Monday, June 25, 2007

Aren't We always in a State of Mortal Sin?

During our debate in 1991, Mr. White asked me the following question:

Jesus told us that to gain eternal life we were to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. But isn't it true that no one ever does that? Don't we always fail to love God enough? Isn't any sin a failure to keep that first and most important commandment? Aren't we always therefore in a state of Mortal sin?

What Mr. White was trying to justify the Calvinoid heresy of Total Depravity. But he had asked this question in other debates with Catholics so I was prepared for it. I responded:

That is a very poetic statement. but judged by the standards of poets, all of us are clumsy, anemic, and colorless boors. That is the problem with your interpretation. If we follow your reasoning to its logical conclusion, then we must do nothing but love God every minute of every day. We would not go to work. We would not feed our
children. We would not sleep or eat. Even the act of breathing would detract from our obligation to love God with everything we have.

No, James, this portion of Scripture is not meant to be taken in a crassly literal fashion. It is hyperbolic and allegorical. When I tell my wife that her eyes are limpid pools, and that I couldn't live without her, she actually knows that they are muddy brown and that if she were gone, I would learn to struggle on somehow. We need to understand the words of Jesus as an ethical statement that must be understood
practically. All he was telling us is that our love of God must be the first and most important relationship in our lives before all others. That is what the Three Evangelical Counsels undertaken by vowed religious are supposed to signify. These are Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. The vow of Poverty means that you do not let any created thing come between you and God. The vow of Chastity does not merely deal with sex. In the religious life there is the discipline of "no particular
friendship" that also falls under this rubric so that you do not let any person come between you and God. Finally the vow of obedience is where we submit ourselves so totally that even your own self does not come between you and God.

God does not want to monopolize us. He just wants to be first in our affection. And He intends to reciprocate in kind. As St. Augustine taught, "God loves YOU as if you were the only creature that he had created."

If God gave us this commandment and told us that we needed to fulfill it but then set the standards so high that it was impossible, He would have been dishonest and cruel. Only a monster would place salvific obligations on mankind that were impossible to keep. But Jesus told us that his yoke was light and his burden was sweet. Therefore, he would not ask of us more than we could do and we need to interpret this commandment in a practical way, not an overly idealistic one.

Well, you can imagine Mr. White sputtering and his charges of how "unscholarly" and naive I was. He took umbrage because he thought that I was calling him a monster instead of warning him of what he was making God out to be.

But over the years I have realized that my answer was inadequate. There was more that needed to be said.

This is what Jesus actually taught in context:

Mat 22:35
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.
Mat 22:36
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Mat 22:37
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Mat 22:38
This is the greatest and first commandment.
Mat 22:39
And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Mat 22:40
On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

On rereading this I realized that verse 39 is extremely crucial. It really does not add a second commandment. It tells us that that this other commandment is just like the first! But this other commandment tels us not only to love our fellow men and women, but also to love to love ourselves. At first I was confused but then I remembered what had been said elsewhere in Scripture:

Mat 25:31
"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
Mat 25:32
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
Mat 25:33
and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.
Mat 25:34
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
Mat 25:35
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Mat 25:36
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Mat 25:37
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
Mat 25:38
And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
Mat 25:39
And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'
Mat 25:40
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Gen 9:5
For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man.
Gen 9:6
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed;
for God made man in his own image.

And it all became clear to me. God has already told us that an ordinate love of our neighbor --and an ordinate love for ourselves -- is in itself love for God. All human beings carry God's image and so when we see ourselves and our fellow humans we should be seeing the image of God within. Loving our neighbor, feeding our children, eating, living, and breathing are all acts that honor God and glorify Him. When we fail to acknowledge the image of God in our fellow humans and in ourselves we are not breaking merely the second commandment. We are breaking the first. This extends even more so to those like Mary and the saints who bear in their lives a greater likeness to God than the ordinary person. To fail to honor them in proportion to their bearing of God's image is to fail to honor God rightly. And THAT would be a mortal sin.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Was the Good Samaritan Saved?

When I debated Mr. James "Pseudopodeo" White on the topic of Justification back in 1991, I asked him the question:

Was the Good Samaritan saved?

It was a trick question. No matter how he answered it, his Calvinoid system was in trouble. He did not realize that but he smelled a rat and instead of answering the question gave the dishonest excuse that since the Good Samaritan was not areal person, it was impossible to know.
In this post, we will explore this Gospel story and I will give you my response to Pseudopodeo's pitiful attempt at evading the obvious.
This is the story taken from St. Luke's Gospel:

Luke 10:25
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Luke 10:26
He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?"
Luke 10:27
And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
Luke 10:28
And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."
Luke 10:29
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Luke 10:30
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
Luke 10:31
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:32
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:33
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion,
Luke 10:34
and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Luke 10:35
And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'
Luke 10:36
Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"
Luke 10:37
He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The story begins when a Jewish scholar who was learned in the Mosaic Law (a kind of Rabbi) asks Jesus to give his interpretation of what was needed to gain "eternal life". In short, how does one get to heaven? Jesus responded by asking the scholar for his own opinion. The scholar answered quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus affirmed that he was right.

But the scholar in good rabbinic fashion wanted to unpack this further and so he asked "And who is my neighbor?" St. Luke tells us that he actually wanted to "justify" himself. This is a euphemism for trying to make himself look good at Jesus' expense. There was an on going debate among the Rabbis whether or not a Jew had the same moral obligations to people outside the Mosaic Covenant that they did to those within the Covenant. For the sake of gaining eternal life, did one's conduct towards non-Jews "count".

