Monday, September 10, 2007

The Gospel according to Foxworthy

I must confess that I enjoy Jeff Foxworthy and his kin. I once heard him at a United Methodist annual conference meeting where I was speaking, and he brought down the house with his "you might be a United Methodist if...." parody of his famous "you might be a redneck if..." routine. Jeff is a good Georgia Methodist who has increasingly borne witness to his faith, all the while touring the country with the likes of Larry the Cable guy.

He and two other comics were having a joke off on Comedy Central the other night, and I happened to find them. Foxworthy was winning hands down, but they were all pretty funny. It made me think how unique and particular 'rednecks' are to American culture. Yes every culture has its boors, and slobs, and the great unwashed and uneducated. But it takes a special country to produce rednecks. The interesting thing is that you don't even have to be a Southerner to be a redneck, although apparently it helps :) I am awaiting Foxworthy's classic "Rednecks get Religion: the Gospel for Rednecks", but alas it has yet to see the bookstores.

In the meanwhile.... I leave you with two tidbits from his recent general and Methodist routines.....


"You might be a redneck, if you sit at the breakfast table and stare at that can of orange juice for more than a minute, because it says on the label--- Concentrate."

"You might be a Methodist if those cross and flame boxer shorts are on your wish list for next Christmas!"

God bless Jeff.... he puts the T back in tacky, and the R back in redneck.

46 comments:

Ryan said...

Ben wrote... "The Gospel according to Foxworthy... God bless Jeff.... he puts the T back in tacky, and the R back in redneck."

...and puts comedy in the gospel?

Darryl Schafer said...

You can't make fun of Baptists unless you are one...and I are one, so: you might be a Baptist if think 'Amen' means 'let's eat!'

Cheesy and overdone, but still a good one.

Any other denominations wanna jump in? I'm not trying to usurp your page here, BW. : )

Ben Witherington said...

Indeed, but then there is plenty of comedy in the Gospel already. As C.S. Lewis once said "All things are possible with God (i.e. camels through the eyes of little needles), but imagine how the camel feels all stretched out paper thin from snout to end of tail :)

But seriously, there is plenty of comedy in the parables. For example, you don't put a ton of leaven in a lump of dough, unless you are making pizza for the whole of Galilee!

Blessings,

Ben W.

Ryan said...

Interesting... So what C.S. Lewis had in mind while he was writing the 8th stanza of "Epitaphs and Epigrams" (commemorations for the deceased, and concise and often paradoxical poetry), during his time of grief over the death of his wife who was taken from him by cancer with no positive answer to his prayers for her healing... his intent in this reference was the comedy of camels and needles? The piece you quoted actually reads, "...But picture how the camel feels, squeezed out, in one long bloody thread from tail to snout" -- you surmise he was being comical, not satirical?

Matthew 13:33: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."

From the amount of flour (3 satons, or about 47 lbs), I don't think that this parable is suggesting adding a ton of leaven. The quantity of leaven is not given, but we know that it only takes a little leaven. In fact, the woman is said to have hidden the leaven in the flour, so it seems it has to be small enough to hide. What is the meaning then? Are we to go away bemused by Jesus' comical stories? Or perhaps Jesus was reiterating the prior parable of the small seed that grows to become a large plant which becomes a shelter to others. In the same way then, the fine flour of believers with a little leaven (the working of the Holy Spirit) becomes enough food to feed many people. Perhaps joy... but comedy?

Interestingly, I did a search for "laugh," "laughed" and "laughter" in the NT. Surely if there was plenty of comedy in the gospel, we should have accounts of joyous laughter. Perhaps you might be surprised I only found 6 references and all were negative!

Mat 9:24 "He said, 'Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.' And they began laughing at Him."

Mark 5:40 "They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child's father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was."

Luke 8:53: "And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died."

Luke 6:21: "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

Luke 6:25-26: "Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way."

James 4:9-10: "Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you."

James 5:5: "You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure [ie. without regard for what is right]; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter."

I don't know... perhaps I'm reading a different bible. But it seems to me that there is a very sombre tone to the gospel message, and comedy would be the furthest thing from one's mind when hearing these words.

Ben Witherington said...

Ryan in regard to the leaven story, you have simply misread it. The amount of leaven is enormous, and intended to provoke thought, and probably a smile as well. No woman in her right mind would use so much. At a minimum it suggests a God who is extravagant, and in fact one of the keys to understanding many of the parables is to find the 'unrealistic' element, which makes a kingdom point, not being an attempt at realism.

