Making Excuses for Jesus

jesus-jw

Excuse 5. When Jesus said the ‘Kingdom of God is coming soon’, what he meant to add was ‘but only in heaven and then in 1874. Or 1878. 1914? Er… 1975. After 2017?’

So say the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1897 they claimed that Jesus had started on his comeback tour in 1874:

Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present since October 1874, A.D., according to the testimony of the prophets, to those who have ears to hear it: and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from Apr 1878, A.D. Studies in Scriptures Series IV (p.621)

and

The year A.D. 1878 … clearly marks the time for the actual assuming of power as King of kings, by our present, spiritual, invisible Lord… The Time is At Hand (1911 ed) p.239

When there was no sign this had happened – and goodness knows what sort of sign there could possibly be – the JWs changed their minds again and said the real date for the start of the ‘full’ kingdom was to be 1914:

In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished near the end of A.D.1914. Studies in the Scriptures Series 2: The Time is at Hand (1889 ed) p.99

and

October, 1914, will witness the full end of Babylon, “as a great millstone cast into the sea,” utterly destroyed as a system. Watch Tower (Jun 15 1911) p.190

Alas, over a century later there’s no sign of the Kingdom’s ‘full establishment’, while the old, corrupt system (Babylon) carries on as normal. So, after another change of heart, and a quick, futile stab at 1975 as the right date, Jehovah’s Witnesses came up with a revised plan. Here’s how it looks:

Jesus will return while the generation alive in 1914 is still around, when he will finally get the Kingdom underway. This is the ‘generation’ to which he refers in his prophecies in the bible; his return and the Kingdom coming to the earth will definitely happen while the 1914 generation  is still alive.

But hang on! A person born in 1914 – and there are some still around – is now 103, while those who were already adults in 1914 are long dead. In other words, the 1914 generation has almost gone and there’s still no sign of Jesus or his Kingdom. Either he’s going to return real soon, before the last of the 1914 generation depart, or he’s going to miss the deadline yet again (Guess which it’s going to be).

But worry not, Jehovah’s Witnesses have this one covered too! When Jesus referred to ‘this generation’ he didn’t just mean one generation, but to the generation that ‘overlaps’ with that generation. There’s nothing biblical about ‘overlapping generations’, of course. Jesus didn’t say, ‘the Kingdom will come while this generation and those that overlap with it are still alive,’ but like mainstream Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses need to give Jesus and themselves an excuse if they’re to avoid admitting that he and they have got it wrong.

So, an overlapping generation would be one like my own, whose grandparents were children in 1914. But we can extend this – and we can be sure JWs will once Jesus fails to return on time – because, using the same ‘reasoning’, my granchildren’s generation ‘overlaps’ with my grandparents’ through me. My grandchildren’s grandchildren too will be connected with all previous generations, including that from 1914, because of those who have preceded them… and on and on, ad infinitum. In fact, Jesus could come back at any time in the future so long as someone is alive who can trace their ancestry back to 1914.

But he’s not going to. He wasn’t talking about a ‘generation’ almost 2000 years after he lived. He was certain the Kingdom of God was coming to his time and his people. All of these convoluted and ultimately unconvincing explanations of what he ‘really’ meant when he preached an imminent heavenly Kingdom on earth simply won’t do. While mainstream Christians mock Jehovah’s Witnesses for their silly conjecturing about Jesus’ return, they share the belief Jesus is coming back. Most won’t venture a date (though there have been plenty who have) because, they will tell you, Jesus also said ‘no-one knows the precise day or hour’ when the Son of Man and the Kingdom will appear (Mark 13.32). Nevertheless, they remain certain that Jesus will return: this year, next year, sometime… any time other than that which he actually predicted.

While evangelical Christians and others insist that the bible, where all Jesus’ failed prophecies appear, is the literal and infallible word of God, they refuse to take literally his pronouncements about the coming of the Kingdom. While he might have said he didn’t know exactly when it would arrive, he was certain it would be while his own generation lived. As he is made to say in Matthew 16.28, ‘some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’.

All of which is a problem for Christians: if these predictions are not to be ignored, then they must be interpreted, explained and, eventually, explained away. The last thing believers want to do is accept them for what they are; the demonstration of Jesus’ failure. The Kingdom didn’t arrive when he said it would and, given how far it is past its sell-by date, it’s certainly won’t be now.

Making Excuses for Jesus

Excuse 2. When Jesus said ‘Kingdom of God’ what he really meant was ‘the church’.

Kingdom

So if not the transfiguration, then what? Christians can’t accept that Jesus was wrong in all he prophesied, and must invent some other explanation. How about the church – the body of believers who saw, and still see, Jesus as their saviour? The church must be the Kingdom! Yes, that’s it surely.

