Oct 252007

The Middle Word
Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Living in the Image of God
Jewish law envisions a future in which all human beings are treated as infinitely valuable, equal, and unique
The following is the first in a two-part series:

There is a fundamental principle of Judaism that accounts for all Jewish ethics, including the obligation to love your neighbor as yourself. The Talmudic sage Ben Azzai suggests that this axiom is the Torah’s statement that “God created the human being in God’s image … man and woman God created them.” The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) spells out the implications of this concept. Judaism holds that–to paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence–all humans are created in the image of God, and therefore they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and dignities, among which are infinite value, equality and uniqueness. Let’s explore what these three concepts really mean.

INFINITE VALUE: An image of man has a finite value. A Picasso sold for $30,000,000 plus; a Van Gogh for $82.5 million. But an image created by God is worth incomparably more; it is of infinite value. That is why the Talmud states that “To save one life is equivalent to saving a whole world.”

If a life is infinitely valuable, then it must be treated with great concern and care. No precious work of art would be left outside, exposed to the elements. Thus no image of God should ever be allowed to lie on the street, homeless and freezing during winter. Similarly, it is worth spending hundreds of thousands, and indeed millions of dollars, to medically treat and save the life of an infinitely valuable person–meaning, everyone.

EQUALITY: In the Jewish tradition, God is described in images ranging from a powerful warrior to a comforting mother. But it is understood that no image is literal or fixed, and no image is intrinsically superior to the other. To present an image of God as the preferred (or fixed) image of God is idolatry. All images of God (that is, all humans) are equal. Thus the claim that whites are superior to blacks, or males are preferred to women, or members of one religion are truly the image of God and the others are not, is equivalent to idolatry.

UNIQUENESS: Images of man are meant to be replicable. The normal assumption of all stamps, all coins, all reproduced photographs is that one is identical to the next; that is because they are images created by human beings. However, says the Talmud, an image created by God has this distinction: The Holy One creates all human beings from one mold (Adam and Eve), yet each one is different from the other. Not even identical twins are identical. To see people through stereotypes violates the fundamental dignity of the other person as a unique image of God.

The world that we inhabit degrades these fundamental dignities. Poverty and discrimination, legalized slavery and oppression, cultural stereotyping, and human neglect are rampant–but they are incompatible with the dignities of the image of God. Therefore, the Jewish tradition insists that this status quo be fundamentally restructured. We are commanded to work for tikkun olam, to perfect and transform the world until it fully respects the image of God in every human being. We must overcome poverty and hunger, which contradict the infinite value of the individual. We must overcome oppression, because racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc., all deny the equality of the other. We must overcome war, which is essentially fought by destroying infinitely valuable images of God with abandon. That is why Isaiah prophesied that “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and they will not learn war anymore.” Isaiah promises that death itself, the ultimate denial of our unique, irreplaceable value, “will be swallowed up in eternity,” that is, overcome.

In short, the Jewish dream of tikkun olam includes the ultimate triumph of life over death and the realization of a world in which the full dignities of every individual are respected, nurtured, and developed. This is the Messianic Age in Jewish tradition. Incorporated into Christianity, into Western culture, and into certain variants of Islam, the Jewish revolutionary promise of world transformation has proven to be extraordinarily liberating and shattering of the status quo.

How shall we live until the final perfection is achieved? The answer of Jewish law and tradition is that we should respect the image of God to the maximum possible degree in all our conduct. Tzedakah, the obligation to help the poor and the hungry, stems from the fact that the needy are equal and infinitely valuable. Lashon hara (evil speech) is prohibited (even if the facts asserted are true) because the talk degrades the image of God in another other person. Sexuality is the search for physical and emotional confirmation of our uniqueness and infinite value–as well as that of the other. Thus, all mitzvot (commandments) can be seen as attempts to nurture the dignity of every human being in the image of God. Judaism is the way of life of Jewry, the community that tries to live by this higher standard–until we achieve tikkun olam, the perfection that will make universal the infinite value, equality, and uniqueness of all human beings.

from belief net.