Perhaps you have too narrow a sense of the comic?

As for Lewis' remark, I stand by my suggestion. He was in a 'better to laugh than to cry' mode.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ryan, a book I have found in the past that was enormously helpful on the parables was, Lloyd Olgavie's "Autobiography of God". The book illustrates the parables as mirrors of God's heart/face. It is a tremedous book. And it does show God's extravagance!! His extravagance was what drew me to him, after all... grace!

Hollands Opus said...

From the last paragraph of G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy":

We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear. Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

Falantedios said...

How many Church of Christ elders does it take to change a lightbulb?


Answer: WHAT? CHANGE!?!?

in HIS love,
Nick Gill
Holly Hill Church of Christ
Frankfort, KY

Kzer-za said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

Angie wrote... "The book illustrates the parables as mirrors of God's heart/face."

Thanks for the book reference. I agree with this; they illustrate God's heart, but Jesus seems to indicate that they were given explicitly because His face was turning away the truth from those who heard them and were unrepentant:

Matt 13:10-16 "And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' (11) Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. (12) 'For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. (13) Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (14) In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'you will keep on hearing, but will not understand; you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; (15) for the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.' (16) 'But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.'"

So the parables were given to hide truth from people who were unwilling to repent.

I think there is a big difference between comedy and joy. There is rejoicing and the kingdom is about joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. But the joy in heaven is "over one sinner who repents," and the joy we have is that our sins are forgiven. The gospel is joyous, but sober joy, never comedic. Yes there is grace, but only to those who humble themselves, contrite of heart. It seems to me that you don't laugh your way into the kingdom.

I think Psalms 2 illustrates the comedy of God very well:

Psalms 2:1-5: "Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? (2) The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, (3) 'Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!' (4) He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. (5) Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying..."

Jesus said that if you love Him you will obey His commandments; but these cast away God's righteous requirements. Perhaps it is a sinister laugh, but I think God is enjoying some comedy here.

Psalms 2:11: "Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!"

Rejoice with trembling... indeed this is a sober joy and not amusement, with a deep seated fear and reverence for the Lord.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ben,

You said the amount of leaven is enormous. Can you please provide the Greek word usage for enormous in Matthew 13:33?

Mat 13:33 He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."

It sure seems to me that Ryan is right. I don't see where the amount of leaven is specified and since the woman "hid" it in three pecks of flour and the scripture says "until" it was all leavened, it appears to be a small amount of leaven that would take time to leaven the entire lump. If there is more to this passage that you can see, please show us where it is? Thanks.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ryan you said that the parables were given to those who were unwilling to repent...who was Jesus saying this about? the sinner? or the "righteous Pharisee"? He was speaking the parables to the disciples....but did they understand fully? And do we NOW?
No, I don't think so, for we see through a glass darkly and that "darkness" is sometimes, yes, self-imposed, but other times it is limited by communities of faith...so it is NOT about religion, but humanity made in his image...that have not experienced "grace"...meaning that those who are in the religious phase understand things soley through a text...and not also through creation, which is revelatory, as well...
I cannot believe that a God that has such diversity in nature (animals, plants, etc.) would limit that creation's expression of his goodness in a "limited and narrow way"...Remember that Jesus was persecuted because he was associating with those who didn't measure up to the "standard" of Jewish "tradition"...Their "tradition" was based on "reason", which is "theology", but just as Job's comforters, Jesus experienced persecution from those who "knew it all"...
I don't believe that there is any text that reveals God absolutely, and completely....For texts are themselves writtem by men, who are understanding their own experiences within historical time... and "theology" is about men seeking to "understand" and bring "reason" to a different philosophical historical time period ...and make sense of their contexts...

Kevin said...

some people just need to have a better sense of humor.

you want to talk about something funny, let's look at Acts 20:9. "Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead."

now the guy died, so that's probably not that funny but the overall circumstance is quite hilarious. paul is so boring that a guy falls asleep and then falls out of a three story window.

Ryan said...

