Saturday, August 26, 2006

Taking Jesus Out Of Context

For those who are interested, Jon Curry recently posted a reply to me in last week's thread about early Christian eschatology, and I've posted another response to him. Notice the large amount of material in my earlier response that he ignored, and notice how he's not consistent with his own arguments.

One of the subjects he discusses in his latest reply is what Jesus taught about the Christian lifestyle in the Sermon on the Mount and other contexts. He writes:

"The gospels have the same non-sensical mindset. To be saved you are supposed to sell everything and give it to the poor. You are supposed to give to every man that asks of you (Mt 5:42). Well, I’m a man. I’ll ask of you. I want your books. Will you send them to me? I’ll give you my address. If you would include a check with all of your savings, that would be great. Will you give it to me? I want your money and your books. Can I have them?"

I don't know what passage Jon has in mind when he refers to "selling everything", but if he's referring to the account of the rich young ruler, surely he knows that Jesus' comment was directed to that individual, not to everybody. The same Jesus who speaks of how the rich young ruler should give all of his possessions away (Luke 18:22) shortly thereafter commends a man who only gave some of his possessions away (Luke 19:8-10) and suggests that investing money, not just giving it away, is acceptable (Luke 19:12-23). Jesus and His disciples owned property, and so did other early Christians (Matthew 8:14, Philemon 2, etc.). This is another example of either how poorly Jon understands the Biblical documents or how dishonest he is in arguing that the Bible is wrong in what it teaches.

Jesus, like other ancient Jewish (and non-Jewish) teachers, often spoke in general terms and used hyperbole to put emphasis on a theme (a plank in an eye, a camel going through the eye of a needle, etc.). Not only do we know that hyperbole was common among ancient Jewish teachers (as it is in many modern contexts), but we also know that the nearby Biblical context refers to Jesus as having a home (Matthew 4:13) and refers to His followers as having possessions (Matthew 8:14), and we know that Christians just after Jesus' time had possessions (Acts 12:12, Philemon 2, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, etc.).

Jesus' commands, like principles in any belief system, are interpreted in light of a larger context. One principle is weighed against another, and something that's appropriate in one circumstance may not be in another. A command to give to others would be interpreted within a belief system that also involved the responsibility of providing for one's family, for example. As D.A. Carson puts it, "Verse 40 [of Matthew 5] is clearly hyperbolic: no first-century Jew would go home wearing only a loin cloth." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew, Chapters 1 Through 12 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995], p. 157) Thus, a passage like Proverbs 26:4-5 will deliberately set two contrary-sounding principles together, trusting that the reader will realize that each principle is valid in different circumstances. Some of Jesus' expressions in Matthew 5 are popular in our world today: "go the extra mile", "turn the other cheek", etc. Just as we today interpret and apply such principles in a context that involves examining circumstances and weighing one priority against another, so did people in ancient times. To object to a general principle on the basis that it would have unreasonable results if applied absolutely is to miss the point.

If you don't understand the limits and context of proverbial statements, hyperbole, etc., then you aren't well prepared to be having discussions like the ones Jon Curry has been participating in. And I have to wonder how Jon was ever able to understand a book like Proverbs. His method of interpretation would lead to absurd results for all sorts of literature and figures of speech, both ancient and modern.

17 comments:

  1. Hey, I'm not asking for the shirt off your back, so I won't send you home in a loin cloth. I do want your books and money though. If "Give to every man that asks of you" doesn't at least mean give me your books, then what does it mean?

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  2. It means within reason, Jon.

    Why assume Jesus was a dolt and he said things which can be interpreted absurdly?

    I mean, look at the context of the times.

    One asked in those times when they were in need. Jewish men knew the importance of working to provide for your family.


    Indeed, the Bible tells us that those who will not work to provide for their family are worse than unbelievers.

    Jesus was not setting up a "beggers system." The Bible doesn't support begging.

    Is this really where apostacy takes one? I mean, these are some of the dumbest things I heard raised against my faith.

    I must assume Jon knows what he's doing. He reads the biblical writters as wodde3nly literal as he can and then tries to draw absurd conclusion from them.

    But, Jon, anyone can do this, look:

    "Hey, I'm not asking for the shirt off your back, so I won't send you home in a loin cloth."

    Well, the problem here, Jon, is that if you took Jason's shirt he wouldn't go home in a loin cloth. He probably wears boxers, and he'd still ahve his pants, socks, and shoes. I guess Jon believes that americans only wear shirts and loin cloths.

    See, Jon, I did to you what you do to the Bible all the time.

    Now, I know you thought how I took what you said as going over board. You thought I was a bit silly. You were like, "c'mon, use a little common sense." Well Jon, when you read what I just did to you, take what you felt about me and multiply that by 10, then you'll have some idea of how we feel when we read "critiques" like yours.

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  3. Jon,

    You should have had a better understanding of this issue from the time you spent as a professing Christian. If you didn't understand the issue then, you should have learned about it in your reading of Christian sources or discussions with Christians since then. I've corrected you, and so has the other Christian poster in this thread. We shouldn't have to keep reinventing the wheel in our discussions with you. You ought to make more of an effort to research these issues.

    You wrote:

    "Hey, I'm not asking for the shirt off your back, so I won't send you home in a loin cloth."

    If you acknowledge that the loin cloth example is valid, then you ought to understand how the principle would apply in other circumstances. Just as a first century Jew would want to obey Biblical principles about dressing modestly at the same time that he obeyed Jesus' principle about giving to those who take from you, we today would also obey Jesus' command in a larger context involving other commandments and considerations. Similarly, if a parent instructs his child to not speak with strangers, he doesn't intend for the child to take the instruction in an absolute sense. If the child gets lost in a mall, it would be better for him to ask a store clerk for help, even though the clerk is a stranger, rather than walking around the mall on his own, trying to avoid speaking with anybody he doesn't know. General principles can have exceptions, and we don't expect every conceivable exception to be discussed every time the general principle is mentioned.

