Friday, June 12, 2009

Understanding Jesus' words and other dialogue

Here is another quick thought where I'm going to point you all in a direction but not go through extensive scripture citation.

When one reads the scripture, specifically the Gospels and the writings of the Apostles, one realizes that Jesus and the disciples frequently quote from and reference the Biblical writings of the prophets. These writings are what Christians call the Old Testament of the Bible today. The Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were deeply studied by pious Jews of the time of Christ, of course. The Gospel tells how the scholars at the Temple admired and were astonished by the knowledge of the young boy Jesus.

Most Christians when asked to name an example of Jesus citing scripture would think of the famous exchange between Jesus as he fasted in the desert before commencing his public ministry and Satan, who tried to tempt Jesus away from his mission. This is recounted in Matthew 4:1-11.

Here is the point that I'm going to make for you to consider.

Whenever anyone "cites scripture" (to use a modern expression that everyone takes for granted these days) they did not do it with the technique or attitude that people utilize today. Today people having "dueling scripture" mentality that is based upon "knowing where to look for 'the answer' in the Bible" and thus they center upon (somewhat pridefully) citing the "numbers" (book, chapter and verse). No one, not Jesus, not the Apostles, nor Satan himself, did that during Biblical times. No one said, "If you look in scroll number four and read the tenth sentence it says etc etc etc." People simply said "It is written that..."

Then the devil took him into the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If thou art the Son of God, throw thyself down; for it is written 'He will give his angels charge concerning thee; and upon their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is written further, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God'" Matthew 4:5-7.

Read for yourselves any place in the New Testament where scripture is cited and you will see that no one gave reference points, such as the book's name, the chapter or the verse, and virtually all used the unchallenged opening phrase to their quotation "it is written."

Why is this important and why am I pointing this out tonight in this blog entry?

I've repeatedly advised my readers that one cannot understand God's words, whether in the Bible or the Qur'an, unless one understands the context of the times. Most people could not read or write and the word of God was an oral experience for them, as God's word was given to the people by the priests, and learned verbally from scholars and family members. No one had the mindset that they had to "prove it is 'in the Bible'" by citing chapter and verse (or scroll or line). So Satan cites scripture and Jesus gives a counter citation, but neither says to the other (duh) "where does it say that in the Bible?" The Bible, of course, did not exist in the chapter and verse form that Christians use today and that is my point.

If one wants a truly authentic emulation of Jesus and the disciples, one needs to read and comprehend the entire Bible, not memorize the key "trick phrases" and citations that bolster one's familiar arguments and beliefs. No one challenged each other "where does it 'say that'" back in the times of Jesus because no one would even think of incorrectly citing scripture.

In other words, authentic knowers of God's word are not "defensive" in their attitudes, as many are today.

So Satan cites scripture without even saying "where" that scripture comes from and "who said it" and about what. In return, Jesus does the same thing, citing scripture without saying who said it and "where it comes from."

Generations of Christian scholars (yep, those early church fathers, both Catholic and Orthodox) performed detailed study of the scripture and footnoting so that future generations would know who and what Jesus and the others were citing.

So if you have an annotated Bible, you can determine by reading the footnote that Satan was citing from the Book of Psalms, while Jesus replied citing Deuteronomy.

Do you understand the two points that I am trying to make? The first point is that neither Satan nor Jesus "came prepared with citations up their sleeves to have that debate." Both so well know the scripture that when the dialogue took place, each could think of the most pertinent citation to make on the spot. How many people do that today? Rather, moderns are proud that they have "pre loaded scripture" that they can cite chapter and verse for the most familiar of purposes and well worn paths of debate, rather than understanding the meaning of the entire Bible, and then drawing from it as needed on the spot, regardless of the occasion for Biblical reference. So if one really wants to be "like Jesus" or the "genuine Apostles," one would have to have mastery of the entire Bible in its content and context, not hopping around extracting and memorizing favorite useful sayings, like they are bullet points for debate cues.

The second point is the temptation that an index system (chapter and verse) provides to those who distill everything into numbers and punch lines. Whenever humans have a technological advance, there is always a plus and a minus. The plus to having written Bibles that are inexpensively printed and able to be read by all is that obviously it is the great equalizer that rich or poor, all can have God's word to have and reference. The minus is that the word of God becomes less of an atmosphere that one is verbally immersed within and becomes, simply put, another intellectual tool.

A reverse snobbery takes place. How often do you see a bumper sticker with just a citation rather than the words? For example, you'd see the above dialogue as a bumper sticker that simply says "Matthew 4:5-7." Those who are "in the know" would see that bumper sticker and recognize that the people who owned that car are citing that verse for some reason known to them. But where is the knowledge (remember, knowledge is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not of humans' own doing) in saying "Matthew 4:5-7?" Rather, it is tempting to be smug, inviting those who know that verse by number to see your bumper stick and think "Oh, what a great Christian I am; I know what topic they are citing." If you are really of the "texting" and LOL generation, one can say to one's friends "457" and that would be a code word for "Satan and Jesus debating" or "Jesus being tempted." Those who are snide could given themselves user names such as Brit457 and those "in the know" would realize that "Brit" is calling him or herself a tempter, or a refuter of Satan.

