Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Words. Words, words, words.

"Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father. When that day comes, many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out devils in your name, and in your name perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them to their face, "I never knew you; out of my sight, you and your wicked ways!" Matthew 7: 21-23

I often see the above quote used in two ways, one more common than the other. The common way is often against those who point out the non-Christian behavior of vocally ardent believers, and simply because a person says the right belief structure, it doesn't mean that the person is saved. At some point in time, the person will have Jesus tell him or her that even though the person calls Jesus Lord, the person is not known by Jesus.

The less common way is against those who don't consider themselves Christian, and yet act a lot more "anointed-like" then those who do consider themselves Christian. Simply because a person acts nice or compassionate or merciful doesn't mean that Jesus knows that person, either.

On a whole, though, I find this a rather strange passage, given the list of criteria. You can prophecy, cast out devils, and perform miracles and yet still not enter the kingdom of Heaven. I'm not quite sure how "prophecy" is classified here. My understanding is that valid prophecies can only really come from God. Unless there's some sort of Bible verse that says evil people also deliver correct prophecies? That would just seem a little strange, because prophecies usually involve some sort of punishment occurring to sinful people, or a final strike against sin (such as the birth of Jesus), and why would an evil person, or evil entity, want to make a prophecy like that?

So if we go with the idea that prophecies can only come from God, wouldn't this be a way of identifying those truly following God?

The miracles idea is kind of iffy, just because both good and evil are granted certain abilities in the Bible. Granted, the idea behind everything is that even though evil has powers, good very much trumps evil in the end, and is more powerful. But if going with the idea that a miracle is a supernatural occurrence, then it can go either way in terms of what it proves.

The biggest one that's tripping me up is casting out devils in Jesus' name, especially when comparing that idea to Matthew 12: 22-28. I don't want to type it all out, but I do want to focus on the last part. Jesus has just cast out a devil, and the Pharisees say that Jesus is doing so by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus responds: "Every kingdom divided against itself goes to ruin; and no town, no household that is divided against itself cant stand. And if it is Satan who cats out Satan, Satan is divided against himself; how then can his kingdom stand? And if it is by Beelzebub that I cast out devils, by whom do your own people drive them out?"

I've always read the italicized part as Satan can't drive out devils, because then Satan is working against himself. The only way to truly drive out a devil is due to the power of God. And so if you are driving out a devil, you are doing so specifically according to the will of the Father. This would be one of the "markers" identifying who is truly following Jesus.

Yet the people in Matthew 7 use that as a marker, and Jesus says he never knew them. But how can that be possible, if the only way to drive out the devils is through the power of God? Then Jesus should know the people, because they are actively doing the will of God. Otherwise, why would God grant them the power to drive out the devils?

Right now, the only way I see around the Matthew 7 verse is that what the people did wasn't "valid." They didn't truly prophesy or drive out devils, they only thought they did. Except I think that's applying outside perspectives to the text, because based on the passage alone, the people sound sincere. Jesus doesn't say why he didn't know them (other than the implication that they didn't do the will of the Father. Except the will of the Father is what allows one to drive out devils in the first place, so ... yeah). He doesn't specify that they didn't really do what they claimed they did. I suppose the conclusion could be that the people were lying about what they did, since he called their ways wicked.

I also have difficulty reconciling the Matthew 7 verse to the following: "And these signs shall follow those that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils." Mark 16:17

Based on this, I'm supposed to specifically know those who believe by the fact that they drive out devils. And yet when that claim is used on Jesus, he says he doesn't know them, and their ways were wicked. Which again leads me to the fact that the people were lying

18 comments:

Yael said...

My understanding is that valid prophecies can only really come from God. Unless there's some sort of Bible verse that says evil people also deliver correct prophecies?

I'm not sure why these two have to go together. Why can't God use evil people to deliver prophecies? Balaam in Numbers 22-25. He spoke what God told him to speak, but in the end was responsible for Israel's sin with the Midianite women.

And then there's Deuteronomy 13 If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, "Let us follow and worship another god" - whom you have not experienced - even if the sign or portent that he named to you comes true, do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner..."

HeIsSailing said...

OneSmallStep:
But how can that be possible, if the only way to drive out the devils is through the power of God?

I just finished reading Strauss' Life of Jesus Critically Examined a few weeks ago. The whole book is filled with fascinating questions and problems like this one you just posed in this article. I highly recommend it - I bet you would find it really interesting.

Mystical Seeker said...

Maybe you are reading too much into it. It seems like the point of the passage was simply that religious piety isn't a guarantee that you'll get into God's good graces, and that what really matters is how you treat others. The examples that are given in that passage may be problematic if you take them too literally, but I see them as having more poetic rather than literal value.

societyvs said...

