New Testament Facts on Easter in Dispute

Yokosuka ChapelThis article originated from Father Dan's Blog

(Chapel in Yokosuka, Japan where I attended and studied the Bible when 15 and 16)

I was going to save this until Sunday but then I started thinking - "Gee, this could be fun to discuss in church, after church at brunch - maybe Friday night during family fun time. . . ." After all, the Bible is the infallible, divinely-inspired word of God, right? The entire Christian religion is based on the resurrection of the Christ - so we know that part of the Good Book will be very accurate! The very crux of the argument for Christianity being the one true religion is that it is the only religion in which the Savior actually rose from the dead to fulfill prophecy- so let's look closer to see if there were any conflicts in the observations recorded in the Holy Book:

Father Dan's Easter Quiz:

1. Who first came to the tomb on Sunday morning? a. one woman (John 20:1) b. two women (Matt. 28:1) c. three women (Mark 16:1) d. more than three women (Luke 23:55-56; 24:1,10)

2. She (they) came a. while it was still dark (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1) b. after the sun had risen (Mark 16:2)

3. The woman (women) came to the tomb a. to anoint the body of Jesus with spices (Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1) b. just to look at it (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1)

4. The women had obtained the spices a. on Friday before sunset (Luke 23:54-56; 24:1) a. after sunset on Saturday (Mark 16:1)

5. The first visitor(s) was/were greeted by a. an angel (Matt. 28:2-5) b. a young man (Mark 16:5) c. two men (Luke 24:4) d. no one (John 20:1-2)

6. The greeter(s) a. was sitting on the stone outside the tomb (Matt 28:2) b. was sitting inside the tomb (Mark 16:5) c. were standing inside the tomb (Luke 24:3-4)

7. After finding the tomb empty, the woman/women a. ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:7-8; Mark 16:10; Luke 24:9; John 20:2) b. ran away and said nothing to anyone (Mark 16:8)

8. The risen Jesus first appeared to a. Mary Magdalene alone (John 20:14; Mark 16:9) b. Cleopas and another disciple (Luke 24:13,15,18) c. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:1,9) d. Cephas (Peter) alone (1 Cor. 15:4-5; Luke 24:34)

9. Jesus first appeared a. somewhere between the tomb and Jerusalem (Matt. 28:8-9) b. Just outside the tomb (John 20:11-14) c. in Galilee - some 80 miles (130 Km) north of Jerusalem (Mark 16:6-7) d. on the road to Emmaus - Miles (11 Km) west of Jerusalem (Luke 24:13-15) e. we are not told where (Mark 16:9; 1 Cor. 15:4-5)

10. The disciples were to see Jesus first a. in Galilee (Mark 16:7; Matt. 28:7,10,16) b. in Jerusalem (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33,36; John 20:19; Acts 1:4)

11. the disciples were told that they would meet the risen Jesus in Galilee a. by the women, who had been told by an angel of the Lord, then by Jesus himself after the resurrection (Matt. 28:7-10; Mark 16:7) b. by Jesus himself, before the crucifiction (Mark 26:32)

12. The risen Jesus a. wanted to be touched (John 20:27) b. did not want to be touched (John 20:17) c. did not mind being touched (Matt. 28:9-10)

13. Jesus ascended to Heaven a. the same day that he was resurrected (Mark 16:9,19; Luke 24:13,28-36,50-51) b. forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3,9) c. we are not told that he ascended to Heaven at all (Matt. 28:10, 16-20; John 21:25; the original Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8)

14. The disciples received the Holy Spirit a. 50 days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3,9) b. in the evening of the same day as the resurrection (John 20:19-22)

15. The risen Jesus a. was recognized by those who saw him (Matt. 28:9; Mark 16:9-10) b. was not always recognizable (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:15-16,31,36-37; John 20:14-15)

16. The risen Jesus a. was physical (Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:41-43; John 20:27) b. was not physical (Mark 16:9,12,14; Luke 24:15-16,31,36-37; John 20:19,26; 1 Cor. 15:5-8)

