Star stuff gave a link to this video and asked me if i've sold all my stuff yet. I had previously claimed to take the Bible literally.
It seems like a central argument to the youtube video is that Paul's teachings (which are followed by modern Christians) don't do Jesus' teachings justice- that they don't take Jesus' words literally. As I would use a passage from a Pauline epistle to aid in answering Star Stuff's question, let me briefly explain how Paul can be trusted as an interpreter of Jesus' message and actions. Then I will interpret what Jesus said in light of Paul's teachings to show that there is deeper, symbolic meaning. Finally, I will show that Jesus could have literally said those words and even meant them sincerely but that His main point was to use the command as an arguing device for a more important conclusion.
Actually, I'm going to give 2 arguments as to why Paul can be trusted. The first argument will appeal to those who accept Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (MMLJ) all to be canonical and trust the early church to attribute authorship of NT books to the correct authors. Later I will attempt to give an argument if you don't accept this and just want to compare a teaching of Jesus' (brought up in the video) with a teaching of Paul's and seeing if they are compatible. In this second argument I can say whether or not I've literally sold all my stuff and if this means that I do or don't take the Bible literally.
First argument: The same man who wrote Luke wrote Acts, so if you accept Luke you should accept Acts. In MMLJ+Acts, Jesus gives Peter authority to teach what he has learned from Jesus along with the specific guidelines to wait until he receives the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt 16, Matt 28, Acts 1-2). So God via the Holy Spirit will guide what Peter and the other apostles do and often what they write. Later, Peter endorses Paul in 2 Peter 3:15. Acts also tells of how Jesus Himself spoke to Paul and shows Paul and Peter and the rest of the apostles working for the same cause of spreading Christianity (although it wasn't called Christianity yet I know), despite a few disagreements (which is ok and I will explain this in my second argument).
Now, the second argument: let's use the story of the “rich young man” (although Mark just says “a man”) that is in the youtube video and is also the source of Star Stuff's question. We can find it in Mark chapter 10 which I suppose you all prefer over MMLJ since there is the theory that Mark was written first and the other synoptic gospels modeled after it and then John wasn't written until later. If Jesus actually said anything that we have today then the book of Mark is the best bet to be it, no? Please read the whole context which I would argue is from verse 17 at least until 31 because the setting is the same- Jesus is leaving someone's house and the man comes up to Him and then Jesus answers questions until vs 32 when they make some progress in their journey to Jerusalem. I would also like to bring up vs 45 as related even though it's a new setting I and will explain why when I do.
The man's question is “what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus then asks questions about why the man, in his own actions, deserves eternal life. Has he followed God's commandments? Then man says he has followed the commandments Jesus lists. Jesus says that he also needs to sell all he has and give to poor. Why would Jesus add this command? Well, as it has been mentioned in these discussion pages, the OT commands do not promise heaven or threat hell (and why Jesus can be the Messiah prophesied about in the OT and bring up something the OT never speaks of is a topic for another time). Jesus' offer of eternal life seems to be something new (although perhaps it isn't). Shouldn't it maybe require a little extra (I'm just speculating)? Anyway, Jesus says what He says, that, yes, the man must give all he has to the poor.
But, Jesus qualifies this teaching with the statement that it is impossible for a human to save himself, but that God can save humans (vs 26-27). (Note, this doesn't make what Jesus said any less literal, it is just qualified with additional info- in other words, if God wanted to judge us based on what we did without any mercy, the vast majority of us would be unworthy of eternal life). So, already, this teaching is compatible with Paul's teachings that we are saved by faith in God and not by our own works (as summarized in Philippians 3:9, I will stick with Philippians as the only Pauline epistle in this post for the sake of ease, although I'm sure other epistles could be used and would have a consistent message).
But then if we allow ourselves to look at vs 45, which uses the word “ransom” and is a very similar concept to the “saved” in vs 26, then we see that Jesus means His death on the cross is what saves.
