Impressions of “Did Jesus Die for Dogs?” by Rev. Steve Boint

Steve Boint is a friend of mine. He’s also a mentor and a teacher. My philosophy of science and views of the Bible are certainly radicalized versions of his teachings. It is from Steve that I seriously considered the nature of non-paradigmatic science (and thus of normal academic science), and from Steve I turned away from naive versions of the Documentary Hypothesis.

And I’m also specifically credited in the acknowledgements. So there’s no way this can be an objective review. So just buy it. And after you do that, finish reading this post to see what it’s about.

didjesusdie4dogs

Did Jesus Die for Dogs is a very readable work of popular theology. It compress more than a decade of theological research into 40 pages that can be given to an average parishioner without confusion.

Did Jesus Die for Dogs draws on Calvinist Covenant Theology, and looks at promises and requirements that God gave to Adam, Noah, Moses, and the world as described in the letters of Paul. Boint convincingly argues that Adam and Eve’s sins lead to the fall of all of creation, and that the sacrifice of Jesus redeemed all of creation.

After the first sin, God cursed the ground

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
Genesis 3:17

The Flood is aimed at animals as well — the LORD regretted creating dogs just as he regretted creating men

So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them
Genesis 6:7

God calls the animals directly — Noah does not gather them, the Spirit moves them

Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.
Genesis 6:20

Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.
Genesis 7:8

God remembered the animals, as well as the humans

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

Likewise, the Law itself grants the Land rest

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.
Leviticus 25:1-5

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you
Deuteronomy 20:19

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While I think parts of Did Jesus Die for Dogs? overstates its point, the point itself is well attested.  Boint’s writing is convincing, even (or especially) for a curious but non-theological evidence.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Palms 96:11-13

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

The creations in Nature themselves form part of the heavenly host. As we remember:

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And as even the Canaanites, who sometimes confused idol Ba’al with the LORD but worshiped God as the only true Creator, attested

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
The Ba’al Cycle

Steve Boint’s work is timely given the recent Papal Encyclical, Laudito Si, which I earlier discussed.

mary-queen-of-heaven-timothy-jones

The word “Creation” occurs more than 60 times in Laudito Si, but one of the most moving passages reminds the faithful that Mary is Queen of all Creation. The Creator not only became a creation (when God became Man), but creation itself is the dominion of a sinless creature who gave birth to and loves her creator

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom.
Laudito Si 241

As the Rev. Boint reminds readers multiple times in Did Jesus Die for Dogs?, the greatest existential distinction is the distinction between Creator and Creation. And by His birth, death, and resurrection — by His grace — the LORD, Christ our Lord, has abolished that distinction.

Our nails were driven into His flesh. His sacrifice purchases our eternal life.

pluto-in-false-color-new-horizons

Did Jesus Die for Dogs is far more readable — its written at a much simpler level — than Laudito Si. But given the thousands of years of Divine Tradition — from the LORD eating steak and cakes with Abraham and Sarah, to the Lord drinking wine at a wedding with his mother, to the Mother of God herself being clothed in the sun, I’ll leave with a hymn by St. Francis of Asisi, quoted in Pope Francis’s Laudito Si:

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong
Canticle of the Creatures, Laudito Si 87

To combine the concluding words of Pope Francis and Rev. Boint,

Forever: humans, animals, plants, all other living things and God will be friends.
Praise be to you!
Amen.

Merry Christmas

It is birthday of our Lord. In English that’s “Christmas,” but a lot of languages emphasize birthday or nativity, and I like that.

If you are fortunate enough to be with friends or family, and get to eat with others, you get to follow in the path of our Lord.

abraham3visitors

Remember the LORD’s meal with Abraham: cakes, curds, steak, and milk

Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.

They said, “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
Genesis 18:1-8

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And remember the wedding at Cana, where the Lord provided the wine

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
John 2:1-10

May your Christmas be filled with loved ones. And may remember, whether you eat steak and wine with friends or a simple meal alone, the LORD, Christ our Lord, came to be with us, and weekly invites us to be present at a meal with Him.

Second Letter to the Corinthians

Acts of the Apostles is an adventure, of the first Pope, the greatest apostle, and the Holy Spirit.

The Letter to the Romans is a brilliant summary of Christian theology.

But by the time we get to the second letter of the Corinthians…

Paul’s goal is to create a worldwide church, which would replace the now-meaningless sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem with the re-presentation of the one sacrifice, of the LORD on the cross.   Paul’s goal was to redefine civilization in Christian terms, opposing the most perfect Empire and most perfect Monotheism yet created to do so.

But to get there, he needed to work with people like the Corinthians.

And others, perhaps even including the original apostles, willing to give up and hide from the world.

Well let’s talk about despair.
2 corinthians text art

The Hebrew Bible has two great writings of despair: the Book of Job and the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the Gospels has one great work of epistemological doubt: the Gospel of John. Here, in this letter, Paul brings both themes together, and it all revolves around the Corinthians, those dunderheads who got drunk off communion wine.

Ecclesiastes threw the Pharisaical enterprise into doubt. Paul’s great defense was hope…

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 23:6

But is that just a hope? What can we say about the Law or about life everlasting, when the Law informs us of our weakness and about life everlasting we know… little

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
Ecclesiastes 3:18-21

Paul echoes both of these. The Law of Moses brings death, it brings dullness, is tells us of our weakness but not our freedom

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.
2 Corinthians 13-15

But Paul echoes the other part of Ecclesiastes’ writing too: what do we know, and how can we brag? If we receive a revelation or a prophecy, what would that even mean? How would others know? How could we truly tell?