    Why do you think it is that Jesus and the early Christians didn't interpret Jesus' comments in the manner in which you're interpreting them? Why didn't the early enemies of Christianity destroy the religion by quickly and systematically asking the Christians to give them all of their children, clothes, houses, etc.? Probably because both the early Christians and the more reasonable opponents of the religion realized that Jesus' comments were made in a context in which there would be qualifications that wouldn't allow for such a scenario. Similarly, when we today hear parents, politicians, or other people discussing general principles or speaking in proverbial or hyperbolic terms, we generally don't interpret them in the manner in which you've interpreted the Bible.

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  4. I continue to be amazed by the wooden literalism displayed by unbelievers. They rail against a literal interpretation of the text, but they're clearly objecting to a defintion of "literal intepretation" that bears no resemblance to the principles of grammatical-historical exegesis itself. In so doing, they then read the next in a rigid, wooden manner and assume that that's the way the text is read.

    Let's take the rich younger ruler. Is Jesus really saying that giving all you have to the poor is a universal axiom for the salvation of the soul vs., say, by grace alone through faith alone? First, Mr. Curry, we need to place it in the flow of the narrative. In Luke this is placed after the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The one is a legalist (the Pharisee) who thinks he's better than anybody else because he keeps the Law. The publican is despised and knows this and knows that he is unworthy of anything from God. They both go to the Temple. The publican asks for God's mercy. The Pharisee gives thanks that he is morally superior to to the tax collector. He says, "12'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get."

    Matthew's gospel and Luke's gospel also lead into the story of the rich young ruler with an exhortation to receive the kingdom as a child would. That Mr. Curry is what the story of the rich young ruler is about to illustrate. It does not stand in isolation from what comes before it in the narrative or comes afterwards.

    The rich young ruler illustrates the Pharisee in the parable in real life. Notice that the ruler says he's kept these commandments: 'DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'" Notice that in the parable, the Pharisee had said: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' The ruler and the Pharisee are both saying that they keep the same laws. Ergo, the ruler is a real life illustration of the Pharisee.

    The Pharisee says he gives the tithe. Did the ruler?

    We have here a young man who knows the Law well, and he claims to be keeping it. Jesus responds that he has not kept the Law until he sells everything he has and gives it to the poor. Why would Jesus say this? Why would this be an appropriate response in the context of the full narrative?

    The Law said that the tithe was supposed to be used for the Temple, the Levitical service, and the help of the poor. The rich young ruler could very well be of the Levitical class as well, because the "rulers" of the people were often from the tribe of Levi, being tax collectors and lawyers, a system that had been in place since the Solomonic Temple in 1 Chronicles. So, the Lord uses the essence of the Law in response a man who knew the Law's letter and believed he had complied with it to show him that complying with the letter of the Law is not the same as complying with its spirit. If he really was keeping the Law, then he would not be a legalist and would do more to love the others in the covenant community who were less fortunate than him than simply give the tithe. Rather he would be following the example of Boaz in the Book of Ruth. The Law was set up that even though some were undoubtedly poor, they would be taken care of in some measure by those with greater means, through sundry instituted charitable means. However, it was not meant to restrict the care of the poor to those means. Rather that was the minimum requirement. Reading the OT, you'll find that what is praised is not merely tithing, but exceeding the tithe. As it was, this young man was trusting in his own meritorious works through his Law keeping and holding back in his alms, keeping the tithe and no more. So, Jesus reveals to him that his works are inadequate, and, if was truly keeping the Law, he would do so not from the letter, but from the spirit of the Law. The man leaves dejectedly, realizing his error, but evidently, he was unrepentant and unjustified before God, just like the Pharisee. Jesus is basically saying, "You are the Pharisee, and the only way to overcome this difficulty you have with your riches is to stop trusting your meritorious works of the Law and enter the kingdom like a child." Riches, for this young man, or rather his love of his riches, was the main obstacle between him and following Christ, and this love of riches was leading him to trust in his own righteousness and not enter the kingdom as a child by following Christ. That's why Jesus centers on this. This narrative is a marvelous example of a portion of the synoptic gospels where man's moral inability to please God and merit salvation is highlighted by Jesus Himself, who, in turn, points us to the grace of God.

    This, in turn, illustrates the greater principle that no man can be justified by the letter of the Law but only by keeping the whole Law in both its letter and its spirit. This is impossible for any man to do on his own. This is why, as Jesus then says, all things are possible with God. E.g. a man can keep the Law in this way by the grace of God. How?

    Peter and the disciples are then juxtaposed with the rich young ruler as an example of God's grace. They are the illustration of the publican in the parable, just as the ruler was the real life illustration of the publican.

    Peter says that they have left everything to follow Christ. They, of course, were poor, but we must remember some of them left their businesses and families to follow Christ, and here, Christ centers on this (the leaving of family, etc.) as evidence that they were justified, again, not by means of their own merit, but by the grace of God, for Christ, even here attributes the ability to enter the kingdom like a child and follow Him to the grace of God (all things are possible with God). Peter, John, and James were business partners. Zebedee, John's and James' father was a pious Jew, and very likely a rich man who likely had servants and even had ties to the priests (since John apparently had access to the temple courts), so John and James left their rich father to follow Jesus, but they were all in a profession, Zebedee included that was usually looked down upon in Jewish society, just like the publican. In fact, Matthew. also a disciple, was a tax collector himself. These men had left their families, riches, and livlihoods to follow Christ. The point here is that they showed a willingness (an inner quality) the rich younger ruler had not displayed. Ergo, this is evidence they were/would be saved. So, their outward action displayed their inward relation to God.

