Thursday, May 12, 2016

MATTHEW 4, which we should probably break up into two parts. So let's!

From Reader David:


1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

So, let's talk about Matthew's Christology. I'm gonna put all my cards on the table: based on this chapter, I don't think Matthew believes that Jesus = God. Verse 9 makes that screamingly obvious (to me, at least), but when I took a closer look, it was just all over the text. 

So far, I think the fairest reading is that Matthew thinks Jesus is, indeed, the son of God, but not God incarnate. Possibly I'll come across something in the later chapters that changes my mind, but for now, that's where I come down.

CHRISTOLOGY WATCH: Jesus is distinct from the Spirit; possibly he's subordinate to it (because he's “led by” it). He's subject to temptations and – I'm sure we'll all be relieved to hear – he's also not the devil. 

Jesus did choose to subordinate Himself to the Spirit. Exactly how that works, I'm not sure. This is why many Christians are Trinitarian; they believe God is one entity with three natures/person, co-equal, existing since before time began, yet one. The Son chose to humble Himself and submit to the will of the Father in all things in order to bring salvation to human kind.

I have some problems with this, though I certainly see the point. 

All I can really say is I've read the rest of the book(s), so have that perspective. I don't really know exactly how Matthew would have described the Jesus/God relationship. 

2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

I believe the proper word here would be “dead” much more than “hungry,” since, in Jewish usage, a fast also entails not drinking water.

But I don't think we're bound to take “forty days and forty nights” as a literal number; it's an obvious callback to the Flood and, of course, the 40 years the Jews spent in the wilderness. So maybe read it as “some indeterminate period of time.”

Well, instead of saying the scripture doesn't mean what it says, I'll say I believe the Jews get it wrong to include drinking water. Satan didn't tempt Jesus with drink, only food, so I would think he had water.

3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

This quote is part of Deuteronomy 8:3. When I went back to check this for context, I went “WHOA!”, because... is it just me, or was Matthew looking at 8:2 when he wrote this whole passage?

Deut. 8:2: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Strikingly similar, isn't it? One might say it's almost exactly a word-for-word summary of what we've just read.

But note that Matthew, in choosing to crib from 8:2, is suggesting that the relationship between God and Jesus that's parallel to the relationship between God and Israel. And guess what? Israel isn't God. Israel may be special to God, but is firmly subordinate to Him.

So by extension... well, you see where I'm going with this.

Yes, though I would say God chose to bring Israel's travel (and Moses' two fasts, and Elijah's fast) to mind with having Jesus go through this temptation, or that Israel's 40 is a type and shadow of Jesus coming 40.

40 days is the longest a human can physically fast.

Just a difference of perspective :-)

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.

Until this moment, I hadn't realized the terrible irony that the Puritans hanged people for witchcraft, on the grounds that they'd been seen flying through the air by the power of Satan.

Golly gee, folks. Golly GEE.

(N.B. This isn't an attack on Puritans or Christianity. I know it could be seen that way, but I don't mean it as a cheap shot at all. People do dumb, awful things when they're in the grip of panic, and it's worth remembering that after the panic died down, many of the key players in the Salem witch trials looked back on their roles with regret. So no, I don't think the Puritans were especially evil. I just also don't think they were especially virtuous. Or wise. They were just people.)

I don't take it as an attack. They were as human as we all are.

Did Jesus fly there or did Satan have teleportation? :-D
Or was it something as boring as he led Him to walk there or a vision?

Nah. I like flying better.

6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

A reference to Psalm 91. Possibly this is the origin of the old Christian saying that the Devil can quote scripture if it suits him? Though of course I should point out that Psalm 91 isn't really suggesting you should jump off a roof and your faith in God will protect you. 

CHRISTOLOGY WATCH: It's worth noting that “Son of God” and “God” aren't inherently the same thing. In fact, taken on its own terms, “Son of God” implies something separate from God, does it not? I mean, in the same way that “son of Phil” implies a being separate from Phil.

Well, John 5:18 says "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God."

So evidently the Jews of the time thought being the Son and being God were at least equal.

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”

If Satan tells you to jump off a high ledge, don't do it. Good instincts there, Jesus.

LOL Yeah, you think?

The quote is from Deuteronomy 6:16; here again Matthew has left out one part of the verse. The verse reads in full: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.” So why did he leave out the rest of the quote? It's reasonable to say “brevity” and then move on, so why don't we?

