Sunday, July 18, 2010

316: Finger Me and Believe & John: In Review

John 19-21
"Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' " - John 20:27

The day starts with Jesus being flogged. Why is Pilate having Jesus flogged? He just got finished saying (at the end of chapter 18) that he finds no basis for charging Jesus. After this unnecessary flogging, Jesus is put in a robe and crowned with thorns.

As soon as Pilate brings Jesus before the Jews they start yelling "crucify him" over and over again. Pilate tells the Jews to go crucify him themselves, because he can find nothing to charge him for. Why does Pilate keep insisting that the Jews execute him if it's illegal for the Jews to execute people?

Pilate then questions Jesus again, and Jesus says that he is sent from above. From then on, the bible says, Pilate "tried to set Jesus free". Tried? Is he not the Governor? If he really wanted Jesus set free why didn't he just say the word? The Jews claim that Jesus is not a friend of Caesar (because he claims to be king). But so what? There is no explanation as to why Pilate cares what the Jews think of him, or of his rulings.

At the end of all this, the bible says that John hands Jesus over to "them" to be crucified. He hands him over to the Jews? Those were the last people he was talking about. But this surely can't be true. And, in fact, Jesus is given to Pilate's guards (not the Jews) to be crucified. Either the translators of the bible or John confused their pronouns.

Jesus then carries his own cross to the place where he's to be crucified. There's no Simon to carry the cross for him in this gospel. Then he's crucified as per the other gospels.

While Jesus is on the cross, he says he is thirsty. Someone (it's not clear who) offers him vinegar to drink. As soon as Jesus drinks the vinegar he says "It is finished", and uneventfully dies. What happened to the sky darkening in the hours before his death? What happened to the earthquakes and the temple curtain being torn at the moment of his death?

Only in this gospel is Jesus speared in the side to make sure that he is dead. The bible says that when he is speared there was a sudden flow of blood and water. I'm not a doctor, and from what I've seen there are various explanations as to why blood and water may have come out of a wound to the side. So I wouldn't necessarily see this as inconsistent, but for the fact that it's not mentioned in any of the other gospels.

Jesus is then buried. There are no guards, and there is no seal on the tomb.

Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb before the sun comes up (two people generally arrive after the sun has risen in the other gospels). Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away and runs to tell Peter that Jesus's body has been stolen. Peter and "the one Jesus loved" (who?) sprint back to the tomb. They both go into the tomb and only see Jesus's death shroud. Nobody else is there. They return home, but Mary (arriving after them) stays.

She goes into the tomb (alone, not with the other Mary) and sees two angels sitting at the head and the feet of Jesus's death shroud. They ask Mary why she is crying and she explains that someone has taken her Lord away. They again ask why she is crying. Mary, thinking the angels are the gardeners (they must not look very angelic), asks them if they are the ones that took the body. Jesus then appears out of nowhere and says "Mary". After a brief discussion with Jesus, she runs back to tell the disciples that she's seen Jesus.

That evening, the disciples are meeting with the doors locked (for fear of the Jews). Jesus magically appears among them. He shows the disciples his still wounded hands and side. The bible says that he then goes around and breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples. I thought only God was allowed to give people the Holy Spirit.

Jesus then disappears and Thomas (one of the twelve) arrives. The other disciples tell him that they've seen Jesus. Thomas ("Doubting Thomas") says that unless he puts his finger in Jesus's nail holes, he won't believe. Shouldn't Jesus be healed? Jesus really is a zombie in John's gospel Unless John isn't mentioning that blood is still gushing from his wounds, his heart must be stopped. Either that or the wounds are actually healed, and God just left the holes for posterity.

A week later they meet again (with the doors locked). Jesus again magically appears amongst them. This time, Thomas is with them. Jesus tells Thomas to put his finger in his nail holes, and shove his whole hand in his side (where he was speared). My skepticism is reaching a crescendo. Why does no other gospel even mention that Jesus is still wounded, much less that the disciples were going around shoving their hands in his side.

