Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

“Jesus Never Talked About X”

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

So, Jesus was a Jew.  He didn’t come to begin a religion; he came as the culmination of the Old Testament, in its prophecies & promises.

With that in mind, does anybody really think Jesus had to repeat everything from the Old Testament in his teachings–or we can dismiss it?  That would be a pretty odd expectation.

And yet, modern religious discussion seems to have a new trump-card:  ”Jesus never talked about ______.”  If Jesus never talked about [insert traditional/conservative/disliked belief], then supposedly it has no place in true Christianity–it’s just man-made.  (The argument also has a more reasonable form, which I’ll talk about below–but first I want to look at the dismissive form.)

It might be used against any view seen as “traditional”–anything part of widespread assumptions about Christianity.  As an experiment, I googled “Jesus never talked about”.  Six of the first ten results were on homosexuality.  Another says that all sex-related rules are just man-made.  (That one’s odd, since Jesus did talk about sexual morals.)  Another says that Paul can’t be legit, because Jesus never talked about him.  I tried again, excluding “homosexuality” from the results, and came up with:  Original sin, “saying The Prayer”/”becoming a Christian”/”salvation”, legislating morality, and purgatory.

The Problems

Does anyone really think that if Jesus didn’t explicitly, directly mention something, it’s not sin? Did he talk about rape?  Child abuse?  Did he mention the common infanticide practiced in the Roman Empire?  Did he mention bestiality?

We know he spoke about murder, and sexual immorality in general.  But we don’t know that he ever mentioned these.  Does that mean he condoned them?

So where does this thinking go wrong?

The first problem:  The written gospel accounts don’t pretend to record everything Jesus said.  We can’t say, “Jesus never mentioned X.”  We can only say, “The gospel writers didn’t include anything about it.”  Each gospel writer included and emphasized different portions of Jesus’ teaching; they don’t claim to include all of it. (On the contrary.)

Even if Jesus himself actually did directly mention every moral issue during his time on earth, we don’t have everything he said.

The second problem: Red-letter Christianity.

Sometimes, modern printings of the Bible put the words of Jesus in red letters.  And some people view the red letters as the only part that’s really Scripture, really God’s word.  Oddly, people will reject Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures.  He appealed to the Old Testament as the word of God; he affirmed Moses and the Psalms and the prophets.  They spoke by the Spirit of God–the same Spirit by whom the apostles & prophets of the New Testament spoke.

If you try to separate Jesus from the Scriptures, reading only the red letters, you can’t get very far.  You have to excise all the red letters that talk about Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  (That’s exactly what Marcion tried to do.)

And that takes us back to the third problem: Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion.  He’s not dropping in out of the blue and starting with a blank slate.  Jesus is a Jew; Christianity continues & builds on Judaism.  And according to Jesus, he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

Jesus’ birth in Israel wasn’t an accident of history.  He’s not a moral teacher who just happened to appear in Israel, and when he spoke about the Law he wasn’t simply commenting on the prevailing morality of his surroundings–he certainly wasn’t affirming some and discarding the rest.  (It’s not as though he set out to ratify the valid parts of Old Testament morality and ignore the parts he didn’t like.)  The Law was from the Father, with whom Jesus is one.  When he criticized the prevailing morality, it was because they departed from the Law for the sake of man-made traditions.  But the Law itself was the word of God.

If we take Jesus in the gospels seriously, we have to take the rest of the Bible seriously.  Jesus, the Word of God, affirmed Scripture as the word of God.  You can’t separate its teachings from his.

On The Other Hand…

More reasonably, “Jesus never mentioned ___” does raise a question about importance and emphasis.  It’s silly to assume that Jesus mentioned every moral issue and theological truth, but he did specifically teach about his purpose in coming, the kingdom of God, and the central meaning of the gospel.  So it seems reasonable to expect that the main things would show up coming from Jesus himself.

It’s a slippery question, but at least it raises food for thought.

Aside from that, the criticisms people are making might still be valid, even though “Jesus never mentioned X” is a bad argument.  Going back to the list from Google, I certainly agreed with some of the critiques–against purgatory, against some forms of legislating morality, against “praying-the-prayer”-as-magical-words-that-grant-eternal-security.

But to make a valid critique on anything, you need a lot more than this argument from Jesus’ supposed silence.

