A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
JESUS AND SCIENCE
By Edgar Jones
For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear." (Jesus, Mark 4:22-23)
Is It of men, or is it of God?
This is the cardinal question when considering the authenticity of scripture. How can we derive a reliable answer? What should we examine?
First -- Consider the Numbers.
When millions of people believe a text is of God, shouldn't that carry weight? Surely a scripture is of God if multitudes believe that it is? Or when a text is hundreds, even thousands of years old, doesn't that establish its divine origin? Or when multiple scribes working more or less independently produce similar texts that each claims to have received from God, must not their claims be authentic? If there are multitudes of preachers around the world who are preaching that it is of God, is it not so? Finally, if we find scattered throughout the text multiple claims that it came down from God to men, does not that settle the matter?
Millions and millions of people believe the Bible is of God. Its later writings are more than nineteen hundred years old. The older portions consisting of the five books of Moses may have been penned three thousand years ago! There are many similar passages throughout the Bible, passages speaking of similar things in similar language, yet penned by multiple scribes. And when we examine the text, we find that throughout from Genesis to Revelation it repeatedly claims to have come down from God. Yes, and there are multitudes of preachers proclaiming that it is of God! The Bible therefore passes all the numbers tests. Doesn't that prove it is of God?
It is tempting to say, "Yes." But hold up here! There are other ancient texts, texts that also are accepted by millions of people as divine in origin, some penned by multiple scribes, all claiming divine origin, and that have been around for hundreds and thousands of years. They also have their many preachers proclaiming their divine origin. The problem is that they do not speak the same messages as the Bible and must stand as competing texts. Among these are the ancient Hindu and Persian scriptures, and then there is the Koran that is honored by millions through many hundreds of years as having come down from God.
No, the numbers can tell us nothing about the origin of scripture. This is a conclusion that most honest persons should be able to derive from their own experience. Let us suppose that you, dear friend, are a Christian who firmly believes that every word of the Bible is from God. Now, how did you come by that belief?
Chances are you came to it through one or more of the following experiences:(1) You were born and reared in a culture that honored the Bible as divine.Now, don't you see that had you been born and reared in China of Buddhist or Confucian parents and culture, or in India in a Hindu culture, or in Saudi Arabia in a Muslim culture, you would almost certainly have been Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, or Muslim, and thoroughly convinced that your particular scriptures are divine in origin?
(2) Your parents and other close relatives believed and taught you that the Bible is of God.
(3) As you reached maturity, your peers believed the Bible is of God.
(4) The honored religious institutions in your community - the churches and the schools, taught you that the Bible came from God.
(5) The nation of which you are a citizen honors the Bible as divine. Its chief executive is sworn in with his hand on the Bible.
(6) At some point you have made a conscious decision to "go with the flow." Any doubts you may have had were overwhelmed by the powerful influences of others.
(7) You then joined a religious institution where the ministers and teachers all present the Bible as having a divine origin. They have continually affirmed and reinforced your faith in the divine origin of the Bible.
The numbers only tell us what multitudes of people believe. They say nothing about the source of their "sacred texts". The numbers only tell us that human beings are, above all things, gullible conformists. So much for the numbers!
Second, Consider the Fulfillment of Prophecy.
Many scriptures, including the Bible, contain prophetic texts that predict future events. Surely these are valid indicators of divine origin if one finds that most or all of these have proven to be accurate indicators of future events? Only God can see into the future, we believe, so that would surely settle the question of origin?
This, too, is an unreliable indicator of divine origin. If one thinks openly about how such scriptural prophecies from the Bible are interpreted in Christendom, the reason for this negative response is again evident. First, many of the prophecies, such as Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem or Jeremiah's prophecy of the destruction of Judah, were penned or uttered under socio-political and religious conditions such that any open minded and perceptive person could anticipate what was about to take place. Second, many prophecies, such as those in the Revelation of John, were presented in metaphorical language left open to interpretation as to what their fulfillment entails. When one cannot say with certainty what the prophet meant to convey, then one cannot specify when the prophecy has been fulfilled. The question of fulfillment becomes a matter of individual subjectivism. Third, a prophet who pens many prophecies based upon his subjective evaluation of the future as patterned after history will find some of them fulfilled solely on the laws of probability. Make enough predictions and some of them will surely find fulfillment. While I consider it certain that prophetic texts that truly are of God will be fulfilled as prophesied, these considerations render prophecy an unreliable indicator.
