7 The New Testament

When he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.

The Gospel of Mark

7.1 The Gospels

• Matthew (1:2-17) and Luke (3:23-38) list genealogies of Jesus that are completely different. They diverge shortly after David and only sporadically name the same men until they reach Joseph, whose father and grandfather were “Jacob” and “Matthan,” respectively, according to Matthew. According to Luke, Joseph’s father was “Heli,” his grandfather was “Matthat,” and the only mention of “Jacob” is the patriarch son of Isaac.

The genealogies certainly go to a lot of trouble to establish Davidic lineage of a man from whom Jesus took no actual ancestry. The KJV has Luke saying that “Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph” (3:23), and Matthew saying that Joseph was “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (1:16). Interestingly, the Syriac Sinaitic, a 4th century manuscript, renders Matthew’s statement as follows: “Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, begat Jesus, who is called the Christ” (Old Syriac Gospels, Agnes Smith Lewis, ed., 1910, emphasis added).

• Luke has Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem because of a census ordered by Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was governor of Syria. No such census ordered by Augustus appears in any of the meticulous historical records of that time. MacDonald and Porter ask why Augustus would even do so, given that Herod the Great was king and had his own taxes and tax collectors (2000, 120). And it is inconceivable that a man would be required to register not at the city of his birth but at that of his ancient ancestor David from many centuries earlier (Price 2003b, 60). “Why should everyone have had to register for a census in the town of one of his ancestors forty-two generations earlier? There would be millions of ancestors by that time, and the whole empire would have been uprooted” (Loftus 2008, loc. 5478-79).

Then there is the well-documented fact that Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until 6 A.D., about a decade after the death of Herod the Great, during whose reign both Matthew and Luke say Jesus was born. These are not trivial issues.

• With his Jewish emphasis, Matthew goes to some trouble to establish Jesus as the fulfillment of various Old Testament prophecies. Only in his gospel are we told that Jesus’ virgin birth was based on Isaiah (“a virgin shall be with child,” 1:23); that Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet [Hosea], saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son” (2:15); and that the reason they returned to a city called Nazareth was “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (2:23).

Problems with the Isaiah reference are discussed in 6.21. The closest thing the Old Testament has to Matthew’s statement about Jesus being a Nazarene is Judges 13:7, but that refers to Samson as a “Nazorean” or “Nazarite,” someone who has taken an ascetic vow described in Numbers 6. There is no reference to any town of Nazareth in the Old Testament, nor indeed in any Jewish or historical writings until centuries after Christ. Indeed, as Rene Salm points out, there is considerable evidence that Nazareth did not even exist until after Jesus’ time!

• In Mark 2:25-26, Jesus asks the Pharisees if they had never read about David eating the consecrated bread in the house of God “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” but the part of Scripture to which Jesus referred (1 Sam. 21:1-6) tells of this occurring when Ahimelech was high priest, not Abiathar, who was his father (1 Sam. 23:6, 30:7). Either Mark put the wrong words in Jesus’ mouth or Jesus himself got his Bible history wrong. (When Matthew and Luke reproduce this passage in their own gospels, they wisely leave out the identification of the high priest.)

• Contradictions and errors within the Bible are often of a somewhat trivial nature, involving passages that have no spiritual impact. See, for example, the discrepant accounts of how many horse stalls Solomon had (1 Ki 4:26 vs. 2 Chron 9:25) and how many baths the Solomonic temple’s molten sea held (1 Ki 7:26 vs. 2 Chron 4:5), discussed in 6.10. They are useful, though, as a simple way of refuting the bald claim that the Bible is an entirely inerrant and divinely inspired book (4.3.4), a claim that has caused me to suffer a great deal of cognitive dissonance over the years because I know it’s just not true.

Apologists often protest that it is only the translations and extant manuscripts that could be in error, not the original “word of God” dictated to the Gospel writers themselves. This viewpoint is unfalsifiable, just like the assertion of believers hidden away in the pre-Reformation Catholic church (5.1). But it also trivializes God’s power, relegating him to the role of a helpless bystander as ancient scribes corrupted his now-inaccessible “pure word,” accidentally or otherwise.

One example of a provable error in the New Testament is Jesus’ statement that the mustard seed is “less than all the seeds that be in the earth” (Mk 4:31, “smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil” per NASB); “the least of all seeds” (Mt 13:32, “smaller than all other seeds” per NASB). If your faith rests on the proposition that the Bible is utterly without error, then it will take nothing more than the following image to destroy it:

Another somewhat trivial example is in a contradiction between the Gospels in their narratives about Jesus sending the twelve disciples out two by two. In Mark 6:7-9, he “commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only (NASB, except a mere staff); no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.” But Matthew 10:9-10 has Jesus telling them to provide “neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves (NASB, not . . . even two coats, or sandals, or a staff): for the workman is worthy of his meat.” In Luke 9:1, Jesus’ instruction to them is to take “nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip (NASB, neither a staff, nor a bag), neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.”

• As anyone who has ever attended a Sunday School Christmas program knows, Jesus’ birth was heralded by angels calling for peace on earth and good will toward men (Luke 2:14). The supposed messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 called him a “Prince of Peace.” Yet Jesus says in Mt 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Even Luke–the guy who told us about the angels–has Jesus asking, “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Lk 12:51).

Origen’s solution to this was in the phrase “peace among men of good will,” which is how he reads Luke 2:14. (The NASB acknowledges that as the literal translation.) “Origen distinguishes earthly peace, which is not the Lord’s, from heavenly peace, which the Lord gives to men of good will” (Lienhardt 1996, 100, n. 11).

• The story of the “thief on the cross” is a regular feature of sermons. God’s mercy is so great that even at the very last moment of his life, that most unlikely candidate for salvation was repentant and told he would be joining Jesus in paradise! What is not mentioned is that only Luke tells this story, and in doing so he contradicts what Mark and Matthew both say: “[T]hey that were crucified with him reviled him” (Mk 15:32); “The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same [ridicule] in his teeth” (Mt 27:44).

Another contradiction is Jesus’ promise to the repentant criminal that he would be with him in paradise “today” (Lk 23:43). Jesus would actually wind up being detained in the tomb until his recurrection on “the third day” (Lk 24:46). (Actually, it was 1.5 days later, but who’s counting?) In Luke 24:51, after appearing to his disciples for the first and only time, Jesus was carried up into heaven. According to Acts 1:1-12, the resurrected Jesus hung around appearing to the disciples for another forty days before finally ascending to heaven. Whoops–we seem to have just come across yet another contradiction.

At least we can agree that Jesus ascended from Jerusalem, because he told the disciples not to leave the place before being baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). It was “when they had come together” that he made a final promise of the Holy Spirit and was then lifted up out of their sight (Acts 1:6-9). Right? No, wait a minute . . . Matthew 28:16 tells us that the “disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated” for his last pre-ascension words. Galilee is about 60 miles north of Jerusalem. What about Luke 24:50-51, which says Jesus led them out (from Jerusalem) as far as Bethany (two miles away) and was carried up into heaven from there?

