Seidensticker Folly #30: Small vs. Great Commission?

Seidensticker Folly #30: Small vs. Great Commission? October 26, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. 

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18: “You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day: “If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And again:You’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.” Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 30 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. 

Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

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In his article, “Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions (3 of 4)” (10-24-18), Bible-Bashing Bob pontificated:

We’re in the middle of tossing Christianity’s dirty laundry onto the lawn for everyone to examine. Here are five more Bible contradictions that call into question foundational Christian claims . . . 

13. Who should the disciples convert?

At the end of the gospel story, Jesus has risen and is giving the disciples their final instructions.

Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

This is the familiar Great Commission, and it’s a lot more generous than what has been called the lesser commission that appears earlier in the same gospel:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5–6)

This was not a universal message. We see it again in his encounter with the Canaanite woman:

[Jesus rejected her plea to heal her daughter, saying] “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24–6)

You might say that a ministry with limited resources had to prioritize, but that doesn’t apply here. Don’t forget that Jesus was omnipotent. . . . 

Let’s revisit the fact that Matthew is contradictory when it says both “Make disciples of all nations” and “Do not go among the Gentiles [but only] to the lost sheep of Israel.” There are no early papyrus copies of Matthew 28 (the “Make disciples of all nations” chapter), and the earliest copies of this chapter are in the codices copied in the mid-300s. That’s almost three centuries of silence from original to our best copies, a lot of opportunity for the Great Commission to get “improved” by copyists. I’m not saying it was, of course; I’m simply offering one explanation for why the gospel in Matthew has Jesus change so fundamental a tenet as who he came to save.

This is a ludicrously easy so-called pseudo- [caricature of a] “contradiction” to “resolve”. Here is the answer in summary; then I shall document it in detail from Holy Scripture:

1) Jesus said He came at first to His own Jewish people, as their Messiah (seen in Bob’s citation of Matthew 15:24 above).

2) Accordingly, He at first told His disciples (all Jews) to preach the new Gospel to their fellow Jews only (his citation of Matthew 10:5-6). First things first.

3) This exclusivity was never intended to be permanent. It was simply the first step of the planned wider program of evangelism, which was soon to include the Gentiles, and indeed the whole world. This is indicated in many instances of Jesus Himself reaching out beyond the Jewish people: thus foreshadowing the Great Commission that He would give to His disciples.

Bob makes a manuscript argument for the supposed significant lateness of Matthew 28 (mid-4th century). Luke Wayne tackles this objection in his article, “Is Matthew 28:19 a later addition to Matthew’s Gospel?” He states, for example:

Justin’s student, Tatian, produced a harmony of the four Gospels into one narrative called the Diatessaron which contains the words of Matthew 28:19-20, including the Trinitarian formula. [I added links]

The Diatessaron is dated c. 160–175, so this is about 175 years before Bob claims that Matthew 28 first appears in the manuscripts. The Didache is even earlier: and most scholars regard it as a first-century document. It contains a trinitarian formula identical to Matthew 28:19:

[B]aptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . . (ch. 7, Roberts-Donaldson translation)

[B]aptize {in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit} . . . (J. B. Lightfoot translation)

[B]aptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . . (Charles H. Hoole translation)

Let’s examine whether Jesus reached out to beyond just the Jewish people. One of the better-known instances of that is the incident that Bob himself mentions: the Canaanite woman. But (true-to-form) Bob only cites part of the entire passage, thus taking it out of context. He even bolds the part that he thinks seals his case of a “Jewish-only / nationalist-type Jesus.” Here are the next two verses, that complete the story:

Matthew 15:27-18 (RSV) She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [28] Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

How can this be?! After all, Bible-Bashing Bob told us that this was a contradiction and that Jesus refused her. At least that’s what one would think, reading his presentation, wouldn’t one? But with the whole passage (blessed context), we readily see that Jesus was merely asking (as He often did) a rhetorical question. In effect He was asking her, “why should I heal your daughter?” She gave a great answer, and He (knowing all along that she would say what she did) did heal her.

I fail to see how this passage proves that Jesus didn’t give a fig about non-Jews. He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter! How does that prove what Bob contends? Jesus heals a Canaanite girl (after being asked to by her mother), and that “proves” that He only healed and preached to Jews; hence it is a “contradiction”? Surely, this is a form of “logic” that no one’s ever seen before.

Another example, even more famous, is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-29). He shares the Gospel very explicitly with her, stating that He is the source of eternal life (4:14), and that He is the Jewish Messiah (4:25-26): a thing that she later proclaimed in the city (4:28-29, 39-42).

The text even notes that — normally — Jews avoided Samaritans: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar’ia?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (4:9; RSV). Strike two against Bob’s bogus claims. He’s very ignorant of the Bible. If only he would come to realize that, then he would stop repeatedly making a fool of himself.

A third instance of Jesus’ outreach beyond the Jews is His interaction with the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Note how Jesus not only readily healed the Roman centurion’s servant (8:7, 13), but also “marveled” at his faith and commended it as superior to the faith of anyone “in Israel” (8:10). And that led Him to observe that many Gentiles will be saved, whereas many Jews will not be saved (8:11-12). None of that is at all consistent with Bob’s silly claim that “This was not a universal message.” It certainly was. What more does Bob need to see, to understand that? But there is much more:

A fourth example is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The whole point of it was to show that Samaritans were truly neighbors to Jews if they helped them, as the man did in the parable. I drove on the road (from Jerusalem to Jericho) which was the setting of this parable.

A fifth example is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

A sixth example is the common motif of Jesus saying that He came to save not just Jews, but the world (Jn 6:33, 51; 8:12 [“I am the light of the world”]; 9:5; 12:46 [“I have come as light into the world . . .”]; 12:47 [“to save the world”]; ). The Evangelists in the Gospels, and John the Baptist state the same (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17, 19).

A seventh example is Jesus praying for His disciples in their missionary efforts: “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

An eighth example is the parable of the weeds, which showed a universal mission field fifteen chapters before Matthew 28: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; . . .” (13:37-38).

A ninth example is Jesus’ statements that “all men” can potentially be saved (Jn 12:32; 13:35).

The book of Acts recounts St. Peter and St. Paul massively reaching out to Gentiles. I need not spend any time documenting that.

As anyone can see, the evidence in the Bible against Bob’s ridiculous critique is abundant and undeniable. Not that that will stop Bob . . . He wants to talk about “who he came to save”? I have just shown what Jesus Himself said about that. He never says (nor does the entire New Testament ever say) that He came to “save Israel” or be the “savior of Israel.” Anyone who doesn’t believe me can do a word search (here’s the tool to do it). Verify it yourself. He only claims to be the “Messiah” of Israel (Jn 4:25-26): which is a different thing. When Jesus says who it is that He came to save (i.e., provided they are willing), He states explicitly that He came “to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and “to save the world” (Jn 12:47).

Likewise, St. Paul states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Last I checked, sinful human beings were not confined solely to the class of Jews or Israelis.

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Photo credit: Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee (1308-1311), by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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