Hi Angie,

You wrote... "He was speaking the parables to the disciples....but did they understand fully? And do we NOW?
No, I don't think so, for we see through a glass darkly and that "darkness" is sometimes, yes, self-imposed, but other times it is limited by communities of faith...so it is NOT about religion, but humanity made in his image.
"

Yes, I understand what you are saying: not one of us should think he understands all things fully. We are not omniscient, but God is. This doesn't mean that we cannot understand what Jesus is saying to us in the parables. On the one hand, I wholeheartedly empathize with your statements because there are a lot of confusing voices out there saying a lot of contradictory things. Yet on the other hand, to throw our arms up and say "we see through a glass darkly" whenever we don't understand something may not be the right attitude. James informs us: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind" (James 1:5-6).

I believe God does give people insight, He is no respector of persons, and He gives it without finding fault. Don't think you need a Ph.D. to begin to understand the oracles of God. Let's look at what Jesus said again:

Matthew 13:11-12: "Jesus answered them, 'To you [those who believe] it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. (12) 'For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.'"

So, to those who have they will be given more. Though they do not understand fully, they will be given more understanding.

In Luke 8:8, we read "As He said these things, He would call out, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'"

Here Jesus is telling those that have open spiritual ears that the mystery of this message is for them to hear. So they are to listen carefully and intently and to seek wisdom and understanding, so that they might obey and teach others to do the same.

We see Jesus giving more to those who had, and He gives understanding because they asked Him in faith. Their asking Him showed that they wanted to understand, and He did not turn them away. Jesus then illustrates that the parable of the soils is key to understanding all the parables:

Mark 4:13: "And He said to them, 'Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?'"

Why would He say this? Was it not because all the parables were addressing the condition of the heart as primary in the kingdom of God? Jesus never puts the lid on the understanding of those who seek Him by turning them away, saying "ah, you all see through a glass dimly. Forget about pursuing the truth... you won't get it anyways until the next life." Rather, He says, "He who has ears, let him hear!"...and the sense of this is "such must hear and obey."

Was Jesus merely concealing the truth from the Pharisees? Well, let's see what He says:

"Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.' At that time Jesus said, 'I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight'" (Matt 11:20-26).

Though Jesus does address the Pharisees specifically elsewhere, here he addresses whole cities and speaks generally. In other words, all who think themselves wise in themselves and do not repent are foolish. Indeed, this includes many of the Pharisees, but He includes all who are like them in heart.

Ryan said...

Kevin wrote... "now the guy died, so that's probably not that funny but the overall circumstance is quite hilarious. paul is so boring that a guy falls asleep and then falls out of a three story window."

Perhaps you are reading your views into the text, as nowhere to we read that anyone thought this was hilarious or that Paul was boring. Shouldn't we aim to see what the people in Paul's hearing would have thought?

Let's think through this carefully. Was anyone required to stay in that upper room while Paul spoke on? Was there going to be an exam for which they needed to listen to their prof lest they fail?

But to someone who sits in front of a professor in university whom they find boring, I can see how that person might find a similar scenario funny. But to import this into the Biblical text seems to me to be reading something into it that seems unjustified. If there is evidence in the text that suggests comedy that I'm missing, please do show me.

Dave said...

Kevin said:
some people just need to have a better sense of humor.

...or even just have one!

Now this is funny!
http://www.cafepress.com/ironydesigns/600035

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

Kevin wrote:
"now the guy died, so that's probably not that funny but the overall circumstance is quite hilarious. paul is so boring that a guy falls asleep and then falls out of a three story window."

That's not the end of the story. It actually turned out okay for young Eutychus.

"But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him." And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the lad away alive, and were not a little comforted." (Acts 20:10-12)

I understand that "not a little comforted" is the work of translators. Still, I cannot help but chuckle at it.

Back in the early 1970's Tom Willett of "The Sons of Thunder" had a song about Eutychus.

Question: How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb, and present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

Kzer-za said...

The story with Rhoda and Peter in Acts is pretty funny. Of course the primary purpose of the Bible isn't to make you laugh and that shouldn't be the main reason one reads it, but that doesn't mean it's wrong to find humorous elements in in it too.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ryan said: "nowhere do we read that anyone thought this was hilarious or that Paul was boring. Shouldn't we aim to see what the people in Paul's hearing would have thought?"

This gives me food for thought. So many people come to the text to see how they "feel" about what the text says when we should be working hard to understand what the text would have meant to the people it was written to. I do think that Jesus was filled with joy because the OT says this about him, but to read into his parables that Jesus was telling a joke (but with a message attached to it) seems to me to be watering down the deep truths that he was teaching.

