Thursday, August 28, 2008

John 6, Carl's Blogged Bible Study--TRANSUBSTANTIATION

I daresay there exists a universal maxim that renders humans nearly incapable of believing apart from their history; that is, for example, the child born and raised into a baptist believing family will most likely follow baptist doctrine the rest of their life. The child of staunch atheists will most likely end up following the atheist line of thought. The Muslim child will most likely worship Allah. It is my experience that in so many cases, the recipients of whatever tradition USUALLY accept their beliefs unconditionally and unquestioningly.

Ask the average Christian why they believe in the trinity and they will respond, "I just do," or, "it's just the truth," without providing any scriptural or historical evidence. As any Christian, regardless of denomination/tradition, what their rule of faith is and they will respond, "the Bible," ask them how the bible came into compilation and you will most likely get a deer in the headlights look. Most of us, myself included, often take our beliefs for granted. We assume them to be true without investigating another interpretation or model.

Which brings me to John chapter 6.

This post will be a little different from the rest. I hope not to talk about what inspiration this chapter afforded me; rather, bring to light a different viewpoint than most of my readers share, and hopefully spark some discussion. Keep in mind, as there are now over 30,000 different christian denominations in the US, there is a great deal of divergence over biblical interpretations.

In this chapter of John, Jesus is challenged by the Jewish leaders. They explain that there forefathers were miraculously provided manna as a sign, and ask Jesus what miracle he could perform to top it so that they might believe. In his most explicit confession of divinity, Jesus says that Moses did not provide the heavenly bread, the Father did, and in like manner His father has sent heavenly bread in their day...himself, Jesus of Nazareth.

They were already offended at this, and Jesus could have stopped there, but instead he said they must eat this bread...his body (51). They scoff and say, "how can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus could have said, "I am talking figuratively you idiots." Instead he says they must drink his blood as well. Such ingestion, he says, leads to eternal life (54).

As there are a plethora of interpretations of this event, let us focus on the Catholic interpretation. The Catholic interpretation accepts Jesus' words as literal. Coupled with Matthew 26:26,28, John 6 is viewed as a foreshadowing of the last supper, and consequentially, the Eucharist and the explicit belief in Transubstantiation.

Like the Pharisees in the text, to most of us, this seems outlandish, cannibalistic, and a flagrant misinterpretation of the gospel. But ask the average protestant why transubstantiation ISN'T biblical truth and you won't get a least a well researched reply.

What did the early church think about John 6 and the idea of transubstantiation? Ignatius of Antioch, writing around 110ce to the Smyrnaeans said:

"those who do not hold heterodox opinions...they do abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again."

Forty years later Justin Martyr wrote:
"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to take of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and has been washed in the washing for remission of sins and for regeneration and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of the incarnate Jesus Christ."

So, the earliest followers of Christ believed that in communion the bread and wine mystically/miraculously become the literal flesh and blood of Christ. I'm sure this flies in the face of our long held beliefs. It does mine.

I'm not saying I hold to this interpretation, but is it really that weird? After all, we believe that we can pray to an unseen God and he can mystically/miraculously alter the properties of a cancer into that of a healthy cell. We believe that Jesus altered the chemical composition of pots of water into wine. We believe many mystical thing...why not this one?

So I would love feedback. Why or why not do you believe in transubstantiation?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

John 5, Carl's Blogged Bible Study

This week's post may be lame...I apologize in advance.

For the past few weeks the same Jehovah's Witness has been stopping by my house in attempts to convert me. I had not really engaged with her for lack of time. Last week, however, as we were holding a garage sale she stopped by. Since I was just standing around anyway, we got into a debate. After about twenty minutes, she called on backup. Since I don't accept the JW definition of authority and inspiration, our only common ground was scripture.

The topic of debate was the idea of trinity. (If anyone didn't know, JWs reject the trinity...they do not believe that Jesus is God, rather a created superior being) To accept this doctrinal behemoth, trinity, the Christian must depend heavily on church tradition/history, which JWs illogically reject. The woman, Jennifer, actually brought up John 5, particularly verses 19 and following.

If you read 19ff, trinity is difficult to prove...but then again, does scripture try to prove it at all?

The Father sent his Son (5:36)...Can god send himself?

The Father give the son authority (5:27)...Gan God give authority to himself?

How about verse 26...basically it states that the Father has life in and of himself, unlike humans, our life, according to scripture and church tradition, is contingent upon God. It is nice to know that, according to 5:26, Jesus functions the same way; that is, he has life in and of himself. But this life, was granted to him by the Father.

The way I see it, the idea of trinity is dependent upon church tradition, after all the idea surfaced around 100ce, long after the New Testament had been penned. That's not to say there are not elements of it in scripture.

The early church defined Jesus as, "fully God, and fully Man." What a mystery...a paradox...much like the idea of an uncreated being (God).

