June 14, 2011

Christianity Part I: Old Testament vs. New Testament

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"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."  -Matthew 7: 1-4

"At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?' They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
   But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.' Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
   At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'
   'No one, sir,' she said.
   'Then neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.'”    -John 8: 1-11

Familiar stories, beautiful sentiments, yet this is not the image we have of modern Christianity. Why? I have my thoughts which I will be sharing over a multi-part series on Why Christianity Confuses Me So Much.

Google "Bible Contradictions" and there are seven zillion websites and blogs devoted to pointing out everything that is contradictory in the Bible. I'm not here to do that. A thinking Christian is not going to believe that every word of the Bible is literally transcribed from God. 66 books that were written over a period of hundreds of years, transcribed thousands of times into hundreds of languages? Come on. How many versions of the Bible are in the English language alone?

The books included in the mainstream Protestant Bible were thoughtfully chosen by councils of religious scholars over the centuries. The Biblical canon (or books of the Bible) has changed frequently as these scholars have tried to determine which books are the "most holy" and authentic. The books that didn't make the cut are called apocryphal and some of them are used in various branches of modern Christianity right alongside "our" Bible.

"Our" Bible documents sacred events throughout history that our religious leaders have determined pertain to our faith. Some of the books are Jewish, and some have been adopted by faiths not accepted as Christian by the mainstream Christian church. We should use it as a reference tool to learn about God, not try to maintain that every line in every version of the Bible is the infallible Word of God. That's embarrassing.

That said, let's talk about:

Part I - The Gist: Old Testament vs. New Testament

PLEASE, somebody tell me how I'm supposed to believe that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same guy? Have you READ the Bible?

Old Testament:  "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. 'Get out of here, baldy!' they said. 'Get out of here, baldy!' He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys."

New Testament: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."

Old Testament (my summary of Job): 
God and Satan are hanging out (WTF?) and God says "Hey, my man Job is swell. He worships Me and has a great heart. He is a good guy."
Satan says "Yeah, but you coddle him. He'd be a jerk like everyone else if he had any real problems."
God: "Nuh-uh, go ahead and f-ck with him all you want. You'll see."
Satan proceeds to kill all Job's animals, servants, and children. Job continues to worship God.
The next day God says "So, I was totally right about Job, huh?"
Satan replies "Nah. If it was his own life threatened he'd crumble."
God: "Whatever! Try it."
Satan proceeds to cover Job's entire body with painful sores. Job continues to worship God.
(I'm just going to say "Etc." here.)

New Testament: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

How on earth am I supposed to believe that this asshole scary God in the Old Testament has anything to do with the lovey-dovey God of the New Testament? One might say because Jesus changed everything when he died for our sins, but then there's this confusing passage:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."   -Matthew 5:17,18
The "law" to which he is referring? Is that the whole Leviticus mess? The entire book of Leviticus is just a bunch of bizarre rules but here's a little sample:
"If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty—if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt; or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.
As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin. 
Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. They are to bring them to the priest, who shall first offer the one for the sin offering. He is to wring its head from its neck, not dividing it completely, and is to splash some of the blood of the sin offering against the side of the altar; the rest of the blood must be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. The priest shall then offer the other as a burnt offering in the prescribed way and make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.
If, however, they cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, they are to bring as an offering for their sin a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour for a sin offering. They must not put olive oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering. They are to bring it to the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the LORD. It is a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for any of these sins they have committed, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the offering will belong to the priest, as in the case of the grain offering."
So, did Jesus die for our sins? What does that even mean? If we are inherently sinners we will continue to sin even after we are baptized and "saved." Then we can ask for forgiveness, right? But we could do that before, through a complex pigeon ritual.

What are the rules we should be following? If Jesus did not come to abolish the law then we should be living more like the Orthodox Jews, right? We're still supposed to be living "righteously" and "without sin" and apparently these definitions didn't change. 

Is it just the 10 commandments we're sticking with? Okay. So why can't we swear? Or be gay? Or get tattoos?

It seems to me that Modern Christianity is being selectively moral according to the law which has not been abolished. Modern Christianity is also putting a lot of stock in the writings of Paul, a man who never actually met Jesus but supposedly "encountered" God in spirit form on the road to Damascus and was converted. Paul's writings take up nearly half (13 of 27 books) of the New Testament. Why is he the authority?     -Kim

1 comment:

  1. Leave it to you to ask the critical questions! It's not so much *these* questions, I guess, but the fact that you are questioning, that I appreciate the most. It's beautiful, and perfect, and exactly what you should do since you're a thinking human being. I am suspicious of anyone who has a faith or a lack of faith, without having arrived there with intent.

    I wonder if the old vs. new (and I'm sensitive to the fact that Jews only view the "old" as the Bible, and the "new" as not the Bible) is a reflection of changing societal values. Look at what writings have been fiercely compelling in the mere blip of U.S. history. The important texts do change significantly. I still feel as though the central theme of all the small books collected together into the Bible contribute to each other.

    My mother once made the point that since God can control anything, then He has been Supreme Editor, and has ensured that the key message of the books have remained the same despite translations and modernizations. She felt it was inappropriate to assume that humans had the power to mess with His Word more than He would have wanted.

    I love your succinct summary of Job's travails, and I still love the story, as contrived as it could seem on the surface. This is the kind of loyalty I, myself, wish to aspire to. (Probably to my friends and family, rather than a deity, but the kick-ass character of the man doesn't fail to impress me)

    It's good to see different facets of Himself, since those facets appeal to different people. (I wrote a blog post once about how my ex-boyfriend said, "My God doesn't send down plagues. My God has a picture of me on his refrigerator!") None of those facets hooked me, though, and I remain incorrigibly distant from a personal relationship with, or even a faint grasp of, the Omniscient One. It's an inexhaustible source of interest though. Thanks for your great post!


All opinions welcome, but play nice or be deleted.