But then they’re left to explain why the church, even in its early days, bore no resemblance to what Jesus said the Kingdom would look like. Where was the Son of Man descending through the clouds? The hosts of angels in full view of ‘the tribes of the Earth’? The disciples judging and ruling the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19.28)? The last becoming first and the first last? The meek inheriting the Earth? The righteous being rewarded for their good deeds, while the unrighteous are sent to outer darkness?

Even if we were to overlook the absence of these characteristics, all of which Jesus predicted would define the Kingdom, then isn’t the-church-as-Kingdom just a tiny bit, well… disappointing? It doesn’t embody either any of the conditions of the Kingdom that the Old Testament prophets promised it would (Micah 4.1-7 & Isaiah 11.6): nations continue to wage war, the lamb and the wolf don’t co-exist peacefully and God singularly fails to rule the earth from Mount Zion.

Instead, the church is all too human, riven with conflict and division. Despite the whitewash given to it by the author of Acts, Paul’s letters – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans and Galatians in particular – serve as a permanent reminder of the dispute and strife that have characterised it since its earliest days. It has also a shameful history of persecuting those with whom it disagrees and produces its fair share of criminals and abusers. Today, it is split into 45,000 different factions and, according to some of its own, is awash with ‘false doctrine’.

One thing it is good at – the very thing Paul insists it shouldn’t be (1 Corinthians 5.12) – is judging the rest of us.

The Kingdom of God it is not.

The original ‘good news’ had nothing to do with any mystical Salvation Plan ™

 

Pentecost

As I disussed last time, there are indications throughout the New Testament that Jesus’ original ‘good news’ had nothing to do with a mystical salvation plan. There are clues too that the disciples clung to this original message – they’d heard it from Jesus himself, after all – even as other interpretations began to supersede it.

Let’s take a look at the evidence:

  1. Jesus tells his chosen twelve, which includes Judas, that they will rule with him in the age to come (Matt 19.28). As Bart Ehrman points out1, the fact that Jesus evidently had no foreknowledge of Judas’ later betrayal means this promise undoubtedly goes back to Jesus – it is unlikely later believers would have made it up. Though their names vary between gospels, Jesus hand-picked twelve men to rule with him.

  2. He appoints twelve disciples quite specifically and later tells them privately that this is so they can judge and each rule one of the twelve tribes of Israel once God’s Kingdom arrives (Luke 22.30).

  3. When Judas kills himself, the remaining eleven disciples think it vital to appoint a replacement twelfth (Matthias, in Acts 1.21-26). The number remains significant to them. How would they be able to rule the twelve tribes of Israel if there were only eleven of them? There had to be twelve for this very purpose. Even after Jesus’ death and supposed resurrection, the disciples are still preparing for the end of the age he prophesied and for their positions of power in God’s Kingdom.

  4. By the time the synoptic gospels were written, Jesus secret teaching that the Twelve would rule alongside him in the new kingdom had become common knowledge (hence its inclusion in the gospels). Given that he told them in private they’d be judges and rulers, it can only have been the disciples who later broadcast this information. And why would they do this? Because it was an integral part of their good news. Furthermore, all three synoptic gospels include a range of episodes in which the twelve are castigated for their presumption (eg: Mark 10.37-41; Matthew 20.22-24; Luke 22.24-30). These have all the hallmarks of stories created later, when a different ‘good news’ was emerging, specifically to mock the disciples’ belief.

  5. In much the same way, the disciples are consistently depicted as having no real understanding of Jesus’ mission (Mark 9.30-32; 10.35-45). And they don’t, in that they have no understanding of the later reinterpretation of Jesus’ significance. How could they? By the time the gospels came to be written, the mystical-Christ version of Christianity had started to take hold. Paul’s salvation plan and the supposed resurrection were beginning to assume greater importance than Jesus’ original message. How could the disciples, 40 years earlier, have known that this was going to happen? How could Jesus? They have to be portrayed as being largely ignorant of later developments – developments which, in any case, they opposed when they did encounter them (Acts 9.26; Galatians 1.6; 2.11-14; 3.1-3).

  6. In fact, Jesus teaching – all of it – was predicated on his belief that the Kingdom of God was ‘at hand’, imminent, about to happen real soon (Mark 1.15; 9.1; 13.30; Matthew 10.23; 16.28; 24.34), and that when it did, he and his chums would be there ruling it. It is unthinkable his inner circle would abandon this teaching, even after he died, in favour of something else. Any visions they had of him returned from the dead would only have reinforced their commitment to his ‘good news’; resurrection, after all, was a sure sign of the Kingdom’s arrival (Daniel 12.2-3).