Third, Let us look at the character of the prophet.
If his character is or was such that history has judged him a godly man, is not his prophecy from God? Again, no. The character of the prophet or scribe does not prove the origin of the his words. If the prophet is known for his unqualified honesty, his assertion that his prophecy is of God only indicates that he honestly believes that God is the source of his prophecy. It is human to err, and such prophets may very well be mistaken.
There may be other indicators, but I think that none of them are adequate to prove that a scriptures comes from God. One must first prove the existence of God, something that remains uncertain after all efforts have been applied. Divine origin of scripture must remain a matter of faith. We may choose to believe in God and that a particular scripture is of God, but we can never be certain.
Another Approach to the Question
No, we cannot establish that it is certainly of God; but suppose we seek to establish the contrary -- that it is of man and not of God? If it is not of God, then it must be of man, for it is always the man who has produced the text and come forth with it. And man's existence we do not have to establish, do we? He is, then, the most viable logical candidate for the source of the scripture he has produced.
This would not have been possible in ages past. But now we have this thing called modern science that has been successful in opening to us many mysteries of the natural world. Science has revealed how the cosmos is constructed and how it works as the spheres balance gravity with momentum to keep them moving in their orbits about planets, stars, and galaxies. Of course, the creator has always known exactly how everything works. He is the one who put the spheres in their orbits!
Therefore it seems to me, a person who has faith in God, most reasonable to suppose that the Creator would never have sent down to men a message suggesting his own ignorance of how his creation works. He would not, or course, expect the primitive men to whom he imparted his scriptures to understand the workings of the cosmos. His inspired word would not be scientific, for in that case his primitive scribes could not have understood him. But neither would it contain ideas contrary to the truth of the reality that is the natural world. The Father would not impart false ideas to man.
Therefore, if a text contains ideas clearly indicating a false conception as to how the world works, we may confidently conclude that it is of man and not of God. Contrarily, if an ancient text contains nothing indicating ignorance of the natural world on the part of its author, then the question remains open. It may very well be of God and not of man. Furthermore, if a scripture is lengthy and touches on many subjects including the workings of nature, direct or by implication, without demonstrating ignorance of the natural order, we might with some justification view it as being from God. A primitive scribe or oral teacher working on his own would not likely write or speak lengthily, sometimes touching on nature, without revealing his ignorance. We will now briefly apply this indicator to the following scriptures:
This could become a lengthy study, but I am resolved to treat it briefly and leave the further investigation to you. You will need to read each source carefully to confirm for yourselves that my conclusions either are or are not reasonable.
- (1) The Old Testament
- (2) The Koran
- (3) An utterance of Jesus as recorded in a certain non canonical gospel
- (4) The utterances of Jesus from the four canonical gospels
(1) The Old Testament
We have this text from the tenth chapter of Joshua:1 When Ado'ni-ze'dek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them,Whatever the source of verse 11, it is obvious that the scribe believed that hailstones falling from the sky were the deliberate missiles from God aimed at their enemies. Hailstones possess weight, and if an ancient scribe picked one up and tossed it back into the sky, it did not go far before it tumbled back to the earth. Therefore, many hailstones falling from the sky must mean that they were somehow stored in the heavens and released by God at his will. For this scribe, it could only be the supernatural hand of God that stored the stones in the heavens and released them to fall to earth. The idea is primitive and indicates a total ignorance of the natural source of hailstones, which any modern meteorologist can explain. We can confidently conclude that this text has its source in the minds of primitive men, not in God.
2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty.
3 So Ado'ni-ze'dek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhi'a king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying,
4 "Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel."
5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces, and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it.
6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, "Do not relax your hand from your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us; for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the hill country are gathered against us."
7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor.
8 And the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; there shall not a man of them stand before you."
9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal.