Ben,

When I read the parables, it seems like Jesus is taking just ordinary examples of daily things so that the people can understand the outer sense but the inner meaning was veiled from them. Even the camel through the eye of a needle would have made sense if it is correct that there was a small passage between two rocks that was called the eye of the needle. The camel was required to kneel (therefore showing an attitude of humility) to get through.

What plain sense would a ton of leaven have meant to the Jews in Jesus' day? They would have said it was nonsense. Yet a small amount of leaven is understandable and makes the inner spiritual meaning also make sense. Jesus' other references to leaven is about a small amount of leaven that permeates the whole lump. If there is biblical evidence from the Greek that Jesus' parable is about a "ton" of leaven, then I for one am very anxious to see the evidence so that I can check it out for myself. I have never seen anything like this before nor do I see any Greek words that hint of this so if there is anything for me to see, I am very anxious to learn.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ben,

Perhaps I misunderstood you to begin with. Were you just pulling our leg and adding comedy to scripture by "noodling" with the text (a "ton" of leaven)? If so, I suppose I can see how you could think this was funny to see how many would fall for it.

Ben Witherington said...

Ryan: This is a misreading of Mk. 4/ Mt. 13 as to the purpose of the parables. They are intended to indicate to the unrepentant that they will not understand unless and until they repent or turn, which is what the text says, and how the Isaiah quote functions in the Gospel text. A better translation of the Greek would be "seeing you will not see... unless you turn.."

Blessings,

Ben W.

Ben Witherington said...

Cheryl and Ryan-- Yikes, what I meant was that the amount of dough, not the amount of leaven, was enormously out of proportion to what any woman would use to make any such bread item. 3 pecks is more than a super-sizing of the flour used. Its a ridiculously large amount, but of course the point is a little kingdom goes a long way to leavening a huge society.

Thanks for the question.

Ben

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ben,

Thanks for the explanation. Please permit me a moment to share a chuckle. It appeared to me that what you were doing to the text was a big job of hermen-noodle-ics :)

Oh and by the way, I think the women had a big crowd to bake for. I used to bake all my bread and I would make a batch that used 20 lbs of flour at a time. The woman only used about twice as much as I did so it just seemed to me that she did baking for a business. Mighty strong hands she must have had and I'll bet she had a few helpers!

And about the yeast - I could get away with 1 tablespoon of yeast for 10 loaves of bread. It took a lot longer to rise, but my bread was still lovely and light and it suited me just fine because as a young mom I found yeast to be expensive and I was frugal enough to be willing to wait for the bread to take all day to rise.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Cheryl:

It is pure fiction that there was a needle gate through which a camel could pass. And in fact it is precisely the point at which abnormal behavior is recorded in these parables that tell us something about the Kingdom or God. A good shepherd would not normally leave the 99 unguarded to go after one. A good father would not send his only Son to collect the rent if he knew his servants had been abused or killed on previous attempts, a good farmer would not scatter seed on the path or on ground that had no chance of producing a crop. Even Palestinian farmers today don't do that though they are desperate for a crop, and the crop yield suggested in Mk. 4 is out of the realm of the normal, indeed beyond what appears to have been possible back then and no you don't use a year's wages worth of flour to do a particular baking, so no, these parables are not realistic in many cases in regard to at least one feature, and the reason is that it is precisely in these abnormal features that there is a message about the miraculous Kingdom, not normal life.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Kevin said...

the link by dave to a t-shirt at cafepress is quite funny. thanks for that dave. i have a little story about another t-shirt i have and a couple responses indicating senses of humor and the lack thereof of fellow christians.

the quote on the shirt says "My boss is a Buddhist Electrician". an obvious pun off that famous old christian bumper sticker/t-shirt. which to me, is quite funny.

i attend a christian school out here in east texas and was wearing that shirt last week. one friend of mine did not like it too much but we didn't really talk about why. although i imagine it was offensive to him because it made fun of something "christians" had made up. i expected as much from him. and then the head of the bible department, who is also one of my professors, told me he thought the shirt was hilarious.

just two examples of how some christians have no sense of humor about themselves and don't really know how to place things in the proper cultural context.

and to ryan, that passage in acts isn't funny to the people in the text, it's funny to me. you've got to loosen up a little man and laugh. i wasn't trying to be theological or exegetical. it's just funny.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ben,

It may be pure fiction about the gate where a camel needs to kneel, but whatever the proverb means, it was common knowledge that it expressed something that was impossible.

