Category Archives: Bible Study

Wicked and Adulterous

A question came up in a discussion group yesterday evening. It involved a quote from Matthew 16 in the New International Version translation:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

Jesus then left them and went away.”

The quote was used in the context of “the sign of Jonah” and the ideas that might represent.

The question was not, as one might guess, about “Signs of the Times.” Bob Dylan sang “we don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The question was also not about the Pharisees and Sadducees or why they come off so poorly (after all they were the most religious folks of their day). The question was about this phrase “a wicked and adulterous generation.” The assertion was that this phrase was in Luke. That didn’t sound right to me, so I asked for time to research before sharing my take on it. My guess was that is Matthew’s voice and not aimed at Jesus’ followers (that is, not at the Church) but rather at the employees of Jerusalem Temple, Inc.

I was right on both of counts. I also mentioned that Mohammad refused to give his followers “signs” stating, rather, that there are so many indications of Allah’s existence, wisdom, provision, love, and justice all around us that if our eyes are blind to them no tricks he could perform would open our eyes. That might be the most common theme in the Quran in fact. I remember that more than once he referenced Jesus (Isa) and his phrase “a wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign.”

Matthew and Luke got this story from Mark.

Mark 8 (CEB)
… After Jesus told the crowd to sit down, he took the seven loaves and gave thanks. He then broke the loaves and handed them to his disciples, who passed them out to the crowd. They also had a few little fish, and after Jesus had blessed these, he told the disciples to pass them around.

The crowd of about 4,000 people ate all they wanted, and the leftovers filled seven large baskets.

As soon as Jesus had sent the people away, he got into the boat with the disciples and crossed to the territory near Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came out and started an argument with Jesus. They wanted to test him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus groaned and said, “Why are you always looking for a sign? I can promise you that you will not be given one!” Then he left them. He again got into a boat and crossed over to the other side of the lake.

The context is the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the inquisitors are just the Pharisees. There is no insult. If 4000 families being fed by freely sharing with and trusting each other is not “sign” enough, they won’t get a sign.

Luke 12 (CEB) has it
Then Jesus said to the crowds, “As soon as you see a cloud rising in the west, you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and that is what happens. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It will be hot,’ and it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. Why don’t you know how to interpret the present time?

Luke’s version is a condemnation of those who are unaware of their times, but leaves the religious political parties out of it.

Matthew in Aramaic

My answer is that, likely, Matthew added “wicked and adulterous” to Mark’s story because Matthew was writing after destruction of Jerusalem, the burning of the Temple, the slaughter or enslavement of more than a million Jews by Rome and the loss of the Israeli homeland (renamed to Palestine). Matthew and his congregation in Syria knew that the Sadducees and Pharisees’ bad leadership and infighting were partly to blame.

The literary, translational, and historical context and the Sign of Jonah can lead to interesting discussions, too.

Luke’s Context

We’re studying the Gospel of Luke.

Scholars don’t know exactly when it was written. In reality, it was probably composed over a period of time. Luke traveled with Paul until Paul’s arrest and death in Rome just before 70 AD. Luke may have started writing then. Parts of Luke’s Gospel were added later, basically adding new material on the front. It matured and eventually became the only gospel included in the first canon of scripture used by the Church (with Paul’s first five letters).

Jews had wanted to repel the Romans since they occupied Israel in 63 BC. Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, whose chief responsibility was to collect and deliver taxes to the empire. Whatever the tax collectors got over and above their quota, they could keep. Rome also took over appointing the High Priest.

Luke refers to all these issue indirectly, by naming rulers or contrasting genealogies; Jesus’ and Herod’s. About the time Luke reports Jesus’ birth a group arose among the Jews: the Zealots. Some people think John the Baptist was a Zealot. They were active until about the same time Paul was killed.

The anti-Roman feelings reached a peak during the reign of Emperor Caligula, who in the year 39 AD declared himself a deity and ordered his statue in every temple in the Roman Empire. The Jews, alone in the empire, refused his command; First Commandment stuff.