These discrepancies are well known to biblical scholars. “Only Matthew has the account of guards being placed around the tomb. Mark and Matthew have the post-resurrection appearances occur only in Galilee. Luke has the appearances occur only in and around Jerusalem. John has some of both. Luke also adds that Jesus was present for forty more days after the resurrection before he ascended” (White 2005, 105). McDonald and Porter acknowledge the lack of cohesion in the Gospels regarding the resurrection appearances, as well as “the seriousness of the matter” of differences “or the still significant problems in the narratives” (2000, 197). They devote several pages to a sympathetic discussion of the various solutions that have been proposed, but conclude that there “is no indication in the Gospels that harmonization is possible” (p. 201).

After following this rabbit trail of contradictions–just one of hundreds in the Bible–it’s easy to understand why preachers dare not venture far from the same few familiar passages. Their memories preserve those passages in splendid isolation from all of these complications, which most of them probably don’t even know about. What they do know from hundreds of hours of sitting through sermons themselves are the standard doctrinal interpretations that have been passed on from one generation of preachers to the next.1 Even those preachers who have managed to develop some awareness of the difficulties are probably not overly burdened by thoughts of them when warming the hearts of their audiences with–returning to our original story–a repentant thief’s last-minute experience of grace. Sermons are not places for verbal footnotes about biblical particulars, certainly not ones that the faithful are deemed better off not knowing about.

• Mark 5:39-42 and Luke 6:29-30 have Jesus instructing to accept evil treatment unresistingly, “turn the other cheek,” give the coat and shirt off your back to one who sues you, and give to everyone who begs. Who actually does this, Conservative Laestadian or otherwise? Certainly none of the Christians Ken Daniels knew as an Evangelical:

The Bible is silent or ambiguous concerning some of the most vexing moral issues of the day, leading sometimes to bitter disagreement among Christians. There are earnest believers who consider warfare immoral, while others deem it a necessary evil. In a recent nontraditional Sunday school meeting, I asserted that most Christians I know simply do not believe Jesus’ teachings on violence and wealth. One responded by claiming he believed Jesus’ teachings but that he fell short of practicing them. I countered that no, if he didn’t practice them, he probably did not believe them. [Daniels 2010, 178]

He does not criticize the Christian’s decision to defend oneself in spite of Jesus’ instruction. But we must acknowledge that when we do so, as we inevitably will, we are “cherry picking”:

We decide it’s unreasonable to interpret it according to its apparent meaning, so we search for other possible texts to mitigate its implications and settle on an alternative ethic we consider to be both biblical and reasonable. But in so doing, we have violated the unambiguous teachings of Jesus; we have cherry picked the texts we prefer, and we might as well have based our decision in the first place on common sense and reason like an unbeliever, since the text bears so little real weight for us in any case. [p. 179]

• Mark, which is now widely accepted as being the earliest of the four gospels, portrays Jesus in considerably more human terms than do the others. According to Mark 6:5, Jesus is unable to do any mighty works in Nazareth except for healing a few sick people, but Matthew 13:58 merely says that Jesus did not do many mighty works there, without leaving any implication that Jesus’ power had limits. Mark 3:5 says Jesus “looked round about on” those seeking to accuse him “with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts” before healing a man’s withered hand, but Matthew and Luke omit any mention of Jesus’ emotions when describing the incident. Only Mark (1:45) says that “Jesus could no more openly enter into” a city after one of his first miracles of cleansing a leper. Only Mark tells us about Jesus restoring sight to a blind man using what was a well-known magical technique of the time (Price 2003b, 136), and not even being fully successful until he had repeated the technique a second time (Mk 8:23-25).

The other synoptics do reproduce Mark’s account of Jesus’ agonized prayer in Gethsemane, “Abba Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mk 14:36).2 The latest of the gospels, John, will have none of that human frailty, however. Instead, Jesus asks rhetorically, “What shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (Jn 12:27, NASB).

• Matthew 5:18-20, showing an emphasis on the importance of Jewish law not shared by the other gospels, has Jesus warning,

Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

If you’ve been going around doing stuff like wearing clothes with mixed fibers or buying them for your kids (Deut 22:11), having sex with your spouse within seven days of menstruation (Lev 15:19-24), or letting your son or someone else’s lip off to his parents without being stoned (Deut 21:18-21), watch out!

• Consider Jesus’ criticisms in Mt 5:46-47: “[I]f ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute (NASB, greet) your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so” (Mt 5:46-47)? Sadly, the “us versus them” behavior Jesus criticizes, with its conditional and selective love and friendship, seems to be more the norm rather than the exception in Conservative Laestadianism. See 4.2.3 and 4.7.1.

• In Matthew 7:7-8 (similarly in Lk 11:9-10), Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” But apparently that doesn’t apply everywhere: just a couple of verses later in Matthew 7:14, Jesus says of the way that leads unto life, “few there be that find it.” And some chapters later, Jesus will say to the disciples that “many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” (Mt 13:17; similarly in Lk 10:24).

Many millions of people in this world have sincerely and even painfully sought after God, yet the number of conversions (not births) into Conservative Laestadianism over the past century is probably not more than a few thousand. Over the past few decades in the United States, there have been perhaps a few dozen outsiders who have entered and remained in fellowship. If Jesus’ words are taken as applying to everyone, the only way to deal with that reality is to say that those millions are not “truly seeking,” as Jim Frantti does in 4.9.3.

Exposing oneself to information about the spiritual experiences of “unbelievers” is considered unhelpful at best, but this author has done so nonetheless and come across many heartfelt writings of people seeking peace with God. In many cases (see, e.g., the conversion testimonials in 4.2.5), they found solace in what Conservative Laestadianism dismisses as “dead faith,” and in other cases their search ended in nothing but unanswered prayers for revelation and utter disbelief. Here, for example, are excerpts of some prayers by a “worldly” evangelical who found himself an atheist some years later:

Father God, take me in your arms just as I would take [our children] in my arms in a time of trouble, and comfort me with words of assurance and love and healing. I know you are my creator. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you made me and love me. I ask you to have compassion on me and lead me to the truth. I ask you to search my heart and reveal to me anything that displeases you and that stands in the way of my finding the truth about the Bible. Open up my eyes so I can see my sin as you see it, and give me the courage and strength to put it away. [Daniels 2010, 33]

Father God, Creator of all things, lover of my soul, have mercy on me, a sinner. How I learn more and more each day of my inadequacy to discern truth by myself! I don’t know whether it’s because of pride or because for some other reason you’ve chosen not to reveal yourself to me, at least to the extent I would like. All I know is that I do not have full assurance of the truth, and I submit myself before you now, asking that you will somehow reveal the truth to me and give me confidence that it is indeed the truth. [p. 36]

But remember that, according to Conservative Laestadianism, the hurdle he would need to overcome is inconceivably higher than he could have realized. Even if his anguished prayers had been answered in the manner he had expected, restoring him to his evangelical social circle in Texas, he would be no closer to salvation. Instead, he would need to find someone from a handful of congregations in the United States (the closest organized ones being in Florida and Arizona) who are in a particular branch of the Laestadian revival of the Lutheran version of Protestant Christianity.

