Archives For January 2010

Where are the Possessed???

January 28, 2010 — 2 Comments


 
 

There are numerous accounts of Jesus driving out demons in people. Some of them even talked to him before their exorcism. So here comes my question of the day. Where are all the possessed people today? I saw the movie The Exorcist many years ago and I do think, but don’t know for sure, that the Catholic church still performs them. But why aren’t they somewhat common as they appeared to be in Jesus’ day?

The one exorcism that Jesus did that I remember the most was where he drove the demons out and put them in to a herd of pigs. Pigs just didn’t get treated well in Scriptures. First the Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with them because of something about their feet and then Jesus used them for a receptacle for storing demons. The poor pigs just couldn’t get a break. My grandfather was a pig farmer and when we visited him I don’t recall ever seeing any possessed pigs. But there was one old boor that always gave me a hard time. Maybe he was possessed and I didn’t know it 🙂 .

Some say these demon stories are just embellishments and that they really didn’t happen. You know the kind of thing that gets exaggerated over the years. I remember the game that a elementary school teacher once plays with the class. She told the first student a short story and then each student relayed the story to the next member of the class. After it was relayed through twenty kids or so it did not in the least way resemble the story that started. Was this what happened with the possessions? We know that most of the bible, especially the Gospel of Luke, was an oral tradition handed down from one generation to the next. Were stories made up during this process?

I want to believe that Jesus drove out demons but I still have doubts. This is something I need to study and contemplate more on. But even if it turns out that he really didn’t drive out demons it would not be something that would shake, or even rattle, the foundation of my faith.  I do believe that the devil is around today constantly tempting us but I take him to be of a spiritual form rather than a physical one. I assume that demon possession is another form of the devil in physical form. Maybe the devil for the most part just quit using demon possession after Christ’s time? Questions, questions, questions.

 
 

Last time we studied the authors of Mark and Luke and in this post we will finish up with Matthew and John. As those who have been regular visitors to this blog know I believe that the Gospels are the absolute center of the Bible and the words of Jesus are the absolute center of the Gospels. I realize that for many of you do not choose to believe as I do. You may not see the words of Jesus as having any more significance to your daily life than any other words in Scripture. It seems that many Protestant sects put more weight on the Pauline epistles and its many rules than they do on the direct words of our Creator. I know some of you say that all the words in the bible are from Jesus; I respectfully disagree with that assumption. I hope you will respect my belief that you are sadly misguided in this area. Anyway, let’s get on with the focus of this post.  

The Gospel of Matthew, which fills out the synoptic Gospels was written by the Apostle Matthew who like Peter and John sat at Jesus’ feet. There was very little doubt about the authorship of this Gospel among the early Christians. But, as it would be there is now some doubt. Some say it is obvious that Matthew takes much of his text from Mark and why would the Apostle Matthew need to do that as he also was with Jesus for the three years of his ministry. Many dispute this claim and just say that Matthew cited much of Mark to just substantiate what Mark was saying. I kind of buy into that argument. It is generally believed that Matthew was completed around the same time as Luke. The Jewish nature of Matthew’s Gospel is somewhat unique to the other Gospels. If Matthew was born around the same time as Jesus then that would have made him about seventy years old at the finishing of his text. That would be a very old and mature man in those times.  

The Gospel of John is unique to the four Gospels. This gospel has many touches, that the other don’t have. It has more personal recollections of an eyewitness. John just seemed to take his writings more personally than the other three authors. That is probably why the Gospel of John is considered the favorite of many Christians today. It might be because his gospel followed the other three and he just thought he would add personal things that the others did not include. John was also trying to influence the Greek thinkers of the time. The traditional view of the date of the writing was believed to be around 85 AD which is about 50 years after Christ’s ascension. That would make John a very old man for the times. The same John is often attributed to also writing the book of Revelation. The dating of that book is generally thought to be about 95 AD. So if the Apostle John did indeed write Revelations he was a about 100 years old at the time! But the authorship of Revelations is much in question today and was so even back in the early times. They say that there is just too much difference in the writing style of the Apostle for Revelations be from John. I have no opinion on that as Revelations is probably my least favorite, and therefore least studied, book of the New Testament.

This concludes our look at the believed four authors of the Gospel accounts.


