43”He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ “ (Matthew 27:43)
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46b)
Hanging on the cross naked and confused, Jesus is tormented by the reality of the moment. He is dying and God is nowhere to be found. With these final words, we come face to face with the real Jesus of history.
We will offer a brief comment on the passages above before discussing the intervening material leading up to Jesus crucifixion.
I was taught throughout my theological training, these final words of Jesus describe the profound anguish he experienced at taking upon himself the sins of the world forcing God to “turn his back on his son” for the first time. It sounds good but it is desperate conjecture.
Reading into these words an existential breech in the unity of the godhead is deductive rationalization. It presumes Jesus as the eternal son of God in perfect unity with the Father could in no way be abandoned by God. Nor could Jesus wonder why God was allowing him to be crucified since this event was predestined in eternity past and repeatedly predicted by Jesus. Some commentators have even suggested Jesus in his “human” nature was unprepared for the pain bearing mankind’s sin would bring to his soul. This quote is not original to Jesus.
This verse comes from Psalm 22:1 where David is said to offer this bewildering query. A reading of the Psalm reveals David is pleading with God to rescue him from physical danger. Whoever the author is whether David or someone else, the unmistakable content favors him racked with desperation in being surrounded by his foes who are seeking to consume him like lions. This interpretation fits perfectly with what Jesus was feeling.
He hung on the cross surrounded by the Roman soldiers, religious leaders and Passover pilgrims all of whom taunted and ridiculed him as the life drained from him. Jesus wondered aloud why the God he had so faithfully served and communed with had left him to die. The words of the psalmist captured his angst.
These raw words from the mouth of Jesus provide a rare glimpse into his true psyche.
The search for the biblical Jesus is a rational inquiry into the person of Jesus. Much has been made of the historical Jesus as if to suggest these are two different individuals. While much of the textual data on Jesus is not authentic but Christian interpolations, by carefully dissecting the material and objectively evaluating it, we can uncover the real Jesus, the biblical Jesus.
[NOTE TO READER: Due to the nature of the subject matter, these articles are never solely academic exercises. It is not a matter of equally valid perspectives of Christians and non Christians. The Christian position is entirely one where faith overrides reason and evidence. A non Christian or rational perspective is one where faith is entirely disregarded as unnecessary and even disruptive to objectivity. To conservative Christians and evangelicals, faith is indispensable to exploring truth. This is the conundrum we face.
Furthermore, for many faith is immensely personal so attacking the source of this faith —the Bible— is misconstrued as a personal attack on the individual. It is not. These articles are rational attacks or arguments endeavoring to employ objectivity and critical analysis to separate fact and fiction.
Faith can never be a prerequisite or passenger in the search for truth. It must be suspended for the sake of rational clarity. With this in mind, as we move through the material, by necessity we will refer to corollary issues in an attempt to gain the evangelical or Christian perspective that often hinders and obscures one from seeing the truth. It is here when evangelicals may feel maligned and even disrespected for their beliefs. The writer makes no apologies for this other than to confess he himself was once a “victim” of evangelicalism. Due to increasingly militant actions taken by the political wing of evangelicalism, it has become necessary to pose an equally aggressive counter offensive to offset this dangerous ideology.]
Easter is quickly approaching and with it the hope of hundreds of millions of Christians in the resurrection of Jesus and the eternal life it provides are reaffirmed. As an old preacher once said, “There is no Easter Sunday without Friday’s crucifixion.”
Up to this point, we have looked at the many events leading up to Jesus crucifixion as recorded in the four gospels. Our process has been to analyze and evaluate these based on their internal cohesiveness and logical consistency. The goal is to determine whether the results of this investigation support or undermine the doctrine of biblical infallibility or inerrancy. The consequences of each are significant.
The gold standard for biblical inerrancy
Either the Bible is a reliable divine document deserving of our veneration or it is a human product having no divine weight.
Evangelical Christians ascribe divine inerrancy to the Bible and appeal to it for mandating social, political and moral change. This degree of authority demands overwhelming evidence to justify it. The burden on proof as it were falls to the biblical content to provide perfect textual compatibility, congruence and consistency. Anything less compromises absolute inerrancy. Therefore when examining the relevant texts, we will do so with unflinching scrutiny.
