Tuesday, July 13, 2010

311: Self Testimony

John 7-8
"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid." - John 5:31

"The Pharisees challenged him, 'Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.' Jesus answered, 'Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.' " - John 8:13-14

Chapter 7 starts around the time of the feast of the tabernacles. The disciples go into Judea to celebrate, but Jesus is reluctant to go because the Jews are trying to kill him. His disciples beg Jesus to go with them and show the people more miracles. Jesus says that it's not the right time yet, and he's going to stay in Galilee. It turns out, though, that Jesus doesn't stay in Galilee and tags along (in secret) behind his disciples. If that's not a lie I don't know what is.

About half way through the feast, Jesus sneaks up to the temple courts and starts teaching. The people start mumbling, asking each other if this is the guy that the Jews are trying to kill. When the officials say (to each other) that Jesus isn't the Christ, Jesus freaks out and screams that he's been sent by God.

When the Pharisees send guards after Jesus, he evades them because "his time had not yet come". At the end of the feast, Jesus again gets up in front of the crowd and yells that if anyone is thirsty they should come to him and get some living water (i.e. "the Spirit").

The people then talk among themselves and wonder how Jesus can be the Messiah. They say that the true Messiah would come from Bethlehem. The two gospels that mention Jesus's birth have him born in Bethlehem. I guess that either doesn't count, or John thinks that Jesus was born elsewhere.

We then have yet another section that the NIV bible warns us isn't in early manuscripts. Surprisingly, contained in this section is Jesus's "cast the first stone" parable. For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about. The Pharisees bring a woman sentenced to death (for adultery), and ask Jesus what to do with her (this is to test him, of course). Jesus randomly starts writing words on the ground and famously says "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Everyone promptly leaves.

I've heard this passage used as validation for not punishing people for a plethora of Old Testament laws. Unfortunately (based on the evidence at hand), Jesus didn't actually say it. Is there any (non-secular) reason that Christians shouldn't be out killing people for working on the sabbath, or for committing adultery? After all, Jesus isn't here to change the laws of the prophets.

The next section holds a terribly obvious contradiction from Jesus on self testimony. Jesus says that he is the light of the world, and everyone that follows him will have life. The Pharisees call him out on this, saying that he is being a self witness, and self testimony is invalid. Take note that this is almost word for word what Jesus himself says in John 5:31. However, Jesus has changed his mind. He now claims that his self testimony is perfectly valid because he knows where he comes from, and where he's going. So, if I have this right, Jesus has just verified his self testimony with more self testimony.

Jesus goes on for the rest of the chapter (with more self testimony) about how he is the son of God. When the people don't believe him/don't understand him, he accuses them of being children of the devil. If they truly believed in God, claims Jesus, they would also believe in him (and be able to understand him). That's right, Jesus just validated the self testimony of his self testimony with more, you guessed it, self testimony.

As if to mock me, the last section of chapter 8 is titled "the claims of Jesus about himself". I think this entire book could be accurately labeled "The claims of Jesus about himself". Considering his miracles are decidedly un-miraculous. The only real "evidence" of Jesus's father being God seems to be Jesus saying so.

The last section consists mostly of the Jews claiming Jesus is demon possessed. Jesus denies this, and says that those who follow him will have eternal life. The Jews respond by saying they're sure that Jesus is demon possessed now. Jesus says that their father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing him one day (more self testimony). Having heard enough of Jesus's vacuous crap, the Jews pick up stones to kill him, but he slips away.

*News*
Many people have tried to "convert" me over the years. During one of these attempted conversions, I was confronted with shock. "I thought this was only going to take a few hours", said my would be converter. At the time I had no idea how someone could have such a skewed idea of the mental constitution of non-believers. However, the mystery is no more. I've found some interesting religious propaganda:
My visit to the home of an atheist was at the request of his daughter. He had recently been released from a local hospital after being treated for advanced throat cancer and his prospects for survival were poor to none. My mission was to bring him to faith but the years he had invested in building arguments against the existence of God made my goal seem almost impossible to achieve.
It probably seems impossible because there is really no new evidence that you can present. No atheist I know has arbitrarily chosen to be an atheist. Most people I know have come to this conclusion after careful consideration over a number of years.

The writer goes on to paint a caricature of what he thinks an "atheist" is. The atheist is bitter, hates preachers, and speaks in profanity (in which his parrot is well versed).
Finally I learned that this man's atheism was rooted in his observation of the painful suffering of a relative he had respected in spite, according to him, of her faith and consistency of life. I hadn't known this woman but had no reason to doubt his high praise of her. This did help me to understand one of his barriers to faith. In light of her suffering, he was unable to reconcile her long period of pain to the existence of a loving God. Arguing that her time in heaven would by now have more than compensated for her earthly trials would never have convinced him because he didn't believe heaven existed.
The man's argument is further validated when you consider Jesus claims that anything asked for in his name will be given to you. Surely this woman prayed to Jesus to heal her. I don't think that any amount of time in heaven could make up for a horrible death and suffering. To echo this man's argument, wouldn't an all loving God find a way to - if not make us happy - at least prevent us from undue suffering?
Then, suddenly, I knew what to do and asked a question that shattered this atheist's unbelief: "Is there anything about the change in your daughter's life that you can't explain apart from a work of God?"

"Yes!" he replied without a moment's hesitation.

His quick reply let me know she had changed so much that he couldn't deny the miracle of new life in her and with that acknowledgement our argument ended and his unbelief quickly faded away.
Whoa, whoa, WHOA. This man's years of examination were just blown away by him not understanding something? This is only slightly less barbaric than looking at a lightning strike, saying you don't understand how lightning works, then concluding that Zeus must be responsible.

