Tuesday, June 8, 2010

276: Don't Even Think About It

Matthew 5-6
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." - Matthew 5:27-28

Jesus sits down with his disciples and begins talking to them. He first lists people that are especially blessed. This is the first time we hear Jesus talk at length. Among these blessed people are the meek, the poor, the merciful, and the peacemakers. Jesus gives a pretty good first impression. Unfortunately it goes downhill from there.

In the next paragraph Jesus tells his disciples they are the salt of the earth. He then asks, "But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?". What? I didn't realize salt could lose it's saltiness. I think if salt loses it's saltiness, it's not salt anymore.

Jesus goes on to make a very powerful statement. He says that he is not here to abolish the laws of the Prophets, he is here to fulfill them. Not even the smallest letter, he says, will disappear from the law until heaven and earth have passed away and "everything is accomplished". Whatever that means. If we assume that everything hasn't yet been accomplished, then every Christian should still be abstaining from work on the sabbath (one of the most repeated laws in the old testament), and be avoiding pork like the plague. I realize some do, but most don't. Why?

Next, Jesus expands on the law not to murder. He says that anyone who even curses his brother (as opposed to killing him) will be subject to judgement. And anyone who says "you fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell. What is this hell you speak of, Jesus? The bible has never mentioned it before. Assuming that hell is what I think it is, then isn't this new punishment a little severe?

Jesus then expands on the laws about adultery. He says that anyone even looking at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery. This, again, puts you in danger of going to this yet-to-be-described hell. I guess this means that all men, and I daresay most women, are on the fast track to hell. This punishment is not only too severe, but basic biology prevents you from being righteous. Jesus has the perfect solution for this. He says if your eyes cause you to sin, then you should gouge them out. And if your hand causes you to sin, you should cut it off. Why haven't I seen more self-mutilated Christians?

Jesus isn't quite done with adultery. He says that anyone who divorces his wife makes her an adulteress. And anyone who marries a divorced woman becomes an adulterer. The only way out of this conundrum is if the divorce is caused by marital unfaithfulness. Wait a minute. The only way to get out of becoming an adulterer is to commit adultery? So you're screwed either way?

Next is the famous "turn the other cheek". Jesus says that if someone strikes you on the cheek, instead of striking back (an eye for an eye), you should present to him your other cheek. However, there is more. Jesus says that if someone sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well. You are also to give to anyone that asks, and never turn away from someone who wants to borrow from you. The world would be a very strange place if all Christians followed these rules.

The final revelation of chapter 5 is that you should love your enemies. George Bush has failed this one with flying colors.

Nearly the entirety of chapter 6 is about keeping your religion to yourself. Again, the world would be a strange and much different place if Christians followed these rules.

First, Jesus says that when people help the poor, they should do their best to make sure this isn't seen by men. In fact, Jesus says if their right hand gives to the poor, not even their left hand should know about it.

Next, Jesus talks about prayer. He says that hypocrites love to pray standing in synagogues, and standing on street corners. But, Jesus says, you should go into your room, lock your door, and pray in private. I'm starting to wonder if any Christians actually read the bible. Why do a strong majority of Christians get pissed off if they aren't allowed to pray openly at graduation ceremonies, and before sports games? Even Jesus thinks you're a hypocrite.

Jesus then gives the disciples the Lords prayer. This is another one of the very few quotes I actually know from the bible. As much as I love the NIV, KJV just sounds better:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. - Matthew 6:9-13 [KJV]
His entire point of giving his disciples this prayer was so that they would know how to pray quickly and quit "babbling like pagans". As someone who's been to quite a few church meetings/bible studies, the common Christian is still babbling like a pagan.

Jesus then talks about secretly fasting. He says that when you fast, you should wash your face so that people will not know you're fasting. This is yet another teaching that Christians aren't following. Why do I have to hear what every Christian on earth has given up for lent every year? That is clearly against this teaching.

The rest of the chapter is about not worrying. Jesus says that worrying cannot change anything. For the most part I agree, but at some point a little worrying is good for you. Jesus says that if you're worrying, it's a sign that you have little faith. But if you don't worry about being hit by a car, you won't look both ways when you cross the street. I guess all Christians should walk into traffic with full faith that God will save them from oncoming vehicles. This is another teaching of Jesus that's just a little impractical.

We have a news story that's directly out of the pages of Matthew 5-6.
The head of the Egyptian Coptic Church threatened Tuesday to excommunicate priests who perform second marriages after a court ruled that divorced Copts could remarry.