FWIW, I think it's also reasonable to say “because he found the reference to Massah embarrassing.” The callback is to Exodus 17:1-7, where the Israelites are at fault because they CONSTANTLY demand miracles as proof of God's presence.  

Whereas the early Christians are like, “Look at all these miracles! See? Proof of God's presence!”

The difference is the Jews asked for miracles, and best I can tell the Christians didn't. They just happened. We're back to the heart....

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

This! This is the smoking gun! This offer makes NO sense if Jesus is God – the idea of God worshiping ANYONE is a non-starter, right? But the offer makes a LOT of sense if Jesus is a dude who has a special relationship to God.

Also: if Jesus is God, then everything the Devil is offering already belongs /to/ Jesus. It's like saying: “The contents of your wallet I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.”*

It was the humanity that was being tempted. I do see your problem with it though. See notes at the end.

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Also, if Matthew thought Jesus was God, I assume verse 10 would read, “Then Jesus smote Satan for his chutzpah, which indeed passed all belief.”

In this entire passage Matthew is speaking of Jesus and God as two distinct entities, with Jesus as the lesser of the two.

It does appear some of the writers of the New Testament thought of God as two and some as one. As I've said, it's a hard issue and one that has divided the Christian world for 2000 years, how exactly to define Jesus.

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


Here the lights go dim, and the audience shuffles out for an INTERMISSION.

Awe, shucks :-)

* Now, there's an alternate reading here, one that would rescue Jesus-as-God but comes at an unfortunate price. Under this reading, “All this I will give you” is NOT an empty promise, because in fact, God doesn't have mastery over earthly affairs; Satan does. So it turns out it really is in Satan's power to give the earth to Jesus. 

Two objections:
A) this reading clashes with the entire story of the Exodus. Like, the ENTIRE story. God causes all of that from start to finish. Also,
B) if God gives the Promised Land to the Israelites, how is He DOING that unless it's His to dispose of? (And there's a third and probably more obvious one: this reading requires Satan to be independent of God and perhaps coequal with Him. Otherwise it makes no sense for Satan to ask for God's “worship." So we'd be getting into some Zoroastrian territory, here.)

I'm not sure what would be the reply to these objections, because I'm not St. Thomas Aquinas.

Well, I'm not ole' Tommy either, but I'll give it a try :-)

Can we just agree to rule out the third possibility? That's a whole bunch of different religions than we are discussing here.

Each human being chooses who is their king, God or Satan. God chose to give us that freedom.

Since most humans choose Satan in one form or another, he is the ruler of their hearts, and by extension, ruler of the world through them. 

God is sovereign and can interfere when He wants to (i.e Israel and Canaan's land), but generally chooses to allow us this freedom. 

What I believe Satan was offering the human part of Jesus was fame and fortune in this material life; to make Him his "right-hand-man" in the physical realm. Maybe he had in mind giving Jesus the power to raise an army and conquer Rome? Don't know.

Certainly God could have had Jesus conquer Rome (or whatever) if He wanted Him too, but He had bigger plans.

Jesus came to rule a greater realm- the spiritual one. Though He could have shot Satan down with the obvious "What you have is piddling nothin' compared to what I'm getting from the Father." He chose to respond in principle as an example; Don't worship anything but God.

How's that? :-)

Monday, May 02, 2016

Matthew 3

Another discussion with reader David:

Matthew 3, in which Jesus is clearly a follower of John the Baptist. Follower as in “subordinate to and building on the ideas of.” This was news to me!

Well, or John was the fore-runner of Christ. Like the messenger running ahead of the king's carriage yelling out "The King is coming! Get ready! Line the roads! Bow!"

All the Gospels give John this label.  Also;

Malachi 3:1
"I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty."

Malachi 4:5
"See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes."

Matthew 11
"7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?  

8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 

9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  

10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’c

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,d and violent people have been raiding it.  

13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 

14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  

15 Whoever has ears, let them hear."

John was the transition from the Old Covenant to the New.

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 
2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

It's interesting that the first time we see the phrase “kingdom of heaven”, it's not being spoken by Jesus. Did he pick this phrase up from John the Baptist? For a variety of reasons, I think so; in fact, it seems pretty clear that Jesus was one of John's followers at first, and not the other way around.

This may be old hat to everyone else, of course. But I honestly thought that John the Baptist was one of the disciples, and that he was called “the Baptist” because Jesus taught him how to baptize people. So, y'know, this is all braaaaaaaaaaaand new to me. And very startling, too!