Sep 192007

I wanted to write a few words about the Bible, and explain why I think it is a book of great spiritual value but is not, especially in present form, a perfect and infallible guide to all truth. I’m in a bit of a quandary of how to begin, because what I generally like to do when trying to write persuasively is to first map out the points on which I agree with my intellectual opponents, and then move along to the points of disagreement. I find that people read what you have to say more openly when you convince them that you understand and respect their point of view first. (As an aside, this was something which my self-selected patron Thomas Aquinas taught me. He understood and presented his opponent’s arguments so well that modern readers are sometimes a bit confused about what position he is actually arguing for).

The problem is that the people I’d like to persuade fall into two drastically different groups – those who take a very literal view of biblical infallibility, and those who find no value in it at all. So…let’s go in chronological order and talk about what the Bible IS before talking about what it BECAME.

Our Bible critics correctly point out that the Bible contains contradictions. It contains points of view that are historically inaccurate and scientifically naïve. It endorses laws, customs and behaviors that we would find barbaric, and prohibits others for what seem to us to be no good reason, often crystallizing behaviors which seem to us to be merely outdated social customs into eternal moral precepts. It contains works from a wide variety of sources (some of them pagan) from different historical periods, and these sources have different and even contradictory points of view on spiritual and even factual issues. It contains several works which purport to be authored by individuals who almost certainly did NOT actually write them. Finally, both the old and new Testaments have been redacted, perhaps several times, by editors who re-wrote sacred history, included some sources and discarded others, and made editorial changes to the whole collection – in order to suit their own point of view.

So why read it?

Starting from the ground up, we need to read it because of its immense cultural significance. The Bible is not simply an attempt to record history – the Bible IS history. The book itself has had a more profound influence on Western civilization (for good and bad) than any other work. It has affected our law, our educational system, our philosophy, our systems of government, our customs, our social institutions, etc. It’s impossible to understand our world without understanding the Bible.

Secondly, we read it because of its literary value. Just as we read and appreciate the Iliad or the histories of Shakespeare for their own internal beauty (in spite of the fact that neither is good history or good science). The Bible contains the writings of gifted authors, containing poems and stories and writings full of beauty, savagery, pathos and glory. It has been a source of inspiration for countless works of literature, music, painting and sculpture. The poetry of Dante and Milton, the music of Handel and Bach, the painting of Rembrandt, the sculpture of Michelangelo… all steeped in Biblical themes and influences. Not to have read the Bible makes us artistically handicapped.
Then there is the element of scholarship. Because the books of the Bible have been regarded as sacred for much of their history, they have been preserved with as much care and accuracy as ancient methods allow. In fact, even many of the textual errors introduced into the Bible were for the sake of accuracy. Scribes would sometimes copy marginal notes into the text when recopying a manuscript, for fear that the notes might have been part of the original text, and being unwilling to take the chance of discarding holy words. Because of this, the Bible preserves layers of historically invaluable material which can help understand earlier periods of history.

It is true that it requires quite a bit of training and considerable research to understand what the Bible REALLY tells us about the times it was written in, and disputed opinions are many. During much of the time the Bible was authored, the concept and standards of writing “history” or “biography” as we know it today were unknown. The historical and biographical (and other) forms of the Bible have to be understood on their own terms, and not on ours.

Finally (and for many, most importantly), what about the SPIRITUAL value of the Bible?

In spite of the differing viewpoints and historical development mentioned earlier – in my position as someone interested in mystical spirituality and the Perennial Philosophy – the Bible is irreplaceably valuable. Let me explore for a minute a couple of concepts from Ken Wilber’s work on human spiritual history – the concept of stages vs. states.

Mankind passes through stages of spiritual, moral and social development. In the normal course of things, this can generally be regarded as “progress” (although there are pitfalls at each stage). These stages, which I’ve mentioned before, move from animism and shamanism up through goddess-centric horticultural societies, power-gods, mythic-membership societies, mental and intellectual abstractions of spirituality and eventually integral spirituality. (For some explanation on this development, see Ken’s essay ‘Which Level of God Do You Believe In at http://www.beliefnet.com/story/153/story_15318_1.html) While there will always be a few forward-looking individuals who are several stages ahead of their culture, they will usually end up at odds with the culture as a whole until a critical stage of development is reached.