Let’s spend a couple of posts investigating the believed authors of the four Gospels. I have to say “believed” because as with most of the Bible the authorship of the Gospels are often in dispute among various authorities. It is generally believed that Matthew and John were both part of the original twelve. Mark and Luke were not. They were much like Saint Paul in that they came along after Christ’s ascension. In this post we will discuss Mark and Luke and save Matthew and John for the next.  

It is believed that Mark was the first Gospel written sometime around the year AD 55 or so. That would make it about twenty two years after Christ went back to heaven. It is also the shortest of the four gospels. It is generally believed that Mark was a close associate of Peter so it seems evident that he got much of his information from Saint Peter’s direct experiences with Christ. Mark was the scribe for Peter and I imagine he wrote and arranged the text pretty much as Peter instructed him. Since Peter was thought to be illiterate this would be a very necessary way for him to get his message across. If Peter was the head apostle, or as the Catholics say the first Pope, his teaching had great authority within the early church. Probably more so than any of the other apostles. Mark is generally believed to be the John Mark who was mentioned in the Book of Acts. I can just imagine Mark following Peter around for twenty years gathering and arranging the info he gleaned from Peter during that time. To me that would have been the most rewarding job imaginable in those early times. Of course even that would not compare to actually sitting at Jesus’ feet!

Luke is generally believed to be the second Gospel written and much of it was gleaned from Marks and therefore Peter’s experiences. Luke also wrote the book of Acts so he was quite a diligent writer during his times. Luke was frequent companion with Paul on his later missionary journeys so that is the source for his personal account of Saint Paul in the later part of the Book of Acts. Luke was probably an early Gentile convert and was well educated in Greek culture. It is believed that he was also a physician by trade so he was a fairly learned man. The Gospel of Luke was written to a particular individual by the name of Theophilus who some would attune to a publisher in today’s world. Many believe that he was a primary benefactor to Luke. It is believed that the source for the text was gathered from several oral traditions and numerous people who may have actually witnessed some the events reported. In that vain Luke was acting like the investigative reporter of today’s world. The text was believed to be written specifically for Theophilus’ personal used but was made into a book of sorts in order for Theophilus to allow others to learn what he had learned. It is generally believed that Luke was finished about twenty years after Mark; that would make it about forty to fifty years after Christ’s death on the cross.

 
 

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The two groups mentioned in the title of this post are indeed on the very opposite ends of world views. But I also believe that they have much more in common than either group would like to imagine. Let’s discuss some of their commonalities.  

Both groups are very rigid in their beliefs; some would say closed-minded to any other possibilities.

  • The atheist scientist absolutely refuses to accept any notion that there is a god controlling things. They even refuse to accept that there might be some divine origin to how the universe was formed. Any mention of God and they go on the attack.
  • The puritan Evangelical absolutely refuses to accept any scientific discovery that even remotely contradicts their current view of spiritual matters. They say that things like carbon dating and dinosaurs are either outright false or just God playing tricks on us humans. Any mention of these things and they go on the attack.  

Both groups will totally discount any possibility that they may be wrong about anything.

  • The atheist scientist believes lock, stock, and barrel in the theory of evolution. To them it is not a theory at all but a well established fact. Although they admit that they haven’t found the so-called missing link, they say that is only because we have not looked hard enough yet. They often say that if they can’t personally observe something then it is not true.
  • The puritan Evangelical believes lock, stock, and barrel that everything in  their version of the bible, is totally 100% true and factual. They will not accept that some of the Bible was probably exaggerated as it was verbally passed down from generation to generation during the many centuries before it was put to paper. They totally discount the possibility that some of it was meant just for the times it was written. They stubbornly stick to the belief that every word of it is meant to apply to all the ages. They say that if it is not in the Bible then it is not true.   

Are all scientists in the first group and all Christians in the second? Absolutely not!! As is typical of many things in the world the two groups cited above are at the very edges of their respected populations. Yes, there are even people, including me, who are actually in both broad categories but are not in either of these groups. I spent thirty years in the corporate world immersed in science. I have spent a like period of time immersed in the Christian world. To me the two worlds are not as diametrically opposite as indicated above. 

