Sunday, August 31, 2014


A friend, and significant spiritual influence, of mine recently began asking questions of some old posts/ideas of mine.

The final question asked in The Christian Criterion: Lines of Division was, what exactly was the core teachings of Jesus.
I think this links itself to a much older question I once posed in Repairing the Torn Veil.

You really cannot make the claim of being an adherent to the teaching of Jesus without having a clear definition - and understanding - of exactly what it was that he taught. (And as the lesson of Matt Mikalatos' Imaginary Jesus hopefully has taught us, we are extremely subjective when it comes to this issue).

If we look at the four gospels exclusively (I want to keep this simple) what we see is a man performing miracles, and miracles occurring around this same man. (This is an important distinction).
I hope we can agree that - at the least - he was a great wisdom teacher.

I don't want to get bogged down into the arguments of whether he was divine or an incarnation of God, or the unique Son of God. I think this is missing the point, and if this becomes the main point, I believe we've totally lost our way.

I want to strip this down to the bare bones. I think we can agree, as a lowest common denominator, that he was at least a great wisdom teacher.

He taught through parables (and let's remember, the parables were a teaching tool, not the teaching itself). He taught (sometimes) through example, and he taught (or the recorders of these events) taught through symbolism.
But what did he teach?

From the context of Old Testament Judaism - he was Jewish and he was a rabbi - maybe a heretical one - but a rabbi never-the-less.
This cannot be ignored and this cannot be viewed through the modern day Christian lens.


I think some very common and fundamental terms need to be reviewed here.
The concept of "Holy", "Sin", "Sheol" (Hades?), Hell's prototype Gehenna, and even the afterlife to name a few.
"In the Hebrew Bible there is no eternal afterlife, only the survial of your name/culture/nephesh (meaning breath, life-force, spirit) through children. This is why we have the commandment to honor your mother and father; because by ignoring or forsaking them you effectively put a permanent end to their identity and heritage. Barrenness, the inability to conceive a child, meant a couple's total extinction, eradication from history." J. Snodgrass, "Genesis and the Rise of Civilization", pg. 135
The Old Testament held little to no concept of an Afterlife. Certainly nothing like modern day Christianity does.

It was an unclear, fuzzy idea at best. They held the idea of Sheol, an abode of the dead. Not a Hell of Eternal Conscious Torment, or even of suffering. Both the righteous and the morally corrupt went to Sheol. There was no moral judgement.
In fact, the concept of Sheol was very similar to the Greek concept of Hades. These were not Hell.
In Edward W. Fudge's "The Fire That Consumes", chapter 6, section "Sheol in the Old Testament" (pg. 81-82) we see this fleshed out in detail.

Even Hell's prototype, Gehenna, wasn't the Hell of Eternal Conscious Torment either.
"It is fair to say... Gehenna would convey a sense of total horror and disgust. Beyond that, however, one must speak with extreme caution.
"It is commonly said that Gehenna served as Jerusalem's garbage dump, "a necessary hygienic incinerator outside the walls"... Here the fires burned day and night, destroying garbage and purifying the atmosphere... In times of war the carcasses of vanquished enemies might mingle with the refuse... they were destined to be destroyed in the fires that were never quenched". Edward W. Fudge's "The Fire That Consumes", pg. 161-162
What we see is a reference to a very real geographical location anyone listening to the story would readily know of. No different to the local dump just outside my city. I know where it is. I know what it is. I could even go there and see it if I wanted to.
It was a parable and teaching tool that took on a life of its own and seems to have became something it was never intended to be.

Again, viewed through the lens and context of Old Testament Judaism, we do not find any sort of Hell of Fire and Brimstone and judgement.

...and what of the Holy and the Sinful?
"...we must be very cautious about assuming we know what "Sin" means in this context, or in any." J. Snodgrass, "Genesis and the Rise of Civilization", pg. 157
 Too often, we have been told/taught that Sin is somehow linked or associated with sex or desire or the like.
"The Sodom story is sometimes read as a "proof text" against homosexuality. But what these men are proposing is not consensual gay sex, it's gang-rape: forcefully and deliberately tearing away someone's dignity. Sex is not the crime they're punished for - the crime is abusing a guest
"The "sin" of Sodom is not sodomy, it's inhospitality." J. Snodgrass, "Genesis and the Rise of Civilization", pg. 158
But I think it's Marc Gafni who puts its clearest and best,
"In the original, "to sin" does not mean to be bad. It means literally to miss the mark... To sin is to miss the mark, to not properly understand the nature of reality. Sin is a form of ignorance, a false or partial relationship to reality." Marc Gafni, "Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment", pg. 24-25
And this comes from somewhere and leads to something.
"We shape our God, and then our God shapes us... [if] that God is angry, demanding, a slave driver, and so that God's religion becomes a system of sin management" Rob Bell, "Love Wins" pg. 183
"Sin", from its original context, meant to miss the mark. Not to be morally corrupt or 'bad'.

It is interesting to note that what we today define as “holy” is absolutely not as the Hebrews defined it. The Hebrew word of holy is kaddosh, which does not mean a state of moral perfection nor has anything to do with morality. It means “otherness”, not natural, but supernatural, not of this world, but alien.
Not in the tribal sense of not of our tribe (an outsider), but something so unlike us as to be near incomprehensible.

When we see "Holy", "Sin", "Hell" through this lens, we seriously need to question what Jesus' teaching(s) were. Heaven, Hell, Salvation, all change meanings or become moot.
"Jesus is bigger than any one religion.
"He didn't come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called "Christianity"
"Jesus is supracultural.He is present within all cultures and yet outside of all cultures.He is for all people,and yet he refuses to be con-opted or owned by any one culture.That includes any Christian culture. Any denomination. Any church. Any theological system." Rob Bell, "Love Wins", pg. 150-151
The symbolism - whether enacted by Jesus himself or whomever recorded/penned the story - of the tearing of the veil is, in all likelihood, the singular most important lesson in his entire teachings - maybe even superseding the crucifixion and resurrection.

What, I believe, we are seeing in his teaching, is, ultimately, the end of religion. All of religion.
But what does that mean, and what does that look like?
I think a good play to start is the following:
"Everyone agrees: we need to wake up... In what way are we asleep, and consequently, in what way do we need to wake up? Each stream of culture, including psychology, spirituality, evolutionary theory and more, answers this question differently... no major stream of knowing is smart enough to be entirely wrong...each claim... is true, but partial... The problem starts when a partial claim to truth claims to be the whole story. When parts pretend to be wholes... the result is cancer in the body or body politic." Marc Gafni, "Your Unique Self", pg. 44 
(This final pic is a link well worth following and checking out)

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