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Crossed Messages
Written October 23, 2019

 
Welcome once again to IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  I'm Brother Billy.  

In John 5:31 Jesus notes the legal precept, “If I testify about myself, my witness is not valid.”

Nevertheless, in 2 Timothy 3:16 the Bible does bear witness to itself, declaring that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine.”

Of course, good Christians know the Holy Scriptures from cover to cover.  But if parts of God's Word disagree with other parts, which are we to believe?

Today we're going to discuss some of the issues that are raised in the third chapter of Jesus, Interrupted, a 2009 book by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman.

Usually on this program I interview someone from Biblical times.  Once I talked with a penguin.  But today's guests are two modern-day Christians.

What makes them unusual is this:  Although they're familiar with most of the Bible, they've somehow missed three of the four Gospels!  Each has read only one.

Here on the left is Matt, who has read only the Gospel according to Matthew, his namesake.

Hello, everyone.  My words will appear on your screen in this magenta color.  M for magenta, and M for Matt.

 
And over here on the right is his cousin Johnny.  He also knows only one Gospel, the one attributed to his namesake John.

My words will be in green.  J for jade green, and J for Johnny.

Very well.  Matt, since your Gospel begins the New Testament, you can begin our discussion.  My first question is a very basic one:  Who was Jesus?

Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. 

That's right.  IT'S IN THE BIBLE, but where specifically?

Well, Isaiah announced in chapter 7, verse 14, that “a virgin is with child, and she will give birth to a son and call him Emmanuel.”  In Hebrew, that means “God Is With Us.”  (Mt 1:22-23)|

Actually, in the 8th century BC Isaiah was using poetic language to reassure his people that God was with them and would soon defeat their enemies.  Isaiah's prediction in verse 16 was that “the territories of those two kings, before whom you now cringe in fear, will lie desolate.”  And this would happen within a few years, before a symbolic newborn boy grew up. 

Also, his original manuscript didn't use the Hebrew word bethulah, “virgin.”  It used alma, “young woman.”  Much later, Matthew's Gospel quoted from a Greek translation where alma was rendered as parthenos “virgin.” 

Also, the hypothetical young woman's son merely represented a short span of time.  He was not identified as a savior or the Messiah.  Nor was he named Jesus.  The young woman called him Emmanuel.

You're really stretching here, Matt, if you want to apply Isaiah's words to Jesus of Nazareth.

Besides, Jesus did not come into existence when He was born of a woman!

Well, yes, Johnny, I suppose that's true.  As evangelicals, we must believe he came into existence nine months earlier than that, when his mother's ovum was fertilized by the Holy Spirit.

No, He already existed at the Creation!  IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  He was with God at the Beginning, and without Him nothing was created.  The Word was in God's Presence, and what God was, the Word was.   Then, though not born of human flesh, the Word became flesh and made His home among us.  (Jn 1:1-14)|

But Johnny, kings from the east came to pay homage to a newborn king.  (Mt 2:1-2)  At least that's what I read in my Gospel.  Why else would we celebrate Christmas?

I know nothing about this “Christmas.”  There's nothing childish in the Gospel I read.  “There appeared a man named John” who said, “After me there comes a man who ranks ahead of me.  Before I was born, he already was.”  (Jn 1:6,30)|

Perhaps we should move on.  Here's another basic question:  What did Jesus preach?

Repent!  The time has come, and the kingdom of Heaven is near!”  (Mt 4:17)  That is to say, a new age will be here soon.  God will overthrow the evil “powers that be” and rule the world Himself.  Then the Son of Man will gather every person who has failed to renounce his sinful ways, and these will be thrown into the blazing furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.  (Mt 13:41-42)  Therefore people must get ready.  They must repent.

Bah!  “Repent?”  Contrition is not necessary.  “It was not to judge the world that God sent his Son, but to save the world.  No one who puts his faith in Him comes under judgment.” (Jn 3:17-18)

All that God's Son requires is belief.  Whosoever believeth in Him shall have eternal life.  (Jn 3:16)

No, Johnny, Jesus taught his followers that before the end of the age, they needed to reject evil and align themselves with good.  If one town wouldn't join them in repenting, they should move on to another.  Before they had gone through all the towns of Israel, the Son of Man would come.  (Mt 10:23)|

The “Son of Man,” you say?  Not the only-begotten Son of God?

