Saturday, April 28, 2018

Luke 22:22. What is the meaning of "determined?"

Luke 22:22
For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" (NRSV)

The burden of this article will be to explain what Luke's Jesus meant in this verse by the word "determined."

Luke adapted his own reading from Mark's account. It is interesting and instructive how Luke adapted Mark. Here is Mark 14:17-25.
17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve.
18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me."
19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?"
20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.
21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."
23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.
24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Matthew 26:20-29 quotes Mark almost verbatim except for a few clarifying improvements (Matthew's Jesus says the blood of the covenant is "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins;" and Mark's "kingdom of God" becomes Matthew's "my Father's kingdom").

In both Mark and Matthew, Judas fades off the stage, either after the prediction of betrayal or between the time Jesus' Institution of the Lord's Supper and the time of Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. John adds some clarity to his account of the Last Supper my describing Jesus as indicating Judas by giving him a piece of bread (John 13:26). As soon as Judas received the bread, he left the intimate assembly. Since John does not document the Institution of the Lord's Supper, we still do not know if Judas participated in the sacred part of the meal. (However, in John, Jesus washed Judas' feet).

While Mark and in Matthew are not clear whether Judas participated in the memorial part of the supper, Luke is very clear. Here is Luke 22:14-22.
 14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.
15 He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves;
18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.
22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"

The fact that Luke reversed the order of Mark by placing the Lord's Supper before the betrayal prediction highlights the importance Luke placed on Judas' choices and upon his later invitation for redemption. The cup of the new covenant of the Lord's blood was poured out for Judas too! In Luke,the mention of a betrayer is an invitation for Judas to repent of the evil he is planning. Furthermore, if he goes ahead with the betrayal (and he indeed did) he is invited to repent after the fact. Thus, Luke softened Jesus assessment of the betrayer by omitting Mark's "It would have been better for that one not to have been born."

This understanding will help us to drill down on the meaning of Luke's use of the word "determined" in verse 22.

For clarity, let us scrutinize Mark 14:20-21.
20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.
21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."
It may escape our notice that there is deeper meaning to verse 20 than just sharing a meal. John 13:18 helps us out.
I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, "The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me."
The fact that Judas shared bread with Jesus was widely connected with Psalm 41:9. First Century Christians knew that Judas shared the bread with Jesus and they knew that he eventually betrayed Jesus. They correlated those events with the passage in Psalms. For a detailed discussion of John 13:18, see this article. Psalm 41 is about the psalmist's betrayal by a close friend and confidant. The psalmist is very sick and might die. The psalmist's close friend comes to comfort the sick psalmist and says he hopes he gets well; but privately, the friend hopes the psalmist dies. Many Bible readers consider the psalmist as possibly David and the close friend as David's adviser Ahithophel who became usurping Absalom's adviser against David. For convenience, I will call the psalmist's fair-weather friend "Ahithophel."

When Mark's Jesus says, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me," he means to say that the betrayer (Judas) is another Ahithophel. The betrayer is fulfilling Scripture by conspiring against his master, as Ahithophel did. So, in Mark, what Jesus means by "The Son of Man goes as is written of him" he means to say that he is going to fulfill Scripture by means of parallel actions. Luke means the same thing but he uses the word "determined." Luke talks about these parallels with much stronger language.
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44)
Luke's citations of Scripture that are fulfilled are many; but all of them are understood as parallels (another Ahithophel) or as adaptations of old language to a new situation ("he was numbered with the transgressors"). The fact that Jesus fulfilled classical Scripture even in that non-direct way testified to his authenticity as the Messiah to a First Century Jew (or Jewish proselyte).

One more observation: When Luke changed Mark's "it is written" to "it has been determined" he may have intended to communicate that events have been set in motion that will be very difficult to derail. At this point, what is about to happen is essentially unavoidable. Determined.

Let us review.

MarkLukeMeaning
14:20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me." 22:21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.The betrayer is another Ahithophel, like the betrayer in Psalm 41.
14:21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born. 22:22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"Events are in motion now that will soon be seen as fulfilling Scripture.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jeremiah 26: Anatomy of a Religious Attack

Jeremiah 26 is a typical example of what happens when a person is attacked for what he believes.

Jeremiah's main message was that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed by Babylon; yet, if the people of Judah repent, God will change his mind and spare the city of destruction by the Babylonians.

A summary of Jeremiah's central sermon (Jeremiah 7:1-15) appears in Jeremiah 26:4-6. Notice what Jeremiah said:
4 You shall say to them: Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you,
5 and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently—though you have not heeded—
6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.
In sum, the terrible thing that God will do to Jerusalem is conditioned ("If," vs. 4) upon the people NOT repenting.

The priests and prophets quickly caught onto something they believed to be heresy.
8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, "You shall die!
9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, "This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant'?" And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord. (Jeremiah 26:8-9)
The problem that the priests and their supporting prophets saw was a violation of temple ideology. They believed that salvation was by temple and not by repentance. (Today, we might verbalize it as, "We are saved by temple, not by works of faithfulness"). This temple ideology is expressed in Psalm 132:13-14.
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation:
14 "This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it."
In other words, the priests, et. al. believed it did not matter how the people approached covenant relationship with Yahweh. The presence of the temple in Jerusalem would keep the city safe. The warrior God (Yahweh) would not permit his house to be destroyed by a foreign enemy. The favorite sermon of the profits who promoted the temple ideology was "Peace, peace" (Jeremiah 6:14).