To me the key to that passage in Matthew was always the word 'lawlessness' - or without laws/guidelines.

A classic example of the day might be something like a powerful, rich televangelist person who does what seems like a lot of good in God's name (and one sould make the arguement that person does) but in the end of their life is found to have been lying about their gift, using it to build a wealthy estate, and de-frauding a whole score of people. The person got turned aside from their original form of faith and substituted it for something more ideology more 'modern'...forgetting the ideals of compassion, justice, love, equality, fairness, etc...they became a law unto themselves.

I think that's how I look at the piece of the passage - it's not that the person wasn't a good person of the faith (at some point of time) but they finished the race in such a way as to disgrace the very integrity of the God they chose to serve.

OneSmallStep said...

Yael,

**Why can't God use evil people to deliver prophecies?**

But the prophecy would still be valid, correct? It's just delivered by a less than steller person. However, in the Matthew 7 quote, the emphasis seems to be that the person delivered a prophecy in the name of Jesus. With the Deut quote, that prophecy would be coincidental at best, and not from God Himself.

In regards to the Deut. quote -- it sounds like with that quote, it's saying that the signs and portents are directly connected to another God, and thus would be done in the name of that foreign God. And therefore, God Himself wouldn't have had a part in those signs or portents. So I'm still left with Jesus saying devils can only be driven out by the power of God, and saying that he didn't know those who drove out devils. He'd have to, if they are doing so by the power of God.

HIS -- thanks for the reccomendation. I'll check him out.

Mystical:

**It seems like the point of the passage was simply that religious piety isn't a guarantee that you'll get into God's good graces, and that what really matters is how you treat others**

This is the point of Matthew 7, correct? Are you getting the point of treating others from surrounding verses? It just seems strange that one of the things listed is the very thing that Jesus claimed could be used to identify his followers, given that such an ability was provided by God. Unless, as I state, the people claiming that they did such things were misinformed of their own abilities -- which you seem to be hinting at with religious piety.

Society --

Just to clarify, you're connecting the "lawlessness" with Matthew 7? If so, it sounds like with your televangelist example that you are going in the direction I was, that those making the claims in Matthew 7 were ... well, maybe lying is harsh. "Exaggerating their abilities," perhaps. Or thinking they were doing the things they listed, and they weren't in reality.

However, if the people in Matthew 7were actually driving out demons, then I think we have a problem, because you can only do so through the power of God. And if the people were working towards selfish ends instead, then the power of God would not be working through them. I don't see how the two would "co-exist." So the Matthew 7 claims were those acting selfishly, and deluding themselves into thinking they actually did what they said they did.

I'm looking at it as reading between the lines: all three things listed would be doing the will of the Father. Yet the people were revoked, and their ways called wicked. But the actions themselves are not wicked, which leads me to the people weren't actually doing what they said they were doing.

CresceNet said...

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societyvs said...

"So the Matthew 7 claims were those acting selfishly, and deluding themselves into thinking they actually did what they said they did" (OSS)

If we look closely at that passage - the people make the claims to Jesus and not the other way around - maybe we could see the claims as not verified (since people are giving an image of themselves to Jesus they think is true - but is not).

I still have to point out Jesus connects all of that with 'practicing lawlessness' - which could mean the people lived religious looking lives (accoring to the society around them) but never really lived by the wisdom and sincerity of the teachings (kind of like that whole problem we see with 'believing in something' in our modern society).

This passage is very harsh rhetoric to the believer in God - since this is likely connected to Matthew 6's whole bit about being sincere and not doing things for show. In those passages we also see some of the same ideas and maybe Jesus in this passage is summing that all up - with a little 'you think you know me - you didn't have a sniff pal'.

HeIsSailing said...

OSS,
If you want to check it out, I think the book is long out of print (it was written in the 1820s). I found it on google books and downloaded the whole thing for free. It was one of my best reads of the last year.

Pastor Bob said...

One small point, and it may not matter to you: Mark 16:17 was most probably not part of the original text.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**I still have to point out Jesus connects all of that with 'practicing lawlessness' **
Is this how your Bible interprets the "wicked ways" part? Where Jesus tells them to get out of his sight, "them and their wicked ways."

**which could mean the people lived religious looking lives (accoring to the society around them) but never really lived by the wisdom and sincerity of the teachings (kind of like that whole problem we see with 'believing in something' in our modern society). **

I think you're taking the whole passage as an allegory, then? Because if taken literally, I think it would be hard to just live a religious-looking life if you're also casting out demons. If you're casting out demons, then your sincerity to the religion goes deeper than just the surface. Same with miracles, and possibly even foretelling something. Which is why I'm going with the idea of they didn't do what they said they did, and I think it still works with pracitcing lawlessness. There's no way they would've been "lawless" if they actually did what they said they did. I can see why it would be alleogrized. But given that time period and the huge belief in miralces and demon-possession, I think it would've been taken literally.

