I first came across the issue of 3 so-called contradictory bible passages back in November, where 3 of the gospels documented different numbers for the amount of apostles that Jesus showed himself to after his resurrection. I found a quick answer and moved on from that …
Which brings me back to today’s reading! My bible plan goes through all the Gospels at the same time, which often takes to me reoccuring events … reading a very similar passage 2 or 3 times before moving on. I honestly wasn’t a big fan of this just because I felt like reading them together wouldn’t let me have a good feeling for what each individual Gospel was like, and that’s probably still true. What is does differently is allow me to see the Bible more as one book, rather than the “fun books” and then the “Ezekiels and 1 Chronicles” (oops).
I don’t think the intent of these interpretations was ever to have 4 identical books which would somehow ‘prove’ it’s legitimacy (it really wouldn’t). And if that was the goal, they did a pretty poor job collaboratinging. The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by different Authors, who had different reasons to write and different things to emphasize. Anyways, Matthew 18:1-6:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
The situation plays out a bit differently in the Gospel of Mark and Luke, which are similar to each other. Mark 9:33-37 Goes like this:
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
- In the first passage, the disciples ask Jesus. In the second passage they are asked.
- The passages both mention children, but the first refers to being child-like while the second refers to a child and being last/servant of all.
So how does this come down to mere interpretation?
The first point is pretty insignificant, but I think it is of value that Matthew was one of the twelve and Mark simply wasn’t. It seems as if Luke takes a similar stance to Mark, which makes sense. I don’t think there’s that much else to grab from that.
For the second point, I looked at the simpler (shorter) passage first. Honestly, I question if I know the real meaning of ‘receiving a child in my name’, so I can only take a shot at it and read up on it later. Trying to stay away from online resources before writing anything!
Receiving one such child in his name is not referring to a literal person. That was initially how I thought but I changed my mind because of the next thing that Jesus says; “and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me”. Receiving Jesus allows us to receive God, but we do this in a spiritual manner. By receiving one such child in his name refers to the humility of our own spirit that we would, not literally, but in reference to our humility, “turn and become like children” as the passage in Matthew states. The greatest trait of a child is his/her innocence and purity, that they have nothing to boast because they genuinely do not have those thoughts yet.
He’s not asking us to become children, or to be reborn. He is asking us to receive a spirit of humility.
I believe these passages are actually in agreement, as they eventually mean the same thing. I want to talk more about proper use of context and not just assuming something is or isn’t a metaphor based on whichever one is more convenient for me, but I don’t want to ramble on too long so maybe in the future!
Interpretation is not a hindrance to finding the truth, it’s really where we should build our foundation on reading the bible. Does Jesus even answer the question? And does he really believe it would be better to throw someone into the depth of the sea, over causing a pure heart to stumble? The bible isn’t an encyclopedia, it’s written much more beautifully than that.
Let us all seek truth, and wherever we end up on a passage like this, at least it’s still made clear that Jesus values humility enough to make such a bold statement 🙂
Michael “I keep opening tabs and realizing I can’t go on Facebook” Ru