I do believe in carbon dating and dinosaurs. The physical evidence is just too overwhelming to deny that this is indeed information that God has allowed us to gather at this point in human history. I believe that the Bible is doctrinally inerrant but I also believe that much of it is just an historical account of the times and is not meant for the ages. If we take the absolute literal view of the Bible and the absolute truth of the “Theory” of Evolution off the table then I have little trouble reconciling most of scientific fact with biblical text. The two are at least in my mind beautifully intertwined. God gives us science so that we can have an increasing insight into the world he created for us. He gave us much of the Bible, and particularly the words of Jesus, to spiritually guide us through that world. I am not alone in the cross category or in the beliefs that science and theology can co-exist.  Francis Collins, who was the leader of the Human Genome Project that decoded DNA, has written a book about this entitled The Language of God.  I would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. While I don’t agree with everything Mr. Collins says the book it does a good job of interweaving science and Christianity into one coherent reality.

The Slippery Slope

January 14, 2010 — 1 Comment

 


  It s amazing to me the number of Christians who cling to the concept of the “Slippery Slope”. This mentality is similar to NRA not willing to even allow assault weapons or bullets known as “Cop Killers” to be banned for sale to the general public. They are afraid that once one weapon is banned it will lead to all the others being banned. I.E. the slippery slope. This is a very tenuous position as most reasonable people understand the need to restrict at least some weapons.

The slippery slope for many Christians I believe is similarly tenuous. Some Christians refuse to admit that some words in the Bible have a greater significance in our lives than others. They are just afraid that if they admit that some parts of the Bible are more meaningful than others it will open the door to some saying some parts of the Bible is not meaningful at all! And then sliding to making the whole Bible meaningless!!

I recently went through a round of blog comments with a person fairly high in level from a large American Christian denomination about this topic. Out of courtesy I will not mention him or his blog by name. He was concerned about me concentrating mainly on the words of Jesus. He kept coming back to the argument that ALL the words in the Bible are the words of Jesus. When I asked him if Paul’s words that “I do not allow women to be teachers or to have authority over men” were as important to Christian living as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He refused to accept that premise or at the least he completely dodged the question! After half a dozen exchanges he informed me that he was deleting our discussions from his blog as “they were not related to the post they are attached to.” I think maybe the old saying “out of sight out of mind” might actually apply here. Since these exchanges I am apparently banned from further comments on his blog! It is indeed sad to see that some Christians are so unwilling to listen to differing opinions no matter how biblically based they might be. My personal view of Christ is not that fragile. I am sorry that theirs appears to be.

I will repeat the words of Phyllis Tickle in her book the Words of Jesus that I reviewed about a month or so ago:

What I am suggesting here—and with some trepidation—is that the time may have come in popular Christian conversation for us to speak of the differences in authority between the words of Jesus and those of even His most inspired followers. All of Christian Scripture depends from the Gospels, and whatever comes after must be received through them and in terms of them. We Protestants in particular, with our historic preoccupation with Pauline theology, would do well to remind ourselves of that obvious truth several times a day.

Phyllis said ” with some trepidation”; I have no trepidations about this whatsoever. I absolutely believe that we should look at Jesus’ word first and filter all the others through what he says and as Phyllis says even those of his most inspired followers. After all Jesus is God incarnate. The Gospels are the absolute center of the Bible and Jesus’ words are the absolute center of the Gospels. When someone refuses to give primacy to Jesus’ words I believe they are actually weakening the significance of the Bible not protecting it from sliding down an imaginary deadly slope. I think, but am not sure, that the “slippery slope” thing is primarily Protestant in nature. Since the Catholic church does not hang their whole canon on the Bible alone (Sola Scripture) they are more willing to admit that some parts of the Bible are only historical in nature or are just not very significant in today’s world.

Ok here we are at the third and last post thinking about Saint Paul. Here are the final questions:

  • In his letters was Paul  sometimes  speaking of his times or was everything he wrote meant for eternity?
  • What about the Jeffersonian opinion of Paul? Have others believed the same thing?
  • Are we looking at Paul’s words with a 21st century mind or of the times they were written 

Let’s get right at it. 

Was Paul sometimes speaking for his times and not for eternity?  This goes back to the last topic of the previous post below.  I just can’t get it out of my mind that Paul was just writing letters and not issuing strict rules for Christianity. First century letters were akin to blog posts in the 21st century.  Many Christian blogger today have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people who follow their posts daily.  Do those bloggers even fathom that someday their writings will take on a very literal sense of Christian edicts. I can’t imagine anyone, even the most egocentric among us, who would believe that! Yes, I do believe that some of the things that Paul wrote were a direct result of revelations from Christ but I don’t happen to believe that even Paul thought that all he said was directly from our Savior and meant for eternity.