HIS --

I noticed that right after putting it on my amazon wish list. The price is going somewhat high. I'm going to try the library, instead.

Pastor Bob --

I think Mark 16 ended before the resurrection sightings? I knew that it wasn't originally included, and heistated before including it. However, the fact that it and the resurrection was included had to mean that later writers felt it had validity on some level. It's just curious that out of everything picked, they go with a casting out of demons idea for an addition.

HeIsSailing said...

Here is the book in its entirety:
http://books.google.com/books?id=94AuMGeecnIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=david+friedrich+strauss&as_brr=1

I spent some money to print it all out (4 pages per printed sheet, double sided), and bound it. It was easy to read this way, on a clipboard so I could cover the thing in my own handwritten notes.

Here is what Albert Schweitzer said about this book: "Considered as a literary work, Strauss's first Life of Jesus is one of the most perfect things in the whole range of learned literature. In over 1400 pages, he has not a superflous phrase; his analysis descends to the minutest details, but he does not lose his way among hem; the style is simple and pictureesque, sometiems ironical, but always dignified and distinguished".

I almost agree with this high praise. The main place where Strauss fumbles is that he spends two chapters with his critical analysis of the sayings and discourses of Jesus, but he does it assuming Matthew was written first. As I read these chapters, I saw how Markan priority cleared up many (certainly not all) of his objections.

That is my only complaint against the book though. This book needs to be read by modern Christian apolgists. Strauss anticipated their arguments and thoroughly refuted them 170 years ago. It is loaded with interesting, and bizarre puzzles like the one you have in this article. I cannot recommend it highly enough - I really think you would enjoy it, Heather.

Lorena said...

Hey,

Have you ever seen old folks playing with puzzle books and number games? I've heard they not only do it to fight boredom. They actually do it to keep their brains active, to stop it from dying completely.

When I read your article, I thought, when I get old, I won't bother with dollar-store puzzle books, I will just study the Bible. The "holy" conundrum will be perfect to keep my neurons secreting juices and perfectly functioning in my late eighties, though it may increase my chances of dementia.

I mean no offense, though. I am just trying to be silly, so forgive me if I come across like a meanie--though I've been called that countless times.

societyvs said...

"Is this how your Bible interprets the "wicked ways" part?" (OSS)

Yes - the word 'lawlessness' is used.

"Because if taken literally, I think it would be hard to just live a religious-looking life if you're also casting out demons" (OSS)

Not neccesarily - that's an assumption on your part. I watch paranormal shows on tv the odd time - you'd be amazed at how few of these people are Christian and yet make the claim to 'cast out demons and ghost apparitions' (watch paranormal state on A&E for example). For some reason you believe that in order to rid the demonic - we need to be a certain way or thing. Maybe Jesus isn't that impressed with the whole casting out of demons thing when someone is 'hellish' to the world themselves.

"There's no way they would've been "lawless" if they actually did what they said they did." (OSS)

Really? I think you make a valid point that they were 'self-decieving' themselves - I admit that is likely the core of the issue with that passage. But that above statement is not that strong.

Those people cast out demons, prophesied, and did miracles - not in their names - but Jesus' (or even God's name) - or one could say - maybe they relied on the power of God for those things to happen (and this has nothing to do with themselves). Maybe they started taking more credit for the acts of God and gained more power from that whole phenomenon? These people could have easily as been lawbreakers as anyone else - and taught others - in their names (which they covered so much with God's name it was hard to distinguish the one will from the other).

Irregardless, these people are called 'wicked' - not 'liars' - likely signifying there is more to the whole thing than just some self-delusion (which is not problematic per se - and even sometimes quite harmless). I think these people mentioned in the passage practiced ideas that were against the teachings of Jesus and even the Torah (law) - or decieved others 'in the name of God' somehow.

The other key part of that phrase is 'I never knew you'. To me it would make sense to say these people knew the teachings but forgoed them for gain, power, or something else - or possibly even changed them to make them say whatever they wanted (ie: like murder or adultery is good - and God says so). Jesus does not know these people because they are so unfamiliar to him - even if claiming his name - they teach/believe things so foreign to Jesus it would be hard to marry the two.

OneSmallStep said...

HIS,

Thanks. I took a look, and am looking forward to reading it.

Lorena,

**The "holy" conundrum will be perfect to keep my neurons secreting juices and perfectly functioning in my late eighties, though it may increase my chances of dementia.**

I think it's a good idea, if that helps. :) I've always been puzzled with the idea that the Bible can be harmonized. The writers don't agree on everything (imo). So it's fascinating to see where and why they might disagree.