Some time later, Simon and the "disciple that Jesus loved" are fishing. They aren't catching anything till Jesus appears on the shore. Jesus tells them to throw their net back in. This time they catch (exactly) 153 fish. The bible says that none of them dared ask who he was. Why would they need to ask? This makes it sound like Jesus doesn't look like Jesus (like the other gospels).

Jesus then asks Peter three times if he loves him. Every time Peter says yes, and Jesus responds by saying "Feed my lambs" or "Feed my sheep". I'm assuming that Jesus is talking about his metaphorical sheep again. Didn't he say he was going to stop speaking in metaphors?

The chapter ends by saying two things. First, that this "disciple Jesus loved" was the one that wrote the gospel of John. That only tells us that someone thought John was this mysterious disciple that is especially loved by Jesus. Second, the bible says that Jesus did a bunch of other things, but if it were written the world would not have room for all the books about Jesus's life.

Wait, that's it? Jesus is supposed to ascend to heaven. I guess this is one of those things that the bible isn't mentioning, lest the book be too long. I wish some of the Old Testament writers had such concern about making books too long.

John: In Review
The end of the gospels about Jesus's life leaves me woefully unconvinced. The four gospels seem to do a great job of undermining each other. John especially seems illegitimate because his stories are so different from the stories in the other three gospels.

The first thing that comes to mind (because I just read it today) is Jesus's wounds. It really seems like John is just making this all up as he goes along. Where did John get this idea that Jesus's wounds were still there? How did he have get this revelation 40+ years after Jesus's death?

As boring as it would be, shouldn't these four gospels agree exactly on their major details? What did Jesus say on the cross? I don't know because none of the gospels agree. How many people and who came to Jesus's tomb? I don't know. Who saw Jesus, and what happened when they did see him? I don't know. Was Jesus recognizable after his resurrection? I don't know. Did Jesus carry his own cross? Everyone but John says no. These seem like pretty important things to get right.

Some complaints more exclusive to John. I think that I would be terribly confused about some concepts (e.g. the trial of Jesus) if I hadn't already read the other gospels. John randomly leaves out pretty big details (e.g. Jesus convicted before Caiaphas), either assuming that we already know what happens, or just forgetting to include them. None of this leads me to believe that this is the one true word of an all powerful all knowing God.

If you haven't heard (it's been in the news a bit), the "Atheists of Florida" are suing the Lakeland City Commission to stop them from opening their meetings with a prayer.
EllenBeth Wachs, director of the Lakeland chapter of Atheists of Florida, says the Lakeland's invocation policy to open City Commission meetings violates the separation of religion and state provisions in the First Amendment.

Ms. Wachs would do well to read the First Amendment. In it she would find no mention of "separation of religion and state," only "that Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof."
The writer of this article would do well to read some Supreme Court opinions with regard to the establishment clause. Those of you who have taken any Political Science should be familiar with the "Lemon Test" which is applied to establishment clause cases. All of these conditions must be met for a government action to pass the Lemon Test:
1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
The only one that this case may pass is number three. But prayer before public city meetings certainly doesn't have a secular legislative purpose, and it does have the primary effect of advancing religion. Back to the article:
The point of this lawsuit is clearly not to protect to Constitution, but rather to alter it, to fit the atheist's worldview. It seems to me that the atheists here are actually the ones who are in violation of the First Amendment, which states there shall be no law "prohibiting the free exercise of" religion, City Commission members included.
This lawsuit seems appropriate based on Supreme Court precedence. If this case is an atheist conspiracy to promote our worldview, then this writer must be calling the Supreme Court Justices of the early 70's a bunch of atheists. Sorry, Supreme Court opinions constitute law in America.


  1. Your last two paragraphs about this gospel pretty much sum up the issues with this Book of John. It's considered to be the last written of the 4 accepted gospels. And it's underlying goal is much different from the other three. It's not trying to be historically accurate, necessarily. It's really only been maybe the last 250 years or so that accuracy in history has become a questionable thing (sadly).