17. The risen Jesus was seen by the disciples a. presumably only once (Matt. 28:16-17) b. first by two of them, later by all eleven (Mark 16:12-14; Luke 24:13-15,33,36-51) c. three times (John 20:19,26; 21:1,14) d. many times (Acts 1:3)

18. When Jesus appeared to the disciples a. there were eleven of them (Matt. 28:16-17; Luke 24:33,36) b. twelve of them (1 Cor. 15:5)

Hey, when has religion ever let facts or figures get in the way of a good quote. If this quiz has in any way shaken your faith, simply open the Bible and pull out sentences at random that make you feel good or (completely out of context) reaffirm any belief you want to hold.

Modern-day Easter is derived from two ancient traditions: one Judeo-Christian and the other Pagan. Both Christians and Pagans have celebrated death and resurrection themes following the Spring Equinox for millennia. Most religious historians believe that many elements of the Christian observance of Easter were derived from earlier Pagan celebrations.

The equinox occurs each year on March 20, 21 or 22. Both Neopagans and Christians continue to celebration religious rituals in the present day. Wiccans and other Neopagans usually hold their celebrations on the day or eve of the equinox. Western Christians wait until the Sunday on or after the next full moon. The Eastern Orthodox churches follow the Julian Calendar, so that their celebration is generally many weeks after that of the Western churches.

The name "Easter" originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similar "Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [were] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos." 1 Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre." Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:

Aphrodite from Cyprus Astarte, from Phoenicia Demeter, from Mycenae Hathor from Egypt Ishtar from Assyria Kali, from India Ostara, a Norse Goddess of fertility.

But WAIT! Various early church writers, such as Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons; circa 120 to ?) Justin Martyr (Christian apologist; 100 to 165), Tertullian (Christian theologian; circa 160 to 220 +) concluded that the Pagan/Christian similarities were a Satanic attempt at "diabolical mimicry." Satan was said to have use "plagiarism by anticipation." That is, the Devil replicated the life experiences of Jesus, centuries before his birth. The reason was to confuse the public into thinking that Jesus was merely a copy of previous godmen.

cropped-Sepulveda-Unitarian-Universalist-Society-Onion.jpg (Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society structure known as the "Onion" where Liberal Services, weddings, concerts, poetry and book signings, open mike and other activities are held that are non-denominational and children friendly)

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Early Shades of Conscience and a Conversation/Confrontation with Dad

 

(Dan when a Freshman at Duke with Chip at the Naval Academy; click to expand)

Each NROTC midshipman had to swear allegiance to the United States Constitution and to follow the orders of superior military officers to protect our country against all enemies, foreign, and domestic. He must agree willingly, and not under any force or coercion.

The coercion from my Dad’s pressure about the decision made matters worse. Time was closing in on me. In twenty-four hours, I had to pursue an eight-year contract, or drop out. Recalling the professor on the train to Florida who said the National Guard could shoot civilians at civil rights demonstrations when they refused to follow police orders,  made me feel a dread the Navy would soon own me. These thoughts crashed into my mind and left me in a sweat in bed that evening.

The next morning my meeting with the counselor occurred. “Follow your conscience,” he said after interviewing me at length. “Only you can make your own life’s choices. No one should feel they must do what their father wants. Consider what your father and family will think and all the alternatives.”Then he looked me squarely in the eye like my grandmother would when anyone she loved faced a serious life decision. “Many parents believe they owe their sons and daughters a good education without coercion about choice of study, but not all can afford Duke, so it makes an NROTC scholarship desirable,” he offered placing the ball in my court.

Staring out into space as if my mind had encountered an impenetrable fog, I realized he understood my dilemma. Mortified and unnerved, “Thanks. You’ve helped me,” I said.

Considering my options on my knees, I discussed them with Steve, and decided to change my life’s course. The pre-ministerial program offered me the best option and that left open the possibility of baseball if I excelled at Duke.

 

(Duke Chapel at West Campus)

An hour before the swearing in ceremony I arrived at the NROTC office. “I can’t attend the ‘swearing in ceremony’ due to religious beliefs, will enter the pre-ministerial program, and drop my NROTC scholarship,” I said to the officer in charge.

