# Was Jesus deliberately ambiguous? #

Introduction:

It’s a question that has haunted me, and something i’ve just got to know: Was Jesus intentionally ambiguous? I mean, when i read this,And [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

(Luke 22:19)

Catholics tell me He meant this,“This is [actually] my [actual] body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

(Luke 22:19)
but Protestants tell me He meant this,“This is [like] my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

(Luke 22:19)

And when i ask the meaning of this,Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

(John 19:25-27)

Catholics tell me He meant this,“Here is your mother [and the mother of all Catholics].”
but Protestants tell me He meant this,“Here is your [adopted] mother [who I want you to treat as though she is your own, even though she is not].”

And when i ask the meaning of this, When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

(Matthew 16:13-19)

Catholics say He meant this,“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on [you] I will build my church…”
but Protestants tell me He meant this,“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this [truth that I am the Son of God] I will build my church…”


Some Observations:

I find three things extremely curious about this:1. The passages that appear ambiguous are those about which Protestants and Catholic disagree. One might say they together are a cause of the Protestant Reformation!

  1. The devil and demons (if they exists) are using such passages to continue the division between Catholics and Protestants.

  2. Jesus (who is omniscient, and knew the future) could have chose His words more carefully and put a stop to all of the confusion and lack of unity before it began, but He did not.


The goal of this dialog:

You might find this odd, but my purpose is NOT to determine what Christ actually meant. (I suppose that would take many hundreds of posts and split this topic many times over, causing the Forum Moderator to pull out his hair!) I’m not opposed to discussing what Christ meant, as it relates to the reason for the apparent ambiguity of His words, but what He meant is not the truth i’m seeking at the moment. I’ve discussed what He meant in other discussion threads at length, only to come to the conclusion that Protestants and Catholics really have good reason to disagree, due to Christ’s ambiguity, which has deceived one group or the other.

My actual purpose is to find out whether Christ was ***deliberately ***ambiguous, and if He was, then what purpose would be served by making the New Testament ambiguous by design. Such ambiguity seems counter productive to His purpose, for He prayed:“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.”

(John 17:11)

Gmorning Soc!

I think this has to do with the inherent limitations of language, and even more so for translated languages, and superlatively more so, for translated dead languages. The Gospels were written at least 40 plus years after the death of Christ in a language that Jesus probably did not use in his preaching (i.e. Greek versus Aramaic, except for a possible proto-Matthew which no longer exists). All of these factors take us out of Christ’s immediate context, making it very difficult to settle such disputes in a compelling and obvious way (at least given someone with enough of a motivation to dispute alternate meanings to these passages).

So to answer your question, these issues would not have been ambigous to Jesus, or to the Apostles who could ask Jesus to clarify his meaning, who spoke the language of Christ, and who were his hearers and witnesses from the beginning to the end of his ministry.

Did Jesus know his words would cause division? Yes. I believe he knew human nature. Both he and the apostles after him had to know that there would be divisions in the church, divisions in interpretation of his words, and divisions in authority. But I don’t think it follows that he intended such divisions.

I hate to bring this up to even further muddy the waters, but we haven’t considered the issue that only John 6 reports Christ’s eucharistic dialogue. And only Matthew 16 reports Christ making Peter the rock and handing him the keys, and binding and loosing authority. Luke does not report these passages, and neither does Marc or John even though Marc and Luke do report a version of it.

Does this make scripture untrustworthy or inconsistent? I don’t believe so. I think you have to apply the principles of good historical criticism. Matthew was most likely written for a Jewish context. The things he reports Jesus saying would have been very relavent to a Jewish church. Marc and Luke are writing for more Greek and Hellenistic cultures, so they don’t include references to things like keys and rocks which would have only confused Greek hearers. Their theological emphasis was different. In a sense, guided by the Holy Spirit, they brought the word to their hearers in a way in which they could bear it and understand it.

In my opinion, this does not invalidate their message, or the words of Christ. I believe fully that Matthew reports those parts of Christ’s dialogue with Peter that would be relavant to a Jewish crowd, and I believe that Luke and Marc did the same for their audience.

God bless,
Ut

[quote=utunumsint]Does this make scripture untrustworthy or inconsistent? I don’t believe so. I think you have to apply the principles of good historical criticism.
[/quote]

Perceptive question by the original poster. However the problem of ambiguity is hardly restricted to some few phrases in the New Testament. When the Bible is objectively considered as a whole, it is inconsistent, contradictory, ambiguous, and even unintelligible in many places.

