Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lucian of Samosata: A Warning for Christians from an Early Non-Christian

Lucian of Samosata lived from around 120 CE to 190 CE. He wrote many dialogues in which he satirizes humanity as well as various philosophies circulating during his time. Lucian was not a Christian. In fact, in his work The Death of Peregrine Lucian writes about the devotion of “the Christians” to “a man” who “was crucified” because of the “novel rites” which the “crucified” man is said to have introduced (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11). Lucian can therefore be said to have provided one of the earliest non-Christian references to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, the only “man” historically identified with “the Christians” and who was also said to have been “crucified” or put to death by the Romans in the first century.—See the New Testament record of Luke 3:1 and 23:24-25, 33.

However, Lucian does more than simply refer to “the Christians” and to “the man” to whom Christians of the mid- to late-second century CE were devoted. In The Death of Peregrine Lucian writes about a historical figure of his time (also called “Proteus”) whose background and whose interests are of the worst kind. Unfortunately, Peregrine is credited with “the corruption of a handsome boy” and then with buying off his (poor) parents so he is not ‘brought before the Governor’ (9). Peregrine is also said to have hanged his sixty-plus-year-old father (10). But, and this is where Christians must be alert, Lucian also speaks about how Peregrine pretended to be interested in Christianity for his own selfish gain, not just once, but for quite some time and to a rather astonishing degree.

Consider how Lucian presents Peregrine’s actions in this regard (with my bracketed words added for clarity). Keep in mind, Lucian is likely not an expert on Christianity, and to him the whole matter is amusingly tragic, according to his satirical style of writing:

It was now that he [Peregrine] came across the priests and scribes of the Christians, in Palestine, and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue—he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They [the Christians of this time] took him [Peregrine] for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president. The Christians, you know [as Lucian writes about this matter to a man named Cronius], worship a man [Jesus of Nazareth] to this day,—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. Well, the end of it was that Proteus [Peregrine] was arrested and thrown into prison. This was the very thing to lend an air to his [favorite] arts of clap-trap and wonder-working; he was now a made man [because he had deceived the Christians into believing he was sincere]. The Christians took it all very seriously: he was no sooner in prison, than they began trying every means to get him out again,—but without success. Everything else that could be done for him they most devoutly did. They thought of nothing else. Orphans and ancient widows might be seen hanging about the prison from break of day. Their officials bribed the [jailers] to let them sleep inside with him. Elegant dinners were conveyed in; their sacred writings were read; and our old friend Peregrine (as he was still called in those days) became for them “the modern Socrates.” In some of the Asiatic cities, too, the Christian communities put themselves to the expense of sending deputations, with offers of sympathy, assistance, and legal advice.—Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13 (As translated by .W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, vol. 4 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905], pages 82-83).

Lucian goes on to explain why the Christians of this time were seemingly so accepting of Peregrine, and so willing to help him to the extents he describes above. In what follows I will continue to add bracketed words to help with the reading of the text, and I will also underline just two sentences at the end. For in these the problem for us ‘trusting’ Christians will be manifest:

The activity of these people [the Christians], in dealing with any matter that affects their community, is something extraordinary; they spare no trouble, no expense. Peregrine, all this time, was making quite an income on the strength of his bondage; money came pouring in. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver [Jesus of Nazareth] that they are all brothers [compare Matthew 23:8], from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage [Jesus of Nazareth], and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. Now an adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made; he plays with them.

If the trust, or faith, which Christians have in Jesus of Nazareth and in those with whom we associate as “brothers” was so easily manipulated in the mid-second century CE, there is little to keep this same thing from happening today. Indeed, all too often we hear of men who sneak in and who live among us and who then do some of the very things Peregrine is said to have done: molest young boys and cause those with true faith to give of their possessions, to those who are not deserving, when we should instead use them to take care of ourselves, our families, and others who are truly in need. If Peregrine was so fit as to work as hard as he did in misleading Christians of his time, he should have been made to work in ways that were in imitation of those Christians who set a truly righteous example for all of us to follow:

