Biblical Analysis of the Super Bowl

Christianity and atheism discussion and Does God exist?Everyone’s familiar with Tim Tebow’s public thanks to God for his football success and his love of the Bible verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Many of us have heard some of the spooky 3:16 connections with Tebow’s next-to-last game this season. The Broncos beat the Steelers on January 8 in Tebow’s first NFL playoff game, with Tebow throwing for 316 yards. This was three years to the day that Tebow made a public splash wearing eye black that read “John 3:16” in the BCS Championship game. In the win against the Steelers, Tebow averaged 31.6 yards for each pass completion, an NFL record for postseason games.

Let’s do the same kind of analysis on Eli Manning’s Super Bowl win on Sunday. He threw a total of 296 yards.

There is no book in the Bible with the verse 2:96, so the significance must instead be in verse 29:6. Several books have this verse.

Put the turban on his head and attach the sacred emblem to the turban. (Ex. 29:6)

Maybe this represents Manning being declared the game’s MVP.

My path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil. (Job 29:6)

This may represent the accolades he received after the game.

The LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire. (Isaiah 29:6)

That’s more like it—some godly justice! God is obviously furious with the results of the game. I’ll bet he was a Patriots fan.

That’s a big claim appropriate for the year’s biggest game.

Still, I wondered if there was more. I realized my error when I converted yards into the biblical measure of cubits. There’s a bit of fuzziness in the definition of the cubit, and 296 yards becomes something in the range 511 to 518 cubits. Since Tebow’s quote is from the New Testament, let’s look there for verses in the range 5:11–18.

Mark 5:11–18 is the story of demons cast from a possessed man into 2000 pigs. In Luke, it’s the story of Jesus healing leprosy. In John, Jesus gets into trouble with the Jewish leaders because he heals on the Sabbath. James and 1 John both state that prayer heals sick people, and they make a causal connection between sin and sickness.

The message starts to take shape—something about mental and physical illness being caused by sin and demons.

The breakthrough came when I went back to the quarterback’s name—Eli Manning. That’s Elisha Manning. Of course—the Old Testament prophet Elisha! it wasn’t the New Testament but the Old Testament that had the clue. And there it was, in 2 Kings 5:11–18, the story of Naaman, a general from Aram (today’s central Syria), who had leprosy.

Naaman had heard of the power of the Yahweh and came to Israel for healing. Elisha commanded him to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman had expected some ordeal or fee and considered this a snub, but his servants persuaded him to give it a try, and sure enough, his leprosy was cured. Naaman realized the power of Yahweh and asked forgiveness when he would be obliged to bow before Rimmon (Baal) back in Syria. Elisha granted it, saying “Go in peace.”

The scales fell from my eyes. God’s message in this Super Bowl is that he can cure leprosy. Leprosy is now reliably treated with antibiotics, of course, so this isn’t especially relevant, but it’s good to know that God’s still concerned about diseases that have little or no impact on society today.

I know what Christian apologists will say about my analysis. They’ll say that this is arbitrary, that I’m just picking and choosing verses based on what I want to find, collecting ridiculous passages and ignoring the rest. They’ll say that the chapter and verse divisions are not divinely inspired, with the New Testament being divided into verses only in the 1500s. They’ll say that this entire analysis is nonsense, built on nothing solid.

And to that I say …

Busted! You got me. That’s exactly what I was doing. I was indeed picking verses with an agenda.

But then if it’s nonsense when I do it, why is it any more meaningful when Christians do it?

Photo credit: Catholic Online

Football Christianity

Bible verses, Christianity, and atheismTim Tebow of the Denver Broncos has made a name for himself (and added his name to the dictionary) with his flamboyant public appreciation whenever God helps him out with a football play.  The interesting thing about his kneeling in praise is that it’s self-aggrandizing while pretending not to be.  It was precisely anticipated in Matthew: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5).  The verse continues: “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

Mr. Tebow, are we to imagine that the Creator of the universe took time out of his busy schedule of not saving starving children to help you make a good football play?  I understand that it’s important to you, and it’s nice to see a professional athlete not bragging about how great he is, but doesn’t football seem a little trivial?  Doesn’t it make your religion look bad to even suggest that?  And doesn’t it seem illogical to imagine God being yanked first one way by you and then in the opposite way by some guy praying for the opposite result on the other team?

Perhaps I’m being harsh.  Let me try to view this more charitably.

Tebow is also known for evangelizing through Bible verses painted in the eye black on his face.  Above, he’s proclaiming Ephesians 2:8–10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

That’s good advice.  But Tebow has promoted a variety of verses, not just the standard John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …”) or Luke 2:10–11 (“I bring you good news of great joy …”).

Here he gives us Exodus 22:29, which says, “Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.  You must give me the firstborn of your sons.”  God’s demand of child sacrifice is often forgotten, but it’s good to be reminded of the basics.

Other verses that show how God used child sacrifice within Israel are Ez. 20:25–6.

