I will be dealing with two questions in this weeks’ Readers’ Mailbag. The first is about what happened to that thread I was supposed to be doing on why I lost my faith (!) and the other about whether Mark’s account of Jesus’ death contains an inner discrepancy (one verse flat out contradicting another).
I’m a bit confused. A few weeks ago you said you were going to write about what you tell your students on the last day of school about why you lost your faith, but it seems you may have gotten off track, unless I missed a post or two…. Anyway, I am sorry I seem to have missed the posts that were about what you say to your class each year about why you lost your faith. I hope you will repeat it sometime soon.
Ha! Right! I can see how this could be confusing. When I started this thread I did not know it was even going to *be* a thread. I had planned to make one, or possibly two, posts, to lay out what I told my undergraduate class on the New Testament the last day of class, as I explained to them how and why I had lost my faith and moved from being a committed conservative evangelical Christian to becoming an agnostic/atheist. But I began that explanation six weeks ago! Once I started dealing with the issue I realized that I could take the opportunity to go into more depth than I have before – in my books or here on the Blog – about how all this happened to me and my faith. And I still *am* in the middle of that thread even though it may not on the surface seem like it. So let me explain where I am.
I am now at the point of explaining how I continued to be a Christian even after I came to realize that the Bible is full of mistakes, contradictions, and discrepancies of various kinds. This is the part of my story that I have never explained much about before, and as a result a lot of people tell me either that they are surprised, or not at all surprised, that I went from being a fundamentalist to being an atheist. Those who are NOT surprised tell me (usually with great assurance and self-congratulation) that the reason that happened to ME and not to THEM is because I never stopped being a fundamentalist: I simply went from one extreme (Christian fundamentalism) to another (atheism) because I obviously am a person of extremes, unlike someone with a balanced view of the world (like them).
What I’m trying to explain is that I did not in fact start OUT as a fundamentalist (I started as a mainline Christian in the Episcopal church) and I did not go immediately from one extreme to another. There were many years when I was a completely mainstream, fairly liberal Christian who continued to believe in God, and in Christ, and in the major beliefs of the religion without being fanatical about them.
But how can one believe in the Christian truths without being committed to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible? That’s what I’m trying to explain now, at some length. The Bible does indeed have errors and contradictions in it. It absolutely does. But knowing that did not lead me away from the faith. It led me away from a fundamentalist understanding of the faith. To make sense of that transition in my life, though, I have had to show that the Bible can *not* be seen as an inerrant revelation from God. It is full of mistakes.
Then how can one believe? By not believing “in the Bible” but by believing in God. Which is what Christianity is supposed to be about. I’ll be explaining more in posts to come as I continue the current line of reasoning, that is trying to show how someone can think the Bible contains “truths” without being flawless.
Only then will I talk about how I actually lost my faith – not because of my scholarship on the Bible but because I no longer could explain to myself how there could be a good God in control of this world given the massive amounts of misery, pain, and suffering that fill it.
Bart, if Mark were internally consistent I think a stronger case could be made for either author (Mark or John) having an agenda, or truth, they were trying to convey. But Mark isn’t internally consistent. As another reader has pointed out, Mark 15:42 says that Jesus died on the day of preparation, which is inconsistent with Mark’s prior narrative, but consistent with John’s chronology. So was Mark 15:42 added by a later (different) author?
To make sense of this question I have to provide a bit of background by way of reminder. I was arguing in an earlier post that Mark and John contradict each other with respect to the day of Jesus’ death. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus dies on the day of the Passover, the morning after the Passover meal was eaten. But in John Jesus dies the day *before* the Passover, the day on which the Passover meal was being prepared, which was therefore called the “Day of Preparation” for the Passover.
What this reader is pointing out is that in Mark 15:42 we are told that Jesus died on “the day of Preparation.” His point is that this seems to be a contradiction in Mark – either Jesus died on the day of Preparation or on the Passover day itself: which was it? Even more frequently this verse is taken to show that in fact Mark and John do NOT contradict each other. For both, Jesus dies on the same day, the day of Preparation. Right?
Wrong! This verse is often a source of confusion, but it doesn’t need to be. What the whole verse says about the time of Jesus’ death is this: “And it was becoming evening, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before Sabbath.” It is that last phrase that is all important. In Mark Jesus does not die on the Day of Preparation FOR PASSOVER but on the Day of Preparation FOR SABBATH.
Explanation: Whenever there was a Jewish festival on which no work was to be done, the meal for the special day had to be prepared the day before. That was the day of Preparation. Every week there was a day of preparation, since every week there was a Sabbath. Friday, during the day, was when the Sabbath meal would be Prepared for that evening (remember: the day *begins* in Jewish reckoning, when it gets dark – so the Sabbath, which is Saturday, actually begins when it gets dark on Friday; that is why the Sabbath meal, still today, is eaten on Friday after dark).
But also the meal celebrated on Passover (whichever day it fell on) was “Prepared” the day before. That would be the day of Preparation for Passover.
So if you read Mark carefully, Jesus dies on the Day of Passover which is the Day of Preparation for Sabbath. In other words, the Day of Preparation for the Passover itself (for Mark) was Thursday. Passover fell on a Friday. And (for Mark) that day of Passover was the day of Preparation for the Sabbath (which, of course, was Saturday).
John has a different sequence. As in Mark, Jesus dies on a Friday (the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath), but in this case that Friday was not the day of the Passover but the Day of Preparation for Passover (19:14). In other words, in John’s account, the Passover day fell on a Saturday (not a Friday, as in Mark). That is why in 19:31 we are told that the next day, the Sabbath, was a “great Sabbath” – meaning it was a dual holiday, a Sabbath on which a festival (Passover, in this case) also occurred.
So Mark and John agree that Jesus died on a Friday. For Mark that was the day of Passover itself, the morning after the Passover meal had been eaten; for John, it was the day of Preparation for the Passover, the day before the Passover meal was eaten. For Mark it was the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath – for John it was the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath AND for the Passover.
Mark therefore does not contradict himself (in 15:42); but he does contradict John.
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