• Matthew 11:2 and Luke 7:19-20 have John the Baptist questioning (from prison, where he died) whether Jesus is the one who is to come, or whether John’s disciples should look for another. But John himself had baptized Jesus, finding himself unworthy of the task according to Matthew 3:14. According to John 1:29-34, he had introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, after me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me,” having seen “the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him” and bearing record “that this is the Son of God.”

In the June 2010 edition of this book, my conclusion about this was that John would needed to have been either “an amnesiac or an idiot.” But that was one of the few points to which I heard a reasonable objection. John simply had doubts, as do most all believers, and in his time of distress wanted assurance about his belief in Jesus. Viewed in that light, John is no different than any believer who attends church on a regular basis to hear the same message of faith assuring him again and again.

• In both Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23, Jesus makes the exclusivist statement, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” But in Mark 9:38-40, when John reports that the disciples had forbidden a non-follower from casting out devils in Jesus’ name, Jesus rebukes them, saying “Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” Luke 9:49-50 tells the same story, with Jesus saying of the non-follower, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”

• In Matthew 12:40, Jesus makes a comparison between his upcoming brief encounter with death and Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly (see 6.29 for a discussion of that whale of a tale). He says that he, the Son of Man, will be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Well, Good Friday is one night and Holy Saturday is another. Arising Easter Sunday morning, Jesus would have been in the “heart of the earth” two nights, not three, and two days from Friday to Sunday, not three. As with some other issues, this may seem like nit-picking, but the point is directed at those who confidently assert that the Bible is inerrant and who look askance at anyone who dares to question that assertion.

• Mark 7:6-7, copied in Mt 15:7-9, has Jesus calling the Pharisees hypocrites and quoting Isaiah 29:13 as prophesying of them: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” But that quote is from the Greek Septuagint. Here is how the original Hebrew text reads, as provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible:

Inasmuch as this people draw near to honor me with their mouth and with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from me, and fear of me has been like a human commandment that has been taught them; therefore, see, as for me I am about to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the insights of their prudent men will be hidden. [p. 313]

The original text says nothing about worship, and it does not criticize any teaching of Pharisaic commandments as doctrine. Rather, the people had been taught as a human commandment to have a fear of God. Of course, God himself taught to them to fear him in many other places, with both his direct command (Lev 19:14, “Thou shalt . . . fear thy God: I am the Lord”) as well as many plagues and massacres.

Besides quoting the text inaccurately, what was the Aramaic-speaking Jesus doing referring to a Greek translation when in discourse with Pharisees in Palestine, who rejected everything about Hellenistic culture including, no doubt, use of its language?

• One of Conservative Laestadianism’s favorite passages is Matthew 16:18-20, where Jesus says:

That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus’ reference to “this rock” is clearly a pun, and the implications are not funny at all for Protestant Christians who disagree with Catholicism’s claim that Peter was the first Pope, alone entrusted with the keys of the kingdom. “‘Peter’ was not a personal name before Peter was given it as a nickname by Jesus himself. According to the Gospels, this disciple’s real name was Simon. But Jesus indicated that he would be the ‘rock’ (Greek petros) on whom the church would be founded” (Ehrman 2011, 66).

Also noteworthy is that the Greek has both a singular and plural form of the personal pronoun, which the KJV’s archaic English preserves. When Jesus talked about giving “thee the keys,” and “whatsoever thou shalt” bind or loose, he was addressing Peter alone, not the others who were in hearing of his statement.

For Tertullian, having become a Montanist by the time he wrote On Modesty, the keys were a gift that Jesus conferred “personally upon Peter,” and even the Church should not “presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to” it. Doing so would be “subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord.” He rejected the claim that the bishops of the newly institutionalized Christianity had made on Peter’s keys. I’m frankly not sure who Tertullian had in mind as the “spiritual men that this power will correspondently appertain, either to an apostle or else to a prophet,” but it was clear who he thought did not have the power of the keys: “not the Church which consists of a number of bishops.  For the right and arbitrament is the Lord’s, not the servant’s; God’s Himself, not the priest’s” (Ch. 21).

Further along in Matthew, the power of binding and loosing is given to the entire body of the twelve disciples (Mt 18:18). It would look awkward to have Jesus explicitly passing out keys after having done so once, but the “binding” and “loosing” language leaves a strong implication that each of the disciples was now getting his own copy. Higher critics believe an unknown author has inserted the second story to diminish Peter’s primacy in the first. Following Arlow J. Nau and his book Peter in Matthew, Price says it appears that “Mark underwent at least two stages of expansion on its way to becoming canonical Matthew. In the first, Peter is exalted with a view to his successors’ authority. In the second, Petrine primacy is undermined, and the authority democratized” (Price 2011). Kirk writes that it “is difficult to say which of the two versions–the apostolic or the Petrine commission–is the more original,” and discusses arguments for primacy of each (1966, 152-53).

And what about Mark? Neither version appears in that earliest of the Gospels! The source from which Matthew (and Luke) cribbed much of their material declines to mention what is the most important of all the New Testament events to the uniqueness of Laestadian doctrine.

• In Mark 9:17-29, we read about Jesus healing casting out “a dumb spirit” whose effects look an awful lot like those of epilepsy. The victim’s father says, “[W]heresoever [the spirit] taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away,” and then, right in front of Jesus and the disciples, “the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.” The problem, like epilepsy, was from childhood. Mark could of course envision no anticonvulsants for Jesus to prescribe or operating rooms to wheel the sufferer into. Instead, Jesus “rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him,” and explained to the disciples afterward, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

It is never really acknowledged among Conservative Laestadians that this and the other exorcism narratives in the Gospels might not be descriptions of historical facts. The closest I’ve seen to such an acknowledgment is the statement in the October 2002 Voice of Zion (4.3.5) that it “was a common understanding at that time that physical sicknesses were caused by sin or evil spirits” (emphasis added). Of course, that is exactly what we do in practice; who gives the slightest thought to their loved one’s illness being the result of sin or evil spirits?

And where have all the demons gone? If the Bible is literally true, they should not have disappeared from our modern world merely because we have acquired an understanding of the naturalistic causes of disease. But the demons were very much part of Jesus’ world, and he gives no indication that they aren’t real. To the contrary, he converses with them, casts them out, and discusses them with his disciples.

People have been trying to recast the exorcisms as something more practical for over a hundred years now. When Ingersoll gave his 1884 Lecture on Orthodoxy, it seemed that “the church is now trying to parry, and when they come to the little miracles of the new testament all they say is: ‘Christ didn’t cast out devils; these men had [epileptic] fits.’ He cured fits.” Ingersoll was having none of it: “Then I read in another place about the fits talking. Christ held a dialogue with the fits, and the fits told Him his name, and the fits at that time were in a crazy man. And the fits made a contract that they would go out of the man provided they would be permitted to go into swine. How can fits that attack a man take up a residence in swine?”

