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Undeceptions Q&A – John faces your questions

Undeceptions Q&A – John faces your questions


We’re back with the latest instalment of our special Q&A’s, wrapping up season eight of Undeceptions.

In one of our best episodes yet, we put dozens of questions from you. the audience, to John on a range of topics, from the Spanish inquisition to abortion ethics, Jesus’ regional accent to the historicist of Noah’s flood, and everything in between.

Read five hand-picked questions and answers below – or check out the episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Why did Jesus choose ancient Palestine?

Why did Jesus come during the Ancient period? I get why Jesus came (to fulfil God’s promises and save the world etc.) but why the specific time period and place? Why didn’t Jesus come in say, the medieval era? Or the 1900s? Why was it ancient Rome? – Joshua

There are three things I can say with marginal confidence. First, Jesus came at a time when the Jewish hopes of a descendant of King David were still alive and semi-plausible. Even two centuries later after the great destructions of Jerusalem in AD 70, and again in 135, it became virtually impossible to be confident who was a descendant of whom. Our Jewish friends today are still waiting for the Messiah who must be a descendant of King David. The problem is no one has any clue how that could ever be verified, since all of the tribal records, and the family records have disappeared.

Secondly, and more theologically, your question underlines a really important doctrine. In order for God to become truly human, which is an essential feature of the gospel claim, he had to become particular, not universal. He had to become temporal, not transtemporal or eternal.

In other words, it all had to happen at some moment in history, and almost by definition, it would be obscure to other eras of history. In a strange way, the grandeur of the claim about the incarnation of the Creator is actualized in a small, particular local human lifespan. That’s what we have in the gospel.

Thirdly, I think we all have to agree that the way it did happen turned out pretty well. After all, no other figure in world history has had the impact Jesus has had. Professor Steven Skiena, an information scientist published a book in 2013 titled ‘Who’s Bigger?’. He established an algorithm for testing the relative influence of about a thousand historical figures and while not a Christian, Skier’s algorithm found that Jesus was the most influential figure in history, so I’m gonna say that whatever quibbles we might have about the particular time and place it turned out pretty well for the world. 

The Bible and blindness

I teach school students who are blind or have low vision and some have a hard time understanding what their blindness means in regard to their relationship with God. 

I’m keen to know if you have a way to account for the descriptions of blindness in such a way that my students can hear the different passages and still see themselves as loved and valued by a good God, even if/when they are not healed, and despite the fact that some passages use blindness as a criticism (e.g. Leviticus 21:16-18, Jeremiah 31, Malachi 1: 7-8) – Jacqui

I think it’s a little hasty to read the seemingly negative statements about blindness and other conditions in the Bible as diminishing the sight impaired. It’s true that the Leviticus passage mentioned says that no priest can serve before the Lord who is blind or lame or has open sores and so on. But this is more to do with a kind of teaching point, just as the distinction between clean foods and unclean foods was a kind of enacted parable of the distinction between sacred and what we might call secular. 

In Malachi, the command is given not to offer blind or diseased animals to the Lord in sacrifice. If you read it in the context you clearly see it is about Israelite worshipers trying to get rid of their less valuable animals and keep the more expensive animals for commerce. It was them trying to cheat God as it as it were by just giving him the leftovers.

The Jeremiah passage lists the blind along with the lame and expectant mothers as those who are redeemed by God. The point is that these are typically vulnerable people and in the passage, God holds them up as objects of his special care and vindication. 

I don’t think there’s any sense that blindness is a morally bad condition here. I think it’s just a powerful real-world picture of not seeing the truth. I can see how vision-impaired people might take exception to this, especially if it developed into a kind of stigma connected to blindness. But I don’t think that was in the minds of the Bible writers or God. 

The final thing to say is that Jesus welcomed the blind to him. Yes, he then healed them. This clearly suggests that sight is preferable to non-site. But first, he received them. What’s more, they seem to have had the insight that he would accept them.

Catholic “extras” in The Bible

Why is the Catholic and Protestant bible different? What are those differences? Should Protestants read the books that are in the Catholic Bible too? What can Protestants learn from those books? How have those differences changed how Protestants and Catholics view the world? – Phil

While the Catholic and Protestant New Testaments are the same, the Catholic Old Testament has half a dozen or so pretty small extra books like Tobit, one and two Maccabees and so on. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. In the centuries before Jesus, the Old Testament existed in two great languages; the original Hebrew and the wonderful Greek translation called the Subagent, which was for Jews who were living outside of Judea in Galilee and whose first language was Greek. These extra books, one and two Maccabees and so on, come out only in this Greek translation of the Old Testament. We don’t quite know how they were included in that Greek version.

