Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bible difficulties Answered (Part 20)

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)

70. Did Jesus both pray (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42) or not pray (John 12:27) to the Father to prevent the crucifixion?

(Category: misread the text)

This apparent contradiction asks: 'Did Jesus pray to the Father to prevent the crucifixion?' Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36 and Luke 22:42 are supposed to imply that he does. John 12:27, however, seems to say that he doesn't.

This is a rather weak attempt at a contradiction and again wholly relies upon the ignorance of the reader for it's strength. Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42 are parallel passages which take place in the Garden of Gethsemane just before the arrest of Jesus. In all of these passages Jesus never asks for the Crucifixion to be prevented but does express his fears of the difficulties, pain and suffering that he is going to encounter over the next few hours, in the form of his trials, beatings, whippings, loneliness and alienation from people and God on the Cross, the ordeal of crucifixion itself and the upcoming triumph over Satan. He does, however, more importantly ask for God's will to be carried out over the next few hours knowing that this is the means by which he will die and rise again, and by doing so atone for all the sins of the world.

John 12:27 is from a totally different situation, one which takes place before the circumstances described above. It is said while Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people during the Passover Festival at the Temple in Jerusalem (in fact even before the gathering of the Twelve with Jesus at the Upper Room). On this occasion Jesus again says something very similar to the other passages above;

"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father save me from this hour'? No it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"

Again we are reminded that he is feeling troubled. He knows events are fast unfolding around him. Yet, this statement is said in reply to some Greeks who have just asked something of Jesus through his disciples. Were they there to offer him a way out of his upcoming troubles? Perhaps, but Jesus does not go to meet them and indeed replies to their request to meet him in this way. Is it really conceivable that this man wants to prevent the crucifixion from taking place! I think not!

71. Did Jesus move away three times (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42) or once (Luke 22:39-46) from his disciples to pray?

(Category: the texts are compatible with a little thought)

Shabbir asks how many times Jesus left the disciples to pray alone at the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest. Matthew 26:36-46 and Mark 14:32-42, show three but Luke 22:39-46 only speaks of one. However once again there is no contradiction once you realize that the three passages are complementary.

Note that the Luke passage nowhere states that Jesus did not leave the disciples three times to go and pray. Because he does not mention all three times does not imply that Jesus did not do so. Obviously Luke did not consider that fact to be relevant to his account. We must remember that Luke's Gospel is thought of as the third Gospel to have been put to paper chronologically, therefore it would make sense for him not to regurgitate information found in the other two gospels.

72. When Jesus went away to pray, were the words in his two prayers the same (Mark 14:39) or different (Matthew 26:42)?

(Category: imposes his own agenda)

This apparent contradiction comparing Matthew 26:36-46 with Mark 14:32-42, and in particular verses 42 and 39 respectively, is not a contradiction at all. Shabbir asks the question: 'What were the words of the second prayer?' at the Garden of Gethsemane. It relies heavily once again upon the reader of Shabbir's book being ignorant of the texts mentioned, and his wording of the supposed contradiction as contrived and misleading.

Shabbir maintains that in the passage in Mark, "that the words were the same as the first prayer (Mark 14:39)." Let's see what Mark does say of the second prayer in 14:39;

"Once more he went away and prayed the same thing."

Nowhere in this verse does Mark say that Jesus prayed the same words as the previous prayer, but what he does imply by the words used in the sentence is that the gist of the prayer is the same as before, as the passage in Matthew shows. When we compare the first two prayers in Matthew (vss. 39 and 42) we see that they are essentially the same prayer, though not exactly the same wording. Then in verse 44 Matthew says that Christ prayed yet again "saying the same thing!" Yet according to Shabbir's thinking the two prayers were different; so how could Jesus then be saying the same thing the third time?

It seems that Shabbir is simply imposing a Muslim formula of prayer on the passages above which he simply cannot do. You would expect this to be the case if this was a rigidly formulated prayer that had to be repeated daily, as we find in Islam. But these prayers were prayers of the heart that were spoken by Jesus because of the enormity of the situation before him. Ultimately that situation was secondary to the gravity, power, and loving bond that Jesus had with the Father.

73. Did the centurion say that Jesus was innocent (Luke 23:47), or that he was the Son of God (Mark 15:39)?

(Category: the texts are compatible with a little thought)

The question being forwarded is what the centurion at the cross said when Jesus died. The two passages quoted are Mark 15:39 and Luke 23:47. However as has been said before with other apparent contradictions these passages are not contradictory but complementary.

