Posts filed under ‘The Holy Bible’

Who Is Innocent?

Anti-Death Penalty crusader Sister Helen Prejean

Image via Wikipedia

People like Pete DeGraaf anger me, people who are so narrow-minded as to see only their own viewpoint on any given subject and to be wholly convinced that their side is the righteous one. Smart people know that there are two sides to every war. Which side is the “good” one is sometimes a random designation made decades later by history books and determined in large part by military might and strategy.

I like to think that if I were ever pregnant as the result of a rape that I would give birth to that baby. I do think that would be the right thing to do, but to be told that I have no choice in the matter and to have a pregnancy from a rape be equated with the inconvenience of a flat tire or paying for life insurance…just goes to show you that DeGraaf thinks that being raped is one of those inevitabilities of life that a woman should be prepared for. It sickens me that anyone with so little empathy or compassion for women would dare to call himself a representative of Christ. Somewhere in Heaven, God is vomiting right now.

The thing that I find the saddest about people like DeGraaf is that when you ask them why they are so vehemently opposed to choice, they always mention, of course, that abortion is murder. They say that they are opposed to any taking of life that’s not done by God. They believe in the sanctity of life. And you ask them about assisted suicide. The answer they give seems consistent. But ask them about the death penalty or ask them about war…you’ll get a very different answer.

I don’t want to get into the particulars of a debate about war and the ethics of war. I don’t have enough time to address it in this blog post except to say that “this” war (Iraq & Afghanistan) on “terrorism” is not anymore ethical than the one we lost in Vietnam. This is to say…that it isn’t. We have no business being there. And yet a guy like DeGraaf I can say with absolute certainty, supports the “War on Terrorism” and would question my very patriotism for daring to examine America’s real motivations.

I’m also certain that a guy like DeGraaf backs the death penalty. I haven’t spent any time looking at his website or his voting record, and yet I can tell you with absolute certainty, that DeGraaf believes in the death penalty as if there were Bible verses that support it. That’s ‘cause I’m psychic like that…either that or DeGraaf is a walking, breathing, talking caricature of a certain cretin of American zombies who think alike about everything.

Okay. There are Bible verses that seemingly support the death penalty. I’ll give you that. But there are Bible verses that seem to support slavery as well. I’ve got a brain. I can think. And when a man who says abortion is murder and says that he believes in the “sanctity of all life” also supports the death penalty and the War For Our Gas Tanks, then I call Bullshit! I call Hypocrite!

When you get into a debate with one of these people they inevitably mention that it’s a question of innocence. An unborn baby is innocent. A convicted murderer is not. A jihadist is not. But how do we determine innocence? An unborn baby that’s the product of incest ruins the life and future of a 9 year old girl who’s been raped by her father. That’s not the baby’s fault, or is it? If you hurt someone by accident, then have you hurt them less than if you did it by malicious intent?

I’m not trying to call into question the innocence of an unborn baby. Not seriously. But the people who are working to take away a woman’s choice are saying that pregnancies that result from rape or incest are only 10% or less of total unplanned pregnancies. Some estimates claim 1% or less. They want to take away a woman’s right to choose because less than 1% of unplanned pregnancies are the result of rape. What if 1% of people on death row are innocent? How does DeGraaf feel about the death penalty then?

I’ve read recently about some people who are making some headway towards eradicating the death penalty. One of them is Danalynn Recer, a mitigator in Houston, Texas. She was written up in The New Yorker. The work she’s doing involves presenting mitigating circumstances to juries in the penalty phases of capital murder cases. Simply put, she makes the perpetrators seem like human beings. She tells their life stories leading up to their monstrous crimes.

In addition to the work of mitigators, the death penalty has taken some hits recently because of The Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a non-profit group based out of New York City that has worked with convicted men across the United States to use DNA evidence in order to exonerate innocent men who were wrongfully imprisoned. In many cases it has prevented innocent men from being executed.

I used to be staunchly opposed to the death penalty. I’m a little more open minded recently. You might ask why. And I would say Osama bin Laden. While I absolutely feel that the Christian response at someone’s death is not to take to the streets and rejoice, I realize that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with killing him. One of bin Laden’s sons and some of the more bleeding heart liberal of my countrymen have come forward with questions on why we didn’t take bin Laden into custody and put him on trial.