To Sum It Up

Saying “Jesus never talked about ____” isn’t a good trump card.  It doesn’t do much, though it can raise food for thought.

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

In the previous entry, I talked about how the Gospel should be at the center of anything we say about homosexuality–and this includes stressing the point that we are all sinners, and no one has the right to feel self-righteous. It’s interesting that Paul makes precisely that point when he talked about it.

Romans 1

Paul talks about homosexuality in Rom. 1:26-27, and then lists other sins in Rom. 1:28-32–like gossip and disobedience to parents.  So, I started pointing that out, when I wanted to show that–biblically–homosexuality is a sin among other sins. To show that everyone–including me–stands condemned in the same way. No one can be self-righteous.

It’s odd. For some reason, I didn’t notice that Paul seems to be making exactly that point. Then recently, it clicked.  When he lists “big” sins with “small” sins, he almost seems to bait a trap for the smugly self-righteous–letting the readers feel comfortable for a moment, before cutting them low.  (Though… See the P.S. at the end of the entry.)

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Understanding God’s Word

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Easy Exegesis

“Exegesis” is a technical term for interpretation of a text. It’s about serious interpretation–doing your best to get past what you want it to mean, or what you’ve always assumed it means, or what you’ve been told it means, getting through to figure out what the author actually meant. The nutshell definition is “drawing meaning out of a text”.

It’s the opposite of “eisegesis”, which means “reading meaning into a text”. (Calling someone’s interpretation “eisegesis” is basically polite, scholarly trash talk. Any time I read something like, “That’s really more eisegetical than exegetical,” I imagine the target of the comment saying, “Oh no you di-int! Snap!”)

An in-depth exegesis involves looking at the context of the individual verse or passage, at the flow of thought, at the details of the language, at the original audience, at the historical context, and at the other writings of the author (if there are any). That’s the best way to get the most confidence that you’re understanding the fullest meaning of what the text was intended to say.

But…Well, all that makes it sound very complicated, very involved, and much too difficult for anyone who can’t read the Greek text and translate it on the fly. But it’s not. It doesn’t have to be. Don’t get me wrong, some passages really are very challenging, even for the brightest minds with the best resources and the strongest education. But most of the Bible isn’t like that. To get the fullest meaning, it may take practice and a lot of effort–but there are very simple ways to study the Bible that will help you understand quite a lot.

There’s a simple, easy rule of exegesis–one you’ll find yourself using all the time, one that’s widely useful, one that will prevent you from making most of the easy mistakes of interpretation.

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On Jesus, Mission, and Church

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

Excerpts from Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From An Emerging Missional Church, by Mark Driscoll

“No matter what the tradition or theological perspective, the one common thread that wove all of the churches together was that they were each on their on mission instead of on Jesus’ mission to transform people and cultures by the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of the gospel. And each church conveniently grabbed the snapshot of Jesus that best suited their mission and used it to legitimize and bless their mission in his name. Theologically, this was profoundly troubling, because I was certain that Jesus was his own mission and that any church not on that mission had what Paul called another gospel and another Jesus, concocted by a cunning serpent.”

“For me, our church was not the people we had but primarily the people we did not yet have, and I needed to go get those people… I kept scheduling meetings in an effort to convert the lost to Jesus and convert the found to our mission with Jesus so that the church could move forward.”

Simple and Pure Devotion to Christ

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

This question was sent a few days ago in the mailing list for Hope Chapel.

How would you describe “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”? This phrase comes from 2 Cor 11:3. I’d like to know what different people think about this.

We could answer that in many ways. If we simply take the phrase by itself, there are many aspects of “devotion to Christ”, and many senses in which we could talk about its simplicity and purity. It’s like talking about what the love of family means; each of us has a different perspective, and can provide a different answer. There’s value in that kind of meditation and sharing, helping each other see new aspects of the truth.

If we take the phrase as part of the passage in which Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, it has a more particular meaning. To figure it out, we don’t think solely (or even primarily) about our own experiences–rather, we look at the way Paul used the phrase. What was the broader subject when he said it? What did he compare it to, and what did he contrast it with? And then there are questions about the translation of the words–how well do the English words (like “simplicity”, “purity”, and “devotion”) convey the meaning of the Greek? That is, can we expand the meaning of the words at all?

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