To be continued…

1 Ehrman, Bart D., The Lost Gospel of Judas, p146

Ken Ham’s ‘Five Evidences that the Bible is True’

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Yes, that’s what he says: ‘evidences.’ Good use of English there, Kenny. Actually, the article is anonymous, but as it’s on Kenny’s site, and as it features inside his Noah’s Ark vanity-project, we can safely assume he authorised and approved it. That being the case, he can take responsibility for it.

Anyway, here are those ‘evidences’. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:

1. The Bible Is God’s Word

The ‘reasoning’ here is that God inspired the writers so, ipso facto, the Bible must be God’s words.

How do we know God inspired the Bible? Because the Bible appears to say so. But how do we know we can trust what the Bible claims about this and everything else? Duh… because God inspired it. Circular reasoning that gets us nowhere.

But wait, more ‘evidence’ from Kenny: ‘the Bible is authoritative in every subject it addresses’. I guess that’s so long as you exclude all the areas where it isn’t, like those that are scientifically, historically and geographically inaccurate, including the early chapters of Genesis that Kenny loves so much. Then there are those parts that are evidently myth, legend or fantasy.

Yes, apart from all those bits, the Bible is accurate and authoritative.

Isn’t it?

2. The Bible is Unique and Unified

Two claims in one. The Bible is far from unique; there are many religious texts in the world – the Qu’ran, the Vedas, the Pali Canon, the Book of Mormon… many with evidence of several authors at work in them. Neither is the Bible unique because it is ‘unified.’ It is not unified. It is contradictory and inconsistent: the so-called ‘new covenant’ cuts across the ‘everlasting’ agreement God allegedly made with the Jews and YHWH himself evolves, even having a personality transplant somewhere between the Old and New Testaments. Most significantly, for what is supposedly its central message, the Bible offers several, frequently mutually exclusive, ways to salvation.

3. The Bible Has Been Faithfully Passed Down.

This is empirically, demonstrably false. Many books of the Bible were written decades, even centuries, after the events they purportedly describe; the oral tradition is an unreliable means of transmission; texts were altered both by accident and on purpose; some books are patent forgeries; ninety percent of surviving manuscripts were created 800 years or more after the originals, and none of these ‘autographs’ survive for anyone to determine how ‘faithful’ later copies might be.

4. The Bible Contains Fulfilled Prophecy

It does? Where? Is it in the gospels where Jesus prophesies that the Son of Man will, in the lifetime of his listeners, return through the clouds to judge the tribes of the Earth and establish God’s Kingdom? Is it in the contrived symbolic events imposed on Jesus’ life to make it look like he fulfilled prophecy, even when the earlier ‘prophecies’ were not prophecies at all? Is it in Paul’s letters where he promises the rapture will be coming while those in his churches still live? Is it in the many prophecies that were written after the events they were supposedly predicting? Is it in the innumerable prophecies that didn’t come to pass?

That’s right; not one of these bits of malarkey constitutes ‘fulfilled prophecy’.

5. The Bible Holds the Key To Eternal Life

No, it doesn’t because there’s no such thing. This is the great swindle at the heart of Christianity; a fantasy dreamed up by fanatics, fantasists and psychotics, and preserved in the Bible. Christians are singularly unable to provide any evidence that anyone has ever gone on to have a life after death, nor that they ever will. We know now, as we may always have suspected, that when the body dies ‘we’ die with it. End of.

So, every one of Ham’s ‘evidences’ is false; a sham like his beliefs and the book from which they spring. You’ll struggle to tell him so, however, because like so many Christian web-sites, there’s no posting of comments; Kenny broaches no dissent. That’s how confident he is of his case. Best not to entertain any views other than your own weak, unfounded assertions.

 

Prophets at a Loss

prophets

God’s prophets; holy men who are God’s confidantes, his mouthpiece on Earth. They know how he thinks, what his plans are, what pleases him, what annoys him, what he intends doing in the future. They’re the first to know all of these things because they’re so much in touch with him, he speaks to them personally.

That’s how Jim Bakker knows God plans to punish those counties in the States that voted for Hillary Clinton. God simply can’t stand her, you see, and is going to vent his anger at those who thought she’d make a better president than his anointed one, the Donald.

It’s how Cindy Jacobs knew in 2015 that Civil War and Christian persecution were coming to America, how Michelle Bachmann knew Obama would start World War III, how William Tapley (‘the Third Eagle of the Apocalypse’, don’t you know) sees the signs of the End Times™ everywhere, and how John McTernan can tell us that natural disasters are the result of America’s lack of support for Israel.

