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The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament
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The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament

I originally had in mind doing a kind of “Top Ten” list of fateful New Testament passages that have been both understood and misunderstood over subsequent ages in ways that enforce and foster incalculable harm to our lives. I have revised these categories into “Seven” and clustered some together so that the results are more comprehensive. I did not try to order these into any kind of priority and I think that would be a difficult thing to determine. These “affirmations” have so direly effected so many billions of people over the past two thousand years I would not want to even attempt to put one above the other in terms of fateful impact. I ask my readers to keep in mind that this series is not about what any of these passages in fact mean but rather how they have been understood and applied to our personal, social, civil, and spiritual lives with great consequence and effect. The simple phrase–”The Bible tells me so” has justified and covered a multitude of sins!

I could have just as easily chosen passages from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible but in terms of application and impact I think there is no question that the New Testament, considered by the dominant culture as superseding the “Old,” has taken first place in influencing our culture in these areas. So below are my Top Seven listed in chronological order with links:

new-testament1. Let His Blood Be on our Heads

2. It Is Good to be Alone

3. Let Women Keep Silent

4. Slaves Obey Your Masters

5. Rulers  are God’s Servants

6. Look to the Things Unseen

7. Salvation only in Jesus



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The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament (7) “Salvation only in Jesus”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

JesusOnlyWayAnd there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

This dogmatic affirmation, attributed to the apostle Peter and inspired by the Holy Spirit according to the author of the book of Acts, was directly addressed to those Jews who had not accepted Jesus as Messiah–in one fell swoop making obsolete the 2000 year old tradition of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. The “name” here referenced was, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ–by which everyone must now be “saved.” This verse, echoed by others in the New Testament, goes a long way toward supporting a kind of Christian hegemony that declares all other religious traditions–past or present–as either superseded or in error. Salvation through Jesus is now the only way humans can relate to their Creator. It is a small step from this “Jesus only” dogma to the Orthodox Catholic declaration of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus–outside the Church there is no salvation.”

Today, of course, we live in a world in which the spirit of ecumenism and mutual respect and understanding is upheld by the more enlightened exponents of religious dialog across diverse and conflicting traditions. Nonetheless, those who pride themselves on “speaking only where the Bible speaks” still proudly wave this verse like a banner, threatening all who are not Christian–usually defined by conservative Evangelical standards–to hell, see my recent post “99.99% of Humanity Will Burn in Hell Forever.” Indeed, this kind of thinking has been the fuel for misguided Colonialist “mission work” for centuries, often resulting in disease, death, and destruction. Sadly, countless souls who have grown beyond their conservative Christian upbringings–or even wholly cast off such ideas–nonetheless have struggled with a gnawing fear–what if such dogmas are true? The hold a verse like this can have on sincere people who are moving beyond such a narrow perspective is amazing.

Maybe it helps a bit to know that no academically trained biblical scholar would accept that Peter himself ever spoke these words and that the speeches in the book of Acts are universally agreed to be compositions of the unnamed author, traditionally called “Luke.” But these supercessionist claims run through the New Testament and subsequent early Christian literature–and they are even asserted posthumously into the mouth of Jesus.

The Lord Jesus will return with all his holy angels, in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

It is hard to imagine much room here for dialog, mutual respect, and understanding. Islam took more than a page from the New Testament in asserting its own version of supercessionist “one-up-man-ship,” declaring a plague on all houses. Unfortunately, the results of such religious dogmatism are much with us today in our military, political, social, and cultural conflicts.

The resulting scope of this “Jesus only” concept has been vastly expanded through “missionary” efforts. Paul’s sees the subjection of the entire human race to “Christ” as its ultimate goal and purpose:

So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

This idea that the Christian gospel and the “Lordship of Jesus Christ” is to extend throughout the world–to every “nation, tribe, language, and people” has been seen as the bedrock pillar and presupposition of Christian evangelism through the centuries. The Christian message is not merely “one among many,” in a spirit of toleration and understanding of a world full of diverse and contradicting spiritual traditions. The universal goal of the proclamation of the Christian gospel is to bring all creation into subjection to Jesus Christ as Lord. Indeed, according to Paul, humanity is being divided into two camps by this Christian proclamation–”those who are being saved” and “those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). One’s response to the offer of Christ as Savior is a “once for all” chance to avoid the wrath of God and eternal punishment.

