“But I Say to You…”

As a teacher, I always try very hard to simplify things.  Over my first cup of coffee this morning I wanted to see if I could simplify Jesus’ teachings by jotting them down briefly on a sheet of paper.  I thought the Gospel of Matthew was a good place to start since Jesus did a lot of teaching from a mountainside.

He starts out with what we call the Beatitudes (5:1-11), or the “Blessed are” statements.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  That’s a tough one to live up to.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Then he says in 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  He says that if we break “any” of the old Jewish commandments or causes others to break one, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But, here’s the shocker.  “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:21 starts out with what I call the “But I say to you…” statements.  For instance, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  And adultery was forbidden by Jesus.

Jesus sums it up in Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Amen to that.  Very few I would say.

To enter the kingdom heaven, according to Jesus, is a very difficult thing to do.  But wait a minute.  Paul saw a vision on his way to Damascus.  The bright light that blinds him on that road turns out to be Jesus.  Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, immediately converts from an executor of Christians to a faithful follower of Jesus.  He dedicates his life in the teachings of Jesus.  Most Christians will say that he started the Christian movement.

Now, the hard part for me to understand is that Paul appears to “simplify” the teachings of Jesus.  He claims that all you have to do is believe in Christ and that he was risen – no works necessary.  Matthew’s Jesus was all about works – how you conduct yourself and how you treat others.  It appears that Paul’s teachings were at odds with what Jesus taught on the mountainside.  Did Jesus, aka God, change his mind about what he taught earlier?

Oh well.  Another mystery goes unsolved – at least in my mind.  So, I’ll just have another cup of coffee.

The Adulterous Woman

Thou shalt not start the morning off without a great cup of coffee!  One of God’s missing commandments, well, in my mind anyway.  The Ten Commandments and Bill Clinton were on my mind this morning.  What the… I know what you’re thinking.  Remember back in 1998 when our President did not have “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinski?  Ha!  Adultery comes to mind – so I have a quizzical question for you.  What number on the Ten Commandments scale is Adultery listed?  Here’s a clue.  The answer varies depending on whether you’re a Protestant or a Catholic.  Protestant’s answer is number 7 and Catholic’s answer is number 6.  Trick question for most of you!

In the Gospel of John there is a very popular verse, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”  Remember?  [Read John 8:1-11 for compete details.]  This story was about an adulterous woman who the Pharisees brought to Jesus.  For some reason they forgot to bring the man (Deuteronomy 22:22).  In any case, after the Pharisees cower away with their tails between their legs, Jesus lets her off the hook and tells her, “Go, and sin no more.”

What is Jesus trying to say here?  He chose not to condemn her.  I’m thinking that maybe we should take the planks out of our eyes first before judging others.  This is a great story but according to most scholars, this story isn’t in the “earliest and most reliable manuscripts.”  Yep, it’s one of those dang footnotes again.  Oh well.  Someone thought it was a great story to add it to John’s Gospel.

Let’s have another cup, shall we?

Oh, one last thought.  What do the following people have in common?
John Edwards, Arnold Schwargenegger, Prince Charles, Newt Gingrich, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Bakker, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Rooselvelt, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Mark Sanford and Robert Tilton.   You guessed it!  They violated the 6th or 7th Commandment of God!

Biblical Texting

Coffee is especially good this morning.  After my first sip of dark roast the phrase “textual variant” popped into my mind – not sure why.  Anyway, scholars of the Bible often talk about textual variants but I never paid much attention to it until I noticed a footnote in my Bible.  The footnote said something like, “…this word or verse is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts…”  What the heck does that mean?  I was taught that every word in the Bible was “God-breathed” and that it was completely inerrant and infallible.  Isn’t there a MASTER or an original copy of the Bible that we can refer to?

As it turns out, there are NO master or original copies of the Bible.  There were no printing presses back then so people had to copy everything by hand.  It was a good thing, though, because the material they used to write on have all disintegrated.  So, what we have are copies of copies of copies and so on.  Scholars have found thousands of copies of manuscripts over the years and guess what?  There are variations among all the manuscripts.  People are human and they are bound to make spelling errors or repeat words or phrases.  Some even changed the text to suit their theological preferences.  As one scholar put it, “There are more variations than there are words in the New Testament.”  Scholars will also point out that most of these variations are minor and don’t affect the doctrines of Christianity – but some do make a difference.

Because the Bible has so many textual variations how can we know what the Bible really says?  What are the original words of God?  Do we have reliable copies of the Bible?  If you look at how many different versions of the Bible that are in existence today, you would start to wonder.  Anyway, let’s look at an example of a textual variant.

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark starting at verse 40 (in my own paraphrasing) a man with a skin disease came to Jesus, fell to his knees and begged Jesus to heal him.  Verse 41 continues with, Having “pity” on the man, Jesus touches him and heals him.  A very nice, compassionate story as it appears in most Bibles today.  However, the variant comes in verse 41.  Instead of having “pity” on the man, Jesus gets “angry” at him.  And guess what the footnote says?  Ha!  There has been much debate as to which word is actually the original.  Today’s Christian would expect it to say “pity” but what were the real intentions of the author?  I could give you gobs of scholarly debate, but I won’t.  I love a good mystery!

Now… time for another cup!  Make it a habit to read your Bibles!  And don’t forget to read the footnotes.

Jesus’ Age & Ministry

Having coffee this morning got me thinking about Jesus and his ministry here on earth.  I can remember in Bible study class how we were taught that Jesus died when he was around 30 years old and that his ministry lasted about three years.  I always trusted my pastor to be right but I wanted to find exactly where he got that information from.  So, here’s what I found and where I found it.

The Gospel of Luke 3:23 explicitly states that Jesus was “about” 30 years old when he was executed by the Romans.  But, the Gospel of John 8:57 disagrees with Luke by saying that he is “not yet fifty years old” which to me means he was around 45-49 years old.  I could be wrong but these were the only two places I could find any author mentioning Jesus’ age.

None of the Gospels explicitly state the length of Jesus’ ministry, but we can infer from the writings how long it lasted.  John’s Gospel mentions three different Passovers (2:13, 6:4, 12:1) and multiple trips to Jerusalem.  So, we can only guess that Jesus’ ministry lasted about three years.  However, from reading the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we would assume that Jesus’ ministry took place within one year (one journey to Jerusalem and one Passover mentioned).

If I go with my pastor’s thought about Jesus being around 30 years old, then I’m ignoring what John says when he thinks that Jesus was about 15 years older.  If I believe that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years, then I must ignore the writings of the other three Gospel authors.

Oh well… time for another cup of Joe!