Barnes says: This was a proverb in common use among the Jews, and is still common among the Arabians.

And Adam Clarke said: "There is an expression similar to this in the Koran. “The impious, who in his arrogance shall accuse our doctrine of falsity, shall find the gates of heaven shut: nor shall he enter there till a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle. It is thus that we shall recompense the wicked.” Al Koran. Surat vii. ver. 37.
It was also a mode of expression common among the Jews, and signified a thing impossible."

So even though Jesus was talking about something impossible, it was a *common* thing he used so that they all understood.

You said: "A good shepherd would not normally leave the 99 unguarded to go after one."

Yet again Jesus used a common saying. Adam Clarke says "Leaving the ninety and nine, and seeking the One strayed sheep: - This was a very common form of speech among the Jews, and includes no mystery" I would also add that there was a fold and nothing said in the parable about the shepherd's actions putting the other sheep at risk. The parable actually seems to suggest that the 99 were already safe and the only one who was at risk was the one that was lost.

You said: "A good father would not send his only Son to collect the rent if he knew his servants had been abused or killed on previous attempts,"

Yet the parable says that the Father expected that the vine-growers would respect his son as his authority even if they did not respect the servants. That is not an abnormal expectation.

You said: "a good farmer would not scatter seed on the path or on ground that had no chance of producing a crop"

Yet the parable doesn't say that the farmer purposed to scatter see on the road, but that some of the seed fell there. With a bag of seed on your shoulder and a dip into the bag and a scattering of seed, certainly it is reasonable that some seed would fall on ground that is unsuitable. This again was a common occurrence because of the way that they scattered seed by hand.

You said: "the crop yield suggested in Mk. 4 is out of the realm of the normal, indeed beyond what appears to have been possible back then"

The mustard seed certainly would fit this yield (Matt 13:31)

You also said: "no you don't use a year's wages worth of flour to do a particular baking"

I am not sure where you get this from that the flour would be a year's wages, but since the flour used in the parable would feed about 100 people, this would be very reasonable amount for someone who does baking for a living, wouldn't you think? Still seems within reason of "normal" to me.

Lastly you said: "these parables are not realistic in many cases in regard to at least one feature, and the reason is that it is precisely in these abnormal features that there is a message about the miraculous Kingdom, not normal life."

Yet in every one of the parables you find normal activity of very normal people. A woman baking, a woman sweeping her house, a shepherd concerned about a lost sheep, a farmer, seed, bread, flour, yeast. All normal things that were used to express spiritual truths. I may be wrong here and could be corrected, but it seems to me that Jesus was an expert at taking the natural events that everyone could understand and drawing the connection to the supernatural. No one ever appeared to ask him what a sheep was, or a coin or leaven. His ability to use the natural things of this world was amazing. And another thing, we don't need to guess what the parables mean because Jesus tells us in scripture.

Your conclusion is that "abnormal behavior is recorded in these parables that tell us something about the Kingdom or God." I don't think that it is abnormal behavior at all. Strong's says about the word parable: "fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral)"

So a parable involves a narrative of common life. Again we have the "common" theme again. *Common* things for *common* people, yet beneath the surface was an amazing lesson about the kingdom of God.

-heraclitus- said...

as much as i like to validate the importance of the understanding of the bible, i think this is all a bit over the top, the parable of lost sheep explains my point, there are so many lost souls out there that are more important to god than us debating over whether we are interpreting his word right, allthough as i said i like to think it is important, it should not occupy our time too much.

Ryan said...

Ben wrote... "Ryan: This is a misreading of Mk. 4/ Mt. 13 as to the purpose of the parables. They are intended to indicate to the unrepentant that they will not understand unless and until they repent or turn, which is what the text says, and how the Isaiah quote functions in the Gospel text. A better translation of the Greek would be 'seeing you will not see... unless you turn..'"

Ben, I agree with what you wrote above, but I do not believe I am misreading Jesus when I say that He is using parables to veil the truth from those who did not believe. Until this point (as indicated by the reaction of His disciples), He was speaking plainly. However, as a careful reading of the context will show, the Pharisees began to actively try to kill Jesus in Matt 12.