But the second factor to consider is extraordinary STATES of consciousness. At every stage of development, both culturally and personally, there are occasions when we have access to extraordinary and unusual STATES of consciousness. While the stages of consciousness need to be EARNED by hard work and development, these extraordinary states are often a free gift. From out of nowhere, Saul of Tarsus may be knocked off his horse or Ezekiel may see visions of strange symbolic beasts, or the tribal Shaman may enter a trance. We can group these (roughly) into nature mysticism, deity mysticism, formless mysticism, and nondual mysticism. And anyone can experience any of these, at any stage of development. BUT, on returning to their ordinary state of consciousness, they will tend to interpret these experiences in the context and language and trappings of their stage of development. An experience that a Greek might interpret as a visit from Apollo, for example, a modern Jungian might interpret as an experience of an inner archetype.

The reason for this slightly long explanation, and the application is this: Mystical states and truths are described in the Bible. They were experienced by prophets and seers and poets of various ages and at many stages of human development. But they are reported in the language of the stage of development the authors find themselves in. The Psalms, for example, which at times sink into bitter recriminations or lash out at enemies, are also full of poetry which proceeds from deep mystical insights from several states of consciousness. Spiritual insights, most likely the product of these experiences of extraordinary states of consciousness, abound in scripture.

In addition to the insights of extraordinary prophets and seers, the Bible contains many stories rich in universal archetypes and mythic themes. The need for powerful and expressive mythology seems to be fundamental to human spiritual development. Witness the popularity of modern mythological creations such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the entire fantasy genre is sparked, or the mythology of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’, which explicitly and deliberately utilized the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell in creating his storyline. Campbell described mythology as “the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation”, and believed that a lack of mythology had severe negative consequences for society and individuals. Mythology allows people to identify their own life and situations with universal patterns and themes, to feel connected with the cosmos. Whether we are David fighting Goliath or Joseph forgiving his brothers, we can find indispensable mythic images in the Bible that resonate with our life situations – particularly at certain stages of development.

It has been suggested that my method of finding valuable insights and patterns in the Bible is similar to finding shapes in a Rorschach ink-blot. I see the “higher message” because I’m LOOKING for a higher message. But this isn’t all I see. I’m quite aware of problems, provincialisms, contradictions and barbarities preserved in scripture. In addition to this, I find profound spiritual value. Perhaps the Rorschach criticism points both directions. It’s possible to read the Bible and see ONLY the difficulties – because difficulties are what we want to see.

But, granting that there is spiritual good in the Bible, wouldn’t it be better to simply extract that good and throw away the rest? Couldn’t a book with mystical insight and mythic purpose be written that was as good as or better than the Bible? While I’m all in favor of such books, I don’t believe they would replace the Bible for this reason: having been written from a variety of viewpoints at different stages of spiritual development, the Bible SPEAKS to all those viewpoints and stages, and can be used as a tool to lead us from one to the next. The individual at the “power-god” stage will find plenty of heart-warming stories in the Bible that assure him how much better and more powerful HIS God is than other gods. Meanwhile, such a person can be approached with the more subtle teachings of Jesus or Paul that call them to a higher stage of understanding. The “power-god” person is not going to even pick up a book by Krishnamurti or Eckhart Tolle. Which brings me to a final point about the Bible.

While I respect the right of others to disagree, I find something profoundly “providential” in the way the Bible has managed to come together out of apparently contradictory viewpoints to form a more balanced whole than any of it’s individual sources could have imagined or intended. In the Old Testament, some sources saw God as distant and transcendent. Others saw him as immanent and approachable. What results is a unique harmony of both views that see divinity both in the absolute and in the manifest. Lawgivers in the Old Testament are balanced by charismatic and iconoclastic prophets. In the New Testament, some sources emphasize Jesus’ humanity, others his connection with divinity. Some books argue for grace and others for morality. In the balance of these opposites, more profound truths are achieved than in either extreme.

