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.


  1. Oh boy! I always look forward to these posts. Which, uh, sounds weird because I wrote most of them, but I mean I'm lookin' forward to the blue text. :) Thanks, Betty!

    I don't expect to get my head wrapped around the various approaches to the nature (or natures?) of Jesus very easily, but you're making a valiant effort to explain and I /am/ tryin' my best to understand. I think this may be one of those things where, if you're born and raised Christian, they make perfect sense because you've always been taught that they do. But to an outsider there's a lot of, "... waaaaaaaaait. Back up." So I appreciate your patience as I inevitably ask the same question 82,317 times with slighly different wording. I'm not being dense on purpose! Promise. :) Keep chippin' away and eventually I'll grasp what's up.

    Question: why do you think Mark was written by Peter? You don't have to answer right away -- you're free to say "Patience, grasshopper. We'll get there.", because clearly we WILL. :)

    1. Truth is, you may not be more mixed up than the rest of us on the nature of Jesus. This subject has caused major divisions and, unfortunately, even wars. It is a subject I understand in my heart but simply can not find the right words to express, and that is honestly more than most probably claim, even among those raised in Christianity.

      Church tradition says John Mark wrote Mark, but he was the housemate/Secretary of Peter shortly before Peter's death. So, though it was Mark's hand that wrote it, he likely had Peter's input.

      My Hubby frequently says "Patience Grasshopper." lol.

  2. Also! You write: "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!"

    No, no! I've expressed myself poorly. Lemme take another crack at this: to be clear, NO ONE in the Talmud approves of giving a child to Molech to be burned. There's no "right" way to do that. It is never okay. The sages aren't endorsing child sacrifice at ALL.

    But no one is asking the sages, "Hey guys, is it cool set this kid on fire?"; that would be a very short discussion. People ARE asking questions like: "According to the Law, *what would we need to know* before we put someone to death for this offense?"

    To answer this question, the rabbis do what any biblical literalist would: they go to the passage that prohibits the conduct (in this case Lev. 18:21) and read closely. From this reading, they determine that are three elements of the crime -- 1) transferring a child, 2) to pass through the fire, 3) to Molech. Clearly, *God meant exactly what He said*, so the penalty can only be applied if all three elements are present.

    Does that make more sense? :)

    P.S. If you went "Eh, that's fair enough," stop reading now. But if you went, "Wait. I'm just not seeing that in the text. How did the rabbis get there?," I'll let the Talmud speak for itself:

    Rabbi Janai said: One is not guilty unless he transfers a child to the servants of the idol, as it reads (Lev 18:21): "And from thy children thou shalt not give to pass through the fire to Molech." [R. Janai now asks: Why does the text say "Thou shalt not give?"] Lest one say that when he passed his child [through the fire] and has NOT transferred, he should be guilty; therefore it reads, "Thou shalt not give." If he has transferred and NOT passed his child through the fire, he is also not guilty, because it reads "to pass through the fire." And if one has done both, but NOT to Molech, one might say he is guilty? Therefore it reads, "To Molech." If one has transferred AND passed to Molech, but NOT through fire, he is not guilty, because it reads, "through fire."

    [Another rabbi objects:]

    Said R. Aha b. Rabha: [But by this reasoning] if one has transferred all his children to Molech, he is not guilty, as the verse reads, "And from thy children," but not all.

    [My comment: Good point! But that's a logical argument, not a scriptural one. So the scriptural argument carries the day.]

    1. So, say a child dies in a blaze in the arms of an idol. What is done to the parent? If they burn the kid but don't "transfer him to Molech," what happens to them?

  3. Oh! And last remark: you say, "Everyone was supposed to be a scholar who knew what was right and what was wrong." Well, no; by that logic everyone would be qualified to be a judge, but in fact Moses is instructed to appoint *a few* judges from among the best and wisest of the people. And these judges need explicit instructions such as "don't take bribes" and "maybe, instead of deciding cases based on the social standing of the litigants, you should try using evidence."

