Abraham was gutsy, if nothing else, to bargain with God. And on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, no less. If there are 50, 45, 40, 30, 20—no, 10 righteous, surely you’ll spare the city, God. God never says no, but Abraham stops at ten. The next day, the cities are destroyed by fire. It’s a strange and complicated story with many interpretive hazards.
Is this story even part of the “Christian mission”?
Does this assume God delivers judgement daily as we blunder along - even judgement that transcends time (to the second and third generations)?
If we don’t make a distinction between how God is characterized in the Old Testament compared to the NT, we are going to have to apologize for God indefinitely. The NT is filled with contradictory pictures, as well as, declarations that do not match the God depicted with these culturally relevant stories that have outlived their intent in the NT. How do we reconcile this story with Jesus telling the blind man that his blindness is not a judgement against his parents; or, even Jesus’ own words relegating judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah to the final day of judgement.
We can’t read the NT back into the OT, and make some socially relevant statements about our Christian responsibilities, because Christianity is not Judaism no matter what year we land on when trying to piece together the book of Daniel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not defined by the OT ceremonial system; or, how the OT understood God’s acts, since it was their understanding that God brings, both, “blessings and curses” into our daily lives - and there goes “the peace that passes understanding”. The OT ceremonies, and the acts of God are how the OT culture understood their world.
I’m always amused when people use the term “Judeo-Christian”.
To my mind, the term is as inherently contradictory as it would be to refer to an economic system as being “communal-capitalistism” or a musical genre as “Brahmsian hip hop”.
The Bible tells Christians that they must love Israel and so they say the do but this is only possible because they’re convinced that, in the end, Judaism will see the error of it’s ways and accept Christianity.
Not exactly what one would call a “partnership of equals” or “unconditional love”, it seems to me….
There are so many puzzling issues flowing from the Abraham narratives and from the Bible as a whole. Sigve’s exegesis is very illuminating; we must not assume the “plain reading of the Bible” (as Elder Wilson loves to intone) is that plain. The Jewish tradition lives with this tension more comfortably than Christian fundamentalism does. So, the “wrath of God” passages are allowed to overwhelm the “love of God” narratives with little concern for moral and philosophical coherence. Or, is Abraham a moral giant challenging God about Sodom, yet later an obedient father taking his son to the mountain for sacrifice? God gets angry in the “Sodom” Abraham, and merciful in the second Abraham? Does God get angry in the “judgment” (however we understand that process), so punishes sinners as a “fed up” parent with his small, rebellious, ignorant chlldren? Is forgiveness dependent on an initial “deep repentance” (If we confess, we are forgiven?as in John’s letter) or do we repent BECAUSE we already are forgiven as in 2 Cor. 5:16-20? Can we be held responsible (morally autonomous) for our “sins” or are so many of our failing the result of history, genetics, life contexts and so on, that overwhelm us too often, if not permanently and beyond repair? All these issues deserve discussion by our thoughtful believers every Sabbath they meet to ponder and share what they believe, think, and see in human experience.
As Christians, we have to apply the Bible stories through the filter that is Christ. - don’t we? “You have heard it say, ‘an eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth’; but I say…”; ut If we try to chisel out issues the writers never intended from these ancient stories that had a point to make, in and of thremselves, aren’t we doing an “injustice” to what was intended, like it or not. I’ve missed the illuminating part.
When it comes to justice - there is no justice in the here and now.
It is interesting that Christians have always assumed that Jews misunderstood their own writings and must be shown their errors and the real message. Christians can use the term “Judeo-Christian” in this sense since they see the religions as related, albeit with Christianity superseding Judaism; according to its scriptures. Jews, of course, do not see this connection and view Christianity as nothing more than a pagan misunderstanding of Judaism.
Christian use of Jewish traditions and writings is inherently arrogant. While trying to show how Jesus supposedly fulfilled the purposes and expectations of the Jewish scriptures, the methods of the NT writers consistently takes those writings out of context in order to pound a round peg into a square hole. What Christians did with the Jewish scriptures is no different than what Mohammed or Joseph Smith did; reinterpreting previous “holy writings” and creating a new and contradictory religion therefrom. Claiming that only “we”, the new seers, know the true meaning of the older religion is negating that tradition and in effect condemning those who refuse to accept the new viewpoint. This is the source for anti-Judaism.
