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Wednesday Bible Study: A book with holes

Again we hit the pause button on the Proverbs theme for some reflection, and I have the perfect subject to fill in with.  In my trash basket rests a book about the "myths and legends" that sprang up about Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  I won't mention it by name, or the author.  Save that he is a professor of "religious studies" at a prestigious East Coast university, and his publishing house is well known.

Not surprisingly, he treats the Faith with a touch of sneering contempt, but tries to be fair in his unbelief.  That is not what earned him a spot in my trash can after the section on Peter and a few pages of Paul.  Rather, it is his "logical" leaps, stumbles, backtracks, and misrepresentations- a collection so large that a reviewer on Amazon who did finish the book listed some 19 of them in HIS review.  What I would LIKE to do has been done well enough there.  But what makes this post worthy is what we can learn from this mishap in hardback.

One of his main questions is a pertinent one, but one he never answers:  "How can we tell which miracles- when the ones in the scriptures are just as impossible as the ones in the Apocrypha- actually occurred, if any?"  Here is one way- to be a legit miracle, it shouldn't be a circus trick; it should bring glory to GOD, and help to another.  He stumbles on this in his extensive discussion of Peter's interactions with a dude named Simon Magus.  This guy is a legit Biblical character- he had gotten baptized, but when Peter and John arrived, they asked if the new believers had received the Holy Spirit.  They had not- at least not in the powerful way the Apostles had received Him and could share.  So, as Simon watched the process, he asked Peter if he could "buy" the power to give the Spirit.

Apparently, a legend goes on after Peter rejected him, that he became a powerful sorcerer, and was deceiving the Church in Rome.  They engage in a 'contest of miracles' that includes not only Peter bringing a smoked tuna back to life (no lie!), but also bringing Simon hard back to earth while flying above the city, receiving injuries he'd later die from.  The author himself stumbles onto why this couldn't be real- "its purpose... is to show Simon Magus on the wrong side of the divide between God and Satan, Peter on the right."  But he doesn't- and never does- take that next step of WHY this sort of miracle couldn't be legit.  Lesson here- miracles are not magic tricks, they serve to glorify God.  If God isn't glorified, either the story isn't true or the 'miracle' is faked or demonic- or both.

Another thing we can learn from this author is that, if you are trying to prove a theory, don't change your rules midstream.  This happens many times, and here are one or two.  Because the Jews didn't believe in a "suffering messiah", as attested by their disbelief, then Jesus couldn't possibly have been a Messiah.  In this, he not only ignores Daniel 9, as well as Zechariah 9, but discounts the nearly verbatim description of Jesus's suffering in Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53, because the WORD Messiah is not found there.  (Hint- the one place the word "anointed" IS translated Messiah is Daniel 9).  Therefore, since it fits his point, the Jews are experts- but later, they only "allegedly" miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry land.  Another example rests in a part where... here, let the guy who found it explain.

"In Mark's account of the passion..while being nailed to the cross..." (p. 219). Jesus is never nailed to the cross in any version, much less Mark. There is a reference to the hands in Luke (24:39) and in John (20:25) they mention nails, but not in Mark. Mark's version says nothing about being nailed to the cross.

Nitpicky, yes, but it was the rules HE established.  I have another, but let me save that for my next lesson...

How about you know the subject matter?  During his discussion of Gethsemane, he says of Peter lobbing off the ear of Malchus: "What Peter was doing with a sword we're never told (Weren't Jesus and His followers pacifists?)"  Perhaps, in his 'horizontal reading' (his word for proving or disproving the stories based on reading where and when the same incidents happen across the Gospels), he should have hit Luke 22:

Luk 22:36  He said to them, "But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 

Luk 22:37  For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." 

Luk 22:38  And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough." 

Hmm.  Not only have we found the swords, and what they were doing with them, but now we have to ask- since he set the rule- where does it say that Jesus et al were pacifists?

Another flaw of his is 'proving' an extrabiblical source is untrustworthy, and then using it to make a point.  He does this in trying to set up a 'feud' he believes existed between Peter (and James, the Lord's brother) and Paul.  He finds two places- one during the whole Simon Magus affair, one in a story he totally discredits called "The Letter From Peter To James"- where Peter references an unnamed person who is teaching wrong ideas in the name of discrediting Peter.  Somehow, quite where he never really explains, he decides that this unnamed person (who by his own admission was likely Simon Magus) was actually his way of accusing Paul without naming him.  He goes on to further implicate James in this conspiracy against Paul by going to James's own Biblical book, saying that his discussion of, "If you have been saved by faith, that faith should bring forth works", was a cryptic way of saying that Paul's preaching of "You are saved by faith through grace, not of works" was false.  So where last time, he apparently failed to read relevant scripture at all, this time he read it incorrectly.  There is so much to bash the author- and fool the easily fooled- right here:

- Throughout his book, he basically accused the early Church of making up stories "to further their agenda".  Guess what?  Making up a story about a feud to further your agenda is the same thing.  He never takes the logical step of, "If they had an agenda, why?"  The only agenda the Church itself had was bringing people to salvation.  Does he think they were hoping for riches and popularity?

-And what about the kind words Peter had in his letters for Paul, announcing with the authority of an Apostle that Paul's letters were equal to any other scripture?  Well, he had an answer for that too.  Peter was an illiterate idiot fisherman- no way could he have written ANYTHING.  No way the Spirit could have led him.  No way in the Thirty Years between Jesus's death and his own could he have learned anything.  He had to remain a completely unchanging, bumbling, cardboard cutout.  And yet, in later accusing Luke of "gilding the lily" in Acts (Which I am getting to), he makes the comment on Luke's memory, "But as we all know, stories get changed in the retelling, and thirty years is a long time."  For Luke, perhaps, but not for Peter.

So what about his version of who wrote who?  Peter, as I said, "couldn't possibly have written his letters", being an illiterate idiot. (No, he never calls him that- just makes him out that way- "How quickly is a rock crushed").  Even if you discount the Spirit's work in his life, even if you discount the potential for learning over thirty years, you still have to accept the possibility of a ghostwriter, or secretary, as Paul had with Tertius.  And the difference in his speaking before and after the Holy Spirit?  Well, there the author notes that his speeches in Acts are very similar to Paul's.  And his reason for that? "...these two sound the same... because the words have been placed on their lips by the same person..."  EXACTLY- the Holy Spirit.  Of course he ascribes it to Luke basically making up the speeches out of whole cloth.

So, everyone in the Bible is at some level a liar; the early Christians had an agenda, which was apparently to get on the radar for persecutions, executions, and lives in hiding, because that's just so much fun.  Unfortunately for the author- and hopefully fortunately for my readership- we have a better explanation of the whys and wherefores of this semi-well researched train wreck.  

Mat 13:13  Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not; nor do they understand. 
Mat 13:14  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, "By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive; 
Mat 13:15  for this people's heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." 
Mat 13:16  But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. 
Mat 13:17  For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear what you hear, and have not heard them. 

This post first appeared on Tilting At Windmills, please read the originial post: here

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Wednesday Bible Study: A book with holes


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