It occurs to me that this is a long enough post without getting into the next part – how Bible reverence went awry. I’ll try to post on that presently.

Jun 252007

Science rules out all religion except the highest. "

D.E. Harding


As most of you know, I have a lot of sympathy with atheists. There’s something noble in many of them. Since childhood, most of them have been approached with crass literal interpretations of the religious metaphors of the Bible. They have heard irrational justifications for the divine misbehavior in the Old Testament. They have been told they are damned for wrongs they never personally committed. They have been offered contradictory and arcane explanations for why Jesus dying on the cross should matter to them. They have been called fools and swine when they found all these ideas unpersuasive. Ultimately they have been threatened with everlasting torture and finally shunned.


There’s a refreshing courage in someone who can simply tell the Christian culture it can take a hike. And buried under a reasonable skepticism is often a profound regard for the truth, however stark it may be. But… I find that I cannot be an atheist. There are simply too many important things in my experience that hard-line atheism either dismisses or disparages.


One of my favorite quotations from G. K. Chesterton goes like this: “We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.”


There are moments in my experience when rationality and positivism aren’t an adequate world view. In fact, to say they are inadequate is a terrible understatement. They seem, as Chesterton said, “dead”. When I try to get into the mindset of the hard-core materialism, I feel like the men in Eliot’s poem.


“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar”


The External World

“Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all in my hand, little flower—but if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.” – Tennyson

I felt the dryness of rationalism first in relation to the external features of the cosmos. My first major in college was zoology, so I had a reasonably good scientific education. But time and time again I would find that science simply pointed me toward profound states of awe, but then couldn't follow me into the wonder of it. I can remember many of the exact experiences – Looking at a map of the universe in National Geographic. Staring up into a profoundly clear night sky at sea. Studying the ATP cycle in molecular biology. I would be left with a overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement, and nothing to this day changes my belief that these things are WORTHY of amazement – in fact demand it. It makes no difference to point out that the ATP cycle, for example, could have come about by “natural” processes. All this does is rearrange the wonder, not diminish it. It is just as inexplicable that it should be possible for “natural processes” to create such a marvel. The natural processes themselves become the wonder.


The Internal World

"The heart has reasons that reason knows not of. We feel it in a thousand things. . . . . do you love by reason?" – Pascal


Looking at my own inner life inspires more wonder. Is it really possible that so much meaning and joy and wonder arises in a cosmos who’s own interior is entirely dead and inert? No physical explanation of cognition even touches the inner experience. Joy, and spirit and art and ecstasy simply are not, to my mind, fortunate epiphenomena arising out of the cold physical facts of the world. They are more important to me, and more real to me, than the physical world itself, and it seems unavoidable that they arise out of the innermost nature of the cosmos itself. And so I suspect that not only in myself, but in the entire cosmos, “inner experience” is a fact, and that the whole cosmos has an “interior life” of some kind.

Aesthetic experience

When I experience natural beauty, look at a sunset or ponder a flower – or when I read a transcendent poem or look at a great painting – what is this profound feeling I experience in connection with the quality of these objects? It is really a matter of my mere subjective preferences – just as I like carrots but abhor beets? This seems a totally unsatisfactory answer for aesthetic experience. When we appreciate quality in the world, we are appreciating something real – something supremely important. This quality is recognized by a non-thinking process, and hence cannot be defined, tested for or recorded by an instrument. And yet… we know what it is.


Existence Itself

Nothing is more amazing than the fact that anything exists at all. It's difficult to really wrap our mind around just how bizarre the fact of existence is. I remember at least one occasion, however, when the whole foreign mystery of existence itself came crashing through to my consciousness. I felt trapped in some terribly foreign state of being, totally out of place. I suspect many have had similar experiences. WHY is there something rather than nothing – this seems the ultimate question, and it is impossible to feel the full weight of this mystery bearing down on your consciousness without sensing that something terribly important is behind it all. But, as Ken Wilber pointed out, strict materialism has nothing to offer to the mystery of existence beyond what he calls "the philosophy of oops" – a reluctance even allow the question of "why?"