The Jeffersonian opinion of Saint Paul was basically that he came along later and  complicated the very simple message of Jesus with a lot of rules and edicts.  We are talking here about Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was a founding father of the U.S.   When he wrote the Declaration he was not particularly religious and definitely not a Christian as we know it today.  In his later life after leaving the presidency and spending the rest of the life at Monticello. He did espouse many Christian views but with a slant.  ( I guess you could say the same thing about me 🙂 )  Jefferson even went to the point to make his own version of the Bible. Of course he deleted all of the Pauline letters and many of the miracles of Jesus. He said the miracles where not germane to  the meaning of the Bible and many were probably added later to unnecessarily  “enhance” Jesus’ authority. He also melded the four Gospels into one chronological text.  I don’t think that any of the 35,000 different Christian sects uses his Bible but I guess I wouldn’t be too surprised if one or two did.

Are we looking at the Pauline letters with 21st century eyes?  Of course we are!  But just where that is detrimental can be up for discussion. I believe that where Paul seems to put women into their place is more a sign of the times in which he lived than for us today.  If Paul were to have given a 21st century answer to women’s  rights today he would have been ferociously attacked during his time. I believe that much of the reasoning used to give these verses present day authority are rationalizations.  Let me give you the definition of rationalization that I intend for this topic. 

to ascribe (one’s acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes.

Pasted from <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rationalization>

 

Ok, that closes this series of posts. As a summary I want to unequivocally state that I do believe that Saint Paul received personal and unique revelation from Christ. But, I must temper that with the feeling that today many people  give the Pauline letters the same weight at the words of Jesus. I just don’t believe that they deserve that rating. Some of what Paul mentioned in his letters were just that. They were things in letters to friends and not meant to be held into eternity.  Discerning the difference is where it is the most difficult, not the realization itself.  I absolutely believe that we should look at  Jesus’ word first and filter all the others through what he says. Yes, that might even mean questioning some of the things in Saint Paul’s many letters.  I hope I have not offended too many of you; but I’m sure I have offended some. All I ask is for you to respect  me as a Christian even if I may not conform to your current version of one.

Let’s continue with our discussion of Saint Paul that centers around a series of questions.  Here are the ones for today:

  • Was Paul the most literate of the apostles?
  • Did Paul believe that everything he ever wrote in his letters came to him directly from God?
  • Did he have any idea that the letters he wrote would some day be considered by some as  foundational doctrine of Christianity? 

These questions go directly to the content of his letters. I suspect that my questions and certainly my current opinions will go counter to what many Christians profess.  I don’t claim to have any special insight into these topics but I do have some current personal  opinions which of course I will share. But, as I have said before maybe I am just an ignorant laymen who doesn’t understand these sort of things. 

Was Paul the most literate of the Apostles? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is an unqualified “yes”. I think I have read that it is generally believed that all the original twelve Apostles with the exception of Matthew the tax collector were most likely illiterate. But most certainly the others had scribes who wrote down much of what they needed to convey.  Was Paul’s dominance in the epistles because of this? I believe that very well may be the case.  From the first several chapters of the book of Acts it is fairly clear that Peter was the spokesman for the original eleven but only two letters bear his name and there are fairly short  and only deal with somewhat limited topics. 

Did Paul believe that everything he wrote was dictated to him directly from God?  Of course we can’t get  into Paul’s head to find that direct answer but I don’t remember seeing anything in the surviving letters that makes me think he believed that. If anyone reading this can set me straight about this I welcome your comments.  Yes, he did believe that much of what he wrote came from revelations from God but to me those places seem somewhat obvious by the words he used surrounding them.    Several places in his letters  Paul uses the word “I”.  I believe this is where he is discerning the difference between his opinion and heavenly revelation.  For instance in  1 Timothy he used the phrase “I want” several times when he is talking about women being quiet and in full submission.  In other places he says  “I do not allow women to be teachers or have authority over men”. This again says to me that this is Paul’s interpretation of things and not necessarily those of God.  I know I am opening myself up to you Christian flamers who will say “how dare you…!” But these are my heartfelt beliefs and you can take them as a grain of salt if it makes you feel better.