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4

It’s vanity to mention it, but only God knows if that soul rose, or fell, or was in a temporary earthly slumber.

Likewise, in the Book of Job, the grief comes from earthly tragedy, but the cosmos horror that the Redeemer would intervene to sav Isaac, to save Miriam, but not the ones you love.

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:23-25

Paul’s tone is different from Job’s, but the theology is the same: The persecution is inexplicable.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthian 4:7-9

Though even in that there is hope

And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5

And Paul touches on the epistomological doubt on theology – not just on resurrection but in the nature of the Divine itself — he makes a fool of himself by mentioning signs, wonders, and miracles

If I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
2 Corintians 12:11-13

And this is a foolish claim because Christ hismelf refuted it

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1:48-50

And it is that tension — a foolish claim — a foolish claim that works — the promise of greater things to come — is what Paul is wrestling with, in the context of the dunderheads of Corinth.

But the Corinthians are not done with Paul yet. Paul is organizing a church that will be world wide. He is using the energy of one community to help convert another. He needs money. And he will flatter — flatter with a hint of sarcasm — to get it

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7

Paul must have thought of Ecclesiastes as crafting this message

Words spoken by the wise bring them favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.
Ecclesiastes 10:12

The habit of the Corinthians to get drunk on communion wine, to feast on Communion bread, and now the need for money from them, must have made Paul think of another line in Ecclesiates, too…

A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything.
Ecclesiastes 10:19

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Under the surface of the Second Letter to the Corinthians is the Didache. The Didache, also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or the “Judgement of Peter,” is a two-thousand year old, Messianic Jewish text about Christian belief and Christian life. An example passage, showing both its resolute Christian character and its different tone than Paul’s churches, is as follows:

Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”
Didache 9, The Eucharist

Whether or not the Didache really came from Peter, or Andrew, or another apostles, it also contained lines that Paul found himself battling with

But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.
Didache 11, Concerning Teachers, Prophets, and Apostles

The Didache instructed communities to be cautious of outsiders. But Paul’s objective was building a Church Militant, of replacing the Temple in Jerusalem with a new global religious life centered around the LORD, Jesus Christ.

And for that, he needs money

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12

Aaron needed priests. Joshua needed men at arms. Paul needs money.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:12-14

In order to defend against those who might cite the Didache, as a “false prophet” who seeks money and does not work locally in a community, Paul himself needs to accuse others of being false apostles

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15

At the end, Paul rises from the muck of this world, encouraging the early church and thinking beyond money for a moment

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14

A worthy success to Aaron and Joshua, Paul leads a generation after the great covenant between God and Israel. But it is someone else who performed the miracles, presented the covenant, and climbed the mountain. Instead, Paul needs to keep Israel together.

The Bull El, the Lamb Jesus, has been given up.

The sacrifice has been made.

Now only to distribute the blood.

priest-covered-in-blood

God so loved the world that He sent His Son into it. And as Paul discovered, even His followers must live in it, too.

First Letter to the Corinthians

Reading Paul’s words about Jesus, I kept thinking of Joshua and Moses.

consecration of joshua

First Corinthians is a book written after the excitement. While Paul was fashioning a Christianity that could rebuild Roman civilization, and the exponential growth of Christianity would continue for centuries, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were now in the past. The LORD, who had made men out of clay like a potter makes pots and ate steak and milk with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18) had ascended into heaven.

And now things were going wrong.

But this was not the first time. Both Joshua and Paul think back to the Exodus, when the glory of God was followed by immediate apostasy and decades in the wilderness

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.
Joshua 24:5-7

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Joshua — who had seen the how mighty governments can fail when God and “human cohesion” are against them — resorted to sarcasm in addressing the nation of Moses

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15

Worship Ba’al? Worship Enki? Whatever. Just have the decency to chose one pantheon.

St.-Pauls-Vision-by-George-Kordis.

Paul’s letter is equally sharp as Joshua’s speech.

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!
1 Corinthians 4:8

Joshua and Paul are not just leaders, but teachers, concerned about day to day affairs, and at the end of their ropes. Both had been miraculously visited. Now both had handle these people.

joshua meets the commander of the lords armies

Both upbrade their followers.  Paul, with simple (and funny) exasperation

For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Joshua, with stark divine threats, but the people’s response (worthy of a four year old) provokes its own laughter from the reader

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!”
Joshua 24:19-21

The moral of Joshua’s farewell address, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are the same: the criticism of idolatory. In ancient times Canaanites worshiped a god they knew didn’t create them, Ba’al, because he was powerful. Operand conditioning as theology. But this is hardly new, or old. Money is the answer to all things, although money did not create us. Weather Paul’s followers worshiped Zeus or money, or Joshua’s followers worshiped Ba’al or silver, there is no difference: the use of a tool and the love for a tool have profoundly different consequences

Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Joshua 24:14

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Fittingly, Joshua ends his talk and seals a covenant between God and Israel with a tree and a stone

joshua-renews-covenant

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.
Joshua 24:26-28

Paul also knew of a covenant, a tree, and a stone. And what happened next. The branch of Jesse’s tree.