    So I don't think God expected everyone to be a Torah scholar of the first order. That would be wildly unrealistic.

    In general, I think God would use a fair yardstick to measure up His people; the Christian argument that we all have to be PERFECT or else we'll GO TO HELL FOREVER (unless we believe in Christianity of course) is just... wow, it's a non-starter. It certainly doesn't describe a loving God, but on top of that it doesn't even describe a REASONABLE one. I mean, if you gave your 4-year-old an algebra test, then yelled at him for failing, would that be reasonable?

    How much less so if, instead of yelling, you tortured him for ten days?

    Ten years?


    Plainly, somewhere along this spectrum you would have crossed from "very bad parent" to "moral monster."

    And yeah, I know we've had similar discussions so you don't need to rehash your responses. :) I'm just sayin', I think people who are in the Christian bubble *do not get* how bad this stuff sounds to outsiders. It's like you're sidling up to a potential new convert and saying, "Nice skin you've got there. Be a shame if someone were to... /peel it off/ for /all eternity/."

    1. Yes, we've discussed this before:-)

      As you know, I believe God placed the basic knowledge of right and wrong in every heart so there is no excuse to not know God and His will, though most deny they know it or Him.

      So, in comparison, If I told my four year old son to not touch the hot stove- repeatedly- and he reached for that stove anyway, but I jump in to move his hand away getting burned myself instead, but he pushed me away and reached for the stove again- that would be closer to what I see the Bible saying God has done for each and every one of us and most people's response.

      And how does the standard "there is no right and wrong, no 1 path." sound to us?

      "You must agree with us- certainly never tell us we are heading for a cliff full speed- or you are EVIL. Evil I say for believing there is evil. And if you continue to believe there is evil we will force you to conform to us (through the courts at the very cost of your property and freedoms) because we are right that there is no right. Now stop bugging us while we go kill ourselves."


      How does one show true love, true compassion, to someone heading to danger? Certainly standing back and watching them die is not the answer.

    2. That's a great explanation of how this stuff sounds from the Christian perspective! Gold star for YOU, young lady. :) It seems like you're feeling hounded and persecuted and maybe a little... demeaned? Or, um, ignored? Erased? Toss all those words in a blender and you'll get the right flavor, I hope.

      So, what can secular people say / do to get their point across to Christians without making y'all feel that way?

      Because I promise you -- really, from the bottom of my heart -- that the default secular attitude towards Christians isn't "Believers? LET'S GET 'EM!!!!"; we're not out to persecute you for your faith. Yet clearly, a lot of Christians see themselves as /being/ persecuted. So what's going wrong? And how could secular people do better?

      - David

    3. Yeah, you've summed it up pretty good (except I wish we were ignored).

      Maybe actually follow what you say you believe (tolerance)instead of passing laws forbidding people from following Christianity?

      Christians are often fined for holding a Bible study in their own home while their neighbor holds weekly football parties twice the size with no problem.

      Christians are told on one hand "We must all decide for ourselves what is right for us" but when we decide its not right for us to participate in a celebration of sin but refer the customer to someone who will be happy to help them, we are fined or sued to the point of being put out of business.

      If a Christian decides it would send him to hell to help someone kill their baby and asks the customer to come back when someone else is there to serve them, the Christian is increasingly in danger of losing their job, their life's work.

      That Kentucky court clerk that went to jail? That gay couple went to three other clerks looking for one that WOULDN'T give them a marriage certificate just so they could send someone to jail. She was the first one that wouldn't.

      "Hate Laws"- who decides what is "hate?" There have been people thrown in jail (Canada, Europe) for telling someone God is displeased with their lifestyle choices. One case in England, a street preacher was doing what he does, general salvation message, and a gay policeman asked him if homosexuality is a sin. The preacher avoided answering as long as he could but he finally had to admit that, yes, he believed it was a sin. Then the cop hauled him to jail for hate speech. That man was not jailed for disrupting the peace or preaching hate. He was thrown in jail for BELIEVING the Bible.

