This essay begins a series that is a companion to my essay Dan Barker’s Scriptural Misinterpretations and Misapplications in which, as the title implies, I responded to various erroneous conclusions derived by Dan Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (hereinafter “FFRF”). In this essay I will specifically deal with a “Nontract” published by the FFRF entitled “Why Jesus?”
This post is parsed thusly:”Was Jesus Peaceable And Compassionate?”On Buying SwordsMurder Voyeur
“Jesus has been held in high regard by Christians and non-Christians alike. Regardless of whether he existed in history, or whether he was divine, many have asserted that the New Testament Christ character was the highest example of moral living. Many believe that his teachings, if truly understood and followed, would make this a better world. Is this true? Does Jesus merit the widespread adoration he has received? Let’s look at what he said and did.”
Following this statement are some very erudite arguments that will convince any rational person. That is to say, the arguments will not convince any rational person that Jesus was not an example of the highest moral standards. The arguments will convince any rational person that Mr. Barker and his foundation are tragically lacking the basic abilities with which to discern what a text is stating. They do not discredit the New Testament, Christianity or Jesus but only end up discrediting themselves as researchers, scholars or true skeptics that can be taken seriously, intellectually speaking.
Please keep in mind one very important fact: as you read Mr. Barker’s condemnation of the Bible, God, Jesus and Christianity note that by arguing in favor of relative morals, to the point of claiming that rape is not absolutely immoral, Mr. Barker has lost his ability to condemn any actions whatsoever. I have documented this in detail in my essay Dan Barker and the Alien Rape Voyeurs.
In the tract Mr. Barker makes reference to 48 biblical texts and I have decided to look up each one, ascertain its context and meaning, and finally see if the text and Mr. Barker’s assertions coincide.
“Was Jesus Peaceable And Compassionate?”
The tract then offers various examples of Jesus’ violent character.
On Buying Swords
“‘Think not that I am come to send peace: I came not to send peace but a sword.’ (Matthew 10:34) ‘He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)”
In the first case “sword” is clearly symbolic of dispute since verse 35 states “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.’” If you have been unfortunate enough to have been raised by, for example, atheists or agnostics and have come to believe in Jesus as Messiah then it is quite possible, as has been my experience, that you have been mistreated simply for believing differently than an atheist or agnostic.
Someone with knowledge of the Bible, much less someone who used to preach it would know that in Hebrews 4:12 “sword” is used indicate division:
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Therefore, the setting against refers to a dispute about beliefs.In the second case, we need to keep in mind that one way to understand what is being stated is to take note of how those who heard it at the moment that the statement was made understood what was being said. However, this would require reading for context in order to ensure the accuracy of our understanding of the text. Unfortunately, in this and many, many other instances Mr. Barker appears to not be interested in the clear meaning of the text but rather appears more interested in “pull quotes” which he can use as a “gotcha” effect.Mr. Barker quotes verse 36 which indeed has Jesus stating that swords should be bought. Of course, we could argue for self-defense which is perfectly moral. However, we may take notice that verse 38 has the apostles stating, “Lord, look, here are two sword” to which Jesus replied “It is enough.” This certainly does not seem to mean, “Oh good, we have enough swords with which to do battle,” since two swords do not seem adequate to protect 13 men. It may have been an indication that they did not initially understand a symbolic statement because the whole issue is cleared up in verses 49-51. Keep in mind that they had often misunderstood Jesus, such as when He made reference to “leaven” or “bread” and they initially thought that He was referencing the stuff of sandwiches (examples in Matthew 16:6-12 or Mark 8:15-21).
Now to verses 49-51:
“When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, ‘Permit even this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him”
Thus, even if it is difficult to discern precisely what Jesus’ references to “sword” meant, one thing is absolutely clear: He did not intend on waging war or to have His apostles perpetrate violence. This is not only clear from the context of a mere 13 verses below the one that Mr. Barker wanted us to focus and build our opinions upon. It is also clear from the fact that the New Testament and secular history know nothing whatsoever of the apostles utilizing swords neither for self-defense nor for waging war.
“‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’ (Luke 19:27. In a parable, but spoken of favorably.)”
Mr. Barker answers his own charge. Yes, Jesus made the statement but the words were not His own, they were the words of a fictional character in a fictional story. Verse 11 states “He spoke another parable,” this much Mr. Barker got right.
“The burning of unbelievers during the Inquisition was based on the words of Jesus: ‘If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.’ (John 15:6)”
The response to this is that while anything can be “…based on the words of…” the pertinent question is, “Can anything whatsoever be logically ‘…based on the words of…’?” to which the answer is clearly, “No.” Moreover, the next logical question is “Was the Inquisition logically ‘…based on the words of…’?” to which the answer is clearly, “No.” But why not? Because, as stated above, it is clear from the fact that the New Testament and secular history know nothing whatsoever of the apostles burning anyone for any reason. The exact opposite is true, it was thousands of early Christians who were burnt to death. What occurred over millennia later only goes to demonstrate just how removed from the New Testament teachings one has to get, historically and contextually, in order to even image undertaking such activities.
In fact, within the New Testament the following occurrence is recorded:
“And He sent messengers before His face. And they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for Him. And they did not receive Him, because His face was going toward Jerusalem. And seeing, His disciples James and John said, Lord, do You desire that we command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did? But He turned and rebuked them and said, You do not know of what spirit you are. For the Son of Man has not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save” (Luke 9:52-56)
Many New Atheists claim that one can “cherry-pick” the Bible in order to justify anything. However, as I pointed out in my essay Let Him Who is Without Faith Cast the First Stone, Sam Harris has lamented that his writings have been cherry-picked and misapplied:
“…the fine art of selective quotation to make me appear to hold positions which I do not hold…While I stand by everything I have written in ‘The End of Faith’…I cannot be expected to parry every malicious sampling of my text. It is unfortunate…”1
Mr. Harris recognizes that he is being fallaciously cherry-picked while at the same time he cherry-picks the Bible and asserts that anyone can do the same. To reiterate the bottom line: just because someone claims to base their malicious action on the Bible, even to the point of quoting it, does not mean that they are doing so in a manner that is epistemically valid, hermeneutically proper or historically contextual.
Part 2 will examine the issues of: anger, whipping, drowning, healing and eternal torment.