These men and women (who evidently don’t know they’re supposed to keep quiet [1 Timothy 2:12] ), are also proficient, or so they’d have us believe, at interpreting the signs of the times. They know when events are actually God meting out punishment (usually) or trampling over someone’s much vaunted free-will to ensure his purposes are met. Hence, their conviction that natural disasters are divine tantrums, caused by a growing acceptance of LGBT people, or abortion, or some other damn thing they don’t care for much. And they know for sure that Trump’s election was because God wanted him to be the next president, because the Almighty told them so himself.

There are others, however, who think these fellow-Christians have got it all wrong. God has no need of prophets today (Luke 16.16). He used them only in more primitive times when people were more credulous and superstitious – Bible times, in fact. The only way of knowing what God is up to these days, these prophecy-denying Christians say, is to read and interpret his Holy Word.™

If only it wasn’t filled with the same sort ramblings as those of the current crop of fantasists, the only difference between today’s and yesterday’s prophets being that the earlier nutjobs were lucky enough to have their words preserved – by those with a need to believe and the self-interested – in the supposedly ‘ineffable’ Bible. Their prophecies are no more accurate and have no more bearing on reality than the messages of Bakker, Jacobs, Tapley, McTernan and the like claim to receive from God today. They’re of the same lunatic level, offering the same sort of vacuous bullshit.

How do we know? Because of the Bible’s prophecies written before the events they purport to predict, none has come to pass. This includes Jesus’ prophecy that the Son of Man would soon appear in the sky with the heavenly host to usher in God’s Kingdom on Earth (Matt 16.27-28; Matt 24:27-31. Including his and Paul’s predictions of an imminent judgement (Matthew 7.22 & 25:36-40; 1 Corinthians 4.5); Paul’s promise of a rapture (1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17); John’s prophecy of the armies of heaven defeating the Whore of Babylon (the Romans) and Jesus being put in charge instead (Revelation 17.8-14 & 20.11-15). These prophets were certain these events were going to happen soon, within, as the text spells out, the lifetimes of their listeners and readers. They didn’t and they’re not going to happen now either, two thousand years after their sell-by date. They’re not going to happen at all.

They are fantasies, every one of them. As are the messages supplied by the self-appointed prophets of our day. Fraudulent twaddle from charlatans with a pathological need to have their delusions taken seriously; these men and women of God can no more divine the future than you or I. True, once in a while events in the real world might bear some coincidental resemblance to one of their predictions, but that is all it is – coincidence. As the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump have reminded us, we can’t ever see the future with any degree of certainty. Soothsayers, fortune-tellers and Prophets of God who tell us we can – tell us they can – are liars and deceivers. And we know, don’t we, what the Bible says should be done about them (Deuteronomy 13.5).

Picture: Artist’s impression of JC, archetypal false prophet (as if there’s any other sort); Jim Bakker, crook and adulterer; Cindy Jacobs (loose screw not shown) and William Tapley, Looney Tune of the Apocalypse.

It was all just a dream…

Stone2Perry Stone, self-styled prophet, evangelist and teacher is of the view that God provides dreams and visions to his followers. He does this, apparently, when he can’t think of a better way of communicating them. Perry recommends that those on the receiving end of God’s special messages should immediately wake up and quickly write down what their dream was about. If they don’t, they’ll forget it! Who knew we can’t always recall dreams once we wake up? Who knows how to wake up as soon as a dream is over? Perry has big drawings made of his own God-delivered dreams. Here’s one. See if you can guess what it was about:

Stone1

Yes, it was a warning about 9/11. The Lord gave it to Perry, in a dream, long before the 2001 attack.

You can’t see it? You think five tornadoes and the monolith from 2001: A Space Oddysey look nothing like 9/11? Shame on you! You need to take this more seriously. You’re thinking, aren’t you, that Perry’s dream, if he had it at all, was down to the cheese he’d eaten before going to bed. That and a deranged mind.

But you’d be wrong; Perry knows for certain his dream was from God and that his interpretation is right on the mark. And who are we to doubt it? Curious, though, that even though the Lord had warned him about the attack in advance, Perry neglected to tell anyone about it. I wonder why that was? God must have wondered too – why he’d entrusted such an important message to a dimwit who did nothing with it. (Then again, if the Lord is capable of inducing dreams why didn’t he speak directly to the terrorists to prevent them from doing what they did?)

Still, good ol’ Perry’s made up for lost time since and is now more than happy to tell the rubes everyone about his dreams. And so what if it makes him a few million dollars? Frenetic Perry has a significant following on TBN and on his own web-site, which is where you can buy his dream-world DVDs for as little as $45 a set.