Jesus turns the tables on him and tells a story instead of a non-Jew who comes to the aid of a Jew whom other Jews did not help. He even upped the ante. The ones who refused to help were a Priest and a Levite.

We need to make an important point about the story. The Jew who had been assaulted was "left half dead". This is a critical part of the story. Priests and Levites were ministers of the Temple and were forbidden to touch dead bodies or even blood other than that of sacrificial victims. Even in Jewish cemeteries today, there is a special area reserved for those of priestly lineage (kohanim) so that they will not render themselves unclean when attending a funeral or visiting a grave. When the Priest and the Levite passed by on the other side of the road, they were doing so out of a RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION. For all they knew, the man was dead and touching him would only defile them.

But then along comes the Samaritan. Again it is important that we understand who he is. The Samaritans were a Semitic people who lived in the area surrounding Mt. Gerizim in Israel. They were apparently descended from the Jewish tribes of Ephraim and Mannaseh, but when the Assyrians conquered Israel and carried most Jews into captivity, these people remained in Israel. The implication was that they were collaborators with the Assyrians. When the Jews returned from the exile, they shunned these people and the communities have been religiously separate ever since. The Samaritans have their own version of the Torah and their own traditions of observance separate from those of mainstream Judaism. they did not worship at the temple in Jerusalem but instead had their own rites performed on Mt. Gerizim.

At the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were looked upon by the Jews as heretics and infidels. They were considered even worse than the Romans because instead of being merely Gentiles (goyim) they were apostates. Family squabbles are always the worst.

So when the Samaritan came upon the injured Jew in the parable, he would have been considered the lowest of the low, a moral reprobate, and allegedly a person with no religious scruples. But because this man allegedly had no religious scruples (unlike the Priest and the Levite) there was nothing to prevent him from going to the wounded man's aid. Even the Jewish Scholar had to admit that the real neighbor to the injured Jew was the non-Jew who showed compassion to him. And Jesus advised the Scholar to be like that Samaritan and not like the Priest and the Levite.

So in this revolutionary parable, Jesus turned the world upside down. In the minds of the Jews in Jesus' day, the idea of a "good Samaritan" was an oxymoron while Priests and Levites were the most strictly observant of all Jews. Jesus extended the franchise for one's neighbor to include everyone even those considered to have abandoned the Mosaic Covenant. And he made it clear that such love was necessary to gain eternal life.

Now back to the debate.

After Pseudopodeo gave his evasive answer, I told him that it was a good thing that he did because whether he said "Yes" or "No" he would have been in trouble.

If he had said that the Good Samaritan was saved, it would have meant that someone who was NOT a Christian had gained eternal life by good works and not by faith in Christ.

If he had said that the Good Samaritan was not saved, then Jesus was holding up the behavior of a reprobate unbeliever as an example for us to emulate instead of the religious faithfulness of the Priest and the Levite.

Pseudopodeo became extremely angry and went into a tirade against me in his rebuttal, but he never dealt with the issue. That was pretty much how he responded during the entire debate.

So what of it? Was the Good Samaritan "saved"? We Catholics have no problem in accepting this. We understand that faith without works is dead and that good works are the fruit of a heart that loves God and -- more importantly -- is loved BY God.

It is obvious that Jesus rose above the bigotry of his Jewish co-religionists (and many of his subsequent followers) in seeing the good in men's hearts, even when they did not practice the true religion (which in his day was Judaism). As St. Peter would later say:

Act 10:34
And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality,
Act 10:35
but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

If we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ we too must understand this. Jesus told us that Samaritans could be good (Luke 10:25-37), Publicans could be justified(Luke 18:10-14), and that a Roman Centurion could have more faith than any other man in Israel (Luke 7:9).

This can be a bitter pill for many religious people to swallow, but is essential to Christian discipleship that we acknowledge the good we find in other people who do not share our religious views. You see, salvation is a rescue mission, not a catechism quiz. It is God who saves us by his love and power, not we who save ourselves by our faith or our works. Those who seek him with an upright heart cannot fail to find him, even if they only do so with a flash of insight at the moment of death.

I wish that Mr. White could see that. But over the years he seems to have hardened his heart against his fellow men -- even those of us within Christianity -- who do not share his views. He continues to take every opportunity to attack, defame, misrepresent, and insult believers of other faiths. This is a danger about which all of us apologists need to be aware.

The real question each of us needs to ask himself is whether I have been a good neighbor, or just another religious pundit like the Priest and the Levite who has passed his brother on the wayside and left him for dead.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Stupid Athiest: A Tautology

A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a STUPID ATHEIST, nor an irreligious libertine.

The above declaration is read at the induction ceremony of a first degree Mason. I am not a Mason (No good Catholic can be) but I ran across this quotation in my reading and I have always admired the brashness of it. (Especially in light of the atheistic proclivities of Grand Orient Freemasonry.) Christians would think it terribly unkind to call an atheist "stupid" but unfortunately the reverse is not true. Being of a contentious sort myself, I think that we should "tell it like it is" and frankly, I find atheism to be the STUPIDEST idea I have ever heard.

