Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stories from My Mission: The Preacher from The Assembly of God

This story comes from my second area of my mission in the city of Sáenz Peña. I had not been in the area for long and was still with my first companion in the area, Elder Keyes. There was one family that we went to go teach where two of the children wanted to get baptized and we were hoping that their mother and older sister would also get baptized. There were also other relatives that lived in the house and we eventually hoped to teach them as well but they only occasionally talked to us.

One day we arrived at their house and there was a man there. We introduced ourselves to him and he introduced himself and said that he was the employer of the teenage boy that we had been teaching. We asked him if he was interested in listening to our message. His response was cordial but it was clear that he was uninterested. We sat with the family under their mulberry tree and shared a short message and then we were on our way.

We didn't think much about that brief encounter but as it turned out the stage was set for a religious confrontation. What we didn't know was that man was an active member of a local Assembly of God church. After he saw that we were visiting the family he went and told his pastor about our visit and warned him that "the Mormons" were visiting the family (it turns out that some other members of the family had previously attended the same church).

A few days later we were back visiting the family, this time for a longer visit. We were just discussing the general health of everyone in the household and finding out about the general goings on (i.e. we were being sociable and chatting among friends). We were about to begin our spiritual message for the family when we noticed a man approaching the house. He was a large man (about 6'2'' and well over 200 lbs.) with a beard. He approached and we said good day to him and he returned the greeting. My companion introduced himself as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked if he had ever heard of it. He said he had. We asked him about who he was and he introduced himself as the pastor for a local Assembly of God church.

Elder Keyes then showed him a Book of Mormon and asked him if he had ever heard about it. He said he had, so Elder Keyes asked him if he had ever read it. Again he said he had (we were a little surprised since we had never met anyone except members of the church who had read the Book of Mormon, also it wasn't common the meet people who had read much of anything since in some areas the illiteracy rate could run as high as 50%). After we got over our initial shock, Elder Keyes asked him what he thought about it.

The minister replied that he thought that it was very poorly written and full of evil and false teachings. My companion, slightly taken back, asked him why he thought this about the Book of Mormon. His reply was, "Because it teaches that we shouldn't have the Bible. It says "A Bible! A Bible! What need have we for a Bible?"" We were impressed that he could actually quote something from the Book of Mormon, but disconcerted that he quoted it wrong and twisted it to mean the exact opposite from what it actually says. It was perhaps ironic that he was using a passage that applied very directly to him and twisting it around to seem like we were the ones rejecting the Bible.

My companion said that we have the Bible and that we do not reject it like he said. Elder Keyes even showed him his Bible and I had mine that I could display. The preacher continued with his accusations that the Book of Mormon rejects the Bible and the word of God. At this point I opened my Book of Mormon to 2 Nephi chapter 29, which was the very one that the preacher had just quoted. I said, "What you said is very interesting, let us see what the Book of Mormon actually says."

I proceeded to read from chapter 29 of 2 Nephi. I think I started in verse 6 where it reads:
6 Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
To make my point, and because the rest of it was pertinent to what we being said, I continued to read the rest of the chapter (it is only 14 verses long). When I was done I asked him what he thought about what I had just read. He said, "It is an interesting mixture of Biblical language and other stuff." and then proceeded to make statements about how it contradicts Biblical teaching and he didn't believe a word of it.

By this point I was feeling a little mischievous since it was obvious that he was well aware of the fact that he was lying and grossly misrepresenting what the Book of Mormon actually said. So I posed to him what I knew would be an impossible question for him to answer. I asked, "If you could have more of the words of Christ, would you want them?"

At this point he became very agitated and began to denounce the Book of Mormon and say that it did not contain the words of Christ. I responded by saying, "That is not what I asked. I asked, if you could have more of the words of Christ would you want them?" He again became very agitated and made negative statements about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. I, still feeling somewhat mischievous, asked him, "Why would you not what more of the words of Christ?"