“Are you sure?” he asked with a quizzical look.

“Absolutely.”

His expression became stern, “You must speak with your father before the ceremony and report the outcome to me.”

During the next thirty minutes I wrote a script of what I should say to Dad, knowing he would try to change my mind and criticize me. Shaking from nerves, I called the Commanding Officer of Military Sea Transportation Service in Washington, D.C.“Captain Lavery will answer from his office,” an office worker said.

(Captain Richard J. Lavery, Jr. USN)

(Click to expand)

“Hello, Dan.”

“Dad, I’ve decided to drop my NROTC scholarship…

“You did what?” blasted my ears from Dad’s shrill interruption.

…and enroll in the pre-ministerial program at Duke.”

Outraged, he tried to interrupt, but I continued my first sentence.

“Why have you done this immature thing?”

Taking a deep breath and trying to sound calm and rational, but with my hands and legs shaking, and my voice wavering with emotion, “I prayed about this decision, Dad.”

“You’re throwing away a future as a naval officer.”

“An adviser warned me of the consequences.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“He felt sure you wouldn’t support my decision.”

“This is unacceptable.”

I took a breath, “He emphasized I should follow my conscience.”

“You’re about to make the worst decision of your young life,” Dad said in a gasp.

“He warned me I would face criticism for waiting so long.”

“Damn it Danny, you’ll live to regret this.”

“He said I should do what I want to do in my life; not what anybody else wants.”

“The hell with him. You mustn’t do this.”

“I’m sorry I led you to believe a naval career was what I wanted for my future.”

“Do you understand me?"

“I know you and Chip chose the Navy.”

“You can’t do this.”

“The Duke Football team pays for my meals.”

“You’ll be throwing away an extremely valuable scholarship.”

“I’ll only need to pay for my books and room.”

“You’ll cost me money I don’t have.”

“Please accept I’ve made up my mind.”

“I can’t afford Duke.”

“Duke will pay my tuition.”

“You must reconsider now before it’s too late.”

“I have to make my own choice.”

“You’ll cost me much more than you think.”

“I have decided.”

“You’re acting selfish.”

“The officer in charge stated I had to speak to you...

“You’ll regret this for the rest of your life.”

…before I inform him of my final decision.”

“Take out a piece of paper.”

“I’m sorry you don’t agree with me …”

“Write the cost to me of everything caused by you dropping the scholarship.”

“…but, I’ve made the decision.”

“No, I won’t accept this.”

“I’m going to inform him I’ve spoken to you…”

“You’ve made a very foolish decision.”

“…and you’re not happy with it…”

“You’ll regret this.”

“…But I’ve decided what I must do.”

“How could you throw away this scholarship?”

“I must leave now as the ceremony begins shortly.”

“Danny, Don’t…”

“Goodbye, Dad, I have to go.”

Turning and walking to the officer in charge, I said shaking from my father’s attack, “I have told my father of my decision to drop the NROTC scholarship.” His angry expression told me to leave his office.

“Very well Mr. Lavery, I’m sure a happy replacement will fill your spot. Stay here for awhile. You must sign papers to make your decision official.”

My body trembled as I signed the documents. Running to my dorm to release the stress, I informed Steve of the conversation. He tried to help calm me down, but waiting until the last minute made the situation as bad as possible. Unequipped to buck Dad’s plans for me until an intelligent counselor focused my mind to face the consequences, I felt confident the NROTC was not right for me and needed to explore my options without Dad’s coercion. Abandoned by my father when I had finally asserted myself to follow my conscience against his plan for me, I was still unsure of my future. To the officer in charge and my father, I had disrupted the routine of the conveyer belt that moved military men into endless mechanical motions before they had a chance to grasp their freedom. Now my future would depend on my decisions as I had dodged an eight year train to the military life.