10 And the LORD threw them into a panic before Israel, who slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-hor'on, and smote them as far as Aze'kah and Makke'dah.
11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-hor'on, the LORD threw down great stones from heaven upon them as far as Aze'kah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the men of Israel killed with the sword.
12 Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, "Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Ai'jalon."
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD hearkened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.
Applying the same reasoning to verses 12 and 13, we can only come to the same conclusion. For the sun and moon to have stood still for any length of time, not to mention a whole day, we know that the earth must have suddenly ceased its rotation. But the ancient scribe, thinking that the sun and moon move across heavens by the order of God, readily believed that the order of God could have stilled them. And suppose the earth did indeed cease its rotation for a time? Every unattached material object upon its surface, including the seas and human beings would have continued to move with respect to the surface of the earth at a speed which is, at the equator, about a thousand miles per hour! This confirms our earlier conclusion: this text has it source in the minds of primitive men, not in God.
Let us examine one more text, this one from II Kings 20:1 In those days Hezeki'ah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover.'"We have here the same primitive misconception that inspired the staying of the sun and moon for Joshua. It never happened; the ancient scribe, thinking that God routinely upheld the sun and moon in the heavens and moved them across the sky, thought also that it was an easy thing for God to stay them, even to move them backwards so as to cause the shadow to go back ten steps. This was the same view held by the Christian Church when it censured Galileo for announcing that the movement of the sun and moon was only apparent, caused by the rotation of the moving earth. We must therefore conclude that this text has its source in the mind of a primitive man, and not in God.
2 Then Hezeki'ah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying,
3 "Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in thy sight." And Hezeki'ah wept bitterly.
4 And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him:
5 "Turn back, and say to Hezeki'ah the prince of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD.
6 And I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David's sake."
7 And Isaiah said, "Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover."
8 And Hezeki'ah said to Isaiah, "What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the LORD on the third day?"
9 And Isaiah said, "This is the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?"
10 And Hezeki'ah answered, "It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps; rather let the shadow go back ten steps."
11 And Isaiah the prophet cried to the LORD; and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which the sun had declined on the dial of Ahaz.
It does not necessarily follow that none of the Old Testament is of God. It is a complex collection of ancient texts from many different scribes and it is entirely conceivable that some of it finds it source in God. That is indeed my firm conviction. Nevertheless, when we come across a scripture that reflects gross misconceptions of the reality with which we have to deal, we can conclude, as we have here, that it is of man and not of God. There are many other examples of this sort in the Old Testament, but the same conclusions apply to all of them, and I have promised brevity.
(2) The Koran
Joshua's hailstones betrayed one of man's primitive conceptions of the cosmos and its workings. God was responsible for holding the stones up above the earth, and he released them whenever and on whom he would. Precisely the same idea under girds the cosmic conceptions found in the Koran. This scripture is for Muslims the word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel. The text itself repeatedly attests to its divine origin, taking the form of a transcription of words sent down to the prophet by plural speakers intimating the union of Allah with his serving angels. The quotations rendered here are from The Koran, Everyman Press, © 1994 by J. M. Dent.Hast thou not seen that God driveth clouds lightly forward, then gathereth them together, then pileth them in masses? And then thou seest the rain forthcoming from their midst; and He causeth clouds like mountains charged with hail, to descend from the heaven, and He maketh it to fall on whom He will, and from whom He will He turneth it aside. (Sura 24, verse 43)This was essentially the explanation of how the Lord gave the Amorites over to the army of Israel under Joshua, throwing down great hailstones on them and killing more of them than did the swords of Israel. "He maketh it to fall on whom he will, and from whom he will He turneth it aside!" As did the Old Testament scribe, Muhammad understood that things that appear suspended above the earth and do not fall down upon it must be personally held in their places by God, otherwise they would fall upon men. This primitive idea finds direct expression in the following excerpt from the Koran:Seest thou not that God has put under you whatever is in the earth; and the ships which traverse the sea at His bidding? And He holdeth back the heaven that it fall not on the earth, unless he permit it! for God is right Gracious to mankind, Merciful. (Sura 22, verse 64)To the ancient Arabs, any fool could plainly see that someone was holding up the sun, moon and stars in addition to the hailstones!
