Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
No one who contemplates this cry from Jesus can help but get a chill up their spine. The quote is also in Mark and this adds to the reliability that it is authentic. In addition, it is somewhat troublesome, and so it’s unlikely that it was added later by some well-meaning monk (as is the case with some other quotes in the Gospels).
So, what does it mean? Consider this possibility: Upon his baptism by John, Jesus has a mystical experience, connecting directly to God. He manages to maintain that mystical union with God for three years until the suffering from the crucifixion is just too much for him. He can’t hold the connection, and cries out as he loses it.
If you re-read all of the New Testament passages about the Holy Spirit, you will note that in each one of these references something is happening (descending, swirling, etc.). If you remove your “First Council of Constantinople” blinders, you will see that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God in people and not a thing-in-itself. Early Christians, mostly not as used to abstract thought as, say, Greek philosophers, would have had a hard time “getting” this concept. Thus, like so many other examples of reification in the history of religion, what was an abstract idea became (literally) personified. God-in-humanity became the third person of the Trinity.
Maintaining your connection to God is hard, even if you’re Jesus.
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.
Gospel of Mark 1:9-10
The Gospel of Mark was the earliest Gospel written of the 4 canonical Gospels. As such, it’s generally accepted that it is the closest to “original” Christianity as we have access to. The reason why this Gospel opens right away on the “scene” where Jesus is baptized by John is because this is the moment that Jesus become Christ.
I know that this will seem like blasphemy to almost everyone who reads it. We’re taught that “the Son” / Christ / Jesus has existed since the beginning, along with “the Father” and “the Spirit.” However, this was not the original belief of most Christians.
Now, I could go all down Dan Brown on you with an explanation of church councils and emperors and politically driven religious decision-making, but all of that is available in longer and more detailed formats than these essays. Instead, I invite you to consider this with an open heart and an open mind.
The description of what happened to Jesus when he was baptized very clearly describes a moment of mystical enlightenment. Literally, when Jesus is baptized, the Spirit of God descends upon and into him. He now becomes an anointed one, a Christ.
Just think for a moment upon the convoluted explanations that are necessary to try to make sense of the Trinity:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father … who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man … And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.
Nicene Creed 381 A.D. modification
Three gods, one God; all equal, but not the same, but of the same essence, sometimes timeless and sometimes in-time. In the original Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit (Ghost) gets a one-line mention at the end: And we believe in the Holy Ghost. That’s it.
All of these machinations seemed at the time to be necessary to explain the depictions in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles – but we must keep in mind that this was a time when most people were not trained to think in abstract terms. Thus, there needed to be a concrete explanation for the relationship between God, Jesus and this mysterious “Paraclete” (helper) that shows up every once in a while in the form of a dove or a fireball.
What if all of this happened today? What if, when Jesus says “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), we actually believed him? What if we stripped away all the trappings of the “orthodox” view of Jesus’s message and instead just take a new look? What if Jesus found communion with God in the act of being baptized, then withdrew to the desert to deal with his new-found revelations? What if the Holy Spirit is just a name for a deep relationship with God? What if everyone can be anointed?
Before you run away in horror, let’s look at actual New Testament quotes which support this notion:
(Jesus said) I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:49)
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. (John 17:21)
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
These quotes come from the “orthodox”-approved scriptures; even more evidence exists that this was Jesus’ original meaning in the apocrypha.
No matter what route the NRSV translators took to get there, the word “realm” is a far more accurate rendition of what the Fourth Gospel was trying to communicate than is “kingdom.” A kingdom is a place. A realm is more of an experience.
(Bishop) John Shelby Spong, The Fourth Gospel; Takes of a Jewish Mystic
In the previous essay I have mentioned that some current New Testament translations have adopted the phrase “God’s imperial rule” instead of “Kingdom of God.” There I said that I think that “God’s imperial rule” lacks flow and is therefore distracting. So, when I ran across the above statements from Bishop Spong, I was quite interested.
Why does a translation matter? Words don’t only have definitions, they have connotations. “The Kingdom of God” indicates, among other things, that God is male. It also indicates a place. I agree with Spong that realm is a better choice of word, but only because of the second definition of realm:
the region, sphere, or domain within which anything occurs, prevails, or dominates.
The first definition literally just says “a kingdom.”
However, according to BibleGateway.com, the NRSV does not use “realm” – the only translations referenced there that use “realm” are The Passion Translation (a contemporary translation) and The Wycliffe Bible (a fairly old one ).
But, is this significant? I suggest that it is. For example, Bible Gateway does not include the translations from the publication by members of The Jesus Seminar, which is a group of scholars who mostly approach the study of early Christianity from an agnostic standpoint. The Jesus Seminar is not well thought of in many Christian circles and thus it’s perhaps not a surprise that this translation is missing from the Bible Gateway.
Translation is not an exact science and bias is often inserted into translations, even if only accidentally. So, the phrases kingdom of God vs. the realm of God vs. God’s imperial rule (from the Jesus Seminar) may have an effect on readers which may sway their opinions of what they are reading.
Since I agree with Wittgenstein that religious language must all be metaphorical, it doesn’t bother me that translations differ. However, if you are a fundamentalist or a literalist, this could be quite problematic.
So, back to the original point: The kingdom of God that Jesus refers to is not a place, it is a state of mind (or soul). This is obvious from an open-minded reading of the New Testament, and nowhere more so than in Luke 17:21. If the kingdom of God is a place, and if “The Kingdom of God is within you,” you would have to have a very large body!