• Jesus promised the disciples that “if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven” (Mt 18:19). After serving on the building committee of my local congregation, I can attest to the fact that this is no longer true. Perhaps only the disciples had the awesome ability to get God to grant their every request by such modestly agreeable petitions, though the text doesn’t offer any such disclaimer. And why did Jesus’ instruction to those same disciples in the immediately preceding verses get enshrined as the “Church Law of Christ,” applicable to believers in the present day?

• In the “little apocalypse” of Mark 13 (copied almost verbatim in Matthew 24), Jesus answers the disciples’ question about the destruction of the temple and “what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled” with a prediction of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, a flight to safety, the sun and moon being darkened, stars falling to earth (It would be entirely plausible to a 1st century author that “the stars shall fall from heaven,” Mt 24:29, being just a bunch of little dots in the firmament hovering over the earth) and, finally,

the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. [Mk 13:26, copied in Mt 24:30-31]

Of the exact day and hour no man when this will take place, Jesus says no man knows, “no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mk 13:32, copied in Mt 24:36). But, he assures the disciples, “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done” (Mk 13:30, be fulfilled in Mt 24:34). Apologists have attempted to deal with these verses by redefining the word “generation” (used in both the KJV and NASB) to actually mean have something other than its plain meaning. Once they have squinted piously at the text long enough, the word somehow comes to “mean ‘race,’ as in ‘this race of people will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’ But that is not the obvious meaning, given the context” (Loftus 2008, loc. 5144). In The Stars will Fall from Heaven, Edward Adams says, “It is virtually certain that ‘this generation’ means the generation living at the time of utterance. The time frame in [Mk 13:30] is thus the lifetime of Jesus’ own contemporaries” (from Loftus 2008, loc. 5145-46).

Similarly, Matthew 16:28 has Jesus saying to his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” In Mark 9:1 he says, “till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power,” with the phrase, “come in power” being “an apocalyptic code word for the end times” (Stark 2011, 207). In Matthew 10, Jesus sends his twelve apostles disciples out to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” with instructions not to go to the Gentiles or into any city of the Samaritans, and says to them, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”

Well, as we read this nearly a hundred generations later, with everyone who ever stood around Jesus long dead and Christianity almost exclusively residing with Gentiles far beyond the cities of Israel, what are we to make of his words? Deut 18:22 says, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” Ken Daniels says a “skeptic could hardly ask for a more objective falsification of any religion: the religion’s leader prophesies a globally identifiable series of events within a specified time period, but the events do not take place within that time period” (2010, 224).

• Mark 13 is an example of the dependence of Matthew on Mark, which is well known by biblical scholars. Lacking a knowledge of Greek, I came to appreciate just how extensively Matthew copied blocks of Mark’s text from a detailed study of Matthew’s sources kindly provided by Robert M. Price, Correcting Matthew (2007, unpublished).

There’s nothing wrong with relying on the work of others, of course, if it’s done appropriately. This book is full of quotes from many writers who know a great deal more than I do about various matters I discuss. But where I describe things I’ve witnessed first-hand, like my experiences attending OALC services (4.1.6), I use my own words. It wouldn’t make any sense to do otherwise, and that is the problem with how Matthew (and Luke) make use of Mark’s words: They are not giving their own independent testimony as eyewitnesses.

• Slavishly trying to follow what he thinks the Old Testament was prophesying, Matthew has Jesus simultaneously riding two animals into Jerusalem. Jesus tells the disciples to go “into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me” (21:2). This took place, Matthew says, to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9). From modern scholarship about rabbinic reading of Scripture, we now understand that the repeated “ass and colt” language in the Old Testament text was probably understood as being a poetic form. It meant something along the lines of “mounted on a donkey, yes, a pure-bred donkey” (Price 2006a, 157). But Matthew interprets that language in the wooden manner of a scribe, preserving everything about the literal text. He has the disciples dutifully do as Jesus commanded, and they “brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon” (21:7).

Luke 30-31 sticks with the language he has gotten from Mark 11:2-3, with a single colt on which no man has ever sat, and no attempt to refer back to any words of prophecy.

• John presents Jesus very differently than the synoptic Gospels, with much more emphasis on his relationship with God the Father and less on details about his life and miracles. It was written decades–some scholars say up to a century–after Jesus’ time. That late dating causes scholars to question it more than the synoptics, given the tendency for memories and recollections to grow and become more doctrinally driven with time, and the propensity of ancient scribes to impart what they viewed as pious improvements to the sacred works they copied.

One of the most hauntingly beautiful passages in the book is its seventeenth chapter, in which Jesus speaks his “high priestly prayer” to God immediately before his torment began in Gethsemane. He begins as follows:

Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. [Jn 17:1-11]

Many devotional readers and preachers of these words have spent a lifetime being inspired by them without appreciating the doctrinal disputes from which they likely arose, and which would follow in their wake. Conservative Laestadians, for example, almost never read or preach from the Bible in anything other than a devotional sense. “Childlike faith” and a reverence for the text as God’s inerrant word make it unseemly to view the books in the way that Bible scholars do–as the products of individual human authors or theological communities immersed in the doctrines and disputes of their time.

And when we “get the bandage of reverence” from our eyes (Ingersoll, Lecture on Gods) and read John’s words, they come to sound a lot like someone’s attempts to correct various viewpoints of God and Jesus that had arisen by the late 1st century. Those lofty words that are attributed to Jesus in John 17:1-11 somehow escaped the attention of the synoptic Gospel writers of decades earlier. He addresses “the only true God” and refers to himself in the third person by name and mode of origin, “Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,” having “come out from” the Father but having shared his glory “before the world was.” In doing so, He asserts himself to be one with the Father in a way that he never did in the Synoptic Gospels. In the whole chapter, the “Johannine idiom and theology is thick enough to cut with a knife” (Price 2003b, 236).

• In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples. But in John, the Passover hadn’t yet occurred when Jesus is tried before Pilate, who asks the crowd if they want him to release Jesus “at the passover” (18:39) and then hands down his judgment on “the day of Preparation of the Passover” (19:14).

• Matthew 27:5 says Judas became contrite, cast down his blood money in the Temple, and hanged himself. But the account of his death in Acts says nothing about contrition. To the contrary, Judas bought a field “with the reward of iniquity,” where “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out” (1:18). Price considers the phrase “falling headlong” (used by both the KJV and NASB) an attempt to harmonize the version in Acts with Matthew’s, “as if Judas had hanged himself with a length of old, rotting kite string that snapped under his weight, and the impact of the fall caused the body to split open.” Not only is that far-fetched, he says, “but it will not work even as a harmonization, since the priests buy the field in Matthew, and Judas buys it in Acts” (2003b, 309-10).

• In John 18:20, Jesus says to the high priest, “I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing” (emphasis added). According to Mark 4:34, however, Jesus expounded on the meaning of his parables “when they were alone.” All three Synoptics tell of one case in point, after Jesus told the crowd the parable of the sower, which Mark 4:10 specifies again was “when he was alone” with the disciples. They asked him about the parable. Did Jesus say, “What’s wrong with you guys? Can’t you understand plain Aramaic?” Nope. He told them they were being let in on the mysteries (mystery, singular, in Mark) of the Kingdom that were being kept hidden from the unwashed masses (Mk 4:11; Mt 13:11; Lk 8:10).3 He then proceeded to explain the parable to them.