    Why? Is it because they had less to lose or were more spiritual? No, rather it's because Christ had called them and God's grace had enabled them to respond. That's the gist of the statement that all things are possible with God in this context, and this is in turn picked up on in John 6:65 and other places. The point is that God has done this and made this possible for them to do by His own grace and mercy. Thus in the greatest scope, men are able to fulfill the Law not by their own law keeping but by God in Christ, fulfilling the Law through the Incarnation and atonement and then imputing that righteousness to men by faith. They are justified not by means of the Law, but by means of faith, but this is itself from God not of their own sinful, natural inclinations, and faith transforms men such that the Law is written on their hearts. When God does this, then men do, in ever increasing measure, "give all they have to the poor," or "leave their families," as it were, not by the institution of a tithe or by some sort of meritorious service and the legalistic keeping of the Law, but by the willingness of their hearts and the overflowing abundance thereof which comes only by the grace of God alone through the instrument of faith alone, itself a gift of God's grace.

    Thus far, Mr. Curry, you have only illustrated that Paul was correct when he wrote: 1 Corinthians 2:12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

    Mr. Curry, if you really do wish to understand the Bible, might I suggest you truly empty yourself and cast yourself on the mercy of God, recognize your inability to get yourself a new mind and a new heart, and cry out for God to grant it to you. You, Mr. Curry, are the Pharisee. You, Mr. Curry, are the rich young ruler.

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  5. So "Give to every man that asks of you" means to give "within reason"? And what does that mean? It seems to me that to you guys it means don't give anybody anything if you don't feel like it.

    My request for books is pretty reasonable. Jason criticizes me for not replying to arguments that I haven't seen in books he owns and I don't. In one case I asked him to type out a section in one book or at least scan it and send it to me so I can see it. He hasn't done that. So my request for his books is very reasonable. I could certainly use them, as even he has stated many times.

    Maybe I could just borrow them. Or does Mt 5:42 really mean that you SHOULD turn away those that want to borrow from you? I can see why Christians would conclude that we really do need a Pope and Magisterium. The words seem so plain, but according to you guys they really mean the opposite of what they seem to say.

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  6. Jon Curry keeps giving us more examples of how dishonest and careless he is. He writes:

    "So 'Give to every man that asks of you' means to give 'within reason'? And what does that mean? It seems to me that to you guys it means don't give anybody anything if you don't feel like it."

    Nobody here has suggested "if you don't feel like it" as a standard. The fact that we interpret general principles, hyperbole, etc. within a larger context doesn't prove that we would be willing to accept "not feeling like it" as a qualifier. You can believe that some qualifiers exist without believing that every conceivable qualifier is valid. The same holds true with every human who speaks in generalities, hyperbole, proverbs, etc. The principles we're describing are applicable to human communication in general, not just the Bible. If you don't understand these concepts, then your ignorance of these matters is another of many examples of how poorly informed you were when you decided to leave Christianity and how poorly informed you remain.

    You write:

    "Jason criticizes me for not replying to arguments that I haven't seen in books he owns and I don't."

    I've criticized you for being ignorant of information that's found in many sources, not just the books I own. The sort of information we're discussing in this thread is widely available, and much of it can be discerned by means of basic critical thinking skills, even without owning any books.

    You write:

    "In one case I asked him to type out a section in one book or at least scan it and send it to me so I can see it. He hasn't done that."

    What are you referring to?

    I don't type out portions of books I own just because somebody wants me to. Other considerations have to be taken into account. I have other responsibilities to tend to, and sometimes the person making the request has demonstrated a tendency to not make much of an effort to do research himself, for example. Some people expect others to keep typing out material for them, keep using their money to acquire resources, etc., all the while being unwilling to do such things themselves. You, for example, Jon, repeatedly involve yourself in discussions you aren't prepared for, in which you often make false and misleading claims without having done much research. In our discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board last year, I compared you to a college student who neglects his studies and expects other people to prepare him for the upcoming test at the last minute. (Yes, "at the last minute" is a figure of speech. Do you know how to interpret it?) You've told me that you object to that comparison, but the reason why I made it is because that's the way you behave. You haven't changed yet.

    You write:

    "So my request for his books is very reasonable. I could certainly use them, as even he has stated many times."

    Could use them isn't the same as would use them. And your behavior so far doesn't suggest that you would use them well.

    You write:

    "Or does Mt 5:42 really mean that you SHOULD turn away those that want to borrow from you? I can see why Christians would conclude that we really do need a Pope and Magisterium. The words seem so plain, but according to you guys they really mean the opposite of what they seem to say."

    Apply the same principles to Matthew 5:42 that people normally apply to any general principle, proverb, figure of speech, etc.

    If your new understanding of Matthew 5:42 is really the "so plain" reading of the text, then why didn't you see the text that way when you were a professing Christian? Why do scholars speak of categories such as "hyperbole", "figures of speech", "proverbs", etc. if such categories didn't actually exist in ancient times and your "so plain" reading was the intended meaning? Or, if you acknowledge that such categories existed, then on what basis do you conclude that passages like Matthew 5:42 aren't occurring in such contexts? How do you explain the fact that Jesus, the apostles, and other early Christians applied qualifiers to these commands in the same manner as the Christians in this thread have suggested?

    I would remind the readers that Jon Curry maintains that Jesus didn't exist, that books like the gospel of John weren't actually written by the people traditionally thought to have authored them, that the resurrection witnesses didn't actually see Jesus risen from the dead, etc. Are his interpretations on such issues "plain"?

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  7. Jason, there is no reason to start ratcheting up the rhetoric with charges of "dishonesty" and "carelessness." Obviously I'm not claiming that you have said in so many words "give to those that ask" means "don't give to anyone if you don't feel like it." What I'm doing is boiling what you say down to its essence. This is just argumentation, not lies. Jesus says "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." You talk about "hyberbole" and "figures of speech" and how the Bible does contain such things. You talk and talk and talk until you reach the conclusion you want to reach. The end result is what I say. You don't want to give me your things, so you won't. That's my honest opinion. I'm not being dishonest.