      And Gay marriage, most gays don't care one way or another (I have some family and friends who are gay). They aren't interested in "marriage."

      My dad owns apartments he and my mom invested in 40 years ago. This is their retirement fund, what he now lives on. Now that The Men in Black have ordered everyone to treat gay marriage like straight marriage, what is my dad to do if a gay couple applies to rent from him? His policy has always been to not rent to people "living in sin," unmarried couples. How does he continue to do what he feels God wants him to, not enable people on the path to hell, and not have his livelihood taken away through law suits? THIS is what the whole gay marriage issue is really about; forcing Christians to give up their principles, their religion.

      There is no respect for a Christian's rights, only the rights of those who hate us.

      Yes, the feeling of persecution is increasing. We've seen it happen in history before and the societal trend is more and more to restricting Christians from simply doing what they believe the Bible tells them to (while not restricting Muslims, by the way, whose beliefs are far more radically different than Secularism. This is being targeted specifically at Christians). Though seculars may not intend to persecute, that is what is beginning to happen and is being set up to get worse.

      So, though you and your friends may not be attacking us, there is an element in society that is specifically trying to get us outlawed, that hate us with a passion. Your job, if you should choose to accept it, is to stand up to those jerks and defend us who you don't agree with. Defend our rights even if you think we are wrong. Even if you think we are evil for what we believe, defend our rights to believe it and to live those beliefs.

      (Honestly I don't want laws that give the government the right to go into bedrooms. That is private business. And I don't believe the government really has the right to issue marriage licenses in the first place. That is a community issue. I think the best way to advance my belief is one on one through logic and love, not through force. This is the Christian way, and most Christians agree with me.)

    4. Hi, Betty! I'm probably breaking /some/ kind of Internet law by coming back to this comment 19 days later. But!

      You write: "Your job, if you should choose to accept it, is to stand up to those jerks and defend us who you don't agree with. Defend our rights even if you think we are wrong." I do, you'll be pleased to hear! It's almost 100% certain we'd disagree on the specifics of what that /means/, but but the First Amendment is a real thing. The rights it guarantees are real and important.

      Those rights can, of course, clash with other civil liberties. When that happens, I think you have to turn to some kind of balancing test to see which right prevails; I suspect you'd rather the rule was "any claim of religious liberty takes precedence over all other claims," or maybe you'd put it in somewhat softer language, but with the effect that a religious-liberty claim would succeed like... 95% of the time? Or something very close to 100%. Is that about right?

      Also, you write: "Christians are often fined for holding a Bible study in their own home while their neighbor holds weekly football parties twice the size with no problem." Something tells me you're only hearing one side of the story in these instances.

      What do I mean? Well, here's an article from my local newspaper a couple of weeks ago (which shows, at a bare minimum, that it's not just Christian churches that are implicated in zoning and noise control disputes):

      In case you're like "Eh, not reading that," a summary follows: * Buddhist temple misbehaves so flagrantly that it racks up $90K in fines, mostly for permitting violations
      * Temple resolves the violations (though we don't know if they actually paid the fines or just tore down the buildings)
      * Temple applies for new building permit
      * County board of supervisors approves it, but IF AND ONLY IF the temple puts up a bond that will pay for any future fees, which is unprecedented for a religious building.

      Query: if this happened to a Christian church, and it told only ITS side of the story, would you be convinced they were persecuted? Here's what that might sound like: "Why SHOULD we have to clear our special events with the county? It's our church. And if we want to put up buildings to house those events, we can. It's our land, and we couldn't get permits fast enough to meet our congregational needs anyway. So yeah, we put the buildings up. And then we tore them down! And for this, we were fined? That's ridiculous. And the neighbors complaining? Spiteful haters. We weren't THAT loud. But now for the kicker: they won't let us expand unless we pay extra money to GUARANTEE that any fines they levy on us will be paid, no matter how unjust we think they are. C'mon, that just turns us into a cash cow! At best, it's ripe for abuse and at worst, it's a deliberate plan to persecute us."