Atheism is fraught with many internal contradictions. It attacks the act of faith IN God by affirming an epistemically similar act of faith AGAINST God. It declares that ultimately, nothing is ultimate! (?) The meaning of life is that there is no meaning to life. Human beings come from nowhere for no good reason and end up as rotting corpses having served no purpose in their lives. This is described to us as the "rational" way of life which will lead all men to true harmony. But since there is no melody, how can there be any harmony?

Then there are the self-serving denials. While we theists have to live down a rogues gallery of notorious religious fanatics, atheists have developed a virtual cottage industry in denying that any prominent atheist rotter was a "real" atheist. Lenin may not have believed in God, Enver Hoxha may have totally a suppressed religion in Albania, Stalin may have mocked Christ, Mao murdered millions in the name of no gods, and Hitler denied any need for a Supreme Being, but you will be happy to know that they were really not "real" atheists! They actually were non-theistic religious believers! Of course, that is not what collective atheism said immediately after the October Revolution. At that time they were all for the Communists. It seems you can only tell a "real" atheist in retrospect when he doesn't screw up. The strange thing is that as far as I can tell, atheist leaders have ALWAYS eventually screwed up and we poor benighted theists have had to go in and pick up the pieces. It seems that our modern atheists have decided that "rational" people not only must not believe in God. They also must not believe in anything. There can be no over-arching principle that might be the driving force behind one's life because THAT would be a religion. If we take that to its logical extreme and learn from the mistakes of the atheists of history, that means that atheists need to eschew the principles of atheism itself! Otherwise they will turn atheism into a religion. But isn't that notion of atheism a commitment to an over-arching principle? Doesn't that mean that all forms of atheism are a form of religious faith? Not according to the "real" atheists. They try to make a distinction between "real" atheists and "religious" atheists. But isn't that just a form of self-deception?

In other words, atheism reinvents itself in each new generation as the belief in no beliefs! (?) They do this in the hopes that everyone will be stupid enough not to connect previous forms of atheistic malfeasance with "new and improved" atheism. Then they go on to repeat the same mistakes that atheists had committed in the past. This is intellectual dishonesty and anarchy brought to a whole new nadir.

Christian theism has always tried to maintain a rational basis for its beliefs and practices from the very beginning. With regard to atheism, the Bible says:

Psalm 10:4 In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek [God]; all his thoughts are, "There is no God."

Psalm 14:1
To the choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Romans 1:19
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
Romans 1:20
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;
Romans 1:21
for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
Romans 1:22
Claiming to be wise, they became fools...

So our Masonic friends have basically got it right. According to the Bible, the atheist is a fool and a moral reprobate. But there is something even more than that.

The very First Commandment of the Decalogue in Jewish tradition is:

Deuteronomy 5:6
YHWH is your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

The next chapter expands this commandment:

Deuteronomy 6:4
"Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our God, YHWH is one ;
Deuteronomy 6:5
and you shall love the YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:6
And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart;
Deuteronomy 6:7
and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Deuteronomy 6:8
And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
Deuteronomy 6:9
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The point is that acknowledging YHWH as the one true God is COMMANDED of us. It is not an option. We are not merely permitted to believe in YHWH. We must do so.

Therefore atheism is not merely a foolish set of self contradictory ideas that leads to immorality. It is a sin against the first and greatest of the commandments. In short, atheism is a MORTAL SIN.

That is why the atheist must be rebuked. He is not being rational, or moral, or intellectually honest. He is committing the most fundamental of all sins and the one that make all forms of evil possible.

To commit a mortal sin is to act as if their were no God and no moral standard decreed by Him. It is functional atheism. Furthermore it is the stupidest act imaginable. Atheists themselves will try to argue that it is "better" to be an atheist. They thus acknowledge a hierarchy of values while at the same time denying that any such abstract hierarchy exists. The consistent atheist will admit that there are no moral standards and that anything goes which brings one personal satisfaction. But few atheists are consistent. Only people like De Sade, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Hoxha, Pol Pot, et cetera have lived consistently as atheists and their fellow atheists feel honor bound to condemn them.

It is this attachment to some sort of moral value, that is the last vestige of rationality in the atheist. Once the atheist abandons moral values, he has abandoned his reason and descended into both moral and intellectual stupidity. But it is so hard to get atheists to see this because they want to believe in something as long as it is not God. But any abstract idea such as right and wrong can have no universal epistemic value unless it exists in a mind. If there is a universal idea, there must be a universal mind: a Divine mind. And we are back to God.

The Reformed apologist Cornelius van Til stated it this way: Atheism presupposes Theism. I think he was right. Whenever someone thinks it is "better" to be an atheist than a theist, they are stating a universal idea that presupposes a universal hierarchy of values in a universal mind. They must believe in God in order to deny Him.

Atheism is the most serious of sins and it leads inexorably to all the other serious sins. as Jean Paul Sartre stated: If there is no God then all things are permitted. Yet "real" atheists go to great lengths to deny this. They need to listen to their own advocates to realize what they are really espousing.

Several years ago I was in dialog with an atheist on the web, and I asked him how he accounted for the existence of the universe. He told me that it "just was." I replied to him:

"I see. So this is what you are telling me:

Question: Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?
Answer: It just does.

Question: Why do people get malaria?
Answer: They just do.

Question: Why are people starving in Africa?
Answer: They just are.

Question: Why is there something instead of nothing?
Answer: There just is.