Actually, we're all sons of God our Father, who is in Heaven.  But “the Son of Man” is how Jesus described himself.  “The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man.”  (Mt 13:37)

Jesus wasn't on God's level.  He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, according to Philippians 2:6.  He did not even consider himself equal to God's Holy Spirit.  “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but if anyone speaks against the Holy Spirit, for him there will be no forgiveness.”  (Mt 12:32)|

And thus we worship the Trinity, three separate persons in one Godhead.  “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”

Don't you believe in the Holy Trinity, Matt?  As it was in the Beginning, is now, and ever shall be?

I'm just quoting what Jesus said.

Well, in my Gospel, Jesus doesn't go on and on about some Kingdom off in the future.  He tells us about Himself!  “Before Abraham was, I am.”  (Jn 8:58)  “I and the Father are one.”  (Jn 10:30)  “I am the Bread of life.”  (Jn 6:35)  “I am the Light of the world.”  (Jn 9:5)  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.”  (Jn 14:6)

Your Gospel claims that Jesus is equal to the Father?  Mine doesn't.

He's certainly more than a mere Jewish preacher, Matt!

And Matt, if your view had prevailed in antiquity and Jesus never came to be seen as divine, he would have mattered only to his fellow Jews.  His followers would have remained a Jewish sect with their own interpretation of the Scriptures, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  But once Jesus was regarded as God, non-Jewish people — the Gentiles — could worship him.  Eventually he could take the place of their other gods, and the old pagan pantheon could be forgotten.

Elsewhere Professor Ehrman has written, “The debates over who Christ really was came to culmination in the early 4th century.  The Nicene Creed is clear that Christ is God.  He is not the same as God the Father, but he is not at all subordinate to him.  If Jesus had remained a crucified Jew, and not God, Christianity would never have become the religion of Rome.  We would not have had the history of the West.”

All that the people of the world have to do is to have faith in Jesus, and He will give us an eternal home in Heaven.  (Jn 14:1-3)||

Johnny, if I may, you're speaking of a vertical worldview.  There's a layered dualism.  We're down here on Earth, waiting to be rescued by the Word descending from Heaven.


 
And Matt, you're describing a horizontal concept.  There's a timeline across the page, two ages of this world.  The current age will be followed by a better age to come.

Yes.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth” — just as  thy will is done in Heaven.  (Mt 6:10)|

So we seem to be at cross purposes about that.  However, we do need to move on.  We have time for one more question:  Why did Jesus perform miracles?

He didn't!  He performed signs, to prove that He was God.  He said, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”  (Jn 4:48) 

After He fed the five thousand, people realized He must be the Messiah.  (Jn 6:1-15)  While restoring a man's sight, He explained why the man was born blind: “so that God's power might be displayed in curing him.”  (Jn 9:3)  Before raising Lazarus from the dead, He prayed “for the sake of the people standing around, that they may believe it was You who sent Me.”  (Jn 11:42)  

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples,” we read at the end of the Gospel.  “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God!”  (Jn 20:30-31)|

I disagree, Johnny.  Jesus didn't produce “signs” as proof of his identity.  All that's required is faith.  Faith is the evidence of things we cannot see, according to the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

But Matt, if we have proof we have no need of faith.  It's unnecessary.

No need of faith?  Come on, guys, faith and hope are everything!  St. Paul pointed out, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he can already see?  We walk by faith, not by sight.”  IT'S IN THE BIBLE, Romans 8:24 and 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Just the same, Brother Billy, walking blindly by faith can be dangerous.  If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.  (Mt 15:14) 

That's true!  Faith is untrustworthy.  We need proof.  We need signs.

No, we don't.  Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it — except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”  (Mt 12:38)|

Jonah lay in the belly of the fish for three days, and Jesus would lie in the grave for three days.

I agree, that was a sign.  But while he was alive, Jesus performed not signs but miracles, not to prove he was God but to show the kingdom of God was at hand.

John the Baptist sent to ask whether the long-awaited Messiah had come, and Jesus replied, “Tell him what you hear and see.”  He cited the ongoing miracles.  “The blind are receiving their sight, the deaf are recovering their hearing, the lame are walking, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  (Mt 11:2-5)|

Very well, it seems that we have a basic difference of opinion about Jesus:  who he was, what he preached, why he did marvelous things.

Was he a man performing miracles to show that a better time was on the way, or was he God using signs as evidence of His Divinity?

Perhaps we'll never be able to completely harmonize this contradiction between the horizontal and the vertical.  However, we must admit that IT'S IN THE BIBLE.

 

TBT

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