Dad wrote a series of nasty letters to me from that day for the next two months. The first three demanded details for every dime he had to pay from my decision. He referred to me as immature, unable to make decisions, unstable, and a failure. The barrage came at a time I needed to take charge of my future, prepare for an adventure in advanced academics, seek intellectual stimulation, and embrace personal discovery. Instead, he bombarded me with critical letters and phone calls repeating the drumbeat of my failings. After grueling football practices, I was depressed instead of enthusiastic.

(Click twice to read: Post card to Grampa after Duke Finals,Note in the Duke Paper about varsity baseball prospects, and Dan at Athens the next month as Merchant Marine)

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Tom Preaches in Japan, I’m Hooked, and some Wiser Perspectives

 

(Dan #13 QB for YoHi Football Team 1955-6 and Sophomore Class Officer; click to zoom)

The 1955 YoHi Football team selected Tom and Roy Busby co-captains. Tom was also the president of the YoHi student body. Since he had played quarterback at his Texas high school, he worked on my passing, laterals, and fakes until I was the first team quarterback. John Lynn was our fastest halfback and Chip played fullback. Tom played a passing and running halfback who chose all the plays to run in the huddle. At the end of the month Tom indoctrinated me into fundamental Christianity. He told me I had to have a personal relationship with Jesus as he did. With an “A” average, Tom was the most influential and physical of all the football players with a gregarious personality. He could throw a perfect spiral sixty yards whether on the run, while jumping in the air, or poised straight up like Joe Namath. No one but John Lynn beat him in wind sprints despite his bulk. An articulate speaker, he could maintain an argument and persuade anyone on many subjects. He invited me to spend the night at his house, so we could have a “heart to heart talk.” After football practice, I ate dinner with his family, and then he took me to his room. He pulled out a ragged Bible. “Danny, have you been saved?” “What do you mean, ‘saved’?” “Have you taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” “I’ve been baptized in the Baptist Church, read the Bible with my mother, and always attend Sunday school. I’ve memorized the Lord’s Prayer, asked for forgiveness for my sins, and pray to God to bless those I love every night.” “You don’t understand. I asked whether you had taken Jesus Christ as your personal savior. I’ll take you through the gospels slowly to show you exactly what I mean.” Tom opened the King James Version of the Gospel and read in his forceful voice a few verses from the Book of John. He explained the teachings of Jesus in a simple and enthusiastic way. I always had difficulty understanding some of the religious dogma about the blood of Jesus, a sacrificial lamb that somehow washed away the sins of believers, but Tom’s explanations were not confusing. After a few hours he looked at me, “What have you learned from our readings?” “The Sermon on the Mount meant the most to me. Jesus cared passionately for the poor, the disabled and downtrodden of the world. He urged humanity to lay down their weapons, love their neighbors, and their enemies. I want to follow his example.” “That’s a beginning,” Tom said nodding his head, “But you haven’t taken seriously the challenge to live the life of a born-again Christian, nor known all the teachings of Jesus. Reading the Bible will show you the path to eternal life. You can find salvation only if you have a personal relationship with Jesus. He’s here in this room with us now, waits for you to join the believers who pray to him, and wants you to make him your own personal savior.” Tom chose Bible verses for me to read aloud, asked me what the words meant, and guided me through the ancient language until I started to understand. After three hours, we had gone through much of the Book of John. He explained the Trinity, eternal damnation in the fires of Hell for unbelievers, and indoctrinated me in fundamental Christianity. I appreciated the explanations from a respected mentor. The experience enlightened me to mysteries I had never understood. Tom’s genuine concern for me, and his guidance during our encounter changed my perspective on how I should conduct my life. He persuaded me to join a Bible study group, pray to God often, and commit to a life in imitation of Christ’s example. “Let’s pray together,” he said. We knelt down, and he prayed, “Dear Lord, please bless Danny with your presence from today on. Help him understand your Word and how to live a Christian life. I ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen. Close your eyes and let the power of Jesus change your life as he has done for millions of people. He performed miracles that healed the sick, brought back the dead to life, will forgive your sins, and make you whole. Ask our Lord and Savior now.” I thought about having had sex with a prostitute, bowed my head in prayer, asked God to forgive me for my sins, and invited Jesus to come into my life. Tom’s concern motivated me to change my life’s purpose. A warm inexplicable spiritual feeling filled me.

That weekend Tom took me to a Billy Graham revival to hear the famous evangelical preacher who had just arrived in Japan for his Crusade for Christ. Reverend Graham gave a passionate sermon that lasted an hour at a church in Yokohama. He emphasized many of the points Tom had made, but in Graham’s own persuasive style, spiced with Biblical references. Billy made me feel like a sinner bound for Hell, as Tom had done. When Billy asked new Christians to publicly dedicate their lives to Jesus, I walked down the aisle as a newly “saved” Christian, assured not to suffer the eternal fires of damnation. From that day on while in Japan, I read from the New Testament an hour daily and memorized verses that inspired me as Tom suggested. Trying to act as Jesus would in whatever situation faced me, I began to transform into a new Christian.

(Dan guard on YoHi Varsity Basketball Team 1956 click to zoom)

First off the bench on the varsity basketball team as a guard, I occasionally made an impact with a set-shot, rebound, speed, and a drive to the basket. At Nagoya I buried a shot from the left sideline and followed Degelman after a missed layup for a tip-in that was close to a slam-dunk. On the train ride back a student revealed a horrible tragedy when a key player had stuck his head out a train window and was beheaded by a sign before our game. “The Japanese trains race rapidly through narrow tunnels and their signs are close to the tracks,” he said warning us with tears in his eyes.

Jon Lynn, Pinky Hart, and Dave Degelman led the team in scoring as we won nearly all our games until the Far East tournament. Okinawa was the favorite to win and visited us at Yokohama for the championship game. During warm-ups Marion Choate moved under me waiting for a rebound and I came down awkwardly on his foot. My ankle turned violently. The pain hit me like a spike driven into the ligament. In agony and disappointment I could only watch the game from the sidelines. We lost in a hard-fought close game. That day a doctor at the Yokosuka naval hospital put a cast on my ankle that remained for six weeks.

***

(Click to zoom)

(Dan Varsity YoHi pitcher 1956)

Baseball season could not come soon enough for me. After a few weeks Bux made me the clean-up hitter and starting pitcher. Against ASIJ (American School in Japan) I hit two home runs over their left field fence and a double over the trees in centerfield in our two victories and against Narimasu tripled with the bases full. In our other match against Narimasu, before the first pitch our catcher, Dave Degelman, fired the ball towards second base hitting my pitching arm at the shoulder blade. I crumpled to the ground in pain. Tom ran over and rubbed alcohol with oil of wintergreen on it vigorously for fifteen minutes, but it left me unable to pitch. Bob Webster, a tall skinny pitcher, took the mound and coach sent me to right field. An opponent hit a fly to right with a runner on second that drove me just before the fence, I caught it and fired a strike to Sandy Milwit at third who tagged him out. It surprised everyone, especially their coach who sent the runner. My arm had loosened during the game and Bob pitched his best game of the season.

My record as a pitcher that year, including summer games, was 7-4 with two no-hitters. One was against a Japanese team in a game rained out in the fifth inning. The other was a seven inning game against Zama Army base that featured four YoHi starters including Jon Lynn, Sam and Sandy Milwit, Brad Hardin, and  the rest were second or third team varsity baseball  players.  A professional pitcher that played for the Yokosuka Seahawks had taught me to pinch my curve ball tightly to get it to break more radically and proved nearly unhittable. My batting average was .424 and I led the team in home runs and rbi's as a sophomore.