    I used to think one of the strengths of Christianity was that it had four separate and obviously different accounts of its origins. It forces the reader to doubt, get critical about these books and their authors and the authorities that profess to have it all figured out. But, then I learned that some people took the whole book to be perfect and sacred and God's literal word. So much for forcing people to think...

    John was written for a very young church trying to get its stories straight and wanting to turn this Jesus figure into Christ. And too often we see what happens when things do not get properly questioned...

  2. John 19

    John 19:1. Pilate has Jesus flogged before he even pronounces his verdict. It's like he's just doing it for fun. In Mark and Matthew the flogging occurs after Jesus is sentenced to be crucified, whereas Luke doesn't mention anything about flogging, no doubt so as not to offend the Romans with whom he is attempting to curry favor.

    John 19:5,13. None of the other Gospels have these Ecce Homo moments where Jesus is displayed to the crowd, nor do they have Pilate going back and forth, between Jesus and the Jews.

  3. John 20

    John 20:1-2. Only Mary Magdalene is said to have gone to the tomb first on Sunday morning, but when she reports to Peter, John let's slip that there was more than one woman in his source(s): "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" What do you mean "we," kimosabe?

    John 20:3-8. John has taken Luke 24:12, in which Peter hears the women's report, runs to the tomb, sees the linen strips, and wonders what happens, and adds the Beloved Disciple, who also hears the report, outruns Peter to the tomb, and believes instead of wonders.

    John 20:9. The disciples still don't get it, even after Jesus said he would speak to them plainly, and they finally believed in chapter 16. Moreover, the Beloved Disciple was just said to have believed, so if "they" (meaning the disciples, presumably) still didn't understand, what exactly did he "believe" at this point?

  4. As an illustration of the kinds of sources that the Gospel writers had for the empty tomb scenes (found in other Hellenistic literature), I will quote from Chaireas and Kallirhoe by Chariton of Aphrodisios, book 3, chapter 3, written in the 4th century BCE:

    " THE robbers of the sepulcher had closed it very carelessly, as it was night, and as they were in great haste to get away: and Chaireas, so soon as it was daybreak, went thither; upon pretense of carrying crowns or chaplets and libations; but, in reality, with a resolution to kill himself. As he was unable to bear his separation from Kallirhoe, he thought that death only could heal his anguish. Being come to the Mausoleum, he found the stones of it had been moved, and that the entrance was open. Chaireas was terrified at the sight; and infinitely perplexed, as he did not know how to account for what he saw. Fame, that swift-winged messenger, soon spread through Syracuse the news of this unexpected event; whereupon the whole city ran to the sepulcher; though no one durst enter it, without an order from Hermocrates.

    At last, a person going in, and making an exact report of what he had seen; no one would believe that the dead body was not there. Upon this Chaireas himself was determined to enter, from an ardent desire he had to see again his dear Kallirhoe, though dead; but searching every part of the tomb, he could not find the least traces of her. Many not believing that this could be possible, they themselves resolved to go in; and doing so, all were confounded, as not knowing what had happened. One of the spectators then (landing up, cried aloud: The funereal treasures deposited here are stolen, which must have been the horrid work of robbers. But where is the dead body?"

    Note how many elements are in common with Luke and John:

  5. John 21

    John 21:1. The disciples (or at least, some of them) are in Galilee, so this must've been around the time of that sighting in Matthew, after Pentecost has passed (according to Acts, as we'll see tomorrow).

    John 21:4. Once again the disciples fail to recognize Jesus. This is getting ridiculous.

    John 21:5-11. We have another version of the same story about the miraculous catch of fish, from Luke 5:4-6. Why didn't Peter remember from the first time he saw this trick.

    But this story isn't original with Luke either, since it is actually an older tale told of Pythagoras (cf. Iamblichus, "Life of Pythagoras"). In the original version, the miracle was not the large catch of fish, but that Pythagoras knew how many fish were caught: 153, which is a triangular number, of importance to the mathematician Pythagoras. Note how John has left this detail in the story - why would the disciples have stopped to count the number of fish when they just realized that they were with Jesus?



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