EmptyTombRelief

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
Isaiah 11:1-2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And of course the stone, the empty tomb

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8

For as Joshua stated, obey all the commandments

Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left,
Joshua 23:6

But one thing is at the heart of all things:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Or, as Paul put it:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13

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Review of “The Hammer of God,” by Bo Giertz

While I was reading The Hammer of God I kept thinking of A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller. Like Canticle, Hammer is set in the same location over a long period of time (merely a century in Hammer, more than a millennium in Canticle). Also like Canticle, Hammer is heavily inspired by the faith of the author — Lutheranism in Hammer, Catholicism in Canticle. The only difference seems to be how the past is handled — as a true past in Hammer (which spans roughly 1840 to 1940), or the past projected in the future (from a Dark Ages following a nuclear war in Canticle, to the establishment of human space flight).

the hammer of god

Giertz, the former atheist and Swedish Lutheran Bishop who wrote hammer, is clearly a master at understanding Protestant theology and also people. Religious trends are personalized through the introductions of ministers, church officials, and laity, in a way that allows individuals to truly represent their philosophical perspectives, but also have depth and humanity. Indeed, the only other work I can think of that so empathetic ally switches between intelligent and thought characters who disagree this profoundly is Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, and other books in the series. (Interestingly, Ender’s Game is embued with the author’s Mormonism).

DCIM100GOPRO

If I had a criticism of Hammer, it is that while the author is profoundly understanding of protestant trends, his treatment of ideas outside of Protestantism is shallow and two-dimensional. The world of discourse treats the protestant concepts of “salvation by faith alone” and “Jesus only” as either completely non-controversial or else opposed only by the intellectually lazy and sentimental. Likewise, the author has a throw away line critical of the Oxford Movement, but appears himself to be a very High Church Lutheran.

ImmanuelLuthChan1

Indeed, it is from Hammer that I realized for the first time how German-inspired theologians use the term “faith” is very similar to how 19th century German philosophers use the idea of “will.” If anything, Hammer of God proposes a Will to salvation which seems more Nietzchean than Christian. This is not an impression I have received from reading Luther’s small catechism, but Gietz treats faith as more of a primal urge (possessed even by screaming infants) than an understanding or an idea.

The edition of Hammer of God I read contains a 9th chapter, without which the book is unbalanced. (It is written as three novellas, each of three chapters, and the payoff for the first chapter in each novella is of course in the last chapter). But I was also told that the last chapter was “weird.” The reason the last chapter was left out, and the oddness of the last chapter, have the same source: Giertz appears to be arguing for an alliance of Sweden with Finland, which in the context of the 1940s would have meant a friendsip with Nazi Germany. A major character become sa Swedish volunteer in the Winter War. The reasons for this are clear and defensible, but many reads will be unfamiliar with Soviet ethnic cleansing of Finns and the reaction this had in Sweden.

I recommend The Hammer of God for anyone interested in understanding Lutheranism, fascinating by the narrative structure of A Canticle for Liebowitz, or wanting good historical fiction set in Sweden.

Impressions of “The Assembly of the Gods” by E. Theodore Mullen Jr.

tdaxp’s note. Over the weekend I read “The Assembly of Gods,” #24 in the Harvard Semitic Monographs series, by E. Theodore Mullen Jr. The book is brief scholarly, but for me provided a tremendous amount of context both in understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Robert Alter’s translations of it (The Former Prophets, The Wisdom Books, Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses, and others). This is not a review of that book, which you should read, but a thinking thru of the implications of it.

the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

For years I’ve heard, and have said, that the moral of Genesis 1-2 is that God created everything — that the lesson is that the moon, the sun, and the stars of the sky are simply creatures and not a special creation.

Well, even Ba’al agreed with that

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed ageless is He who formed us
CTA 10.III.6-7

I’ve long been interested in what the earliest patriarchs actually believed. While Ba’al seemed like a generic demon worshiped by foreigners.

He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.
1 Kings 18:18

The question of what is belief in God without a scripture puzzled me. It’s well enough to say that Enoch’s faith let him walk in good, and implied in the text that he was assumed into heaven like Mary, but why, and for what role?

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:21-23

The Hebrew Bible is clear that there are at least two aspects (persons? hypostases?) of the One: God and The LORD. “God” is often the translation of “El” (which literally means “God”) or “Elohim” (literally gods, but meaning the Council of Gods). The relationship of the terms religious “El” and “Elohim” are like the relationship of the political terms “President of the United States” and “White House,” in America, or the terms “Chairman” and “Party Center” in communist countries. While one refers to an individual as such, and the other refers to a political organization run under the lawful dictatorship of that person, in practical terms it is a distinction without a difference.

Canaanite_God_El

El is God the Father, the “Father of Man” (CTA 14.I.35-43) to the Canaanites. In the Council of the Gods, God judges both men and gods (Psalms 82). The Heavenly Host serves and adores God. The stars themselves are his armies

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
CML 114-116

Not only is God the Creator, the ageless creator of the cosmos, and judge of all things, he is also kind. He hears prayers. He is compassionate. Threats and condemnations mean nothing because he cannot be threatened or condemned. Indeed, God, the Kindly One, listens to even bitterness as a father listens to his children

If you does not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will smash the doors of the netherworld,
I will place those above below,
I will raise up the dead eating and alive
So that the dead shall outnumber the living
VI 96-100

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
    let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Job 7:17-19

But God, who inexplicably allowed the death of his children, in both cases had mercy. Ba’al was raised from the dead. And Job received a new family. Death cannot be erased. But life moves on.