Essentially, you are copping out. The question "Why?" requires a comprehensive robust explanation for EVERYTHING and there is no final answer to it in the physical universe. The only sufficiently comprehensive answer to the question "Why?" is God. But in order to avoid admitting this, you have picked an ARBITRARY stopping point to forestall any further causal inquiry. Such an arbitrary stopping point can be set anywhere. Such a position represents the death of science, inquiry, knowledge, wisdom, and truth."

Theism gives us the most complete and intellectually valid understanding of the nature of reality. In grounds the existence of everything in a robust comprehensive cause that explains not only physical objects but ideas as well. Theism insists that things are as they are for a reason. Atheism ultimately can give us no satisfactory causal explanations. The idea of causation is one thing that makes man different from the animals. We can probe the depths of the ultimate causal question to its ultimate answer: God. He alone can explain why we are here. As such human epistemology is inherently theistic. As soon as we search for the reason why things are the way they are -- the ultimate act of rationality -- we are assuming a theistic worldview. As such, our reason OBLIGATES intellectually and morally us to believe in God.

So despite their protests, the atheists are stupid. They are guilty of intellectual and moral failings linked to their refusal to submit to any higher authority than their own preferences. But in their hearts many of them they know that there is a hierarchy of values and this is the one thing that can still save them. "The fear of YHWH is the beginning of knowledge." Until they realize that, they are not being intellectually honest, morally upright, logically consistent, or rational.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another look at Judas Iscariot

The most vilified man in the history of Western civilization has been Judas Iscariot. His name alone conjures up the image of the ultimate betrayer. The conventional wisdom says that he was one of the 12 Apostles but was always a crook and a rotter who eventually betrayed God- Incarnate to his executioners for 30 pieces of silver. And then , wracked with guilt, Judas committed suicide.

Jewish author Hyam Maccoby in his book Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil (1992) opined that there was no historical Judas but that he was a personification of the Jewish people invented by the Early Church to vilify those Jews who did not follow Jesus. The very name "Judas" means "Jew" and Maccoby sees Judas Iscariot as the first Christian target of anti-Semitism.

Some modern authors have tried to rehabilitate Judas and make him into a(n) (anti-) hero who has been misunderstood. Such is the case in Tim Rice's Musical musical Jesus Christ: Superstar.

Recently, a 2nd Century gnostic Gospel of Judas has been discovered which portrays the other 11 Apostles as opportunists trying to set up a new "fleshy" religious system to make themselves rich. Judas is depicted as the only disciple to really understand Christ's message of "spiritual" salvation. For this reason, Judas betrays Jesus so that his "fleshy container" enclosing the God-spirit can be destroyed and the spirit let free. Judas acts out of contempt for the body at Jesus' behest. As a result, the 11 other Apostles supposedly stoned Judas and made up the story of his suicide.

I submit that all of these are ridiculous distortions of Judas that do not pay attention to what the Bible actually says about him. I submit the following ideas as an attempt to better understand who Judas really was, what he did, why he did it, and how we should understand him.

First of all, Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus himself to be in his inner circle and literally in his messianic Sanhedrin. For this reason, even as a child I could never understand why Jesus would have let an evil person get so close to him. There must have been something good -- if not exemplary -- in this man for Jesus to have elevated him to such an intimate relationship with Him. I cannot believe that Jesus would pick someone just to be His betrayer. There must have been more depth and character to Judas of which we are unaware.

Much is made of Judas's surname "Iscariot". It is believed to be a variant on the word "Sicarii" which is the plural of the Latin word for "dagger" and was used as a euphemism for a contract-killer. There was a Jewish insurgent group called the Sicarii who advocated the overthrow of the Romans and were prone to violence and murder. But Judas became a follower of Jesus who did not advocate the use of force but of love of God and neighbor and reasoned discourse. If Judas had been a Sicarii, he must have given it up to follow Christ. Jesus made fools of his enemies by tripping them up and outsmarting them. Jesus was always eloquent and no one bested Him an an argument. By becoming not only a follower of Jesus but an Apostle, Judas must have eschewed the use of force in favor of didactic disputation. In many ways, Jesus' method was like that of the great prophets of old who likewise used words and stories as their primary way of motivating the people. Judas may have seen Jesus Messiah as a new prophet/king who would come to rule Israel with wisdom and truth.

The Gospels tend to magnify Judas' faults and portray him as a hypocrite. We are told that he held the common purse of the group and stole from it (John 12:6). But is that not a mere peccadillo of which many of us are guilty? Who hasn't padded an expense account or somehow funded a pet project from company funds? Mea culpa! I find the fact that Jesus trusted Judas with money to indicate that he was a better candidate to do so than any of the other disciples. He may have dipped into the till, but he also may have been very careful with how the money was spent and kept everyone on a budget. Maybe the other Apostles resented how Judas controlled the purse strings. Nobody likes a bean-counter.

We are also told that Judas was possessed by Satan (Luke 22:3, John 13:2) who goaded him into betraying Jesus. Demonic possession is rarely willed by the victim and one cannot necessarily be held responsible for one's actions when the possessing spirit has taken active control of the body.

In St. John's Gospel, Jesus is depicted as controlling all events. After the Devil enters Judas, Jesus says to him "What you are going to do, do quickly." and Judas went out to fetch the mob to arrest Jesus. Was he addressing Judas, or Satan, or both of them? It is obvious from all the Gospels that Jesus knew Judas was gong to betray him ahead of time. Yet He let it happen.