Mystical experience

At the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas (the real one that is) experienced a profound mystical vision that caused him to put down his pen and leave his Summa Theologica for another to finish. His scribe begged him to complete the work that would come to be considered the greatest masterpiece of rational theology of all time. "I cannot.” Thomas replied. “Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw." Profound mystical experiences of various kinds open up a perspective that is not adequately addressed by rationality alone. These range from such things as out-of-body experiences to profound states of non-dual awareness that, while impossible to completely communicate, make it utterly impossible to look at the world without seeing it asmanifestation of a divine unity. I'd recommend the following link as an excellent example of such an experience: http://www.nonduality.com/dazdark.htm. It's understandable that a hard-line atheist would find a description of someone else's experience unpersuasive. But I believe it's utterly impossible to have one and remain entirely satisfied with hard-line atheism alone as a worldview. To quote a line from Sagan's Contact, where Ellie is explaining her experience, "I… had an experience… I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone!"

This is just a brief survey of some of the areas that make hard-core atheism, as a worldview, something I can't accept. Is it possible that I'm deceiving myself – that all this meaning and beauty and unity that I seem to sense in the world are really just epiphenomena of physics and chemistry? Logically, I would answer that yes, it's possible. But my whole point is that logic is inadequate to the task of answering this question.

I'll close with a few words from "The Silver Chair" by C.S. Lewis. The story is about several children, accompanied by a strange pessimistic creature called a “marshwiggle” named “Puddleglum” who descend from the kingdom of Narnia, ruled by the good lion Aslan and enter a subterranean kingdom ruled by a witch-queen to try to rescue a kidnapped prince. Once there, the witch puts them under a spell of confusion and forgetfulness. She gradually convinces the children that there IS no world above ground, no sun, no sky, no Aslan. They become convinced that these are all simply children’s tales and dreams – projections they have created in their minds from the drab and ordinary objects in the miserable underground world ruled by the witch. Only Puddleglum rebels.

“One word, Ma’am” he says to the witch, “All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face on I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we HAVE only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Jul 282006

Were Jesus and his apostles anti-woman, anti-science, pro-slavery and pro-establishment? No, but reading some of the later epistles of Paul, you might think so. These scriptures in the later epistles (as well as the famous Romans 13) Tell the reader to tow-the-line, obey the law, pay taxes, slaves to obey their masters, women their husbands, etc. Paul in partular has been regarded as a woman-hater and a social conformist. But this needs some deeper investigation.

Taking the most common of the “tow-the-line” scriptures, we have selections from 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, Ephesians and Colossians (I’ll save the scripture in Romans for last)

These epistles all have something in common. Most scholars agree that they were written later than the earlier Pauline epistles, and that they were NOT written by Paul (or by Peter) but by other authors writing in the name of the apostles. Nearly all scholars agree that Paul actually wrote Romans, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and 1st Thessalonians. Nearly all scholars agree that 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus were NOT written by Paul. And MOST scholars believe that Ephesians, Colossians and 2nd Thessalonians were also NOT written by Paul, although the debate is more lively about them. The epistles of Peter are also the subject of some debate, but the majority come down against their being written by Peter himself.

What evidence do scholars rely on to come to these conclusions? Linguistic analysis, stylistic considerations, anachronisms of various sorts. I’d be happy to go into detail about any book in particular if anyone is really interested.

If we assume the majority of scholarship is correct, why did several authors in the established church feel the need to co-opt the authority of Paul and Peter to write so many scriptures telling Christians to tow-the-line, submit to authority, and follow the social norms? Because, contrary to what you suggest, the earliest Christianity, as taught by Jesus and Paul, shows signs of being uniquely egalitarian, unconventional, and challenging to the social order.

Jesus was totally unconventional in having women among his closest disciples. In some of the non-canonical gospels, Mary Magdalene in particular plays a pivotal role. The early communities were communal. Social norms of status were ignored. Paul is describing it well in Galatians (one of the genuine epistles you note) when he says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In early Pauline Churches, there were women prophets, women deacons, and at least one woman apostle that we know of. Women supervised schools of theology. Some of these women, taking their cue from Paul, opted not to marry, so that they could devote themselves to work in the Church.

