Christian charity?

Blog367

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.

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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™.

 

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 26.1: The Bible is the Word of God

IsaiahThe Bible: not so much holy as full of holes.

So much hinges on the fallacy that the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God. As the ‘director’ of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, puts it:

We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired, infallible, written Word of God to whose precepts, given for the good of nations and individuals, all man’s laws must submit.

Try as you might, you will not find the Bible claiming it is the Word of God, capitalised or otherwise. The phrase does appear, without the capital W, but on none of these occasions is the Bible referring to itself.

Christians usually base their conviction that the Bible is the Word of God on a verse in 2 Timothy (3.16):

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

There are some serious problems with this claim.

Firstly, the ‘scripture’ to which 2 Timothy 3.16 refers cannot be the Bible as we know it today. This was not compiled until about 260 years after these words were written*. At best, the author of 2 Timothy is referring to the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch – and maybe, possibly, though we cannot know for certain (you see how tentative it is?) some of the writing he had encountered that was eventually included in the New Testament.

By the same reckoning though, he could equally be referring to books that at one time were considered to be inspired but did not make it into the final 27 books of the New Testament**. This is also why the use of the term ‘the word of God’ in other places in the New Testament cannot be referring to the Bible as a whole. No-one knew when using the phrase in its original context that there was going to be a Bible, let alone one divorced from its Jewish roots.

Secondly, most scholars today are convinced that Paul did not write 2 Timothy, even though it claims that he is its author. There are very good reasons for saying the letter was written between 100-150CE, thirty-six years, at the very least, after Paul’s death in 64CE. In other words, 2 Timothy is a fake, claiming to be written by one person – Paul – when it is in fact the creation of another, taking advantage of the reputation of the more well-known writer.

How far can such a false witness be trusted? Most people in any other context would say not at all. And yet Christians take this forger’s letter to be ‘inspired by God’, just because it says it is. In essence they are saying that God is happy to inspire forgery, and not just in this instance either: none of the ‘pastoral’ letters (1 and 2 Timothy, together with Titus) is written by Paul, even though all of them claim to be. The second letter to the Thessalonians and those to the Ephesians and Colossians are not by him either; 1 and 2 Peter are not by the (illiterate) apostle Peter and the letters of James and Jude, while wanting us to think that they are, are not by Jesus’ brothers***.

In short, and as Bible scholar Bart Ehrman puts it:

Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle — Peter, Paul or James — knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.

Christians do not accept that the Qur’an is the word of God (Allah), nor the book of Mormon, even though both say they are, so why do they take it on trust, from a forged document that was lucky enough to find its way into the New Testament, that it and all other ‘scripture’ is inspired? ‘Faith’, they would tell you; but in this as in many other contexts, it is extremely misguided faith.

 

Notes:

* For the Bible’s late compilation see Charles Freeman (2008) Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State, p42

** For non-canonical texts once considered contenders see Bart Ehrman (2009) Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible, chapter 4

*** Forgeries in the New Testament are discussed more fully in Ehrman (2011) Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are: The pastoral letters – pp96-103; 2 Thessalonians – pp105-108; Ephesians – pp108-112; Colossians – pp112-114; Jude – pp186-188; James – pp192-198. Peter’s illiteracy is noted in the Bible itself (Acts 4.13) and is discussed on pp75-76 of Forged.

UK editions referenced.