In summation, we have a highly placed and trusted disciple of Jesus with a history of violent insurgent activity in his past who had flaws and was the victim of demonic deception. This is the man who betrays Jesus to the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. And it looks like Jesus knew what he was up to and encouraged him to do so. Why did he do it? Did he intend to have Jesus killed? Was he just after money? Was Judas alone in his betrayal of Jesus?

At this point I want to draw attention to a parallel between Judas and St. Peter. BOTH were highly placed and highly trusted disciples. BOTH had a penchant for impulsiveness and violence. BOTH were warned by Jesus that they would betray Him. And BOTH were depicted as being possessed by Satan when they opposed our Lord's teaching about himself. But I think there was a specific difference about them.

St. Peter expected Jesus to declare himself the true Davidic king of the Jews and to lead a revolt against the Romans. he was willing to fight to try and save his Lord from the mob in the Garden of Gethsemane and actually followed Jesus into the High Priest's house in order to try and set Him free.

Judas Iscariot had eschewed his violent past and had become the disciple of the wisest man in Israel who could out-think and out-argue the cleverest Pharisee or Sadducee. He was looking forward to a non-violent kingdom where Jesus by His preaching would be acclaimed as King of the Jews without the need for any fighting.

We know what happened to St. Peter. He tried violence and it didn't work and so he resigned himself having his Lord be crucified. And we know how Jesus later forgave him and rehabilitated him.

What happened with Judas?

I sincerely believe that Judas did not intend to betray Jesus to his death. Instead I think that was trying to goad Jesus into a final confrontation with the High Priest which he thought Jesus would win.

Likely Judas had high hopes that when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph He would cleanse the Temple and depose the Sadducean priestly faction which had charge of it. There were at least six other competing priestly groups that could have filled that void. But instead, Jesus tells parables and embarrasses the Pharisees and Sadducees, but does not depose them or try to alter the status quo.

Judas could have perceived this as a missed opportunity and decided that all Jesus needed was the right venue and the right situation to undermine the Jewish leaders and have the people rise up against them. With His eloquence, Jesus would make fools of them and they would be run out of town.

So he decided to go to the High Priest and offers to turn Jesus over to him to be tried as a heretic. Judas knew that under Roman occupation, the High Priest had no power to execute anyone and with Jesus' popularity Judas doubted that the Sadducees would ever try to have him assassinated. They would be the first suspects and the Romans would have taken that as an excuse to execute them. He was also quite sure that no Jew would ever turn a fellow Jew over to the hated Romans over a purely religious dispute. I think that he expected Jesus would have had a public trial before the Sanhedrin where His rhetorical skills would triumph and no one would get hurt.

When they offered Judas money, it was icing on the cake. The fools would be paying for their own destruction! Meanwhile, the money could go back into the purse and would be used to subsidize the Church.

(There is an interesting parallel here with OT sacrifice rules in the Book of Leviticus:

Lev 5:14
The LORD said to Moses,
Lev 5:15
"If any one commits a breach of faith and sins unwittingly in any of the holy things of the LORD, he shall bring, as his guilt offering to the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued by you in shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; it is a guilt offering.
Lev 5:16
He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing, and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest; and the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.
Lev 5:17
"If any one sins, doing any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity.
Lev 5:18
He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued by you at the price for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the error which he committed unwittingly, and he shall be forgiven.
Lev 5:19
It is a guilt offering; he is guilty before the LORD."

Note that Jesus was "bought" for thirty shekels of silver (the going value for a male slave) and that Judas tried to make restitution by buying Jesus back from the priests with silver. The priests took the money and they still sacrificed Jesus, the Lamb of God as a guilt offering for sin albeit unwittingly.

It should be noted that an "unwitting sin" was considered any unintentional breaking of the Torah or any intentional violation of it of which the sinner has repented so that he now wishes it had never happened.)

So I submit that Judas was not really intending to betray Jesus or sell Him out. He was trying to get him a "bully pulpit" so that He could make fools of the religious leaders of the Jews and lead to their downfall. And he certainly did not think that Jesus was in any physical danger.

This was Judas' way of forcing the issue and goading Jesus into taking the action that Judas thought he needed to do. Just like St. Peter, Judas was not listening when Jesus predicted his betrayal, passion, and death. Judas had his own agendas and wanted to "help Jesus along" with his mission.

Then everything started to go wrong. Jesus was not arrested in an orderly fashion. He was assaulted by a mob that beat him. There was no public trial but an informal (and illegal) private interrogation in the High Priest's house. Instead of dazzling his enemies with His eloquence, Jesus remained silent throughout the proceedings. He did not say anything in His own defense. At the end, the Sanhedrin voted him guilty of blasphemy and then they did the unthinkable: they decided to turn Jesus over to the Romans as a seditious revolutionary who advocated the violent overthrow of Roman rule. Jesus was thus condemned to death for being what Judas Iscariot himself had been before he became a follower of Our Lord!

Judas had never intended this to happen. He went back to the priests and tried to buy Our Lord back from them, but they refused. It was crazy, but Jesus was actually dying in Judas' place for the very crime of sedition that Judas had been guilty of!

Judas' plan had not only failed but Jesus was going to pay the ultimate price and in Judas' eyes he had single-handedly caused the downfall of the Messiah. It is no wonder that he became depressed. So depressed that he went out and hung himself in a secluded place. His body remained hanging for so long that his bowels became inflated with bacterial gases and his abdomen literally exploded and his bowels gushed out.