That is why the priests were comfortable to misquote Jeremiah as saying, "This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant." Jeremiah preached the judgment as conditional but the priests considered the city's safety to be unconditional.

They wanted covenant relationship with God except with no covenantal expectations.

Any preacher whose sermons only make people feel good about themselves without challenging them to see their spiritual failings and to make personal improvements is preaching lies. "Peace, peace" without "Repent, repent" is a lie.

Thus, they did not hear the conditional "if" in Jeremiah's sermon. We are the same way if we are not careful. If we do not agree with somebody on any issue, we tend to listen carelessly. We hear only part of what was said and repeat it back in a way that turns what was actually said into something heinous. We remember only half of what was said, and by itself the half sounds really bad.

Notice the content of the accusation with which the priests et. al. formally charged Jeremiah at trial.
Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, "This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears." (Jeremiah 26:11)
People tend to regard as heresy any preaching against what they hold to be sacred (church or church's leadership). It is almost like church and church leadership have a pass from being called to repentance. I have personally heard the following verses cited in support of censoring people who make hard challenges to church and church leaders.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
Obviously, if you want to conscript these verses into the service of supporting the censoring somebody's preaching, you cannot read them too carefully.

The princes and the people recommended acquitting Jeremiah on some fascinating grounds.
Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, "This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God." (Jeremiah 26:16)
They believed that any prophet who spoke in the name of Yahweh could not possibly be preaching against Yahweh's people or his city or his temple. This statement clearly parallels Luke 9:49-50.
49 John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us."
50 But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you."
The passage from Luke is really loaded with meaning. One very important lesson is that anybody who is ministering for Christ is not an enemy. He is on your side and you should find a way to work together. Quit practicing the politics of exclusion in the church!

Jeremiah was not the enemy of Jerusalem. People who preach tough lessons against spiritual lethargy are not the enemy of the church. If they bring "shame and reproach" on the church, perhaps the church is acting shamefully and in ways that invite reproach. Instead of censoring hard and upsetting teaching, maybe we should listen.

Footnote:
The elders, who were acting as judges in Jeremiah's trial, quoted Micah 3:12. They noted that Micah's preaching was very similar to Jeremiah's; but Micah's king Hezekiah instituted religious reforms and Yahweh changed his mind about the disaster Micah predicted. It is fascinating to me that Micah's disaster prediction did not include a conditional clause; but there clearly was one and Hezekiah worked with it. Jeremiah's disaster prediction clearly did include a conditional clause but the priests could not hear it. The elders pointed out that, unless the city respond as Hezekiah did, Jeremiah's prediction of disaster will actually happen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Genesis 18, It ain't easy being God

Quite often, when we read something about God in the Bible, we find the presentation to be difficult to reconcile with our view of God in our own minds. One such reading is the account of God's visit to Abraham in Genesis 18.

In the account, Yahweh personally visits Abraham. The visit happens in the event of three men who came upon Abraham's camp. God can either be understood as appearing in the form of three men or he is one of the three. A straight read of the text gives a very strong case for Yahweh being one of the tree men. Verse 22 pretty much makes this arrangement clear:
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Yahweh. (Genesis 18:22, WEB)
An alternative reading is:
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while the LORD remained standing before Abraham (NRSV footnote)
Indeed, this alternative reading is supported by the New Living Translation and it makes pretty good sense in light of Gideon's experience in Judges 6:11-24 which seems to tread the "Angel of Yahweh" and "Yahweh" as two different persons. Read that text and try to figure out what is going on. Who is whom?

In Genesis 18, Abraham discusses with Yahweh about the outcome of the divine investigation of Sodom. Yahweh agrees to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there are fifty righteous. Through several suggestions by Abraham, Yahweh eventually reduces the required number to ten righteous.

If Yahweh already knew how the investigation would conclude, this whole conversation in Genesis 18:23-32 has no integrity at all. For the conversation to actually have integrity, it cannot be that either party knew how the investigation would conclude. If Yahweh really is, as the text reports, weighing his options, then we must consider something possibly surprising about his experience. God often has to make tricky decisions. He has to decide between several difficult courses of action, neither of which is very good.

This description of God is entirely consistent with the way the whole Bible presents God but it clashes with the usual traditional view of God.

While God hears our prayers—even silent prayers—he does not go around reading people's minds. He knows people's thoughts by testing and by investigating (cf. Deuteronomy 8:2; 13:3). That means God is not so much a judge of thoughts as he is a fruit inspector. In order to be certain we will act righteously when we are tested, we must grow righteousness in our hearts.

It is interesting that Yahweh's visit to Sodom was motivated by crying. God hears crying and we should add our voices when we hear about it. For a dedicated treatment of God's response to crying, see this article.