Pope Shenouda III strongly condemned the verdict issued last month, which he said goes against the law of the Bible. He said priests who perform these marriages, along with those requesting to remarry, will not be allowed to enter the church again as they are considered "deviants." He explained only those divorced on grounds of adultery can remarry.
This is the direct application of Jesus's rules about adultery from today's reading. I guess some Christians actually take this rule seriously. If you really want to get out of your marriage in Egypt, apparently you have to go have sex with some random woman. Then divorce is no problem. The Coptic pope doesn't say if the person that committed adultery to have a legit divorce is excommunicated (Jesus doesn't talk about it either).
"The Pope has every right to condemn such a verdict as it's a direct attack against the church," Sidhom said. "It is a blow to the church's body. Marriage cannot go against the Bible and this new verdict does just that."
I guess the "Christians are being oppressed" sentiment extends to foreign countries. How is upholding the Constitution of Egypt an attack on a particular religion? In fact, how does this change how the church operates? Just because priests legally can, doesn't mean the church will allow them to divorce people (and it's clearly not going to). What's the problem?


  1. I think you're missing the point about Matt 5:32 (on divorce). This is what it says:
    "But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

    The marital unfaithfulness he is talking about is on the part of the wife, not the husband. So if your wife cheats on you then you can divorce her. That means, either way, she is an adulteress, but if a man divorces his wife for any other reason (other than her infidelity) even though she is penalized, he suffers no harm, since nowhere does it say that causing someone else to be an adulteress is a sin (note that it does not say that the divorcing husband is an adulterer). And of course you know what the OT penalty for divorce is (and Jesus is such a stickler for the Law)....

  2. You've detected a couple of inconsistencies in the sources of the Gospels already. The first, the contrast between Jesus' love-thy-neighbor, turn-the-other-cheek side and his hell and damnation side, is the famous and mildly controversial stratification of Q in NT studies.

    When you get to Mark and Luke you'll notice how much overlap and interdependence there is with Matthew. Who copied from whom is referred to as the Synoptic Problem, the prevailing solution in NT scholarship being the Two-Source Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, Mark wrote first and Matthew and Luke independently used his gospel as a source, but also used another (non-extant) source document called Q. This is pretty well-established in the field. However, some scholars have gone further and posited the existence of stratification within Q, with different layers of sayings being added at different times. The impractical hippie Jesus is from the oldest layer, called Q1, whereas the a-hole Jesus is from the later layers Q2 & Q3. John the Baptist's earlier speech and the temptation by Satan are also in Q2 & Q3.

  3. "What was that?"
    "I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers'."
    "What's so special about the cheesemakers?"
    "It wasn't meant to be taken literally. Obviously it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."

    "Better keep listening... might be a bit about 'Blessed are the big noses'."

    "Blessed are the Greek."
    "The Greek?"
    "Apparently he's going to inherit the earth."
    "Did anyone catch his name?"

  4. I have news for you Bryan - Christians really are oppressed in many countries in the Middle East and parts of Africa and South Asia. Of course, atheists tend to be oppressed in those same places, too, and a lot of others.

  5. Hey Bryan...Loooong time lurker.

    I'm completely mystified about all the atrocities God threatens. I'm wondering what the hell Jesus and this New Testament could do to atone for everything that happened in the Old one. Jesus seems like a scapegote, a marketing campaign to bring more folks to the flock. It's like one day, somebody read the OT and said "This is kind of barbaric! Quick, we need something positive so this thing actually catches on! Hey, let's do that virgin birth thing". Then again, I may speak too soon. There's plenty of chapters left for more bigotry and damnation.

    I just can't imagine EVER turning to this poorly edited collection of ancient rules and supersitions for answers. I'm a 21st century woman...the Bible is completely irrelevant. Personally I think I can find more meaning in a song, a real book, or even a cartoon.

    This Jesus guy does seem pretty cool though (by comparison to all the other boring, hallucinating prophets)...I think I like him so far. Pacifists are sexy!

  6. Pacifist? Wait till we come to Matt 10:34.

    And don't worry - there's plenty more damnation and bigotry on the way.

  7. "impractical hippie Jesus"
    "asshat Jesus"

    Oh man, these descriptions just made my day! So good.

    Do you have your own blog, gmal? I can almost see it now -- Irreverent Bible Studies :-)

  8. Nah, I just post on others'. No time to write a blog myself. Thanks for the compliment, though.



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