      That all sounds really convincing, doesn't it? If you read that, you'd be like, "YEAH! How could they possibly lose in court? Sue these jerks!"

      But when you know the other side of the story, it's a little more complex. The "persecutors" seem more like reasonable people, and less like villains.

      In sum: life is complicated! Your tribe isn't always in the right, and it's not at the center of the world, either -- rarely will other tribes do stuff you don't like **in order to stick it to those dumb ol' Christians**. They have their own agenda which is usually completely separate from Christianity. (More on that later, 'cause it's the main thought I meant to share before I got sidetracked by tales of loud Buddhists. For now, g'night!)

    5. Hi, Betty.

      You write: "THIS is what the whole gay marriage issue is really about; forcing Christians to give up their principles, their religion."

      Let me be blunt: to anyone outside of the conservative Christian bubble, that sounds CRAZY. It's so disconnected from the actual motives of gay-marriage supporters that it makes you look paranoid, ignorant, and hostile all at once. I know that's not a fair description of you -- I also know you're not actually crazy, of course! :) -- but wow, it knocked me for a loop.

      So I spent a lot of time going, "OK, how can I make sense of this? What worldview would make that sound reasonable?" Here's what I came up with: if you see the world as basically a stage for conflict between good Christians and wicked others, then sure, anything Christians don't like must be a deliberate attack on them. Is that where you're coming from? I mean, maybe you wouldn't word it /exactly/ like that -- it's pretty reductive and very black-and-white -- but do I have the right emotional tone?

      - David

    6. Hubby watched a Youtube video a couple nights ago that showed a policeman heading straight for a street preacher and arresting him for disturbing the peace... right in the middle of a bunch of street performers. The preacher was disturbing the peace but the performers weren't? (and yes, I realize that something was up for the camera to be on from the start)

      While it is true that most people just want to be let alone it is also true that Christians have been persecuted from the beginning for our faith. It is offensive to others, especially atheists, and always has been.

      I had to turn my FB page to private because of the atheists trolling my page. I completely deleted my Twitter account for the same reason. My son who is passionate about Star Wars has completely quit following any Google/YouTube threads on the subject because of the hate he gets daily due to his faith. He is not interested in converting anyone when he is on these sites. He just wants to talk about Anikan and Luke Skywalker. But the minute they find out he is a Christian they go after him.

      Though you are certainly tolerant and curious, you are the only atheist I have had dealings with on the entire internet that has even been polite.

      Is this proof of anything? No, of course not. It is only my own personal experience. Maybe I'm just unlucky.

      How do you pass laws that make it ok for football parties (never heard a quiet one myself) but not ok for Bible studies? Doesn't that require a religious bias to start with? Shouldn't a truly unbiased law be worded something like "No gathering of more than X number of people will be allowed"?

    7. So give me a good reason that gay couple went to three other county clerks to get marriage licenses before finding one who wouldn't on religious principles if it wasn't to attack Christianity.

      If I wanted a professionally decorated cake and the business owner for whatever reason didn't want to do one for me but offered the name of one who would, I would go to the willing business (and reward them with my money). I wouldn't WANT someone who didn't want to serve me to do a cake for me, especially for something as important as a wedding. So why have these shop owner been taken to court? Why weren't they simple boycotted and put out of business?

      The Constitution says we have the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association. On what basis, then, are business owners being forced to associate with those they don't want to? Do you give up your first amendment rights just because you open a business? Or are you saying that a person has the right to shop anywhere he wants to and dictate to the shop owner any commands he wants to (outside of monetary compensations). "Hey plumber, go build me a tool shed or I will sue you!"

      If an atheist tattoo artist objected to doing a cross on someone's arm, can you see anyone taking him to court over it, much less winning? He has the right to do what art he wants to. Why don't christian cake decorators have the same rights?

      So, in the first part of the last century it was illegal for a minister to preform an interracial marriage. The government dictated that he was not allowed to hold the belief that it was ok. That wrong was justly corrected and ministers can now marry those of different races if they wish (and most do of course. No body wants those that don't at an interracial wedding anyway).

