Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bible difficulties Answered (Part 16)

By: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." (Proverbs 18:17)

51. Did Jesus say everything openly (John 18:20) or did he speak secretly to his disciples (Mark 4:34, Matthew 13:10-11)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

The reason people say that Jesus contradicts himself about saying things secretly or not, especially in relation to parables, is due to a lack of textual and cultural contextualising.

This answer requires significant background information, some of which I hope to give briefly here.

Firstly, what is a parable? It is a story given in order to clarify, emphasize or illustrate a teaching, not a teaching within itself. Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. In Rabbinical literature there are approximately 4000 parables recorded. It was thought by Rabbis to be good practice to divide their instruction of the people into three parts, the latter third typically being two parables representative to the first two thirds. Jesus carries on in this tradition with just over one third of his recorded instruction being in the form of parables. He drew upon a wealth of images that the Israelis of his day knew, using common motifs such as plants, animals etc. Therefore the point of each of Jesus' parables was clear to all the listeners, which can be seen from the Gospels too. Parables were so rich and also so subtle that not only could they drive home a clear and simple point to the ordinary listener, but the scholars could turn them over and over in their mind, deriving greater and greater meaning from them. So, Jesus often expanded on the meaning of a parable to his disciples, his close students, in response to their inquiry or to instruct them further as any Jewish Rabbi would.

This can be seen from reading Mark 4:34 in context. For it says, "With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them [the crowds], as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable [to clarify, emphasize or illustrate the teaching]. But when he was alone with his own disciples he explained everything [taught them more, for they could understand more than the crowds]." Mark 4:33-34.

Therefore parables were not secret teachings. They are not esoteric knowledge given only to the initiated. It makes no sense (nor has any historical basis) to say that Jesus went around confusing people. He went around in order to teach and instruct people. So when Jesus was asked while on trial in court (John 18:20) about his teaching, he says something to the words of "I taught publicly - everyone heard my words. You know I taught. I did not teach in secret." He was right.

As all this is true, what are these "secrets of the kingdom of heaven" which Jesus speaks of? The only 'secret' ("the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writing by the command of the eternal God, so that the nations might believe and obey him" (Romans 16:25-26) is that Jesus is Lord!

This secret was that Jesus' mission was foretold by the prophets, that he was the fulfillment of these prophecies and the greatest revelation that would ever be given to mankind. His words were not only for the saving of people, but also for the judging of people because they were "ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving" (Matthew 13:14) as many of the hearers of the parables were unwilling to repent and submit to God.

Many people enjoyed Jesus' teaching, came for the nice moral discourses and the excellent parables, but not many followed him as the cost was too great (see Luke 9:57-61, 14:25-27, 33). But it was these things his disciples were beginning to understand because they truly followed Jesus. The secrets of the kingdom of heaven is what he said to his disciples following (and explaining) Matthew 13:10-11:

"But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear [unlike the crowds]. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" [as they did not live during the lifetime of Jesus - all the prophets were before him].

The secret is Jesus is Lord, Jesus is king, Jesus is Messiah, Jesus is the one all the prophets spoke of, the salvation of mankind, God's greatest revelation, the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 21:6-8, 22:12-16), the only way to be right with God (John 3:36, Romans 6:23).

52. Was Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:23) or in Pilate's court (John 19:14) at the sixth hour on the day of the crucifixion?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

The simple answer to this is that the synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) employed a different system of numbering the hours of day to that used by John. The synoptics use the traditional Hebrew system, where the hours were numbered from sunrise (approximately 6:00am in modern reckoning), making the crucifixion about 9:00am, the third hour by this system..

John, on the other hand, uses the Roman civil day. This reckoned the day from midnight to midnight, as we do today. Pliny the Elder (Natural History 2.77) and Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.3) both tell us as much. Thus, by the Roman system employed by John, Jesus' trial by night was in its end stages by the sixth hour (6:00am), which was the first hour of the Hebrew reckoning used in the synoptics. Between this point and the crucifixion, Jesus underwent a brutal flogging and was repeatedly mocked and beaten by the soldiers in the Praetorium (Mark 15:16-20). The crucifixion itself occurred at the third hour in the Hebrew reckoning, which is the ninth in the Roman, or 9:00am by our modern thinking.

This is not just a neat twist to escape a problem, as there is every reason to suppose that John used the Roman system, even though he was just as Jewish as Matthew, Mark and Luke. John's gospel was written after the other three, around AD90, while he was living in Ephesus. This was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, so John would have become used to reckoning the day according to the Roman usage. Further evidence of him doing so is found in John 21:19: 'On the evening of that first day of the week'. This was Sunday evening, which in Hebrew thinking was actually part of the second day, each day beginning at sunset.