When Isaiah called on the Lord to provide a sign to Hezekiah, the Lord caused the shadow to come back ten steps by which it had declined on the sun dial of Ahaz. Muhammad reveals the same primitive conception of the motion of the sun as follows:Hast thou not seen how thy Lord lengtheneth out the shadow? Had He pleased he had made it motionless, but we made the sun to be its guide; then draw it unto Us with easy indrawing. (Sura 25, verse 47, 48)The source of this text does not understand the intimate relation between the sun and the shadow. He sees them as independent, with the sun having been appointed, not to cause the shadow, but to guide it! And he presents this explanation as that of the occupants of heaven, God and his angel (We). This explanation did not come from God; it came from the mind of a primitive man, Muhammad!
Many different scribes penned the scriptures that make up the Bible. Much of it clearly is the work of man, as revealed by its primitive conceptions of the cosmos. God found it possible to inject his words now and then. They can be discerned by those who possess the Spirit. The Koran is a different matter. Penned all by one hand, that of Muhammad, and containing the same primitive misconceptions of the cosmos throughout, it can only be the work of man in it's totality. Not God but Muhammad established himself as a prophet and the last of the prophets. It was the work of Muhammad, not of God. His great success only points to the gullibility of men in general when they are faced with a gifted confidence man of his caliber.
(3) The Utterances of Jesus from a Non Canonical Gospel
In 1946 a whole library of ancient texts was discovered in the sands of Egypt, at Nag Hammadi. These include two sayings gospels, the Gospel of Thomas and the Dialogue of the Savior. The latter is in the form of a dialogue between Jesus and three of his disciples, Judas, Matthew, and Miriam. The disciples typically ask questions, and Jesus answers. The following quotation from the Dialogue of the Savior is from The Other Gospels, Westminister Press, © 1982 by Rod Cameron, p. 43. It is an enlightening volume that I recommend to every student of the gospels.Judas answered him and said, "Tell me, Lord, [the earthquake] that moves the earth, how does it move?"When, in 1632, Galileo Galilei was placed on trial by the Catholic Inquisition, he was confronted by the very same misconception of the cosmos as that represented here. The earth does not move! If it moved, it would fall! This was but one feature of the geocentric view of the cosmos that had prevailed in the mind of man until that time. The scribe who penned the Dialogue of the Savior also must have held to this primitive view, which indicates that the above excerpt is from man and not from God.
The Lord took a stone [and] held it in his hand. [he said], "What is this that I hold in my [hand]?"
He said, "[It is] a stone."
He said to them, "He who sustains [the earth] is he who sustains the heaven. When a word comes forth from the Greatness, it will go to him who sustains the heaven and the earth. For the earth does not move; it it moved, it would fall, but (it does not fall) in order that the first word might not be annulled, namely, 'he is the one who established the world, and he dwelt in it, and he received incense from it.' For everything that does not move I [will bring] to you, all ye sons of men, but you are from [that] place. (Page 133, lines 1-15)
(4) The Utterances of Jesus from the Four Canonical Gospels
We have specified some strong indicators of human origins for the ancient scriptures represented above. There is none of this primitive foolishness in the Logos, the words of Jesus from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Beloved Disciple. He does not express or even suggest a geocentric view of the cosmos or an unmoving earth. He does not stop the Sun in its place, shorten lengthening shadows, uphold the heavens to prevent their falling down upon the earth or drop hailstones on selected persons.
The Logos presents ideas that are in harmony with the most advanced science, and in some cases may even presage things yet unknown to Twenty First Century scientists. Jesus affirms that the cosmos (the heavens and the earth) had a beginning, in step with the Big Bang Theory of science. Not all scientists agree with this theory, and some of those who do deny that it explains the beginning of the cosmos. P. James E. Peebles, one of the worlds foremost cosmologists, presents his view:That the universe is expanding and cooling is the essence of the big bang theory. You will notice I have said nothing about an "explosion" -- the big bang theory describes how our universe is evolving, not how it began. (Scientific American, January 2001, p. 54.)It would seem that he has been forced to this conclusion because his science cannot see back to the very instant of beginning. And he is being honest for, in truth, the Big Bang Theory does not explain the instant of beginning. In any case, Jesus would appear to be a few steps ahead of the scientists.