And I know why…because it’s pointless. He’s the mastermind behind 9/11. He’s taken credit for it. And even if he were to receive a trial…where would it be held? How would he receive a fair trial? Where would we find a “jury of his peers” beyond a terrorist training camp in some rural Pakistani village, and then…would justice prevail?

So, what I will say about the death penalty is this, that like with abortion, I believe that it should be safe, legal and extremely rare. Maybe in the case of the death penalty, I should say humane, legal and extremely rare. Most European nations and developed countries no longer practice the death penalty. These other countries tend to have significantly lower rates of violent crime than the United States does.

And so, I think that we need to realize that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Maybe something about it satisfies our need for vengeance. An eye for an eye. But what most people don’t realize about that particular Bible quote is that it was not a prescription for violence but rather a limitation that was meant to instill a sense of fairness. You take my eye, I take your eye – not, rather, you take my eye, and I take your eye, your house, and your entire flock of goats. It was a restriction on the inevitable escalation of violence.

Something about our society perpetuates violence. We need to take a good, hard look at just what that is. And maybe, in the meantime, we should limit death penalty cases to extreme cases of genocide, mass murder, war crimes, and treason.

If you’re interested in learning more about the death penalty in the United States, then I recommended the websites I’ve linked to as well as the following movies, books, and television programs:

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean, as well as the movie of the same name that was based on the book.

I Want to Live – the 1958 tearjerker based on the real-life story of Barbara Graham boasts an over-the-top performance by Susan Hayward. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 100% Fresh rating.

Death Be Not Proud – This is a 2005 episode of the David E. Kelley produced Boston Legal. In the episode, James Spader’s Alan Shore travels to Texas to try a capital murder case. Kerry Washington guest stars.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112818/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0530516/usercomments

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/i_want_to_live/

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/09/110509fa_fact_toobin

http://www.innocenceproject.org/

June 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm 7 comments

The Message in Easter

[ C ] Caravaggio - Martha and Mary Magdalene (...

Image by centralasian via Flickr

Matthew 28:1-10After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (NIV)

This Sunday I celebrated Easter at church. It was great. The Mr. Brewsters and I went to MCC in Austin. It’s the second time I’ve been. Lots of churches in Austin claim to be inclusive, but this one may be the first where I’ve actually seen gay and lesbian couples and transgenders free and welcome to worship. They are comfortable here, and it’s a loving, affirming environment.

Also, this is a true Christian church. The theology is sound. It’s not all over the map. It’s not new age. It’s not read Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra and believe whatever you want to believe like the Luby’s Cafeteria of theology — but neither is it dogmatic. And it seems to get the emphasis of Christianity just right. It’s about the love, the faith. We can debate and overthink the miracle of Christ until we suck all the joy right out of it, and that doesn’t make us any different from the atheists.

About a week ago a young man who writes his own very funny blog left a comment on a post of mine about Early Christianity, and he noticed that I seem to be concerned with women’s issues. He asked me to expound upon the significance of Jesus’ appearing to the women on Easter. And I think I’m ready to address that issue now.

First off, one of the things we know about Jesus and his ministry is that he was chiefly concerned with the “little people,” if you will. He ministered to people that his society shunned. In some cases these people were truly corrupt individuals and in other cases they were just people who were needlessly suffering.

Regardless of whether the person’s status in society was of his own making or simply a byproduct of blind misfortune, Jesus ministered to them all. He shook hands and broke bread with tax collectors and lepers and prostitutes.  If He were on this earth ministering today, He would be ministering to the gays and the transgender and the homeless and the crack addicts and AIDS victims and, yes, the prostitutes. Some things never change. Jesus said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Women, in Jesus’ time, as they still are in many Asian and African and Latin American countries, were considered to be second-class citizens. Actually, that’s a fallacy. They were literally considered property, like cattle or children. That Jesus ministered to women and that some of his most faithful disciples were female should come as no surprise. They might not be listed in our Bibles as one of the twelve “chosen” apostles, but make no mistake that Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene were just as devoted to Jesus as any of the men. In fact, the women did not deny Jesus after His death; it was the men who did that.

