Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"Ann, I need a consult."

My sister is a doctor and while no one has ever said this to me before, I assumed she needed advice or something and braced myself.

"Did Jesus say (in the Bible) that you're supposed to love yourself so you can love your neighbor?"


"No he didn't. I told you," she said to someone else beyond her iPhone. "Okay, thanks. Bye."

"Um, bye."

Three hours later my phone rang again. It was my father.

"Ann, I need your help..."

Apparently it's Ask-A-Reverend day. Who knew? But I'm glad I'm ask-worthy. The first ten minutes are free. After that it's a mere 19.95 an hour.

"My principal just walked into my room with his Bible," (my dad's a teacher...still...after retiring three years ago or something). "And I was making fun of him for carrying around his Bible on Parent Teacher Night, but then he turned to John 7 and said Jesus lied. And this is a man of real faith. So if I believe Jesus never sinned, did he lie?"

O lord. This would require more than the answer I gave my sister. Although my initial answer was the same. If you're curious, feel free to keep reading. If not, I'm here every hour of the day, seven days a week. First ten minutes of my curbside consultation are free.

"But there are parents waiting on me now, so could you just email me your thoughts? I have to run."

Sure. here goes...

My first answer is... if you believe Jesus was perfect, then no. Jesus didn't lie.


Truthfully, I don't even have to look at John 7 to learn why Jesus did or did not lie.

Which leads us to my second answer.... There are four gospels. That means four gospel writers. And in some cases (potentially John's case), a writing community. The earliest gospel (Mark) may have been written as early as 15 or 20 years after Jesus' death, but John, being the latest gospel, probably wasn't written any earlier than 60AD (more likely 80something AD). So, believing that the four gospels were penned by men, humans, one has to allow for the fact that one, they didn't remember everything Jesus said verbatim, and two, if they wrote that Jesus said one thing and then proceeded to "do the opposite" of what he just said, thus making him a liar, we are misreading the text. In other words, the point of John's story is obviously not that Jesus was a liar. He has a different point to make, so having Jesus say one thing and then do something contrary to what he said serves a point the author is trying to make. We generally call this rhetoric. And we use it all the time.

Forty years after Jesus' death, people began writing stories about his life. Why? Because all the eye-witnesses of Jesus were beginning to die. And someone had to keep the story going. Did John (or any other the other gospel writers) write down what Jesus said verbatim? No way. Why? It's impossible unless all four of them had aural-graphic (is that even a word?) memories. And also because they each wrote the stories down differently! And all four of them are in the Bible!

Were Jesus' last words, "It is finished?" or "Into thy hands I commit my spirit?" Who knows? Each of the eye-witnesses told it differently. Did Jesus overturn the tables in the Temple at the beginning of his ministry (John) or at the end (Matthew, Mark and Luke)? Who knows? They each told the story differently. Horray! God's story is told through humans! Humans who remember different things, rely on one another to help remember the story and who may even once or twice get the story wrong. But it's their story to tell.

And they use rhetoric and other literary devices to tell those stories. It is not fair for us to impose our proof-texts onto someone else's story. Especially if it's God's story. (that's very trickster-y of us) And especially if it's an ancient document that is at least 1970 years old and at other places 2800 years old.

That's my initial response not having read the text. I can research the text and get back to you if you want though... Love, Ann.

Dear family members, hope this helps. Amy, I need a refill on a prescription or two and Emily, well, I don't need anything from a second grade teacher in the hood right now. Mom, I need some help in my yard and Dad I have two auditions coming up, so I'm using all the advice you ever gave me as a kid. TTYL.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ann. I love the way you simplify things that would take me forever to express. Very well done. By the way...your sister who hasn't needed any advice lately, teaches in the third grade. Dad.
p.s. good luck with your auditions.