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. There was One True God who was a Creator. Aside from him where merely creatures, weak and powerful, who may or may not be rightly placed or worthwhile. Before recorded time God the Father of Men had revealed himself to the people of Canaan. We at best have some memory of his early servants. But beyond that, nothing. Who were these men?

In their worship of God the Father of Men, their knowledge of his eternal rule and judgeship over the cosmos, his sometimes inexplicable actions and his endearing love for his children, the earliest patriarchs must have spread the true religion throughout ancient Canaan. Because this must have happened in a pre-literate society we have only the names of who we assume were the heroes of this great evangelization. But like St. Kilda, we have only their names.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. After he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared. After he became the father of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died.
Genesi 5:9-17

Ba’al Contends

gideon destroys the altar of baal

The Canaanites believed worship in Ba’al worked.  Dan’il, similar to Job, was struck by misfortunate. But instead of cursing God, Dan’il continued his worship, and successfully Ba’al pleaded with God on his behalf.

Then on the seventh day
Ba’al drew near with his supplication
“In need is Dan’il, man of Rapi,
Moanins it eh Hero, the Harnamite,
Who has no son in his house like his brothers,
Nor scion like his kindred,.
He has no son like his brothers,
Nor scion, like his kindred
He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Strikingly, Dan’el is specifically mentioned as a righteous gentile by the Prophet Ezekial, with Job himself and with Noah

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Dan’il and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

Like the Canaanites, the ancient Hebrews knew they had an advocate, a witness, and a redeemer in Heaven

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:25a

But in spite of this, the Lord Ba’al is not the same person as the LORD. For continuing the above verse, Job knows he will see him in the flesh.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

Job asserts that God and the Redeemer are the same being, that he is both El and a man.  This is the LORD, this is Christ, but this is not Ba’al.

Ba’al was a created being. But he was a fighter. And it is from this strength, his independent ability to intervene in human affairs (granted to him by El), that the Canaanites thought he was a “god.” Gideon’s mockery of Ba’al makes sense because Ba’al does not move ineffably, does not have an inexplicable plan: the only reason to worship Ba’al is that he offers earthly protection

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”  So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[ that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Judges 6:31-32

Like Ba’al, Gideon was an earthly judge. Neither Ba’al nor Gideon created the world. Both theoretically received whatever wisdom they had from God. But in the here and now, Gideon destroyed Ba’al temple. So there’s no reason to worship Ba’al.

islamic state destroys temple of baal

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

wedding at cana

The Canaantes, like the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians, knew God in His compassion had human attributes. In a real and literal sense God is also man.

El sits enthroned in his shrine
El sits enthroned at his banquet
El drinks wine until satiated
New wine until inebriated
11.14-16

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground…. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
Genesis 18:10-2, 7-8

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Luke 7:34

But what Canaanite religion lacked — the fatal flaw that lead to Ba’al worship instead of the LORD — was any willingness or desire on the part of El, Ba’al, or anyone to become man. El ate and drank, Ba’al interceded and advocated, but Ba’al is primarily concerned about building a better house than God

There’s another – perhaps more troubling difference – between Ba’al and the LORD. Ba’al destroyed Chaos, the great sea monster Yamm.

Sea collapsed! He fell to the earth!
His joints trembled, his frame collapsed
Ba’al destroyed and drank Sea!
He brought Judge River to an end!

To “gods” like Ba’al the sea monsters may be formidable. El keeps them around for fishing

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Job 41:1-2

destruction_of_leviathan1

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

The ancient Hebrew religion, unlike the Canaanite religion, understand the LORD was God in human flesh. The early Christians, unlike the Canaanites, knew that the Intercessor and Redeemer was himself true God, and not simply a powerful extradimensional creature. But the Hebrews and Christians shared another belief, foreign to the Canaanites.

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_001

As Mullen writes on page 283:

One of the most unique aspects of Hebrew religion is the unparalleled phenomenon of the classical prophets. These men, called by the LORD, served as couriers of the decree of the assembly/the LORD. They pronounced thee judgment of the LORD with the formula “koh amar YHWH,” thus asserting that their message of authority was equal in power to that of the council itself. The usage of this formula, which we have been unable to treat fully in the present work, deserves a detailed investigation in light of the council background and messenger formula used in both Ugarit and in Israel. While the members of the Canaanite and Phoenician councils remained colorless minor deities, the hypostasis of the decree of the high god, in Israel the prophet was introduced as a participant in the heavenly assembly who then served as the courier of the judgment of the LORD. This development constitutes a radical break with all other council traditions in the ancient near East.

But later Mullen notes a qualification. The prophets often did not speak with the LORD himself, but with His Spirit.

In ancient Israel, unlike in their Canaanite neighbors the Spirit of God — who somehow proceeds from both El and the LORD — spoke thru the Prophets.

We believe in one God

Jesus-pilate44

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. But pragmatically they were polytheists.  Worship was a technology and a machine to make life better. Ba’al was worshiped because he was effective. Many today worship power or money for the same reasons.

We worship God because He is our Creator and our Redeemer, not because he is a magician with a magic wand.

Princes may censor our words (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Money may be the answer for everything (Ecclesiastes 10:19). But it is not to be loved (1 Timothy 6).

