Why Freethought? Part 5 of 8

This post is parsed thusly:
“Was Jesus Reliable?”
Prophecy
Pass the Mustard
Saltiness
Foolishness
I Witness

“Was Jesus Reliable?”

This next section varies from prophecy to mustard.

Prophecy

Dan Barker begins thusly:

This post is parsed thusly:
“Was Jesus Reliable?”
Prophecy
Pass the Mustard
Saltiness
Foolishness
I Witness

“Was Jesus Reliable?”

This next section varies from prophecy to mustard.

Prophecy

Dan Barker begins thusly:

“Jesus told his disciples that they would not die before his second coming: ‘There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom’ (Matthew 16:28). ‘Behold, I come quickly.’ (Revelation 3:11) It’s been 2,000 years, and believers are still waiting for his ‘quick’ return.”

What is most interesting about such objections is that the skeptic will do precisely what Dan Barker has done: they read a statement and then embark upon what it means to them. Thus, he informs us, via one verse and a partial verse, that Jesus is unreliable. But are those verses truly stating what he claims they are? “What else could they mean?” asks the skeptic. And that is just the problem, they could not imagine and do not know what else they could mean and so they make assertions based on partial information.

The mention of those who would be alive to witness Jesus, the Son of man, coming in His kingdom is generally relegated by skeptics to the eschaton. However, this has not been the Christian understanding which finds at least two major applications that do not relate to the echaton. While it may be obvious that Christianity would not necessarily see references to the eschaton here I believe that we will see that it is not due to embarrassment over a false prophecy or, as Dan Barker states it, Jesus’ unreliability.

One view is that “the Son of man coming in his kingdom” referred to what basically amounts to the establishment of the church (called out ones) and the events surrounding the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In Acts 1:8-9 Jesus states:

“But you shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you. And you shall be witnesses to Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth. And saying these things, as they watched, He was taken up. And a cloud received Him out of their sight.”


This reference to the events of Pentecost is reinforced in Luke 24:49:

“And behold, I send the promise of My father on you. But you sit in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Therefore, this view would argue that with the church being established, the Temple being destroyed (which signaled the end of the Jewish priesthood and sacrificial system) and the church receiving spiritual power the, kingdom had come. Keep in mind that another reason to not simply think of a kingdom coming as meaning earthly ruler-ship is that Jesus often employed the term as a concept.
In John 18:36 Jesus stated:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight so that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here.”

John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles preached that the kindgdom of heaven was at hand (see Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28) and there is not particular reason to simply claim that they were wrong, unless one makes the claim out of uninformed skepticism. In fact, Jesus stated (Luke 17:21):

“For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

I personally prefer to take the immediate context and see what it is telling me. Thus, I notice that the discussion begins (v. 1-3) with Jesus being asked for a sign from heaven and His reference to “the signs of the times” which is a clear reference to contemporary events-this will become key. Then a discussion ensues and Jesus makes the following statement (v. 26):

“For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

This leads to a reference of the “reward” that such a person will receive (v. 27):

“For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward each one according to his works.”

Now, since the original context was contemporaneous events, we return to it with Jesus stating (v. 28):

“Truly I say to you, There are some standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

But I do not believe that we are now back to referencing what was then a contemporary reference because it is convenient to my worldview or avoids embarrassment at a false prophecy. I believe it due to the very next verse, which is 17:1-3, 5 and states:

“And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured before them. And His face shone as the sun, and His clothing was white as the light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with Him_While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them. And behold a voice out of the cloud which said, This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear Him.”

It does not seem that this event would just happen to occur directly after a mention of the kingdom. There was Jesus in a glorified state, with two major figures of the Old Testament, accompanied by God the Father’s endorsement. A glimpse into the kingdom not only in its here and now earthly form but in its ultimate glorified form as well.

With regards to the “quickly” reference we must keep in mind that this term refers to “shortly” as well as “suddenly” and these are two very different concepts. I could state, “I’m going to kick the soccer ball quickly” and this could mean that I am going to kick it within seconds or it could mean that when I play soccer next month I am going to kick the ball very fast, with a lot of force. I could kick the ball softly but within a short period of time or kick it very hard some time from now. This is important to note because the context tells us that “quickly” refers to the fact that when the event takes place the actions to be accomplished will occur in rapid succession-I will eventually kick the ball very hard and fast. Revelation 3:2 says to be “watchful,” verse 3 states “if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you,” thus, we come to verse 11 “Behold, I come quickly. Hold fast to that which you have, so that no one may take your crown.”

Thieves are not known for loitering. Rather, they may plan a robbery for a long time and yet, when they decide to carry out the crime they are in and out before anyone is aware of their presence. Therefore, be watchful because if you will not watch then the thief will break in unbeknownst to you. However, if you are watchful you will hold fast to what you have and no one will take anything from you.

Ultimately, we can know that the above discusses text did not refer to the eschaton or second coming because of Matthew 24:36-39:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Also, consider the very next chapter:

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).

Regarding the texts mentioned by Dan Barker, this makes it clear that Jesus could not have been referring to the eschaton, in the first case, nor referring to the second coming, in the second case.
Skeptics may argue that this would actually be an instance of contradiction. Yet, this would be a mere assertion, an argument from silence. As we have sought to demonstrate above, there is no real reason to relegate these texts to the eschaton or second coming.

Lastly, I again wish to mention something that is not brought up in the tract but which various skeptics mention. If Jesus is God in the flesh and God is omniscient, why did Jesus not know something, namely the time of His return? There are at least two viable reasons for this. One is that the Bible states that Jesus made Himself God’s (the triune being) servant while on earth and thus limited His knowledge in this regard.
Consider the following texts:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).”Incidentally, notice the language that is used taking the_being made_became we do not take on and become something that we already are.