    My request is not that crazy or unreasonable. I'll certainly read the sections I've requested from the New Jerome Bible Commentary if you send it. How do Jesus words apply to my request?

    "I've criticized you for being ignorant of information that's found in many sources, not just the books I own."

    Don't change the subject to other criticisms you've offered on other subjects in different sources. You specifically criticized me for not reading argumentation in a book that I don't own and you do. Send me the book and I'll definitely read the sections you referenced. "Anonymous" says "Give to every man that asks" means "Give within reason." I think my request is reasonable.

    With regards to my request to have you type a section or scan it, go to your post on "Jesus' Brothers and Skeptical Inconsistency" and search for the word "scan."

    As far as how I understood the text as a Christian, in some cases I engaged in some of the same rationalizations you are now engaging in. But unlike you I readily admitted that my explanations weren't necessarily straightforward. I admitted that it would be very reasonable for someone to disagree with me, but I just thought that skeptics had bigger problems.

    One text that was a major problem for me as a Christian was Paul's teaching on women wearing hats in church at I Cor 11. Most Christians claim to care about the Bible, but I don't really think they do. They dismiss this text with a wave of the hand. "That was merely cultural. That doesn't apply today." I did not treat the Bible that way. For me these were the very words of God. I wanted to be honest with it. As I read it I couldn't see how to avoid the conclusion that this was not cultural, but applied today.

    How this came about was my pastor was covering the entire book of I Cor. Week after week we'd cover another section. He exegeted the text of I Cor 11, and my eyes widened throughout the service. He wasn't dogmatic that it was teaching that women needed to wear hats, and he offered some reasons that Christians give for why this didn't apply to us, but I didn't think these reasons were good enough based upon his analysis of the text. I sought him out after service. He's an honorable man and a very smart man. Knows Greek and Hebrew. He got his degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He repeated the excuses trying to make it mean what we all want it to mean. In both cases I explained why I didn't think that interpretation was feasable. I was shocked as he responded quietly as if he agreed with me, and implied that he thought I was right. I sought my apologist friend that I mentioned in my other post. He is one of the smartest people that I know. We struggled and struggled with it, and he said something that startled me. He said, "You know Jon, I have to admit that I do feel like I'm working awfully hard to avoid the conclusion I don't want to accept." I sought other pastors and other apologist friends. I struggled. It was to the point that my wife informed me that if this was the conclusion I was going to come to, she would be willing to wear a hat in church. If you knew my wife you'd know what a sacrifice this would be for her. "Submissive" is not the best description of her. "Firecracker" is probably better.

    Ultimately I just tried to put it out of my mind. But time after time of making the text say what I wanted it to say, and feeling like that was dishonest, grated on me. This is ultimately what destroyed my faith in Christianity.

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  8. Jon Curry said:

    "Obviously I'm not claiming that you have said in so many words 'give to those that ask' means 'don't give to anyone if you don't feel like it.' What I'm doing is boiling what you say down to its essence. This is just argumentation, not lies. Jesus says 'Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.' You talk about 'hyberbole' and 'figures of speech' and how the Bible does contain such things. You talk and talk and talk until you reach the conclusion you want to reach. The end result is what I say. You don't want to give me your things, so you won't. That's my honest opinion. I'm not being dishonest."

    You're making more assertions without any accompanying evidence. You claim that it's your "honest opinion", but you don't give us any reason to share it.

    You write:

    "I'll certainly read the sections I've requested from the New Jerome Bible Commentary if you send it. How do Jesus words apply to my request?"

    I quoted you a few passages from the commentary that demonstrated my argument, namely that even non-inerrantist scholars hold a variety of views of Jesus' comments on His second coming and the Mount of Transfiguration, and that those non-inerrantist scholars hold some views that are held by inerrantist scholars. I also gave you references to discussions of scholarly opinion in the works of Keener, Bock, etc. After I provided you with such documentation, you conitnued to make misleading claims about how these views of Jesus' eschatology were the result of a belief in inerrancy. In addition to the fact that attributing a view to a belief in inerrancy doesn't do much to refute that view, I demonstrated that you were wrong in your assessment of scholarship on the issue. You're highly ignorant of scholarship on this and many other subjects, as your frequent false claims and dependence on sources like Wikipedia and preteristarchive.com reflect. If you've made so little effort to do research so far, and you've been so careless in your claims and have so poorly handled what information you've been given to this point, why should I think that it's appropriate to send you a book that I've already quoted for you a few times in our discussions? You're an American living in the twenty-first century. You've told me that you're financially well off enough to have possessed dozens of Christian books in the past, and you support a family and are able to spend large amounts of time online. You're not poor, you have access to libraries, I've already given you sufficient information from the book you're asking for (and other sources), and your behavior so far suggests that you wouldn't make much good use of the book if I did send it.

    You write:

    "Don't change the subject to other criticisms you've offered on other subjects in different sources. You specifically criticized me for not reading argumentation in a book that I don't own and you do. Send me the book and I'll definitely read the sections you referenced."

    Are you referring to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary? You just mentioned it today, in your third post in this thread. The comment I was responding to was in your second post. In that second post, you mentioned "books" (plural), without singling out The New Jerome Biblical Commentary by name. And you originally applied Matthew 5:42 to my books in general, not just one book.

    Even as far as The New Jerome Biblical Commentary is concerned, I quoted a few different passages from it and described what's found elsewhere in it. I also told you what you could find in other sources. Asking me to send you my copy of the commentary, when your argument has already been answered, you're in a position to get the commentary yourself, you've demonstrated such irresponsibility in handling what you're given, etc. doesn't make sense. I do give to people in other contexts, but giving to you in this context doesn't make sense. There are times when a refusal to give is appropriate (Matthew 21:27, Christians of the fourth century not giving copies of the scriptures to Diocletian, etc.).