So how do I interpret the John 5:19? I consider Paul (Phil.2:5-7):

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.
In a nutshell, Jesus was God but became a man, thus he emptied himself of certain divine characteristics. Everything Jesus was given by the Father were qualities Jesus once possessed but emptied from himself.

I retain belief in the trinity...besides, John 5:22 says that the Father Judges no one...that is Jesus' role. There certainly was plenty of Judging going on in the Old Testament. If is wasn't God the Father who was it? And if God gave Jesus that ability while he was on earth, it just supports the idea of Jesus' "self emptying" in Phillippians.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

John 4...Carl's Blogged Bible Study Samaritans

I rarely blog at 6am, but my wife and I woke up early to watch the Persoid Meteor Shower...which was fantastic. Watching the streaks of molten rock actually reminded me of the early use of John by the gnostics. Anyway, here are a few quick thoughts on the gospel.

This 4th chapter introduces the first believer in Jesus Christ other than Jesus' mother, cousin, and disciples. Whenever I come across a 'first' in scripture (or any other literary work for that matter) I take special note. As I mentioned before, John, being a Jew, thought more linearly and less chronologically therefore this 'first' conversion really should clue us in on the nature of Christ, since the whole gospel is Christological work.

There is not a whole lot of written history by those called 'Samaritans,' but we do know that Samaritans considered themselves Jews (heirs of God's promises) but every other Jew considered them half breed non-Jews. The Samaritans spoken of in John were certainly a mixed people group. Whenever an ancient power conquered another nation in ancient times they always took some of the conquered back home (i.e. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendigo) while leaving some of their own colonists behind. This safeguarded against revolt. After the Northern kingdom of Israel (including Samaria) fell to Assyria, colonists (from Babylon and Mesopotamia) were left behind. The remnant of Jews intermarried with colonists--against Mosaic law--resulting in a mixed race unnaccepted by mainstream Judaism.

In fact, when the temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt (around the time of Nehemiah) the Samaritans offered assistance, but their offer was rejected. The Samaritans then built their own temple on Mt. Gerazim and developed a very conservative form of Judaism. They only accepted the first five books of the old testament (the Samaritan Penteteuch), were rigid monotheists, had their own set of prophets and Rabbis, and were anticipating a messiah.

The animosity was so intense between Jews/Samaritans in 128 B.C. John Hyrcanus (Hasmonean Jew--Maccabean) destroyed the Samaritan Temple on Mt. Gerazim. In 9 A.D. the temple at Jerusalem was desecrated by the Samaritans at the passover. In John 8:48 the Pharisees insult Jesus by saying he, "is a Samaritan and has a demon."

All that to say, in John 4, Jesus shouldn't be speaking with a Samaritan, and most certainly a woman. What's interesting to note is that the woman at the well, while being somewhat promiscuous, knows her stuff...she even questions Jesus on whether Jerusalem or Mt. Gerazim is the correct place to worship. She doesn't act very surprised when Jesus starts talking about "living water," which certainly sounds weird to me; but read what this Samaritan philospoher wrote:

"3 There is a Well of living water dug by a Prophet whose like has not arisen since Adam and the water which is in it is from the mouth of God. Let us eat from the fruit that is in this garden and let us drink from the waters that are in this well. There is no need for us to see it in a place we cannot get to. "It is not in heaven" and it is not in crossing the sea (Deut 30:12-13). "In the mouth and in the heart" it is done (Deut 30:14). And woe to us! For we do not do it; it is far from us. We do not learn it though we came down from heaven! It was given to us and we believed in it. It was with them; it was within the Light. And the glory was around, for it was the word of God. His hand wrote and the Prophet received it with signs from on high. And YHWH came down and dwelt with him. --- Marqah, Memar 6.3"
Jesus was speaking her language not his. After this woman believed, she spread the word and many others believed (Jn. 4:39). In verse 42, after Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for a couple of days, many believed in him and they told the woman that they no longer believe because of her word, but becasue of Jesus'. I imagine that must have been disheartening for her. Listen to what John Calvin had to say about this incident:
"...and the Samaritans appear to boast that they have now a stronger foundation than a woman's tongue, which is, for the most part, light and trivial. "
After I take all this in, I am amazed at Jesus sensitivity in dealing with this woman. I am impressed that he contextualized his message and catered it to her undestanding. I am amazed that John's first example of response to Jesus' message was the lowliest of the low: an adulterer...a margianalized religious reject...a woman.

*the image is a pic of Jacob's Well

Monday, August 11, 2008

Humanitarian Aid in Africa--Countrproductive

As long as I have been alive ghastly images of emaciated and under-nourished African children with bloated bellies have illustrated story after story after story of the nightly news. The same images have accompanied infomercials for groups such as Compassion International since such groups were founded.