This is a pretty bad situation for those who believe the 66 books of the Bible make up the inerrant Word of God with “one completeness” (By Faith, 11) and no contradictions (4.3.4). If both John and the Synoptics are telling the truth about what happened, then Jesus did not. Personally, I would rather call the the Bible a flawed, discrepant collection of competing narratives (which it is) than the alternative, calling Jesus a bald-faced liar, even a violator of the Eight Commandment.

Price believes this is a case of an intentional contradiction between John and the Synoptics. The writer of John “rejects the esotericism of Mark and changes the story,” which he also did to avoid the “unseemly” stories of Jesus not carrying his own cross and not wanting to go through with his suffering. “For John, there was no private teaching in the Markan, Gnostic sense.” (Gnosis was secret spiritual knowledge not shared with everybody else.) “Everything is public, though some do not hear because they are not of his flock. Thus within John’s retold narrative Jesus is telling the truth” (Price 2011).

Apart from the issue of an undeniable Bible contradiction, Jesus’ words letting the disciples in on the real story sound pretty horrendous to anyone holding out for the idea of a loving God: “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mk 4:11-12). Jesus doesn’t want those other people to be converted and have their sins forgiven them? Wasn’t that the whole point of his existence? And it sure doesn’t sound like the actions of a God (or a redeemer sent by God, if you prefer) who wants everybody to be saved, which the hand-wringing quotes in the “Flirting With Free Will” subsection of 4.9.3 tell us about.

• There’s another case where Jesus seems to be at least stretching the truth, and this story is fully contained within a single continuous portion of Scripture, the seventh chapter of John:

Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him. So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee. But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret. [Jn 7:2-10, NASB]

The KJV translates Jesus’ statement in verse 8 as, “Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet full come” (emphasis added). Neither option is without merit. Some of the oldest manuscripts include an equivalent to the word “yet” (e.g., Codex Vaticanus) but some do not (e.g., Codex Sinaiticus). But even with the word “yet” there to soften the blow, it seems clear that Jesus wanted to mislead his brothers.

• This story will be familiar to believers having even a casual acquaintance with the Bible even if its words are different:

[H]e happened to meet some fishermen engaged in drawing up from the deep their heavily-laden fish-nets. He told them he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught. The surprised fishermen declared that if he was right they would do anything he said. He then ordered them, after counting the fish accurately, to return them alive to the sea, and what is more wonderful, while he stood on the shore, not one of them died, though they had remained out of their natural element quite a little while. [He] then paid the fisher-men the price of their fish, and departed . . .

It is not the account of the resurrected Jesus with the disciples from John 21:4-13, however. It’s one of many exploits of Pythagoras, the 6th century B.C. hero of Greece and bane of elementary school geometry students to this day (Iamblichus Life of Pythagoras 8). Price cites it as one of many example of the Gospel writers being influenced by the legends of their place and time: “John’s version retains unassimilated marks of the Pythagorean original, namely, the fact that the fishermen counted the fish as well as the specific number of them, 153,” which turns out to be one of the “triangular” numbers that the followers of Pythagoras deemed sacred (2003b, 158). Price asks,

Can one really picture these men carrying on inventory as usual if they now realized their crucified master had risen from the dead? “The rest of you fellows go have breakfast with the resurrected Son of God. I’ll count the fish.” Not likely. The elements of counting the fish makes sense only in the Pythagorean original, where the vegetarian sage’s supernormal wisdom enabled him to intuit the exact number. [p. 158]

Sounds pretty fishy to me.

• What is the single most significant event in sacred history for Christians? Undoubtedly the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And yet this event is only attested to in the Bible, by a few contradictory and problematic passages. As McDonald and Porter write, “It seems fair to say that if Christians wish to affirm faith in the resurrection of Jesus today, they must either do so in opposition to the conclusions of modern historical science or find some other way to confess their faith in the risen Lord, one that will speak responsibly both historically and kerygmatically [as preaching of the Christian gospel]” (2000, 15). Once again, we encounter the faith versus reason dilemma: “If the historian could prove the unique actions of God in history, there would indeed be no need for faith at all (2 Cor 5:7). Yet even though one cannot prove it historically, to deny the resurrection of Jesus is to deny the very heart of the Christian proclamation (1 Cor 15:17)” (p. 16).

Historically, the question can be dismissed by the fact that there are no independent attestations of this event that would be the most astounding occurrence of all time. But there are problems even with reference to the Bible’s accounts.

The first of those is by Paul. His references to the recurrection are sparse enough that they can all be listed here:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. [1 Cor 15:3-8]

Jesus Christ our Lord . . . was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead . . . [Rom 1:3-4]

[W]e are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. [Rom 6:4-9]

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. [Phil 3:10-11]

Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel . . . [2 Tim 2:8]

There isn’t much detail in any of this, and the last of the five references wasn’t even written by Paul, in all likelihood. Paul is “the most crucial preacher of Christ’s resurrection” but didn’t even consider the empty tomb worth mentioning (Loftus 2008, 6273-74).

The first Gospel, Mark, didn’t mention anything about the resurrection until later scribes saw the glaring omission and added its “longer ending,” Mk 16:9-20.4 None of the Gospels, even with such scribal additions, actually narrates the resurrection itself! “They do say that Jesus was buried and indicate that on the third day his tomb was empty, but they do not narrate the account of his actually emerging from the tomb” (Ehrman 2011, 17, emphasis added). And, as we saw above, when the Gospels pick up the story post-resurrection, they differ significantly in what they say.

In addition, the Gospels’ statements about the crucifixion and resurrection seem to have been cobbled together from the Old Testament. Price notes that almost all of the narrative of Jesus on the cross, brief as it is, “seems to have come not from eyewitness memory, even indirectly, but rather from Scripture exegesis” (2003b, 321). He then outlines the crucifixion step by step alongside the Old Testament sources, mostly Psalm 22, and asks pointedly what we are to “make of this very strange circumstance, that no memory of the central saving event of the Christian religion survived” from any original eyewitness testimony? As a result, “when someone first ventured to tell the story of the crucifixion of the Savior, the only building blocks available for the task were various Scripture texts” that were rewritten to fit the occasion (p. 322).

7.2 Acts

• Paul’s encounter with Ananias is a key biblical event for Conservative Laestadians. A 2009 Voice of Zion article quoted in 4.2.5 asserts the doctrinal position that the encounter represented Paul’s conversion by a personal proclamation of the Gospel: “Ananias laid his hands on Saul and preached the gospel, and Saul was immediately filled with the Holy Ghost and received his sight. Not only did Saul receive his physical sight, but he also received spiritual sight.” But none of the accounts of the event in Acts say that Ananias “preached the gospel.” Instead, they state:

[Ananias] putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. [9:17]

[Paul recalled, Ananias c]ame unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. [22:13-16 ]

Why didn’t the writer of Acts go ahead and state that Paul received the forgiveness of his sins by the proclamation of Ananias? It is not, after all, an insignificant issue. Instead, Paul experienced a physical “laying on of hands” that is practiced not so much in Conservative Laestadianism, but in charismatic churches “of this world.” And note that Ananias instructed him, “be baptized, and wash away thy sins,” tying the actual forgiveness of Paul’s sins to baptism and implying that it had not yet occurred when Ananias laid hands on him and proclaimed the restoration of his sight.

