Friday, June 10, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 3



In the Gospel of Matthew 1st chapter, 17th verse we read: “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”

Wait a minute -- In verse 6, King David is counted twice! That’s cheating, and if you compare the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew to that in Luke, something is screwy . In Luke, Levi is Joseph’s great grandfather, Matthat his grandfather and Heli his father. In the Gospel of Matthew it’s Eleazar, Matthan and Jacob who comprise the generations preceding Joseph. They can’t both be right!

If you are treating the Bible like a high school text book written for 21st century illiterates, well, I guess the bible is wrong. If however you understand that the Bible is a collection of books written in the idiom of a middle eastern people over the course of two thousand years, and removed from us by yet another two thousand years, maybe they can both be right after all. As for the three sets of fourteen generations, there is a symbolic meaning involved. Ancient Israel had no numbers. The used letters, a=1, b=2, g=3 and so on. Numbers had word meanings. 14 is a special number. It is twice 7, which is the number that stands for perfection and for covenant oaths. It is written as “y-d” (14). If you read it as four and ten (d and y) it means fulfillment. Jesus is the fulfillment of the three epochs of the history of Israel, the law, the prophets and the writings. The Gospel of Matthew is constantly talking about thing done to fulfill a prophecy. That’s point of that Gospel. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. When you see numbers in the Bible, they have a lot more than numerical value.

Scholars have spilled a lot of ink over the problem of the divergent genealogies of Jesus. Some insist that Luke really gives us the blessed Mother’s genealogy. I don’t see how this can be since the genealogies themselves both clearly say that they are Joseph’s lineage. My personal opinion is that Sextus Julius Africanus got it right. He was a Christian historian born around 160 AD, probably in the area of Jerusalem. He asked some of the same questions that we ask and living where Jesus had lived a little more than a century before, Africanus was able to ask the answers from the descendants of Jesus’ relatives. He tells us that Joseph was descended from a number of Levirate marriages, in which a man married the widow of his relative, if the relative died childless. That way, no family line in Israel would be extinguished.

The royal family of David probably intermarried regularly and Eusebius of Caesarea, who quotes Africanus regarding the genealogies of Jesus, goes on to say that Mary was a close relative of Joseph as was the custom, and still is in much of the Middle East, so their genealogies are essentially the same. This may be the answer to that particular question. It may not be.

My point is this: THE BIBLE IS NOT A SELF INTERPRETING BOOK. Remember, it isn’t a book at all, it is a library. One needs a competent authority if one is going to find their way around it. There are other discrepancies in the Bible and rather than detract from the trustworthiness of the Bible, they add to it.

The Church is always accused of trying to cover things up or smooth things over. No one smoothed out the Gospels. They were kept just as they were received because they contain eye witness accounts. The apparent contradictions only make this more clearly true. For instance, Matthew and Mark seem to say there is only one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Luke and John seem to mention two. As for where Jesus met the disciples after the resurrection in Matthew, He seems to meet them in Galilee. In Mark, Luke and John, He seems to appear first in Jerusalem. In John, He meets them at different times in both places. I suspect that He met them in both places. The accounts in Matthew and Mark seem to be summaries. I often talk about my grandfather when I really mean great-grandfather, but in telling family stories, the great grandfather-ness would only confuse my hearers and I do that enough already. Unless you are getting a doctorate in history, one may sometimes leave out extraneous detail for the sake of the point, and as for the angels at the tomb, I have never seen an angel, but people who have say the experience is quite overwhelming and you are not counting or taking names and addresses. Again, my point here is not to reconcile the Scriptures but to point out that the Books of the Bible are true to the principle of the Incarnation. They contain historical facts, but are not meant to be histories, their authors used details that they had seen in order to make their point about their faith. The Holy Spirit filled their words with what was necessary for our growth in the knowledge of God’s love for us. Nothing more and nothing less.

Most Christians say they believe in the Incarnation, the idea that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, but most of us really have a hard time with the concept. We find it hard to believe that, if Jesus was really God, eternal and equal to the Father, how could he say something like, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), or “the time is known to the Father alone.” (Matt 24:36 and Mark 13:32). Read a little further in St. Paul’s letter to the Phillipians 2:5-7 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave.” It is as if Jesus took off the powers of His divinity and without ceasing to be that perfect love which is God, left the heavenly throne for love of us.

