Saturday, July 10, 2010

308: In the Beginning Was the Word

John 1-2
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." - John 1:1

The beginning of John marks the fourth (and hopefully last) retelling of the story of the life of Jesus. And because it's the fourth telling, nothing terribly new happens.

The first part of chapter 1 is (like in the other gospels) about John the Baptist. John is the one that is to come before Jesus and prepare the way. When John is asked if he is Jesus ("the Christ") he says no. More interestingly, though, is that he also denies being Elijah. If you'll recall, at least one of the gospels (that I remember) claims that John is, in fact, the reincarnation of Elijah. I guess John didn't get the memo.

Jesus then calls the first of his disciples. Interestingly, one of his new disciples (Nathaniel) is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah because Jesus saw him sitting under a fig tree:
"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."

Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that."
Surely I'm missing something here. Even Jesus seems surprised that's all it took. "You shall see greater things than that." Yes, one would hope.

In the beginning of chapter 2 we have a famous story that we've yet to see. Jesus turning water into wine. This, like most of the other stories of Jesus I'd heard before I read the bible, seems much less exciting than when I was told them by someone else. In fact, there's no explicit indication that Jesus does anything.

Jesus's mother tells Jesus (while they are at a wedding banquet) that the host has run out of wine. Jesus responds by saying (paraphrasing) "why should I care?". His mom responds by saying "do whatever he tells you". Who is "he"? Jesus sees six large jars used for holding water. He tells the host's servants to fill them to the brim with water. He then tells the servants to draw out a cup of water and give it to the host. Somewhere between the water being drawn out of the jar, and it reaching the lips of the host, it somehow becomes wine.

John (or whoever is writing this book) immediately jumps to the conclusion that Jesus did it, and calls it his first miraculous sign. Where is there any indication that Jesus actually did anything? Maybe there are magic jar pixies that turn water into wine. In the meantime, I'll conclude that the "Jesus did it" conclusion (made up by John) is just as likely as the "magic jar pixies did it" conclusion (made up by me).

We then (already) have the story of Jesus going to Jerusalem and clearing out the temple. This is terribly anachronistic in comparison with the other gospels. In this retelling, Jesus carries around a whip to drive out people and cattle alike. We also (for the first time that I recall) actually have a direct quote of Jesus saying that the temple will be destroyed and raised (by him) in three days. We've heard him accused of saying that in the other gospels, but we never actually saw him saying it. So much for "false testimony".

We have yet another Billy Graham Q&A, they never seem to fail to produce fundie illogic. The question is a good one this time:
DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Does anybody really believe in the devil anymore? You wrote something in your column recently that made me think you did, but I thought that kind of thinking went out with the Middle Ages. — R.C.L.
Oh, how I wish the answer to this question was a simple "no". Unfortunately, Billy indeed believes that Satan is after him (and you, and me).
It has been said that one of Satan’s most successful strategies is to convince people that he doesn’t even exist.
Does God employ this strategy too? I don't think there's any more evidence for God than there is Satan.
...for Satan is real, and he is very powerful. In fact, some would say he’s the strongest force in the universe, except for God. His goal is to block God’s purposes in every way he possibly can, because he wants to take God’s place as the all-powerful ruler of the universe.
What kind of magic fantasy land does Billy Graham live in? God isn't very omniscient or all powerful if he can't eliminate one measly Satan. If one tries to "block" something that's all powerful, the only conclusion is that you fail. If you don't fail at blocking this all powerful force (it would seem that Satan doesn't fail, because bad things happen) then it would follow that said being is not very all powerful. And the bit about Satan taking God's place as the ruler of the universe seems like it's straight out of a bad sci-fi novel.
Yes, Satan is real, and we see evidence of his evil workings every day. How else can you explain the irrational acts of violence and terrorism that ravage our world? How else can you explain the way we fall for his temptations, although we know they’ll only bring us disaster?
Right, how can irrational violence be explained by anything other than an all-evil super being?Once we figure that out, maybe we should address the problem of irrationally attributing every day events to super beings.
But the most important fact about Satan is this: He is a defeated foe. Yes, the battle continues, but the final outcome isn’t in doubt, because by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ defeated death and hell and Satan.
I'm getting this image of Jesus with a "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him. How is Satan a defeated foe if, by Billy Graham's definition, he is winning with every act of terrorism?Everything bad that happens in the world (again by Billy's definition) is evidence of how not defeated Satan is.

1 comment:

  1. This will be the last retelling of this story in the Bible. There were dozens of other "noncanonical" Gospels, but you won't read them here.

    You'll also find as you go along that John is much different from the other 3. There are a lot of new stories, many periscopes from the synoptics are missing, the chronology is different, hardly any quotes overlap with those of the synoptics, and the emphasis of Jesus' teachings is different, focusing on himself (he is the light, word, key, door, etc.) instead of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. As expected, there are a lot of conflicts with the other Gospels.



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