Friday, April 28, 2006

'The Alien Who Is Among You'

Over the past several weeks, the big story has been illegal immigration. Supposedly, about twelve million illegal aliens already reside within America, and millions more are expected to stream through our porous borders in the coming years. Most of these are Hispanics from Mexico and Central America, although with them also come people of other nationalities—and the fear is that radical Islamists have and will use this route to infiltrate the country and carry out another massive terrorist strike.

To think that mass migrations of peoples are a recent phenomenon would be sheer ignorance of history. In fact, few ethnic groups remain in their lands of origin. Those familiar with the Bible are aware that the people of Israel migrated from Canaan to Egypt, and several generations later, after being redeemed from bondage, they migrated back. When Israel was conquered by Assyria about seven hundred years later, they were taken en masse to the land of the Medes, and people of Mesopotamian origin were sent to replace them in Palestine. Later, as church members know, the descendants of Israel began a many-centuries-long migration that took them from the region around the Caspian Sea to northwestern Europe and then on to the New World and beyond.

Many other groups and nations have done the same. Political and economic pressures are primary prods on peoples' movements. For instance, the Potato Famine in Ireland displaced millions of Irish to America and elsewhere in the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, the various ethnicities represented in the Balkans region have shifted due to the political unrest in that part of the world. The ongoing mass-migration of Hispanics into the U.S. is primarily economic opportunism resulting from the disparity of the world's wealthiest nation sharing a border with a far-poorer developing nation.

The history of the Americas, and the United States in particular, can be organized around the concept of migration/immigration and its consequences. This land was colonized by migrants seeking both religious and/or political freedom and economic opportunity, but they clashed with the native population and eventually drove them from their traditional lands. New immigrants swelled the colonial population, expanding the territory, prospering the colonists, and inspiring the idea of liberty and nationhood. More new blood increased America’s inventiveness, capacity, and dynamism, producing a confident, resourceful, and innovative people who spread across the continent, which caused further displacement of native inhabitants. Each new set of immigrants has brought both new challenges and new vigor.

Yet, there is a palpable difference between previous immigrants and the millions of non-citizens now clamoring for amnesty and citizenship. Indeed, most of the previous immigrants to these shores came here through legal channels. However, the distinctive difference between then and now is the attitude of the immigrants, particularly regarding becoming Americans. Previous generations of immigrants—and granted, some still today—truly desired to assimilate to this culture. They learned the history, the laws, the culture, and the language of America, leaving the lands of their birth behind them. They gladly threw themselves into the Melting Pot of America, taking on themselves the proud mantle of American citizens and patriots.

Not so today. Today's illegal immigrants want America to change to suit them. Signs must be in their native tongues, and school must be taught in them as well. They fly the flags of their native countries. They make money under the table, put it in American banks, and wire it back to their native lands—and not necessarily to bring their loved ones across the border to join them but sometimes with the expectation of returning there to live like a king among paupers. They take advantage of our liberal welfare and healthcare systems. They find and exploit every loophole in the law. They form political action groups to lobby for separate rights for themselves. They march, not against injustice but for it! They publicly vow to "re-conquer" lands purportedly stolen from their ancestors. In sum, they do not want to be Americans at all, but merely to take advantage of America's largess.

Believe it or not, the Bible speaks in principle to this current, national problem in several places. For instance, Exodus 12:43-49 concerns participation in the Passover service but can be expanded to include Israelite citizenship. Verse 43 says, "No outsider shall eat it," yet verse 48 stipulates that a "stranger" can eat it if all the males in his family are circumcised. Undergoing circumcision represented that the individual agreed to abide by Israel's laws and accepted the covenant God made with Israel. As verse 49 says, "One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who sojourns among you."

Simply stated, no outsider was to have any of the benefits of citizenship until he voluntarily took upon himself the responsibilities of citizenship. Once he did, he was to be treated as if he had been born and lived in Israel all his life. Other scriptural instances of this standard merely restate or refine this principle to varying degrees (for instance, Deuteronomy 23 excludes various groups due to their negative influences on Israel historically or presently).