Matt 12:2, they accuse His disciples of doing what is not lawful on the sabbath.
Matt 12:10, they try to trap Jesus by asking Him if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.
Matt 12:14-16, "The Pharisees conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was." Why is He warning people not to tell others that He is the Messiah? Because they are looking to kill Him because of this fact.
Matt 12:24, "But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, 'This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.'" They accuse Him of being satanic and therefore a deceiver.
Matt 12:38, "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.' But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.'"
Matt 12:41-42, "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it... The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it..."

THIS is the context behind Jesus' words in Matthew 13:11-17. Jesus is dividing people, drawing those who believe to Himself and hardening the rest in whom Isaiah 6 is being fulfilled. Did Jesus not understand the context of what was written in Isaiah 6:9-13? Surely He did. In this text it is clear that Isaiah was initially called to "make the hearts of these people calloused". Isaiah knew what he was called to do because he inquired, "Lord, how long?" to which the Lord replied, "Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant...and the land is utterly desolate." The Lord was coming in judgment to the people and taking away what little they thought they had. This is why Jesus said in Matt 13:12 "...but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

Can you show me from the text how I am misreading this?

Ryan said...

-heraclitus- wrote... "as much as i like to validate the importance of the understanding of the bible, i think this is all a bit over the top, the parable of lost sheep explains my point, there are so many lost souls out there that are more important to god than us debating over whether we are interpreting his word right, allthough as i said i like to think it is important, it should not occupy our time too much."

I understand your sentiments, but I don't believe we are wasting time by trying to understand the scriptures and what God intended through the parables and how He communicated the gospel. Clearly, unless you interpret God's word correctly, what you tell 'lost souls' might be untrue and misleading. If you think that the parables are comedic stories intended to get a smile on people's faces and merriness in their hearts, how do you think this will change how you reach out to them and their interpretation of the seriousness of heart change? The Holy Spirit was not sent to make men's hearts merry, but to "convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in Me...and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged" (John 16:8-11).

I can have a good time too, and am not against it. But when someone says that the gospel and the parables are full of comedy as though we are doing God's work by making people laugh when telling them the serious things of God which matter to their eternal destiny, then I am compelled to speak. So sorry if I sound so serious, but honestly... this is no laughing matter.

Dave said...

Ben,
thanks for your explanations, especially of Mk 4, that make so much more sense to me.

gib said...

Ryan,

I appreciate you earnestness in interpretation, but don't you think that elevating "seriousness" as it pertains to hermeneutics is a little much? Can't Dr. Witherington have some mild fun on his blog without having to defend it? Is he a heretic for posting something light-hearted? Have you read his commentaries regarding the issues your want clarification on? That may help you understand his position "in seriousness" regarding the texts that you call into question.

I wholeheartedly agree that we take the interpretation of the Scriptures seriously. But this is a blog post for crying out loud. Dr. Witherington has both the published materials and educational credentials that speak to his "seriousness" in regards to interpretation. I would wrestle with those materials and then ask for a defense before basing my assessment of his views of Scripture on a blog post.

Seriousness...the new circumcision?

Cheryl Schatz said...

gib said: "But this is a blog post for crying out loud. Dr. Witherington has both the published materials and educational credentials that speak to his "seriousness" in regards to interpretation. I would wrestle with those materials and then ask for a defense before basing my assessment of his views of Scripture on a blog post."

Many more people will read these blog posts then will read Ben's other written materials. It appears wise, I think, to have balance in all of these writings to that someone can clearly understand Ben from these posts too without having to go back to other writings. Writing with clarity in mind is a good goal and answering questions to clarify any wrong understanding is helpful. That is what is so great about these blogs. They are interactive while other writings are not.

Wayne Bowerman said...
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Wayne Bowerman said...

Ben, great post. I was raised in a small redneck town and my father used to go coon hunting. And I enjoy a good laugh.

Ryan, If I hear you correctly, I appreciate what you are trying to say: the gospel should not be taken lightly.

But perhaps a consideration of the classic definition of comedy really could help ease your mind. Comedy is the story that has a happy ending, the story in which the central character triumphs over his adversaries. This is of course in juxtaposition to tragedy which has a somber theme, usually a story of a good person destined to destruction because of some conflict or character flaw. So in the classic sense of Greek comedy and tragedy, one could rightly say the gospel itself is a comedy.

And it is okay to laugh sometimes. It took me a long time to believe that; but its true.

Blessings,
Wayne

Arthinian Gammell said...