      Today, any minister who wants to preform a gay marriage certainly can, but no one is forced to. But for how long? The courts are going towards removing that freedom. They have for cake decorators, venue owners, t-shirt makers. Why wouldn't they go after ministers? They already are in England and Canada, forbidding the preaching in public that homosexuality is wrong, at least on street corners.

      You say I sound paranoid, and maybe I am. It gets worse the more I read history and see what has happened in other countries, then see the trend here. Imagine if these law suits were being aimed at some uniquely held Jewish belief and only Jews were being taken to court. Wouldn't you be a bit alarmed? Wouldn't you be a bit paranoid?

      So, yes, I know I sound crazy, and not the good kind of crazy either. But I'm not alone. Many others are seeing this too. Are we spending too much time wearing tin foil hats? I hope so. I really, really hope so.

    8. If you're right that the Kim Davis couple went to three county clerks, then sure, they were looking for someone to sue. But Davis was still in the wrong -- which you of course will disagree with. So let's find out how you would apply your position to a different set of facts.

      I work in child support enforcement, and the majority of our clients (I would guess 70% or more) were never married to each other. Now, let's say I shared your dad's scruples re: "enabling" unmarried fornicators.

      Could I then just opt out of handling 70% of my caseload? And for the remaining 30%, could I call up all of the divorced couples and ask whether they divorced for sexual immorality, because only then would I deign to handle their cases?

      The clients would, I'm pretty sure, find that intrusive and demeaning. Does my right to religious liberty outweigh /their/ right to receive my services without being harassed or humiliated? Or should I find another line of work?

      How does the Court of Betty rule? :)

      P.S. On wedding cakes and flowers: this is a much tougher call, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, a business should be free to turn down someone's money. But on the other hand, the same logic would dictate that we should have let segregated businesses stay whites-only because, hey, they shouldn't be FORCED to serve anyone. So I recognize that this line of argument has some very ugly consequences when a business refuses to serve a whole class of people. Like I said: it's tough.

    9. Also, I'm trying to flesh out your line of thinking here. Could you complete this for me?

      "No minister is forced to marry interracial couples. But gay marriage will be different because ______."

    10. In the same vein as my last question -- can you explain a little more about how your dad would be "enabling" gay people (or for that matter an unmarried couple) by renting to them?

      As an outsider, what I hear you saying is: "If Dad rents to them, he'll be partly responsible for their sex life." Is that really what you meant, though? Help a brother out.

    11. "which you of course will disagree with"

      No, actually, I see both sides of that one. When working for the government its a tough call. My problem is with the intentional trolling for someone to sue and the court judge telling her she answered to him and not the people who elected her. Isn't this a very dangerous president to set? To give a non-elected official the power to overrule the voting public (and yes, I have a problem with this all the way up to the Almighty Supreme Court)?

      Your example of your job is based solely on anti-christian rhetoric and sorely misinterprets the NT (i.e. "If a man cares not for his own, especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." 1 Timothy 5:8), but that's not really the point of your example of course.

      As I said government jobs are a toughy, but should they be? Should the religion of Atheism really be our official religion? Should there be laws being passed that derive only from atheism and not our founding religion of Christianity, especially since more than 70% of Americans call themselves Christian?

      I agree that this line of thought has ugly consequences, but actually, I don't think the government should have had the right to force businesses to desegregate, not because I believe segregation is good (its evil- God makes of all men one blood Acts 17:26) but because of the power it gives the humans in government to force their opinion on us. I believe the proper course should have been to outlaw government segregation but then let the private sector put the racists out of business or force them to change. That was already happening long before the civil rights movement and would have been far more thorough and effective in the long run.

      And remember, to the Christian equating homosexuality with African Americans is the same thing as making incest or murder the same thing as being Asian. Homosexuality is a choice, or more accurately a series of choices, and not a genetic disorder or condition. It is the logic fallacy called "equivocation."