Caligula threatened to destroy the Temple. A delegation of Jews was sent to pacify him, to no avail. Caligula raged at them, “So you are the enemies of the gods, the only people who refuse to recognize my divinity.” Only Caligula’s violent death saved the Jews from wholesale massacre at that time (it would come soon enough).

In the decades after Caligula’s death, Jews found themselves subject to gross indignities, Roman soldiers exposing themselves in the Temple and burning a Torah scroll. Ultimately, the combination of financial exploitation, Rome’s unbridled contempt for Judaism and the favoritism extended to gentiles living in Israel brought about open revolt.

In the 66 AD, Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast quantities of silver from the Temple. The outraged Jewish masses rioted and killed the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. Cestius Gallus, the Roman ruler in neighboring Syria, sent in a larger force of soldiers. The Jewish insurgents routed them, too.

The Romans returned with 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional troops. They launched their first attack against the most radicalized area; Galilee. An estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem did almost nothing to help.

The refugees who succeeded in escaping the Galilean massacres fled to the last major Jewish stronghold: Jerusalem. There, they killed anyone in the Jewish leadership who had not helped. All the moderate Jewish leaders who headed the Jewish government at the revolt’s beginning in 66 AD were dead by 68 AD; not one died at the hands of a Roman. All were killed by fellow Jews.

Roman troops prepared to besiege the city camped outside. Inside the city, Jews were engaged in a suicidal civil war. The Romans would have won the war in any case. The Jewish civil war both hastened their victory and immensely increased the casualties. In expectation of a Roman siege, Jerusalem’s Jews had stockpiled a supply of dry food that could have fed the city for many years. But one of the warring Zealot factions burned the entire supply, apparently hoping that destroying this “security blanket” would compel everyone to participate in the revolt. The starvation resulting from this mad act caused suffering as great as any the Romans inflicted. Either way, there was great starvation. As Luke put is “he was very hungry.”

During the summer of 70 AD, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem and initiated an orgy of sadistic violence and destruction. They destroyed the Second Temple. It is estimated that as many as one million Jews died.

Around that time, Luke wrote.

Summer Reading to Reset Christianity

Instead of complaining about “them” I suggest we learn from these great thinkers and historians, perhaps to change and grow personally and in community. I am reading some of these, will try to read the rest. Nearly all beg for group discussion. Thanks to everyone who suggested reading material, listed in alphabetical order by title.

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Mike

April 30, 2016

My thoughts as I read “Left Wing Jesus” by Rev. Rich Lang:

Historical terms

“Left Wing Jesus?”

Left Wing” and “Right Wing” came into our vocabulary from just before the French Revolution in the late 18th Century. The National Assembly in Paris was divided into supporters of King Louis XVI and the “Ancient Regime,” men who sat to the president’s right. The supporters of the revolution were thus forced to sit to on the left. The Catholic Church supported the status quo and the Divine Right of Kings. The Deists and Protestants supported the French Revolution.

Right Wing” has thus taken on “conservative” and “support the old system” and “back the elites of power and wealth” associations. Those people honestly believe we already have the system that’s best for everyone and it should not be changed.

Left wing” as taken on “liberal” and “enlightened” and “back the people against economic oppression” connotations. Those people honestly believe that our system is corrupt and unjust and that things need to change.

American Political terms

The groups considered to be “Right Wing” are Fascists, Capitalists, Conservatives (both social and fiscal), Nationalists, Neoconservatives, Neoliberals, Reactionaries, Imperialists, Monarchists Libertarians, Authoritarians, and Religious Fundamentalists. These tend to gravitate into the Republican Party.

The “Left Wing” includes Anarchists, Communists, Socialists, Religious Progressives, Populists, Democratic Socialists, Social Liberals, and Green Party / Ecological Conservationists. These tend to associate with the Democratic Party.

