Archive for March, 2013

Clothing the Naked

Arrest of Jesus

“The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio, 1602

It must have been a terrifying ordeal.  The man who twelve men had followed, loved, learned from, and staked their lives on was being arrested by an angry mob, led by a man who used to be among their ranks:  Judas.  Mark depicts the scene like this:

Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared.  With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him.  The men seized Jesus and arrested Him.  Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture Me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest Me.  But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”  Then everyone deserted Him and fled.   A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:43-52)

This final detail about this young man who flees naked is unique to Mark’s Gospel, leading many scholars to believe that it may have been Mark himself who, overcome with fear, fled the scene.  But what is recorded here is more than an incidental historical detail.  What is recorded here is a tragic historical pattern:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”   He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)

Mark wasn’t the first to flee the Lord naked and afraid.  Adam did too.

In the Bible, nakedness is often used as a symbol of shameful sin:

  • “Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered.  I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.” (Isaiah 47:3)
  • Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean.  All who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns away. (Lamentations 1:8)
  • “I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face.  I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.” (Nahum 3:5)

Sin and nakedness go hand in hand.  But the promise of Scripture is that when sin leaves us shamefully naked, Jesus clothes us with His righteousness:  “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).  Even as we flee from the horror of the cross naked in sin, Jesus draws us back to His cross, covering our nakedness with His atoning blood.  The death on a cross that once caused everyone to flee now beckons all to its promise of salvation.  During this Holy Week, this is what we remember.  And this is what we believe.

March 25, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Has The Bible Been Corrupted?

Greek Bible 2This past weekend in worship and ABC, we discussed some of the biggest objections and obstacles that people present to trusting in Jesus.  One of the objections and obstacles I covered in ABC had to do with the reliability of Scripture.  Bart Ehrman, a skeptical scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains why so many people call into question the Bible’s reliability:

Not only do we not have the originals [of the biblical manuscripts], we don’t have the first copies of the originals.  We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals, or the copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.  What we have are copies made later – much later.  In most instances, they are copies made centuries later.  And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…These copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are.  Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms:  there are more differences in our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.[1]

Many people wonder if that which is recorded in the Bible is historically accurate.  Recently, popular news commentator Bill O’ Reilly called into question the historicity of the biblical stories of Adam and Eve and of Jonah, saying, “I was taught, in my Catholic school, that a lot of the stories in the Bible are allegorical.”[2]  Bart Ehrman takes it a step farther.  He not only questions if what is recorded in the Bible is historically accurate, he questions if what is recorded in the Bible was even supposed to be there at all!  He notes the many ancient copies we have of the Bible differ from each other, thereby undermining their veracity, at least in Ehrman’s eyes.  After all, if no two ancient manuscripts completely agree with each other, how can we know which manuscripts record what was actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, et al?

In their book Reinventing Jesus,[3] three biblical scholars make some helpful distinctions concerning the types of variants, or differences, that we find in ancient biblical manuscripts.  In order to understand what is truly going on with the differences we have between ancient copies of the Bible, it is worth it to review their categories.

Spelling Differences

The majority of the variants we have in the New Testament are either alternate spellings or misspellings of a given word.  For instance, the name John is in some manuscripts spelled Ioannes, while in other manuscripts, it is spelled Iaones.  One “n” or two?  It doesn’t really matter.  Regardless of how this name is spelled, we know to whom the manuscript is referring.

Differences That Do Not Affect Translation

There are some differences between ancient copies of the Bible that have no affect on how we read something in English.  For example, Greek allows for definite articles before proper names, but does not demand them.  Thus, instead of referring to “Mary,” a biblical Greek text may refer to “the Mary.”  Or, instead of referring to Jesus, a Greek text may read “the Jesus.”  Because Greek allows for but does not demand these definite articles, some ancient Greek texts contain the definite articles in front of names while others do not.  This, however, does not affect the translation or meaning of a given biblical text.  Rather, the decision to retain or forgo a definite article is merely a matter of style.

Meaningful Variants That Are Not Viable

There are some differences between ancient biblical copies that do indeed affect the meaning of a text, but one of the variant readings is simply not viable.  For instance, ancient versions of 1 Thessalonians 2:9 refer to “the gospel of God” while a late medieval manuscript of this same verse refers to “the gospel of Christ.”  Though the gospel is indeed Christ’s gospel, because only one late medieval manuscript has this reading while almost all other ancient manuscripts refer to “the gospel of God,” the reading that refers to the gospel of Christ simply isn’t viable.  Too many other texts militate against this reading.

Meaningful and Viable Variants

Finally, there are some variants between ancient biblical copies that both affect the meaning of a text and are viable.  Romans 5:1 has variants that read, “We have peace” as well as “Let us have peace.”  Scholars are split on which one is original.  But even if scholars are split on which one is original, both statements are theologically correct.  After all, we are both promised peace through Christ and commanded to be people of peace by Christ.

It is important to note that the variants which are both meaningful and viable make up only about one percent of all textual variants.  Moreover, even with the many, but small, differences in our many ancient biblical manuscripts, not one of these differences – even the meaningful and viable ones – compromises a biblical doctrine.  Throughout all of these manuscripts, doctrines like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith are taught.  Indeed, Ehrman is finally forced to admit that the vast majority of variants in ancient biblical manuscripts are insignificant when he writes,  “Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant.”[4]

So what does all this mean?  It means the text of the Bible we have is the text of the Bible as it has always been.  Thanks to the faithful and diligent efforts of many scribes and scholars over many centuries, the words of the apostles and prophets have been faithfully handed down from one generation to the next.  What we read now in the Bible is what the Christian Church has always believed, taught, and confessed.  Christ has preserved His Word from corruption by His grace.  Thanks be to God!