Indians-dancing-at-MissionThis imperative, and this ultimate goal, as expressed here in Paul’s assurance of ultimate submission of “all things” to Christ, has fueled countless missionary ventures, often backed by the power of wealth and military might, that have tragically resulted in the repression, suppression, and even extinction of untold indigenous cultures and traditions, that were classified as “heathen,” and thus not worthy of survival. All too often such evangelistic efforts have resulted in the slaughter of the very ones who were supposedly being “saved.”



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The Top Ten Fateful Passages in the New Testament (6) “Look to the Things Unseen”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

platos-caveWe look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

This rather striking quasi-Platonic sounding admonition of the apostle Paul seems innocent enough on the surface, especially given the deeply embedded “dualism” in our Western philosophical and religious culture, but it has surely had fateful consequences. As with so many of Paul’s admonitions–regarding women, slavery, honoring the Emperor, or “Jerusalem above” rather than “Jerusalem below”–the element of apocalypticism is dominant. For Paul the end of all things is at hand, so in this case, anything “seen” or “earthly” is in the process of passing away–including all social, gender, ethnic, religious, political, or gender categories and distinctions. Why would it matter if one is slave or master, male or female, oppressor or subject, rich or poor? All these things are temporal and passing with no enduring consequence. His world view is not strictly Platonic, but effectively so, in that nothing temporal has enduring importance since the heavenly Christ will soon appear in glory:

Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:2-4).

Paul and his successors became the conduit for this kind of Platonic dualism spreading into every nook and cranny of our cultural heritage.  The disastrous results for the countless disenfranchised ones of our social and political order, or those on the wrong side doctrinally of the Christian imperialism that emerged, enforced by emperors and councils of bishops, are incalculable.



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The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament (5) “Rulers Are God’s Servants”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

Charles 1 Divine King

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:1-4

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

These verses have been used for centuries by kings, rulers, and governments to support the notion of the “divine right of kings” Paul wrote his instructions during the reign of the infamous Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 CE), whose notorious abuses of power and extravagance, though sometimes exaggerated, are well documented–including the murder of his mother and other family members. As with Paul’s instructions about women being subject to men and slaves obeying their masters Paul’s emphasis is upon societal good order in the expectation of an imminent apocalyptic intervention in which all wrongs would be righted, all abuses justly punished, with the “form of the world” passing away. Since such a transformation never arrived their appropriation by subsequent Christian rulers and “Emperors” who wreaked untold evil on their subjects is all the more ironic.

In sharp contrast we have the post-Enlightenment principle articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the “Declaration of Independence” of the United States that asserts the governments derive their powers from the “consent of the governed,” that has become the foundation of modern democratic societies:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.



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 The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament (4) “Slaves, Obey your Masters in Everything”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

Roman Slaves

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:22-25)

In this and other passages in the letters of Paul he clearly expects an imminent apocalyptic “reversal” of status so that those who are “slaves” will be liberated from their condition and evil doers will be punished justly (compare 1 Corinthians 7:17-31). Unfortunately such a “transformatiion” of the world never came about and those who suffered as slaves in the Roman empire increased exponentially in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. Paul’s instructions to slaves–that they were really “free” in the Lord, and that they should serve faithfully their masters, was unfortunately used for centuries to offer a Divine sanction for whatever “state” humans found themselves in and a justification for slave owners to see their role as “masters” as an acceptable one.

The letter attributed to the apostle Peter echoes these instructions of Paul and even makes clear that evil and abusive “masters” are also to be obeyed and respected, since suffering injustice is a “gracious thing” that pleases God!

Slaves, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.(1 Peter 2:18-19)



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The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament (3) “Let the Women Keep Silent”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.49.03 AMPaul lays down this regulation as a LAW for his churches that he expects to be enforced strictly. He ends closes out his exposition with the dogmatic declaration: the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

It would be impossible to imagine or estimate the untold misery and suffering this prohibition and its attendant interpretations have wreaked on women over the past 1900 years. It essentially puts the “Lord’s” authority and Divine backing behind the repression and suppression of women.

Clearly the force and implications of Paul’s declaration have been troubling to some. Some have argued that the real Paul would have never written anything of this sort–so the text must be an interpolation added later by editors seeking to enforce male dominance in the church. Others have explained that women sat separately from men in the early Christian assemblies (though there is not a shred of evidence that such is the case) and this is really a prohibition against women shouting out questions from across the room!

My own conclusion is that this passage is definitely written by Paul and that it fits into his larger apocalyptic understanding of a process he describes as the “form of this world passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). He on the one hand expects that distinctions between male and female for those “in Christ” are soon to be dissolved at the “coming” of Jesus–but on the other hand the “old creation” is still in place and its God ordained “order” puts women in submission to men with men as their “head” (1 Corinthians 11:3), which he traces back to Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

I cover these issues in dept in my book, Paul and Jesus,interpreting them in the wider context of Paul’s understanding of the “old” and “new” creations.



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The Top Seven Fateful Passages in the New Testament (2) “It Is Good to Be Alone”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

Adam & Eve

It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. . . . I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)

The apostle Paul recommends living a single but non-sexual life–sometimes referred to as “celibacy.” He puts this forth as a broad recommendation, not just for priests but for all human beings–male and female. In contradiction to Genesis 2:18, where God declares that “it is not good that man be alone…” Paul recommends the single life as spiritually superior and holy. In fact, in this passage the reason he gives for marriage is that it is an antidote to “lust” or sexual desire. As with his instructions on women, slaves, obeying civil rulers as God’s agents, and other social, economic, and civil relationships he is convinced that “the form of this world is passing away,” and therefore even human sexuality and marriage are a passing and obsolete phenomenon.

He also, in practice, insists that gays and lesbians live a single or celibate life, since their expressions of same-sex love and sexuality are inherently wicked, perverted, and evil, and accordingly subject to the exclusion and punishment of both God and society:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:26-28)



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The Top Seven Fateful Verses from the New Testament (1) “Jewish Bloodguilt”

The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible  “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:

Matt. 27:25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

Trial of JesusBased on this verse Jews have been labeled as “Christkillers” by Christians for centuries. Matthew is taken to imply here that the entire Jewish people have taken upon themselves the perpetual “guilt” of killing Jesus the Son of God, thus passing their fate from generation to generation as an accursed people. This idea has contributed to untold misery and death and the roots of this sort of Christian antisemitism lie behind even Hitler’s Holocaust–see the review of David Nirenberg’s new book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (W. W. Norton) by Adam Kirsch, “A World Without Jews.”

Paul builds upon this collective “guilt” of the Jews as he anticipates and celebrates God’s imminent wrath:

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)

These fateful words, penned by the apostle Paul, charging that the Jews are guilty of “killing both the Lord Jesus and the Prophets,” and opposing all mankind, while triumphantly celebrating God’s punishment upon them, have given rise to untold misery upon the Jewish people through the centuries as “Christ killers.” Along with Matthew 27:25covered previously in this series, Paul’s endorsement of punishment upon the Jews has served to make the Christians who have perpetuated atrocities on the Jewish people think they have “God on their side.” The force of Paul’s bitter denunciation here has led some New Testament scholars to insist–without any textual evidence whatsoever in our manuscripts of Paul–that these verses must be an interpolation–since Paul would never have written such things.

What Paul has in mind here regarding the wrath of God having already come upon the Jews is difficult to say. He is writing these words around  the year 51 CE. Josephus, the Jewish historian who chronicles the period, does witness to considerable unrest in Judea and Galilee in the decades of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, leading up to the 1st Jewish Revolt. The emperor Caligula had made overtly threatening moves in the 40s and Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome around 49 CE, so perhaps Paul has these developments in mind.

494px-Medieval_manuscript-Jews_identified_by_rouelle_are_being_burned_at_stakeMuch later than Paul the Gospel of John puts the following in the mouth of Jesus, directed against his Jewish opponents:

John 8:44  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

 

Jews DevilThis is the climatic conclusion to an extended exchange Jesus has with the “Jews” in Jerusalem who have questioned his authority–maintaining  that they are descendants of Abraham with the One God of Israel as their “father” (John 8:22-45). Here the Jews who opposed Jesus (in contrast to those Jews who believed in him, v. 31) are labeled a murderers and liars–proper “children of the Devil.” This verse, along with a cluster of others mentioned previously in this series (Matthew 27:251 Thessalonians 2:15-16) were used by Christian anti-Semites to support their persecution and murdering of the Jewish people over the centuries. Christian art, Nazi proganda, and even contemporary Muslim anti-Semitic images and rhetoric have drawn upon this image of the Jews as the Devil.



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