Calvary is Christianity’s most sacred ground. It was here Jesus died on the cross. Historically speaking it is beyond dispute as having occurred. Theologically speaking, however, its significance is far from certain. Jesus died, but he may have died having failed in his bid for the throne of Israel and more importantly as the Savior of mankind.
Jesus’ death of the cross is either the most important event in human history or one of the most tragic. Either the destiny of every human being on earth is tied to it or it has no significance whatsoever. If the God of the universe superintended fallible writers to record infallible details preserved in the Bible, we can and should expect perfection in the record.
Jesus mocked by the soldiers
After Pilate pronounces sentencing on Jesus, he is led away to be crucified. On the way, he is mockingly clad in a purple robe and crown of thorns and taunted by the Roman soldiers. Here we see the obvious failing of Jesus messiahship. No king in his own kingdom among his own subjects would be subjected to this ridicule.
37”Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (Matthew 27:37)
The placing of a sign on Jesus’ cross recording the charge against him is considered historical. Throughout these articles detailing the final week of Jesus’ life, we are examining two pieces of evidence that weigh heavily against the reliability of the biblical text. First, internal contradictions and inconsistencies among the four gospel when analyzed and compared. Second, the plausibility of every disciple forgetting Jesus promised resurrection. To this second argument we now turn.
The gospels attest to a large number of people being present at Jesus’ crucifixion including the religious leaders (Matt. 27:41), a large crowd (Lk. 23:27) and some of his disciples (Jn. 19:25-27). If we believe the biblical record, Jesus has repeatedly told his disciples his death was not only inevitable but necessary. And it would be followed by his resurrection. His initial entrance was marked by the riding of a young donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming king and kingdom. The sign above his head was a clear reminder of his messianic title. It is obvious Jesus is not yet acting as king but will return as the heavenly “son of man” to usher in his kingdom. So why were his disciples not gathered in celebration of this soon to take place glorious event?
The narratives also make references to Jesus being repeatedly taunted.
27”Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27:27-31)
39”Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Matthew 27:39-44)
The content of these taunts is Jesus messiahship. It is indisputable all those mentioned above considered Jesus a failed messiah. None of these had any idea about a promised resurrection. Instead, they focus on Jesus “saving himself” immediately by coming off the cross. His followers who had been informed of his resurrection would again be reminded their “king” would be delivered from death in a few short days. Even one of the thieves was aware of Jesus’ future role.
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom. ”
43Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
The story of the two thieves on either side of Jesus contain important data. First, there is a contradiction among the accounts. The gospels unanimously affirm two criminals are crucified on either side of Jesus (Matt. 27:38, Mk. 15:27, Lk. 23:33, Jn. 19:18). Matthew and Mark explicitly state both insulted Jesus.
44“The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.” (Matthew 27:44, also Mark 15:32)
Luke, however, diverges from this and introduces a separate narrative revealing key new information. Only one criminal chides Jesus resulting in a rebuke from the other criminal (see above excerpt from Luke). He asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes in his kingdom. Jesus then promises the thief he will be with him “in paradise” (‘paradeiso’). The ramifications of this short dialogue carries immense significance.
We note the prescience of this thief in having awareness of Jesus future return as messiah while NONE of his disciples who had been repeatedly instructed and reminded were aware. Also, the introduction of “paradise” suggests the purely Jewish nature of the kingdom.
Later Judaism viewed Paradise as a place beyond our physical world where the souls of the departed go to await the final great resurrection. It was part of “Hades” which itself analogous to the Hebrew concept of “Sheol.” The origin of the term is perhaps Persian (“pardes’) suggesting “a king’s garden.” Regardless of the exact meaning intended by Luke, there is no denying the author believed the righteous who die currently reside here. The Christian concept of “heaven” cannot be read back into this passage.
Who was present to record this conversation? John infers some of Jesus’ male disciples were present at the cross.
25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)
Whomever “this disciple” is, it again raises the question, “Why did he not anticipate the resurrection or believe it when informed initially by the women who returned from the tomb (to be discussed in the next article more fully)?
We should note the slight differences in the exact wording of the sign placed above Jesus’ head. While it may seem like an insignificant inconsistency by itself, when taken together with a mountain of other textual incongruences, inerrancy becomes untenable.
THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS (Matthew)
THE KING OF THE JEWS (Mark)
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (Luke)
JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS (John)
The original proposed reading:
THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS
Of course, those desperate to preserve verbal, plenary inspiration will offer a conflation of all four readings (above) and argue the writers simply chose whatever arrangement of words they preferred. Why they would choose to deliberately shorten the original reading (Mark) or rearrange the words (Luke) or drop a few words (John) remains unknown and highly unlikely. It should be noted, Mark is typically considered the earliest and most reliable witness and his rendering is the briefest. Also if Matthew and John were actual eye witnesses as most evangelicals maintain, why are they not consistent?
All this conjecture is folly. The most logical explanation is the actual sign is what Mark records with the other writers making slight changes to stress Jesus’ identification with this title. Tradition is preserved while strict inerrancy is lost.
The original zombie apocalypse?
Matthew’s gospel attaches a bizarre event which attends Jesus death. Biblical scholars regard it as apocryphal for many reasons. Evangelicals, on the other hand, are forced to consider it historical and try to harmonize it with the other gospels not to mention common sense.
50”And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was [imperfect tense, denoting continuous past action] a son of God!”
55Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:50-56)
37”With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the [lit.“a”son of God] Son of God!”
40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” (Mark 15:37-41)
44”It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” e When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:44-49)
The phrase in Matthew, “After Jesus’ resurrection” (vs. 53) is considered authentic due to lack of textual evidence otherwise (manuscripts without the phrase). However, when compared with identical contexts in Mark and Luke, it must be regarded as a later copyist addition. Removing it solves many more problems for inerrantists than preserving it as original.
According to Matthew, immediately (‘idou,’ “Behold”) after Jesus “breathed his last” the veil in the temple was rent in two and “the earth shook.” This earthquake was violent enough to “split” the rocks guarding the opening of tombs containing “many holy ones” who were “raised to life.” These resurrected saints then wandered into Jerusalem and were seen by many “after Jesus resurrection.”
There are two primary considerations for inerrantists which require resolving. First, when did this occur, at the cross or at the tomb? Second, can it be logically reconciled with the other narratives?
If Matthew was the only gospel we would be forced to accept his temporal phrase as definitive relegating the resurrection of the “holy ones” to “after Jesus resurrection.” His narrative then jumps back and forth in time going from the cross (vs. 50,51), to the future resurrection at the tomb (vs. 52-54), back to the day of Jesus burial (vs. 55-61) and then to the next day (vs. 62). It is chronologically awkward but solves a major theological problem if removed. How could these multiple resurrections precede that of Jesus?
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
If one were to postulate why the phrase was added, it would be to resolve the issue of Jesus being the first to receive an immortal body. Those resurrected in Matthew presumably shared the same kind of resurrection with Jesus in the early tradition. Later, when Jesus was thought to have ascended as divine Lord (Acts 2: ), his resurrection became singularly unique requiring an adjustment to Matthew’s timeline.
31Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God… ” (Acts 2:31-33a)
It is paramount to a proper and reasonable evaluation of the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection that we are not restricted by the imposition of a later crystalized Christology.
One of the fundamental principles of textual criticism (the process of seeking to determine the most authentic reading of a text) is which reading better explains the origin of the other. Or in this case, does the passage make more sense with or without the reading. It will be made abundantly clear, the phrase was absent from Matthew’s original version.
Theologically, this multiple resurrections of righteous Israelites legend would have been compatible with rudimentary views of Jesus resurrection. Initially, Jesus was thought to have been physically raised or revivified much like Lazarus (Jn. 11:1f), Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:49-56) or the widow of Nain’s son (Lk. 7:11-17), all which preceded his resurrection. This idea was not foreign to the mind of ancient Israelites and goes back to Elijah (Widow of Zarephath’s son, 1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha’s (Shunnamite woman’s son, 2 Kings 4:18-37, also Israelite man who touched Elisha’s bones, 2 Kings 13:20,21) ministries. In this respect, his resurrection was not unique.
The idea of Jesus ascending and receiving a glorified body then returning in a quasi-physical body capable of passing through walls yet able to eat solid food would be completely foreign to Mary. Her initial report would not have contained such advanced Christology.
TEASER: From the moment the resurrection story started (with Mary), it was fluid, ever changing and evolving to conform to current ideas about Jesus as demand and scriptural “clues” dictated. Questions such as, “Where was he; what was he; and why was he not showing himself, demanded answers?” These will be discussed in more detail in the next article on the resurrection. Many other questions arise when all the gospels are compared. Multiple traditions which were in circulation bump up against each other each trying to answer challenges by those “unconvinced” about Jesus resurrection.