Nut-jobs’ dreams and visions have been at the centre of religious belief since forever. Dreams are significant, or so it’d have us believe, in the Old Testament where there are at least two dozen ‘important’ ones, together with advice about their interpretation (Job 33.15-18, for example). They’re quite a presence in the Qur’an too.

In fact, dreams and their waking equivalent, visions, are ultimately what religion is made of. They’re certainly what Christianity is made of; Joseph, the Magi, Pilate’s wife, Peter and Paul all have deeply meaningful dreams while Peter, Paul, John and others have visions which, they persuade themselves, can only be the monolith from 2001 Jesus returned from the dead, and other fanastic nonsense. The authors of the New Testament attached such importance to converts’ dreamy/visionary experiences that they had them written back into the Jesus narrative itself. That way it sounded like Jesus knew when he was alive that later fanatics would think they could sense his presence (especially when they whipped themselves up together) and could experience him in dreams and visions. Still today there are those who convince themselves they have a ‘relationship’ with him and can see him in their dreams, near-death experiences and other hallucinations. Just ask Perry Stone. It’s all real!

Well, as real as things entirely in the mind can be.

Same as it ever was…

Paul2

(Edited for clarity 2nd Aug)

Always and Forever

nurseGod is trustworthy and true. He always keeps his promises. We know this because Christians, either in person or on web-sites, like to tell us so.

Let’s take a look at some of the promises God made back when he only liked Jewish people. How well do they hold up?

As part of his promise (covenant) with Jewish patriarch, Abraham, that he would look after his descendants in perpetuity, Yahweh came up with a particularly gross way for them to sign up:

I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God… Abraham, you and all future members of your family must promise to obey me. As the sign that you are keeping this promise, you must circumcise every man and boy in your family. This will be a sign that my promise to you will last forever. Any man who isn’t circumcised hasn’t kept his promise to me and can’t be one of my people… The promise I am making to you and your family will be for (your son) and his descendants forever (Genesis 17.7, 9-13, 21; my emphases).

‘Always’ and ‘forever’ obviously meant only until God changed his mind – which he did when he came up with the new ‘covenant’. You know the one: ‘believe in Jesus to be saved, no primitive surgery required.’ Of course, Jews still feel the original promise is in force and so keep up the old slicing’n’dicing membership requirement. So who’s right? Jewish people who feel that a promise is a promise? Or Christians who insist God eventually lost interest in mutilating penises? It’s hard to tell, but if it’s the Christians, then God, being omniscient and all, must have known he would change his mind eventually. So why tell ol’ Abe the agreement with him was ‘always’ and ‘forever’?

Then there’s the one where God promises there’ll be a descendant of King David’s on the throne forever:

I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel’ (1 Kings 9.5).

Oops. David’s line ceased ruling over Israel when the Assyrians defeated it in 586BCE. Since then there has been no king of the Davidic line ruling over Israel. Why didn’t God see this coming? And if he did, why’d he make a promise, with ‘forever’ and ‘never fail’, that he knew he wasn’t going to keep? Yes, I know Christians like to claim that Jesus took over the kingship when he came along, but he didn’t, not really. His descent from David is highly questionable and there’s still that awfully long gap between 586BCE and Jesus’ time that blows a hole in ‘never fail’ and ‘forever’. In any case, Jews, by definition, have never seen Jesus as their king and they’ve got a point: it’s difficult to see how someone dead and/or totally invisible can be king of anything.

Never mind, let’s try another. This time God’s promise that everything’s going to work out okay:

(The Lord) will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2.4).

Safe to say this didn’t happen either. Not while people were still using swords and spears anyway.

Finally, what about the promise that’s trotted out every Christmas? –

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Whatever Christians might claim for these verses, they’re not about Jesus. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll repeat myself: Jesus did not and does not reign on David’s throne. He said he would, it’s true, believing himself to be the fulfilment of ‘prophecies’ like this, but he was wrong, as events went on to demonstrate. He didn’t, in any case, fit the description of whoever it is who’s being spoken of here; an earthly ruler who – yes, you guessed it – has still to show up. We’d have spotted him if he had. Some Jewish scholars think they might have done, pointing to King Hezekiah who ruled Israel in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, for almost 30 years. That’s hardly ‘forever’ though, is it. Yet more evidence that ‘prophecy’ doesn’t ever work, principally because it’s impossible to know the future.

God’s promises are like those of politicians: you just can’t trust them. There has to come a time when those who believe in them must face up to the fact they’re not promises at all, just ancient wishful thinking.