    You write:

    "But unlike you I readily admitted that my explanations weren't necessarily straightforward."

    You're changing the subject. Whether my view is "necessarily straightforward" is a different issue than whether your reading of Matthew 5 is "plain".

    You write:

    "I admitted that it would be very reasonable for someone to disagree with me, but I just thought that skeptics had bigger problems."

    Did you think that it would be "very reasonable" for a skeptic in an online forum to expect you to send him your books and your money because he asked for them while criticizing Matthew 5:42?

    You write:

    "Ultimately I just tried to put it out of my mind. But time after time of making the text say what I wanted it to say, and feeling like that was dishonest, grated on me. This is ultimately what destroyed my faith in Christianity."

    And now you believe that Jesus didn't exist, that 1 Corinthians 2:8 is referring to Jesus being crucified in a non-earthly realm, that Galatians 1:19 isn't referring to a biological brother of Jesus, that the individuals and groups of resurrection witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15 were all mistaken, that documents widely attributed to an apostle when eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the apostles were still alive were written by somebody else instead, etc.

    You mentioned 1 Corinthians 11. Later in that same chapter, Paul refers to the Last Supper, and he gives some details about it (some of Jesus' words, the fact that He was betrayed, the fact that it occurred at night, etc.). You can't accept what 1 Corinthians 11 says about covering the head, but you can accept the concept that Paul believed in a non-earthly Jesus whose life (such as the details surrounding the Last Supper) happen to align with what life is like on earth and what the gospels record about Jesus' earthly life.

    Since you've appealed to the popularity of an interpretation of scripture in the past, would you like to compare the popularity of Evangelical interpretations of the head covering section of 1 Corinthians 11 to the popularity of your interpretation of the section on the Last Supper? Let me repeat what I quoted to you earlier from Robert Van Voorst, regarding scholarly belief in Jesus' non-existence:

    "The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question....Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it [the theory that Jesus didn't exist] as effectively refuted." (Jesus Outside The New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000], pp. 14, 16)

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  9. Let me put a quick end to the confusion.

    Jon: First, you need to understand some important things about the Sermon on the Mount. It's very likely a collection of many sermons Jesus preached on a variety of occasions as he traveled from village to village repeating key ideas in different contexts. That means that the passage you're citing (Matt 5:42), even though it appears to be an independent ethical instruction (which is how you're interpreting it), isn't necessarily that. In fact, it has nothing whatever to do with your absurd demand for books and money (why it's absurd--in spite of your insistence that it is reasonable--will become clear). In all likelihood, the particular section of the SoM that 5:42 is contained within were instrutions specifically intended for Jesus' first disciples and the early church, to prepare them for how they should respond to the violent persecution Jesus knew would follow his death. Jesus is exhorting them to follow his example as he faces persecution from all sides on his march to the cross. You would be well served by reading through this portion of the SoM and reflecting on how Jesus' exemplified all of his own instructions. The disciples were to face similar persecution, and he was preparing them for how they should behave as occupants of an extraordinary office in extraordinary circumstances. A related example is Matt 5:29-30. Those verses give commands identical to those in Mark 9:43-48. The latter passage may have the appearance of isolated ethical instructions (much like in the SoM), but the larger context of Mark 8-10 shows that all those instructions are expressly intended to prepare the disciples for persecution after Jesus' death.

    So, your first mistake is your incorrect assumption that Matt 5:42 has a one-size-fits-all (for all time) application. It does not.

    Your second mistake is that your request is absurd. There's no genuine need behind it. You don't need these books. You may want them. You may find them useful. You don't need them. You haven't given us any reason to believe that you need a loan, especially not that you need a loan from the people who contribute to this blog. It's obvious that you're making this demand in an effort to make Christians look foolish and disobedient. Your request falls into the same category as those that were intended to trick or trap Jesus. In fact, "you are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mk 12:24). If we had his wisdom or authority, be could zap you with a true wisecrack, but our job is to explain your error to you.

    If you had a genuine need, believe me that any of us Christians would happily meet it. We would first want to direct you to a local diaconate that could help you, but if there were no local help available, we would help. There are plenty of other Scriptures that instruct Christians of all times and places to be generous--when faced with genuine needs. Matt 5:42 is not one of them.

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  10. "In all likelihood, the particular section of the SoM that 5:42 is contained within were instrutions specifically intended for Jesus' first disciples and the early church, to prepare them for how they should respond to the violent persecution Jesus knew would follow his death."

    I don't know, Agkyra. Does that apply to other statements at the SOM, such as "Blessed are the meek" and so forth. I think you have to ask yourself if you are just trying to make this say something other than what it seems to say.

    As far as my need for the books, did Jesus say "Give to those that ask and NEED it" or did he say "Give to every man that asks of you." Did he say "Do not turn away those that would borrow from you" or did he say "Do not turn away those that borrow and are in need." I don't see a justification for putting words in Jesus' mouth.

    I do recognize that Christians have done a lot of good and I respect the sentiment you express about giving to me if I were to need it. No, I don't "need" things from you. Few Americans "need" anything. We all live in relative prosperity. But I have to prioritize where I spend my money. Jason is critical of me for not replying to arguments I haven't read in books I don't own (just go through our previous discussions if you don't know what I'm referring to, Jason). If Jason would give me money, I would buy any book he requested me to buy. If he gave me the books I wouldn't need his money. Of course I'd be happy to use his additional money for other things.

    I'll say a couple of things in response to you, Jason, but were at the stage where I don't think our conversation is beneficial for me, so I drop it. You misrepresent and misunderstand and it's not worth the effort to direct you to what the conversation is about or the point I was actually making because I don't think you want to understand me. A phone call would set you straight, but I know where you stand on that.