Why don't the images get a little less gruesome? With all the millions of dollars and truckloads of food being pumped into Africa, why don't we see any relief as we glance at the statistics of famine stricken Africa? These questions have always bugged me and inclined me to distrust philanthropic agencies working in "Cradle of Mankind" (Ethiopia) as I assume that much of the money donated may go towards administrative expenses.

TIME magazine recently published an article expressing my very concerns. They agree it is perplexing that a land that is believed to have been so enriched to birth mankind could foster such famine, especially when it's fields (this year) are bright green and ripe for cultivation. Consider Time's statistics-This year the U.S. will give:

  • $800 million to Ethiopia
  • $460 million for food, $350 million for HIV/AIDS treatment
  • $7 million for agricultural development
As mentioned in the TIME article, the age old proverb comes to mind: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” The implication, of course, is that we, the heroes from the west, have actually worsened the situation in Africa in dumbing down the recipients of our goodwill. The TIME article states:
Why bother with development when shortfalls are met by aid? Ethiopian farmers can't compete with free food, so they stop trying. Over time, there's a loss of key skills, and a country that can't. All too often, its rulers use resources elsewhere--Ethiopia has one of Africa's largest armies.

Why do we get aid so wrong? Because it feels so right. 'The American people," says U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto, 'are simply not going to sit tight while they see children dying.' Nor should they: a starving man needs to be saved first before he can be taught to fish--or farm.
The starving man is being saved, but he is hardly being taught sustainable living. I agree with TIME, which credits American benevolence but sites a flaw. I say, don't stop giving...give smarter! I can't help but see the problem mirrored in America's dysfunctional welfare system; but that's another post for another day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Political Moment with a Pharisee

"Love work; hate domination; and seek not undue intimacy with the government."

So said Shemayah, from the Talmudic book, Avot-Ethics of the Father. This ancient Pharisee might as well have been my political counselor. Maybe a Ron Paul supporter?

I wonder what Jesus Christ thought of these words?

Monday, August 4, 2008

John 3...Carl's Blogged Bible Study

John 3:3 is full of phrases and ideas that hold a special place in the heart of the Christian. The oft quoted 3:16 solidifies the purpose of Christ in the Christological puzzle. The 3rd chapter of John is the final transition from John the Baptizer to the Jesus the Messiah as the camel clad prophet concedes authority (again) to Jesus.

Before I touch on what struck me in this chapter, I must point out that again, at the outset of his ministry, Jesus is shown interacting philosophically with Jews. First, Nicodemus, the Pharisee, and then a "Jew" in the second half of the chapter. Without going down a rabbit trail, notice the conversation with Nicodemus...hardly Jesus or Nicodemus seem hostile in speech. In fact, they get along very well. I say that because it will be a nice segue for an upcoming post here on my friend Ivan that just may argue that Jesus and his followers were practically Pharisees, contrary to popular Christian renderings of the New Testament.

So here's what I found very interesting in this chapter; and I do hope this sparks some conversation: John's use of pneuma (or nooma, if you are down with Rob Bell) which means Spirit.

The concept of the "Spirit" as the third person is largely ignored by the folks in the pews. Think about it. It is common to hear someone address Jesus, or God the Father in prayer, but how often does someone say, "Dear Holy Spirit, thank you for this food we are about to eat?" Of course the Spirit is sooooooooo misunderstood, possibly because it was an evolving concept from Genesis to John.

All I want to clear up now is the use of Spirit in John 3:34: "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure."

Certainly a tricky verse. Who is giving the Spirit? The One (Jesus) whom God sent or God himself? This has been the subject of many debates. Since the "he" of the second part of the verse is wrapped up in the tense of the verb for "give," we can't know from the verse alone. Elsewhere in John the gifts given to the Son by the father (17 instances) utilize the Perfect or Aorist tense. the abnormal use of the present tense for "give," coupled with the fact that Jesus is the subject of the first clause indicates the the Spirit proceeds from the Son like Jesus proceeds from the Father. The Father sent the Son, the Son gives the Spirit.

The spiritual circle in which I run (ran?) primarily associate speaking tongues with the Holy Spirit. This verse is oft quoted to suggest that Jesus here is foreshadowing the coming of glossalalia with this verse. However, this is interpretation allows presupposition to cloud exegesis. The whole Christological scope of this chapter is to set in stone the salvific and historic role of Christ.

Clearly 3:4 states that one cannot see the Kingdom of God unless they are "born again," or "born of te Spirit?" Certainly speaking tongues cannot be a prerequisite to salvation. The fact that just a few verses later 3:36 belief in Jesus is necessary for Salvation, the preceding passage cannot be alluding tongues.

I see the primary role of the Spirit, as a member of the Godhead, as a divine indwelleing following a decision to belief. What is your take on the Holy Spirit?