Even historical criticism only takes one so far, and even then many questions remained unanswered. No; one has to take the Bible in light of the Faith Tradition of the Catholic Truth, otherwise it is sealed in an impenetrable fog, like that which descended on the tabernacle of the Israelites in the desert. Protestants deny that there is any difficulty in understanding Scriptures, but then that would fly in the face of the thousands of various Protestant sects, all claiming to understand the Scripture.

To properly understand Scripture, one must first admit that it is not a self-interpreting text. With that understanding one must then search out the most authoritative interpreter if one is interested in Truth. :slight_smile:

Agreed. :slight_smile:

God bless,
Ut

This thread and the answers are exceptional. For quite some awhile, I have known that the Bible cannot be personally interpreted with any degree of precision. The Pentecostal, Calvinist, Baptist, and Church of Christ Christian are not lacking in hermenutical skills; the text is unclear.
The “why” of the original question is not something I can answer. AmbroseSJ’s remarkable answer is a solution that many will find satisfactory. I wish that I could but I do not. The question for me as it relates to Matthew 16 is whether or not an interpolation occured, if the reason is indeed the audience, or simply literary freedom or creativity on Matthew’s part.

I agree wholeheartedly that God, through the scriptures, could have been completely and utterly clear and unambiguous. But I think we can all agree that this is not the case. We can all agree that the scriptures are not the most clear and unambiguous words ever written in the history of mankind. That leads us to think that perhaps being completely clear and unambiguous in scripture was not one of God’s primary goals. Scripture was never intended primarily as a catechism, as a handbook of faith.

Myself, I think it is deliberate on God’s part. I think it is a replaying of the Tower of Babel. God is condemning to confusion those who in their pride think that they can understand his revelations without the aid of, and submission to, his Church. I am convinced that the enormous array of different beliefs arrived at by “bible-believing” Christians throughout the centuries is a result of the prideful error of seeking to know God while rejecting his visible, authoritative Church.

I’m no expert in this question, but it seems to me that non-Catholic Christianity is vastly more fragmented than any other large religion. Is this just coincidence, or is it the result of divine action?

Deliberately ambiguous…hmm possibly. But maybe God knew what He was doing. He knew He would be able to bring more people to Him by forgiving the sin because they simply didn’t know over people knowing with little doubt what was Truth and choosing their own truth anyway. Not saying everyone who doesn’t believe the things they are supposed to believe will get to Heaven but perhaps a higher percentage of people then if the words were not ambiguous. More of a struggle in this life for us but ultimately a bigger party in Heaven. Just a thought.

I disagree that the scripture is unknowable.
The enemies of Jesus were always waiting for him to say something on account of which they might accuse and persecute him (Lke 11:53-54). By speaking in parables, Jesus was making it very hard for them to use his words against him. He could hardly be arrested for telling homely stories!

Lke 11:53 And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, 54 lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.

By pointing to inherent limitations of language,
and quote AmbroseSJ; “When the Bible is objectively considered as a whole, it is inconsistent, contradictory, ambiguous, and even unintelligible in many places.
Even historical criticism only takes one so far, and even then many questions remained unanswered. No; one has to take the Bible in light of the Faith Tradition of the Catholic Truth” end quote.

quote utunumsint; "Does this make scripture untrustworthy or inconsistent? I don’t believe so. I think you have to apply the principles of good historical criticism. ---------------so they don’t include references to things like keys and rocks which would have only confused Greek hearers. End quote; Again pointing to Mathew 16.

All bible interpretation for Catholics, just like all roads lead to Rome lead to BrianH quote; “AmbroseSJ’s remarkable answer is a solution that many will find satisfactory. I wish that I could but I do not. The question for me as it relates to Matthew 16 is whether or not an interpolation occured,”

It is easy to understand where the faith of Catholics is placed, Matthew 16. We can find this in statements made by the Church its self. This is taken from the Catholic encyclopedia about Marys Immaculate Conception and Assumption .

The Bible Only?
Since the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not explicit in Scripture, Fundamentalists conclude that the doctrines are false. Here, of course, we get into an entirely separate matter, the question of sola scriptura, or the Protestant “Bible only” theory. There is no room in this tract to consider that idea. Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is true, then the notion of sola scriptura is false. There is then no problem with the Church officially defining a doctrine which is not explicitly in Scripture, so long as it is not in contradiction to Scripture.

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as he promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (John 14:26, 16:13). The mere fact that the Church teaches that something is definitely true is a guarantee that it is true (cf. Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 10:16, 1 Tim. 3:15).

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

You make it know that you don’t know or understand “see AmbroseSJ statement”. Instead your faith is not based on the foundation of knowledge but rather on authority, Faith in this authority is the foundation of both understanding scripture and salvation. By following the teachings of the C Church believers are assured of salvation and must make this step of faith to obtain it from the Catholics. Quote; “Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is true, then the notion of sola scriptura is false.” end quote. So how do we understand such things or make an intelligent decision?