On the morning that our Lord rose from the dead and the angel rolled away the stone, the women were coming to attend to Him.  This was woman’s work, preparing a body for burial. There is irony in the fact that the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women. This is because women in those times were not considered to be reliable witnesses. They could not give testimony in a court of law; it would not have been accepted.

This explains why, when the women obeyed the command of the angel and went to tell Jesus’ disciples that he was alive, they initially refused to believe. In fact, they would not believe the resurrection until they saw the empty tomb for themselves. And one of them would withhold his faith until he was able to literally poke a finger through the Lord’s wounds. But the women, faced with a rolled stone, an empty tomb, and an angel, believed. They didn’t question it. They didn’t ask for proof. They didn’t ask the angel how he pulled off that trick. When the angel offered a wholly implausible, insane explanation, they accepted the word of the angel without question.

God is the master architect. Don’t mistakenly think that the women coming upon the Lord’s empty tomb was by happenstance. The women were meant to be the bearers of the Good News, the most important and defining brick in the mosaic of our faith, the resurrection that is definitive proof of our salvation. What an honor, if you think about it. The last shall be first.

April 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm 1 comment

Birds Die, Fish Die, Cows Die: My Oh My!

Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, in a promoti...

Image via Wikipedia

“Well, I first think that they ought to call a veterinarian, not me. You know, I’m not the religious conspiracy theorist go-to guy particularly. But I think it’s really kind of silly to try to equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.”

Kirk Cameron

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man comes.”

Jesus Christ


Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.”

-Robert Frost

A little over a week ago hundreds of birds mysteriously died and dropped from the sky to the ground. This happened in Arkansas, and then again in Kentucky. Next, some fish died somewhere. Then a bunch of cows died. You’d think that the four horsemen of the apocalypse had been spotted riding down 42nd Street and Broadway in New York City. Katie Couric has an exclusive interview with Pestilence tonight on the six o’clock news! Stay tuned!

I’m not even forty years old yet, and if I had a nickel for every time that some natural disaster supposedly signaled the end of the world, well, I’d at least be rich enough to buy a burger off the McDonald’s Value Menu. Can I just say that this is tiresome? Yes, it’s tiresome, people.

A whole bunch of Christians, the kind who were no doubt heavily influenced by This Present Darkness and the Left Behind series, pounce on all these natural phenomena every time they occur.  The end is near! The end is near! Make yourself a sandwich sign, get yourself a bell, and head to the streets, people. You can meet Chicken Little there.

A whole sub-culture of Christians even supports Zionism, not so much because they support Israel, but because they see the state of Israel as being part of the prophecy of end times. This is funny to me because it’s like they think they can influence the apocalypse with their political votes and financial contributions. That’s it. God is going to hasten the rapture because you support Israel as an independent political state. It’s all about you.

I happen to think it’s a good thing to support Israel as well but not because I believe that it’s going to make Jesus come back any sooner. There are people out there who not only think that they can influence the end of the world but also think that they can predict it with absolute certainty. That’s right. The rest of us aren’t supposed to know, but God let you and only you in on that little secret.

Do these people have nothing better to do than sit at home all day trying to read the book of Revelations in Greek with a calendar and an abacus at their sides? Tell me. When will the Rapture happen? And when it does, will we find ourselves in the Transporter Room of the Starship Enterprise? Can I get William Shatner’s autograph?

Who is the Antichrist? Please, please, please say it’s Pat Robertson. What is the mark of the beast? Is it true we’re all going to get tattooed with bar codes, like Holocaust survivors? Does the European Union mean that we’re all eventually going to be on the same global currency? And will Pat Robertson’s face be on the $20 bill?

CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Kirk Cameron on the matter. I guess this is because he starred in the Left Behind movies. Well, that and he also happens to be an evangelical Christian who’s an actor. Maybe they can interview Stephen Baldwin next. Or how about Stephen King? He wrote The Stand.

Here’s what I know about the end times. If you study and know your Christian history, then you’ll know that people have been saying that the end of times are near since practically the day Jesus walked out of the tomb. For the record, that was approximately 2,000 years ago.