***

“What have you learned from the Bible?”Jerry asked a month later appearing interested. “The teachings of Jesus have changed my life. You’ll start to understand what I mean if you read the Book of St. John. Ask me anything and I’ll discuss it with you.” “I’ll read some tonight. I’m sorry for making fun of you.” “A religious sailor started a Bible Study group to help people understand the Book of Revelation. Come with me at our next meeting,” I said. Jerry joined us for one session, started reading the Bible, and shared his thoughts with his father. “Why don’t you discuss the Book of Revelation with my Dad and me tomorrow after school?” he said a few days later. “Ok, but I’m no Biblical scholar.” “That doesn’t matter. You might find my Dad has some insight on the Bible.” “Alright, see you then.” Entering their home with trepidation because I had never thought of discussing my new Christian beliefs with a Jewish Doctor who was far more knowledgeable; I wanted to cooperate in the pursuit of Bible study, whether it came from his father, or anyone else. Doctor Cohen sat on a leather chair in his library surrounded by hundreds of books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with the Book of Revelations on his lap. A little over-weight, balding with dark hair on the side, his large head exuded a facial expression of reflection, intelligence, and kindness. Fortunate to have a man of his caliber at our discussion, upon viewing him, I became almost instantly frozen in humility as a teenager before a pinnacle of wisdom. “You’ve been studying the Bible with a group led by a sailor?” he asked. “When Jerry showed an interest in what inspired me, I asked him to join me.” “Dad and I noticed from the book of Revelation,” Jerry began, “that St. John’s dream described a vision of Jesus returning to Earth in the future in the clouds to save the believers. But, only twelve thousand Jews were included. Do you believe that? “The Bible is the Word of God and the truth I’ve been taught.” “Dad and I agreed that no loving God would ever allow millions of practicing Jews remaining on earth to die in the lake of fire.” “I’ll ask John for his input, or maybe my minister,” was what came out of my mouth having no answer for their dissent, recognizing I knew too little to convince Jerry about such a discrepancy, much less his father. At our next meeting I asked John about their protest. “The Book of Revelation is the Holy Word of God all Christians believe,” he began confidently. “The Holy Spirit inspired every word in the Bible. Jerry and his father are Jewish. They reject Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. Don’t waste your time with non-believers.” This conflict and his answer baffled me. The Cohens had a strong argument and John seemed prejudiced against Jews but, I was too uncertain to criticize him. The next Sunday at church I asked the Navy Chaplain, a Princeton graduate, about this dilemma because of his knowledge, intelligence, and kindness.

(Yokosuka Chapel where Chaplain Chambers led the congregation) “Many things aren’t fully explained in the Bible,” Chaplain Chambers said. “We often don’t understand their meaning without careful research into the language of the original texts, especially the Book of Revelation. Terms like twelve thousand can mean a much larger number today, since that number would have been significant then. Millions of Jews follow the Ten Commandments and live virtuous lives. We can’t always take the Bible’s language literally. Many passages from the Bible say if a person loves his neighbors, treats all life with compassion, and cares for his family, even if he never heard of Jesus or the Bible, God would welcome him into Heaven.” He used an analogy: “A native on an island with no Bible to read, who lived a virtuous life harming no one, as God would have us live, would not suffer in Hell. Just because he lacked that knowledge, our loving and all-knowing God would never reject such a person from the gates of Heaven.” My pursuit of truth made me aware that many sincere and good people see religion differently. Afterwards I shared this understanding with Jerry in a philosophical discussion. “Reading distinguished authors to gain wisdom on how to live an ethical life is preferable to memorizing the Bible,” he said. Intrusive “born-again” indoctrination required me to consider my past as depraved. Self-loathing and repetitive Bible verse memorization, athletics, and studies left little time for open-minded thought that might have allowed me to challenge some religious concepts I accepted without questioning. Nevertheless, a few people wiser than I, had planted seeds of a broader understanding that would bear fruit in the future.

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Breaking Through the Fog of a Fundamental Christian Teenager

My friends on the basketball team from Yokosuka Navy Base, who rode in the carryall with me to and from YoHi, noticed the change that had taken place in me from reading the Bible during the forty-five minute drive each day from practice. “Are you asking Jesus to help you? Has Jesus saved you because you read the Bible? Do you think you’ll play better in sports because you pray? Is the devil trying to tempt you?” Jerry Cohen, Jack Purdum and others peppered me with questions and tried to provoke me, but that only drove me further inside myself. Ignoring them, closing my eyes, I descended into the deadly serious medieval words from the Bible. My friends continued to try to keep me from changing into to a holier-than-thou-monk. Maybe they recognized my changed personality seemed delusional and wanted to awaken me to enjoy our friendship and the future.