Other followers of Jesus hoping to share in her experience were unable to verify Mary Magdalene claim to have “seen” Jesus. Eventually this lead to the “ascension” belief which postulated Jesus returned in a spiritually glorified body which only a select few (closest disciples) experienced and led to confusion as to its exact nature. Thus, as Jesus’ resurrection increased in significance, a later copyist emended the text to alter the timeline.
I realize this perspective is anathema to the Christian mind, but unless you accept the full import of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection from the dead, it is the most logical view. After Mary’s “encounter,” many of his followers would have rushed to the empty tomb hoping to catch a glimpse. The narratives reveal Peter and John go to the tomb but don’t see Jesus. This happens much later while gathered with the other disciples at Pentecost. During this span of fifty days when Jesus is thought to be alive, no one sees him. The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus would technically be among the first to see Jesus yet they are omitted from early records (1 Cor. 15:5-7). Luke alone includes them to advance his narrative.
The passage has been tampered with in an effort to resolve a glaring theological problem. The original writer is definitive “at the moment” (‘idou,’ lit. “Behold”) of Jesus’ death all these events took place. If the phrase is removed, there is a chronological flow to the narrative with graphic imagery of an earthquake, rent veil, split rocks and resurrected saints strolling into the holy city.
A comparison with Mark and Luke demands adjusting Matthew’s timeline as concurrent with the other two. The phrase “after Jesus’ resurrection” is an abrupt break in the narrative which cannot be textually justified. It is clearly a later addition.
Mark and Luke’s account includes a similar story involving “the centurion” and the “women from Galilee” who were “watching at a distance.” Comparing the three it is clear Matthew originally had the crucifixion in mind when the holy ones were raised. Removing this clause preserves the smooth flow of the passage but introduces additional problems.
The phrase in Mark which describes the centurion “who stood there in front of Jesus and watched him die” makes it impossible to place him also at the tomb “after Jesus’ resurrection.”
Conflating Matthew and Luke’s record of the centurion’s dialogue impinges on the doctrine of inerrancy. To harmonize them evangelicals would argue the centurion spoke both phrases and each gospel writer recorded part of the fuller comment. However, placing Matthew’s account as taking place simultaneous to Jesus crucifixion introduces myriads other issues as well.
This entire narrative is impossible to logically reconcile with the bigger picture. Dozens or hundreds of resurrected holy people strolling the streets of Jerusalem would create immense excitement and confusion. More importantly, it would validate Jesus’ resurrection promise and send thousands flocking to the tomb to await his grand exit.
Also, what was the nature of these bodies? It is unimaginable the writer envisioned walking skeletons or rotting “zombies” but the alternative seems equally implausible. Were they glorified spirit bodies or merely reconstituted “enfleshed” bodies? How long did they live or did they ascend to heaven? Who were they, Noah, Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel? Did they speak? Is so, would they not have been recorded in Jewish history or preserved in lore? Why did the other writers “choose” not to include this spectacular event?
Another problem which defies resolution involves the centurions exclamation at seeing the earthquake and holy ones come to life and walk into the city. It explicitly says he and his soldiers were “guarding Jesus.” Well, was he or wasn’t he? If he was, Jesus has still not yet risen. If he wasn’t, what was he doing and where was he?
If he is the same detail guarding the tomb to prevent the body from being stolen and claimed resurrected (Matt. 27:62-66), he would know there is no body since he witnessed the stone being rolled away (Matt. 28:2). We will delve into this more fully in the resurrection article but exactly when did Jesus leave the tomb? Did he do it quietly which is why the soldiers were unaware? Was the stone in place when he left since he obviously did not walk out in view of the women and soldiers? Is it realistic to presume the guards INCLUDING the centurion ALL fell asleep so Jesus could leave undetected?
Any attempts to split the timeline and place the centurion at the tomb falls apart when we examine Mark’s version. He explicitly states, “… the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died…” (Mk. 15:39). It is factual impossible for those who hold to inerrancy to place the centurion anywhere but at the cross of Christ.
Christians commentators desperate to reconcile the irreconcilable offer outlandish theories which to an objective mind not addled by faith are comical.