There is really no other explanation of why his daughter changed? Maybe she just found a new group of friends at church that are a better influence. Even if there is absolutely no explanation, that doesn't mean God did it. Having no explanation cannot be the basis for an explanation. "I don't know why my daughter changed, therefore I know God did it." It doesn't make sense.

I guess I know now why that friend of mine was so confused when I didn't immediately come to the Jesus conclusion. This surely isn't an isolated case of anti-atheist (for lack of a better term) propaganda.

5 comments:

  1. John 7

    John 7:1. Why is Jesus afraid for his life? He's the Son of God, for Chrissake - doesn't he have faith that his Father will protect him? And if not God then certainly he has enough power to take care of himself. Plus he's come there to die anyway.

    John 7:5. Jesus' own brothers do not believe in him! How could this be if any of the nativity and childhood stories about in Luke and Matthew were true? Didn't he ever perform a miracle in their presence?

    In fact, they are urging Jesus to go even though his life will be in danger. Are they trying to get him killed?

    John 7:8. The NIV, to hide the fact that Jesus lied, uses the manuscripts that had the word "yet,"even though the original copy probably did not have this word.

    John 7:10. Yet another trip to Jerusalem not recorded in the Synoptics. What is this, the third?

    John 7:11,7:13. "The Jews" were watching for him at the Feast? All of them? Moreover, "no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews"? Wouldn't everyone at the Feast be a Jew?! Who are these mysterious non-Jews there who were afraid to talk about him? Or were the Jews afraid of themselves? John is taking his antisemitism to ridiculous heights.

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  2. Unfortunately (based on the evidence at hand), Jesus didn't actually say it.

    Wait til you get to Paul. The Gospel is full of nice stories, but if you want to understand modern American Protestantism, and what they mean by following the "literal reading of the Bible" you have to read Paul. Martin Luther founded Protestantism on the back of Paul's letters, and most fundamentalist evangelical theology actually comes from there. The Gospels contain some pithy sayings and some gory stories that Mel Gibson can turn into movies, but the actual foundations of Protestant theology come from Paul. (Catholic theology is a mix - it comes as much from Greek philosophy and pre-Christian European beliefs as it does from Paul and the Gospels. Which is why Mary is held in such a high regard in the Catholic Church despite her unimportance in most of the Gospels and how Limbo and Purgatory came to be part of the whole Catholic afterlife despite not being mentioned in the Bible at all).

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  3. John 8

    John 8:4-5. This isn't part of the Gospel of John anyway, but I just want to point out how silly it would be for Jews to ask if the Law should be enforced. Who would've thought otherwise then? Reform Jews?

    John 8:11. Jesus won't condemn her now, but after her death she will go to hell and suffer for all eternity for such sins. Or at least that what's he keeps telling us.

    John 8:15b-16: "I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right."

    First of all, if he does judge, then his first statement is a lie. Second, didn't Jesus spend a lot of time a few chapters ago telling us how God has delegated to him all authority to judge people?

    John 8:17-18. God is a mere man? And God's testimony by itself would not be sufficient, so that an additional testimony from an another man is required?!

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  4. Concerning a matter which confuses you about the evangelist and the atheist with throat cancer.

    I personally don't handle phrases such as double negations well. They confuse me. "Not greater than" is MUCH harder for me to understand than "less than or equal to".

    "I don't have no chicken." Does that mean "I don't have a chicken" but with bad grammar? Or does it mean "I DO have a chicken."? Or does it mean "I have several chickens."?

    I have to straighten out a double negation by having them cancel each other or ask you what you mean?

    There are several partial negations. "Hardly", "except", "apart from".

    This is the evangelist's question:

    "Is there anything about the change in your daughter's life that you can't explain apart from a work of God?"

    Without the double negation it is:

    "Is there anything about the change in your daughter's life that you can
    explain as a work of God?"

    My car started today. Maybe the car was running on gasoline or maybe the car was running on its faith in Vulcan, the god of machines. With the double negation removed the question is merely about the possibility of proferring an explanation.

    Since we're on the subject of John note the lacuna in the Wedding at Cana story. Only one cup of wine is mentioned. It never says "And the guests partied hearty all night." Note the lacuna in the evangelist's story. Where's the followup. He asked a confusing question and got a one syllable answer from a man who must be on pain medication. He cuts the story short and never says, "And the man came to church and sits in the pew every Sunday that the chemotherapy allows following the sermon in the KJV in his lap."

    It's like the premise of Why God Won't Heal Atheists. People don't pray for a literal mountain to be moved. No one has done that including Jesus. Only the snake handlers are consistent enough to get bitten by rattlers. If a Christian sees children on the 10th storey of a burning building he doesn't pray to fly like Superman (with the TV cameras running) and pluck the children and land them lightly. Hey, that would be so much more impressive than a pro football player who has trained hard for over 10 years and says his team's victory was from Jesus. WWGHA concludes that Christians do not pray for these things because deep down inside they don't want to know the answer.

    The evangelist asking the complicated question probably doesn't want to know. He has his little miracle. He can feel good about himself.

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  5. "Is there anything about the change in your daughter's life that you can
    explain as a work of God?"

    is not the same question as

    "Is there anything about the change in your daughter's life that you can't explain apart from a work of God?"

    The equivalent of the evangelist's question would be

    "Is there anything about the change in your daughter's life that you can
    ONLY explain as a work of God?"

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