Paul doesn’t even mention any meeting with Ananias at all in his cursory recollections of his conversion. Indeed, in Gal 1:11-12, he denies that the gospel he has preached is something he received from man or was taught, but rather he received it by the revelation of Jesus Christ. As important as personal absolution was to Luther for caretaking of the conscience, he makes no apology for the plain meaning of this text in his 1535 Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians:

Paul received his Gospel on the way to Damascus when Christ appeared to him. “Arise,” said Christ to Paul, “and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Christ did not send Paul into the city to learn the Gospel from Ananias. Ananias was only to baptize Paul, to lay his hands on Paul, to commit the ministry of the Word unto Paul, and to recommend him to the Church. Ananias recognized his limited assignment when he said to Paul: “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Paul did not receive instruction from Ananias. Paul had already been called, enlightened, and taught by Christ in the road. His contact with Ananias was merely a testimonial to the fact that Paul had been called by Christ to preach the Gospel. [from Graebner, Ch. 1]

• Ehrman discusses a number of differences between how Acts describes Paul’s post-conversion activities and Paul’s own writings about them in Galatians. “Acts is quite clear that Peter realized, even before Paul did, that it was a good and right thing to share meals with Gentiles who did not keep kosher.” But “in Galatians 2 this is precisely what Peter refuses to do when Jewish ‘brothers’ show up in town” (2011, 204, emphasis added).

Paul stresses in Gal 1:15-19 that, “after the vision of Christ that converted him, he did not even go to Jerusalem to talk with the apostles. He went away into Arabia, then back to Damascus, and did not go to Jerusalem for another three years.” Did Paul stay away from Jerusalem, as he himself says in Galatians, “or did he go there first thing, as Acts says?” (p. 205).

The discrepancies between how Acts portrays Paul and Paul’s own writings “involve just about every aspect of the historical Paul.” There are discrepancies at “just about every point where it is possible to check what Acts says about Paul with what Paul says about himself in his authentic letters.” Ehrman thus concludes that “Acts was probably not written by one of Paul’s traveling companions” (p. 208).

7.3 Romans

• One of the foundational ideas of Christianity is set forth in Romans 5:12-19:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. . . . For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Paul makes the same basic point in 1 Corinthians 15:21: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

As discussed in 4.3.1 (Creation and the Fall of Man) and 4.3.2 (Noah and the Ark), I no longer attempt to disregard the overwhelming evidence against a first pair of humans popping into a paradisaical existence and playing out the drama of the Fall of Mankind. Conservative Laestadian preachers and authors are largely oblivious to or in denial about that evidence, at least in the LLC. Until very recently, there seemed to be references to Adam and Eve and the Fall in nearly every new issue of the Voice of Zion and every sermon in my local LLC congregation.

Yes, I understand that the very purpose of Christianity is to justify “sin-fallen mankind.” But the evidence is overwhelming that there was no first pair of humans who could have popped into a paradisaical existence and played out the drama of the Fall of Mankind. Sorry, but it just didn’t happen. It is not a question of faith being the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). It is a question of willfully discarding a mountain of evidence–from anthropology, paleontology, zoology, archeology, and now molecular biology–that is right before our eyes if we choose to look.

• When Paul wrote, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach,” he assured his reader that “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (10:8-9). Nothing other than these two conditions is mentioned.

At times Luther presented the matter with equal simplicity. “[W]hoever hears the Gospel, and believes thereon, and is baptized, he is called and saved,” he wrote in The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained (The Second Epistle General of St. Peter, Ch. 1). Later in the same chapter, he wrote that “the Gospel is nothing else than the preaching of Christ,” and said, “This is God’s word–even the Gospel–that we are ransomed by Christ from death, sin and hell: whoever hears that, he has this light and has kindled this lamp in his heart, even that by which we may see the one that enlightens us, and teaches us whatever we should know.”5

Why, then, are the millions of “worldly” Christians, who both confess Jesus with their mouths and fervently believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead, headed for eternal torture? The answer might be that “the word of faith” that Paul preached included the Laestadian-style proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, and the hearers could be saved from confessing and believing in the risen Jesus only after receiving that “gospel.” So, why didn’t Paul bother to explain such a significant caveat, instead of allowing readers for thousands of years to remain blissfully ignorant that their Christian confession and belief isn’t really going to be enough to save them?

One might also try to explain away this passage (and others like it, e.g., Psalms 145:18-20) as being directed to a specific place and time. But then we would be making the very same kind of statement that Uljas criticizes as being unacceptable if we hold the Bible to be the Word of God, namely “that the Bible does not need to be interpreted so literally, nor do its teachings hold any longer” (4.3.4).

• Paul continues his discourse in Rom 10 about belief in and confession of Jesus by saying that

with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. [10:10-17]

Conservatives often quote verses 14 (“how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard” and 17 (“faith cometh by hearing”) in support of the doctrine that one can only enter “living faith” by hearing the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. But Paul mentions nothing about any special proclamation to be heard nor of any special group of people from whom it is to be heard. Read the passage again in its context and plain meaning. Paul is discussing Jews and the new Greek believers to whom God is equally rich in salvation. His statement is just the self-evident observation that people can’t have been expected to believe in something or someone they’ve never heard of.

When Paul admonishes everyone to “be subject unto the higher powers,” he asserts that “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (13:1-3). What about the American Revolution? The resistance against Nazi occupation and deportation of Jews to death camps? The marches and civil disobedience against racial injustice in the South? Even based on the behavior of the Roman Empire in his own time, Paul is pretty unrealistic in concluding that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (13:3).

It is not just an academic question for me. I have great pride in the memory (alas, only as a figure and not firsthand) of an uncle who refused to serve in the Nazi army and was shot for it. His courageous actions were in sharp contrast to those many Germans whose lack of resistance to Hitler was based in part on what they were taught about Romans 13 by their pastors and the Nazis alike.

7.4 First Epistle to the Corinthians

Philip A. Harland (2010) says that the earliest information about the historical Jesus is found in Paul’s letters, and those references are very scant. (By most accounts, Paul’s letters date from c. 50 A.D.) Paul makes a brief mention of Jesus’ death in 1 Thess 2:15 (blaming the Jews for killing him), but that is widely regarded as something that scribes later added to Paul’s words (Long 2005, 184). He mentions Jesus’ death and resurrection in 1 Thess 4:14, but as second-hand information to be accepted on faith: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (emphasis added).

According to Harland (whom I quote from Harland 2010), Paul makes three main references to something that Jesus said, all of them in 1 Corinthians. The first is in Chapter 7, concerning the issue of marriage. Paul mostly agrees with the Corinthians who believe that one should not be married in order to follow Jesus, “but he goes into some qualifications. He happens to mention what Jesus taught about divorce, that you shouldn’t divorce.” Here’s the passage in question:

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor 7:10).

