Monday, May 16, 2022

Did Jesus forgive Sins?

Did the historical man, Jesus from the village of Nazareth in Galilee, in the first century forgive “sins” committed by those Israelites who came under his influence? I cannot answer the question but intend to review the evidence available to answer it. I suppose one could reply to the question: why should he not forgive sins? He is also credited with empowering his followers to forgive sins (John 20:23). In reliance on this one verse some religious groups in the modern Christian church practice the forgiveness of sins in God’s name.1

The word “sin” is also a problem. The Bible uses the generic word sin quite frequently but very few specific acts or attitudes are ever designated as sin in the Bible.2 The modern church, however, regards many acts and attitudes as sin that are not called sin in the Bible. Those acts (called sin) and the persons (called sinners) committing the acts lack a basis in the biblical tradition for so designating them as sin/sinners. Hence, calling people who commit such acts sinners seems little more than a slur against them.3

            The evidence for Jesus forgiving sin is very meager. In Mark Jesus is portrayed as forgiving sin only one time, the Healing of the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). Matthew abridges Mark’s story, and Jesus still forgives the paralytic’s sins (Matt 9:1-8). Luke lightly edits the story, and Jesus still forgives the man’s sins (Luke 5:17-26). To this singular attestation (Matthew and Luke took the story from Mark) Luke adds another story, the Woman with an Alabaster Jar (Luke 7:36-50) in which Jesus forgives the woman’s sins, “which were many” (Luke 7:47). In the synoptic gospel literature, there are only these two incidents in which Jesus is portrayed as forgiving sins.

There is, however, a related story in the Gospel of John, the Woman taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11. The tradition history of this story does not encourage one to regard it as a historical event, although it is an early tradition; the earliest attestation is 5th century).4 We are told a woman was taken in the very act of adultery. The scribes and Pharisees brought her before Jesus and asked him what he thought about the law that required stoning as the punishment for adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:23-24). Jesus replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone.” Her accusers departed one by one beginning with the oldest. Jesus was left alone with the woman. “Has no one condemned you,” he asked. No one had. “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more,” Jesus said. It is interesting that he did not forgive her sin of adultery or her other sins.

Jesus did not condemn her, even though she was clearly guilty of committing adultery (after all, she had been caught in the act, 8:3). Even though Jesus did not condemn her, he did not forgive her and thus she was not absolved of her guilt before God. Hence, her guilt for this sin would have remained with her. Forgiving her sin/sins would have been the greater gift, if one assumes that Jesus, in fact, did have the authority to forgive sins. The story begs the question as to why the author of the story did not portray Jesus forgiving her, as well as not condemning her?

It seems to me that the scribes asked the question that penetrates to the heart of this narrative: “who can forgive sins, but God alone?” The scribes are clearly correct (Mark 2:6-7), it seems to me. Forgiving sins is God’s business.5

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See Hedrick, “Can the Church grant Absolution for Sins?” Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 258-60.

2For the evidence, see Hedrick, “What is sin?” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 247-50.

3Ibid.

4See Hedrick, “Orphan Sayings and Stories in the New Testament” in Wry Guy Blog: http://blog.charl.com/search?q=woman+taken+in+adultery

5Mark 2:5 “Child your sins are forgiven” is rejected as a saying of Jesus the historical man by the Jesus Seminar; The Seminar understood Luke 7:47-48 as a Lukan embellishment: See the analysis by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (Harper San Francisco, 1998), 63-65; 291-292.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Outer Space, Religion, and the Bible

One doesn’t normally think of outer space as having anything to do with religion and the Bible, and it may seem rather strange at first to connect the two. Nevertheless, it seems to me they are related. Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the expanse that exists beyond earth and its atmosphere and that which exists between celestial bodies. Outer space does not begin at a definite altitude above the Earth's surface. The Karmen line, an altitude of 100 km (62 miles) above sea level, is conventionally used as the start of outer space in space treaties and aerospace records-keeping. The framework for international space law was established by the Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force on 10 October 1967. This treaty precludes any claims of national sovereignty and permits all states freely to explore the vast reaches of outer space.1

Outer space is the newest frontier of the human spirit beckoning explorers. We denizens of mother earth, who have lived into our majority in the 20th and early 21st, centuries belong to a first generation of Star Trek travelers whose fate it has become to explore our own solar system in preparation for interstellar space journeys. For a people whose destiny is the stars, the Bible has become, in part, only an interesting relic of our human past. It is a collection of texts accumulating part of the wisdom of our species in its childhood.

            There appears to be no concept of outer space in the Bible. The romantic biblical view of the cosmos is restricted to the earth and its atmosphere.2 Briefly, the ancient view of the universe in the Bible may be reconstructed as follows: Initially God created a bit of firmament (the heavens) around which swirled the waters of chaos (Gen 1:6-8; 8:27-29). The earth appeared at God’s command (Gen 1:9-10), mounted on pillars (1 Sam 2:8; Job 9:6; Ps 75:3) over which there stretched a vaulted or arched (Isa 40:22; Job 22:14; Prov 8:27) canopy or tent (Ps 104:2) from which the “lights” and stars in the vaulted canopy shined (Gen 1:14-18). Around this protected cocoon swirled the waters of chaos (Ps 104:5-9).

            The best that can be said for this biblical concept of the cosmos is that it is seriously flawed. The poetic theory that God created all things by a word (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 14-16) is not as logically convincing as the scientific theory of the “Big Bang.” The “Big Bang” theory avers that the universe exploded into existence in all directions from a singularity, and as a result of the explosion the edge of the universe continues to expand and recede outward from the earth at tremendous speeds that can be measured by changes in light rays (the Doppler effect).3 The farther away one goes in space from the earth, the farther back in time one moves toward the origin of the universe.4 Peering through the Hubble telescope involves one in time travel; one actually sees into the past to earlier stages of the universe’s formation. Of course. that is true of the Bible as well. Reading the Bible is a kind of time travel which allows one to peer into the past of our species. The Bible’s seriously flawed view of the cosmos disqualifies it as a reliable resource; nevertheless, the founders of the Flat Earth Society used the Bible as a resource for their understanding of the universe.5

Here is the point of this essay: If God created the cosmos (and s/he surely might have6), it is obvious from the existing cosmos that outer space came into existence at the same time or later, as scientists postulate.7 And this datum exposes one serious inadequacy in the biblical record.

The clash between the Bible and the challenge of space travel is only one of the Bible’s many limitations. Its failure to acknowledge outer space is a graphic illustration of its limitations. The Bible loses the how-of-creation argument to modern science, and that should make one wonder what other inadequacies exist in the Bible?8

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1These two statements are slightly adapted from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_space

For the treaty see: https://2009-2017.state.gov/t/isn/5181.htm

2See “The Biblical View of the Universe” in C. W. Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 13-15. An artist’s rendering of this scheme may be found at T. H. Gaster, “Cosmogony,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.; Abingdon, 1962), 1:703.

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redshift

4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang

5https://theflatearthsociety.org/home/index.php/about-the-society

6See Hedrick, “Matter and Spirit: Making Sense of it All” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade: 2019), 174-77.

7Scientists postulate the age of the cosmos at 13.77 billion years, https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-resources/age-of-the-universe

And the age of the earth is calculated at 4.54 billion years, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-age-earth/? Thanks to PaulYR for this correction. See the comments below.

8I address another category of discrepancy in the following: C. W. Hedrick, “Introduction, Superstition, Faith, and the Marginal Relevance of the Bible” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 1-12.