I grew up being taught to be a bible literalist, which of course made me a God apologist! Finally I figured out (with the help of other Inquiring Minds) that just because some old guys took old literature and collected it into one volume and stamped it “Holy Bible” which was so very holy that I would get in trouble if I carelessly laid another book on top of it on the shelf… well, I finally figured out that it was part very ancient oral history/stories, part poetry, part cautionary tales, part 2000 year old biography, and maybe part sci-fi, but still worthwhile to read and ponder and discuss, but NOT useful to prove stuff or certify absolute truths of the distant past or map out the future.
Once again, we have a ridiculous topic that those of us who teach adult classes have to contort ourselves into pretzels to try and make something worth studying out of it…and for 13 weeks, no less. And since there is insufficient biblical content to make into 13 lessons, we have these ridiculous extrapolations and exploitations of scripture to meet the necessary number of pages in the quarterly.
My non-SDA husband, who attends our Zoom class observed that in relation to Abraham’s supposed ‘call to mission’, as proffered by the lesson, if God had come to him and offered wealth, fame, land, blessings untold and world-wide influence, he would gladly accept the one condition of moving away from his extended family. He doesn’t like them that much anyway…an easy choice to make. But in truth, God was not sending Abraham on a ‘mission’. He was not consigned with any task or objective…just go, and enjoy your wealth and status. Which is exactly what he did. It would appear that God was simply removing Abraham and his close family from a pagan environment in order to accomplish God’s future plan for the nation he would father.
Additionaly, in a prior lesson, the authors opine that Adam and Eve were given a ‘mission’ to care for the earth, per God’s instructions. That stretches the concept of mission to a ridiculous level. Where I come from, we call that a ‘job’, not a mission.
And frankly, looking at the idea of ‘mission’ from a secular business viewpoint, if I were sending out an RFP for a project in order to choose an entity to conduct ‘mission’, which in a Christian context is to share personal experiences with Jesus to those who do not know him, I would never choose the SDA church, with its own hypocrisy and unloving attitude as evidenced in the discrimination against women, and the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. As a business person, I would say the institutional SDA church lacks the skillsets to do that work.
Or, in a stockbroker’s terms, “short sales”, that is, selling something one doesn’t own in the hopes that its value will go down, ideally to zero, at which point he will have convinced someone to pay for something that the brokerage can get for nothing, as it is worthless or never actually existed.
Such as “redemption”, “salvation” and “eternal life”, etc.
It should also be pointed out Jewish interpretation was highly “analogical” as opposed to the logical precision created in the modern era. Matthew used Isaiah 7:14 not because the passage refers to Mary or Jesus in some “literal” fashion but in a “literary” fashion. From our historical perch this appears manipulative, not illustrative. So be it. Granted, fundamentalists mistakenly use all these passages to “prove” Jesus was prophetically foretold in the most literal sense, which is nonsense. But to see them as thoughtful Christians see the suffering servant passages in Isaiah, or the “naming” of the Messianic figure as “counselor,” “prince of peace,” and so on, is to call upon readers to consider how these qualities might be seen in Jesus of Nazareth. As for anti-Semitism, no doubt the Church bears considerable responsibility for it down through the centuries, especially when its own intolerance was deflected on this relatively defenseless community of faith.
Yes, the author of Matthew used Jewish scripture in a “literary fashion”. More specifically, it would seem that he mined the Jewish scriptures as source material from which to create his stories; that is, to find out what Jesus would have done, he went to the scriptures, found a wealth of inspiration in various stories, and rewrote them as a quasi-history without necessarily having any connection to actual historical events. From our perspective, we might term this “making stuff up”…writing as though there had been some amazing fulfillment of prophecy, just in case some fundamentalist came along who would be taken in by the tantalizing scent of foreknowledge.
Re Christian demonization of Jews, have you read “Constantine’s Sword”. It is an excellent survey of anti-judaism through the centuries.
As Emo Phillips showed in what has been voted The Best God Joke Ever, religion is all about finding reasons to hate your neighbor:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Western Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Western Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
The author of Matthew was "correcting"and reinterpreting the Gospel of Mark, filling in gaps in the story and altogether making it into a more satisfying and useful theological tool.
