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Bible Puzzlers

Under the category of “things that puzzle me”, I submit the following:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

That’s Matthew 7:21-23 (NAB). Pretty straightforward, right? And it makes sense in that it agrees with other parts of the bible: just mouthing the words isn’t enough. Right?

But wait, not so fast! Acts 2:21 (NAB) quotes (kinda) the prophet Joel, and says:

And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

That was Peter, standing and announcing this to the men of Judea. But, what should we make of this? Is mouthing the words enough? Hmmm, well, let’s refer to what he’s quoting. Joel said in Joel 2:32 (or 3:5 in the NAB):

I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit. “And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

So, what’s the context here? Well, Joel was talking about an invasion of locusts that the Lord saved the Israelites from. Technically, He had commanded the invasion in the first place, so you can view it as “God called off the attack dogs” (er, “attack locusts”). Hrm. That doesn’t help. So, what’s Peter bringing this locust invasion up for? The apostles were just imbued with the gift of tongues, and everyone in Jerusalem could understand them in his own language for the first time, so Peter stood up, seized this momentous occasion under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and this was the first thing he said:

Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my manservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Well, that doesn’t really help so much either. Peter is explaining that they’re speaking in tongues by quoting Joel’s prophesy about the end of days. In essence, he’s saying that these are the last days, and this (the fact that everyone can understand them in their own language) is a result of God pouring out His Spirit. So, whoever calls on the name of the Lord during these days (i.e. now) will be saved, but for the people BEFORE Jesus’s time (i.e. before the last days) calling on His name wasn’t enough? … I don’t know. That doesn’t sound reasonable. This is why it puzzles me.

Update (11/17/08): Something to consider is that “Lord” isn’t God’s name, it’s His title. Thus, saying “Lord, Lord” is calling upon the Lord’s title. A bit nitpicky, perhaps, but that does technically resolve the logic of the statements.

Here’s another one. In Acts 15 (RSV), the Bible talks about the big controversy over whether or not the Gentiles must necessarily be circumcised. Peter decides that they do not need to be circumcised, and so they send an open letter to the Judeans, that reads:

This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number (who went out) without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’

That’s it? That’s the whole of it? None of this “love no god before me” or “love thy neighbor” or “love each other as I have loved you” business? They boil the entirety of Christ’s commands down to abstaining from meat and unlawful marriage?!? What about Christ’s statement, quoted in Mark 7:18-19 (NAB):

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?”

What on earth was the point of the list the apostles put into that letter? … I haven’t a clue.

Now, different translations of the Bible translate that last sentence a little differently. What I quoted above was from the NAB (New American Bible). But the RSV (Revised Standard Edition) translates that last sentence as:

If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

That’s a bit different, eh? One is brotherly advice, one is the definition of the difference between right and wrong. Still, what’s the point of that list? They didn’t specifically say “you can skip circumcision”; as best I can tell, the point is just that circumcision is left off of that list. But then, trying not to murder anyone is ALSO not on that list. If they aren’t defining something important (right from wrong, say, where things left off the list are just as important as what’s on the list), then the list is really rather pointless and is significant only in that it has nothing at all to do with circumcision. If it IS defining something important, then… aren’t a few details missing? I am befuddled.

But, I did find a quote that’s better than Timothy’s on deeds and faith. John 14:23-24 (NAB):

Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

That, at least, is not so puzzling.


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