You see, as Paul clarifies in Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus' death on the cross is Him giving all He has for us. Jesus is God, but He left heaven and came to earth. He was far richer than any human who has ever lived but came and lived a life of poverty (literally, as we see from Mark). And not only that but he was rich in life and chose to die for us! Jesus is the one who has earned eternal life by following all the commands and giving all He has and indeed all of Himself for us humans who are bankrupt in true riches and righteousness and life (we are all poor symbolically, as Paul clarifies).
And so God blesses Jesus for this! He doesn't stay poor long but God rewards Him with glory and a rightful place in heaven!
So how does this relate to what Jesus says in Mark? Well as we read on, Peter notes that he has left behind everything to follow Jesus (vs 28). And so Jesus promises a reward for Peter (vs 29-31) just like Jesus Himself gets rewarded by God.
So have I given everything to the poor? If I had, you might not ever know, even if I was living in moderate comfort. Jesus promises Peter (vs 30) “a hundred times as much IN THIS PRESENT AGE: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields.” So what if God's 100x giving back to me out-paces my giving all I have away and I just can't seem to give it all away? Following a literal teaching of Jesus in the book of Mark, it's possible.
But, to be honest, I can't admit to following Jesus' command to give all I have away. In fact, that's the point according to vs 26-27. Only God can truly be righteous like that.
So now what? Do I just say it was only figurative and turn my back on generosity? Do I ignore the poor because Jesus asserts that I can't possibly be perfectly holy on my own? Of course not! I will turn back to Philippians 3:12-14. Paul himself admits that he is not perfect. But he gives us this picture of Christ's perfect holiness as a goal to strive for. It may not be reachable (in these bodies), but we still try because we understand that's what God wants. Jesus, when he saves us, calls us to this holiness. We are already saved from our sin and failures, and now we are free to strive to live lives that are worthy of the great grace and generosity Jesus showed us (also in 1:27). No Christians are perfect yet (and so Paul and Peter even disagree and bicker sometimes), but God is still at work in us and will keep us headed in the right direction (1:6).
So I choose to worry about my own actions and the actions of those close Christian friends God has given me to hold accountable and be accountable to. Although I am not perfect at it, I try to keep becoming more like the person I see that Jesus wants me to be. Do I literally give some of my possessions away? Yes. Does God respond by giving back to me? Yes, in so many unexpected but still beautiful ways. Should I strive to give more until I literally give all? Believe me, even before you asked your question I knew I should fewer and fewer possessions myself so that I can give more and more away and was asking God for guidance in this. And there are so many other commands that I am striving to follow as best (and literally) as possible. But I don't dare minimize what Jesus did so He could forgive me when I fail.
As for other Christian leaders who don't seem to follow the way of Jesus- I'll admit it seems like it sometimes (and the Bible warns of false teachers). But does that mean there aren't any real followers of Jesus left? Almost surely there aren't any perfect people out there. I think any Christian would claim Jesus is the only perfect person to walk this earth (but let me know if I'm wrong). But I hope that there are people who live near all of us who are genuinely following Jesus the best they know how and could explain their lifestyle more if you asked them.
So to summarize, Jesus literally said what He said to the rich young man and it is a literal qualification for eternal life and that He also literally fulfilled that commandment Himself and then literally died by execution and was literally resurrected. A reading of Mark 10 in context shows that Jesus also meant the command to be an argument against human righteousness being enough on our own and an argument for faith in Jesus. It doesn't have to be either literal or figurative (mutually exclusive). It can be both. The Bible is, in my opinion, always literal (unless clearly stated as something else such as a parable), and then also usually figurative in addition.
I ask that if people respond that they say whether they agree/disagree that I've (inductively) proven the following (and not go off topic about whether or not Jesus actually lived, etc., you/we can speak on a different thread for that if you like): If the book of Mark contains words that Jesus actually spoke, then a reading of Mark in context-
1) is compatible with Paul's epistle to the Philippians and therefore Paul's teachings seem compatible with what Jesus taught
2) shows Jesus literally required that we need a holiness that includes giving all possessions to the poor but said that humans can't attain such a level of holiness
3) asserts Jesus lived out what He required and then also died as a ransom for our sin (our lack of the holiness necessary for eternal life) which makes eternal life possible via faith