Exposing Bad Preaching

5 Popular Sermon Myths That Need Burned At The Stake

 


Sermon Myth #1
The eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem


The Sermon Myth

Supposed Eye of the Needle in Jerusalem

One of many supposed “Eye of the Needle” gates in Jerusalem.

There is a sermon illustration that is usually paired with Matthew 19:23-24 and Mark 10:25, where Jesus said,

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

The way the myth goes is that there was a gate in Jerusalem that was just big enough for a camel to get through if it unloaded it’s baggage and got down on it’s knees to crawl through. Such a gate is said to of been used after dark for security reasons on the wall of Jerusalem. One can see how easy this could be turned into a sermon. The illustration points to the unloading of our own baggage in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Truth

The truth is that this myth has it’s origin in the Medieval period. There is no archaeological evidence, literary evidence, or any other kind to show that such a gate ever existed. Rather, the saying of a camel going through the eye of a needle is an old Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) idiom that was not unknown to people of Jesus’ time. It was very common in Jewish literature to create a hyperbole with a large animal and a small passage. Likewise, it was very common make an illustration from a tiny object that grows very large (like the mustard seed).

“Raba said: This is proved by the fact that a man is never shown in a dream a date palm of gold, or an elephant going through the eye of a needle.” (Talmud, Berakoth 55)

“Are you from Pumbedita, where they make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle?” (Bava Metzi’a 38b) 

“Open for me a gate no wider than a needle’s eye, and I will open for you a gate through which camps and fortifications can pass.” (Persiqta 25.163b)

“The gates of heaven will not be opened for them nor shall they enter paradise until the camel passes through the eye of a needle.” (Qu’ran, Surah 7.40)

 


Sermon Myth #2
“Abba” in Aramaic means “daddy.”


 The Sermon Myth

There is not much to explain on this matter. This myth was derived from a passage in Romans, Galatians, or Mark.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Mark 14:36)

After reading this passage many pastors have explained to their congregants that Abba is a child’s term used to refer to their father, similar to “daddy.” One theological blogger worded is as such,

Abba was a word used by children for their father, something like “daddy” or “papa” today. But it was also a term of respect used by adult children for their fathers. Thus the word abbarichly expresses our relationship with God. We are dependent upon him like little children. We are free to run to him as children run to their daddies. (The High Calling)

It’s a cute child-like image but is it true? No offense to the aforementioned blogger but it is not true.

 The Truth

The word Abba is not fully Aramaic. It’s actually a derivative of one of the oldest semitic words in existence. The ancient babylonians had a word for father and it was “abu”. In Arabic it’s “abawun”, depending on conjugation and location. In Hebrew the common form was “ab” or “aba”. It did not turn into “abba” until translated into Greek who did not have any equivalent Greek word to translate it to, which is why the NT has to clarify each time what the word abba means.

Furthermore, I think it is doubtful that context can lead us to believe that this is to be used a small child’s iteration of “daddy.” For example, aba shows up in Jewish liturgy and prayer of the times. The Kaddish (hymn) contains multiple usages of aba as father. It also shows up in Jewish teachings like the Talmud. Each time its a simple rendering of the word father.

Moreover, I find it more than unconvincing that Jesus called out to God in the garden as a small boy would for his daddy. The etymology lends itself to lean more toward “my father” or “father of my house” than it does a child’s call for daddy. But where did such a myth come from?

Most point towards a notable German scholar Joachim Jeremias. In 1971 he explained in his writing, New Testament Theology that abba was

the chatter of a small child. . . . a children’s word, used in everyday talk

and seemingly

disrespectful, indeed unthinkable to the sensibilities of Jesus’ contemporaries to address God with this familiar word

(Jeremias, New Testament Theology, p. 67).

Thus, a little bit of extra-biblical reference, some etymology, and some common sense, dictates that Abba is just an intimate or personal form of father.


Sermon Myth #3
Easter came from the Pagan festival of Ishtar


The Sermon Myth

While I am the first admit that ancient origins are never easy to uncover and that once upon a time I also believed this myth, it is clear upon examination that this is just a myth. But what explanation is there for this myth? An old school KJV publication described Ishtar and Easter thusly,

Easter, as we know it, comes from the ancient pagan festival of Astarte. Also known as Ishtar (pronounced “Easter”). This festival has always been held late in the month of April. It was, in its original form, a celebration of the earth “regenerating” itself after the winter season. The festival involved a celebration of reproduction. For this reason the common symbols of Easter festivities were the rabbit (the same symbol as “Playboy” magazine), and the eggBothare known for their reproductive abilities. At the center of attention was Astarte, the female deity. She is known in the Bible as the “queen of heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-25). She is the mother of Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14) who was also her husband! These perverted rituals would take place at sunrise on Easter morning (Ezekiel 8:13-16). From the references in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we can see that the true Easter has never had any association with Jesus Christ.