Maybe one of these days this world will end. I should watch so that I’m not influenced by charismatic leaders who might want to lead me astray from the love of God. If I keep my mind focused on God, then one day I’ll get to see Him, no matter whether or not I live through a rapture or a tribulation, no matter when that tribulation might occur. I really DON’T CARE. I’m saved, and I’m going to heaven either way.

January 19, 2011 at 12:44 am 7 comments

The Fruit, The Fall & The Plan

A screenshot from To Beep or Not to Beep.

Image via Wikipedia

Some of my readers seemed to get a little upset that I would say that birth defects or being born gay or transgender might just be a part of God’s plan. They mentioned the fall, when Eve and then Adam ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One said that as he understood it God wasn’t in charge of the earth now.

Well, I think God’s always been in charge of the universe, not just the Earth. If not, then who is in charge? Us? That’s a laugh. Satan? That’s even funnier. God’s in charge right now. God was in charge back then. He may choose not to interfere on a daily basis or not to interfere unless we ask Him in, but make no mistake that God’s ALWAYS in charge. He can step in any old time that He likes.

I also stand by my statement that what we often perceive as people’s imperfections are a part of God’s grand design, a design so big and complicated that you can only see it from God’s perspective. Think of corn mazes and crop circles. You don’t know what you’re looking at until you see it from the air.

I don’t mean that what a lot of us would think of as diseases and defects are personally visited upon particular people as a punishment. That makes no sense. A little baby has done nothing to deserve fetal alcohol syndrome, as an example. I only mean that God purposely designed a world in which these things could occur.

Let me ask you something: do you really believe that God is so small that the mere eating of a piece of fruit totally thwarted his original master plan for the universe? That’s it. Us all-powerful humans learn the difference between good and evil, and all hell breaks loose. It’s back to the drawing board for God, like Wile E. Coyote.

No, the world is the same world that was created on day seven. The fall didn’t thwart God’s plan. But there had to be consequences for Adam and Eve’s actions. The consequences were banishment from paradise amongst other things.

What was Adam & Eve’s sin? Well, for one thing it was thinking that eating a piece of fruit would make them as knowledgeable as God. It was that arrogance and hubris. And for another thing? It was believing the serpent, taking the serpent’s word over God’s and assuming that God lies. It was failing to communicate with God and failing to trust God.

Why would God purposely create a world from the very beginning that included the possibility for error? Well, I’m not God, so I can’t know for sure. But I believe that there are three reasons. The first is so that we would learn to love one another in perfect love. We would learn that other human beings sometimes require help and care. We would learn compassion that way. When we show love for our fellow human beings that pleases God.

The second reason is that if God created a world that was all paradise all the time, then it wouldn’t really be paradise anymore. In order to recognize that you’ve got it good there has to be a corresponding opposite state of bad. Otherwise, good is just the status quo. There’s nothing good about it. It’s just what you’re entitled to as a child of God. Ho hum. Just another day in paradise.

Adam: Do you think God will walk through the garden again tonight?

Eve: Who cares? There’s no reason to talk with Him. We have everything we need.

Serpent: Psssssssssssssssssssssssst!

And the final reason that I believe that God created a perfect world of imperfection: so that we would learn to love God and to rely on God. The whole reason that the human race was created in the first place was to be in relationship with God. If we have free will and everything goes hunky dorey for us all the time, then there’s not much reason to be in communication with God. To thank him, some of you might say. But how do you recognize the need for gratitude when everything is just perfect all the time? That’s just the way it is. Why would I want to thank anyone?

If God didn’t want to be in communion with us he would have chosen, instead, to make us pretty dolls that he could just sort of move about the world, in much the same way that a little girl plays with Barbie’s dream house. Greek mythology often refers to humans in much the same way, as the playthings of the gods. I don’t think we’re playthings. I think we were meant to be companions. God didn’t create us just because he was bored. He created us because he was lonely.

I’m not so full of myself that I think these ideas are original to me. I’m sure that if I had gone to seminary that I could give you the name of at least one famous theologian who thinks the same way I do on the subject and can probably discourse on it much more intelligently than I can. What I’m doing is articulating my theology in a way that works for me. Hopefully, it works for you, too.

