Doubt

I slept in a little this morning but I guess that’s a luxury of being retired. It’s quiet, I have my first cup of dark roast in hand, and God is already talking to me. The word “doubt” comes to mind for some odd reason.

Doubt is one of those words that Christians are uncomfortable with. As one Christian says, “In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises (note 1).” Jesus was constantly getting after his disciples for doubting:

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. You of little faith, he said, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The Doubting Thomas by Leendert van der Cooghe

But, we all doubt – don’t we? If I told you that your spouse was cheating on you, wouldn’t you have some doubt and require some kind of proof before you believed me? I certainly hope you would. In our litigious society people are accused of many things every day. We may or may not believe the alleged accusations until there’s sufficient proof. We have a system that requires proof. We must eliminate all doubt!

No one is immune to doubting at one time or another. In an article written by Jesse Carey in Relevant Magazine he writes about “7 Prominent Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt” including Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, and Pope Francis (note 2). You can read the article here.

Our third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a doubter. I get a kick out of those who believe America to be a Christian Nation and cite a quote or two from Thomas Jefferson. I’ll have to admit, he was a Christian – my kind of Christian anyway! Jefferson said, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus (note 3).” He went on to edit the Bible to his standards, cutting and pasting to create his own Bible, and wrote to a friend:

“I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.” See a pdf copy of Jefferson’s Bible here.

I may be like Jefferson in his thinking but I’m more like one of the twelve apostles who doubted. He even earned the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” He had followed Jesus through his ministry and was an eyewitness to all of the miracles that Jesus performed. He was there when they fed 5,000 men (more than that if you include the women and children) from scraps of bread and a couple of fish (Matthew 14:13-21). Yet, after Jesus died, he said:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe (John 20:25).”

And Jesus gave Thomas the proof he needed. He allowed him to feel the hole marks in his hands and where the soldier speared him in the side of his chest. Thomas believed.

Being the agnostic that I am, that’s where I stand. I’m leaving room for belief, but there’s gotta be some proof to make me a believer. As Leslie Hazleton says in her newest book, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (note 4), “Belief insists while faith hopes and trusts.” She goes on to say, “You need belief only when you are not sure. Belief is the product not of knowledge, but of uncertainty. It contains within itself the possibility of disbelief.”

I’ll end my thoughts by saying that I doubt like the apostle, Thomas. He was given immediate proof. I am still waiting. But right now, I have little doubt that a second cup of dark roast awaits me. Peace!

Notes:

1. Altrogge, M. (2017). Doubt Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/doubt/

2. 7 Prominent Christian Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt. (2014). RELEVANT Magazine. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from https://relevantmagazine.com/god/7-prominent-christian-thinkers-who-wrestled-doubt

3. The Bible According to Thomas Jefferson – TheHumanist.com. (2012). TheHumanist.com. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from https://thehumanist.com/magazine/march-april-2012/features/the-bible-according-to-thomas-jefferson

4. Hazleton, L. (2017). Agnostic: a spirited manifesto. New York: Riverhead Books.

Good Friday

Good Friday is the last day of Jesus’ life. This past week Jesus’ closest followers became liars, cowards, deserters. These hand-selected men deny and abandon their Messiah.  Each author tells the “Passion” story in their own way. Each one gives their perspective of the death and resurrection events. Each writer has their own unique theology, creating a style that suits their audience. If you read each gospel as an individual book, you’ll see those differences. We Christians tend to take parts of each gospel, as we do in the birth stories, and combine them to create a new gospel. Mark doesn’t agree with Luke in many ways. John seems to have his own message – nothing like the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here’s an example of how Mark and Luke’s story differ:

gardenagony_signorelli

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied three times by Peter. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. The Roman soldiers mock and beat Him on the way to His crucifixion. On the way, Jesus says nothing. The soldiers dress Him in a purple robe (scarlet robe in Matthew) and a crown of thorns. The other apostles scamper off like scared rats in a sewer. Jesus follows Simon of Cyrene, who is carrying His cross. The soldiers are laughing and mocking Him. People on the way mock him, some are crying. Jesus still says nothing. The soldiers placed Jesus on the cross next to two robbers. Both robbers mock Jesus. People passing by look up and mock Him. The Jewish leaders mock Him. Finally, Jesus ends His silence and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he dies. Jesus had felt forsaken by God. He was in great despair. Why had His followers betrayed and rejected Him? This is how Mark portrays Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter just as in Mark’s gospel. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. However, it is not Pilate’s soldiers that mock and beat Jesus – it’s King Herod’s (a minor difference in stories). There’s no purple robe and no crown of thorns. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross. Jesus, however, is not silent on the way to His crucifixion. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me… (v.23:28),” he says to a group of women crying for Him. Jesus does not appear to be in despair and knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. He appears to be confident and knows what’s ahead. Jesus speaks again while being nailed to the cross. He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (v. 23:34). Jesus is more concerned about those around Him than Himself. Only one of the robbers on the cross next to Him mocks Him. The other robber rebukes him and asks Jesus to remember him when He gets into His kingdom. Jesus says to the robber, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 23:42-43). Then Jesus prays to God, “Father, into your hands I command my spirit” (v. 23:46). He does not feel forsaken, but is confident of what is happening to Him.

