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.

No Master Copy

Coffee! Coffee! The sun has finally risen. After my first cup of dark roast I got to thinking about the master copy of the Bible. Wouldn’t it be great if the original manuscript of the Bible existed? Wait! You didn’t realize that the original, the master copy of the Christian Bible does not exist? It has disintegrated! Poof! I am not making this stuff up!

Over the many, many years that I attended church, none of my pastors ever told me that the original Bible is nowhere to be found. You gotta ask, though! If God can give man error-free instructions on how to live, why would he not provide the materials on which to write that would last forever and ever? Sorry. That was just a passing thought that zipped right through my brain.

So, no original copy of the Bible. But, luckily, man has managed to make copies of copies of copies of copies of this Great Book over the centuries. When the printing press came along centuries later, copying got a lot easier. Up until then, man had to do everything by hand. The original apostles were illiterate so they weren’t able to dictate what Jesus had to say so they went about telling stories. These stories were passed on orally for decades until, poof, some Greek-speaking-writing guy comes along and decides to write them down. Four of them to be exact.

I don’t know about you but that makes me think again. These stories of Jesus, or what we know as the Gospels, were passed on orally for decades. Do you think that these stories might have changed just a bit, maybe exaggerated a little here and there? Oh, come on! There’s proof that the stories must have changed because this guy, Luke, wrote at the beginning of his Gospel that there were many writers out there that were telling their stories and that he wanted to write his own version. Maybe Luke thought that these other guys really weren’t inspired by God. So, if Luke’s is the correct story, then what about the other three guys?

As it turns out, the other three guys (Matthew, Mark, and John) didn’t get it right, either. Well, not if you compare them to Luke’s version. For instance, Mark and John didn’t write about Jesus’ incredible birth from a virgin. Did they not think that was important or did they not hear about it? John thought that Jesus had been around since the beginning. Luke talks about how Shepherds came to visit at Jesus’ birth and Matthew thought they were Wise Men from the East. Matthew also has this strange story about King Herod massacring a bunch of infants sometime after Jesus was born.

Oh well! It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there are any original manuscripts around or not. I’m not sure that not too many of us pay much attention to actually reading the Bible. Who knows which version of the Bible is correct. We don’t have the master copy to compare them to. But, we do things like cherry-pick certain verses that we think meet our needs. We combine the two birth stories of Jesus to make one story without thinking that these two writers heard two entirely different ones. We wouldn’t have any idea where to find doctrines of Christianity – like the Trinity, or Salvation, or the Sacraments. We condemn gay people but not sure where in scripture it says to do it. We certainly don’t greet each other with a “holy kiss” as prescribed by the Bible, either.

It’s time for another cup. Have a great day!

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.

Super Apostles!

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15

It’s coffee time! I wonder if the apostles ever sat around the fire on a cold morning craving their coffee as I do? Just a thought. Here’s a question for you that’s been bugging me for quite some time. What would you do if Jesus gave you the same powers that he gave to his apostles? Would you heal the sick or cast out any demons (Mark 6:7), maybe cleanse those infected with the ebola virus or help a psychotic neighbor – or two? Would you resurrect any deceased people that you know – maybe a family member that died at a young age or your favorite aunt? Would you forgive anyone’s sin (John 20:23)? Most of all, wouldn’t you immediately believe in Jesus?

appostles_13v

Peter was so good at healing others that people were healed by just being in his shadow (Acts 5:15). But on the other hand he could make someone lose their life without blinking an eye (Acts 5:5). The apostles must have gotten a little arrogant with their powers which caused Paul to sarcastically call them the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5).

I once asked a Southern Baptist pastor why I had such a hard time understanding the Bible. He quickly insisted that I was not saved or that my faith wasn’t apparent. “No one can understand the Bible until they have faith,” he exclaimed. Now wouldn’t that have been great if Jesus gave the apostles the power to make the Jews understand that Jesus was truly God? That would have been miraculous!

And with all these powers given to them, some of the apostles still weren’t sure. So, what would it take for you to be a believer? I’m pretty sure that if Jesus gave me super powers, I would be a believer. Up, up and away!  Time for another cup!

Hangin’ Out With Judas

Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve original apostles and was infamously known for his kiss and betrayal of Jesus.  I think that most devoted readers of the Bible know the two different stories regarding the expiration of Judas.  Judas either killed himself by hanging (Matthew 27:5) or had some kind of freak accident by falling headlong and bursting his body open allowing his intestines to spill out (Acts 1:18).  These two dissimilar stories are written by two different authors who wrote decades apart from each other.

Judas-betraying-Jesus.-A-fresco-painting-in-the-chapel-of-Calvary-where-Jesus-was-crucified

Non-believers of Christianity like to bring up the apparent contradiction to prove that the Bible contains errors and contradictions.  Christian apologists defend the stories and agree that the two merely supplement one another.  Apologists will say something like, “Judas simply hung himself and after a while the rope snaps, the decayed and bloated body falls from the tree onto the ground and splits open, spilling his guts out.”

The harmonization of these two stories is fine – I have no problem with that.  However, most apologists who combine the two stories usually forget including “all” the details.  For instance, Matthew’s version states that Judas felt remorse after turning Jesus over to the officials so he gave the money back to the chief priests.  They took the undesirable silver pieces and bought a field as a burial place for foreigners fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah.  They called it the Field of Blood because it was about “blood” money.