Still unable to answer my question he stood up and began to denounce the Book of Mormon very loudly. I simply looked up at him and said very calmly, "What is wrong with having more of the words of Christ?" At this point he lost his temper and instead of answering me he began to "pray" at the top of his lungs asking what ever god could hear to show "these poor misguided chicos" the right way and to show them the truth. He then proceeded to pray for everyone and anyone present and still at the top of his lungs laid a hand on the head of each person present (except us, his hand just hovered about a foot off our shoulder when it came to our turn in the "prayer").

When he was done shouting he proceeded to pull a wad of cash out of his pocket and made a show of thumbing through it in a very exaggerated manner and then took the entire wad and thrust it into the hands of one of the people present (an older sister of the two teenagers we originally were teaching) and told her to use it to buy some food for her little baby that she was holding at the time. He then walked off in a huff.

At the time I thought about quoting to him the part of the Sermon on the Mount that says, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them" and "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men." But while I could remember the substance of those passages I couldn't remember how it is phrased in Spanish, and at the time I couldn't recall exactly where it was in the scriptures (it is in Matthew 6, and in 3 Nephi 13) and I didn't have time to look it up before he stomped off down the path. That is my one regret that I didn't get that parting shot in.

Afterwards Elder Keyes remarked to me that he was glad that I had jumped in since he was getting too frustrated with the guy. He also said that it was a good thing that the preacher didn't put his hand on him since there may have been some "laying on of hands" on the part of Elder Keyes (note: Elder Keyes is one of the nicest people I have ever met, but at the time he was quite upset with the lies and distortions that the preacher was saying). As far as we knew the preacher never returned to that house.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Is "The Son of Man" Lord of the Sabbath or is Man? An interesting look at Mark 2:27-28.

A while ago I was reading the book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman and I came across an interesting part. Dr. Ehramn was discussing whether or not the oral histories that would eventually become the four canonical gospels could have originated in Judea in the first century, and he gave as evidence the passage found in Mark 2:27-28, which reads:
27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 
28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
This particular passage deals with an event where the pharisees confronted Jesus and complained that his disciples were walking through fields of grain on the Sabbath and plucking and eating the grain from the field. This they said, was a violation of the commandment to "keep the Sabbath day holy". To this Jesus responds by mentioning the story of king David and how he ate the shewbread from the tabernacle, which he was not supposed to do according to Jewish law. Jesus is essentially saying, "If David, who you revere can do that and you do not condemn him, why do you condemn my disciples for eating food that does not come from the sanctuary, and is not holy?"

To finish up his argument Jesus tells them "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath". Up until now his argument makes sense but then he adds, "Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." In the book of Mark the phrase "Son of man" clearly refers to Jesus, who is understood to be the Messiah. But this phrase does not follow from his previous argument. It seems to be a non sequitur, because why would the fact that the Sabbath was made for man make Jesus (the Messiah) Lord of the Sabbath? But this is precisely what the word therefore implies, that because of the previous argument Jesus concluded that He is Lord of the Sabbath.

I remember years ago in Sunday School classes this scripture was talked about and debated because no one could really make sense of it. I heard a number of different explanations regarding verse 28, but none of them seemed satisfactory and felt like the explanation was stretched just a little too far.

If you go and look at the text in Greek the text is clear, the υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (son of man) is the Lord of the Sabbath. So looking at the original Greek does not help since the confusion is still there. But interestingly enough if you take the text and translate it into Aramaic then the sense of verse 28 changes. As explained by Dr. Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? we discover,
"Aramaic uses the same word for man and for son of man. It is the word barnash. And so the two-liner originally said, "Sabbath was made for barnash, not barnash for the Sabbath. Therefore barnash is lord of the Sabbath." Now the therefore makes sense. The reason that humans (barnash) are the lords of the Sabbath is because of what he just said: Sabbath was made for humans, not the other way around. Moreover, now the last line makes sense in the context of the story. The disciples (the barnash) are masters of the Sabbath, which was created for their sake." (p. 89)
So even though the earliest texts of the book of Mark are written in Greek, Dr. Ehrman uses this passage to point out that the original stories told by the disciples of Jesus were told in Aramaic, because occasionally they make more sense when translated into Aramaic. I think this version (from the Aramaic) is very interesting and really clarifies this passage. The theological implications of this change are interesting.