I believe that Jesus and one of His parables sheds some light on that question.

3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 **He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
**
The Purpose of Parables

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:

  ‘ Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
  And seeing you will see and not perceive;
   15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
  Their ears are hard of hearing,
  And their eyes they have closed,
  Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
  Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
  So that I should[a]heal them.’**

16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.**

Wow! Insightful comments, everyone! (God knows i love hearing the thoughts of the intelligent folks that meet in this forum.)

:thumbsup:

I want to take my time and really think about what everyone has said before i reply, but i intend (should God allow) to reply to everyone with any questions i might have. Thank you all. Will reply to you soon.

scripturecatholic.com/the_eucharist.html

The Catholic Church teaches that both senses are true. And why not? Why reject one to the detriment of the other?

The Catholic Church also teaches that both senses are true. Again, why reject one to the detriment of the other? bringyou.to/apologetics/a64.htm

The Catechism of the Catholic Church accepts a polyvalent view of this text… The literal interpretation is that Simon alone is the rock of Christ’s Church, the Church is built on Peter personally (CCC 881, 586, 552). However, the Catechism also notes that Peter is the unshakeable rock because of his faith in Christ (CCC 552); that the acknowledgement of Christ’s divine sonship is the Church’s foundation (CCC 442); on the rock of Peter’s faith Christ built His Church (CCC 424); and Christ Himself as rock and “chief cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:4ff; 1 Cor 10:4; Eph 2:20) is the foundation (CCC 756). …Still, this does not deny the literal interpretation and primary meaning of the text is that Christ would build His Church on St. Peter, the Rock (Kepha in Aramaic).

It’s not all that ambiguous. If you read further in John 6, you will notice (please bear with me - it’s a little long):

“Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 5his is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, **“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
**

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

**From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. **
–John 6:49-66

The question is this: If Jesus meant it figuratively, why did so many of His disciples, who had witnessed his miracles and listen to Him make all kinds of other figurative statements, turn back and no longer follow Him?

For your second passage about Our Lady, I will have to do a little more research.

And for the last passage:

The Greek of Peter is “petra,” which means “rock.” Which makes more sense? “And I tell you that you are Peter [petra], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church,” or “You are Peter [petra] and on this rock [whatever the translation for truth that I am the Son of God is] I will build my church?”

Jesus was not being ambiguous in any sense of the word. He only seems to be ambiguous because his words are pulled out of their proper context and are not viewed in light of the rest of the Scriptures or even in the proper cultural context. What one must remember is what was going on at the Last Supper? Was it just Jesus having his friends over to enjoy a meal? Why were they gathered together? It was Passover. This was the sadir meal held at Passover. Why is this significant? Because Passover was a remembrance. For the Jews that means they were doing more than remembering a past event. It wasn’t just a “remember when…” kind of thing. They were actually bringing to mind in a way that they were that they were actually participating in this event. Likewise, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist he was changing the remembrance. Instead of participating in the Exodus out of Egypt, the remembrance is now the once for all sacrifice that redeemed all of mankind. Ant to make that sacrifice present, to participate in the sacrifice, then the bread and wine must become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.

About the identity of the rock, I think Catholics (especially Latin Catholics like me) have to recognize that both interpretations are valid. The Church doesn’t deny that “rock = Peter’s faith” (as the Catechism shows). But at the same time we cannot deny that “rock = Peter”.

Part of the ambiguous nature of the passages comes when attempting to cross-reference salient verses in the synoptics and not finding their counterpart in the other gospels and most of the time in John. That is vice-versa as well. How remarkable would it have been to have the traditons of John, if they are not just the product of the writer’s imagination of course, specifically the sixth chapter in other books as well. It is interesting that John is so often cited as the OP points out but his last supper is so different from the synoptics.

I think the imagery in John and the offence is not what people think, John states what they are offended about “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” But the OP did not want to go down that route…didn’t work did it :smiley:
People sure of their view or nervous about other options never see ambiguity…even when we obviously see that Christians have split and disagreed about specific verses.

What purpose does ambiguity serve again? I do think that michaelsmth’s verses indicate intentional ambiguity. I don’t know and certainly those who do not see it are inclined to reassert their understanding…which is natural!

One thing it sure serves to demonstrate is that you can’t rely on scripture by itself-or uh, without anything else- or, maybe better put, alone, to know what Jesus meant.

I recently read a post by a catholic member that used Eze. 44 as evidence that Mary is ever virgin. The passage indicates that when Christ entered in threw the East gate it was closed, and no man shall enter by it. That would include Peter entering and amusing the title of Rock as depicted below.