Did Paul imagine that everything in his various letters would some day be treated as foundational to Christianity; at least the Protestant version of it.  I just have trouble believing that he would think so.  I imagine he was just writing some things in his letters to friends and acquaintances.  I think that Paul would be shocked to learn that so much of the content of his letters have the weight that they do today.  In his Letter of 1 Corinthians he chastises some who are treating him as a substitute for Jesus.

 Cor 1:12-14 NIV —  One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into  the name of Paul?

I think that tends to happen much too often in some of today’s  versions of Christianity as well.

Anyone that has browsed my blog knows that I am a person full of questions.  I constantly seek new knowledge and insight. I am definitely a believer in the saying “if you are not growing you are shrinking”. In that light I am going to do a few posts about Saint Paul and his many epistles in the New Testament.

 From his writings and the many books subsequently written about him we know more about Saint Paul than any of the early Christian leader including  the original twelve. I am going to be asking some questions about Paul that may make some of you uncomfortable. I do not mean to be disrespectful but they are questions that I think are pertinent to understanding how to view his writings and his  overall importance in the very early Christian world. I am not embarrassed to ask these types of questions as I am a firm believer that Christianity should be able to answer any critical questions anyone may have of it. If it can’t hold up to scrutiny then its foundation are too weak and I believe they are very strong and up to any critical review. 

Let’s get on with it. As I said these posts will be based around a series of questions.  

  1. What portion of the Epistles did he write?
  2. Did Paul have any direct interaction with Jesus before the resurrection?
  3. Was Paul really an Apostle?  What is the definition of an Apostle?

 Saint Paul is identified as the probable writer of  13 of the 21 epistles or letters.  It seems kind of strange today that many of these letters are still in question as to who actually wrote them. I need to do a few posts on the nuts and bolts of how all the epistles were actually determined to be worthy of New Testament status. If they didn’t know for sure who wrote them how could they have been included? Questions, questions, questions.. Anyway, that makes Paul the most prolific letter writer of the early leaders. On the other hand maybe the other leaders correspondence just didn’t survive the four hundred years between their writing and when the official Bible was put together.  More on that in the next post.

On to question two. If I remember my stories right the only interaction that Paul had with Jesus was with his spirit on the road to Damascus as written in Act 9.  Of course we learn from the book of Acts that Paul, otherwise named Saul at that point, was a high level authority in the Jewish hierarchy and chased Christians all over the area. It is generally believed that Saul’s conversion took place  somewhere between two and five years after Jesus’ ascension. So it seems pretty unlikely that he ever had contact with the human side of Jesus.  What he knew about Jesus was what is called hearsay today. That is it is from second hand sources.  But then again both the Gospels of Mark and Luke were similarly written by people that did not have an actual physical relation with Jesus.  I will be discussing this topic much more thoroughly in a couple of weeks.

Was Paul really an Apostle?  Well the answer to that depends on what you believe the definition of the word “apostle” is.  According to the dictionaries I have come across there are two possible definitions that stand out.   

    Let’s look at what I have gleaned about the answers to the questions above.

    A. any of the early followers of Jesus who carried the Christian message into the world.
    B. (sometimes initial capital letter) any of the original 12 disciples called by Jesus to preach the gospel: Simon Peter, the brothers James and John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot

If we go by the first definition then Paul was definitely an apostle in that he was a clearly an early leader in the Christian world. If we go by the second definition then he was not an Apostle. Up until I started thinking about this recently I always believed that the Apostles were those that sat at Jesus’ feet for three years  and  interacted with him on a daily basis. I’m sure Jesus had much more to say than is recorded in the Gospels and the Apostles were the only ones to hear the vast majority of it and to gain insight from it.  I know Peter, who the Catholics say was the head apostle, had quite a bit of initial trouble accepting Paul and his self proclaimed ministry. Later, I think he validated Paul’s ministry trips but I don’t know if he ever actually called him an apostle? Or for that matter if he even called the other ten apostles?  I do have problems with some today who call their church leaders apostles. In some of the more radical churches around that almost seems to be a common occurrence. It was with this feeling that I have always said the Apostles were the ones actually who sat at Jesus’ feet. So, in my mind,   there are no living apostles today. I believe that the only thing that makes a person call himself an Apostle today is self pride and that is a very dangerous thing for both himself and the people who follow him. 

Next time we will get into the general topic of whether Paul believed that everything he wrote was meant as rules for eternity.