    12. Pre anti discrimination laws: "You may not marry people of differing color no matter how your belief supports it. The government decides who can marry and who doesn't, not you mere ministers."

      After segregation laws were removed "Marry whoever you want to."

      Pre gay marriage rulings (few or none of these laws were democratically passed by the way. They were all forced down our throats by the courts.) If you think gay marriage is ok, preform the ceremony. If you don't, don't.

      Post anti gay laws- "You must marry people of the same sex no matter what your belief is. The government decides who can marry and who doesn't, not you mere ministers."

      Are we there yet? No. But we will be as soon.

    13. And the last question, if my dad knowingly rented to, say, a thief who payed his rent with his takings wouldn't he be partly responsible for that persons thefts? Enabling even? How about a drug dealer? Or lets take something not illegal, a gossip? Doesn't he have a moral obligation to not support evil whenever he can?

      Of course, most of the time when he rented to people he didn't know them well enough to know if they were moral or not, but if they openly talk about their sins shouldn't he refuse to rent to them?

      Again we stray into toughy territory. Some Christians come down on one side and some on another. But shouldn't each be responsible before their God? What human, no matter his role in the government, has the right to take the place of God? What if that human is wrong?

  4. OK, Sis. As I read this I needed to make notes for you to review. You may share any, all or none of this with your readers. Thanks for all of your insight!

    Additional Comments on Matthew Three

    Vs 2.)Where John the Baptist uses the phrase 'the kingdom of heaven ...' it is quite natural. Teachers/rabbis of this time period were to use such terms, for they had heard them all of their lives, as this term is used, or alluded to, throughout the Old Testament writings.

    Vs 4.) Locusts were often used as a protein source in ancient times. One of these uses was to grind the dried insects into flour then to make bread which was then spread with olive oil and honey.

    Vs 5-6.) Though not called 'baptism' there were ancient Jewish customs where those who had taken a vow to the Lord, such as a Nazerite, would do a ritual cleansing in the local Mikvah. The Mikvah was a pool of 'living water,' like an artesian spring or a confluence of two streams, that was in a secluded place - sometimes the local synagogue was built over that location so that there was privacy for the bathers. *See ‘the Church: A Proper Jewish Bride,’ pgs. 67-70.
    Vs15.) This ritual cleansing was also done just prior to major life changes - like marriage or starting one's career - to signify one's new beginning/new life. *See ‘Bride,’ pgs. 67-70.

    1. Hi, Leigh!

      Pleased to meet you. :)

      Re: mikvahs, you may also be interested to know that anyone converting to Judaism has to visit a mivkah. So it makes sense that baptism would become a sign (the sign?) of taking on a new religion.

      You're also right that there's not a 1:1 correspondence between things that a mikvah is used for and things that baptism is used for. For instance, after a woman's period was over, she had to visit a mikvah before having sex with her husband; I'm like... 98.2% certain that's not an approved use for baptismal fonts. So the differences are real!

      - David

    2. Great question! The answer is: it's murder, right? And idolatry. So you can put 'em on trial for those offenses -- no problem.

  5. If I recall right the penalty for both of those was execution, wasn't it? Soooo they will be executed for murder and idolatry but not for transferring their child to Molech to be burned. Yeah. Same result, right?

  6. Yep! Assuming you can get two eyewitnesses and so on. But if the sacrifices were public and well-attended, then maybe this is the one set of circumstances where you really COULD meet all of the onorous requirements. So in that sense the oral law would match up with our moral intuition-- the death penalty would be reserved only for something heinous and thoroughly proven.

    Let's add a dash of reality to this discussion, though: the Sanhedrin was a religious court enforcing religious laws, but operating in a Roman province. So the oral law can say whatever it wants about how executions should be rare, but in actual fact, the civil authorities had courts of their own and were keeping the execution grounds hoppin'.

    So I wonder whether the Talmud's insistence on leniency and avoiding capital punishment is REALLY a bid to show people that, hey, we're the rabbis you can *trust*. We're not like the bloodthirsty foreigners who rule us. We've got your back.


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