Oddly, Conservationists are considered “Left Wing” but they are trying to conserve the planet. To do that they must challenge the political and economic system, thus leftists. Libertarians self-associate with the “Right Wing” even though they espouse Anarchy. They are Anarchists who have read Ayn Rand so want to be called Conservatives (they’re not), thus righties.

Economic terms like “Fascism” (big businesses and the wealthy run the government) or “Communism” (the workers own the means of production) are often misused, a legacy of World War II’s propaganda. Any of these positions can devolve into Totalitarianism due to Fundamentalist thinking (being sure you are the only one who has things perfectly correct and it’s your duty to force it on everyone and that those who oppose you are evil).

Religious terms

“Who Was Jesus?” How do we read the Bible and try to understand the answers given (always politically charged) by the authors and translators and scholars over the centuries to that question? Would Jesus sit on the Right or the Left in the French Assembly?

My pastor gave me an essay entitled “Left Wing Jesus” by Rev. Rich Lang. I’ve read it 1.5 times now. I wish he didn’t use the term “Fascist” in this context. Overall, I think he’s saying that we need to respect each other and value both “Right Wing” and “Left Wing” views of Jesus.

He’s up against Fundamentalism and “Right Wing Jesus” however. He should know about that imbalance of power. He’s the clergyman who stood with the Occupy Seattle folks and ended up getting pepper sprayed. His gentle words and thoughts, alone, are not going to rescue Coexist Jesus, no matter how important he is to the world we all occupy together.

Rev Rich Lang, author of Left Wing Jesus

Healing a poor beggar lame from birth?

Peter and John healing a man lame from birth

Acts 3: Peter and John healing the lame beggar.

Sunday’s sermon was on the healing story in Acts 3. You probably know it. Peter and John command in Jesus’ name that a man born lame stand up. He does. He dances. Everyone’s amazed because a lame person is standing up and dancing. Faith healings often have people abandoning wheelchairs or throwing crutches to dance around stage as part of their “thing.” I’ve always been skeptical.
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Disappointed in the Church.

Gay MarriageI love and care for my LGBT family members and LGBT friends and am very upset about the way modern American Evangelical Christianity is homophobic in the name of Jesus… It has almost made me not want to go to church… and certainly made me very angry at the homophobic Bible bangers and all the damage they do. They preach that all Scripture is God-breathed, then go straight into forcing their personal prejudices into mistranslations and misinterpretations.
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The American Taliban

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) gives a thumbs-up after introducing former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) to speak to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3F2ZKBefore September 2001, Americans mostly ignored the Taliban. A few noticed when they blew up two colossal statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan province, but otherwise we used them to weaken the Soviet Union.

There’s a similar religious organization in the US. The destruction of religious and cultural objects is one aspect of its agenda called “strategic level spiritual warfare” (SLSW).

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Wisdom

20140225-292C96A3-5056-9A00-0C9A8FCEA88C1429Let’s discuss The Book of Wisdom!

It was written in Alexandria, Egypt by a Jewish Greek-speaking scholar during a time of local unrest there (around 25 BCE). Most folks believed in the Cult of Caesar and Jews refused to worship Caesar. Alexandria was a place of great learning, a wonderful library, but nearly constant conflict until the Romans gave up and burned it all to the ground (I wish we still had that library).

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Ecclesia semper reformanda est

ML95The German theologian, Karl Barth, first declared “the church is always to be reformed” in 1947, but the idea goes back to the great Reformers; The Wesleys in the middle 1700s… Luther and others in the 1500s following the availability of printed Bibles. I, too, believe the Church needs to be constantly reforming itself back to First Principles and constantly adjusting itself to the dynamic world. Semper Reformanda Est.

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Are there homosexuals in the Kingdom?

hqdefaultIt’s a charismatic church that seldom discusses policies or doctrines. The emphasis is the Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. They seek more. Worship is authentic and heart-felt. The community is warmer than most in the PNW. Calls to faith and repentance are left to the work of God’s Spirit, changing lives touched by Love.

Sounds perfect, you say?

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