Jesus also foretells the world's end in a manner consistent with the basic theories of cosmology that now prevail among many scientists. Just one century ago the most accomplished scientists, including Albert Einstein, saw the world as static and unchanging over time. Jesus knew better twenty centuries ago, teaching that the world is a place where moth and rust corrupt (Matthew 6:19), making all earthly values uncertain, and that both the heavens and the earth must pass away (Matthew 24:35), or dissolve. His contemporaries knew nothing of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, yet Jesus affirmed that the cosmos must pass away, a statement perfectly consistent with the Second Law.
Jesus does attribute the operation of the natural world to God his Father, but he does it in such a manner as not to contradict reality as the scientists are increasingly revealing it. It is the Father who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall (Matthew 5:45). This is consistent with modern science when we realize that he does it through the operation of natural law that he created with the cosmos. Contrary to the scribe who penned the book of Joshua, he does not do it selectively, to cause these things to fall on whomever he will. The Father causes both the sunshine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). This does not contradict either modern meteorology or the view that God is the creator of the world.
Jesus credits God for creating the world (Mark 10:6), a view that some modern scientists would challenge, but cannot contradict, for they cannot back trace the evolution of the cosmos to its very beginning and thus their limits stop them at the place where they can only appeal to metaphysics (which many refuse to do), admitting that physics can say nothing more.
This inability to backtrack the development of the cosmos to its very beginning is extremely frustrating to the many honored scientists. This frustration is expressed in the January, 2001 issue of Scientific American, p.43. Robert R. Caldwell and Marc Kamionkowski conclude their article, Echoes from the Big Bang, by writing:Because cosmologists are not certain about the origin of inflation, they cannot definitively predict the strength of the polarization signal produced by inflationary gravitational waves. But if there is even a small chance that the signal is detectable, then it is worth pursuing. Its detection would not only provide incontrovertible evidence of inflation but also gives us theUnlike the Jesus of The Dialogue of the Savior, who is quoted above, this Jesus does not trip himself when earthquakes are the subject:
extraordinary opportunity to look back at the very earliest times, just 10-38 second after the Big Bang. We could then contemplate addressing one of the most compelling questions of the ages: Where did the universe come from?Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21:10-11)Instead, he reliably predicted the continuing phenomena of the earthquake in a manner that is in perfect harmony with the nature of the earth as geologic science has defined it. In the same breath he predicted the continuing train of signs from heaven. These "signs" are the eclipses, supernova's, meteor showers and rainbows that have struck fear into the hearts of primitive men down to our times because they thought these signaled the end of the world. His prediction of their continuance must have been derived from an accurate conception of their fundamental nature -- they are repeating phenomena that have no association with the end. In these two brief verses, Jesus demonstrates accurate understanding of the nature of both the earth and the heavens. The ancients, clothed in superstition and seeing these signs in the heavens, often panicked because they believed the signs heralded the end of the world. The very fact that Jesus taught a continuance of these signs suggests that he, in contrast to most ancients, understood their cause and that they were not associated with the end of the world. A less prescience person might have been found prophesying that the world was soon to be destroyed by a great earthquake.
What of evolution? Darwin's theory, like Galileo's has been vigorously opposed by churchmen who sought to fit primitive myths into the structure of reality. Jesus told a parable perfectly consistent with the Theory of Evolution, one that I believe presaged the modern conception of how we came to be. Here it is as found in the Fourth Chapter of Mark's Gospel:26 And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground,The immediate application of this parable is, of course, to the process that is ongoing since Jesus sowed his word, the Logos, in the world. The family of his children is "evolving" toward a harvest of the earth without further attention from the sower. If the Father has chosen this evolutionary process to accomplish the fruition of the earth, is it not reasonable to conclude that he might well use the same process to produce the cosmos as it now exists? In this case, the sowing of the world is the original word of the creator:
27 and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.