I agree with Gib. I feel that Ryan and Cheryl are constantly hijacking this blog and trying to corner Ben on every post...i am tired of it. Ben and Cheryl, there is a difference between discussing a blog post and trying to indoctrinate this blog with your own personal views (of which in my opinion are narrow minded and wrong most of the time). I am sure if you were to look at your own theological heritage and look at Bens, you would most surely see that you come from a different position and there lies your tension. Be fair...this is Bens blog and he does not need to be challenged about his views or about everything he posts. If you took the time to read his work you would find many of the answers and positions he holds as clear as day. Please...do not consume this blog with your attempts to change everyones views to be inline with yours. Discussion is fine, but my friends and I get tired of both of you nit picking peoples responses. If you really want to challenge Bens views...Engage in the Academic World (which i doubt neither of you are qualified for or have the credentials to do so)and take him on there not on his blog where we all take it for what it is. Realise this is not your own personal space to look 'educated'
Enough said....

Peleg said...

Amen and thank you Arthinian

Ryan said...

Arthinian wrote... "Ben and Cheryl, there is a difference between discussing a blog post and trying to indoctrinate this blog with your own personal views (of which in my opinion are narrow minded and wrong most of the time)."

But of course you are not trying to indoctrinate me with your personal views now, are you? It would seem that if you believe you are right and that there are ramifications to what you believe that it is only natural to try to share your thoughts and convince others. As far as I can tell, Ben owns this blog; he is the only one who can post. The comments are free and open to anybody... that is in a free-thinking society. And I don't think I am being uncivil though I might have points of disagreement. You would do well to note that tolerance is meaningless if it only has to do with those who agree with you and are your personal buddies. It only has meaning only when it comes to how one deals with those with whom he disagrees.

Wayne wrote... "Comedy is the story that has a happy ending, the story in which the central character triumphs over his adversaries."

Wayne, I appreciate your comments and well stated. If taken this way, it is perfectly compatible with the gospel. But of course, the gospel contains both tragedy and comedy (as you defined it), since it speaks about the judgment of unbelievers and the salvation of those who believe. I think we should remember that it is a two-sided coin that cannot be separated.

Then again, and Ben can correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think that this particularly the kind of comedy Ben was referring to in this post.

Arthinian Gammell said...

Like i said ryan, it is not simply about wrong or right it is about the way you approach a discussion. I have no problem with people who disagree, just those that wish to diagree on absolutly everything in order to be 'right'. Look through your posts Ryan and i am sure you will see that the majority of your posts are trying to get Ben or others to see your view as the 'right' view. All i am asking is to realise that this is a 'public' forum that 'all' are welcome to have there opinion without you slamming everything that people say. Part of learning and dialoging is realising when you are wrong, out of your depth, and out of line and pulling back the reigns and self evaluating.
I am not suggesting everyone accept my views, having said that, i do not post comments on everyone else comments, and rarely post at all on this site. I do not want to get into an argument on bens blog, i was just pointing out my own view of what often takes place and is frustrating for many of us. You do what you want with my comments, i do not intend them to be vicious, simply upfront and honest.
A point to ponder.....
Does believing the 'right things(by this i mean doctrines and propositions)' get you into heaven?
Peace

Cheryl Schatz said...

I said: "It appears wise, I think, to have balance in all of these writings so that someone can clearly understand Ben from these posts too without having to go back to other writings."

arthinian said: "If you really want to challenge Bens views...Engage in the Academic World (which i doubt neither of you are qualified for or have the credentials to do so)and take him on there not on his blog where we all take it for what it is. Realise this is not your own personal space to look 'educated'"

Since I have rarely ever posted except mostly on the one post where Ben challenged Matthew's view of the virgin birth as his own personal interpretation of Isaiah instead of it being the actual interpretation, I think you have bull dozed over me regarding what has been a very charitable discussion. When a person's views are not up for challenge then they are suspect. I don't think Ben minds such a thoughtful challenge. As a professor I am sure he is used to reasoning through his interpretation.

As far as engaging in the academic world, I have done that with Ben. I have respected him enough to ask for his review of my DVD thesis on women in ministry called "Women in Ministry Silenced or Set Free?"
It is a subject that Ben is very interested in and he too has fought for the freedom for women to serve in ministry. I am still waiting to hear back from him, but the fact that I chose him as one of the few to get a review copy shows that I must not be treating him as you suggest.