2 Thessalonians 3:7-15 (NRSV)

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

So, do not be so quick to accept even those who appear to show great zeal for what is good. If they do truly love what is right, then they would not continue to have you or anyone else bear their burdens. Of course, there are many who need help, such as ‘orphans and widows,’ as well as persons with infirmities and those of our family who are elderly and without much (Matthew 8:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:3-10; James 1:27). But we must be “cautious” (Matthew 10:16) and try hard never to allow the wicked one to find his place among us, as he has done with so many persons and Christians groups before, and today (Matthew 13:37-39; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). “Put those to the test who say they are apostles” (Revelation 2:2), such as those who show by their burdening of others that they are claiming superiority to Paul who, in spite of ‘having the right’ chose to instead work “night and day” so as not to burden anyone, “but in order to give you an example to imitate.”—2 Thessalonians 3:9.

Finally, learn from the Christians of Lucian’s time. They had a chance to investigate just why Peregrine was being imprisoned, and to do something about it before giving him any more of their time, support, and material things. Fortunately, as Lucian tells us, they did eventually see Peregrine for who he was:

The Christians were meat and drink to him; under their protection he [Peregrine] lacked nothing, and this luxurious state of things went on for some time. At last he got into trouble even with them; I suppose they caught him partaking of some of their forbidden meats. They would have nothing more to do with him ... .—Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 15-16.

But at what cost, after paying what price to one who cared nothing for the one whose teachings Peregrine falsely claimed so zealously to have embraced? Let us be resolved, then, to do all that we can to keep the Peregrines of our time away from us, and to instead do what we can to expose those who lie and who cheat and who steal from others in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. We can do so by trusting in Jesus himself, and by praying to his God, our God, Jah, to cause those who misuse their names to see their faces every time they come near us. We can also evaluate ourselves and each other, where and when appropriate, by comparing what we do and what others claim to be with the writings and with the witness of those whom we have come to trust, whose writings we have come to accept as having good reasons to believe.Among these are Paul and John, Peter and James, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for in these we see the one after whom we have been called “Christians” (Acts 11:26) those who bear witness to what is true about Jesus of Nazareth, the Bible, and about the God Jah, whom one day all living things will “praise”!—Psalm 102:18; 106:48; 150:6; Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Do Not Go After Them" (Unless . . . )

The words forming the quoted portion of the title of this Blog come from one of the four best historical witnesses to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 21:8). The fuller text of Jesus’ words here is as follows: “Then [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘You must see to it that you are not misled. For many will come using my name and saying, “I am [the Christ/Messiah],” and, “The defined/appointed time has drawn near.” Do not go after them.’”

These last words are unique to Luke’s account, though similar parts of Jesus’ speech are recorded in Matthew 24:4-5, 11, and 23-28. But Matthew does not include the part about those who falsely claim, “The defined [or ‘appointed’] time has drawn near,” followed by Jesus’ warning, “Do not go after them.” By contrast, later in Matthew 24 Jesus gives a series of illustrations about individuals whom he would consider “faithful and discreet,” in part “because [it is] not at what time [they] think” Jesus “is coming” when he will in fact appear. Rather, “he will come on a day that [we] have not looked for and at a time that [we] do not know” (Matthew 24:44, 50). Then in Matthew 25 Jesus continues his warning by giving still more illustrations about how each one of us must be ready, “in the middle of the night” (verse 6), for even “the discreet” (verse 8) “do not know the day or the time/hour” of his coming.—Matthew 25:13.

Today, and in times past but since the days of Jesus, many have done just as he foretold, claiming “the defined/appointed time has drawn near.” Indeed, in spite of Jesus’ warning millions have ‘gone after’ such ones, in part because many of these false teachers also proclaim other things about Jesus and about God which are true, or which are based on good reasons. Just as Jesus also foretold, “weeds” have grown up together with “wheat” so that they are, at times, difficult to distinguish from each other and where any attempt to prematurely remove the “weeds” from the “wheat” could threaten the growth of the “wheat,” though the “wheat” will be separated during “the harvest” and then “the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun,” no longer indistinguishable from the “weeds.”—Matthew 13:30, 43.