And so ended the life of Judas the betrayer of Christ.

I find the fate of Judas very sad. He likely never intended what had happened and he did not gloat about it. In fact, he regretted it all. So much so that he could not live with himself afterwards.

In a world that was motivated by pure justice in which the punishment fit the crime, Judas deserved no more than damnation. But we must remember that God does not work that way. He is the God of mercy and love who justifies the ungodly, rejoices more in the repentance of the sinner than in one hundred just men who have no need of repentance and counsels us to forgive our brethren from our hearts

We do not know the state of Judas' soul at the moment of his death. Most likely he received the just deserts for what he did. But I always hold out a hope that the man who told us to forgive our brother 70 times 7 times might forgive Judas this one time. He might count Judas' suicide as a disordered act of penitence by a man so sorry for what he had done that he could not think straight. Like my Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked should turn from his evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11).

And this hope serves a higher purpose. If there can be hope for Judas Iscariot, then there is hope for the rest of us! And to be honest, I identify better with the poor screw-up who blew it than with those sleek and sassy saints who never seem to have taken a misstep. May God have mercy on us all!


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sippo lays down the law!

In medical school and residency, there was an old dictum:

"See one, do one, teach one."

This was how you learned to do procedures and then spread the wealth of your knowledge and experience to other physicians-in-training.

When I was a med student at Vanderbilt, I expanded this dictum to encompass a the totality of a medical career. This became Sippo's Rule for Success in Medicine:

"See one, do one, teach one, publish one, name one after yourself."

Well, I have published several things, but I have never officially named anything after myself. That changes today. I have decided to formally introduce Sippo's Laws concerning life, Sippo's First Rule of Parental Discipline, an interesting mathematical conundrum that I call Sippo's Pizza Paradox, and finally Sippo's Lawyer Joke which has an interesting story behind it.

At this time there are three rules about life that I have developed which I call Sippo's Laws:

1) Sippo's First Law:

Anytime someone says "Everybody is {X}", it is an autobiographical statement.

Basically this rule states that pundits who make sweeping statements about human nature are actually talking about themselves, not other people.

For example, Sigmund Freud claimed that all boys want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers. This is the (in)famous Oedipus Complex which subsequent research has shown DOES NOT EXIST! The desire for patricide and maternal incest were Siggy's personal problem. He just felt less dirty if he could say that all boys have the same fantasy.

Another example is John Calvin's claim that all human beings are "totally depraved". In reality, we all have our faults, but "total depravity" overstates the condition of mankind. But go back and check out how M. Calvin treated his opponents (e.g., Bolsec, Servetus, and Castellio). If anyone could be described as follows, it was Calvin:

Romans 3:13 "Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."
Rom 3:14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
Rom 3:15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Rom 3:16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
Rom 3:17 and the way of peace they do not know."

So ask not to whom the pundit refers. He refers to himself.

2) Sippo's Second Law:

Paranoid ideation is the projection of a guilty conscience.

This law says that what people fear the most from other people is exactly what other people need to fear the most from them. When Islamic terrorists say that they fear being polluted by Judaism and Christianity, having their families slaughtered, and their religion undermined, you can GUARANTEE that this is exactly what they plan to do to us.

3) Sippo's Third Law:

Life is a Chess Problem.
While it might be interesting to figure how the board got this way, the only really relevant question is, "What's the next move?"

In the breech, look forward into your problems, not backward into their causes. There will be time enough for that once the crisis is over.

Next we have Sippo's First rule of Parental Discipline:

Make Daddy (or Mommy) happy.

On those long car trips with kids, parents are always having to make up new rules on the fly for child behavior: "Stop looking at your brother. Quit blowing in her face. Stop touching his arm. Don't smile at her...." You feel like you are holding a Constitutional convention in a third world country populated by creatively malignant yet subtle sociopaths. We've all been there.

The above rule has several advantages over the usual ever-expanding list:

  1. The rule is simple and uncomplicated. So much so that even TEENAGERS can understand it.
  2. It selects one parent to be the disciplinarian: either Mom or Dad. That way there is no separate court of appeals.
  3. There is no need to elaborate on specific do's and don't's. If something is not going to make Daddy/Mommy happy, then it is wrong.
  4. It is designed to maximize parental satisfaction and not cater to a child's creative casuistry.
  5. It allows the parent a very wide latitude in determining which behaviors are and are not acceptable and whom to blame for the disruption.
  6. You don't have to care about who did what to whom. What counts is how it makes YOU -- the designated parent disciplinarian -- feel.
  7. Instituting this makes you look and fell feel smarter than both Dr. Spock AND Mr. Spock.

Now, on to Sippo's Pizza Paradox:

When you get a round Pizza Pie, it may have 6, 8 or even 12 slices.
In any case as you and your cohorts eat the pizza, you will inevitably reach a point where eating one more piece from either one side or the other of the remaining pie will leave you with half of a pizza.

The Paradox: Invariably the two pieces from which you can choose will be of different sizes!

In other words, taking either a larger or smaller amount from the same partially eaten pie will leave you with the same amount at the end: half a pizza. I know this sounds crazy, but like every rule of nature, this one always applies. I think it is a variation on the Banach-Tarski Paradox:

Pay attention next time when you get a pizza.

BTW, there is a solution to the Sippo Pizza Paradox: Eat the Bigger Piece and you will still have half a pizza left! By eating the bigger piece, you make your pizza larger!

