World's Most Unique Bible?

You have got to check this out!!! If you grew up playing with Legos, like I did, you'll love this: The Bible per LegoLand. I was floored when I saw this--it's absolutely incredible! You'll have to see it all for yourself. And though Christmas has already passed, I thought I'd go ahead and share LegoLand's interpretation of the manger scene (see below). To see more, click the following link: The Brick Testament.

3 New Beginning Bloggers

Within the last few weeks, three new Christian bloggers (that I am aware of) have stepped into the realm of the biblioblogosphere. Knowing how tough it can be draw regular visitors to one's site, a while back I decided that I would try my best to help new bloggers "get known". That's why I added the "A Beginning Blogger" feature to this site. I've already updated it by listing Naomisu Onamy and JN Patrick. I've now added Craig Downey's site: C. Downey: λεων και αρνιον. Be sure to check out all of these new Christian blogs when you get a chance. Happy New Year.


On Paper Airplanes

As a young boy and even as a teenager, I was always fascinated with paper airplanes. This video may have piqued my interest once again. The dude makes a paper airplane and launches it over New York City--pretty sweet! Check it out.

SBL / AAR Papers

SBL / AAR '07 may have been a month ago but here are some links to papers that were presented at the conference (some of these sites also contain older conference papers too; some are still waiting to be updated, nonetheless, you now have the links). Enjoy!

1. Bakhtin & the Biblical Imagination (2001 - 2007)

2. Paul & Scripture Seminar (2006 only, I think, but still very good stuff!)

3. Bible & Visual Art (2001 - 2005; more to be added)

4. Psychology & Biblical Studies (in addition to '07, get 2006 papers here)


A Beginning Blogger: JN Patrick

In addition to listing Naomisu Onamy under the "A Beginning Blogger" icon, I am also going to list Jason N. Patrick's new blog too. You can visit his site by clicking the following link: JN Patrick's Blog. (Check out his latest post: Biblical Literature as a Family's Story)

December's Bible Belt Winner

The order's up. December's Bible Belt winner is: Kim Fabricius who posted on Ben Myers' Faith and Theology site. Kim's post is titled: A Funeral Homily On Christmas Eve. My other favorite four posts are:

2. Triablogue: Life, death, and the life everlasting

3. Celebrating Thoughtful Faith: God, the Ultimate Subject

4. Dr. Claude Mariottini: Google Bibliograhpy on Christianity & Judaism (thanks!!!)

5. A Peculiar Prophet: Christians in the Empire

Naomisu Onamy

Well, I've finally gotten the chanve to put the newly implemented "A Beginning Blogger" feature to use. A new blogger and reader of Pisteuomen, an Aussie woman by the name of Naomisu Onamy, is the first up. She notes on her blog that she enters the biblioblogosphere with fear and trembling--are we truly that scary? Anyways, check out her latest post (hopefully she will offer more, more frequently) by clicking the following link: Observations on Blasphemy, Divorce, Unforgivable Sins and Jesus' Name. Let's encourage this beginning blogger!


New Years Resolutions (In Reverse)

Well, today marks the beginning of "New Year Weekend". In the spirit of that holiday, I thought I'd go ahead and offer some resolutions that anyone can make and keep. So, below are 20 resolutions you might seriously consider. These are perfect for you if: you don't want to try this year, if you want to be a sasquash, if you want to look grossly different next year at this time, if you just want to let yourself go, etc. Just say them aloud to yourself as many times as it takes for you to start believing them:

1. This year I plan to pack on the pounds.

2. This year I am going to max out every credit card I get.

3. This will be the year that I never spend a minute exercising.

4. In 2008 I am going do my best to remain unemployed.

5. In the event that #4 doesn't work out, I'll try harder to do more websurfing at work.

6. I do not plan to read any books this year or learn anything new.

7. I am going to trust every democratic politician I listen to.

8. I will strive to complain about everything.

9. This year I will spend time making up and spreading dirty lies and rumors.

10. In '08 I will pick up a healthy habit like smoking or buying lottery tickets.

11. I will buy as many household pets as I possibly can.

12. In regards to #11, I may become the neighborhood cat lady (or cat man).

13. This year I will not eat fast food but instead, I'll dress down & eat at soup kitchens.

14. I will leave my car running as much as I can so as to emitt as much pollution as possible.

15. I will not wear socks, shoes or shirts when shopping at stores.

16. In 2008 I will attempt getting gum disease by refraining from dental hygiene.

17. This year I will call in sick to my pastor once a month.

18. In the coming days I will begin a trend of spending money on video games.

19. This year I will lose my license.

20. In 2008, when people I don't care for talk to me, I will always act like I've lost my voice so I don't have to converse with them.

My Cloud of Witnesses

I just took the "theologian quiz" that Nick Norelli mentioned on his blog today. I was surprised by the fact that it suggested that of all theologians, I had the most in common with Charles Finney (this is certainly a bit off). I was also suprised to see John Calvin's name show up. I wasn't surprised, however, by the fact that I crossed paths with Tillich, Moltmann and Barth (I tend to move within that cloud of witnesses). Anyways, you should give the quiz a go (it takes less than 5 minutes--and is probably not all that accurate but, nonetheless...). Here are my results and the quiz link is below:

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Charles Finney

You're passionate about God and love to preach the Gospel. Your theology borders on pelagianism and it is said that if God were taken out of your theology, it would look exactly the same.