Only God and Man — El and the LORD — Mary and Pontius Pilate — all the saints, and those most in need of salvation — should be loved.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Letter to the Romans

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a wisdom book, similar to Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Like those books it does not introduce new doctrine, new stories, or even deep grounding in an environment. Rather, it is a guide for how to think about what has already been written.

cole_st_paul, Wed Mar 26, 2008,  5:11:42 PM,  8C, 5378x6746,  (380+569), 100%, bent 6 stops,  1/60 s, R86.6, G51.8, B74.4

We know about Paul from his friend Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke (the story of Jesus and Peter) and Acts of the Apostles (the story of Peter and Paul). We know from Luke that Paul was a Pharisee — at trial he famously said “.” We know from Luke that Paul began as a villain (assisting in — if not leading — the martyrdom of Stephen) and that Paul’s basic character is a man searching for God — his first recorded words are “Who are you, Lord?”

  • It is in this context that we read “Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame. The same Lord is Lord of all and he bestows riches upon everyone who calls upon him, for whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13)
  • It is in this context that we read, “For your sake we’re being put to death all day long and we’re regarded as sheep for the slaughter.” (Psalms 44:22, quoted in Romans 8:36)
  • It is in this context that we read “It is hardly likely that someone would die even for a righteous man, although someone might have the courage to die for a good man” (Romans 5:7)

How many men in the Bible would know this first hand? That cowardice would keep them from dying for the righteous, but a few might die for the good?

the-martyrdom-of-st-stephen

The general focus of The Letter to the Romans is to explain the revolution in the Torah brought by Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew, written as a capstone to the Hebrew Bible, presented the LORD as simultaneously Legislator, Prophet, and King. But the implications of this are more apparently in the Gospel of Luke, and now in Paul’s own letter: it is the LORD that is the proper focus, and not his offices of Legislator, King, Prophet. Non-Jews, who were not under the Torah, not ruled by David’s House, and not spoken to by the prophets, are saved by Jesus as much as Jews are. Indeed, of God of Israel is fundamentally a human God of a human man, not only (but no less) a Jewish God for Jewish men.

abraham_and_lazarus

Paul’s argument elevates Genesis, not just a prologue for Moses, but fundamentally preceding the Hebrew Law. And Father Abraham, not just a prefiguring of Moses, but fundamentally preceding Moses

We say, Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, but when was it credited to him? Before he was circumcised, or after he was circumcised? It was before he was circumcised, not after…

For the promise to Abraham and his descendants that they would inherit the world was not based on Abraham’s observance of the Torah but on the fact that he had been restored to fellowship with God through faith.
Romans 4:9-10

Israel was a man before his children became a nation.

Aside from Love, the law is an x-ray machine. It can identify weakness. But the Law was just method of doing so.  Even in Psalms did learn

No one is righteous, not even one,
no one understands, not one seeks God.
Psalms 14, quoted in Romans 3

The Letter to the Romans is essential to Christianity. The purpose and function of religious teaching is explained, prioritization is made, and an ocean of words and experiences made sensible.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:5

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15

For you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not covet and any other commandment can be summed up in one sentence — You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Romans 13:9

Acts of the Apostles

[And Moses said] The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

Deuteronomy 18:15-16

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 14-15-17

The Son of David was murdered, hung on a tree.

The Gospel of Luke tell us what happens next: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:50-53

The first time this happened, when Joab murdered Absalom, David did not see his son ascend. He had to hope.

So the watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.”

And the king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good news.”
2 Samuel 18:17

But you know what they say about hopes

Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

The stuttering, the stammering, the weeping from the King recalls Moses paralysis at the illness of his wife

And Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “God, pray, heal her, pray.”
Numbers 12:13

But David was no Moses, and Absalom was not healed.

We go to the dead. They do not go to us.

And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
2 Samuel 12:22-23

Like David we do not see the ascension. We are not part of that happy few.

We will not see the resurrection of the dead, until we are dead.

So what now?


absalom

The Teaching of the Acts

Acts of the Apostles begins as a rambling and somewhat weird (the Apostles as a corporate organization; the Holy Spirit is doing things) continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Another Messiah is dead and, much worse, is turns out that while flames do not harm the Son of Man, nails are pretty effective at shutting him up. After the hustle and bustle of life after the birth and death and resurrection and everything else is the writing itself, written in Greek but recalling ancient Hebrew.

In Genesis and the older parts of the Hebrew Bible, the difference between the objective situation and verbalized description is used to explain character and motivation. This goes beyond someone simply “not telling the truth.”  The difference between how the LORD instructs Moses to threaten Pharoah, and how Moses actually threatens Pharoah, gives a foreshadowing of Moses’s arrogance and bloodlust (Robert Alter, summarizing William H.C. Propp).  Likewise, both meaningful silence of both  Abner and David in fully answering Saul’s question (1 Samuel 17:57-58) foreshadow their future treatment of the Branch from Kish.

But we’re not all fated to be like Moses before the Pharaoh. Sometimes, people can reveal good character.

Consider the Revelation to Cornelius

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Acts 10:1-6

And Cornelius’s retelling of it

Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 3
Acts 10:30-32

What differences there are the result of virtue, not vice.

  • Cornelius downplays the reception of his “prayers (“come up as a memorial offering” v. “remembered”)
  • Elided over speaking directly to the Angel (“What is it, Lord?” v. passively listening to orders)
  • Emphasized Peter’s social position (“a man named Simon” v. “for Simon”, and Peter as simply staying with Simon v. being a guest of Simon’s)

This writing — what Cornelius saw, what he told to Peter — was placed their by Luke. He’s demonstrating he understands the literary style of the Torah and the Prophets. The purpose is to make one sentence make sense, because it is the most important sentence written after the Gospels.

cornelius and peter

The Most Important Sentence

In the Hebrew Bible, the first words spoken by a character indicate his true personality — his heart and his spirit.