Mark’s Jesus is in despair, not knowing what is to come. He says nothing on His way to His crucifixion. He feels forsaken by His followers and by God. Luke’s Jesus is not in despair. He is confident and knows exactly what is ahead of Him. He is concerned for others more than Himself. He speaks to others on His way to the cross. He is prepared to enter His Father’s kingdom.

We can’t say which writer gave the most accurate account of Jesus’ death. We have no way of knowing for sure. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death. The stories were passed on as an oral tradition until these educated Greek men wrote them down. The authors were not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ death. We risk calling some of the authors liars if we believe in one account over another. And if you think that combining the events of each account to make your own story is alright to do, then feel free to continue the Christian tradition.

For this Holy Week, I challenge you to read each “Passion” account in each one of the gospels (Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19). Take detailed notes on each account. Compare your notes. Learn what each author has to say. Become a Bible Reader. I dare you.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday gets its name from the palm branches thrown on the road ahead of Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem. Oddly though, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke never mention palm branches but instead, “leafy” branches. The Gospel of John is the only one that mentions “palm” branches (John 12:13) but never says that they put the branches or even their cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus. John was one of the twelve chosen apostles so we should believe him. But were the other three wrong? The leafy branches were put on the road but what did they do with the palm branches? Something else to think about – some Bible scholars say there is no firm evidence that palm trees ever grew near Jerusalem but only in the south in the warm, fertile valleys. Just a thought.

Palm-Sunday-2013

Let’s look at another difference that occurs in the four stories. Did Jesus ride one donkey or was he riding on two? I know that sounds like a crazy question but Matthew seems to believe that Jesus rode on two donkeys (Matthew 21:7), or a donkey and a colt. Christian apologists try to cover this up by saying that they brought a donkey with its colt and Jesus rode on the donkey and the colt walked along side them. But read the verse: “…they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.” That, to me, is pretty clear that “them” indicates the donkey and its colt. Matthew was one of the twelve recruited by Jesus himself. Why would we not believe his inspired words? But wouldn’t that make the others wrong?

Another difference I observed in this very short reading of Palm Sunday is that in three of the stories Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead of him to get the donkey. In John’s Gospel (John 12:14), Jesus finds a donkey and sits on it himself without the help of any of his disciples. In the other Gospels, two disciples bring a donkey, or two, throws their cloaks on it (them) and then Jesus sits on it (them).

I’m not saying these are contradictions or errors of the Bible. I’m just pointing out that there are differences in the four stories and I often wonder why we choose certain parts of one or more stories to make our own. I can see in some instances where it might sound better and make sense like Jesus riding on only one donkey. But, then again, sometimes the stories are more interesting with the oddities included.

So, what happens on Monday, the day after Palm Sunday? That just might be my next blog. Stay tuned and drink some coffee!

You Wash My Feet, I’ll Wash Yours!

I was baptized in a Methodist Church, belonged to a Lutheran Church for many years where my son was baptized, went back to the Methodist Church for awhile, before attending a Non-denominational Christian Church. And not once did I ever have my feet washed! But, there are many Christian churches who practice this ritual – and many who don’t.

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples
Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples

While pondering this matter over coffee this morning I contemplated whether or not I had missed out on an important part of being a Christian. As it turns out, it is Biblical and is found in the Gospel of John. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” John 13:14-15. The churches who practice foot washing call it “the ordinance of humility” and is commanded by Jesus during His Last Supper.

As you can see, Jesus gives a clear command – since he had washed their feet, they should likewise, go out and wash others. Now, if it’s so clear, why are so many Christian’s feet not getting washed?

With a careful reading of the Gospels, all four of them, you will notice that foot washing is found in only one gospel – John. The first three Gospel writers either forgot about it, didn’t know about it, or didn’t think it worthy enough to mention. Another thing I should mention is that the foot-washing Gospel never talks about the Lord’s Supper. How interesting! Really! Get out your Bible and read.