You can disagree. God made as many viewpoints in the world as there are people. The important thing is that we do think about God and speak with God and spend time with God and live our lives according to what we can best divine to be His will. But it would be a mistake to ever think that we can comprehend God’s plan for the universe, no matter how much time we spend reading the Bible…or how much fruit we eat.

January 14, 2011 at 1:22 am 8 comments

Early Christianity: St. Iranaeus of Lyons

St. Iranaeus (pr. Ear-uh-nay-oose) of Lyons was born in the first half of the second century in a Christian family, something unusual for theologians and priests of his time, most of whom were adult converts. He was the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is where modern day Lyon, France exists now.

Iranaeus is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in America. Iranaeus first came to the spotlight as a leader among Christian leaders when several priests were imprisoned during their persecution under the Roman leader Marcus Aurelius. Iranaeus delivered a letter to the Pope of the time, concerning the heresy of Montanism.

Iranaeus’ writings were very contemptuous of Gnosticism, and his views on the subject were influential in forming early church doctrine. He was very opinionated on the subject of Gnostics, and his prejudice sometimes led him to record inaccuracies.

For instance, there actually was a written Gospel of Judas; a copy that surfaced in Egypt in the 1970s partially survives to this day. Iranaeus had railed against the oral tradition of a secret document that purported to show Judas’ betrayal as a calculated piece of the Lord’s plan for Jesus, not a treachery but a humble obedience.

Also, Iranaeus claimed that Gnostics were sexual libertines. The truth is that Gnosticism was all over the map. Some Gnostics were promiscuous; others were stricter in their sexual abstention than was the official church. Later, he lost some credibility when these inaccuracies were brought to light.

His most important work was a book called Adversus Haereses, Latin for Against Heresies. It is from Iranaeus that we get the first inkling of a canon. He believed that the Old Testament and most of what has survived to be the New Testament should be considered scripture. He famously argued for the fourfold Gospel.

The fourfold Gospel was the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that we know to be the gospel today. In Iranaeus’ time there were many gospels. The gospels tended to each be more popular in certain geographical areas. As an example, there was a Gospel of Philip, a Gospel of Thomas, a Gospel of the Virgin Mary, a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the previously mentioned Gospel of Judas, to name a few.

The canon wouldn’t be officially deliberated or decided upon until many years later, but undoubtedly Iranaeus’ views were influential in shaping the Christian bible. His vehement argument in favor of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John being the only recognized gospels suggests that it was a novel idea for the time. However, one might also conclude that they were the most popular and widely read gospels for the time, whereas the gospels that didn’t survive were lesser known, less widely read, and also possibly contained Gnostic views.

In Iranaeus’ writings against Gnosticism he introduced the concept of apostolic succession. He argued that the bishops of the early church could be linked all the way back to the Lord’s first twelve disciples and that none of these church leaders were Gnostics. It is from the concept of apostolic succession that the concept of papal supremacy further emerged.

Iranaeus had many other fascinating insights, much too many to expound upon in a blog post. But his most important contributions to early Christianity were his denunciation of Gnosticism and his contributions of the fourfold gospel and the doctrine of apostolic succession. He undoubtedly greatly influenced the future solidification of the Roman Catholic Bible many years before its eventual canonization.

He died in the year 202 A.D. and was later buried under the church he served, St. John in Lyons, which was renamed for St. Iranaeus after his death. The church and his remains were later destroyed by the Hugenots in 1562. Some church traditions hold that he died a martyr’s death, although there is no evidence to support this fact.

To read more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/irenaeus.html

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08130b.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/people/irenaeus.htm

http://satucket.com/lectionary/Irenaeus.htm

December 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm 4 comments

Early Christianity: Josephus

Scanned from a copy of Josephus' 'The Jewish W...

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Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” – Josephus, from Antiquities of the Jews

Josephus was a Jewish historian. He was a law observant Jew who lived from approximately the years 37 to 100 C.E. He watched and chronicled, among many other things, the existence of Jesus and his ministry and the birth of the fledgling church.

