Jesus on Eunuchs and Marriage

“Most people looked down on eunuchs for their impotence or effeminity”, but Jesus uses them as a metaphor to teach “some would indeed be better off not marrying”:

> If… we read the text [Matthew 19:1-12] in sequence, the disciples are concerned about the danger of marrying without an escape clause, and Jesus responds to their question (Carson 1984b: 418–19; France 1985: 282). Ancient marriage contracts typically included arrangements in case of divorce (e.g., P. Ryl. 154.28–33), though this was normally expressed as a “just in case”; it was naturally not the outcome for which parties entering a marriage hoped (cf. P. Oxy. 1273.25, A.D. 260). If a marriage did not work, divorce was a relatively simple option (Terence Lady of Andros 567–69; Keener 1991a: 50–52). Many sages considered it a duty to divorce a “bad” wife (e.g., Sir. 25:26; b. ʿErub. 41b; Yebam. 63b; p. Ketub. 11:3, §2; Gen. Rab. 17:3; Lev. Rab. 34:14); Plutarch ridiculed a man who failed to divorce such a wife as cowardly (Plut. Virtue and Vice 2, Mor. 100E). Parents arranged marriages, and according to tradition, in Galilee at least, one could not spend time alone with one’s prospective spouse until after the wedding (Safrai 1974/76b: 756–57; Finkelstein 1962: 1:45); one could not always know in advance what one’s spouse would turn out to be like. To marry without the possibility of divorce in a painful marriage seemed worse than not marrying at all! Responding to this objection, Jesus replied that some would indeed be better off not marrying; perhaps because of the intensity of their callings, it would be difficult for true disciples to find compatible spouses who would share their commitment (cf. the story of Crates and Hipparchia in Keener 1991a: 64; cf. Mt 10:35–37).

> Jesus’ remark about celibacy is graphic and would certainly seize the attention of Jewish listeners; the first two eunuch images prepare the reader for the “eunuch for the kingdom” (Malina 1981: 5–6). Jewish teachers could distinguish those who were born without sexual organs and those on whom an operation was performed (Manson 1979: 215; cf., e.g., t. Yebam. 10:3; Sifre Deut. 247.1.1–3; p. Yebam. 8:5, §1), but Jewish people were horrified by castration (e.g., Test. Jud. 23:4; Ps-Phocyl. 187; Jos. Apion 2.270–71; p. Yebam. 8:1, §11), and those who “made themselves eunuchs” were viewed as morally depraved (Jos. Ant. 4.290). Most people looked down on eunuchs for their impotence or effeminity (cf., e.g., Juv. Sat. 1.22; Epict. Disc. 3.1.31; Ps-Lucian Affairs of Heart §21; Babrius 54.4; Lucan C.W. 10.133–34; Jos. Ant. 4.290–91) and recognized that their desires would never be fulfilled (Sir 20:4; 30:20); some recognized that eunuchs were at a disadvantage (Phaedrus 3.11.4–5) but through no fault of their own (Phaedrus 3.11.6–7; cf. Aul. Gel. 4.2.6–8). “Eunuch” (lit. “half-man”) could function as an insult (Virg. Aen. 12.99). Whereas some Gentiles equated Jewish circumcision with a form of castration (cf., e.g., Herr 1978; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 3:6), Jewish people did not allow eunuchs into the covenant, based on Deuteronomy 23:1 (though cf. Is 56:4–5).

> The figurative sense of celibacy in which Jesus means the language (cf., e.g., Ach. Tat. 5.22.5; 6.21.3) would have been less jarring, but nonetheless offensive, to most of his contemporaries (see especially Tannehill 1975: 136–37). Although some pietists in the wilderness may have preferred celibacy (Jos. Life 11; War 2.120; Ant. 18.21; Philo Hypothetica 11.14; Pliny of such shame and sacrifice testifies to the value of the kingdom of God for which anyone would pay such a price (Tannehill 1975: 138–40); by embracing both shame and self-control, Joseph to a lesser extent models the nature of this demand (1:25).

Keener, C. S. (2009). The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (471-472). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Cumulative reasons to believe that Jesus wasn’t going to John the Baptist out of a need for authority

1. In Matthew 21:23-27 Jesus is asked about his own authority by none other than the “chief priests and the elders of the people.” Jesus replies by asking if the baptism of John was from heaven. This is an odd question if it could simply be settled by asserting John’s birthright to the Aaronic priesthood.

2. Jesus saw himself as above the priests of Aaron and the temple priesthood system. In Matthew 12:1-8 Jesus likens himself to David, who had, as the Anointed King, implicit authorization to enter the temple — something otherwise expressly prohibited. David “entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests.” (12:4) In verse 6 he says, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” Implicit: Something greater than the priesthood is here. Move along, Pharisees. The boss of the temple is here and he is also boss of the Sabbath.

3. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus’ whole life is seen as a giant parable. He is the Immanuel born of a virgin (1:23). He is the Son who travels to Egypt and is called out of Egypt (2:15; think of Abraham and Israel). He is the one over whom the wicked leader kills the baby boys (Matthew 2:16-18; in addition to fulfilling Jeremiah 31:15, this reminds us of Exodus 1:22). He grows up in Nazareth to fulfill the words of the prophets (Matthew 2:23). The flow of Jesus’ pre-ministry life smells like the Old Testament.

4. In addition to literally smelling, John’s life parabolically smells like the Old Testament too. He ate bugs and wore an “Elijah custume” [1], with “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.” (Matthew 3:4) Jesus confirms that John was the Elijah to come:

> “‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:11-13)

John had jettisoned Jerusalem and went “back” to the Jordan River and the desert, showing he believed the Jews were still wandering and needed another “circumcision.” This reminds us of when Joshua led the Israelites out of the wilderness across the Jordan River to begin the conquest. After a generation of rebellion, Israel’s re-circumcision was a sign of repentance and covenant-renewal. John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance at the Jordan River is no coincidence. Instead of doing baptism near the temple under the direction of the priesthood regime, John was spurning the temple/priesthood regime and ushering the arrival of the kingdom with repentance.

5. John the Baptist tells us why he ultimately baptized[2], and that is to reveal Jesus to Israel:

> “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:31-33)

6. John himself thought the baptism should have been reversed! (Matthew 3:13-17) “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus insisted, wanting to fulfill all righteousness. This insistence is humble, because the baptism is otherwise a baptism of repentance. Jesus didn’t need to repent. And it certainly wasn’t clear to John that Jesus needed John’s authority. If anything, John felt the opposite: “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me!” (John 1:15)

Summary: Jesus saw himself as above the temple priesthood system, was fulfilling a parabolic life, was intersecting with John’s parabolic life, was illustrating humility, was revealing himself to Israel through John, was honoring John as the promised Elijah to come, was endorsing John’s rejection of the temple/priesthood regime, and was endorsing his ministry of repentance. He was fulfilling all righteousness. He was not, however, receiving or depending on authority from another human being.

[1] I love this phrase. I got it from my friend Ariel.

[2] Thanks to Jeff for pointing this out to me

Addendum: Craig S. Keener on the baptism of Jesus and his “fulfill[ing] all righteousness”:

> John’s location suggests that the biblical prophets’ promise of a new exodus was about to take place in Jesus. So significant is the wilderness (3:1) to John’s mission that all four Gospels justify it from Scripture (3:3; Mk 1:3; Lk 3:4); some even suspect that John himself used this text (Is 40:3) to explain his own sense of mission (Jn 1:23; Robinson 1962: 13). The meaning of John’s location would not be lost on Syro-Palestinian Jews. Israel’s prophets had predicted a new exodus in the wilderness (Hos 2:14–15; Is 40:3; later interpreters properly understood such passages as applicable to the time of Israel’s restoration—e.g., Ps. Sol. 11:1)…

> Although Jesus alone did not need John’s baptism—he was the giver of the true baptism (3:11)—he submitted to it to fulfill God’s plan (3:14–15). In a traditional Mediterranean culture where society stressed honor and shame, Jesus relinquishes his rightful honor to embrace others’ shame. After Jesus’ public act of humility, God publicly identified Jesus as his own son (3:16–17; cf. 2:15)—that is, as the mightier One whose coming to bestow the Spirit John had prophesied (3:11–12)…

> Jesus humbly identifies himself with John’s mission… Jesus “fulfills all righteousness” by identifying with his people (3:15)… Matthew’s readers familiar with the Scriptures would already understand that Jesus sometimes “fulfilled” the prophetic Scriptures by identifying with Israel’s history and completing Israel’s mission (2:15, 18). This baptism hence represents Jesus’ ultimate identification with Israel at the climactic stage in her history: confessing her sins to prepare for the kingdom (3:2, 6). Jesus’ baptism, like his impending death (cf. Mk 10:38–39 with Mk 14:23–24, 36), would be vicarious, embraced on behalf of others with whom the Father had called him to identify. This experience prepares Jesus for testing by the devil (4:1–11)—perhaps part of what it means for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness. No less plainly, this text makes Jesus an example of humility (cf. 11:29; 12:19; 21:5).”