Harland says the second reference concerns how Paul works with his hands and engages in an occupation to financially support his travels to spread the good news. “Other followers of Jesus who travel around get supported by the people who are joining. What does Paul do? He actually refers to a teaching of Jesus, and that is, that a worker is worthy of pay. He paraphrases something Jesus said. Namely, that Jesus taught that you should be supported financially by the people who you’re teaching. And what does Paul say? ‘Well, I don’t follow that.’ So one of the few times when Paul refers to a saying of Jesus,” Paul actually does something different than what Jesus said:

“Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void” (1 Cor 9:13-15).

The “final reference Paul makes to Jesus is concerning the Eucharist,” Harland concludes, is 1 Cor 11:23-26:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”

Paul’s writings, including his description in Gal 2 about a meeting with Peter and James who were supposedly Jesus’ disciples and close friends, tell us almost nothing about Jesus. Surely Paul would have known how much his audience would have wanted to hear about “Jesus’ divine birth, teachings, miracles, exorcisms, crucifixion, and resurrection,” and “we should consequently question why he exercises this stunning silence” (Long 2005, 185).

A note to all married men who believe the Bible is inerrant and not limited to any particular place or time: Hands off your wives! Paul says “the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not” (7:29-30, emphasis added).

Paul says every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head (11:5), and asks rhetorically, “is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” (11:13). This is almost completely ignored now.

Contrary to Jesus’ statement that one must become as a little child and the emphasis on “childlike faith,” Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (13:11). He urges his brethren to “be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (14:20). Similarly, the writer of Ephesians said he and his readers should “henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (4:14).

Another passage about women that is almost completely ignored is the admonition for them to

keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. [14:34-35]

These sentiments are echoed in 1 Tim 2:11:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

In modern-day Conservative Laestadianism, women do not serve as preachers, but they are used as Bible class leaders in some congregations, Sunday School teachers, and are not inhibited anywhere from speaking freely in church discussions. Apparently, the same sort of thing happens in the fundamentalist Churches of Christ where, at a

Wednesday night Bible study service, you might have a problem getting a word in edgewise between all the questions and comments typically made by women. However, Bible study on Wednesday night is not really an official worship service; therefore, women are permitted to speak. The same argument is used for Sunday school classes, which women frequently teach. Wouldn’t we all like to see the verses that make that distinction? [Simpson 2009, 222]

Personally, I find the statement of 1 Tim 2 distasteful and ill-founded, being based on an ancient myth that subjugates women as secondary creations. It also should be remembered that neither epistle to “Timothy” (nor the one to “Titus”) was the writing of Paul. Those epistles were, to put it bluntly, later forgeries written in Paul’s name to correct “pastoral” issues encountered as the primitive “house church” matured. Women of the ancient world had considerable authority over what happened in their own homes, presumably including the holding of church services there (White 2005, 184). Their voices were not welcome as men jockeyed for positions of leadership in an increasingly hierarchical institution.

It seems silly and unjust to treat half the population as second-class citizens, and the activities of women in the church today (especially in the SRK) indicates a widespread unspoken agreement on that point. But those who consider the Bible inerrant and not bound to place or time are themselves in a bind about how to treat women as equals if they are inclined to do so. How do they go about disregarding certain parts of Scripture that have become socially uncomfortable?

Speaking rhetorically of one who would doubt the resurrection, Paul says “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die” (15:36). Oops. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus warns that “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (5:22). Well, Paul is in good company, at least. Jesus himself called the scribes and Pharisees “Ye fools and blind” in Matthew 23:17 and 23:19, the same book in which he made that warning.

7.5 Galatians

• Paul lists “works of the flesh” that include not just clearly unchristian behavior of sexual immorality, drunkenness, and murder, but also emnities (i.e., making enemies), strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, and dissensions, warning that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (5:19-21). Then he describes the “fruit of the Spirit” as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance” (5:22-23). Thus he draws a sharp distinction between those governed by the spirit and those by the flesh.

When Jesus promised his listeners that they would recognize false prophets by their fruits, he offered an analogy of fruitful and unfruitful plants that seems to make a similar distinction:

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. [Mt 7:16-20]

It is painfully obvious that there is no such clear distinction in real life today, nor has there appeared to be one at any point in the long existence of Christianity. You don’t need to read much history to realize that many of Paul’s “works of the flesh” were all too evident in the Church from very early on. It almost seems like making enemies, causing strife, and engaging in disputes was the everyday business of clerics and theologians. Luther and Laestadius and their claimed successors were certainly no exceptions.

As discussed in 4.2.3 and 4.5.2, the private behavior of “believers” versus “unbelievers” hasn’t exactly been a clear beacon of distinction, either. Luther’s own conduct is a source of considerable embarrassment. In 1536, he signed “a document demanding the death penalty for denial of any article in the Apostles’ Creed” (Babinski 2003, 43). Early on, he came to the defense of the Jews (“Jesus was himself a Jew”) and was pretty understanding of them. But he finally lost patience with their failure to convert and became a vicious anti-semite. I will understand if you decide to pass on reading the awful stuff in his tractate On the Jews and Their Lies, but the title ought to give you a pretty good sense of it. After the peasants’ rebellion in 1525, he wrote another tellingly titled work, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants. There he asserted that it was not murder to kill a peasant (“Crush them! Cut their throats!”). Many Anabaptists were beheaded with his official approval (Babinski 2003, 57).

The distinction hasn’t gotten any clearer. Winell writes about finding that out after being “disappointed with sexist and hypocritical Christians.” (Let’s disregard for a moment the claim that everybody with whom she ever had contact is equally lost and depraved.) But she found that two new friends involved in an Eastern religion “were just as enthusiastic about their religion as I was about mine. They were happy and loving and delighted with their marriage and I saw more ‘fruits of the Spirit’ in them than I saw in most Christians” (1993, 37). Harpur “could no longer believe in only one right and true faith” after “seeing the grace and glory of God at work in saintly men and women of other faiths” (2003, 99).

While I do not go so far as Ken Daniels as to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit, I sadly and reluctantly share his

conviction that every moral unbeliever and every immoral believer is a strike against the notion that the Holy Spirit exists and enables us to lead a life defined by the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. If we believe in the role of the Holy Spirit, how do we explain the existence of millions of kind, loving, moral unbelievers in the world, many of whom are better people than the average evangelical Christian who seeks the indwelling of the Spirit? [2010, 190]

• Here are two blatantly contradictory statements:

1. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

2. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.

At this point, after seeing all of the contradictions we have encountered so far, you might reluctantly concede that they are both found in the Bible. But in the very same chapter of the very same book? In fact, the second passage (Gal 6:4-5) immediately follows the first (Gal 6:2-3).

7.6 Colossians

Paul is supposed to have written to the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (1:24, NASB, emphasis added). This is incredible.