Why is he considered so important to Christianity? He wasn’t even a Christian. Well, he’s vitally important to Christianity because he provides us with an impartial view of the times. The writers of the Bible can be accused of bias for Christianity. The gospels, for instance, could be said to be pro-Christian propaganda.

What proof do we have in the year 2010, for instance, that Jesus even existed? Some atheists question not only Jesus’ divinity but whether or not such a historical figure even lived. Josephus puts that rumor to death.

Josephus was raised in Jerusalem to a family with priestly and royal connections. He was a soldier and a diplomat. He was a Hellenistic Jew (which meant that he believed that Judaism was not in conflict with Graeco-Roman thought) but also a Hebrew patriot. His works were written in Greek, and he is considered to be a Roman apologist. He was a Pharisee by birth but perhaps not by inclination. He served for the Jews in the first Jewish-Roman revolt, although there is some question as to his loyalty since he was the only surviving member of a suicide pact.

His most important works were The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. His works chronicle not only the early Christian church and Jesus but also the first Jewish-Roman revolt and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. Because of Josephus we have an account of Masada, the Maccabees, the Hasmonean dynasty, and the rise to power of Herod the Great. His works directly reference John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate, and James the Just.

The oldest surviving manuscripts of Josephus’s works date to the tenth and eleventh centuries. Justin the Martyr failed to include Josephus’ reference to Jesus in his Christian apologies, and Justin was a known admirer of Josephus’ writings. This leads some to doubt the authenticity of Josephus’ account of Jesus. They believe that the information may have been added later by someone with a pro-Christian agenda.

Many other passages, beyond the one quoted at the beginning of this article, however, corroborate New Testament characters and stories and the existence of the political climate and social mores that are present in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. These passages are unchallenged by scholars. It seems likely that there may have been some tampering with the text in calling Jesus the Christ, since Josephus was not a Christian, but there seems little doubt that he would have included information about Jesus.

This account of Josephus’ life and work is grossly oversimplified. To read more about Josephus for yourself, check out these links:

http://www.josephus.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_and_history

http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/flavius-josephus/

December 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm 3 comments

Early Christianity: The Writing of The New Testament

Jesus appearing to Thomas the Apostle, from th...

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The New Testament consists of 27 books written by an assortment of different authors. There’s a lot of argument and speculation about who wrote a great many of the books, with some scholars even insisting that some of the Pauline letters were not written by Paul. There isn’t even any agreement about when the books were written.

The gospels could have been written as early as the 50s C.E. or as late as the second century. The debate for when and who wrote many books of the New Testament is important because it establishes the authenticity of the books. If the gospels were written within the Apostolic Age, then there is a good chance that they were written by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

If the date of authorship is later, then the gospels lose some of their clout as they are most certainly a written version of an earlier oral tradition. And we all know what happens when you play a game of Telephone.

The earliest church didn’t see a need for a New Testament. The Jewish scriptures were their scriptures. No need to reinvent the wheel. Also, early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent. They wouldn’t have seen the importance of preserving church tradition or the stories of Jesus because they were convinced that Jesus was coming for them before they could have children to whom they might pass it on.

This might explain some of Paul’s views on celibacy and marriage, which would have been contrary to Jewish tradition. These views, in turn, undoubtedly influenced the monastic tradition.

Some extremely conservative evangelicals would argue that all four gospels were written by disciples or contemporaries of Jesus. But I would ask you to remember that these are the same people who like to say that Moses wrote the Torah, which requires him to have written of his own death. Seems unlikely to me. So, I think we have to at least be open to the possibility that the Gospels were written after the death of Jesus’ contemporaries.

Does this mean that we should automatically disregard the New Testament as nothing but propaganda for a fledgling religion, a sect of Jews who were concerned with communal living? Well, oral history isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to scripture. The myths that make up Greek and Roman mythology were originally transmitted this way. This is also probably true for much of the Old Testament as well.

One great argument for the accuracy of oral tradition is the commonality of the flood myth amongst various cultures. Given that it’s a story that circulated through numerous peoples in geographical areas that couldn’t have influenced one another, there seems to be at least one case for the relative accuracy of oral tradition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flood_myths

November 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm Leave a comment

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