28 The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."And God said, "Let there be . . . (Genesis 1:3,6)The subsequent evolution has produced the world as we know it while the creator stands by and permits the process to continue uninterrupted.
Yes, Jesus and his Logos is perfectly consistent with the Theory of Evolution.
Difficult Sayings of Jesus
(1) Matthew 21:19-22
Matthew has Jesus making the following promise to his disciples:And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once.Let's see if we have this right: a man walks by a fig tree. He stops, then inspects it for fruit, but finds nothing except leaves. Then the man said, "May no fruit ever come from you again." While his companions stood watching, the leaves withered before their eyes! The tree was dead, so that it would never produce fruit.
When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?"
And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will be done.
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."
There is no law of botany that could produce such an effect. This was a miracle of major importance, for it indicated that Jesus had complete power over plant life. In this paper I am leaving open the question of miracles and so do not propose to discuss them. What interests me here is not the miracle but the explanation Jesus gave for it. He said to his disciples that if they have faith and never doubt, they also would wither fig trees. Not only that, they could tell a mountain to be cast into the sea, and it would be done. "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."
Faith is evidently the fundamental principle at work here. But one can get anything one asks, provided only that one has faith? Jesus gave this explanation for his healing miracles, for he reinforced it with many other sayings in the gospels relative to healing. There are many persons who testify to miraculous healing after praying and believing they were healed. But this was not a case of healing. It was a case of killing. If Jesus was hungry and wanted figs to eat, why did not he simply say, "Let there be figs on this tree." Surely that would have worked as easily as killing the tree. If his intent was to teach his disciples the power of faith, that would have astonished them no less, especially since, as Mark informed us, it was not the season for figs (Mark 11:13). In addition they all could have enjoyed a meal of the fruit. The owner of the tree would also have been more kindly disposed toward them.
Then we read that Jesus expanded the promise to the relocation of mountains. The mountain indicated ("this mountain") was not metaphorical. Jesus was apparently straining to the extreme to impress the disciples with the power of faith, and only a real mountain would have sufficed.
Our problem with this utterance comes to light when we stop to realize that no one has ever thus moved a mountain, including Jesus. Nor, to my knowledge, has any disciple of Jesus blighted a fig tree with a word. The very same natural laws that draw the hailstones to the ground also hold mountains to the earth. Anyone who understood the operation of the natural world should have known that his disciples were not going to go about in the world moving mountains after this fashion.
What a powerful evangelical tool this would be! An apostle enters into the city of Athens and announces to the assembled philosophers, indicating Mars Hill nearby, and says, "Be you removed and cast into the sea!" All it takes is faith, and can you imagine how the Greeks would rush to convert to so powerful a God as the one represented by the Apostle who could perform such feats? His motive would be impeccable: the love for souls and the desire for their salvation. So why did the apostles not claim the promise of Jesus and make their impressions by uprooting mountains and blighting trees? Jesus seemingly set the example by giving them a proper demonstration, and they were well impressed. Why did they fail to use this same tool to impress others? Why does not the modern church utilize this powerful tool? Surely the world would be evangelized in short order.
I can see only one valid conclusion: Jesus did not make this promise.
It is unlikely that he blighted the fig tree. Anyone who knew and understood the natural laws that have been uncovered by modern science would not have promised this to the power of faith. However, primitive men who knew nothing of the laws of gravity nor of the chemical bonding forces that anchor stone mountains to bedrock might easily suppose that this would be possible to faith. Then, moved to make the greatest possible impression on their readers, and believing that Jesus had power to produce miracles, they would make the most exaggerated claim they could imagine. I believe strongly that this promise is the product of the mind of a primitive disciple of Jesus. Jesus had power to do wonderful things -- no doubt about that. So the disciple who first wrote this simply attributed to him another wonderful thing, with no thought of the laws that must be abrogated to perform the uprooting of mountains and the blighting of fig trees.
Whatever the details of the original incident, there can be no doubt that the story underwent development and expansion thereafter. The earlier Markan account states that Jesus cursed the tree in the morning while on the way into Jerusalem, and the result was not noted until the return journey that evening, when the disciples saw that the tree had withered. Matthew has it wither at once before their eyes!