The guy is claiming that he, Paul, is suffering in order to complete what Jesus himself did not! It is perhaps the most astounding single passage in the entire Bible. The Old Testament atrocities are plenty shocking, but this statement upends the entire idea of Jesus being the perfect Son of God who obtained the salvation for mankind that man could not.

This, like John 18:20, is a case where Conservatives ought to be glad the Bible is not inerrant and entirely authentic. With this outrageous assertion being attributed to the leading voice of Protestant Christianity, it might actually be a relief to know that Colossians probably wasn’t an authentic Pauline epistle (Ehrman 2011, 112-14).

7.7 Hebrews

Conservative Laestadians are encouraged to always remain in “childlike faith,” with the focal point of spiritual life being the regular forgiveness of sins by the proclamation that is equated to the “laying on of hands” (see, e.g., Lauri Hakso’s 1965 sermon in 4.6.2). But the writer of this epistle advocates “leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ.” Instead, he says, “let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment” (NASB, 6:1-2).

The point is easily missed in a casual reading of the KJV’s archaic language, but still evident: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” The “baptisms” (“washings” per NASB) are probably acts of “daily baptism, typical of Judean baptizing sects” (Price 2006a, 937).

Having arguably disparaged the laying on of hands as being part of an elementary foundation from which we are to mature, the writer goes on to reject as impossible the Lutheran idea of forgiveness for repeated sinfulness:

[I]t is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. [6:4-6]

Constantine apparently took this passage quite seriously, waiting until his deathbed to be baptized so as to avoid “falling away.” Luther recognized the difficulties posed by the passage and a similar one in Heb 10:26, which warned that “if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” In his 1522 preface, he wrote that

there is a hard knot in the fact that in chapters 6 and 10 [Hebrews] flatly denies and forbids to sinners repentance after baptism, and in chapter 12, it says that Esau sought repentance and did not find it. This seems, as it stands, to be against all the Gospels and St. Paul’s epistles; and although one might make a gloss on it, the words are so clear that I do not know whether that would be sufficient. [from PE 6, 476-77]

7.8 First Epistle of John

As long as you were a Christian not of the docetic variety,6 you were fine: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (4:2); ” Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (4:15); “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (5:1). How does the exclusivity of Conservative Laestadianism not make a lie of these statements?

In the KJV, the Johannine Comma (5:7) says “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” But, as discussed in 4.3.5, that passage is almost certainly inauthentic.

7.9 Revelation

This is another book that Luther didn’t like. In his 1522 preface to it, he said “My spirit cannot abide this book, and for me it is reason enough not to hold it in high regard that Christ is neither taught nor recognized in it” (from Krey 2007, 46).

John beheld “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” standing before the throne and the Lamb (7:9), or as the NASB puts it, the multitude includes people “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” These people are “they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).

One would presume from a plain reading of that text that no nations or peoples are excluded from having saved individuals in this great multitude, from the highlands of New Guinea to the aborigines of Australia to the Chinese of three thousand years ago. One might try to read a qualification into the text, saying that all those from non-Christian or non-Laestadian countries are just children. But then why does the text refer to them having their own tongues (language groups), coming out of great tribulation, and washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb?

Standing with the Lamb John saw 144,000 redeemed ones, who are described among other things as virgins who had not defiled themselves with women (14:4). This description was likely written in the midst of, and perhaps even in sympathy with, an anti-sexual viewpoint pervading the early church. Even intercourse between man and wife was discouraged because it and any resultant children would distract from the work to be done before Christ’s imminent return to earth.

Various non-canonical but ancient Christian writings attest to this anti-sexual outlook. The Acts of Thecla, which was circulating by the 2nd century, has Paul described as “depriving young men of their wives and virgins of their husbands, by saying that ‘You will not be raised from the dead unless you remain chaste, abstain from polluting the flesh, and guard your chastity.’” It tells a lurid story of Thecla, a woman who became smitten by Paul, abandoned her fiance, and miraculously survived several unsuccessful attempts to make her a martyr” (Ehrman 2005, 116-21). The Acts of John, probably written in the late 2nd century, has John praising “one which refused to be inflamed by filthy lust, to succumb to levity, to be ensnared by thirst after money, or to be betrayed by the strength of the body and anger,” and tells a macabre story about a woman named Drusiana who had “separated even from her husband out of piety” and whose body is lusted after even in death (pp. 97 & 99).

The 3rd century Acts of Thomas tells the bizarre story of Jesus paying a visit to a newlywed couple who are just about to consummate their marriage and persuading them to “refrain from this filthy intercourse.” By doing so, he assures them, they will “become temples holy and pure, being released from afflictions and troubles,” and “will not be involved in the cares of life and of children, whose end is destruction.” Happily, the young couple “gave themselves over to him and refrained from filthy lust” (pp. 126-27).

Even in the 5th century, the letter of Pseudo-Titus opposed sexuality, making a clear reference to the Rev 14:4 passage: “Those then who are not defiled with women [the Lord] calls an angelic host.” The letter continues, with a reference to 1 Cor 7:34, “Those who have not abandoned themselves to men, he calls virgins, as the apostle of Christ says: ‘The unmarried think day and night on godly things,’ i.e., to act properly and to please Him alone, and not to deny by their doings what they have promised in words. Why should a virgin who is already betrothed to Christ be united with a carnal man?” (p. 240).

The wall of New Jerusalem “had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (21:14). What about the Apostle Paul? Apparently he wasn’t viewed too highly by the author of Revelation, since “one cannot help but notice the conspicuous absence of Paul’s name from the list of apostles” (Price 2006a, 750).

1 Consider the criticism that the Apology of the Augsburg Confession levels against “later writers” who “did not create their own writings, but only, by compiling from the writers before them, transferred these opinions from some books into others. They have exercised no judgment. Just like petty judges they have silently approved the errors of their superiors, which they have not understood” (Article 12a; McCain 2005, 167).

2 Just how did Mark or anybody else know that, by the way? Perhaps Jesus called the club-wielding mob to a halt after they captured him: “Wait a minute, guys . . . I have to tell my eyewitnesses what just went on back there.” I suppose he did have the chance to mention it to the groggy disciples after shaking them awake between prayers. Certainly not the last time, because Judas and the crowd came to Jesus while he was still griping at the disciples about sleeping through his last prayer (Mk 14:43).

3 The Revised Standard Version translates the word as “secrets” (secret, singular, in Mark), which makes the problem even more apparent. Both the KJV and NASB use the term “mysteries” (and “mystery”).

4 The earliest manuscripts end at Mark 16:8 with the jarring conclusion that the women did not say “any thing to any man; for they were afraid,” despite having been commanded by the angelic young man at the tomb to tell the disciples about the resurrected Jesus. Most New Testament scholars now “recognize that Mark 16:9-20 is a late addition to the Gospel,” though “not all agree that 16:8 was the original ending of Mark” (McDonald and Porter 2000, 290).

5 It must be noted that Luther was not immune to adding his own conditions for salvation, as when he condemned Zwingli for disagreeing with him about the Real Presence (see 5.3).

6 Docetism was an early Christian belief that Jesus’ brief physical presence on earth was merely an illusion and that he never did “come in the flesh.”