Society,

**For some reason you believe that in order to rid the demonic - we need to be a certain way or thing. Maybe Jesus isn't that impressed with the whole casting out of demons thing when someone is 'hellish' to the world themselves.**

Yes, because I'm pulling from another statement where Jesus says that Satan doesn't work against him/itself -- he can only cast out demons by the power of God and only from the power of God. I would find it a logical jump to say that if the people in Matthew 7 are truly casting out demons, then they could only do so by the power of God. And thus, if they truly and literally did so, then they were known by God/Jesus. If the people on the A&E show truthfully and literally drove out demons, then they are doing so by the power of God, per the Matthew 12 quote. (Or, as another way of looking at it, they are driving them out by the power of Satan if Satan has decided to fight against him/itself).

It's not that we need to "be" a certain way -- it's that no matter who casts out the demons, it can only occur through the power of God. Not through one's willpower, or the "evil side" or anything like that. I don't think that means one needs to believe in God the "right" way.

Even if the person is "hellish" to the world -- while I don't think that God has abandoned them, and that they can express good qualities at time, I would find it difficult to think that God could work through them to that extent, such as casting out demons. Jesus did it as a way to help people, to stop their oppression or suffering. It was putting the other person first, and thus those who literally did so were also actively working on the side of "good". I wouldn't see a "hellish" person doing that, and thus not be able to demonstrate the power of good to that degree.

**"There's no way they would've been "lawless" if they actually did what they said they did." (OSS)

Really? I think you make a valid point that they were 'self-decieving' themselves -**

Yes, because if they truly did what they said they did, then they were fully following God and thus following God's laws. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had the abilities they did.

**Jesus does not know these people because they are so unfamiliar to him - even if claiming his name - they teach/believe things so foreign to Jesus **

Ultimately, this is what we agree on. I'm just left with being unable to believe that the speakers are sincere in their statements, because then I'm wondering why God worked "through" them to eliminate demons, and then Jesus says he never knew them.

I'm left instead that they were deluding themselves into what they did, perhaps very flashy people intent on impressing others with their "capabilities." It's more of I would think they only thought they told prophecies, or it looked like they did marvelous works or cast out demons, but in reality? They didn't even come close.

kerrin said...

OneSmallStep,

Could this passage in anyway resemble what James 1:22-25 talks about?... Someone who has true faith will not fail to produce good works.

OneSmallStep said...

Kerrin,

Trust me -- after dialoguing with you for so long on the other blog, I wouldn't delete your comments. Unless you were being a troll, but rest assured -- I "objectively" declare that you have not been so ;)

When you ask if this passage relates to James ... do you mean it in the sense that the Matthew 7 people did not produce good works at all? If so, do you mean they only thought they did what they claimed?

kerrin said...

well you wouldn't be the first to call me a troll :) although i could be called many things a troll i think i am not.

your ideas about scripture intrigue me... at first I thought you had a strong dislike of them but after reading more of your thoughts I am more intrigued.

In the context of the rest of the passage it seems to me that Jesus was speaking of false teachers who would claim to speak on his behalf (vs 15). Only what they taught produced bad fruit (vs 16-20) & lawlessness ("wickedness" in James) and thus could be identified as false teaching.

These same false teachers only claim to prophesy, cast out demons, & perform miracles in the name of Jesus in verse 22. Jesus is not saying that they did these things.

I am only advocating a contextual understanding of Jesus' words here.

societyvs said...

I also think kerrin's response is very accurate - and James and Matthew - when compared - are eerily close in nature. She does go to the context of the previous passages - which I kind of did not look into as deep as I could of - but those previous passages are the reason I did come up with the same idea as kerrin (just forgot how I arrived there).

The big point is teaching falsely in the name of Christ - or even in the name of God. Now this happens and we are aware of that - but we also see what kind of fruit this teaching produces...namely weird behaviors that lead to lawlessness (or lack of a law or value system).

Also I think Matt 25 uses the exact smae phrase as 7:22 which makes the 2 passages somewhat related. However, in the Matthew 25 parable of the sheep and goats we see that action not accompanying the values/beliefs is part of the problem. Now Matt 7 seems to be mentioning this also with one word that is used in both passages 'lawlessness'. I guess that's how I arrive at the same idea as kerrin also (which includes the context of Matt 7 and the fruit parable).

Maybe the people were deluded into thinking they were doing right - but the only way that can happen is if the system is set up to delude them also (which we now know via experience is very possible). So I think OSS is onto something also - that these people approach Jesus and find out - we were both lied to and then in turn lied to ourselves (cause no one is to blame for someone's lack of study on something).