[1] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (New York:  Harper Collins, 2005), 10.

[2] Melissa Barnhart, “Robert Jeffress Argues With Bill O’Reilly Over If Jonah, Adam and Eve Stories Are Real,” Christian Post (3.8.13).

[3] J. Ed Komoskewski, M. James Sawyer & Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus:  How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Really Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids:  Kregel Publications, 2006), 53-63.

[4] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 10.

March 18, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Questions God Won’t Answer

Questions 1It had to be a frustrating experience for the disciples.  They wanted Jesus to answer what they thought was a perfectly appropriate and critically important question:  “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  This question seemed fair enough.  After all, when the disciples pose this query, Jesus has already risen from the dead and has been periodically appearing to His in a dazzling demonstration of His dominion over death.  And now that Jesus has conquered death, the only thing left for Him to do is to usher in the utopia of God’s kingdom.  But Jesus gives His disciples a less than satisfactory answer to their question about God’s kingdom:  “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7).  Jesus says to His disciples, “God’s kingdom is coming, and My Father knows when it’s coming.  But He’s not going to tell you.  It’s not for you to know.”

The refusal of God to provide satisfactory answers to all the questions Christians ask has been a conundrum that has frustrated the faithful for millennia.  Questions that range from the mildly curious – “When did the dinosaurs go extinct according to the Bible?” – to the direly critical – “Why does God allow evil to continue to rage in world?” – are left unanswered, at least in toto – by what God reveals in holy Writ.  Yes, there are partial answers these questions and to others like them, but there are not complete answers.  And this leaves many discouraged and despondent.

Like many other countless Christians throughout the ages, Martin Luther too struggled with why God did not answer everything everyone might want to know.  After much reflection, Luther came to this conclusion:  “Whatever God does not tell you, or does not want to tell you, you should not desire to know.  And you should honor Him enough to believe that He sees that it is not necessary, useful, or good for you to know.”[1]  Luther was willing to trust that God knew – and knew how to manage – what Luther himself did not.

Perhaps the reason God does not tell us everything we might like to know is this:  a lack of knowledge compels trust.  In other words, when we do not know something that God knows, we are compelled to trust that God knows what He’s doing even if we happen to be left in the dark.  Our lack of a comprehensive answer to every question we might have can actually be used by God to increase our faith!  And growing in faith is far more important than growing in mere knowledge.

And so, what would you like to know about God?  God may not give you every answer to every question, but you already have His answers to the questions that matter most.  Does God love you?  Yes!  Can you be redeemed by the blood of Christ?  Yes.  Can you trust that God knows what He’s doing and has your best interest at heart?  Yes.

How much more do you really need to know?

[1] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, comp. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1959), §209.

March 11, 2013 at 4:15 am Leave a comment

The Price of Shame

DCF 1.0I’m not sure the framers of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s ever envisioned this.  What they dreamed of was the freedom to sexually express themselves without having to answer to what they thought were the stifling restraints of a traditional – and, in their view, outdated – sexual ethic.  What they wound up sowing, however, were the seamy seeds of sexual objectification and oppression among subsequent generations.

Cole Moreton, in his article for The Telegraph titled “Children and the Culture of Pornography,”[1] offers a disturbing peek inside a generation who has managed to shake itself free of the moral manacles which once guided the intimate encounters of yesteryear.  I must warn you:  the frank tone of his article is not for the faint of heart.  He opens with the story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Chevonea.  A boy had pressured her into performing a sex act on him, which he recorded with his cell phone’s camera and subsequently showed to all his buddies.  Chevonea threatened to a jump from a window if he did not delete the recording.  But before she could have second thoughts about her desperate threat, she slipped and fell sixty feet to her death.  Chevonea’s story is nauseating.  But her tale is, devastatingly, one among many spawned by a culture gone sexually mad.

The majority of Moreton’s article discusses the ease of access to pornography and how it distorts our children’s view of themselves and others.  Indeed, many of our young people have gone from consuming these illicit materials to creating them with nothing more than the video recorders on their phones, as in Chevonea’s case.  And many of the children who home grow these pornographic videos aren’t even teenagers yet.

So what are the consequences of growing up in such a so-called “sexually liberated” culture?  Moreton explains the effects are especially severe on girls:   “Sexual pressure can cause girls to contemplate suicide, self-harm, develop eating disorders, or try to lose themselves in drugs or alcohol.”  For a movement that began as one of liberation, this hardly sounds like freedom to me.

The Scriptures remind us that sexual freedom can only be truly found within the context of sexual commitment.  God’s created order for intimacy rings as true today as it ever has:  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  God sets a clear pattern:  sexual intimacy which results in the joining of two fleshes into one is to take place only after a man is willing to “hold fast to” (i.e., commit to, or marry) his wife.  Such commitment, in turn, results in true freedom:  “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

As I read those final words from Genesis 2, I can’t help but think of Chevonea and the overwhelming shame she must have felt after a pushy boy devastated her dignity and betrayed whatever little trust she may have had in him by flaunting a sickly conceived video.  This young man may have used his sexually liberated sensibilities to pressure a young girl to engage in acts completely outside the bounds of common decency, but such sexual freedom turned out to be nothing more than a Trojan horse in which were hidden the stifling shackles of shame.

Ultimately, when it comes to our sexual behavior, we must answer a fundamental question:  To what do we want to be beholden?  Because we will be beholden to something.  We will either be beholden to the slavery of shame that masquerades as sexual liberation or we will be beholden to the constraints of divine law which free us to live without shame because we are within the comforting assurances of God’s will.

I know which one sounds better to me.  Which one sounds better to you?

[1] Cole Moreton, “Children and the culture of pornography: ‘Boys will ask you every day until you say yes,’The Telegraph (1.27.2013).

March 4, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,061 other followers

%d bloggers like this: