28 November 2020

Out of Context: Matthew 10:35 and The Trial of the Chicago 7

Last night I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix, which is based on the trial of seven anti-war protesters who were arrested during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I very much enjoyed the movie, but I was especially struck by its portrayal of Abbie Hoffman's testimony, in which he quotes a verse from the Gospel of Matthew.

Here's the portion of the script from the movie, where the prosecuting attorney, Richard Schultz, is questioning Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) about something his fellow defendant, Tom Hayden, had said.

Did you hear the tape we played of Tom Hayden?


-You heard the tape? Did you hear Mr. Hayden give an instruction to his people to take to the streets?

“His people”? Hayden’s not a Mafia don and neither am I.

Did you hear him say, “If blood is gonna flow, let it flow all over the city”?

The beginning of that sentence was supposed to be… Yes. Yes, I did.

What’d you think of that?

I think Tom Hayden is a badass of an American patriot.

I didn’t ask what you thought of the man, I asked of his instruction of the crowd.

I’ve also heard Tom Hayden say, “Let’s end the war,” but nobody stopped shooting.

You can do anything to anything by taking it out of context, Mr. Schultz.

“If blood is gonna flow”? How do you take that out of context?

A guy once said, “I am come to set a man at variance with his father and the daughter against her mother.”

You know who said it?

Jerry Rubin.

Yes. No. It was Jesus Christ. Matthew 10:35.

And it sure sounds like he’s telling kids to kill their parents.

Until you read Matthew 10:34 and 10:36.

Although I haven't seen the actual court transcript, I very much doubt the Abbie Hoffman quoted this Bible verse during the trial. Hoffman was a rather irreverent Jew, and probably wouldn't have quoted Jesus in his testimony. But Aaron Sorkin had Sacha Baron Cohen do it for him anyway.

In any case, the movie script quoted Matthew 10:35 correctly, using the King James Version.

The problem is that that verse says exactly what it sounds like it says. And the previous and following verses don't make it any better.

Here are the verses that are supposed to put Jesus's words in context.

Matthew 10:34: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

Matthew 10:36: And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

Apparently neither Aaron Sorkin or the movie's Abbie Hoffman bothered to read these two verses. They just figured that context would make Jesus's words say something acceptable, rather than what they so clearly actually say.

The Jesus in Matthew's gospel came to break families apart, to set fathers against their sons, and daughters against their mothers. To make enemies within families.

In this case, as in almost all cases when it comes to the Bible, context only makes it worse.

22 August 2020

An update on the SAB website revision

Since I haven't posted much on the blog lately, I thought I'd let you know that I'm still alive and working on the website. I've been plowing through the Old Testament at the SAB, finishing Lamentations this morning. I'm really enjoying it so far -- so much, in fact, that it's hard to stop long enough to tell you what I've been up to.

Here, for example, are some additions I made recently to the Book of Isaiah at the SAB website.

A topical outline to the chapters

Isaiah Trivia Questions

List of Selected Quotes

Now I'm off to update the Book of Ezekiel. That ought to be fun!

03 June 2020

The New SAB books are in!

We ran out of Skeptic's Annotated Bible books a while back and had to print some more.

Well, they're finally finished and are available at Amazon.

I'm quite happy with the quality of the new books, both paperback and hardcover.

We changed the cover a bit, but otherwise the contents are the same as in previous printings.

24 March 2020

The Bible, the Census, and Covid-19

I've been searching the scriptures to see what they say about the coronavirus pandemic.

I started by looking for passages that refer to plagues, pestilence, disease, and sickness. It wasn't long before I found the answer.

It wasn't from the Bible, though. It came in the mail. Here it is:

The Census!

The U.S. constitution requires us to have a census every ten years. And this is one of those years.

But why would a census upset God so much?

Who knows? But it clearly did when King David had one.

The census story is so important that it's told twice in the Bible, in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21.

Here's the story from Second Samuel:

And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.


And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying,

Go and say unto David, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.

So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.


So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men. 2 Samuel 24:1-15

And here's the account from First Chronicles:

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.


And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.

And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,

Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.

So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee

Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel.


So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. 1 Chronicles 21:1-14

Although the accounts differ as to who inspired King David to have the census (2 Samuel says God did it; 1 Chronicles blames Satan), both agree that the census upset God so much that he sent a pestilence that killed 70,000 men. (Neither account says how many women and children were killed. But there must have been a couple hundred thousand or so.)

28 March 2019

A numbers problem in the book of Numbers

The book of Numbers is well-named. There are a lot of number in Numbers.

Take chapter three for instance. In the long last section of that chapter, God tells Moses to count the Levites [1] saying,

And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,

Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. Numbers 3:14-15

Notice that women and girls didn't count in God's census. Neither did babies (or fetuses) under 1 month old of either sex. [2]

But this post is about number problems, so I'll try to stick to that.

Moses did as God commanded and numbered the Levites.

He did so by counting the number of males in the families of Levi's three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

Here's what he came up with:

7,500 Gershonites

8,600 Kohathites

6,200 Merariites

Which, if you total them up, gives a grand total of 22,300.

But the total given in verse 39 is 22,000.

Which leads to the question: How many male Levites more than one month old did Moses and Aaron count?

I know, it's not a big deal. What's three hundred Levites among friends?

But there is a bigger number problem a little later in Numbers 3.

After Moses and Aaron were done counting Levites, God asked them to number all of the firstborn Israelite males.

They got busy doing that and came up with 22,273. (vv.42-43)

And yet Moses already counted all of the male Israelites over 20 years old, and found that there were 603,550. (Num 1:45, 2:32)

So if there were more than 600,000 Israelite males over 20 years old, there must have been more than a million males above 1 month old. And yet Numbers 3:42-43 says there were only 22,273 firstborn sons.

Which means that only about two percent of Israelite sons are firstborn sons, and the average Israelite family must have had a hundred sons and daughters.

  1. God had commanded Moses not to number the Levites in the previous two chapters. But I guess God changed his mind.

    Did God tell Moses to number the Levites?

    It is also interesting that God told Moses to take a census here, since he later will kill 70,000 people to punish David for taking a census. (See 2 Sam 24:1-17 and 1 Chr 21:2.) Oh well, I guess he changed his mind again.

    Is it OK to take a censsus?

  2. As the Harper Collins Study Bible points out, "One month seems to be the age at which personhood was believed to begin: see Lev 27:6."

    What the Bible says about Abortion