Understandable, since Jesus did have a disciple named John (usually referred to as "The Beloved."). Seems everyone in Judea at that time was named John...

3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[Isaiah 40:3]

Props to Matthew: in context, this is by far the most Jesus Preview-ish verse he's cited yet.

If you go back to Isaiah 40, you'll find that verses 4 and 5 continue where Matthew leaves off: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.”

That's a very apocalyptic passage, isn't it? The world is being changed by the action of God, and /after/ it's been changed, nothing will be the same.

But of course this makes sense in the early Christian context. If I know one thing about early Christianity – and I may actually ONLY know one thing – it's that most early Christians were convinced that the world was going to end by next Tuesday. Or sooner.

The Jewish world did end in AD 70, a punishment sent by God. The early Christians likely thought the entire planet would end, but certainly their world did end at that time. And the Roman's had a habit of leveling mountains and filling in valleys to make their roads straight and easier to march over. 

So Matthew, as he writes this, is probably looking for apocalyptic passages to quote from. Will keep an eye out to see if that becomes a running theme.

Having said all that: strictly speaking, I suppose I should ding Matthew for an out-of-context quote, since the “voice in the wilderness” he references is meant to be Isaiah's. But eh, whatever, he's close enough. Ain't I generous?


4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.

Mm. Crunchy!

5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 
6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

Once again the Bible introduces a new concept while acting like we already know what it is – in this case, baptism. But here, at least, it dawns on me that this makes sense. If Matthew's audience is made up largely of early *Christians* – if, in fact, he doesn't really care to reach the unconverted Jews – then why describe baptism in detail? His readers are already practicing it, and in fact I'll bet you a penny they're practicing *multiple different kinds* of baptism.

So had Matthew gone into baptism in detail, he would've been taking a side about which sort of baptism is the RIGHT sort and which is the WRONG sort. This would pretty much guarantee that Matthew's scripture would be rejected by whoever practiced the WRONG kind of baptism.

Or they'd change their minds and say “Oh, sorry, our bad.” This could happen, especially in the early days of a religion. But anger and rejection seems like a more likely outcome.

I wish he- or anyone!- had gone into more detail! How to properly baptize is actually a major source of division among Christians. There is really very little or no direction in the NT.

Maybe God kept the instruction light because the intention, the heart, is more important than the form of the ceremony.

Wikipedia- "The Christian rite of baptism has similarities to Tevilah, a Jewish purification ritual of immersing in water which is required for conversion, but differs in that Tviliah is repeatable, while baptism is to be performed only once.... It did not become customary,[6] however, to immerse converts to Judaism until after the Babylonian Captivity.[7] This change of status by the mikvah could be obtained repeatedly, while Christian baptism, like circumcision, is, in the general view of Christians, unique and not repeatable."

So Matthew's (and the rest of the early readers of the NT) understood baptism as a cross between the Tevilah and circumcision. The circumcision part is explained in Paul's writing, but we are given very little guidance on the actually ceremony of baptism.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

So! Pharisees and Sadducees. Who are they?
1) Caveat: everything I say about the Sadducees, you should read with a great big asterisk after it. Why? Because the only source we have for their beliefs is the writings of their most bitter enemies. It's not a great situation. That said...

2) The Sadducees, if you believe Josephus, were mostly from the upper crust of Judaean society – these are the aristocratic and priestly elites. Like any elite, they want to preserve their privileges, and their theology flows from that position. They are, essentially, biblical literalists in prayer shawls. They're ultra-conservative: they believe that the written Torah is the only Torah; that simple, straightforward interpretation of the written Law is the only way to go; and they reject the leniency (yes, leniency!) of the Pharisees.

3) “Hang on, what? Pharisees, lenient?”, you say. Absolutely, yes. The Pharisees believe there's an oral Torah that goes along with the written one, and the oral Torah takes off a lot of the rough edges of the Mosaic law. For more details and specific examples, see my end-note.