Try this exercise sometime. Read Mark in isolation. Try to force your mind to be in the place of the original readers; that is, DO NOT SUBCONSCIOUSLY READ THE LATER GOSPELS INTO IT. Just take it on its own. What is it? It could be titled “Jesus vs the Demons”, or “The Death of an Innocent Man.” There is nothing about salvation or eternal life, no resurrection sightings, no command to spread the word… Actually, just the opposite…the command was to tell no one. There is no hint of a pre-existent, divine, creator-of-the-universe Jesus. No one understands his purposes or his sayings. He speaks in mysteries meant to keep everyone blind.
It is no wonder that someone(author of Matthew) decided to “fix” the problems of Mark by writing a revised version, resolving the cognitive dissonance with interjected explanations. Then another writer (author of Luke) came along and “fixed” the problems of GMatthew and GMark. It is important to keep in mind that these late authors had no direct knowledge of any of the events of their narratives. They were writing for some persuasive purposes, not composing historical literature.
I’m not a NT scholar, and I realize that various critical tools have been developed (included source criticism and so-called “Q”) to help reconstruct (or deconstruct) these documents. Nevertheless, the notion of “late authorship,” fair as it may be, seems to minimize the oral traditions that abounded in that community, most from reputed eyewitnesses. Pulling the strains of those memories together into any coherent form to preserve them for the community that was distant from the events deserves to also be considered. NT scholars of remarkable scholarship agree with you and also disagree. You no doubt have read them all (I a few) so recognize what I am talking about. This is a matter of faith which one hopes can be reconciled somewhat if not significantly with the historical “facts” and theories that swirl around that first century.
The much referenced oral traditions are simply wishful theorizing. There is absolutely no evidence of an oral tradition predating the Gospel of Mark. In fact, the suggestion is circular. In order to maintain the idea of an oral tradition, one must first assume that the information contained in the Gospel of Mark is reliable history, from which an oral tradition might have arisen; in effect, “There must have been an oral tradition of stories and sayings circulating since those events factually occurred.” The alternative is that the author of Mark constructed the stories using unrelated sources as inspiration for rewrites into a new story, relying upon imagination.
The only pre-Markan discussion of receiving such pass-it-on enlightenment is from Paul in Galatians where he vigorously denied getting any of his information from others, getting it instead via revelation. Where those possible others got their information, or even what it was, is a mystery.
There are several recent studies showing that GMark was dependent upon Paul’s ideas, situating them into a time and place. Again, it is an interesting exercise to read the original gospel story (Mark) in isolation, realizing that at the time it was written, no other account existed. In order to do this, one must resist the inclination to import the information from the later accounts to make some sense of it.
Furthermore, it is important to realize that from the last Pauline letter until some time after the war of 70 CE when Mark appeared, we have a black hole in the history of Christian origins. Our only picture of what Christianity looked like prior to 70 CE is in Paul’s authentic letters* and probably Hebrews. It is really not until the second century that we begin to get a picture of Christian form and practice, and that picture indicates a highly fragmented movement(s). Even when the various gospels emerged, they show us very little of what Christianity actually looked like in practice.
*I don’t consider Paul’s traditional timeline of ca 40-60 CE as being necessary. In fact, I believe there are good reasons to place him considerably earlier. Nothing in his letters ties him to that time period, and there are clues indicating otherwise.
I’m not a biblical scholar, either, but I think the important question to ask any Christian is whether or not they would want their life’s work-no matter what they may have perceived that purpose to be-to have been “recorded”, reconstructed and reinterpreted as Jesus has been, that is by people who never knew him, his own family whom he supposedly said must be hated, apostles whom he constantly chided for having missed the point, anonymous authors who used the names of the apostles in an attempt to gain credence for their work or “prophets” who claim to still be having dreams about him 2,000 years after he died?
I suspect if Jesus does return his first act will be to obtain restraining order protections from those who claim to be his most faithful followers.
Not much to say to that. We all see things not necessarily as they are, but as we are. The NT writings, especially the gospels, can seem to reveal such a unique person with penetrating insight and wisdom. Or, as the Jesus seminar and others read the materials, they see manipulation and deception at so many points. They see some kind of malevolence and distortion behind the writings. Others like myself see not necessarily “more,” but very differently. This is not to say that the scholars have not been helpful in many ways, but evaluating the entire history of that period as utter delusion by many, is not a stretch that everyone can make. Being summoned by such writings to a life of love, sacrifice, mercy and hope as so many have been (others to the worst instincts human beings can imbibe) is not evidence of reality, but points to a “truth” that feels compelling.