While this explanation sounds legit I can assure you that it’s not.

The Truth

For an in-depth explanation of where Easter came from read this article. (Easter in the KJV?) Below I will give a few brief points.

  1. Both Ishtar and Astarte were unaffiliated with Greco-Roman culture. Ishtar was Babylonian and Akkadian in origin. Astarte was the Egyptian version of Ishtar. Both were recognized as deities and often connected to fertility but there was no such observance in Roman culture.
  2. The Babylonians and Akkadians were long gone by Jesus’ time. The Persians destroyed what was left of the Babylonians in the 5th century BCE. The culture had be dead for 500 years before Jesus walked the earth.
  3. The actual origin is from the 1st century adoption of Passover by the Christians and then subsequently the separation of the Passover from Christian festivals by Constantine. The festival was known as Oestre and was celebration of the goddess Ostara. It became mainstream when the germanic culture mixed with Christian culture after the Holy Roman Empire formed.

Once again, this is a very brief description of the myth of Ishtar. For a fuller explanation please read the article linked above.


Sermon Myth #4
Various Scribal Myths


The Sermon Myth

This myth has been used by both pastors and religious educators alike (most notably from books written by Josh McDowel, Don‘t Check Your Brains at the Door, and The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict). It is explained usually that the biblical manuscripts are reliable because of the practices of the Masoretic scribes. They were so meticulous that they would often copy the manuscripts backwards and if even one letter was wrong then they would burn it and start over, or any number of other crazy things. The list below has been copied and repeated more times than can be counted except it seems to never actually have an citations or references attached to it.

  1. They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.
  2. Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.
  3. The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.
  4. They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.
  5. They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word “Jehovah,” every time they wrote it.
  6. There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
  7. The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
  8. The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc).
  9. As no document containing God’s Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah – a Hebrew term meaning “hiding place.” These were usually kept in a synagogue or sometimes in a Jewish cemetery.

The numbers in these myths have various forms as well. One copy method discussed on a website from a fundamentalist Baptist pastor explains that,

“The Masoretic scribes actually counted each word of the manuscripts, and if a mistake was made that section had to be destroyed.”

Keep in mind that he used the word Masoretic because that is representative of defined period in scribe history. Most all of the “scribal rules” come from the Masoretes. But anyone who has ever studied the biblical manuscripts knows that such a copyist method is strictly fiction. I will explain below.

The Truth

It’s not these rules were completely made up because there is a grain of truth to what is being said. The Masoretes did exist and they did define clear rules for copying manuscripts. They were the ones who developed the final edition of vowel pointers for the Hebrew alphabet. Previous to this they only used consonants. The rules that were developed over time for copying the Torah was recorded in the Masorah. Other scribal rules can also be found in the Halakhah/Halakot which tradition says were oral rules that go back to Moses’ time. It is also the “tradition” criticized by the NT authors, and Jesus.

This list of scribal rules are from the late Masoretic period, 950 CE. By the time these rules were even conceived the basis of the OT and NT had been copied by thousands of scribes and multiple schools of translation practices.

Many of these rumors deal with errors by the scribe. However, errors were not hard to fix. Many scribes used a hard scraper to scrape the parchment and get the ink off so that it can be correct. No destruction of the manuscripts were ever necessary. This myth is corrected and explained on hasoferet.com (the female scribe),

Many people are under the impression that if you make a mistake, you have to toss out the whole sefer and start over. This isn’t true. A mistake, even one tiny wee one, does invalidate the whole Torah – but not permanently. If there’s a mistake in a Torah, you can’t use it until it’s fixed – but you can almost always fix it.

(Only when copying the Torah)

There’s a rule that mezuzot and tefillin have to have each and every letter written in strict order. So, if you make a mistake when writing a mezuzah, let’s say you leave out a letter, you can’t go back and add that letter unless you erase all the way back – if it was typing, it would be like saying you can’t move the cursor back and insert the letter, you have to backspace all the way to the place where you need the insertion. And sometimes, doing this would entail erasing God’s name, which we absolutely do not do, so sometimes there really is nothing you can do about it and you do have to go back and start over.

(When writing the name of God)

Erasing God’s name is tantamount to erasing God – it’s really not a good thing to do – so we don’t do it, ever. So, if you have a mistake that you can’t fix without repairing God’s name, that’s that – you can’t fix it. You take the sheet away, and bury it respectfully. Throwing it in the garbage would be like throwing God in the garbage – again, bad plan – so one buries it, like one would a dead person.