For now, just bear in mind that in the Pharisees' view, God gave us the Law so we could live by it, not die by it; accordingly, they tend to find leniencies wherever they can. (Or rather, /some/ Pharisees do. There's a power struggle going on between the School of Shammai – the uncompromising, rigid branch of the Pharisees– and the School of Hillel, which is the kinder, gentler branch. Eventually the School of Hillel wins decisively, but we aren't going to get into the weeds on this. The main point is that the Pharisees – even the more rigid ones – interpret the Mosaic Law in such a way as to blunt its teeth, making it more compatible with how human beings really behave.)
Why might the Pharisees do this? Well, conviction and sincere belief would have entered into it, I'm sure. But pragmatically, they're locked in a struggle with the Sadducees for recognition and legitimacy.

Now, in this struggle, the Sadducees have plenty of advantages: wealth, blue blood, and prestige. Oh, and Roman backing. The Pharisees have none of these. What DO they have to offer, then? Well, they can offer people a more *attractive* brand of Judaism than the Sadducees propose. A more lenient one. A Judaism that acknowledges that, hey, life is full of shades of gray, so if you want to apply the Law to real-world situations, you need to do it at a level of granularity that's MUCH more sophisticated than what the Sadducees have to offer. You need to get into the details, and you need to be understand how people live their lives.

Do that, and you can win the common people over to your cause, gaining legitimacy for yourself and sapping it from the Sadducees.

So these are the political imperatives that drive the two main sects that Jesus deals with, as best as I can decipher. I could also be wildly wrong; does this conflict with what you've read?

No, it doesn't conflict. I will add that the book of Acts tells us the Sadducees did not believe in the spirit world or resurrection of the dead while the Pharisees did. And Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their interpretation (blunting) of the Law, and the Sadducees for their lack of mercy. Paul tells us the point of The Law was to prove that righteousness can not be achieved through human effort. IF you kept it you would be perfect but no one can keep it.

8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Note also that the first person to talk about “producing fruit” is not Jesus but, yes, John the Baptist.

Also, a word on the “fruits” test in general: look, I get the idea of it. But it's a shitty test, because A) it can only tell you what you already know, and B) as the proverb has it, where you stand depends on where you sit.

To illustrate point A: If I asked you five years ago, “What are Bill Cosby's fruits?”, you'd have said something positive. Now you'd say something negative. What changed? Not Cosby. No, you just have more information about Cosby now than you did in 2011.

For point B: If I asked you today what were the fruits of the Protestant Reformation, you'd say they were pretty positive.

If I asked you during the Thirty Years' War, as we looked out at a mound of dead civilians, with all the pleasant smells and sights and sounds that this implies... you'd be less enthusiastic, wouldn't you?

(Or maybe not. Plenty of 16th-century people took the point of view that the Truth – whatever Truth they happened to see – was worth dying for and, of course, DEFINITELY worth killing for too. These were brave and devout and thoughtful and capable people, deeply and seriously committed to their Christian faith. And they made the German-speaking parts of Europe into a charnel house for an entire generation. But I'm getting away from my point: two people assessing the same phenomenon can reach RADICALLY different ideas of whether it's produced good fruits or bad fruits. It all depends on where they are in history.)

This is why we are to leave ultimate judgement (sentencing) to God. He can see the heart where it is much more black and white. We simply can't see that, and its the heart that's important.

However, actions usually do follow the heart, so that gives us some guidelines. Additionally, Galatians 5 tells us:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

These are the fruits we are to look for in a person's life to tell if they are following God or not. Not if the fruits are fully developed, but if they are increasing and growing. A true believer who is a newbie will not be as far along as a mature christian, of course. 

Luke 3 goes into a bit more detail about what fruit John is looking for (same setting):

"10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”"

Now, how bad were the Pharisees if they couldn't even meet this standard?

9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 
10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“Hi, I'm John the Baptist. You're gonna be murdered because nobody likes you. Honeycomb?”

Yea, pretty much :-D

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Mmmmh. I'm tentatively buyin' the first sentence as authentic. The others, no. You know why? Because if John's not worthy to carry Jesus' sandals, why does John keep leading his movement long after meeting Jesus? Why doesn't he go, “THE PROPHESIED ONE HAS ARRIVED.” and turn around and say “Hey everyone, here's your new leader?”

Also, note that the function of baptism is “repentance,” which requires you have something to repent of. So why is Jesus getting baptized later? More on this at verse 15.

John 3:26 "They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.   
28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 

29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 

30 He must become greater; I must become less.”h"

John was executed shortly after this incident, so he did sort of hand over the reigns to Jesus. His entire ministry only lasted 6 months and many of his disciples did follow Jesus from His baptism on.
12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.