    Let's suppose Jesus was not myth. Let's suppose I'm crazy to think that he might be. This is not a justification for ignoring everything the Bible says that you don't like. This is not justification for saying that this foolish statement is hyperbole or that non-sensical statement is a "figure of speech." You need to continue to probe the text itself and explain if my request of you is reasonable in light of Mt 5:42, not hide behind my speculation that Jesus may be myth.

    Would I have expected a skeptic to ask Christians for their money while I was a Christian? Skeptics have done that very thing.

    Regarding Jesus as myth, clearly you want to change every discussion of ours into a debate about Jesus as myth. I've avoided it because it's just not related to what we're discussing. But I've said before that this is not something I'm confident in. It's not something I've studied in depth. I would point out though that the Jesus myth theory explains a lot of things. Note the parallels to Horus described here. With regards to I Cor 2, there's a lot of scholarly support for the claim that the powers that are referred to are demonic heavenly powers, regardless of what Holding says. With regards to "James the brother of the Lord" Paul refers to "brothers" many times and it is not usually a sibling relationship. And Paul's description of the sacrificial meal can very easily be explained as a meal occuring in the heavenly realms, in a manner similar to activities of other Savior deities in a cultural milleau thouroughly infected with Platonic thought of a multi-layered universe. None of this has any impact on whether or not Paul taught that women should wear hats or that Mt teaches that Jesus taught that you should give to those that ask of you. You can disagree with me about politics, nutrition, or U.S. history, but none of that affects Paul's view on women and hats or the teaching of Mt 5.

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  11. Jon, you're quite right that not every statement in the SoM is directed specifically to the disciples for the period after Jesus' death. I'm not aware of any evidence of that for the beatitudes, for example. But, the fact that the SoM is a collection of Jesus' sayings--snippets from a variety of actual sermons--means that an extra measure of discernment is necessary to understand the context of each saying. The immediate literary context of Matt 5-7 may not be enough. You also have to consider the synoptic and Johannine parallels, and when you do that, it quickly becomes apparent that these ethical instructions are a special case. If you have any questions about how to go about doing that kind of research--the hard exegetical labor necessary to interpret the Bible correctly--I'll be happy to help you as far as possible.

    You're right on one more point too. The instruction is not to give only when someone needs something but to give whenever anyone asks. The problem is that your asking, Jon, is not what Jesus had in mind. It doesn't apply to the situation of just any old person who asks any Christian for anything at any time. It's Jesus' remedy to the disciples' radical misconception about how Jesus would come into his glory. His kingdom was not inaugurated through violence. Jesus did not raise a militia and throw off the Roman yoke. The disciples expected and wanted him to do that. Even when Jesus is finally arrested, Peter draws his sword and attacks the authorities. Even at that late hour, Peter was prepared to take part in a violent revolution. Jesus' instructions are that the disciples must be passive against the official government persecutors. Don't worry about what to say--the Holy Spirit will give you the words at just the right time. Don't resist. Trust God. Don't love your body or your life--if concern about any earthly thing tempts you to renounce the faith, get rid of it. It is far better for the body to die (and live again!) than for the soul to perish eternally.

    I hate to break the bad news to you, Jon, but none of that has anything whatsoever to do with your demand for books or money.

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  12. Jon Curry wrote:

    "You need to continue to probe the text itself and explain if my request of you is reasonable in light of Mt 5:42, not hide behind my speculation that Jesus may be myth."

    You tell me to "probe the text", as if I'm the one who doesn't understand it. I know more about it than you do, and I've explained why I'm not sending you the commentary you mentioned. I also gave you examples of Jesus and the apostles qualifying these principles (Jesus sometimes refused to give, Jesus commended Zaccheus for only giving away a portion of his possessions after He told the rich young ruler to give away all of his, etc.). You aren't addressing those qualifications, nor have you addressed the examples we've given you regarding how such qualifications apply to human communication in general. You keep repeating your assertion that Jesus' comments are "nonsensical", "foolish", etc. without making much of an effort to interact with what the people in this thread have written in response.

    If other Jewish teachers of Jesus' time taught in a similar manner, don't you think you ought to take that context into account? If Jesus tells people to remove body parts if those body parts are involved in sin, yet He never tells His disciples or other followers to remove body parts when they sin in His presence (He doesn't tell Peter to cut his tongue out after Matthew 16:22, etc.), don't you think Jesus probably was speaking hyperbolically, as other Jewish (and non-Jewish) teachers often did (and still do)? If Jesus told people to give to those who ask, yet He sometimes didn't give to people who asked of Him, and He sometimes commanded His followers to not give in some contexts, don't you think He probably was giving us a general principle that would be interpreted as we would interpret any other general principle within a larger system of belief? Much of what Jesus taught was a repetition of Old Testament concepts, so people would have known that the sort of absurd interpretation you've suggested wasn't intended. Some of the sayings ("turn the other cheek", "go the extra mile", etc.) are still used commonly today, and I think that the large majority of people understand such sayings as general principles without applying to them the sort of absurd meaning you've suggested.

    You write:

    "Would I have expected a skeptic to ask Christians for their money while I was a Christian? Skeptics have done that very thing."

    You've changed the wording of what I asked you, and your response doesn't answer my question.

    You write:

    "I would point out though that the Jesus myth theory explains a lot of things."

    The theory that Jesus was an alien can "explain a lot of things". But if you take on a pound of absurdity while gaining an ounce of explanation, you're going backward, not forward.

    Your attempts to explain 1 Corinthians 2:8 and Galatians 1:19 are ridiculous. The fact that some scholars view the rulers of 1 Corinthians 2:8 as demonic doesn't address the large amount of textual evidence I documented to the contrary. The passage repeatedly, many times and in many ways, refers to human wisdom, human power, how the Corinthians compare to other humans, etc. And the scholars who do think that the rulers are demonic interpret the passage as a reference to a demonic influence behind Jesus' earthly crucifixion. They don't assume the existence of some non-earthly realm that had crucifixions and conclude that Jesus was crucified in that non-earthly realm.