Some attempt to explain the time gap in Matthew this way. The tombs were open and exposed when Jesus died but the holy ones remained in their tombs for three days before being imbued with the spirit of the resurrection and appearing. This “waiting period” is nowhere hinted at in the narrative.
Their identity is another big question with implications. Some propose they were those whom Jesus had emancipated from Noah’s time (1 Peter 3:19, also 4:6) including Noah, all of whom subsequently were taken to heaven. Another popular theory and adamantly defended is these were recent “saints” who had died for the cause of Jesus. There is, however, no record of a single pre-crucifixion martyr for Jesus.
It is admirable the lengths some will go to defend what is plainly a myth. There is no shortage of absurdities Christians will advance in hopes of making sense out of the ridiculous. The more outrageous the better in a faith that trades on the supernatural.
The renting of the curtain into the holy of holies
38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
Separating the holy place and the holiest of holies was a large thick fabric curtain about sixty feet high by thirty feet wide. Its function was to prevent anyone from inadvertently seeing inside the holy of holies and being struck dead, according to Jewish custom. Only the high priest was allowed in once a year on the Day of Atonement.
6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
The Blood of Christ
11But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, a he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining b eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, c so that we may serve the living God!
15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:6-15)
19”Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…” (Hebrews 10:19-20)
The theological significance of this story to Christians is profound. The tearing of this curtain exposed the only place on earth were God’s presence dwelt. According to Christians, the moment Jesus died, God left the temple rendering it obsolete. Now through Jesus, men and women could approach God with “clear consciences” by his blood. Again, this makes for lovely imagery to illustrate this theological shift but if this had actually occurred, it would have been well documented in Jewish history.
The implications vis a vis Christians and Jews cannot be overstated though rarely publicly admitted by the former. The general tenor of New Testament teaching is Judaism became redundant when Jesus died and rose from the dead. We find this intimated in the Last Supper with reference to the “new covenant” through Jesus blood and here with the renting of the veil revealing the departure of God’s presence.
The discussion regarding the current relationship between evangelicals and Jews is a political and theological quagmire deserving of a dedicated article. Suffice it to say, passages such as those cited above highlight a serious division which has fomented antagonism from the beginning of the resurrection myth. This mutual antipathy that existed for most of Christian history has been conveniently ignored by both sides only until fairly recently. And while it has provided many benefits for the nation of Israel which many Jews see as recompense, this relationship carries potentially devastating consequences for Israel’s future if left unchecked.
American evangelicalism’s obsession with apocalypticism is enjoyed under construct of pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism. A synthetic system where believers are exempt from future suffering through “the rapture” which can lead to a false sense of security and lack of responsibility for future political and environmental stability.
“He saved others, but he can’t save himself.”
This reoccurring taunt would have stung Jesus each time he heard it. He had based his ministry of offering deliverance (salvation) from the impending judgment which would immediately precede the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. He had promised those who believed his message would escape God wrath and now he found himself on a cross enduring physical torment with death looming. It is not surprising almost every one of his followers abandoned him. If God would not save his own chosen representative, he most certainly would not spare anyone else. Jesus death on the cross was proof he was not who he thought he was. The prospect of a restored Israel and a messiah to govern it died with Jesus.
The “anointing” of Jesus below and later by Joseph and Nicodemus and intended by the women going to the tomb Easter morning is what we would consider embalming the body. It involved the cleaning of the body followed by applying oils and fragrant spices then a final wrapping of the corpse in clean linen for permanent burial.
If we believe the Bible, Jesus was anointed once before his death and once after his death. This would be another graphic reminder of the death he foretold and the subsequent resurrection which was not anticipated by a single follower. It defies reason if it were true. On the other hand, its inclusion was necessary to show later Christians Jesus had predicted it when many questioned its reality.
6”While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, a but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” (Matthew 26:6-12)
One might think there could be no discrepancies in the accounts of Jesus burial, but here again a comparison of the four gospels yields contradictory data undermining biblical inerrancy.
The synoptics are generally in agreement. After Jesus has died, Joseph of Arimathea requests the body which he lays in his own new tomb. Meanwhile, the women watch from a distance to see where he is taking Jesus.
John introduces details which it is difficult to imagine would be ignored by all three writers. First, he is the only one to mention the spear being thrust into Jesus’ side and water and blood gushing out. Second, he alone mentions the breaking the legs of the two thieves to speed up their deaths while noting Jesus is already dead. This is to fulfill prophecy. Third, John includes the “secret disciple” Nicodemus assisting Joseph in embalming (anointing) Jesus with spices in accordance with Jewish custom.