Luke, the author of Acts, believes that Judas took the silver pieces and bought the field himself prior to his death.  Later on, he falls headlong and his guts spill out.  Luke doesn’t mention Jeremiah’s prophecy but believes everyone in Jerusalem called it the Field of Blood because that’s where Judas spilled his guts.

My thoughts?  I enjoy the Bible stories for what they are.  Instead of trying to make two different stories into one, why not appreciate the fact that these were simply two stories about the death of Judas – myth or real – who knows for sure?  Why insult one author’s opinion over the other?  As a Christian, wouldn’t you prefer to hear someone say, “We’re not certain how Judas died but we do have two different opinions,” instead of a made-up story?  Uh, oh… wait a minute.  Our Christmas story is a conflation of two separate stories by two different authors.

Oh, well!  Coffee solves all the mysteries of the world – at least in my world.  Read your Bibles!

To Flee or Not To Flee

The Lord will give you understanding.” 2 Timothy 2:7

Had a quick Starbucks in the Nashville airport before leaving on a jet plane to California. I’ve found that the crampiness of flying is not conducive to writing. Kind of makes me think of how the apostles must have felt when Jesus was crucified on the cross. I know… it must be my wild imagination for me to think that there’s any connection between being cramped and being crucified.

Something I’ve always pondered, though – what were the apostles thinking when they heard that Jesus was about to be hung on the cross? Did they hang around (no pun intended) to see what was in store for them? Or did they flee to another place to get away from the authorities? They must have been frightened for their lives, don’t you think? If I were in their shoes, or sandals, and seeing how my savior was treated and killed, I would certainly be scared out of my mind. We all know how Judas turned on Jesus and ratted him out. And what about Peter? He denied him thrice before the cock crowed.

So, what did the followers of Jesus do and where did they go? Did they think they would ever see Jesus again? Let’s see what the writers of the Gospels and Acts has to say.

The Gospel of Mark has no resurrection narrative (in the authentic writings). Mark does, however, have a message from a divine character of a promise of a resurrection. The divine messenger told the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to flee to Galilee where they will see Jesus again (Mark 16:7). Matthew’s Gospel confirms the appearance to the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20). Makes complete sense to me. I wouldn’t hang around the Jerusalem area where the “King of the Jews” was just tortured and killed on a cross.

But wait a minute. In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel (24:49) and the first chapter of the book of Acts (1:8) – same writer, by the way – Jesus tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem to wait for his return. So, they did stay after all? Who am I to believe?

Goes to show you how stories change over time. Mark was written about 40-50 years after Jesus died and Acts was written in the beginning of the second century, about 80-100 years after Jesus’ death. I can’t remember what I did even 10 years ago and I’m bound to tell stories where the fish I caught was much larger than my mother says it really was. The truth is always an illusion. I doubt that we will ever know how this religion we call Christianity came about. It certainly wasn’t the same in the early decades after Jesus died. But then again, who am I to say?

I’d say it’s time for another cup but airplane coffee is not for me. For now, I’ll just sit here patiently and fantasize about having another cup of dark roast.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path to my coffeehouse.” Kaffeina 119:105

The Greater Commission

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Anyone for Coffee?

This morning I flipped open my thick NIV Study Bible and guess where I landed? I landed right in the last part of the Gospel of Matthew where I had highlighted a few verses and in the margin next to it was labeled “The Great Commission.” So, I got to wondering…

When Jesus came back from the dead, He gathered the eleven apostles in Galilee and gave them a firm directive on what He expected from them after He ascends to the clouds. These instructions became known as The Great Commission – the most quoted comes from Matthew 28:18-20

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus teaching

What I get out of this is that Jesus wanted His Eleven to make disciples of everyone, to baptize (a Trinitarian baptism) them, and then indoctrinate them in all His teachings. That sounds like a heavy load for these illiterate, Jewish laborers from a small community who Jesus rebuked many times for not understanding.

Did you know that The Great Commission is also found in the other three Gospels and also in the beginning of Acts? One slight problem though – they’re all different. But, I have an idea. Let’s combine the five commissions to figure out what Jesus really said. Isn’t that how we get the real birth story? We harmonize the two birth stories of Jesus from Matthew and Luke to come up with our own version of the birth story that we tell every Christmas. Anyway, here’s what the entire Commission might sound like…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations and preach the good news to all creation. Preach also repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. You have the authority to forgive sins as well as not forgiving sins. Whoever is not forgiven will not be forgiven. Whoever believes and is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit will be saved. As a sign of their belief in me they will be able to drive out demons, speak in tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, drink deadly poison – and it will not hurt them. Whoever does not believe will be condemned. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, Acts 1:4–8, and John 20:19–23.)

With this new, harmonized Greater Commission in mind I decided to read through the book of Acts to see how well the apostles followed directions. And sure enough – they forgot again. For one thing Jesus demanded a Trinitarian baptism and all they did was baptize in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38-39; 8:15-16; 10:44-48; 19:4-5). Not once did they give a proper baptism! And they never once gave anyone a drink of poison to test their faith. Holy cow! I can now understand why Jesus rebuked them so much. And Peter must have been the misfit of the group seeings that Jesus called him Satan (Matthew 16:23).

Oh, for those of you who enjoy Christian history, the Commission is not found in two of the oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. I wonder when God actually added them to the Bible? Another mysterious act of God!

Time for one more cup… or two.