Est. May 2008

11 December, 2012

Dancing Through The Eisegetical Poppy Fields

My favorite religious columnist from the Washington Post (/sarc) strikes again with another eisegetical masterpiece, this one titled, Baby Jesus Was Poor: How to #OccupytheBible at Christmas.


She starts off this whopper with a statement on poverty, a pretty graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing (I guess) how the rich have progressively gotten richer while the poor have gotten…well…had pretty much stayed the same, income-wise, between about 1970 and 2008 (that’s where the graph stops), and a plug of her own book.

The eisegesis starts right after the book-plug with this:
When Jesus announced his ministry as "good news to the poor" and to "proclaim the Year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4: 18-19), he meant that he wanted his society to have a year when economic inequality was reversed. That's the "Year of the Lord's favor" or the biblical "Jubilee" as I write in the Chapter 6: "The Jubilee, or, Jesus Had an Economic Plan" in #OccupytheBible.
BZZZZZT, sorry, wrong, but thanks for playing.

Here’s Luke 4:18-19 in its entirety:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
.”
Jesus was reading the Torah portion for that particular Sabbath, which was taken from the book of Isaiah, Chapter 61, verses 1 and 2:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;

To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
Please note that I took both from the same Bible version, the NASB, and I highlighted the comparable verses.

Question: how could preaching the gospel to the poor change their financial status?  Answer – it couldn’t.  Jesus used that Torah portion primarily to announce His Messiahship (since it was known to be a Messianic prophecy).  His use of the word ‘poor’ (which, in the Isaiah passage read ‘bring good news to the afflicted’) was used in the same manner as He used it in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5, verse 3, specifically), where He appended to it the words ‘in spirit’.  What He was talking about were people who were spiritually impoverished, not necessarily financially impoverished, so this was not, as Ms Thistlethwaite would like her readers to believe, a call from Jesus for income equality.

She goes on to mangle the words of the Lord’s Prayer in order to advance her cause, as well:
The Occupy movement has been growing. Today it is taking action on debt forgiveness, "operationalizing the Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:12) on "forgive us our debts," putting the Jubilee into action.
Once again, this is not talking about forgiving financial debt, and for a couple of reasons.  First, how much of a financial debt to we owe to God?  Well, that must be what she’s talking about, since the request to ‘forgive us our debts’ is directed at Him.  How much of a financial debt do we owe?  The debt is not financial – it’s a debt of sin; this is clear from Matthew 6:14-15, the verses immediately following the prayer which say, ‘For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.  Transgressions – not financial debts – are the ‘debt’ owed (see also Luke 11:2-4).

Onward.
Here then is how we might #OccupytheBible on the birth of Jesus: Jesus was born so poor, his mother had to give birth to him in a stable.
No, He was born in a stable because Jerusalem was so crowded with people who’d come for the enrollment that the only place left for them was a stable – in fact, Joseph had even tried to get a room, indicating he had money to do so.
Jesus was born under a Roman military dictatorship that required, by a "decree" from Emperor Augustus, that his very pregnant mother had to travel to "be registered." (Luke 2:1) Why registered? Well, perhaps so the Romans could tax them more. The King James Version even says this decree was so "all the world should be taxed." The two engines of the Roman Empire, certainly, were getting all the money they could from those they conquered, and making some of the conquered into slaves.
And here we get to the heart of the matter – the evil Roman taxation of the people which caused a great deal of hardship and, dare I say it, poverty among the people.  This is a refrain that pops up a couple more times in this article – that evil government taxation that kept the people down.  Yet the Occupy Movement wasn’t about government taxation, it was about the mythical 1% and the 99%, and about the covetousness of a group of people who believed that they were oppressed by the ‘evil 1%’, which, by the way, the blogged and Tweeted about on their iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, and various laptop computers (all items made by, you guessed it, the very businesses they were protesting).  If they truly were members of the allegedly oppressed and impoverished 99%, where’d they get the money for the high-end tech gear?

Well, moving on…
No wonder that as an adult Jesus of Nazareth called for a "Jubilee," a time when the unjust economic systems of his time could be substantially reversed. Children of the poor in Jesus' time, as among those conquered by the Romans, would have fared badly. This may very well be why the adult Jesus rebuked the disciples for keeping children away who wanted to come to him, saying children are "the kingdom of heaven" (Luke 18:16), contrasting the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of Caesar as it affected children.
The Jubilee (for those who don’t know) was a fifty-year cycle in Jewish law during which all debts were cancelled among the people, all lands were returned, and everybody more or less wiped the slates clean and started over.  It’s kind of odd (IMO) that if Jesus was calling for a Jubilee, He never mentioned it by name – in fact, the only references to the Jubilee are found in the book of Leviticus (with one reference in the book of Numbers).  In fact, no Jubilee likely could have been called, even by the Jewish authorities, since they weren’t in charge – the Romans were, and it would have been highly unlikely they would have allowed a full-year fallowing of fields as well as a complete eradication of all debt.

Finally, M. Thistlethwaite’s remarks regarding Luke 18:16 are far off the mark; in order to see what Jesus meant, one needs to read the whole passage:
And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18:15-17)
That last sentence is the key: to enter the kingdom of God one must have certain childlike attributes, specifically an childlike level of both innocence of heart and dependency upon the one who provides all your needs.  It has nothing to do with how poorly children were treated by Rome, and it has nothing to do with a contrast ‘the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of Caesar as it affected children’.

Eisegesis is rather like a trip through L. Frank Baum’s poppy fields: it makes one lazy and lethargic, and ends up lulling the one utilizing it into a spiritual death.  Worse, it leads others into the same spiritual death.

Know your Bible: that way you’ll be able to tell when you’re being led into the poppy field, and you can run away.

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