The incompatibilities with the synoptics are obvious. It is inconceivable they would neglect to mention the spear or breaking legs assuming some of the disciples stayed with Jesus until the end. However, the biggest problem is the double anointing of Jesus. If the women were planning to prepare Jesus’ body (Lk. 23:55,56), what is the reason for the men doing it? The women were aware of their actions yet still go to re-anoint or embalm Jesus (Mk. 16:1). This would mean undoing what the men had done two days prior.
The divine coin toss
The changes of flipping a coin and it coming up heads is 1 in 2. Every time you flip a coin the odds are the same, 50%. The odds you flipping a coin twice and it coming up heads both times, however, is 25%. The odds of a coin coming up heads ten times in a row is 1/1024. The odds of it coming up heads one hundred times in a row is about one in thirty-million. This is a matter of probability.
Christian faith is based on probability not fact.
When it comes to the Bible, Christians ignore the factual world and live in the world of probability. It does not matter how remote the probability of something being as long as it is possible. Take miracles for instance. I don’t imagine there is a non religious scientist on the planet who thinks bone fide miracles have taken place, e.g., the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Bible is riddled with errors, contradictions, incongruences, inconsistencies and impossibilities, as far as modern science is concerned, which any objective mind would regard as incontrovertible evidence the Bible is the product of fallible men and not an infallible God. Yet several billion Christians believe at least part of it is divinely inspired. Why?
Because God is flipping the coin not man. With this perspective, remote probability turns into factuality.
There are hundreds of reasons why the Bible should not be trusted as anything but the product of ancient mens imaginations rooted in profound religious beliefs. Some Christians simply don’t care about anything but the resurrection of Jesus. Everything else is negotiable. Creationism, other miracles, polygamy, slavery, misogyny can all be relinquished but not Easter.
The many decades I have spent immersed in a careful analysis of the biblical text has been nothing less than revelatory. Despite a decade of theological training as an evangelical, I was blind to the now obvious shortcomings of the inerrantist view. The many questions which once plagued my faith have disappeared. I find myself reading the Bible remembering how I used to interpret it and am astonished at how naive I was.
I used to read the Hebrew Bible with Christian “glasses” because I had been conditioned to look for New Testament teaching on every page. I presumed all the prophetic texts alleged to be fulfilled by Jesus or used by Paul to justify Gentile inclusion were legitimate. I believed in the “unity of Scripture” principle which maintains scripture cannot contradict scripture and everything can be harmonized. I bought into the premise the miraculous and the supernatural which were once regular occurrences ceased long ago after the apostolic age. I treated the doctrine of pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism as “gospel” truth. In other words, “thinking” like a Christian when I read the Bible was natural and automatic.
My point: It is extremely difficult for faith driven Christians to see the Bible objectively. Pretending to be dispassionate is impossible because for many their faith is intensely personal. One must somehow be willing to suspend their faith bias entirely which most are unable to do. I did it without realizing what I was doing because I wanted to dismantle my evangelical faith and rebuild it from the Bible up starting with Jesus. This led to eventual collapse of my entire Christian faith.
I have used the term spiritual suicide in other articles and equated challenging one’s faith to sawing off the branch one is sitting on. It is a monumental risk few would want to take. Either you do only to discover you were right all along and have wasted your time. Or you discover you were wrong and have lost peace, hope, comfort and more with nothing to replace it other than intellectual satisfaction. Most would prefer to enjoy the benefits of a daily faith and die believing their last breath on earth would be their next breath in heaven where they will be reunited with loved ones. If only it was so simple and individuals were free to practice their faith in privacy without fear of reproach.
As long as groups such as evangelicals and conservative Christians continue to meddle in the lives of others, their cherished beliefs should be subject to open ridicule and mockery in the name of rationality.
Appealing to the Bible as a divine moral guidebook in our current era is an affront to science, reason and common sense. Divine inspiration and inerrancy is unfounded and unwarranted to the modern mind. Christian faith is embedded in and driven by fear of death and the afterlife. Criticism is resisted in a desperate effort to preserve this hope. Far fetched and fanciful rationalizations are embraced and presented as soundly evidentiary. The entire Christian theological edifice is built on these shifting sands of ungrounded deductions.