Of course, the size constraints of eye black makes Twitter look like an encyclopedia, but these messages are worth parsing.  This one is a nice reminder of God’s limitations.  2 Kings 3:26–27 tells of the end of a battle against Moab.  The prophet Elisha promised Judah a victory.  But when the king of Moab saw that he was losing, he sacrificed his son and future heir.  This magic was apparently too much for Yahweh, because “there was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland.”

A verse with a similar message is Judges 1:19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah.  They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.”

Another oldie but goodie.  Psalms 89:7 says “In the council of the holy ones Elohim [God] is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.”  How often do we forget that God is part of an Olympus-like pantheon?  Ps. 82:1–2 gives a similar message.

I’m waiting for someone to reference Deuteronomy 32:8, which describes how Yahweh’s dad divided up his inheritance (all the tribes of the earth) among his sons: “When El Elyon [the Most High] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up humankind, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the heavenly assembly.”

You rarely see an entire chapter reference, but Leviticus 20 is a meaty one with a lot of good fundamentals.  Everyone knows that homosexual relations are abominable, and verse 13 gives the death as the appropriate penalty.  But it’s easy to forget the other demands of this chapter: eat no unclean animals (:25), exile any couple that has sex during the woman’s menstrual period (:18), death to spiritual mediums (:27), death for adultery (:10), and death for “anyone who curses their father or mother” (:9).  It comes as a package, people!

Eye black references to divine genocide are common—1 Samuel 15:2–3, Deut. 20:16–18, and Judges 21:10 for example—but it’s nice to see this one.  Deuteronomy 2:34–5 says, “And we took all [Sihon’s] cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.”

I’ll skim through a few more that I’ve seen.  Why aren’t more sermons taught on these verses?

  • In our modern unbiblical and slavery-free society, we too often forget that not only did God permit slavery, but he regulated it.  Exodus 21:20–21 says, “And if a man smite his slave with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.  But if [the slave] live for a day or two, he shall not be punished, for [the slave] is his property.”
  • I guess with football players, you’ll find lots of verses about violence.  Isaiah 13:15–16 is a popular one: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”  Another that’s so common as to almost be cliché is Ps. 137:9: “Happy is the one who seizes your [Babylon’s] infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
  • It’s not surprising that sexual slavery interests football players.  Numbers 31:15–18 says, “Now kill all the boys.  And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
  • I like to see reminders for racial purity.  Ezra 9:2 says, “They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them.”  Other verses in this vein are Nehemiah 13:1–3 and Deut. 23:3.
  • Finally, a helpful reminder that even Jesus can be wrong: “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).  Two thousand years later, and we’re still waiting.  Ah well, we all make mistakes!

I think of these as the Forgotten Verses, and I praise athletes like Tebow for putting them front and center where they belong.  It’d be great to get them back into circulation by making them the subject of sermons.  After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

I’ll finish with a Saturday Night Live sketch that shows Jesus visiting the Broncos after he won another game for them.

Related links:

Harold Camping’s New Year’s Resolutions

Oh well—two out of three ain’t bad.

Humor: Does God Exist?

With a panel that is “a veritable smorgasbord of cleverness that the world is rightly too respectful to eat,” the talk show “Big Talk” tries to resolve the big question “Does God Exist?”  (from the BBC’s That Mitchell and Webb Look).

A Powerful Defense of Reason … or Maybe Not

In wrestling with the issues of faith and reason and how they should be used within society, I asked for input from an experienced pastor.  Here’s his reply.  I’ll let you evaluate it yourself.

I want you to know that I do not shun controversy.  On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.  You have asked me how I feel about reason.  All right, here is how I feel about this important matter.

If, when you say reason, you mean the arrogance that rejects faith, that would have us discard what we know to be true more deeply than sterile logic can express; if you mean the heartless drive to dethrone the innocent widow or precious child from their cherished beliefs; if you mean the pernicious force that shakes the faith of the honest Christian man or woman in almighty God, what Martin Luther called “the devil’s bride” and “the greatest enemy of faith,” what the greatest minds in Christianity have made a slave to faith, then certainly I am against it.

But if, when you say reason, you mean the tool that gave us medicine, the fruits of which are antibiotics, anesthesia, vaccines, and the distant memory of scourges like smallpox and plague; if you mean the technology that teaches us of our glorious universe and that landed men on the moon and brought us the vibrant world we live in today; if you mean the rejection of ancient superstition in favor of scientific explanations; if by reason you mean our ability to analyze and dismantle foreign religions and reveal their legendary origin, and to reject beliefs that are merely pleasing rather than correct; if you mean God’s greatest gift, the gift for which we must stand in judgment for using wisely, the very tool that gets us safely through each day, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand.  I will not retreat from it.  I will not compromise.*

Rev. Phineas P. Stopgauge

Photo credit: Wikimedia

*Alert readers will recognize this as an homage to the 1952 “If by whiskey” speech by Mississippi State Representative Noah “Soggy” Sweat, Jr.  (No kidding—that was really his name.)

Cartoon: Mythology and Science Just Don’t Mix

Cartoon: A boy asks a priest about the Adam and Eve story.  Since Eve came from Adam's rib, "she" had the same DNA and the same sex chromosomes.  So we're all descended from two gay clones!

Artwork credit: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal