Sunday, January 1, 2012

Matthew 3-5 Jesus Becomes a Preacher

Matthew 3-5

NOTE:  I set this post to automatically post on December 30th.  It obviously didn't.  I apologize for the delay.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays and looking forward to a happy, healthy 2012.  Celebrate safe!

So, when we last met Jesus, he was being born, becoming a wanted fugitive and hiding from the law.

He now meets up with John the Baptist, a charismatic locust eater working in Jordan.
John seems to think Jesus is the Messiah and reluctantly baptises him.

3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
3:14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

Jesus comes out of the water and is the first person to suffer from Jerusalem Syndrome.

3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

He too thinks he's the Son of God and starts to collect his entourage.  He then goes on a speaking tour with some leper healing on the side.

I'm taken aback by how sparse the information is on Jesus and his actions.  He suddenly appears fully grown, becomes the "Son of God" and leaps into the role of teacher/healer immediately.

Chapter 5 is pretty much everything that Christianity is based on.  The Dos and Don'ts that we all know so well.  The good stuff.   As I read this all I can think is "Why didn't God/the Bible start out this way?"  After 4000-6000 years of god being frustrated and angry and instilling fear into humanity, why not just send Jesus down to lead the Chosen People out of Egypt instead of Moses?

Even better, after Adam and Eve "sinned" for eating from the tree of knowledge, why didn't God come by and say "Whoops, you guys messed up by listening to the serpent.  I know I forgot to teach you right from wrong so here's my son Jesus to fill you in on how to behave while you're here."

But, I digress.  I'm so happy to be reading this now.  The Old Testament was such a bummer and the New Testament is a breath of fresh air.  I can see why people were ready to follow him and (eventually) convert to Christianity.

My only question(s) to you is, Jesus explicitly says:
5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

So why do people feel that Jesus broke from the Jewish faith?  Christians still follow (in theory) the ten commandments given to Moses but others seem to have gone away (the treatment of slaves/women, stoning transgressors of the law, resting on the sabbath, etc).
Bonus question, why is a service in a Jewish Temple so much different then one in a Baptist Church?

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  1. We should probably be reading the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in parallel. It is generally accepted by scholars that Mark is the oldest of the gospels and that Matthew and Luke draw upon it and either a separate source, 'Q' which is a collection of sayings, or Luke draws in turn upon Matthew.

    One of the big questions is how to deal with John the Baptist who was apparently a major figure in the area and time (Josephus mentions him) (btw it is the river Jordan not the modern country Jordan that John was preaching by). It is speculated that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist before setting up on his own (which is a bit odd if he were the messiah) and so each gospel has to address the relationship between the two. Matthew has Jesus insisting on baptism though John demurs.

  2. BTW the bit about John the Baptist in Josephus is from Antiquities.

    "Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him."

  3. It is traditional (as old as the Early Church Fathers) to read the Old Testament law as being divided into the Civil, the Ceremonial, and the Moral. Christians understand the ten commandments to be a summary of the moral law. Most of the civil laws of Israel perished with the nation of Israel. The ceremonial law was abolished with the destruction of the temple and the arrival of the perfect sacrifice (Christ, duh.). You may not like it or agree, but this threefold distinction in the law is why we don't see Christians following the civil or ceremonial laws today.

    So the reason why your average Baptist Church service doesn't look like a levitical service is because the levitical laws prefigured and pointed to Christ.

  4. Thanks for the clear, concise answer Adam!
    Ask and you shall receive!

  5. @erp - excellent suggestion, I'd already decided to read Mark alongside both Matt and Luke individually - am keeping track of the two in a spreadsheet for fun.

    Is there any insight as to why Matthew prepends the birth of Jesus to the ministry described in Mark? Was it just to lend authenticity, or were there other contemporary reasons?

    In Matthew, Jesus deflects the devil with aphorisms, but doesn't demonstrate that he's the son of God. Is this the beginning of a pattern of misdirection?

    btw - the devil presumably plays a major role throughout the NT, whereas he's a minor character in the OT. Was there some cultural shift going on that raised focus on him, or was it a selling point that stuck?

  6. @Skepticali,

    Tradition (e.g., Eusebius' Church History) holds that Mark was Peter's interpreter during his missionary travels. Thus, the Gospel of Mark is essentially the story of Jesus as preached by Peter to primarily non-Jewish audiences. We could guess that Peter, structuring his message to fit his audience, dropped the material found in Matthew 1-2 because it would not have been as important to establish Jesus' Jewishness to Gentile audiences. Not that Mark divorces Jesus from the Old Testament, though - quite the opposite (e.g., 1:1-3). Additionally, Mark tends to leave out more background/contextual details than Matthew or Luke for whatever reason, and this cut might just be part of that trend.

    There's a mountain of literature on ancient Near Eastern demonology in the time preceding Christ's birth. It's impossible to summarize it briefly, but it should be pointed out that Satan's role in the OT is minor only in terms of mentions, not of influence. His appearances in Job, Chronicles, and Zechariah all make him seem important, even if not much is explained about him.

    "After 4000-6000 years of god being frustrated and angry and instilling fear into humanity, why not just send Jesus down to lead the Chosen People out of Egypt instead of Moses?"
    Interesting that you should say that. Lots of scholars today note that Matthew portrays Jesus as a sort of "perfect Moses" in his Gospel. Note the similarities to the story of Exodus: baby born in affliction, persecuted by the authorities, finds safety among the Egyptians, passes through water before delivering God's word from a mountain. . . sound familiar? Jesus is the fulfillment of the pattern established in Moses' life - another attractive feature to Jewish audiences! This is one reason why the exodus motif was so popular in the early church: just like Moses, Jesus leads slaves out of bondage into freedom and blessing as the recognized people of God.

  7. @Christian
    Love your response! Can't wait to read more.

    @ erp
    Can you please provide sources regarding your John The Baptist/Jesus claim.

    @ Bruce
    Im still working on that historical document you asked for....BTW...I found the Open Minds magazine under the table.

  8. This may help with some or all of the non-biblical historical proof:


    Did this help? Let me know.

  10. Hmm, I mostly had it by osmosis but googling shows some discussion in

    "John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition" by Walter Wink
    (search for disciple)

    "Was Jesus a disciple of John?" by William Badke This is from an evangelical, he doesn't support my claim fully but he does reference people who do. Footnote 7 lists some (though I'm not sure which of these):

    "7 Some representatives of this view would include David F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, ed. Peter C. Hodges (1840, reprinted Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 233-234; Maurice Goguel, The Life of Jesus
    (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1933), 269-270; Oscar Cullmann, The Early Church (London: SC M Press, 1956), 177-182; John A. T. Robinson, ‘Elijah, John and Jesus’, in Twelve New Testament Studies (London: SCM Press, 1962), 39ff.; W. R. Farmer, ‘John the Baptist’, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4 (Nashville:
    Abingdon Press, 1962), 959; C. H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 272-275; M.-E. Boismard, ‘Les Traditions Concernant Le Baptist’, Revue Biblique 70
    (1963), 29; Walter Wink, John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 38, 55; C. S. Mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City: Doubleday, 1986), 366."

  11. @Tom - thanks for attempts to address the "historicity of Jesus" question - always a fun subject for believers and non-believers alike.

    To the chase, your reference to the In His Steps Ministries site wouldn't be an effective confirmation of Jesus' historicity for me, merely from its being a ministry - an organization whose purpose is to promote the world view that you seek to confirm. Independent sources would be nice. If you can get a few scholarly articles affirming Jesus existence from Michael Shermer or a similar skeptic, then - game over - you win!

    The medical analyses listed are performed on the literature, not on the man. Regardless of the analyst's qualifications, I think we can agree that if you wanted to produce a coroner's report, having the doctor in the room with the decedent is the best way to establish a reasonable conclusion. Otherwise, all we have is literary critique. I'll guess that the motivation for supporting the crucifixion-as-certain-to-produce-death scenario is to preemptively attack the notion that Jesus didn't really die, but wandered off after he was taken down from the cross. We know people can survive after having an iron rod shoved through their brain (Phineas Gage), so it's better not to draw attention to that line of thinking. Fun fact:

    "Writing in 1895, the physician J.C. Ouseley claimed that as many as 2,700 people were buried prematurely each year in England and Wales, although others estimated the figure to be closer to 800."( )

    ...Kinda detracts from the gravity of the literature when you realized that people have been incorrectly declared dead ***all the time***. The world is just filthy with zombies! ;-D

    Regarding both the In His Steps Ministries and the Proving the Historic Jesus web sites, the criticism you will always hear is "there is no direct contemporary evidence that Jesus ever lived". Neither of these sites refutes this. Tacitus, Josephus, Thallus, Pliny the Younger - none were born when Jesus walked the Earth. My impression, especially in light of holding these folks up as evidence, is that Jesus may have existed, but was not important enough in his own time to warrant mention in any legal, historical or personal documents that were published at the time he lived. The twenty or more years that it took for the stories to emerge, and the century or more that it took for the stories to then grow, become more elaborate, and take a form that we're more familiar with today, only indicate to me that a giant game of Telephone was at work - the story grew more elaborate at each retelling. That's why reading the New Testament is so interesting

  12. @ skepti...

    I am working on those documents. That was only a 5 minute search and read beyond the medical report. I should have posted that first time around.

    Just for fun since many scholars and many books besides ones found in the Bible from different religions agree that Jesus did exist. Can you provide evidence that He did not exist? Since you are in the miniority it should only be fair that you provide some sort of evidence to support your claim as well.

  13. Just to add Roman documents do exist that Jesus did exist. And usually the next question that comes from non-believers is....."Can you prove that that Jesus is the same one you follow?"

  14. Thanks for the posts and answers Tom and Skepticali!
    I would only add to Skepticali's post that most of the references are not about Jesus, but about the Christ (Messiah). Th formation of a new religion based on the teaching of a messiah is not in question. There is also a fair amount of poor research methodology in that information is inferred from questionable and nonexistent sources. Science likes to have clear, unambiguous sources when reaching a conclusion.

    @Tom, as far a proving Jesus did not exist, it's near impossible to prove a negative. We can only reach conclusions from the information we have. If new, good information comes along, science/scholars will rethink their conclusions. It's the responsibility of the person making the claim of existence to prove that existence, not the other way around.

    I personally like to think that an historic, but non divine Jesus lived. This may just be because I was raised Catholic and it's imprinted into my brain! :-)

  15. @Tom - you said "Can you provide evidence that He did not exist? Since you are in the miniority it should only be fair that you provide some sort of evidence to support your claim as well."

    First, please re-read my post - you'll notice that I don't say he doesn't exist (see the sentence "My impression that Jesus may have existed, but was not important enough ... to warrant mention").

    Second, "minority"? Minority of people in your church? Well ... yeah, right.

    Tom, the universe doesn't care what our opinions are. Whether or not ghosts or garden gnomes are actors on physical reality is not a matter of opinion or popularity. I, for instance, assent to the proposition that Jesus existed. What I'm skeptical about is the claims made about him. To repeat a comment I just made on the Matt 6-8 reading - "the divinity of Jesus presupposes the existence of God, which presupposes the supernatural".

    I do not believe in claims of the supernatural. The supernatural may be possible, but it's not worth making it an operating assumption as I navigate through life. We have seven billion people on the planet right now ... each a potential observer of supernatural goings-on. Every day, 12-to-16 hours a day, most of these people are lucid enough to make an observation - should it occur - that something supernatural occurred. Assuming they were impressed enough to think to themselves "this is big, I need to get this confirmed - it could change the history of the world forever", You would think that one of them would come forward with a sighting, and have it confirmed.

    So far ... squat.

    Extrapolate that a bit ... roughly 20 billion folks since the invention of the printing press. maybe fifteen years of life on average, maybe 720 minutes a day (12 hours) when an observation could be made. that's 72 quadrillion minutes, observed by 20 billion observers, where a single credible observance could have been made, but hasn't. 20,000,000,000 x 5,000 x 720.

    I'd say that the probability is pretty low that the supernatural exists. In that sense, I'm in the majority!

  16. By nonexistent I meant non existing in referring to the Pilate documents.

  17. How about this guy...aetheists for Jesus:
    Some other aetheists said he did not exist since Jesus did not have his face minted on any claims He did not exist because He is not in the OT. long sigh.

    Sorry for so many posts. I cant open up multiple Windows on my phone.

    Interesting info. I don't know where those authors stand and your book titles and page numbers really don't support that claim But I will stick with this.
    Mark Chapter 1 verse 7-8.
    Luke 3 verse 15-20.
    And my favorite...John 1 19-34.

  18. And that shermer guy...
    Look at may 18th scroll down a ways. I will email him...Curious to see if he will get back to me.

  19. "That Shermer guy"? Really? ;-)
    Tom, next time we get together, I'll bring you one of his books. He does a great job in explaining why people believe what they do and why our brains work the way they do. And not just about religion. Ghosts, Psychics, UFOs...

    Also, got your message about the magazine. I put it on Tina's purse but it must have fallen off when we left.

  20. @skepticalli, I would be a bit concerned about using Victorian estimates of premature burial without a close look at the sources. One of the great Victorian fears was of premature burial. However we know some people survived crucifixion but only if taken down (Josephus found a couple of friends being crucified and begged for their lives from the Romans, one survived).

    @Tom, I would read the Badke article. It at least shows that some scholars consider(ed) Jesus to have been a disciple of John even if Badke has a slightly different take. Badke is an evangelical; you might well agree with him.

    I fall into the camp that Jesus probably existed but did not survive crucifixion nor was he resurrected but his followers still felt he was around. The sources outside the New Testament point more to the existence some decades later of people believing Jesus existed, died, and was resurrected than that he actually existed, died, and was resurrected.

  21. I am surprised you guys did not jump on the aetheists for Jesus link.


    So after reading some of Jesus' teachings, what do you think? Regardless if you think He is Devine, his teachings are in black and white right in front of you.

    In respects to Bruce, I am moving on to the next post. Besides it only has 2 comments, we need to get that up to 20 or so.

  22. @Tom,
    As Gandhi said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."
    For the most part, I like what I'm reading. But I still find his divinity questionable. I guess you have to be willing to believe it (that he is the son of a god) before you start reading the book because just picking it up , the set up is weak.