1 Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. 2 And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut. 3 As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way.”

These words remind us that no one else can enter as Jesus did. That way is shut and no man can enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the LORD.
vestibule ( ) n. A small entrance hall or passage between the outer door and the interior of a house or building.
Notice the prince goes in and out. No one else brings bread to eat before the LORD. There is no other door keeper. No one has a special key. Those that have entered in and gone out carry the message of the door and its location and speak threw the HS the message that opens the door.

Are these passages speaking of Peter?
The Rock Mat 16:18
My Strong Rock Psa 31:2
The Rock of Ages Isa 26:4
The Rock that is higher than I Psa 61:2
My Rock and my Fortress Psa 31:3
The Rock of my Strength Psa 62:7
The Rock of my Refuge Psa 94:22
A Rock of Habitation Psa 71:3
The Rock of my Heart Psa 73:26
The Rock of my Salvation 2Sa 22:47
My Rock and my Redeemer Psa 19:14
That Spiritual Rock 1Cr 10:4
The Rock that followed them 1Cr 10:4
A Shadow from the Heat Isa 25:4

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus takes us in threw the vestibule door, as bread before the LORD.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in
to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.

Truly Jesus came to earth in person and knocked. Today this image might be better interpreted as Jesus in Heaven standing inside the East gate, at the vestibule door. He left a message with 12 of His choice, those that hear them hear Jesus, still knocking waiting for those that hear His voice that He might let them in. On the other side of the door is the noise and confusion of the world. Can you discern the knock? some hear from miles away, come searching and find it, others stand right next to it but can’t hear a thing. It gets even deeper when you add that Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” Now notice what He says “If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in
to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” Do you see it? Who opens the door? And what is necessary to open it?

Good to hear from you again, Ut! Hope things are going well at your end.

I hear what you are saying but want to make sure i understand. It sounds as though you are offering three premises regarding the unreliability of the New Testament Scriptures. They are ambiguous because:

[LIST=1]
*]the authors made errors in translating what Jesus said from Aramaic to Greek and
*]the authors who were Apostles–such as Matthew and John–wrote so many years after the events that they did not remember correctly what Jesus actually said and
*]the authors who were not Apostles–such as Luke-- misunderstood what the Apostles told them Jesus said
[/LIST]

But you think Jesus’ words were ambiguous to those whom the Apostles taught, such as Mark and Luke? Are you saying that, since they were not Apostles, they misunderstood the true meaning of Jesus’ words?

I think you are saying that His words were ambiguous to anyone who would read them, but not ambiguous to the disciples who heard Him speak. That is, one had to be there to really understand. Am i understanding you?

Don’t forget Matthew 18, where Jesus gives to the authority to bind an loose to all of the Apostles, and not just Peter: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

(Matthew 18:18-20)

Your frankness is both refreshing and astonishing, Ut! Here i am trying to decide if the three-legged stool of the Catholic Church is trustworthy enough to support my weight, and you are telling me i cannot trust one of the three legs! I had better think carefully before i sit, i think. For even if the other two legs appear strong, will they be able to keep from collapsing, too?

But are you certain it does not invalidate Jesus’ words? Consider this: The traditions of the church and the teaching of the Magisterium relies on Sacred Scripture. When i read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, biblical passage after biblical passage is cited by its authors to prove that what they write agrees with the Bible. But if the Bible itself is untrustworthy, then their writing, which agrees with it, cannot be trusted either. What you are proposing is that i put the full weight of my faith on a chair that has not just one unsturdy leg, but three! Why should i trust in such a poorly crafted piece of furniture?

Ambrose:

A lack of clarity does not an inconsistency make, though it might make something appear to be contradictory. Is there even one contradiction you can give as evidence that what you say is true? Perhaps it is only an apparent contradiction rather than a real one.

But if the truth of the Bible cannot be seen, then how can the tradition and teaching of the Catholic Church convey the truth it cannot see in the Scriptures? It seems to me that it is all or nothing, here. If the Scriptures are unreliable, than neither is the tradition nor teaching of the Catholic Church.

:eek:

Brian:

The what is something that is frightening. What is the consequence of Sacred Scriptures that are untrustworthy? Answer: A tradition and teaching that is just as untrustworthy, for it relies on the Scripture.

:eek:

But the what is your basis for saying that the Holy Scriptures are untrustworthy? This statement gets repeated without sufficient evidence to support the claim. Because because certain events in the Gospels only appear in a single Gospel does not make the event dubious.I would say that the depth of the typology in the Old Testament reinforces the validity of the Scriptures.

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