That means that the word of God learned to speak Aramaic and Hebrew and probably some Greek in the carpenter’s shop. The hand that shaped the galaxies learned how to make tables and chairs from Joseph. He was a little boy who ran to his mother when frightened or hurt. Because He had submitted Himself to our human limitations, He knew only what His Heavenly Father was pleased to tell Him by means of their Holy Spirit, and the day and the hour were not among these things. In this sense, the Father was greater than Jesus, but Jesus was no less divine, no less eternal and no less perfect in that reality which constitutes divinity: perfect Love.

We who believe He was truly God, have a hard time believing that God could be humble, He was. It is perhaps the most amazing thing about our faith that we say the All-powerful became powerless for love of sinners like you and me. It is a very hard thing to believe, and there are principally two ways not to believe. One is Arianism, the other is Monophysitism.

An Alexandrian priest named Arius (250–336) denied that Jesus could be fully God. One, after all, is not three. The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by God the Father and though adopted and divinized, by the Father, He was less than the Father. It seems that the Emperor Constantine favored Arainism, (Roman emperors liked things tidy and tended to favor Arian Christianity) but when he convened the Council of Nicea, the bishops told him “Nope. We’ve always believed that God is a trinity Father, Son and Holy spirit. The oneness of God is the unity of Love; solidarity, not solitude.” Constantine, the most powerful man in the world at them time said “Oh well, I guess I’m wrong. I’m just the emperor. You guys are the pope and the bishops.”

Despite what you may have heard, Constantine believed that the state shouldn’t control the Church. Some of his successors thought otherwise and ever since then the Church has struggled to maintain her independence from the state. The Church has struggled with emperors and kings and currently is struggling with the ruler of the United States: King Popular Opinion (as interpreted by the Mediacracy) this is a government of, by and for the people. Shouldn’t the people, whose voice is "Entertainment Tonight" and whose art is "Dancing With the Stars", shouldn’t the sovereign people run the Church in America? I digress. Governments, whether popular or monarchical, are much more comfortable with a Christ who is slightly less than divine, because after all, the state, whether popular or monarchical, really should be god. Those who humanize Jesus excessively have an odd tendency to divinize the power of the world. Arianism has devolved in our times into the belief among many that Jesus was just a really nice guy.

Monophysitism is the reaction to Arianism. Many Christians, especially in Egypt and Syria, two of the three centers of the Christian world, the other being Rome, reacted to Arius by going to the other extreme, denying that Jesus was one person as did Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople (for whom Nestorianism is named) or by saying He had no human nature, or at least humanity being so much less than divinity was "dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea" as Eutyches, an Archimandrate in Constantinople insisted. So, Monophysitism is the belief that either there was no human nature in Jesus or it was so inconsequential as to be unimportant. The Bishop of Rome firmly maintained what today is the position of most Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine, and as I have said, this a hard thing to get your mind around, but it is the truth. And we call it the Incarnation.

I think the doctrine has further implications. Just as Jesus was God in the flesh, so too we are incarnate spirits, not just spirits trapped in flesh. That is why Jesus promises us resurrection. Going to heaven when we die isn’t enough. God promises to raise us from the dead because our bodies are really us. I would stretch it even farther to say that just as our Lord was truly God and man, so too, I am really spirit and flesh. Similarly, the Bible is fully human and completely inspired.

Orthodox Jews believe the Torah is not simply the inspired word of God. It is God’s verbatim dictation. In the same way Muslims believe that the Qur’an is word for word written by God. We believe that the entire Bible is written by the Holy Spirit of God, using human beings to do it. In other words there’s a lot of human-ness in the Bible. The stories and prophecies and visions and poetry and laws of the Bible are “God-breathed” though written as seen by human eyes, heard by human ears and touched by human hands. It speaks in words that humans can hear. It’s meaning is made clear by those to whom Jesus gave authority, but it is wonderfully human as well as perfectly divine. It is as hard to believe this as it is to believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. We want the Bible to be only divine, but it tells the amazing story of the meeting of God and humanity. It is full of sin and sainthood, weakness and strength, all sometimes in the same people.



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