At some point, after the deaths of the first apostles – as Christianity began to “settle down” into an established church, certain factions felt that things had gone much too far. Christians were being talked about scandalously. Christian women were behaving like men, and ignoring their “proper” social roles. Women were dressing unconventionally, women were giving instructions to MEN for heaven’s sake. Christians were ignoring issues of property and taxation, and were attracting unwelcome notice from the local magistrates. Slaves were claiming to be equal to their masters.

Some of the more important Christians decided that, since Jesus apparently wasn’t coming back any minute, it was time to stop the foolishness and settle down as good citizens. These people began to work their way into positions of power and wrote the pseudo-epistles that we have discussed, basically making Paul say “forget all those things I told you before about liberty – BEHAVE yourselves. Have decorum and act like good citizens”.

Not being content with simply inventing new epistles, this faction also made some additions to earlier epistles, such as Corinthians and possible Romans (as I shall discuss in a moment). These are usually recognizable as some injunction to conform to social norms – dropped into the middle of a chapter where it has nothing to do with the material either before or after it.

Now it may well be that some of this concern about the behavior of Christians was warranted. All things considered, there are advantages to fitting in the social norms, especially if you’re trying to attract converts. The problem is that social norms (including ours) usually involve some amount of injustice and inequity. Some of the general injunctions you quoted from the pseudo-epistles, “obey the law”, “children obey your parents” seem like reasonable generalizations. “Wives be in subjection to your husbands” and “servants be obedient to your masters…with fear and trembling” seem a bit dated. But remember that these are NOT the teachings of Jesus, or even of Paul or Peter – but the teachings of those who came later.

Ok, returning to the issue of the quote from Romans. This one is a difficulty, because Romans is almost universally regarded as genuine, but with perhaps a few later additions. The question is, is Romans 13: 1–7 one of those additions? There are several reasons to think that it is. One of them is an abrupt change of topic from what was discussed before and what comes after. There are minor stylistic differences (although hard to evaluate with certainty in so short a snippet). But the major problem is that Romans 13:1–7 makes absolutely NO sense coming from the mouth of Paul. For example, verse 3:

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:”

Paul knows very well from personal experience that rulers are quite capable of persecuting the good and praising the evil. Paul rarely entered a city without eventually ending up in trouble with the authorities. He was in jail several times and suffered various other punishments. Even on the rare occasion when a ruler took a liking to him (such as Agrippa) they felt compelled by the uproar he had caused to take measures.

It gets even more absurd in the following verses:

“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil… For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”

So all the authorities who persecuted Paul, crucified Jesus and beheaded James were God’s ministers, and were SO diligent in constantly rooting out evil that they well deserved the taxes they imposed?!? If this is actually Paul talking, he’s been smoking something.

To me, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that this is NOT Paul writing but a later interpolation from the “tow-the-line” era of Church development, unless…

I read an interesting paper online which makes an interesting argument. This IS Paul writing, but he is using irony to disguise his criticism of rulers. In other words, if he were to actually criticize leaders and rulers in his letter, he could be punished for writing it, and his Roman readers for reading it. Instead, he damns them with false praise, so OBVOUSLY false that everyone reading it at the time will recognize it as irony. For example, if I wanted to criticize the current administration in the United States, I might write something like:

“Don’t worry at all about giving away your freedoms in the Patriot Act. Our law enforcement officials are guided by God. They never arrest or detain anyone who isn’t guilty, and they never snoop on anyone who isn’t a great danger to our country. After all, this is the same government which protected us from the terrible danger of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which I am SURE they will find any minute now…”

In other words, it doesn’t actually say anything negative. 2000 years from now, someone might read it and think I was being perfectly serious. But anyone reading it today with any amount of wit would understand it was a scathing criticism disguised as irony.

Anyhow… to summarize, Jesus and his apostles were not anti-woman, pro-slavery, or pro-establishment. They were, for the time, remarkably progressive – but many of these advances were partially lost in a reactionary movement that set in shortly after the death of the apostles.

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