(2) John 14:11-1310 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his worksThese words close with a promise seemingly similar to that in Matthew 21 above. "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
12 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.
13 Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;
There are important differences. He does not mention faith, but the formula here is "in my name." The Beloved Disciple does not associate this promise with physical miracles. This is a very significant difference, for it signals a different application. The key is found in the word "works." What did Jesus mean by this? Did he mean physical miracles such as we see in Matthew 21?
Verse 10 renders the answer."The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works."The "works" are the "words" that Jesus spoke to this disciples!
Unlike the promise of Matthew 21, this is not a promise of the power to perform physical miracles. It is a promise of the power to utter wonderful words, words even greater than the words Jesus has already uttered to them. Thus, "Greater works than these shall you do."
Jesus emphasized that the Father dwelt within him, and it was the Father's words that he uttered. "The Father who dwells in me does his works." Now, the Father is also to be in the disciples, but is not as yet because the Spirit has not yet been given to them. But when He is in the disciples, they will speak wonderful words also, that "the Father may be glorified in the Son." It is the Father "in the Son" who is speaking, and it is the Father in the Son who will be speaking in the disciples, that the Father may be glorified 'in the Son."
To see how this works out, we have this explanation from John 16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'Verse 12, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" explains the promise, "Greater works than these will he do because I go to the Father." from Chapter 14. They can't bear the words before the departure of Jesus, but will do so after the Counselor comes. They will themselves be the vessels through whom the Spirit utters "Greater works than these."
6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.
7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
8 And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more;
11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
This, then, is an authentic saying of Jesus. It applies only to his immediate disciples. It cannot apply to anyone who did not live before the coming of the Counselor, for it was a promise made to those who could not receive it until after the Counselor had come. The Holy Spirit, the Counselor, then worked through the first apostles to introduce yet greater works (words) into the world than Jesus had uttered. These particular words we cannot now identify, but we can speculate that they are included in the words recorded in the gospels and, perhaps, some of the Epistles of the original apostles. There is no one since the first disciples, far past or recent, who can claim to be the inheritor of this promise, for all those "greater" works (words) were uttered in the world by the first disciples.
These "greater works" would also be among the words uttered by disciples of Jesus in the particular circumstances indicated by the following promise from Luke 12:12,". . . for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."I conclude that this saying does not conflict with any natural law and is thus not inconsistent with the findings of modern science. It does not imply that the disciples will perform greater miracles than Jesus, involving material objects, after his departure.
The first saying discussed above, from Matthew 21, does smack of primitive ignorance of the workings of the natural world. It must therefore be a redaction product, for Jesus understood all things in nature and would not, by such implication, place himself in the category of the unknowing. If there are other sayings of this character in the gospels, they are very few and hard to spot. This fact should give us great confidence in Jesus as one who understood the laws of modern science. We do not find in him evidence of primitive or unscientific thinking such as we should expect, and as we do find in many ancient scriptures.
Nineteenth and Twentieth Century science has unveiled multitudes of mysteries in the world of nature. When moderns read the Bible and many other ancient scriptures, it soon becomes evident that they were penned by scribes who had very primitive conceptions of the world. It follows that we should seriously question their attestation that God was speaking through them, and modern women and men are doing so more and more. One result is that the ancient religions, especially Christianity, are losing influence due to this scientific enlightenment -- as they should.
A tragedy of massive proportions is also in progressing. Enlightened people who have learned, rightly, that much of the Bible must be classified as myth are not distinguishing Jesus and his message from the rest of scripture. They include him in their indictment, due to the association, without investigating his message on its merits. I mean the association of his utterances with the balance of the Bible, and also the association of his name with the Christian Church that preaches the mythical elements as truth. In effect, they are condemning him without giving him a hearing -- something most uncharacteristic of enlightened and just people! The tragedy pertains not to Jesus; it is their own. By failing to give him a careful hearing, they have turned a deaf ear to Truth and the eternal life that is its promise.For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear." (Jesus, Mark 4:22-23)
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