This, by the way, is why we try to refrain from writing God’s names down – because it’s likely to get thrown away, and we don’t want that to happen. Better to make sure it can’t happen by not writing God’s names in the first place.

Parchment is very forgiving stuff. You can scrape ink off it, and because the parchment is thicker than most paper, and because the ink sits on top and doesn’t soak in, it doesn’t leave a great big hole.

It should be noted that most of the scribal rules were developed many centuries after Jesus and they only pertained to the Hebrew scribes. The monks and scribes who copied the NT had no universal rule set like the Masoretes did.

Moreover, many of the scribal rules are scattered about in various documents. Not one single document contains all the scribal rules for every scribe in all time. In the the bathing ritual described in point #5, the scribal bathing is way over-blown. In reality, at the beginning of copying a Torah scroll, not the name of God, they would immerses themselves in a mikvah (ritual bath). Before beginning a new scroll, he would also recite a formula declaring his intent to write the scroll for a holy purpose. Like the bathing ritual, this list of rules have great exaggerated the actual scribal rules that exist throughout the various scribal communities.

In point #6 it’s rumored that “if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.” However, that is simply ridiculous for various reasons. First and foremost, OT & NT scribes hardly ever used “pages”. They used scrolls. Only the NT scribes really made use of pages which were meant for codexes. But NT scribal rules did not emerge for centuries after numerous languages translated and used the scriptures. The NT as a whole did not even emerge until the 4th century BCE. Moreover, to lump NT scribal rules with the Hebrew scribal rules is just misleading. Some of these scribal communities were 1000 years apart and in no way did they all share all the same rules. Lastly, there was no such rule in the OT or NT scribal communities that dictated a scribe would have to remake an entire codex or scroll because of mistakes. Mistakes were easy to fix in most cases. It was completely unnecessary to destroy the manuscripts.

Of the entire list, #4-7 are completely fictional or at least, giant exaggerations of actual rules that existed as various times. But to be clear, not all of these rules were used by all scribes in all times. There are over 2000 years of ancient scribal traditions and their rules have changed over time. Alexandrian scribes had a completely different set of rules than the Masoretes. It’s dishonest to try to lump all the scribal laws into one single list and even if they are, the list should include actual rules and references to where those rules came from.


Sermon Myth #5
David Danced Naked (or in his underwear)


In the David dancing naked myth, King David is said to have danced naked or in his underwear while celebrating the march into Jerusalem, while the Ark of the Covenant was returning.

This myth has a grain of truth  but it’s been grown into something much different than reality. The passages concerning David dancing are in the historical books of Samuel and Chronicles, which depict David in two different lights. On top of that some bad translation work has muddied the waters. The passage that describes David dancing is in Chronicles.

Now David was clothed in a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and as were the musicians, and Kenaniah, who was in charge of the singing of the choirs. David also wore a linen ephod(1 Chronicles 15:27)

Now it seems from Chronicles that David was clearly wearing a linen ephod so what is the fuss? Well, the book of Samuel follows up on the dancing when David’s wife confronts him about it.

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would! (2 Samuel 6:20 NIV)

But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!”(2 Samuel 6:20 NAS/B)

When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”(2 Samuel 6:20 NLT)

So clearly, English translators had some trouble understanding the Hebrew in this passage. Here is a concise explanation.

Samuel states that he was wearing a linen ephod, without mention of the other garments that go under it. In addition, Samuel also records that Michal was very upset at David for being “uncovered.” The most basic sense of the accusation (נִגְלָה, root = GLH) is being uncovered.

This word is used in various ways throughout the Old Testament to mean different things. about 30% of the time it is translated as it’s most basic meaning of uncovered (noun format). The next highest usage is to “exile” or “remove” which is what happened to the Israelites multiple times. The third most common form takes on the meaning of “revealing.” These three translations make up the bulk of the translations for this word. Since the word was used by Michal as a verb and in a simple verbal stem (Nifal), thus it should be translated without any intensive emphasis. I believe the translation of “How he was glorious, the King of Israel he was uncovered today in front of the servant girls…… ” is the best translation. I think perhaps there was some sarcasm in her tone, which is why the writer of Samuel ended her story a few verses later by stating that she bore no children.


Conclusion


Don’t believe everything you hear, even if it’s from the Pulpit. Always look for original source references. If you hear something sensational, as the person where they learned such things. If they don’t know the origin of the claim then it’s clear they are just repeating something that they heard.