Humans are like huge walking slippery slopes of ice where it seems that they cannot resist any temptation to parse or to package the complex and thoughtful and meaningful into sound bytes and killer debating points and eventually smug self referential code talk.

This is why I really avoid that mindset and virtually never walk around citing scripture. I have to painfully look up in the Bible every time I cite scripture (even the ones I often blog about) since my mind just refuses to think of the Bible as a series of numbered "points" to make.

All of you need to realize that it is "not Biblical" to cite scripture in a numeric, catchphrase, or "prove it to me" type of way. People (even Satan) were expected to know the fullness of scripture and then ad hoc state "it is written" a truthful statement or paraphrasing from the scripture, without even "showing off" who said it in the first place. I mean, in Matthew 4:5-7, Jesus is citing GOD, but Jesus himself does not say to Satan, "Well, God himself said the following on the fifth scroll first turning first line....." Everyone was authentic Biblical scholars at that time and it would never occur to anyone to feel they have to state exactly word for word and number by number who said what "in the Bible."

Jesus said to him, "It is written further, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God'" (Matthew 4:7)

Jesus is "citing" the following:

"You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test, as you did at Massa" (Deuteronomy 6:16).

Suppose that debate was taking place today? Can you not well imagine certain Christians who would (in playing Satan's part) reply to Jesus:

1. Where does it say that? Cite me the book, chapter and verse.
2. You did not quote correctly, so your knowledge of scripture is imperfect.
3. Hmm, well, so God did say that, but he is referring to a specific form of putting God to the test (as at Massa). Doesn't that mean that other forms of testing God are "OK?" I mean, wouldn't God have SAID in "any way" if he meant in any way?
4. Boy Jesus, you sure missed the point of what God was saying. I bet you could not even find Massa on a map.

I wish I was joking or being droll but I am not.

Likewise, Jesus did not "correct" Satan's citation of scripture, as Jesus knows full well what Satan is citing and its context and pertinence.

'He will give his angels charge concerning thee; and upon their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone' (Matthew 4:6).

For to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon (Psalms 90:11-13).

Jesus could have said:

1. Hey Satan, always cite what book, chapter and verse, because otherwise we don't know if "God really said that."
2. Satan, you miss the point. That foot on stone thing is just one example of how God will guard me in "all" "ways." So why are you picking out one of the examples in Psalms 90 to test me with? Why not have me step on a few snakes too, etc.

Isn't that ridiculous, if either had challenged the other in those ways? Yet, be honest. Aren't SOME of you reading this going to yourself, "Oh, hey, that would be a 'good point' if either Satan or Jesus challenged the 'validity of the citation.'"

How foolish and near sighted are the moderns of today, even those who have genuine faith in their hearts.

This is why I taught this particular lesson tonight, so that you meet and recognize your danger of being easily tempted head on. All I had to do was play upon the anal compulsive and "making the point" usage of God's scripture as a play ground for word smiths, numerologists and yes even the obsessive compulsive (or their opposite, the sloppy) faithful and you see how easily the refuting of Satan by Jesus would have been ruined if it was put in modern "standards" and the all too common vernacular.

Admit it. If Jesus was standing in front of you and "cited scripture" and one or two of the words varied from what you had in your hands printed in "your" version of the Bible, a seed of doubt about Jesus would be planted in your heart.

It is for that reason that Jesus came when he did in the times that he did, when people were verbal and filled with the spirit of context, not of word smithing and argumentative, defensive "superiority." That is why people said "it is written" because people were getting the accurate message of God across to each other, but not measuring accuracy by ridiculous word plays and number games. Jesus knew that Satan knew that Satan was citing just one example of how God would be "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Psalms 90:2) so a "gotcha" moment would be pointless since the point was not to parrot words, but to try to apply scripture to a challenge to Jesus. Likewise Satan did not challenge Jesus that "the prohibition against testing only applies to Massa" because obviously Satan knows that God was forbidding all testing of him, and only mentioning "Massa" so that the people would keep that specific chastisement fresh in their memories.

People: you cannot evangelize nor bolster your own faith and the faith of others if you are using "gotcha" techniques in your day to day discourse and even your fundamental understanding of God's word in scripture. There is a profound difference between being accurate and anal (pardon my being so indelicate but the modern vernacular among the young has changed so much that I can't convey the message without using their common lingo). Likewise there is a profound difference between knowing God's entire word and his context and having preloaded favorite scripture debating points.

I hope that you have found this helpful.

Another example.....(extra credit, LOL)

And Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people' (Acts 23:5).

Paul is referencing:

"You shall not revile God, nor curse a prince of your people" (Exodus 22:27).