel, however, asserts that the adult Jesus and John don’t know each other (John 1.33), while Matthew – and Mark too – don’t consider any of this significant enough to mention.

Don thinks the gaps in each account are just fine because God arranged for them to be covered by the other gospels. Yet only Matthew and Luke think to include anything about Jesus’ birth, and much of that is contradictory. Don’t Mark and John know anything about it? Was it not important to them? Even Paul, writing closest to Jesus’ lifetime doesn’t see fit to refer to it. Mary, whom both Matthew and Luke say was a participant in events, seems to have forgotten all about them when she later considers her adult son to be out of his mind (Mark 3.21).

The wandrin’ star v. clear blue skies

Nobody but Matthew mentions the star. Was Luke unaware of it? How about everyone else? If it was as astronomically significant as the story suggests, shouldn’t there be a record of it somewhere? And do stars, billions of miles from the Earth, really lead the way to a single spot here on the planet’s surface? Nobody but Matthew falls for this one – but then he would; he’s the one making it up.

Shepherds v. Astrologers

Luke has shepherds, Matthew astrologers who ‘visit the house’ where Jesus lived. Which is it – shepherds or astrologers? Both? If so, why does neither gospel writer mention the other’s set of visitors? Could it be that the shepherds and astrologers have their own symbolic significance in the gospel in which they appear and are therefore literary inventions? One suspects it could be.

Massacre v. nothing to see here

Herod the Great, who died, remember, almost a decade before the Roman census, orders the murder of all baby boys up to two years of age. At least he does in Matthew (2.16-18); Luke knows nothing of this so called ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’, presumably because Herod had been dead nine years by the time his story is set and, presumably, because it never happened. There is no record of such an atrocity anywhere in the historical record. Surely the Romans would have had something to say about it, given Herod was greatly exceeding his powers as a puppet ruler. One might almost think Matthew invented the whole thing just to make it look like another ‘prophecy’ was being fulfilled (Jeremiah 13.15 this time).

Egypt v. home for tea

Matthew (2.13-18) has the family flee to Egypt after the visit of the astrologers to avoid Herod’s hissy-fit and then when he dies (two years later?) they return to make their home in Nazareth (Matthew 2.19-23). According to Luke, however, they lived in Nazareth before the birth (Luke 1.26) and simply went back there once they’d had the eight-day old baby circumcised (Luke 2.38); no mention of the Egypt trip nor of Herod (unsurprisingly when he’s long dead according to Luke’s chronology.)

So there you have it. You be the judge of how ‘perfectly’ the two stories ‘mesh together’. And while you’re doing that, be sure to have a wonderful, superstition-free Christmas.