***

“What have you learned from the Bible?”Jerry asked a month later appearing interested.

“The teachings of Jesus have changed my life. You’ll start to understand what I mean if you read the Book of St. John. Ask me anything and I’ll discuss it with you.”

“I’ll read some tonight. I’m sorry for making fun of you.”

“A religious sailor started a Bible Study group to help people understand the Book of Revelation. Come with me at our next meeting,” I said. Jerry joined us for one session, started reading the Bible, and shared his thoughts with his father.

“Why don’t you discuss the Book of Revelation with my Dad and me tomorrow after school?” he said a few days later.

“Ok, but I’m no Biblical scholar.”

“That doesn’t matter. You might find my Dad has some insight on the Bible.”

“Alright, see you then.”

Entering their home with trepidation because I had never thought of discussing my new Christian beliefs with a Jewish Doctor who was far more knowledgeable, I wanted to cooperate in the pursuit of Bible study, whether it came from his father, or anyone else. Doctor Cohen sat on a leather chair in his library surrounded by hundreds of books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with the Book of Revelations on his lap. A little over-weight, balding with dark hair on the side, his large head exuded a facial expression of reflection, intelligence, and kindness. Fortunate to have a man of his caliber at our discussion, upon viewing him, I became almost instantly frozen in humility as a teenager before a pinnacle of wisdom.

“You’ve been studying the Bible with a group led by a sailor?” he asked.

“When Jerry showed an interest in what inspired me, I asked him to join me.”

“Dad and I noticed from the book of Revelation,” Jerry began, “that St. John’s dream described a vision of Jesus returning to Earth in the future in the clouds to save the believers. But, only twelve thousand Jews were included. Do you believe that?

“The Bible is the Word of God and the truth I’ve been taught.”

“Dad and I agreed that no loving God would ever allow millions of practicing Jews remaining on earth to die in the lake of fire.”

“I’ll ask John for his input, or maybe my minister,” was what came out of my mouth having no answer for their dissent, recognizing I knew too little to convince Jerry about such a discrepancy, much less his father.

At our next meeting I asked John about their protest. “The Book of Revelation is the Holy Word of God all Christians believe,” he began confidently. “The Holy Spirit inspired every word in the Bible. Jerry and his father are Jewish. They reject Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. Don’t waste your time with non-believers.”

This conflict and his answer baffled me. The Cohens had a strong argument and John seemed prejudiced against Jews but, I was too uncertain to criticize him. The next Sunday at church I asked the Navy Chaplain, a graduate of Princeton's Theological Seminary, about this dilemma because of his knowledge, intelligence, kindness, and easy accessibility.

“Many things aren’t fully explained in the Bible,” Chaplain Chambers said.  “We often don’t understand their meaning without careful research into the language of the original texts, especially the Book of Revelation. Terms like twelve thousand can mean a much larger number today, since that number would have been significant then. Millions of Jews follow the Ten Commandments and live virtuous lives. We can’t always take the Bible’s language literally. Many passages from the Bible say if a person loves his neighbors, treats all life with compassion, and cares for his family, even if he never heard of Jesus or the Bible, God would welcome him into Heaven.”

He used an analogy: “A native on an island with no Bible to read, who lived a virtuous life harming no one, as God would have us live, would not suffer in Hell. Just because he lacked that knowledge, our loving and all-knowing God would never reject such a person from the gates of Heaven.”

My pursuit of truth made me aware that many sincere and good people see religion differently. Afterwards I shared this understanding with Jerry in a philosophical discussion.

“Reading distinguished authors to gain wisdom on how to live an ethical life is preferable to memorizing the Bible,” he said. Intrusive “born-again” indoctrination required me to consider my past as depraved. Self-loathing and repetitive Bible verse memorization, athletics, and studies left little time for open-minded thought that might have allowed me to challenge some religious concepts I accepted without questioning. Nevertheless, someone wiser than I, had planted seeds of a broader understanding that would bear fruit in the future.

     

(click on the graphics to expand and make them readable)

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