Thursday, May 23, 2024

Half-Hearted, Weak, And Following The Crowd

"The assent that people usually give to divine truths is very faint and half-hearted, weak and ineffectual. It stems only from a blind inclination to follow the religion that is currently in fashion or from a lazy indifference and unconcernedness as to whether religious truth is indeed either certain or important. Men are unwilling to quarrel with the religion of their country, and since all their neighbors are Christians, they are content to be so too. However, seldom are they at pains to consider the evidences for Christian truths or to ponder the importance or consequences of them. Thus it is that their affections and practice are so little influenced by them….We must therefore endeavor to stir our minds toward serious belief and firm persuasion of divine truths and a deeper sense and awareness of spiritual things." (Henry Scougal, in Robin Taylor, ed., The Life Of God In The Soul Of Man [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2022], approximate Kindle location 865)

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Patterns In Jesus' Teaching

I want to discuss some other points Peter Williams brings up in The Surprising Genius Of Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2023). He mentions that the gospels often have Jesus beginning and ending parables or other comments he's making in certain ways (95-99). For example, he often opens a parable with a question. He uses phrases like "which father among you" (Matthew 7:9) and "which of you" (Luke 11:5). Or "was it not necessary" (Matthew 18:33) and "it was necessary" (Luke 15:32). Williams also notes that the parables in these passages are both about "a forgiving authority figure with two subordinates and one refusing to forgive the other" (98-99).

He goes on to note how often male and female examples are set beside each other in Jesus' teaching (99-101): the two men in the field in Matthew 24:40 and the two women at the mill in the verse that follows, the parable of the female virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) followed by the parable of the talents involving men (Matthew 25:14-30), "the Queen of the South" in Luke 11:31 paired with "the men of Ninevah" in the verse that follows, etc.

For further evidence that teachings like what we find in these passages came from Jesus, not some later source or group of sources, see Williams' comments in another book quoted here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Jesus And Pigs And Dogs

Peter Williams' recent book, The Surprising Genius Of Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2023), discusses some agreements that are often overlooked among the gospels. For example, Jesus' parables in the gospel of Luke bring up some "proverbially unclean" animals, pigs (15:16) and dogs (16:21). The surrounding context of both parables suggests that the association with those animals is something negative. Similarly, Matthew 7:6 refers to dogs and pigs in that sort of negative manner. Another point that could be made, which I don't recall Williams making in his book, is how easily such a pairing of dogs and pigs could have been avoided in early Christian circles. Paul makes a negative reference to dogs (Philippians 3:2), but not pigs. The same is true of John (Revelation 22:15). And John brought up a wide variety of animals and other beasts in Revelation, which increases the potential for him to have included pigs and dogs as often as Jesus did, which John didn't. Peter combined the two animals (2 Peter 2:22), but most New Testament authors didn't, including ones who wrote as extensively as Paul and John did. Another point that I don't recall seeing in Williams' book is the episode with the Gerasene demoniac, which involved casting the demons into pigs. The demons asked to be cast into the pigs, so they're the ones who initiated it. But Jesus' willingness to go along with the request suggests that he found it fitting. And that account is found in Mark's gospel, which means that Jesus' expression of that sort of view of pigs is found in three of the gospels. I'm not suggesting that such a view of pigs is something highly unusual. But the expression of such a view seems unusual enough to be significant. Given how seldom pigs come up in that sort of way in the rest of the New Testament, it's notable that the gospels have Jesus expressing that sort of view of pigs a few times, in a few different contexts that are so diverse (in material found in only one gospel, in material found in multiple gospels, both in parables and elsewhere, etc.). Jesus also seems to refer to dogs in that sort of way more often than we see in other early Christian sources. In addition to the passages cited above, see Matthew 15:26 and the parallel passage in Mark. These are more examples of agreements among the gospels that are of a more subtle nature, and therefore are often overlooked, and which are best explained as coming from the historical Jesus.

(See here for a discussion of how one of these passages involving pigs is significant in another context.)