It is not for us to determine when is this “harvest,” and yet being a Christian involves doing good and being “righteous” (Matthew 25:37-40) concerning that which we have good reasons to believe is true and according to the will of the one who made us (Genesis 2:9; Isaiah 7:15-16). This is the case in spite of our sin or disobedience to God at times because he permits us to act according to our own will and desire (James 1:14-15), for we are in his image (Genesis 3:22). It is the “angels” who are sent forth to “separate” the “wheat” from the “weeds,” those who “kept awake” in spite of not knowing when “the thief was coming” from those who mislead others for their own selfish gain, in part by falsely proclaiming, “The appointed time has drawn near!”—Matthew 13:39-41; 24:43-44; Luke 12:8.

I write these things, because I myself was misled into ‘going after’ or working with those who, probably more than any other significant religious organization in the past 100 years, consistently and falsely proclaimed, “The defined/appointed time has drawn near.” Part of the reason I joined in with this group, as noted above, is because of many teachings these ones proclaim which are based on good reasons, such as the names and the biblical identities of God and of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (see my Third Edition of Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics, Chapters 1 and 2, in particular [Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 2009]). Today the “field” of the world is indeed mixed with “wheat” and “weeds,” and it takes time not only for each of us to grow and to learn about what is true, and about what is false, but by the time we come to an understanding of how to use the best available reasons to make such determinations, either alone or in association with others, we have already likely come to accept things which are not true, or which are not based on the best available reasons. Thus, there will always be a period of growth and learning which will bring each one of us to points of decision about what to continue believing, or about what to accept or reject as we grow.

With that said, consider the following selections from the Watchtower Society’s 2006 CD ROM Library, and then ask yourself: Do the underlined portions of what follows fit the description of those whom Jesus warned us about in the latter part of Luke 21:8, or do they suggest persons whom Jesus gives a life-time appointment as “faithful and discreet slave[s],” whose identity and position as such could never be challenged or questioned by anyone else on earth?
The time that God has allowed for humans to experiment with self-government is about to end. [“Comfort for Those Who Suffer,” The Watchtower, January 1, 2003, page 6.]
of this and of wickedness and suffering is nearing its end. ... From the fulfillment of Bible prophecies, we know that the new world is at the door, and God’s permission of suffering is nearing its end.—Matthew 24:3-14. [“God’s Permission of Suffering Nears Its End,” The Watchtower, May 15, 2001, pages 6 and 8.]

In 1914 this world entered its “last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13) We are now 83 years into that period and are nearing its end ... [“Deliverance Into a Righteous New World,” The Watchtower, April 1, 1997, page 14, paragraph 3.]

Bible prophecies indicate that Satan’s world has been in its last days for nearly 80 years now, since the pivotal year 1914. This world is nearing its end. (Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) Jehovah’s Witnesses therefore take heart because they realize that soon God’s Kingdom will assume complete control of all earth’s affairs. [“Trust in Jehovah to Fulfill His Purpose,” The Watchtower, March 15, 1994, page 20, paragraph 20.]

True, for most of mankind, there has not been much happiness on earth since 1914. But the woeful conditions on earth are proof that Satan’s rule is about to end. [“Be Thankful—Jehovah’s Messianic Kingdom Rules,” The Watchtower, October 15, 1990, page 19, paragraph 18.]

For over seven decades now, the people of this 20th-century generation living since 1914 have experienced the fulfillment of events listed in Jesus’ prophecy found in Matthew chapter 24. Therefore, this period of time is nearing its end, with the restoration of Paradise on earth close at hand.—Matthew 24:32-35; compare Psalm 90:10. [“Opening Up the Way Back to Paradise,” The Watchtower, August 15, 1989, page 14, paragraph 18.]