In principle, then, America should function no differently. Illegal aliens should be given no benefits of citizenship. We should not lower the bar either for reasons of misguided compassion or higher profits. Entry quotas should be fastidiously monitored and enforced. The border should be strengthened, and all illegal immigrants who are caught—and certainly those who commit crimes—should be unceremoniously deported. Businesses and individuals that knowingly hire illegal aliens should be pursued in accordance with the law.

Unfortunately, there is no will do to any of these things politically or economically. It seems we are in the midst of the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:43-44: "The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He . . . shall be the head, and you shall be the tail." As this chapter plainly states, this is a result of failing to "obey the voice of God" (verse 15). How close are we to experiencing the rest of these curses?

Friday, April 21, 2006

No Good News Here

A recent sensation in the world of New Testament studies is the "presentation to the world" of the supposed "Gospel of Judas." National Geographic, an organization renowned for its progressive views on social, environmental, historical, and even religious subjects, gave the 1,700-year-old papyrus document a lavish premier with an hour-long and heavily advertised special and its own interactive mini-website. Considering all the hoopla, one would have to be forgiven if he thought an original autograph had been found, written in the disciple's own blood. However, this "Gospel" is nothing of the sort.

The docudrama special, shown in prime time on the National Geographic Channel, unfolded the mystery of the ancient codex's journey from Egypt through a maze of antiquities dealers to its modern discovery in the New York bank vault. In poor condition due to neglect, the document was rigorously tested to determine its authenticity as a second- or third-century manuscript. Carbon dating placed it well within those parameters, proving it was not a forgery. Then, of course, a team of top Greek scholars painstakingly translated it, although, because the papyrus is in such bad shape in places, only a partial translation is possible. (If interested, one can read it here.)

Several of the scholars National Geographic chose to comment on the "discovery" of this document are well known within theological circles to be religiously open-minded. Perhaps foremost among them is Elaine H. Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She has written numerous books, most of which focus on Gnosticism in relation to early Christianity. This quotation provides the flavor of her views on the "Gospel of Judas":

Whether or not one agrees with it, it's an enormously interesting perspective. Like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and other ancient texts that remained virtually unknown for nearly 2,000 years, the gospel of Judas offers startling new perspectives on familiar gospel stories: These discoveries are changing the way we understand the beginnings of Christianity.

Another major contributor to the special's academic lineup is Bart D. Ehrman, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His specialty is ancient Christian history, emphasizing the clash between orthodoxy and heresy. Here is a long quotation from him on this new manuscript.

The reappearance of the Gospel of Judas will rank among the greatest finds from Christian antiquity and is without doubt the most important archaeological discovery of the past 60 years. What will make this gospel famous—or infamous, perhaps—is that it portrays Judas quite differently from anything we previously knew. Here he is not the evil, corrupt, devil-inspired follower of Jesus who betrayed his master; he is instead Jesus' closest intimate and friend, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else, who turned Jesus over to the authorities because Jesus wanted him to do so. This gospel has a completely different understanding of God, the world, Christ, salvation, human existence—not to mention of Judas himself—than came to be embodied in the Christian creeds and canon. It will open up new vistas for understanding Jesus and the religious movement he founded.

Note that he calls this a "reappearance of the Gospel of Judas," which is exactly right. As the television special itself mentioned:

Around A.D. 180, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in what was then Roman Gaul, wrote a massive treatise called Against Heresies. The book was a fierce denunciation of all those whose views about Jesus and his message differed from those of the mainstream church. Among those he attacked was a group who revered Judas, "the traitor," and had produced a "fictitious history," which "they style the Gospel of Judas."

Irenaeus is thought to have been a student of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of the apostle John in Ephesus. Among the more conservative of those considered to be "Church Fathers," Irenaeus argued that only the Four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were authoritative, and the so-called Gospel of Judas, which he had evidently read, was not only clearly heresy but also absolutely apocryphal. Judas had killed himself before committing anything about himself to papyrus.