Keener, C. S. (2009). The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (116–117, 131, 132). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The Principle of Disillusionment

Scripture is dark and pessimistic over humanity. Throughout life I have been both blessed and burned by people whom I deeply love.

I believe that:

1. Those I most look up to, if truly known, will at some point deeply let me down.

2. Those who look up to me, if they get to know me, will at some point be deeply let down.

Negatively, this makes relationships risky.

Positively, understanding it helps me be realistic in my expectations and pre-emptive in my empathy.

I can give others the benefit of doubt, yet assume that there are unknown things about them that are disappointing, and simply decide beforehand to love them anyway.

Humanity was a deep disappointment to God. I have been a huge disappointment to God. Yet he loves me. And delights in me. Deeply.

Where Ember Data Does Not Follow JSON API

This is a heads-up for those using Ember Data. As of 1.0.0-beta.7, it doesn’t seem to conform to the following prescription of JSON API for creation of records:

“Its root key MUST be the same as the root key provided in the server’s response to GET request for the collection.” (jsonapi.org)

Also, Ember Data expects:

JSON API prescribes:

Update: The documentation is out of sync with the code, evidently. There seems to be support for “links” but not “linked.”

Goodness and depravity, cynicism and optimism

Ironically, part of human carnality is our general unwillingness to give others the personal benefit of doubt. We are called to be optimistic about others in our relationships, and avoid undue cynicism and conspiracy theories, etc.

But another part of human carnality is our undue optimism over the goodness in our own hearts. More caution is needed. Our hearts need to be carefully guarded. We are so bad that we need to be forgiven and born again. We are needy for a Savior and Counselor.

Jesus Learned in Community

Shawn asked tonight, “Who educated Jesus?”

Likely, his momma. As a Jewish boy, he was likely home-schooled. The inventor of quantum physics had to learn the Aramaic and Greek ABC’s. Jesus quoted largely from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament — which was put together by scholars. His daddy (or other relative) likely taught him carpentry skills. He learned about the world around him by observation.

“Jesus became wiser and stronger. He also became more and more pleasing to God and to people.” (Luke 2:52)

By twelve-years-old he was amazing to listen to at the temple. By why assume this came only by a mystic connection with the Father? Or by simply reading the Old Testament? It “took a village” for Jesus to become the man he became. By God’s design. The end result was evidence of Jesus’ special relationship with the Father (and even his divine identity), but that relationship didn’t happen in a vacuum.

To Be Human

My mother's garden shoes

My mother’s garden shoes

To have dominion over a planet, yet small tomato gardens

To speak with universal meaning, yet with a local accent

To feel from the soul, yet at the mercy of chemicals

To need solitude, yet also community

To be individuals, yet tribal members

To have thoughts, yet also moods

To have regret, yet forgiveness

To seek variety, yet continuity

To be a soul, yet also dust

Ambiguity Enforced With Discretion

In law, policy, and codes of conduct, ambiguous words with a broad range of strong and weak definitions seem to intentionally overreach to enable enforcement with subjective discretion.

It’s like saying, “No jerks allowed.”

And then, “With common sense exceptions.”

And then, “We get to decide what jerks and common sense exceptions are.”

12 Helpful Distinctions

1. Correlation and causation.

2. Probability and possibility/necessity. The language of possibility and necessity can obfuscate matters of probability, and the language of probability can understate what is actually a matter of possibility, impossibility, or necessity.

3. Weak inference (greater than 50%) and strong inference (much more). Some things have or need merely greater than 50% probability (to simply be more likely than not), other things have or need even more burden of proof (for example, evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt”).

4. Generalization (what is usually the case) and stereotype (what is always the case). Adding confusion, sometimes generalization is rhetorically emphasized with the language of stereotype, or stereotype obfuscated with the language of generalization.

5. Distinct qualities (particular, but perhaps shared) and unique qualities. It doesn’t need to be peculiar in order for it to be particular.

6. Distinct but connected vs. different and separate.

7. Complement and dichotomy — both/and vs or.

8. Entitlement and obligation. For example, I am not necessarily entitled to receive what others are obligated to give.

9. Value-neutral and value-ridden. Superficially neutral language can obfuscate what is fundamentally about ethical and aesthetic values.

10. Affirmation/denial and emphasis. What is described as “more” and “less” may actually be about “is” and “is not.” The language of emphasis can obfuscate what is fundamentally about the affirmation and denial of truth-claims, and the language of affirmation and denial can obfuscate what is actually a matter of emphasis.

11. Accuracy and precision/exhaustion (HT: Rob B). Approximations can be accurate within a margin, and true claims can describe something without describing everything.

12. Epistemic possibility and ontological possibility. Something may be entertained or considered as a possibility yet be actually impossible.