I have also read Ryan's comments and although Ryan is also very passionate for the full inspiration of scripture, he has had some very thoughtful comments and questions and he has not been unkind. If there have not been any questions or challenges on Ben's blog before, my question would be why not?

I also appreciate that Ben allowed a challenge regarding his interpretation of the leaven. He admitted that he was mistaken and that was a blessing to see someone humble enough to do that.

Ryan said...

Athinian wrote... "...it is not simply about wrong or right it is about the way you approach a discussion."

I want to clarify a comment I made on tolerance. Tolerance can apply to many things, but I think that what the Bible admonishes us to tolerate is what we consider to be imperfections in people and the things that make them unique including, it seems, the way they come across. Perhaps you do not like the way I approach a discussion, but it seems that it would be more productive for you to suggest what you feel is a better way, more aligned with scripture, than to try to silence me.

On the toleration of false ideas, the Bible does not command us to do this. In fact, false ideas can be spiritually harmful to people, which is why the apostle Paul told Timothy to command certain ones to stop preaching false doctrine. I am not making a judgment here, but a statement. This brings me to your next point...

Athinian wrote... "A point to ponder..... Does believing the 'right things (by this i mean doctrines and propositions)' get you into heaven?"

Clearly, it is not true that one must have a perfect or even a complete understanding of the propositional truth of Christ and His work in order to be saved. But Jesus definitely made propositions about His Godhood and that we must place our faith (active trust) in Him. I guess the question is, if you reject His propositions, can you have faith? Or, if you do have faith, how strong will that faith be and will it stand when put to the test?

Jesus does speak propositionally and expects us to accept His propositions and to obey them: "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day" (John 12:48).

One other note to Wayne...

Wayne wrote... "...one could rightly say the gospel itself is a comedy."

While I agree with you in part because of how you defined comedy, I wanted to point out something that many people do not see. Paul said that his gospel (meaning good news) also contained judgement: "on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Rom 2:16). So again, both sides of the coin are part of the package, something we see consistently throughout the scriptures.

Dave said...

Arthinian... thank you for speaking your mind.

I just skip over certain folk's comments because I know they don't have the same theological background that i do. I used to frequent a website inhabited by those of a calvinistic persuasion, and finally decided after awhile that it was best to leave and go to a site (yeah Methoblog) that built me up, rather than tear me down.
Now however, I have 4 teens at home, so I'm somewhat immune to getting sucked into arguments...lol! (if you have teens you know what I mean...lol!)

Ryan said...

Dave wrote... "I just skip over certain folk's comments because I know they don't have the same theological background that i do."

"Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).

I also wonder how much theological training the donkey who rebuked Balaam had...

Azul said...

Ryan wrote: I also wonder how much theological training the donkey who rebuked Balaam had...

Why yes, you are a jackass!

Dave said...

Uhmmm... dude... you seriously need to take a chill pill.

I never mentioned anything about "education" or "training".

I was pointing out that sometimes its better to ignore, and not get into an argument with folks of a different theological persuasion.

Azul said...
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Cheryl Schatz said...

Dave said: "I was pointing out that sometimes its better to ignore, and not get into an argument with folks of a different theological persuasion."

Christians can talk and discuss and still be respectful and kind. Arguing on the other hand is when people take pot-shots at others and call them disrespectful names.

Dave said: I never mentioned anything about "education" or "training".

You may not have noticed that someone else did suggest that there is a lack of education especially those people who disagree on this blog and I was pointed out as one of those who probably was not educated. I think it was just fine for Ryan to answer that wisdom comes from God and not all people who are wise in God's eyes are educated. God can use a poor and lowly vessel just as well as he can use a vessel that has more of what the world considers to a higher educational status. Praise God for that, eh?

When we show that we love Jesus and abide in his love, we can discuss issues of difference and still do it with grace. We should never shut down discussion even it there are differences. One of my favorite Pastors who has been in the ministry for 50 years said that he is open to learning from anyone even seemingly uneducated people because everyone has something that we can learn from. When there is a difference of opinion, it is an opportunity for us to learn how to understand someone else's point of view and compare it to scripture to see if it is compatible with the bible. That causes us to stretch and grow. Or else we can see the weakness of our own position and have the opportunity to find a better foundation for our opinion or perhaps even be humble enough to be corrected by the wisdom of others. Either way, we can disagree agreeably without calling people names.