So, it appears that the Christians who combine the foot washing with the Lord’s Supper as their Communion service, is combining the writings of two different authors, with two different thoughts, speaking to different audiences, in different time periods. It’s not the first time, though.

Whether we believe that foot washing was a part of the Lord’s Supper or not is not the point I’m trying to make – although a good one. The point is that Christians seem to ignore many commands and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus says to wash feet, shouldn’t we, as good Christians, wash each other’s feet? And when He says that we should love our gay neighbor and our enemies, should we not follow His commands? Wouldn’t it be easier to follow all of His commands and quit picking and choosing which ones we “should” follow? It’s all in writing! And inspired by God himself!

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” John 14:23

Time for another cup, please!

479px-Sinaiticus_gospod lords prayer
Lords prayer in Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book. Click on the image to learn more about the significance of the Codex Sinaiticus.

Paul Did Not Lie!

Enjoying my coffee this morning at the kitchen table, watching the squirrels and the birds on the back deck. A thought just occurred to me concerning the Apostle Paul. The author of the Gospel of Luke is the same person that wrote about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Scholars agree that Acts was written about twenty to twenty-fives years after Paul’s death. Paul wrote his letters about twenty years after Jesus died. What’s interesting to me is that Paul doesn’t always agree with what Acts says about him. Let’s look at just one of several examples.

Papyrus_8_-_Staatliche_Museen_zu_Berlin_inv._8683_-_Acts_of_the_Apostles_4,_5_-_verso
4th Century: Papyrus 8 – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin inv. 8683 – Acts of the Apostles 4, 5 – recto

As you may recall, Paul was a persecutor of the Christians before he saw the light, literally, and converted to Christianity. After he converted, he must have immediately rushed back to Jerusalem to confer with the original apostles. I can only imagine what he might have said, “Hey look guys – I’m one of you now!” But did he?

According to Acts 9:19-30, immediately after Paul’s conversion he spent some time with the disciples in Damascus, then headed to the city of Jerusalem where he met with the apostles of Jesus. He wanted to be a part of the team!

But Paul seems to disagree with the author of Acts. Take a look at what Paul says in Galatians 1:16-20:

I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!

It appears that Paul’s message to the Galatians was clear – he wanted them to know that his Gospel message came directly from God himself, through Jesus. He did not lie! So, who do you believe? The author of Acts or Paul himself? My money is on Paul!

Time for another cup!

 

Chronological New Testament

For most of my Christian life the Bible was God’s Word. That is, I believed that man was inspired by God to write the books of the Bible. I also believed that the New Testament was placed in a divine order beginning with Jesus’ story as told in the Gospels. It made sense to me: Jesus came first, he died, the Apostles went out to spread his Word, followed by letters from the Apostles, and then the world ends with the book of Revelation.

Douay-Rheims-Bible1

As I studied the New Testament I learned that the books weren’t necessarily placed in the order they were written. They are actually grouped – Gospels, Acts, Paul’s Epistles by size, other Epistles by size and Revelation. As I read more and more I learned that the four Gospels are not in chronological order and should be listed as Mark, Matthew, Luke then John (instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

But what really blew me away, was that if you list the entire New Testament chronologically, in the order that they were actually written, you get an entirely new list. Jesus never wrote anything, as far as we know, except in the dirt. The first Gospel written was Mark and that was written around 70-80 A.D. Jesus died around 30 A.D. so it took someone approximately 40 years to write the first Gospel. Here’s the kicker, though. Paul wrote his first epistle in the 50’s – 1st Thessalonians. Yes, 1st Thessalonians is the oldest book/letter in the New Testament. Paul wrote more letters before he died in the mid-60’s. A few more years would go by until the first Gospel, Mark, was written. Matthew, Luke and John were completed by the end of the first century. The Acts of the Apostles wasn’t written until the early part of the second century.

I don’t know about you but no one ever told me this in Adult Bible study. You’re probably wondering how the age of the books were determined. That’s fascinating in itself and I will save that for another blog. This opened up a whole new set of questions for me when I made this discovery. I’ll share those with you in later blogs.

For now, a dark roast awaits me. Get out your Bibles and read! Happy Bible reading!

Note: A great book to read about the chronological order of the New Testament was written by theologian and Bible scholar, Marcus J. Borg, Evolution of the Word. He has been a favorite author of mine for years and just passed away on January 21 of this year. Rest in peace, Marcus J. Borg.