In a moment we're going to talk about how strange it is that Jesus would be baptized by ANYONE. But for now, y'know what just dawned on me? It seems like Jesus had the same relationship to John the Baptist as Brigham Young did to Joseph Smith. No, I mean, the SAME. Really!

Both men lived in obscurity before they came into the orbit of an exciting and controversial religious figure; they both became a trusted follower and assistant of that figure; and, when the big man was imprisoned and eventually killed, both men took up the mantle of leadership.

Luke tells us they were second cousins. Not relevant, just interesting :-) It does appear, though, that they didn't really know each other very well. John was raised in Jerusalem and Jesus in Nazareth.

John's job was to prepare hearts to accept Christ, but I see your point.

14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

So a new convert met the Pope, and the Pope was like, “You're WAY cooler than me. YOU should be the Pope!” Seems plausible, especially when the new convert is our only informant.

(I mean, you can argue that conceivably this could be witnessed by lots of other people. But unless John is in the habit of bellowing his conversations, it seems more likely that this is going down person-to-person at close range. Also, there's just NOTHING in the text to indicate that there are many – or any – witnesses to this event.)

Well, there is in Luke. John was evidently standing in the middle of the Jordon holding church service and baptizing when Jesus walked up. So this was a very public event. Dr Luke likely had Matthew's book in one hand, the book of Mark (which should probably more accurately be called "the book of Peter") in the other, and the Apostle Paul by his side, as well as many, many early Christians living in Rome to draw from for his book.

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

OK, so... why is it proper? The text isn't going to address that question. It's going to rush on and hope you don't give it any more thought.

But DO give it more thought. In the light of LATER Christian theology, it's weird on any number of levels. What is the point of baptism? As far as I know, remission of sins. Did Jesus ever sin? No. (But see my end note.) So why is it “proper” for Jesus to be baptized AT ALL?

And baptism, as I understand it, works this way: the already-saved person baptizes the unsaved person. Well, no, let's back this train up a bit. It's not that baptism is necessarily required for salvation in most denominations. But I've NEVER heard of a baptism where the person who was /less/ spiritually advanced baptized the person who was /more/ spiritually advanced. That isn't how baptism works.

Related: how does it “fulfill all righteousness” for Jesus to be baptized? That phrase means nothing, as far as I can see.

The New Living Translation says "15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.f So John agreed to baptize him.

and The Message Bible says "15 But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it."

Jesus was being an example for us. Because He was baptized (though He didn't need it, as John said) we know we are supposed to be. There are very few ceremonies in the Christian church, being focused on the heart, and this is one of the few.

Yes, most denominations believe salvation comes first, than baptism (though there are those who believe baptism is part of the spiritual birth process. I think they are wrong:)

Baptism is a sign that you acknowledge you are a sinner in need of cleansing but you can't do it yourself (the one commonality in all denominations is that someone else must baptize you). It is symbolic of Jesus washing us from our sins on Calvary.  

Since it is supposed to be done as soon after conversion as possible, the one doing the baptizing will just naturally be more mature spiritually, though I have heard of converts in remote places or large revivals being baptized and turning around and baptizing the person in line behind them. Not the norm but perfectly acceptable.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

I see no reason to trust this any more than we trust Joseph Smith's accounts of the First Vision. After all, the source for this information is presumably Jesus himself – it's a spiritual experience and couldn't be perceived by anyone else, right?

But even if we DID trust it, it raises a number of questions. The top three to come to mind:

1) Does Matthew think that Jesus is God? I'm inclined to say no. Honestly, this vision makes a lot more sense if Jesus ISN'T God.

2) But let's say that Jesus /is/ God. What are we to make of this vision? Was Jesus not /aware/ of the whole being-God thing until this happened?

3) What would it mean to be the “Son of God”? If Jesus is God, why the “son” part at all? How is that distinct from being God? Would this be a straight-up demigod, like the ones found in many, many, maaany pagan nations (that is, the offspring of deities and mortal women)?

And this is why I capitalize pronouns referring to God in my writing. The "he" in "he saw the Spirit of God..." is John, not Jesus. And as I said, Luke tells us this was a public church service with a lot of witnesses, at least one of which became one of the 12, and many of the others became disciples of Christ making up most of the early church.

A similar event happens later (though I don't remember if Matthew records it) where it is obvious the voice is audible to everyone around.

So this event was a witness to those around that this was the Messiah and should be followed. Jesus ministry is officially measured from this moment.