A skim through the translated text makes it plain that the teaching of this purported Gospel is far from Christian. It contains elements from Christianity—Christ, the disciples, the Last Supper, the betrayal—but its main themes are entirely Gnostic and pagan. It includes references to a number of Gnosticism's pantheon of emanations, gods, and demiurges, as well as allusions to the "god" within. In fact, the bulk of the text teaches the "mysteries" of gnosis.

The "Gospel of Judas" is no Gospel; it is not even Christian. As for being "good news," it fails on that score too. It turns the revelation of God in Christ through His disciples' writings on its head, making good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). It entirely ignores the true message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, touting instead the corrupt mystery religion of spiritual self-actualization through mystic knowledge. It is frankly profane.

The early church soundly rejected it as heresy in the late second century, and the true church today heartily concurs. It should have been left to disintegrate completely to dust in that New York bank vault.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bucking Tradition

For most people, it is a difficult undertaking to buck tradition.

There is perhaps no clearer illustration of just how hard it is to throw off the habitual practices of our families and fellow countrymen than in our holiday celebrations. This is doubly true when speaking about religious holidays, such as Easter and Christmas. As often and as forcefully as one might try to proclaim the truth about the paganism and inaccuracies inherent in Easter and Christmas, the words seem to fall on deaf ears. No one wants to have his treasured fantasies burst.

The attitude of many supposed Christians these days concerning these holidays is similar to what God saw in Israel during the ministry of Isaiah:

For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, "Do not see," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 30:9-11, English Standard Version)

What is so difficult is that the truth sets up an uncomfortable proposition: Either we can ignore it and continue blithely in our deceitful, ungodly ways (risking, of course, God's condemnation), or we can accept it and change our lives to conform to it (endangering our relationships with family, friends, and society). It seems to be a no-win situation, each choice fraught with troubles. Most people, despite their purported status as believers, prefer to shrug off the inconvenient truth so as not to rock the boat in the here-and-now. They will worry about what God thinks about their decision later.

Yet, to a Christian, there should be no dithering about a choice like this. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:4-5, "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!"

When a real Christian is presented with truth, he embraces it out of reverence for God. As Christ also says, "He who is of God hears God’s words" (John 8:47). He later said to His disciples, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words" (John 14:21, 24). It is as simple as that.

Since today is Good Friday to most of the Christian world, perhaps we should consider one of these stubborn truths that exposes perhaps the most glaring inconsistency of the entire Easter scenario. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 12:38-40:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

This is not a difficult concept. Jesus says quite plainly that He would be buried for three days and three nights, just as Jonah languished three days and three nights in the great fish's belly (Jonah 1:17). Jesus says elsewhere, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (John 11:9), and He obviously knew that nighttime also covered twelve hours. Since a full day is made up of twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night (see Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, etc.), doing the simple math brings us to the unassailable conclusion that Jesus prophesied, as the only sign of His Messiahship, that He would be buried for 72 hours.

Now, try to cram 72 hours—three days and three nights—between about sundown on Friday and sunrise on Sunday. Not even Superman could do it. In fact, it comes out to about half that time. Hmm.

So, let us consider this logically. If Jesus Himself said He would be in the grave for 72 hours, but He was actually "in the heart of the earth" only 36 hours, then Jesus was a liar, guilty of sin, and His sacrifice to take the sins of the world upon Himself was useless. We have no Savior.

However, through the resurrection from the dead, Jesus did live again and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. This means that He did not lie. He was in the grave for exactly three days and three nights, and then the Father returned Him to life in glory. He lives now as our High Priest and soon-coming King.

Thus, the Good Friday-Easter Sunday tradition is a bald-faced lie. It is a chronological impossibility. Even the traditional Easter text of John 20:1 says plainly that, when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb "while it was still dark" on that Sunday morning, the tomb was already empty. Easter sunrise services have no biblical basis—in fact, since Jesus was put into the tomb just about at sunset, He would have been resurrected at that same time (see Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:38-42).

Will this truth change any minds? Has it changed yours?