Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Bible and Politics part 4

It is one thing to claim that Jesus' outlook was inherently conservative, but it is another to actually see a Biblical example where a conservative movement was willing to accept the message of the Gospel while a liberal movement strongly opposed the news of the resurrection. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are the Biblical representations of this debate.

Remember, conservatives, according to our cultural understanding, uphold traditions and believe in eternal values. Liberals believe in a process of enlightenment by which traditions, former institutions, and values evolve, are redefined, and can be rendered obsolete. 

Most Christians that read the Bible are familiar with the Pharisees. They were a strong part of the opposition to the message that Jesus himself preached. They confronted him time and time again with their rules and traditions to justify themselves. Because Jesus recognized their hypocrisy and was willing to point it out, the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus in his words and convict him of the highest crimes. The Pharisees are the ones responsible for having Jesus executed and they were, indeed, the conservative sect of Israel in those days.

The Sadducees are a group that garner less attention from Bible believing Christians, but were just as strongly condemned by Jesus as the Pharisees. The only Gospel that mentions them much is Matthew, which makes sense because it is the Gospel written for and from an Israelite's perspective. Throughout Matthew, the author references "The Pharisees and the Sadducees" together 6 times. In a few instances the Sadducees confront Jesus alone. The most famous confrontation between Jesus and the Sadducees occurs in all 3 synoptic Gospels. In this instance the reader learns that the Sadducees did not believe that the dead would one day be resurrected. In other words, they did not take the Scriptures literally. They were the liberal sect of Israel in those days.

In relation to Jesus' pre-resurrection ministry, the lesson was that the academic world had it wrong through and through. The conservative scholars were so hung up on rules and traditions (many of which they made up through extrapolating principles taught in the Old Testament Scriptures) and the liberals just seemed to care more about interpreting the Scriptures as a metaphor or an allegory. They all missed the boat when Jesus revealed himself to them and challenged their worldviews. But when we move into the book of Acts, there is a drastic shift in the Israeli academic and political climate.

Many of the Pharisees started to receive Jesus. Acts 5 is the first expression of sympathy of a Pharisee with the Gospel message. A teacher named Gamaliel advocated for the release of the Apostles, claiming that they could have been commissioned by God. Who was it that had the Apostles arrested? The Sadducees. (I am not advocating that Gamaliel became a believer as some scholars suggest that he probably did not). In Acts 15, it is revealed that there were Pharisees that believed the Gospel, but advocated adding the Law of Moses to the Law of Grace. Then, in Acts 23, a riot erupts as Paul appeals to a crowd full of both Pharisees and Sudducees and reveals that he came from the Pharisees, originally.

The scene in Acts 23 is particularly interesting.The reason Paul appealed to the Pharisees was because he understood their convictions and their zeal in remaining obediently steadfast to the ancient Scriptures. He knew they took it seriously, as he did, and then proceeded to talk about the resurrection of the dead, which resonated with their beliefs! Verse 7 states that the Pharisees and Sadducees became divided and verse 8 reveals why:

(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) - v. 8

In verse 9, the Pharisees declared that Paul had done nothing wrong, but the Sadducees hated Paul's message because it flew in the face of their worldview. Their interpretation of the Scriptures was from a liberal perspective, thus they did not believe in the supernatural.

Oddly, despite the fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees are now gone, this divide still exists inside of the Jewish community! A large portion of American Jews highly revere the Old Testament, but do not believe in the supernatural aspects of its teachings. Instead, they find it to be a book of wisdom and heritage. On the other hand, you have the Orthodox Jews that believe in the Old Testament writings in a more literal manner. Naturally, the Orthodox Jews are typically conservative and the non-orthodox Jews are typically liberal. 

The bottom line is that people who interpret the Scriptures from a conservative perspective are more likely to take the message of the Gospel seriously and are more likely to lean to the conservative side of the political spectrum as well. It is much more difficult to convince someone who reads the Bible with a liberal perspective concerning the necessity to believe in the core doctrines of the Gospel message (i.e. the virgin birth, the miracles Jesus performed, the Resurrection, and other supernatural points of the New Testament). Many liberal Christians opt to believe that the core message of the Bible is to love people and to be non-judgmental and most believe in God to one capacity or another.

Nonetheless, the Gospel message is not entirely conservative in nature. That will be addressed in a future post. Next time, to solidify the point that the Gospel and the entirety of Scripture is inherently conservative, we will go through several commonly held political issues to see which side of the political spectrum is more consistent in applying Biblical teachings.

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