These prophecies undergoing fulfillment show clearly that we are living in “the time of the end.” (Daniel 12:4) Yes, we are nearing the final phase of the last days, the climax of which is the destruction of Satan’s entire wicked system of things. Indeed, this pleasure-loving world is about to end. [“A Pleasure-Loving World About to End!” The Watchtower, July 1, 1983, page 7.]
The question I asked before the above quotations from The Watchtower is for each person to answer for him- or for herself, ultimately. But I will here tell you what I believe is true and also what I believe is what motivates such ones to constantly make these inappropriate claims in complete defiance of Jesus’ warning, even in Jesus’ and in Jehovah’s names (with underlining added):

The fact that the “harvest” of the “sons of the kingdom” is well advanced proves that the “conclusion [synte´leia] of the system of things” is nearing its end (telos). Your attitude toward the wheatlike anointed “brothers” of Christ and the treatment you accord them will be the determining factor as to whether you go into “everlasting cutting-off” or receive “everlasting life.” (Matt. 25:34-46) Prove yourself to be a loyal companion of the anointed “wheat” class, the “faithful and discreet slave,” whom Christ has appointed to provide spiritual “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45) [“Harvesting in the ‘Time of the End,’” The Watchtower, August 1, 1981, page 26, paragraph 20.]

They want you to follow them. Thus, just as Jesus foretold they (repeatedly) tell others, “The appointed time has drawn near” (Luke 21:8). The Watchtower Society and those loyal to them no matter what they teach have also misled others into believing that Jesus has appointed them as a class known as “the faithful and discreet slave,” rather than waiting for the Master to “arrive” and to make that determination himself, “when he returns from the marriage.”—Luke 12:36.

I have elsewhere attempted to further expose the Watchtower Society’s false claims concerning their self-appointment and their failure to be more balanced in their presentation of “the form of worship that is clean and undefiled” before Jah and before Jesus of Nazareth (James 1:27; see “The People of God,” Part Three: “The Sons of the Kingdom”; “The Congregations of God During ‘the Lord’s Day’”; and “Submissive to Those Taking the Lead”). 

The Society, like each one of us, can repent; they can “turn around”; they can ‘bridle their tongue’; they can “become watchful, and strengthen the things remaining,” rather than continuously weaken them by their false teachings concerning “the times and the seasons” (Isaiah 50:5; Jeremiah 15: 34:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:1; Revelation 3:2). Indeed, if I can “turn around” so can they! If “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and [who] teaches and misleads [Jesus’] slaves” has “time to repent,” then so does the Watchtower Society (Revelation 2:20:21)! But they, like each one of us (and like “that woman”) must first realize it is not about them, or about any man or woman. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ and about his God and Father, Jah Jehovah.—Exodus 17:16; Isaiah 12:2; Galatians 1:11-12; Revelation 5:13-14; 21:22.

Until they do, as with anyone else, I encourage all Christians ‘not to go after them.’ For if they “are not willing” then, as in times past, even if “Moses and Samuel were standing before” Jah God and now before Jesus, they will send forth and “kill with deadly plague, so that all the congregations will know that [Jesus, and not any man or woman] searches the kidneys and hearts, and [he, like Jah God before him] will give to [us] individually according to [our] deeds.”—Jeremiah 15:1-2; 17:9-10; Revelation 2:23.

We must resist the temptation to think that our association with any human, whether it be “Moses” or “Samuel,” will protect us from this “deadly plague” if we do not “individually” “turn around” and “repent.” So do not give your “oil” (Matthew 25:8-12) to those who have, apparently, “understood the will of [the] master” but ‘not gotten ready or done in line with [the Master’s] will.’ Indeed, in Luke 12 Jesus went further and spoke, not about peace among those who would claim to follow him, “but rather division” for “from now on there will be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three ... father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”—Luke 12:51-53.

Yet, there can be peace and joy among just “two or three” (Matthew 18:20) if we are gathered together, not in fear of men who refuse to listen to the Master, but in Jesus' and in Jah's names out of love for what is true and good, based on the best available reasons and not on men’s traditions. This way we can truly do “the will of God,” the one who made us, and not follow in the footsteps of men or women who wish to enslave us according to their own selfish desires.—Isaiah 29:13; Mark 3:35; Luke 16:11; John 3:20-21; Galatians 2:4.