Finally we have Sippo's Lawyer Joke. There is a story behind this one. When I was teaching the US Army Flight Surgeon's Course section on Chemical Warfare back in 1984, we had a woman in the class from the Southern California National Guard who was also a practicing attorney in Los Angeles. The folks in the class were teasing her about being a lawyer and one guy told this joke:

Q. Do you know why they are thinking of using lawyers instead of white rats for medical experiments?

A. Because there are more lawyers than there are white rats!

I overheard this exchange as I was setting up my notes and I chimed in. "No, the joke is okay, but it needs multiple punchlines reaching a climax." And on the spot, I told Sippo's Lawyer Joke:

There are three reasons why we should use lawyers in medical experiments instead of white rats:

  1. There are more lawyers than there are white rats.
  2. You don't get as attached to them.
  3. There are certain things that white rats will refuse to do!

The reason I bring this up is that 6 years later in 1991, I took my children to see the movie Hook starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan. During a banquet sequence, he told my lawyer joke! I was incensed! Flattered. But incensed! It was a great joke, and now HE would get the credit for it. Well, this is my opportunity to tell everyone where that joke REALLY came from. I am not looking for royalties. I just want to set the record straight.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Why did St. Peter Deny Jesus?

One of the most misunderstood incidents in the NT is the denial of Jesus by St. Peter on the night of his arrest. Many commentators see this as an act of cowardice on St. Peter's part where St. Peter denies Christ in order to save himself from arrest.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The denials were for a very different reason.

Let us study exactly what happened.

St. Peter like the other Apostles believed Jesus to be the Davidic Messiah-King who would free Israel from pagan bondage. He expected Jesus to lead the Jews to victory over the hated Roman occupation.

When Jesus told St. Peter that it would be necessary for Him to suffer and die, the conversation went like this:

Matt 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Matt 16:22 And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you."
Matt 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
Matt 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Matt 16:25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. "

At the Last Supper, Jesus and St. Peter had their last conversation before Jesus' death. Jesus prophesied that:

Matt 26:31 ..."You will all be scandalized because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'

But St. Peter would have none of it:
Matt 26: 33 Peter answered and said unto him, Though all [men] shall be scandalized because of thee, [yet] will I never be scandalized.

{The Greek verb that I translate as "scandalized" is skandaliz┼Ź which has the meaning "to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey".}

Jesus responded:

Mat 26:34 Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times."
Mat 26:35 Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples.

After the Last Supper, Jesus and some of his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Luke 22:38 makes it clear that the disciples had two swords with them. When the cordon of Temple Guards -- at least a dozen armed soldiers -- came to arrest Jesus, only one of the disciples raised a sword in his defense: St. Peter (John 18:10). The disciple with the other sword ran away. St. Peter alone took up arms against a group of professional soldiers in Our Lord's defense. It was only when Jesus told him to put the sword down that St. Peter withdrew (Mat 26:52). These were hardly the acts of a coward who feared for his personal safety.

Nor do his actions afterwards show cowardice. While the rest of the disciples hid in fear, St. Peter and St. John followed the mob as they took Jesus to the High Priest's House (John 16:15ff). Why had St. Peter come? Did he intend to testify on Jesus' behalf. No! He kept his identity secret. Was he afraid of being captured. NO! For if he were he would hardly follow Jesus all the way into the house. It was a risk that he had to take.

The only logical explanation for his actions was that he was there waiting for an opportunity to set Jesus free by stealth or force. He believed Jesus to be the true King of Israel and St. Peter was prepared to fight to free Him so that He could overthrow the Romans and their puppet Tetrarchs.

Jesus himself told us something important:

John 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingdom is not from the world."

St. Peter was acting EXACTLY the way a faithful servant of an earthly king would have acted.

But to pull this off, he needed to be incognito. If everybody knew who he was, he would not be able to act stealthily. So when people began to recognize him as a follower of Jesus, St. Peter had to deny it. St. Peter could not save Jesus if his identity was known. It was his duty as the loyal subject of the rightful king of Israel to conceal himself. And so he denied Jesus. Three times. In fact at the last time:

Mar 14:71 But he began to curse and to swear, [saying], I know not this man of whom ye speak.

Then it happened:

Matt 26:74 ...And immediately the cock crew.

Mat 26:75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.

Why did he then go out and abandon his plans? Why did he weep? Was it because of fear. No.

St. Peter realized that Jesus had warned him that He was not the conquering Messiah, Son of David, but the suffering Messiah, Son of Joseph, from Jewish legend who would suffer and die for his people as it said in Isaiah 53. St. Peter was clinging to his messianic dream of monarchy and glory but this was not to be fulfilled at that time.

His dilemma reminds me of a famous news quotation from the Vietnam War. During the Vietnamization program, the people of the village of Ben Tre were re-located to a government settlement and their village was burned to the ground. A newsman who witnessed this asked what was happening and an American Major responded:

"It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."

This is what happened to St. Peter. It became necessary for him to deny his Lord in order to save him. St. Peter realized the contradiction in that. If he really believed in Jesus, he had to let Him suffer and die. The only way that St. Peter could have interfered was if he did not believe all the things that Jesus had told him.

"My kingdom is not of this world..." That is why Jesus' followers could not fight to free Him.

And so St. Peter realized that his plan to rescue Christ would have been the undoing of God's plan. And to do so would be to reject his own faith in Jesus. He knew how close he had come to throwing it all away.