If you know only this about Abraham, know this: he is smart, loving, and very cautious

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”
Genesis 12:11-13

If you know only this about Moses know this: he is a natural ruler of a people:

The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?
Exodus 2:13

If you know only this about Samson, know this: he is bold and earthy

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1

And the nightmare at the heart of the Hebrew Bible: the kindest and most timid man in Israel:

When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”
1 Samuel 9:5

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_001

Prophets and Apostles

As the greatest writing of the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible contains the most complex characters. The Book of Samuel, specifically, is the greatest work of psychological realism — with the conflicting motives, roles, experiences, and ages of characters — before the modern world

This is Samuel, who anointed that humble man Saul, and learning from his mistakes, anointed David:

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
1 Samuel 3:4

If you know anything about Samuel, know this: he is that he is.

And David, annoited by Samuel and first king of the line that ends with Jesus Christ:

David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?
1 Samuel 17:26

Rabble rouser, warrior, and looking for a deal.

But Samuel and David, with their inner lives and inner faults, are not villains. They (ultimately) do the right thing, if not for the right reasons.

But now, in Acts, we meet a man doing the wrong thing

And Saul approved of their killing him

That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.

But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Acts 8:1-3

But Saul does this without saying a word. We have read eight chapters of Acts, and still do not know who Saul is.

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_003

Aside: The Character of God

According to the four Gospels, these are the first recorded sentences of Jesus

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
Matthew 3:15

The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!
Mark 1:15

Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
Luke 2:49

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?
John 1:38

Two statements, emphasizing now.

Two questions.

Now, what are the answers?

TonguesofFirebyathyGrimm©2012

Who is Saul of Tarsus?

This is all you need to know about Saul

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul — truly and in his heart — is a man searching for God.

fresco of apostle paul

The Unknown God

It’s striking how often people think Saul is a god.

In Asia

And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
Acts 14:12-13

In Malta

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
Acts 28:5-6

The people saw Saul and thought that god must be very close. They weren’t wrong.

But Saul says, God is unknown

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things
Acts 17:22-25

Saul says, he hopes for the resurrection of the dead.

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.)
Acts 23:6-8

But you know what they say about hopes

Who knows whether the spirit of the sons of men goes upward, and whether the spirit of the animal goes down to the earth?
Ecclesiastes 3:21

st paul malta snake

The Teaching of the Unknown

Immediately after Ecclesiastes exposes the greatest existential doubt of Scripture, the teacher concludes

So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
Ecclesiastes 3:22

Paul agrees. There is a great uncertainty. Even among those who spoke the most with God — Abraham and Moses, Samuel and David — each was so different from the other. We are like blind men searching without sight

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
Acts 17:26-28

It is appropriate that Paul’s life is the great unfinished life of the Bible. The truth – his execution, his martyrdom – is well known. But Acts ends a little before, open ended

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him
Acts 28:30-31

And thus Acts concludes, perfectly matching Luke.

We don’t see the ascension. We search for God and, perhaps, grope for Him and, perhaps, find Him.

But we can receive others. We can have confidence.

As do the priests. As do the cardinals. As do the writers of the Torah and Samuel, as did Father Abraham and King David, as did the evangelists and the letter-writers.

It is for the Spirit that they grope, and, when God wishes, with the Spirit that they grope.

We can rejoice in our work. Delight in our searching.

st paul writing in rome

Now,

why do you work,

and what do you want?

The Gospel of John

John is to the Gospels what Leviticus is to the Torah: the door to mysticism: the apprehension of the inexplicable divine.

max conlan power of the cross

 

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
Genesis 32:-29

Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!”

So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)
1 Samuel 3

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
John 18:33-34

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
John 14:16-17

 

After a disorienting prologue, the Gospel of John appears to follow the generic pattern of the Synoptic Gospels. Miracles are told, places are named, and the same strong implication than Jesus is the LORD is presented.

This identification is done in a different style than in the Synoptics, but the meaning is the same. In particular, John uses an interesting trick of referencing the part of the Hebrew Bible that the reader must know to understand the claim. For instance, the claim that no one has seen God is paired with a reference to Moses

The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him know
John 1:17-18

Moses of course did see the LORD, to whom he spoke face to face.

christ-and-moses

Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
Exodus 33:11

Another example, which importantly brings up Israel, is when Jesus meets the woman at the well.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon…..
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
John 4:4-5,19-20

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Jacob also met a woman at a well.

While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.
Genesis 29:9-12

But here is where the logic of John becomes non-linear. This scene is physically boring. There’s no battle next door, no Pharaoh and no lions to motivate action. So the mind wanders — but to where.

07angels-hildegard_von_bingen

There’s only one other time a man meats a woman at a well, where the man and the woman do not marry.

As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”

“He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”
1 Samuel 9:11-13

The feast, the sacrifice at a high place, the blessing, the invitation, all of those prefigure events of the Gospel of John.

But…. the head of the party who meats the woman — who will become King of All Israel — is Saul.

