Have You Been Making Assumptions?
Grape cough medicine sounded like a good idea to try for my children when they had a cold, however, once was enough. The officially let me know they would rather die than ever try the grape flavor again. Satan is like Children’s Grape flavored cough medicine. The things he offers sound good on the surface, but when you accept them they are just nasty (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). The Pharisees are also another like comparison in that they appeared one way, but were another (Matthew 23:27-28). Things are not always as they seem to be.
Man often makes assumptions about something he has heard or seen without closer examination. In part, this is done because there is so much information in life to process that quick judgments are often the rule rather than the exception. However, such judgment does not always guarantee accurate assessments. Men make assumptions about others all the time. They do so based on where a man works, how he looks, who he is seen around, how he behaves, the color of his skin, how tall he is, and more. Assumptions are recorded throughout the Bible. Job’s 3 friends held the belief: “Whoever perished being innocent?” (Job 4:7). Samuel when he went to choose a king in I Samuel 16:1-7 made assumption based on appearance. Paul indirectly spoke on assumptions in I Corinthians 2:1-5, 6-8, and 9-11 in regard to himself, the rulers of the time, and one man to another. Below are three common assumptions which Biblically cannot be confirmed.
Assumption Regarding Mary Magdalene
In 591 AD, Pope Gregory made a number of assumptions about Mary Magdalene. The result of his assumption caused many to identify Mary as a prostitute. Some even go further and say she married Jesus. What do we know about Mary Magdalene from scripture? Luke 8:1-2 establishes Mary had 7 demons which were cast from her. Matthew 27:55-56 shows she was present at the cross of Jesus. The later verses of 59-61 shows she was present at his burial. Later, she witnessed the empty tomb from which Jesus had arisen (Matthew 28:1-2). It was that same morning Mary became the first person to whom Jesus appeared (Mark 16:9). From this point she proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:10). Though there are other minor details given, anything representing the claims of Pope Gregory is preposterous. The assumptions were made upon established relationships, environment, and false teachings. These types of assumptions cloud who Mary really was and her devotion to our Savior.
Assumption Regarding Zaccheus
“Zaccheus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…” Many a child has sung the words of this “Sunday school song”. Luke 19:1-10 tells his story and how was to meet Jesus at his home. Was Zaccheus a bad man? Was he corrupt? Was he a sinner? Many preachers will tell you he was. However, is this an assumption? Looking closely at Luke 19:1-2, we gain only two characteristics of Zaccheus. First, he was the head of tax collectors. Second, he was rich. How did he become rich? Some will say he stole or skimmed prophets. Prove it through scripture! It cannot be done. Maybe his mother and father were bakers and their cookies were so good Zaccheus inherited a fortune. This has the same foundation as saying Zaccheus was dishonest at this point.
Verses 3-4, establish that Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was. There is no indication that Zaccheus had ever met Jesus before. Verse 5 shows Jesus calling Zaccheus by name. How did Jesus know his name? This is not an indicator that they had met at all. Perhaps someone in the crowed mentioned Zaccheus’ name. It is very possible someone said, “Hey look! Zaccheus is up in the tree! What a crazy guy!” This is as much an assumption as someone saying Jesus had previously met Zaccheus. Could Jesus have possible read his heart and mind? Matthew 9:4, 22:18, Mark 2:8, 5:30, Luke 5:22, Luke 6:8, Luke 9:47, and others point to the affirmative. Yet to state one way or another is assumption.
Verse 6 sees Zaccheus responding and receiving Jesus joyfully. However, verse 7 sees the crowd, the majority, saying Zaccheus was a sinner. Layman’s Bible Commentary gives the following statement by Donald G. Miller: “According to Judaism at that time tax collectors would not be included in the benefits from Christ’s coming.” From the first century, likely before, straight through till today, no one likes the IRS. There are few individuals who take as much grief. Are there and have there been corrupt folks working for the IRS? Most definitely this is the case. However, the discussion surrounds one man – Zaccheus. The crowd says he is a sinner. Are they speaking factually or with assumption? Romans 3:23 states “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Appropriately, this identifies all men as those who have sinned. However, in this circumstance, Zaccheus would be no different from the crowd. They were intimating something else.
From verse 8, we see Zaccheus’ statement from which many people make assumption he was a corrupt individual. Many translations read “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four time as much.” From these words, it is assumed Zaccheus is saying he will straighten up his life. Unfortunately, this is a mistranslation. The word will is nowhere within the text. The Greek tense is the present tense. Zaccheus is justifying his life saying, “I give”, “I restore”. His life was one already of doing right, not of corruption, deceit, or fraud. Despite the assumptions of the crowd, Jesus established this tax gatherer was as welcome to the kingdom of God as any upright man.
Assumptions Regarding Onesimus
The letter to Philemon from Paul discusses a servant by the name of Onesimus. It is widely taught and preached Onesimus was a runaway slave who had stolen from his master Philemon. He then coincidently comes into contact with the apostle Paul who was under guard as a prisoner in Rome. This relationship converts Onesimus to Christianity. There are at least three problems with this understanding:
First – Biblical text never tells us Onesimus is a runaway slave.
Second – Biblical text never tells us he is a thief.
Third – Biblical text never tells us the meeting is by chance.
There are certain Roman laws regarding slavery are important to our study of Philemon. Roman law gave a slave no right of asylum. They were beaten to death in the presence of other slaves. They were also crucified for offenses far lighter. If Paul were aware Onesimus was a runaway slave, he neither by law or conscience could conceal the matter. Remember: Paul was a prisoner in Rome! The last place a runaway slave was going to be by choice is near Roman guards each day.
Paul in the letter returns Onesimus as a personal matter, not as a legal matter. In Philemon 9 Paul appeals to Philemon based love, age, and state of imprisonment to let Onesimus return to him. It is true from verse 11, there was a point in which Onesimus was useless to Philemon. We are not told why. Perhaps Onesimus was lazy or a host of other issues. Is it not far more likely to consider Onesimus was sent to Paul as perhaps a person who could bring about a change in Onesimus, rather than believing he was a runaway slave who by chance ended up in the midst of a heavily guarded prison where he would likely meet a sentence of death? Yet, assumption has long been taught as fact in regard to Onesimus.
Though assumption is part of the lives of men, one must be careful to the conclusions they come to without facts. Mary Magdalene, Zaccheus, and Onesimus are individuals of which many false assumptions have been made. Proverbs 18:13 and James 2:1-4 give warnings about assumptions. One would be wise to heed these. Be as the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search the scriptures when faced with the possibility of making assumption. As I Thessalonians 5:21 states: “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.”