I believe God put on a robe of human flesh and inhabited Mary's womb (possibly using her DNA), being born as a human child named Jesus (the Greek rendering. Actually He was likely called Yeshua by those who knew Him in the flesh). He was fully human and at the same time fully God.

We believe God is One Entity, one Being who has three natures/jobs; 
Creator (Father)
Savior (Son)
Comforter/Instructor (Holy Ghost)

It was the Savior nature of God that entered Mary's womb to born as a human. So not gods having sex with humans. Closer to a spiritual possession.
Jesus was the only biological Son of God. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotton son that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life."  

While all believers are called "sons of God," we are sons by adoption, not birth. Jesus was by birth.  

END NOTE: Those easy-going Pharisees

When I say the Pharisees are lenient compared to the Sadducees, what do I mean?

Well, the written law – as you may recall – gets kiiiinda execution-happy. Breathe wrong and you'll be killed, essentially.

The oral law makes executions a rarity. For the death penalty to be applied to a layman, the requirement is that there be not one, but two eyewitnesses, who must have warned the perpetrator that what he was about to do was a capital crime, after which the perp acknowledged that, yes, he heard them, but he's going to go ahead and do it anyway. And even then, both witnesses must have seen the actual crime carried out from beginning to end.

For the death penalty to be applied to a scholar, the warning and acknowledgment weren't required; a scholar already knows what's a crime and what the punishment is. But presumably a scholar ALSO knows he shouldn't commit a capital crime in front of two witnesses, so it's unlikely that he'll end up on trial.

To further limit the scope of the death penalty, the oral law will go to some interesting interpretive lengths. For instance – direct quote from the Talmud here – “If one gives one of his children to Molech, he is not guilty unless he had transferred him to the servants of Molech and let him pass through the fire. If, however, he had transferred and not passed through the fire, or vice versa, he is not guilty.”

So it's OK to burn your child as a sacrifice to Molech as long as you do it right?! And this is OK?! Not inherently evil deserving of execution and Hell? Goodness Gracious!

So, if the oral law were actually followed, there'd be no executions ever. Clearly there WERE executions; but it's obvious that the Pharisees were trying to soften the written law, while the Sadducees were pretty eager to break out the stonin' implements.

You can see those tendencies in other areas too – for instance, oaths and vows and so forth. If you'd made an oath and then later regretted it, a Pharisee could probably find a way to release you from it; a Sadducee would essentially shrug and say, “That sounds like a personal problem,” no matter what the oath was or what toll it was taking on your family.

Deuteronomy 19:15 "One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

Deuteronomy 17:6 "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness."

And since Deuteronomy 6 says "6These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  
7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  
8Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  
9Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." 

Everyone was supposed to be a scholar who knew what was right and what was wrong. If they (the parents and the nation as a whole) were following the Law, there was no excuse for ignorance.

And Jesus said (Matthew 15) "1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  

2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 

4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’a and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’b  

5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 

6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 

7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.

9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

So it seems Jesus agreed with the Sadducees  that the written Law was what was to be followed. As you commented to me once, He hated hypocrisy and the Pharisees were the kings of hypocrisy.

END NOTE: Sinless Jesus
I think most conservative Christians' understanding of Jesus would be something like this: Jesus 1) lived a sinless life and 2) was fully God, but also fully human.

Which is fine, except that they also believe 3) literally 100% of adult human beings are sinners, with the possible exception of SEVERELY disabled people who don't know right from wrong. Obviously Jesus doesn't fall into that category.

So... in purely logical terms, doesn't it follow that Jesus could be fully God OR fully human, but not both? I mean, one would preclude sin and the other would require it. Something's gotta give here, surely? (Or I guess you could conclude that God can in fact sin, but that seems pretty heterodox. I bet there were some early Christians who believed it, though. There were early Christians who believed EVERYTHING.) -LOL, true.

Jesus had two natures: God and Man. 

Jesus as fully human felt everything we did. He was tempted like we are. 

Yet He was also fully God. His soul was God Himself. 

One nature had to give. He chose for His human nature to submit to His Divine nature, keeping Him sinless. 

Now, this has been a major dividing point, this describing and explaining Jesus, among Christians for 2000 years. Other Christians will explain it differently than I do. 

Since the Cross, any who accept Him into their hearts as their Boss also have that divine power to resist sin. 

We make mistakes to be sure. But mistakes are not sin. Sin is the willful rebellion against God.