Down with Dogma


In this post, I paraphrased Mark 2:27: “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” This got me thinking about the original passage, and how it’s a case of Jesus flatly contradicting the Old Testament. The context is that Jesus’ disciples picked corn on the Sabbath, and Jesus defended them with a story about David sharing bread that was generally only for priests with a group of laymen, which appears in 1 Samuel 21. Matthew, Mark, and Luke also recount the tale of how Jesus healed on the Sabbath. So what does the Torah/Pentateuch say about the Sabbath? Well, here’s Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” If the Sabbath is based on God Himself resting on the seventh day, can it be said that it was made for man? And we certainly can’t forget Numbers 15, in which a man is stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. It sounds like this rule was pretty absolute. So we can hardly see Jesus’ disregard of these laws as his fulfilling the scriptures, or of one jot or tittle in no wise passing from the law. Instead, he’s saying that the law referred to as a “perpetual covenant” in Exodus (not a “covenant until my son comes along and changes things”) should be disregarded in cases where it makes sense to do so. This is probably part of why some Christians claim that Jesus freed them from dogma and the law, even though there are other passages that show essentially the exact opposite. Recall in Matthew 5 how Jesus says that you’re committing adultery if you so much as look at a woman lustfully. Here, he’s out-dogmatizing the Pharisees. Whether Jesus actually held both of these positions or one or more of these episodes were added in by later writers, I couldn’t say. I must point out, however, that Jesus as liberal social reformer is probably my favorite portrayal of the self-proclaimed Son of God, and I’m sure I’m not alone. After all, you don’t have to believe Jesus was the Messiah to appreciate a guy who questions authority and points out that the way things have always been done isn’t necessarily the best. This is Christ as hardcore progressive, something on which the Religious Right probably isn’t particularly keen. That the Bible includes parts that say, in essence, “Yeah, you shouldn’t always take the rest of this book all that seriously” is, to my mind, one of its stronger points. And aren’t the Christians who are just as fervent as the most orthodox of Jews in not working at all on one particular day of the week going against the big guy?

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