Matthew 27:54 and Mark 15:39 agree that the centurion exclaimed that Jesus, "was the Son of God!". Luke 23:47 however mentions that the centurion refers to Jesus as, "a righteous man." Is it so hard to believe that the centurion said both? Nowhere in any of the Gospel narratives do the writers claim that was all that the centurion had to say. Therefore, let's not impose on the writers what we would have the centurion say.

Matthew and Mark were more interested by the declaration of divinity used by the centurion, whereas Luke is interested in the humanity of Jesus, one of the main themes of his Gospel. Thus he refers to the corresponding statement made by the centurion.

74. Did Jesus say "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" in Hebrew (Matthew 27:46) or in Aramaic (Mark 15:34)?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

The question of whether Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic on the cross is answerable. However, the reason for Matthew and Mark recording it differently is probably due to the way the event was spoken of in Aramaic after it happened, and due to the recipients of the Gospel. However, the whole issue is not a valid criticism of the Bible.

Mark 15:34 is probably the most quoted Aramaism in the New Testament, being "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabakthani." However, it is doubtful that Jesus spoke in the language that Mark records them in. The reason is simple; the people hearing Jesus' words thought he was calling Elijah (Matthew 27:47 and Mark 15:35-36). In order for the onlookers to have made this mistake, Jesus would have to have cried "Eli, Eli," not "Eloi, Eloi." Why? Because in Hebrew Eli can be either "My God" or the shortened form of Eliyahu which is Hebrew for Elijah. However, in Aramaic Eloi can be only "My God."

It is also worth noting that lama ("why") is the same word in both languages, and sabak is a verb which is found not only in Aramaic, but also in Mishnaic Hebrew.

Therefore Jesus probably spoke it in Hebrew. Why therefore is it recorded in Aramaic as well? Jesus was part of a multilingual society. He most probably spoke Greek (the common language of Greece and Rome), Aramaic (the common language of the Ancient Near East) and Hebrew, the sacred tongue of Judaism, which had been revived in the form of Mishnaic Hebrew in Second Temple times. Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related Semitic languages. That Hebrew and Aramaic terms show up in the Gospels is, therefore, not at all surprising.

That one Gospel writer records it in Hebrew and another in extremely similar Aramaic is no problem to Christians, nor is it a criticism of the Bible. The simple reason for the difference is probably that when one of them remembered and discussed the happening of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, this phrase may well have been repeated in their conversation as Aramaic, which would be perfectly normal. So he wrote it down as such. Secondly, Mark may have written it in Aramaic due to the fact that he was the original recipients of the Gospel.

75. Were the last words that Jesus spook "Father into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46), or "It is finished" (John 19:30)?

(Category: the texts are compatible with a little thought)

'What were the last words of Jesus before he died?' is the question asked by Shabbir in this supposed contradiction. This does not show a contradiction any more than two witnesses to an accident at an intersection will come up with two different scenarios of that accident, depending on where they stood. Neither witness would be incorrect, as they describe the event from a different perspective. Luke was not a witness to the event, and so is dependent on those who were there. John was a witness. What they are both relating, however, is that at the end Jesus gave himself up to death.

It could be said that Luke used the last words that he felt were necessary for his gospel account, which concentrated on the humanity of Christ (noted in the earlier question), while John, as well as quoting the last words of Jesus, was interested in the fulfilment of the salvific message, and so quoted the last phrase "it is finished".

John 17:4 records Jesus' prayer to the Father in the light of Christ's forthcoming crucifixion, stating that He had completed the work of revelation (John 1:18), and since revelation is a particular stress of the Gospel of John, and the cross is the consummation of that commission (John 3:16), it is natural that this Gospel should centre on tetelestai. At any rate, if Jesus said 'It is finished; Father into your hands I commit my spirit' or vice versa, it would be quite in order to record either clause of this sentence, his last words. Luke-Acts reaches its conclusion without any climax, because the continuing ministry of the exalted Christ through the Holy Spirit and the Church has no ending prior to the Parousia, and to record tetelestai might have undermined this emphasis, or it could have been taken the wrong way. At any rate, no contradiction is involved; purely a distinction of emphasis.


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