Or perhaps we are meant to follow another thread, the moved boulder at the mouth of living water…

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb…
They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
John 20:1,13-15

Or perhaps the reference to the rule of the Benjamin Kings (Saul, and his son Ish-bosheth) are supposed to draw draw attention to an odd detail, that Jesus seems to be in Jerusalem to commemerate the establishment of another dynasty, the line of Levitical Kings that started with the Maccabean Revolt

At that time the Festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon
John 10:22-23

What is going on?

max conlan birth of jesus

The Rhetoric of the Inexplicable

The Hanukah activity also one the oddest exchange in the Gospel. An angry crowd, who accept the reality of the healings but note that when Jesus calls himself “Son of Man” he is calling himself God, prepares to stone him. I’ve bolded the triply-odd reply:

Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?
John 10:32-34

Here is why that is odd:

1. The Torah is referred to as “your” law
2. There are two levels of quotations in the verse
3. The reply, “You are gods,” is so unexpected and surprising that it stops the stoning. The crowd, angry at blasphemy, is so disoriented by what appears by this they retreat to ensure they actually understand what blasphemy is occurring.

The verse is a reference to the 82nd Psalm

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…
Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!
Psalms 82:1,8

The reply appears to bundle two arguments

1. When god is used to refer to a creature, it’s can be a factual and not a blasphemous designation. Thus, as the Son of Man, the, the Creator become a Creature, incarnate on earth
2. The rest of the Psalm appears to accuse the gods of injustice, not blasphemy. Thus stoning Jesus would lead to greater injustice for the sick, regardless of the blasphemy charge

But if Christ’s response is true, its also difficult to grasp.  Jesus is demanding interpretation. In John people can believe the truth, and state the truth, without understanding the truth.  Caiaphas and the Holy Spirit certainly agreed, when the High Priest declared

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”
John 11:50

Some men knew the name of the LORD since shortly after the first murder

Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Genesis 4:26

But in John, it ss now accessible to all

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word… I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them
John 17:6,26

Hildegard_von_Bingen_Liber_Divinorum_Operum

The God of Israel

If “you are gods” is the most troublesome verse in the Gospel of John, the intellectually most slippery passage is in Exodus

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Exodus 32:9-14

The Lord (who spoke to Moses face-to-face, like a a friend) of course is the human God, and has human emotions. This is not shocking.

But the entire Gospel of John centers on another aspect of this. What is the focus of the Hebrew Bible?

Is Moses the primary intercessor between the Lord and man? The Gospel of John answers, no

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:7-13

Not only will the Spirit still speak (unlike Moses, was who buried), the spirit will not speak on his own (unlike Moses, who became increasingly sinister in his old age).

Is God exclusively the God of the people of Moses’s Law? The Gospel of John answers, no… in the passage of the woman at the well, the same passage mentioned before

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon…..
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
John 4:4-5,19-20

Jacob is also ancestor to the Samaritarns. Jesus ministers to the Samaritans. And of course, Jacob himself is the “Israel” that Moses asked the LORD to remember

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.
Genesis 35:9-10

The God of Israel is a human God of a human man. This is the same message as the Gospel of Luke.  But unlike the earthiness of Luke, there’s something ethereal and disorienting about John

Stations-of-the-Cross’by-Miriam-Rose-Ungunmerr-Baumann

After the stone was rolled away from the tomb

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
John 20:11-13

The word translated above as “angel” simply means “messenger” — messengers who obviously look like men, and the LORD appeared with two Messengers before to Abraham and Sarah.

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.
Genesis 18:1-3

One wonders if — and how long after, if so — the LORD and the two men met Abraham, after he saw Mary by the tomb.

One wonders if — and how long after, if so — the LORD walked with Enoch, and took him, so that Enoch was “no more”:

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.
Genesis 5:24

Mary says that Jesus was taken, where is he?

(Right behind her)

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
John 20:4-15

Where was Enoch taken?

( )

And Israel wailed, while he sons were taken, using the same term as for Enoch, his sons are “no more”

And their father Jacob said to them, “I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!”
Genesis 42:36

Where was Joseph taken?

(Alive, alive, he is alive!)

Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.

Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Genesis 46:29-30

Patr-Iosif-2013

The LORD himself, taken but right behind you, lives before and after. The stone is not just by a well nor just by a tomb. The Rock is not just commanded to feed His sheep

He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:17

But is engraved forever

That with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
Job 19:24-25

The Incarnations

In every Gospel it is clear the Son of Man is God Incarnate. But as the LORD spoke to ate with Abraham and spoke face-to-face with Moses, this is hardly shocking. Indeed, in The Gospel of Matthew, the most shocking element is the Transfiguration, the constitutional reform that united the offices of King, Prophet, and Legislator.

But there are social incarnations as well. The Church incarnates with Jesus’ command to Peter, to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, feed his sheep. The Spirit will speak directly to men. And in this world, where men must feed men, where Spirit (but what else?) speaks to them, it is Pilate who asked the question

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
John 18:37-38

Jesus seems almost exasperated by teh standards of evidence used by his believers

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1:48-50

The people seem to believe in him because of “signs,” which may or may not be more impressed than keen eyes for those sitting under fig trees

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.
John 2:23

The woman by the well herself believes Jesus is a prophet, at least, because he’s able to know a whore when he sees one

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
John 4:17-19

Jesus himself gives better standards for belief:

First, that he (the LORD in the flesh, the Great Law) is logically obvious if you believe what the Torah said about Moses

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
John 5:46-17

And second, that his works are from God

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father
John 10:37-38

The context — to believe the works, if you cannot the person — do not refer to magnitude of works, but to their nature. The command — believe the works if you cannot believe Him — are in the episode where Jesus was nearly stoned during Hanukkah. He cited the Psalm of God passing judgment on the gods. Their crime was their lack of words. They may or may not be powerful, but they do not care for the poor and the weak

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Psalms 82:3-4

A stained-glass window depicting a lamb, symbolizing Jesus, is seen at St. Charles Church in Chippewa Falls, Wis. In Christian literature and art, Christ has often been linked to the image of the Passover lamb. (CNS photo/Crosiers) (Feb. 27, 2013) With Faith Alive No. 12 STORIES March 18, 2013.