The other possibility, and this is not necessarily dichotomous but the two explanations may intermingle, is that this could be a cultural reference. In that place and time part of the Jewish wedding custom was that it was the father of the husband to be who decided when the wedding was to take place. When the father decided that it was time he would inform the husband to be that the wedding was to take place. The husband to be not only did not know when the day and hour was-it was not for him to know. The New Testament often likes the church as the bride of the husband Jesus, such as in Revelation 19:7 which states:

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”

Pass the Mustard

“He mistakenly claimed that the mustard seed is ‘the least of all seeds’ (Matt. 13:32), and that salt could ‘lose its savour’ (Matthew 5:13).”

The mustard seed comment could be dealt with in various ways. For instance, Jesus may have been referring to the “least of all seeds” of which His audience was aware, or of which are grown in the region. However, I prefer to yet again allow the text to speak for itself (v. 31-32):

“He put out another parable to them, saying, The kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.”


It would appear that within the parable the smallest seed, or the least quantitative seed, or the least valuable seed that was planted was the mustard seed.

Saltiness

There is quite a bit to say about the salt comment. The text states:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”

First, we note that he was not actually talking about salt itself but is referring to people as salt and making a point about the people losing their saltiness (salt enhances flavors, preserves and cleanses).
Secondly, it may be that Dan Barker is not taking into consideration that in Jesus’ day they were dealing with raw sea salt and not with processed, chemically preserved salt. They also used salt not merely to flavor food but to preserve it, such as by rubbing salt on meat and fish.
Thirdly, the fact is that back in those days, when they perceived that the salt had become useless for their purposes it would “be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”

Foolishness

“Jesus said that whoever calls somebody a ‘fool’ shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22), yet he called people ‘fools’ himself (Matthew 23:17).”

Yes, Jesus referred to certain people as fools, so what is the point of this objection? The text states that if one did so they would be “in danger of.” Dan Barker may fell free to claim that Jesus was “in danger of hell fire.” Yet, this would again be missing the point which is made clear if we do not merely consider the one verse that he is directing us towards but read for context. Let us see what verses 20-25:

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.”

Since we are dealing with Matthew 5 it is no surprise, to the discerning reader, that the answer is the same as it was above for Matthew 5:28 which dealt with committing adultery in our hearts. Jesus is stating that murder is not merely a physical act but that it is conceived by though first-we term this “premeditation.” Therefore, if you have a bad character and bad temper and you allow yourself to run amuck referring to people as “fools” you may loose your temper enough to do much worse, such as murder. How many murders begin with an exchange of “fighting words”? Note also that the text states that you are “in danger of” if you do it “without a cause.” While it should be noted that “without a cause” is not in some manuscripts (the NU-Text), my overall point still stands. Incidentally, “raca” refers to “empty one,” “empty headed man,” “worthless,” “senseless,” “a term of reproach.”

Again, it is clear that the text is warning against escalation and encouraging reconciliation: “First be reconciled,” “Agree with your adversary quickly.”

I Witness

“Regarding his own truthfulness, Jesus gave two conflicting opinions: ‘If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true’ (John 5:31), and ‘Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true’ (John 8:14).”

This is another case in which the problem is not caused by the text but by Dan Barker’s very selective quotations, citations and assertions. For the first statement let us glean from 5:30-39 where Jesus makes it clear that if He bore witness to Himself then His witness is not valid and that He is not witnessing to Himself since God the Father (and the Old Testament) witness for Him:

“I can do nothing of My own self. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who has sent Me. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You sent to John, and he bore witness to the truth. But I do not receive testimony from man, but these things I say so that you might be saved. He was a burning and shining light, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have greater witness than that of John, for the works which the Father has given Me that I should finish them, the works which I do themselves witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And He sending Me, the Father Himself, has borne witness of Me. Neither have you heard His voice at any time nor seen His shape. And you do not have His Word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He has sent. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. And they are the ones witnessing of Me.”

In the next case, Jesus makes the same exact point: He is not His own witness. Let us glean from John 8:11-18 which states:

“And she said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said to her, Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more. Then Jesus spoke again to them, saying, I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Therefore the Pharisees said to Him, You bear record concerning yourself; your witness is not true. Jesus answered and said to them, Though I bear record concerning Myself, My witness is true. For I know from where I came, and where I go. But you do not know from where I came, and where I go. You judge after the flesh, I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your Law that the testimony of two men is true. I am one who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness concerning Me.”

Note that the fact that He is not claiming self witness is very clear but that Dan Barker has conveniently focused on a partial quote of verse 14. This verse does not contradict nor nullify the clear statements made around it and we have an example of why this statement is there. I believe that it is very clear that verse 14 is a manner of speech and that this is made clear by noting verses 15-16 which states:

“_I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true.”

It reads like, “I don’t but I do,” or “I don’t do it but if I do, do it_” is this nonsensical? No, rather it is a manner of speech. Such as we may say, “I never eat ice cream, except if it is very hot outside.” Wait, do you or don’t you? You stated that you never eat ice cream but then admitted that you do eat it. This is simply a manner of speech. Therefore, since we have an example of such a manner of speech in the very same text it is not at all problematic to understand Jesus’ statement “Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true” as being a manner of speech especially because following the manner of speech He makes it clear that He is not bearing witness, or record, of Himself. This is not contradictory or merely sidestepping but is rather what I am constantly emphasizing: it is simply what the text is telling us.

Part 6 will examine the question: “Was Jesus A Good Example?”

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