What this meant, practically speaking, is that all Greek-speaking Jews and later the majority of Greek-speaking Christians inherited this longer version of the Old Testament, the one with the extra books. A few ancient Christians noticed that the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament didn’t have those extra books and some of them even recommended that we shouldn’t value these extra books as highly as the books that are common to the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament. But it was really the reformation in the 16th century that kicked off a split over them. The Protestant Reformation was part of a larger tradition of what’s called humanism in the 15th and 16th centuries, which was basically trying to get back to the “originals” of things. Protestants decided that they would go with the slightly smaller Old Testament since that would make it the same Old Testament that Jewish people had in their Bible. But should we read those extra books?

It depends. If you’ve hardly got around to reading and studying the Bible proper as it stands in your Protestant version, I reckon you can forget these extra books until you’re more familiar with the books that are right there in front of you. But if you do have a pretty good knowledge of the Bible, I do recommend reading those extra books. There’s some great stuff in them. One and two Maccabees have some excellent history of the Jewish rebellion against the Greek Empire. The Ecclesiasticus (or what’s also called the wisdom of Ben Sira) is full of Jewish wisdom on everyday life; things like how to have a banquet, how to listen to music and tons of other even more important things. In fact, Anglicans reading may be aware that the Book of Common Prayer, while it doesn’t recognize these extra books as scripture nevertheless, offers a few set readings from these so-called apocryphal books. There is biblical wisdom there, even if the prayer book doesn’t see these books as part of the Bible itself. 

Cremation vs Burial

What’s the deal with burial vs Cremation – specifically around our renewed bodies that God will transform us into? Does cremation hinder this? – Brent

It’s true that burial was always preferred in the history of Christianity, but not because of dogma. A buried person in a grave provides a greater picture, a symbol of the resurrection of the body. Enough people have died in fires or been martyred with fire for Christians to have long had a robust theology of God being able to raise people from their decay ashes. But they did think until very recently that burial was somehow more theologically resonant with the strong doctrine of creation and new creation in the Bible than cremation was. It’s interesting that cremation was so popular in the East, certainly within India within Hinduism where there is a kind of denigration of physical reality that really the afterlife is just about our spirits leaving bodily reality. That’s not the Christian view. Now, personally, I want to be buried in a grave and I want something about the resurrection of the body on my gravestone, please! But I don’t really think it matters that much. And the truth is cremation is cheaper and easier.

All religions point to a universal truth

A friend follows Baháʼí religion and says there is essential worth of all religions is the unity of all people. They regard the major world religions as fundamentally unified in purpose. At the heart of their teaching is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, creeds and classes. It all sounds nice, but how does it play out in reality, and how does it differ from Christianity? – Bek

The Bahai religion, which was developed only in the 19th century, is a well-meaning attempt to bring peace out of the division among the religions. The problem is, in seeking to honour all the religions as one, Bahai actually dishonours every one of them. 

The basic premise of the Baháʼí adherent is that each religion has simply preserved a perspective on the larger truth, whether it’s Islam or Christianity or Buddhism or whatever. These are considered culturally conditioned responses to ultimate reality rather than actual revelations of a particular reality. You can see this just by asking your Baha friend “did Jesus die on the cross”? They will likely say something along the lines of, “this is a belief that teaches us about the love of God. That’s all that matters”. 

The problem is that’s not all that matters to the Christians, and Muslims insist that God would never have let a prophet like Jesus die on the cross. So you’ve got Christians thinking the entire salvation of the world depends on the factual death of Jesus, and you’ve got Muslims who say … not so much. 

Now we can go further and ask, “was Jesus God in the flesh”? Muslims regard this as blasphemy (explicitly in chapter four of the Quran), but Christians regard this as an essential truth of the gospel. Our Baháʼí friends in the name of tolerance will take an illogical each-way bet. They say it doesn’t matter which is the fact of the case. We can draw spiritual nourishment from the idea. This, of course, relegates a central Christian doctrine and worse, it completely negates the Muslim rejection of the incarnation as an impossible sacrilege. That’s why I say that the Baháʼí faith intends to honour the faiths but actually doesn’t quite achieve that.

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Oh boy, does John love questions. So don’t be afraid to send them in. At the end of each season we dedicate an episode or two for John to answer all your burning questions about Christianity. Want to know something more about a previous episode? Or perhaps you’ve got a question about faith that you’ve been struggling to find an answer for?
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