(Archer 1994:363-364)

53. The two thieves crucified with Jesus either did (Mark 15:32) or did not (Luke 23:43) mock Jesus?
(Category: too literalistic an interpretation)

This apparent contradiction asks did both thieves crucified with Jesus mock him or just one. Mark 15:23 says both did. Luke 23:43 says one mocked and one defended Jesus. It isn't too difficult to see what it going on here. The obvious conclusion is that both thieves mocked Jesus initially. However after Jesus had said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," one of the robbers seems to have had a change of heart and repented on the cross, while the other continued in his mocking.

There is a lesson here which shouldn't be overlooked; that the Lord allows us at any time to repent, no matter what crime or sin we have committed. These two thieves are symptomatic of all of us. Some of us when faced with the reality of Christ continue to reject him and mock him, while others accept our sinfulness and ask for forgiveness. The good news is that like the thief on the cross, we can be exonerated from that sin at any time, even while 'looking at death in the face'.

54. Did Jesus ascend to Paradise the same day of the crucifixion (Luke 23:43), or two days later (John 20:17)?

(Category: misunderstood how God works in history)

The idea that Jesus contradicts himself (or the Gospels contradict themselves) concerning whether he had ascended to Paradise or not after his death on the cross is due to assumptions about Paradise as well as the need to contextualize.

Jesus says to the thief on the cross "Today you will be with me in Paradise". This was indeed true. For the thief was to die that same day on earth; but in paradise "today" is any day in this world, as Heaven is outside of time.

Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, according to the rendering of the King James translation, that he had not yet "ascended" to his Father. However, this could also be rendered "returned" to his Father.

Jesus was with God, and was God, before the beginning of the world (John 1 and Philippians 2:6-11). He left all his glory and became fully God, fully man. Later, God did exalt Jesus to the highest place once more, to the right hand of Himself (see Acts 7:56). This had not yet taken place in John 20:17. Jesus saying "for I have not yet returned to the Father" does not rule out the possibility that he was in heaven between his death and resurrection in "our time" (although Heaven is outside of time). By way of parallel (albeit an imperfect one), I do go to my original home and the area where I grew up without returning there. Returning as in myself being restored to what was.

However, a more likely understanding of the text has to do with the context. Another way to say, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not ascended to my Father. Go instead to my brothers...", would be, "Do not hang on to me Mary - I have not left you all yet. You will see me again. But now, I want you to go and tell my disciples that I am going to my Father soon, but not yet".

Both Islam and Christianity believe in the resurrection of the body, and both believe in the intermediate state. In Luke, Jesus dies, and his spirit ascended to Paradise (see vs. 46). In John, Jesus has been bodily resurrected, and in that state, he had not yet ascended to the Father.

The time factor makes this somewhat paradoxical but the texts are not mutually exclusive. There is no contradiction.

55. When Paul was on the road to Damascus he saw a light and heard a voice. Did those who were with him hear the voice (Acts 9:7), or did they not (Acts 22:9)?
(Category: misunderstood the Greek usage or the text is compatible with a little thought)

Although the same Greek word is used in both accounts (akouo), it has two distinct meanings: to perceive sound and to understand. Therefore, the explanation is clear: they heard something but did not understand what it was saying. Paul, on the other hand, heard and understood. There is no contradiction.

(Haley p.359)

56. When Paul saw the light and fell to the ground, did his traveling companions fall (Acts 26:14) or did they not fall (Acts 9:7) to the ground?

(Category: misunderstood the Greek usage or the text is compatible with a little thought)

There are two possible explanations of this point. The word rendered 'stood' also means to be fixed, to be rooted to the spot. This is something that can be experienced whether standing up or lying down.

An alternative explanation is this: Acts 26:14 states that the initial falling to the ground occurred when the light flashed around, before the voice was heard. Acts 9:7 says that the men 'stood speechless' after the voice had spoken. There would be ample time for them to stand up whilst the voice was speaking to Saul, especially as it had no significance or meaning to them. Saul, on the other hand, understood the voice and was no doubt transfixed with fear as he suddenly realized that for so long he had been persecuting and killing those who were following God. He had in effect been working against the God whom he thought he was serving. This terrible realization evidently kept him on the ground longer than his companions.

(Haley p.359)


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