    Regarding the references to Jesus' brothers, we know that Paul distinguished "brothers of the Lord" from other male Christians (1 Corinthians 9:5), yet we have no reason to believe that there was a group at the time that called itself "Brothers of the Lord". Most likely, then, Paul had biological brothers in view. And Paul doesn't single out one individual and use the possessive "of the Lord" when referring to spiritual brothers elsewhere, as he does in Galatians 1:19. Paul refers to spiritual brothers in dozens of passages, but nowhere else uses the possessive "of the Lord". In Galatians, for example, Paul repeatedly uses the term "brothers" elsewhere without the possessive "of the Lord" (Galatians 1:11, 3:15, 4:12, 4:28, 4:31, 5:11, 5:13, 6:1, 6:18). And if a James who is bishop of Jerusalem is referred to as a biological sibling of Jesus in Christian and non-Christian sources living just after Paul's time at the latest (I would argue that some of the sources were writing when Paul was still alive), then we would also interpret Paul's comments in light of what those sources report.

    Regarding your references to "Platonic thought of a multi-layered universe" in Paul and alleged pagan parallels to the life of Jesus (with yet another reference to a Wikipedia article), you offer no evidence for the former, and I'm not going to once again go through a Wikipedia article and guess which portions you have in mind and which portions you disagree with. In all likelihood, you don't know much about either subject. This is just another example of your carelessness and your willingness to grasp at straws.

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  13. Boy, I really seem to have gotten under your skin this time. The ad hominem is coming a little more quickly than usual. Do you have to become so angry when conversing with me? It's not my desire to make you angry or to have an ad hominem filled conversation.

    That's another reason I think we'd benefit from a phone conversation. You'd realize that the name calling is misplaced. I'm really a pleasant guy.

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  14. hostus twinkius8/29/2006 2:15 PM

    So, you came to the conclusion that Jesus didn't exist because today women don't wear hats to church? Wow....

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  15. Hey, can't you just give me a call Jason? I'm really a pleasant guy. You'd like me, I just know it. If we spoke on the phone, then I could share my errors and misunderstandings with you personally, instead of through this silly ole' blog. Why write pages and pages of argumentation, when we could just talk on the phone for hours and hours and hours. I mean, c'mon, it'll be great! I have Thursday evening free, what do you say?

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  16. Jon Curry said:

    "The ad hominem is coming a little more quickly than usual. Do you have to become so angry when conversing with me?"

    I don't know what you consider "ad hominem" in my posts or why you conclude that I'm "angry". But should we apply the same standards to your posts? When you say "I don't think you want to understand me", is that "ad hominem"? When you refer to the teachings of Jesus as "foolish" and "nonsensical", should we conclude that you're "angry"?

    You write:

    "That's another reason I think we'd benefit from a phone conversation. You'd realize that the name calling is misplaced. I'm really a pleasant guy."

    Earlier, you said that you wanted to speak with me on the phone for "a few minutes". In your last post, you said that a phone conversation would "set me straight". Yet, you spent much more than a few minutes on the phone with James White, and he reached some of the same conclusions about you and your theories that I have. And you've said that, during those phone conversations with him, you misspoke, were misunderstood, James White didn't answer all of your questions, etc. Whatever benefits there would be from a phone conversation, your discussions with James White illustrate that talking on the phone isn't as significant as you're making it out to be. If you're making comparisons between Jesus and Horus, and you think that Jesus didn't exist, for example, you have some major problems that aren't going to be helped much by changing from an online format to a telephone.

    I don't deny that you're "a pleasant guy". But whatever positive attributes you have, what you've done over the past several months is reprehensible. I've probably read at least a few hundred pages of your posts now, and I've listened to your conversations with James White. I know a lot about what you believe. I know that you have a lot of misconceptions about a lot of significant subjects, that you've been consulting a lot of unreliable sources, and that there are some highly significant problems with your belief system, including some problems that have been explained to you many times, that you haven't yet addressed adequately. It seems that you left Christianity largely as a result of becoming weary of the difficulties involved in defending Biblical inerrancy. But you were ignorant of some of the best arguments for Christianity and ignorant of some of the problems involved in maintaining a non-Christian worldview. You made your decision to leave Christianity before you should have, and you went public about it long before you were ready to do so. Now you have closer relationships with people who despise Christianity and have distanced yourself from some of the Christians you used to associate with.

    While you're still relatively early in this process, you ought to rethink what you've done and the direction you're going. As I told you last year, you need to be spending more time in study and in thought and less time arguing against Christianity in public forums. You aren't ready for it. You're wasting your time, you're wasting other people's time, and there's the potential that you would mislead other people. If your wife is a Christian and you have children, as I remember you telling me last year, then do it for them, too. Most of all, do it for Jesus Christ, because if He is who Christianity claims He is, then your relationship with Him is more important than anything else.

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  17. "I don't know what you consider "ad hominem" in my posts or why you conclude that I'm "angry"."

    Angry people engage in a lot of ad hominem. In one (relatively) brief post of yours you talked about how my arguments are "ridiculous," I'm "careless," I "grasp at straws." In your prior post I'm "dishonest" and again "careless." Now you're back to calling me "ignorant". These are all comments directed to the man rather than to the arguments. Since "ad hominem" means to the man I consider these comments ad hominem.

    "When you say "I don't think you want to understand me", is that "ad hominem"?"

    When the argument is about you then in that case I have to make statements that are to the man. But in that case I am not committing a fallacy because you are the subject of the dispute. I've demonstrated that you've repeatedly misunderstood and/or misrepresented me. As it happens over and over and as I offer steps to remedy it (such as a phone call) and you refuse, it is only rational for me to conclude that you don't want to understand me. This is not the same as name calling in response to a Scriptural argument. You, on the other hand, respond to arguments (such as my point about scholars regarding the "powers" of I Cor 2 to be supernatural powers-a perfectly true and accurate statement) with ridicule of me personally. That is a fallacy.