The Gospel of John is disorienting. 2,000 years of history — the emergence of the Hebrews in Egypt through their union with Rome — is revealed to be contingent. The Law given by Moses was exactly that — given by Moses — an mortal advocate and intercessor inferior to the Spirit of Truth, the eternal Advocate and the eternal Intercessor. We’re reminded not just that the LORD is a human god, not just that Messengers are men, but that Israel, too, is a man

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28

The Gospel of John points the way to an inward, and lonely, journey.

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And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children
Genesis 32:9-11

The Hebrew Bible is not just the story of wars, migrations, superheroes, kings, and the mighty, but of individuals who cross rivers alone.

Unlike the LORD God, the gods are nothing, not because they are not mighty (they may be), but because they do not know that.

dove st peters basillica

The Gospel of John also features an unnerving rhetoric device, where second person, “you,” is unreliable. As the dialog starts, it’s clear that “you” refers to those Jews persecuting Jesus

esus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
John 5:19-23

But somewhere in the repetition of “Very truly, I tell you” and the increasing divorce of the speech from the context, the easy assurance that “you” means “them” and not you” is rattled

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…

And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you
John 5:24-25,37-39

(He’s right behind you.)

The Gospel of Luke

abraham_and_lazarus

In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

Luke 16:24

Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.

Ruth 1:16

In both Judges and Luke, a Messenger of the Lord appears to a couple, promising a son. In both cases strong drink is specifically prohibited. In both cases Israel will be moved by the promised boy. Both are the beginning of deliverance

And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Judges 13:3-5

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But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.

Luke 1:13-16

But quickly after this familiar Jewish scene is something far rarer in the Hebrew Bible. A direct conversation, with quoted words, between two women not about a man.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Luke 1:39-45

Men are often foolish in Luke. Herod, who murdered John the Baptist, wants to see Jesus because he thinks he may be John the Baptist, risen from the dead!

samuel and saul

Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.
Luke 9:7-9

and later Herod has such an emotional journey on the day of the Crucifixion that one is reminded of poor king Saul, whose demons destroyed his life and his mind

When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.  The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Luke 20:8-12

Women, and what they observe, are a theme. The Lord’s conversation with Mary and Martha hints at something to come..

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42

And these themes, wisdom, observing reality, are repeated. The Gospel of Luke is explicitly in the Wisdom tradition of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, but without the reassuring calmness of Proverbs

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Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.
Luke 11:49-51

Luke disturbs the reader, introducing sarcasm not seen in the Bible since Job or Ecclesiastes

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?

Job 12:7-9 (on the death of his family)

All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

Ecclesiastes 3:20-22

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

Luke 13:31-33

While it is men who murder, it is women who watch. Women have the gift of realizing a murder is a murder, no matter who is being murdered. The camera pans back — Christ, the soldier, the crowd, the acquaintances, the women —- the witnesses of murders

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Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things

Luke 23:45-49

The closest parallel to this in the Bible — of woman seeing the thing, clearly, is Sarah at her Annunciation, when she spoke to the LORD

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Genesis 18:9-14

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But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

Genesis 18:15

The traditional view of this scene is negative for Sarah, the doubter, who laughed. But the ridiculous is ridiculous, no matter the speaker. Just as a murder is a murder, no matter the victim. The LORD is fully present in the world, really and truly was at supper with Abraham and Sarah. Sarah, like Mary, actually listened to the LORD, and engaged the LORD, and reacted to the human God as the most treasured guest one could have.

The same pattern, with the same wry humor from the LORD, was repeated shortly before His crucifixion. But unlike women, the men do not engage enough to understand what is ridiculous. Given a command to trade cloth for swords, they immediately begin counting the swords in the house, as if the goal was Herod’s head. “Enough,” indeed.

He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”

He replied, “It is enough.”

Luke 22:35-38

Joseph must have felt similar feelings of love and irritation when he sat down for dinner with his brothers.

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The annunciation to Sarah, of course, occurred at a meal

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Genesis 18:7-8

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Immediately after the resurrection, the Lord appears to two men, revealing his identity as food is handed out.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

Luke 24:28-31

Even in the parables, in visiosn of heaven, we see flesh and blood — Abraham and Lazarus — proof that this creation, through Christ, may live forever.

And that is the world of the Gospel of Luke. Earth. A Creator who became a Creature.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t contradict each other, but they emphasize different thing.

In Matthew, primarily, Jesus is Legislator, King of Israel, and Prophet — the Son of Man
In Mark, primarily, Jesus is God of All.
In Luke, primarily, Jesus’s lives in the world of sarcasm, women, and food.

The Legislator…
The King…
The Prophet…
The One True God…

Is a creature,
Is a human,
Is a man.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.

Genesis 2:18

The tDAxp eXPerience