But it was too late. He had denied his Lord three times. In Semitic culture, a three fold denial is irrevocable. All a man needed to do to divorce his wife was to say to her three times "I divorce you" and it was done. St. Peter who had been Jesus' friend and right hand man had denied him forever. No wonder he wept bitterly.

But then a few weeks later after he had gone back to fishing, St. Peter was having a bad fishing day (John 21ff), and some smart-aleck on shore told him to dip his nets one more time on the right side of the boat. When he did, the net was almost too heavy with fish to pull in. This had happened once before, when St. Peter had first met Jesus (Luke 5:4). St. Peter immediately recognized his master and impulsively jumped into the water and swam to shore.

In this last know meeting between them, Jesus asked St. Peter three times "Do you love me?" And St. Peter said "Yes, Lord, you know I love you" all three times.

It was like they had started all over again from the beginning. By this three-fold declaration, St. Peter's three denials were undone. And The Good Shepherd, named St. Peter to be his vicar as the ONE shepherd of the ONE flock (John 10:16).

There is a warning here. Many times we seek after gods made in our own image. It is hard to submit ourselves to the will of the One True God. But loyalty to Him is the measure of true wisdom. And God is neither beholden to us not fully comprehended by us. But He is good and true and what He tells us can be trusted.

Many of us learn this the hard way like St. Peter did. One reason why we venerate the saints is to study their lives and learn from them. Let us learn submission to the will of God from St. Peter.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Are there errors in the Latin Vulgate?

The title of this essay comes from a question posed to me by my Protestant confrere rr1213. It is a very complex question actually and I have been trying to do some research on it. I have found to my surprise that the Wikipedia article on Vulgate is just plain kickin'! I suggest that anyone interested in this topic start there:

I just have few comments to make.

First of all, the Latin Vulgate was intended to be a vernacular translation for the people of the Roman Empire in their common tongue. It was commissioned by the Pope and composed by the greatest of the Patristic biblical scholars, St. Jerome. He used the best critical texts and methods of his day. There isn't a biblical scholar in any Christian group who would not give his eyeteeth to gain access to St. Jerome's original source manuscripts, including some of the apocryphal works that he mentioned in passing as "spurious." It may not be as good a translation as we would do today with newer critical methods, but in the Fourth Century this was state-of-the-art.

Secondly, Jerome was not trying for a critical text with apparatus but for a readable text for use in the liturgy. Nevertheless he reviewed many variant texts in different editions and languages and tried to give the best text he could. As a result, the Latin Vulgate gives us a window into what the Hebrew OT and Greek NT were like 300 years before the Jewish Masoretic Text was created and 500 years before the Byzantine liturgical text that was the basis for Erasmus' Textus Receptus. The Masoretic text has been the basis of most Hebrew Bibles since the 8th Century and was used by the Reformers. The Textus Receptus underlies all of the Reformation vernacular NTs including the KJV. As such, there are several variant readings in the Vulgate that are more CORRECT than those in the KJV. For example. Jerome's original does not have the Johannine Comma, the long doxology at the end of the Lord's Prayer, and is missing some of the "Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture" about which Dr. Bart Ehrman wrote his doctoral dissertation (later published by Oxford University Press). Some of these textual variants were incorporated into later editions of the Vulgate.

Thirdly, the Latin Vulgate was a scholarly attempt at reconstructing the Bible unlike the various codices we have from the early 4th Century. This is a great paradox. The Roman Emperor Constantine in the wake of the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD commissioned 50 codices of the Bible in Greek so that one could be enthroned in honor in each of the major cities of the Empire. The texts we know as the Bodmer Papyri, Codex Siniaticus, and Codex Vaticanus most likely are the remaining copies of these bibles. Unfortunately, these were NOT critical editions, but more like commemorative copies from the Franklin Mint or BOMC. While they give us the earliest most complete Bible texts in Greek, they may not have been as representative of the original autographs as what St. Jerome used 60 years later. These early Greek NT texts therefore IMHO must be considered just one early witness among many. The Peshitta texts in Aramaic may be better witnesses of the period before 300 AD. And the Septuagint Greek text appears in may cases closer to some of the Hebrew Biblical texts from the 1st Century Dead Sea Scrolls than the later 8th Century Masoretic text.

The Medieval Humanists (and their Protestant disciples) argued against some of St. Jerome's choices for his translation from Greek in Latin. They argued that dikaioo (to justify) and its cognates had a forensic character that the Latin word iustificare did not. The Latin word implied a tranformation from a state of unrighteousness to a state of righteousness. But better philological studies in the last 200 years have shown that the dikaioo family of Greek words did also have a transformative meaning even within the NT itself (e.g., Romans 5:19, 2Cor 5:21).

Some have also argued that the translation of the Greek metanoia as the Latin poenitentia was incorrect. This was the word Jesus used when he said "REPENT and believe the Gospel!" (Mark 1:15). Metanoia they claimed was more of an intellectual and emotional response while poenitentia implied the need to do works of penance. This may have been true in pagan Greek. The problem was that the Greek word metanoia was probably used to translate the Hebrew word teshuvah which means "turning". In the Jewish religion this encompassed such things as fasting, wearing sack cloth and ashes, and other works of mortification. St. Jerome's choice here took cognizance of the wider Jewish context of the NT.

So in the end, St. Jerome did the best job possible for his time. What makes a "good" Biblical translation changes from one time period to another and what works in one period may not work as well in another.