    "When you refer to the teachings of Jesus as "foolish" and "nonsensical", should we conclude that you're "angry"?"

    No. Why would you? These are comments about the text, i.e. about the subject under discussion, not about you personally. We then proceed to discuss the text and determine if in fact these are foolish comments. I didn't say your arguments are "foolish" or that you're ignorant, or your arguments are ridiculous.

    "Earlier, you said that you wanted to speak with me on the phone for "a few minutes". In your last post, you said that a phone conversation would "set me straight". Yet, you spent much more than a few minutes on the phone with James White, and he reached some of the same conclusions about you and your theories that I have."

    What's ironic is that in my efforts to explain how I would go about helping you properly understand me you've taken those statements, misunderstood them, and critiqued them on that basis. By "set you straight" I don't mean (as is apparent in my previous post where I used the phrase "set you straight") that I'm going to change your opinions to agree with mine. I only meant that I was going to help you understand what I'm arguing and what I'm saying. That would only take a few minutes. James White and I discussed a variety of topics, and because we were talking I was able to clarify my meaning to help him understand me properly. We had one incident of misunderstanding as time expired and that was it. For you and me to cover that much ground we'd need to write about 3 dozen pages of text and it would take about 3 weeks. This is the advantage of verbal communication. I want your critiques, Jason. I benefit from them. But I don't want to waste all kinds of time pointing out what I said before, and what I mean, when it doesn't seem to be getting through. I'd rather you properly understood me and gave me your best, most efficient effort. I don't want to waste your time. My time is being wasted as well as I repeatedly try to get you to grasp what I'm saying.

    "If you're making comparisons between Jesus and Horus, and you think that Jesus didn't exist, for example, you have some major problems that aren't going to be helped much by changing from an online format to a telephone."

    A phone call is not for the purpose of either you changing my opinions or me changing your opinions. It is for the purpose of helping you properly understand my opinions, and perhaps me properly understanding your opinions. Again, it's quite ironic that you've misunderstood the point again.

    "But you were ignorant of some of the best arguments for Christianity and ignorant of some of the problems involved in maintaining a non-Christian worldview."

    And around and around we go, you making the same points you've made that I've already responded to, me responding with the same point I already offered, and you avoiding the issue.

    You are far more ignorant of skepticism than I am of Christianity. I've read dozens of books on apologetics from Christian apologists. I've taught classes at church on apologetics. I've attended apologetics conferences. I've read the Bible cover to cover 4 times. You on the other hand can't point to a single book you've read by a skeptic debunking Christianity. You can only point to web articles or snippets as quoted by J.P. Holding. Answer the question I asked you before which you ignored. If you are critical of me for being ignorant of Christianity, having read dozens of books, attended seminars, taught classes, and walked as a Christian for over 2 decades, are you also critical of those that embrace Christianity when they don't have anything near the knowledge that I have? Or do you have one standard for those that leave the faith and another for those that accept it?

    My prediction is that you will either ignore this question or you will offer a non-responsive answer where you either miss the central point of the question or just misrepresent it all together.

    "As I told you last year, you need to be spending more time in study and in thought and less time arguing against Christianity in public forums. You aren't ready for it. You're wasting your time, you're wasting other people's time, and there's the potential that you would mislead other people."

    I could say the same to you. Your knowledge of skepticism is inferior to my knowledge of Christianity. But that's OK. You learn as you go. Certainly I do too. But you don't admit it and I do. You've clearly been exposed to arguments you weren't familiar with in the course of our discussions and you're more informed as a result. That's what I do too. This is a broad field. A person could spend their whole life studying it and never run out of new things to learn. That doesn't mean we should hide in a hole and never express ourselves or put our arguments to the test.

    Honestly I'd like to put the Jesus myth view to the test even before I study it in depth. This way I can know the weaknesses to look for as I study so I can determine if I think the theory is rational. This is how I learn. It worked with Catholicism. I know Catholicism very well and the differences between it and Protestantism. Had I waited to speak on the subject before reading the books I read I wouldn't have gotten nearly as much out of them. And I don't remember you criticizing me for being ignorant of Catholicism as I debated the issue. I don't remember you telling me to get lost and go study before saying anything because I'm too ignorant. My "ignorant" comments about Catholicism were good enough for Eric Svendsen when he posted my review of Sungenis' book "Not By Faith Alone". At the time I wrote that review I'd read far fewer books by Catholics than I've read today by Christians. In other words I was far more ignorant of Catholicism when I critiqued it then I am today of Christianity as I critique it. Why am I suddenly too ignorant to debate the issue when this wasn't the case of Catholicism a couple of years ago?

    As far as me misleading people, obviously you are begging the question. I think you mislead people and you think I mislead people. But as I said before, it is already irrational to believe in Christianity regardless of Mt 5:42, or 16:28, or Jesus as myth, just as it is irrational to believe in the paranormal generally.

    "If your wife is a Christian and you have children, as I remember you telling me last year, then do it for them, too. Most of all, do it for Jesus Christ, because if He is who Christianity claims He is, then your relationship with Him is more important than anything else."

    It's nice to see a statement like this from you which seems to express empathy, as opposed to some of the other statements like what I discussed above. I respect that it is important to you to do things that are honoring to a person you believe to be God, and I appreciate that you are offering advice which in your view is in the best interest of those around me. What you can't seem to see though, is that I am likewise doing what I do out of good motives. Rather than my actions being "reprehensible" or "deeply shameful" as you've said in the past, my actions are those of a person that is concerned for truth, and regards the pursuit of truth as a good in and of itself. What would have been shameful is if I had become convinced of Christianity's falsity, yet continued on as if I didn't regard it as false. What I've done instead was stressed familial relationships, risked being ostracized, and lost friendships all because truth was that important to me. I'm not ashamed of that.

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