Charles Finney


Paul Tillich


Jürgen Moltmann


Karl Barth






John Calvin


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Jonathan Edwards


Martin Luther



2 New Features On Pisteuomen

A few weeks ago I added a new feature to Pisteuomen that allowed those with visual impairments to easily access the site; they could simply listen to each post. This was also handy for podcasters; they could get each post on their ipods. Well, in addition to that feature, I have added 2 new ones. The first feature, located in the middle column at the top of this site allows persons to simply record their own reply to my posts (or to just leave a comment in general). All you have to do is hit the record button, select "allow" and then begin recording. When you're done, you can leave your email address and a comment or not. It's that easy. This feature is also handy for those with visual impairments. The second feature is quite similar. However, as opposed to simply leaving an audio reply, this feature allows viewers to leave a video reply (this, of course, requires a webcam). I will try this feature only temporarily, to see if it is worth keeping or not. To use this feature, look above the most recent post. There, you will see a collection of the latest podcasts. Select the one you want to listen to and comment on. When you're ready to comment, hit the red button. After this, you must select "allow". Then, if you're are a podcaster or are subscribed to my podcast, you can leave a video comment. With both features, I am sent the reply via email. Hope this helps some of you in navigating and interacting with me on Pisteuomen. --Michael

They Wished Me A Markan Christmas

So, this was truly a “Markan” Christmas. I got some books, videos and more books. In addition to what I’ve already posted, here is the rest (though, most of it is, not all of it is Mark stuff):

1. George Martin, Bringing the Gospel of Mark to Life
2. Robert Funk, The Gospel of Mark (Jesus Seminar, Red Letter Ed.)
3. J. R. Donahue, The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina)
4. Larry Hurtado, Pre-Caesarean Text / Codex W in Mark
5. Joel Green, Way of the Cross: Suffering in Mark
6. M. Casey, Aramaic Sources for Mark’s Gospel
7. A. D. Thomson, Mythical Elements in the 1st Copy of Mark’s Gospel
8. M. Smith, The Secret Gospel: Discovery & Interp. Of Secret Mark
9. W. Roth, Hebrew Gospel of Mark: Cracking the Code
10. R. A. Errico, Aramaic Light on Mark and Luke
11. M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts

12. B. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the GNT
13. A. F. Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic

In What Way(s) Was Jesus Perfect?

In the course of the last week, my Abiathar posts got me thinking a little more about the notion of Jesus’ perfection. To be more explicit, I asked myself: How [as "in what way(s)"] was Jesus perfect? I asked this because of the tendency of many persons to point to Mk. 2.26 and say, “Aha, look, Jesus got it wrong; He wasn’t divine after all. And by the way, your Bible cannot be trusted.” Now, I have mulled over the issue of Abiathar a number of times and I have argued that indeed, neither Mark nor Jesus messed up—this based on Mark’s translation switches from Aramaic to Hebrew. Anyways…

I was also thinking about how this passage led Bart Ehrman down the path of agnosticism. Therefore, I don’t think it is a passage to take lightly. I think that many people share Ehrman’s discomforts with passages like this one. But I also do not think that we should just say, “It’s an error, get over it; that’s not important.” Moving on, I believe this same idea could be applied to many other passages and topics. For example, some have contended that another passage in Mark’s account, Mk. 12.30, reveals that as with Mk. 2.26, Jesus got the Shema wrong too. That is hardly the case! But this troubles many people, many sincere Christians.

It used to trouble me. However, I think that it troubled me because I had a bit of a flawed view of Jesus’ perfection. Back in the day, for Jesus to be perfect meant that there could be nothing questionable concerning things He said or did. But when I applied some simple logic to the situation, my mind was set to ease and my Christological beliefs were, in fact, strengthened. So, How was Jesus perfect?

First of all, I might use the example of Jesus as a carpenter. I do not believe that in order for Him to be God or to be divine, that He could have never messed up on the job. Maybe He forgot His tools one day, maybe He cut a piece of wood at the wrong length, maybe He messed up in price calculations or maybe He didn’t bring enough nails to the site one day. My faith in Jesus Christ does not rest on the fact that He had to be perfect in every hit of the hammer, cut of the wood or whatever. Jesus was also fully human and it would be much harder for me to accept that He never messed up on the job than it would the fact that He was (and is) divine. So, Jesus’ perfection does not rest on this.

Secondly, I believe that Jesus was a storyteller. Indeed, He loved telling stories. I don’t think that He had the modern presuppositions that we do about “facts” when telling stories (maybe He did have some of them, who knows). But if Jesus left details out of stories or added details or changed some details to fit the present circumstances (for effect), then I am fine with that. Even more, if Jesus, living out of an oral culture, forgot details from time-to-time (and had to supplement), I am fine with that too. Jesus did not know everything and He never claimed to (see: Mt. 24.36; Lk. 2.40, 52; Php. 2.5ff). So, we should not place that standard upon Him (as neither He Himself nor the NT writers did). Again, Jesus’ perfection is not predicated on His knowing or not knowing things.

Thirdly, I believe that Jesus was a law-observant, temple-appreciative guy. I believe that Jesus helped unclean people and then followed Jewish rituals. I believed He went around corpses and became unclean. And this is precisely where context helped me a lot: To Jews, unclean did not equal sinfulness. I used to think it did but I was wrong. So, Jesus' perfection did not rest on Him being ritually pure. Sometimes He had to become unclean, as did other Jews, to do what was morally and ethically right.

I’m sure I could give more examples but this may be enough to make the point I’m aiming for: How Jesus was perfect has to do with the fact that He never transgressed God the Father, God the Spirit, Himself or others. Jesus never sinned against God, Self or others. In short, Jesus’ perfection rests on the fact that He had never rebelled against God or abused another. This is how Jesus was perfect (in faithfulness and obedience) and this is why He can be our perfect sacrifice. To make Jesus’ perfection into any more of an issue than this, I think is to not only set oneself up for disappointment but to also skew the NT concept of how Jesus was perfect.

Anyways, I hope this helps some of you think through this issue more deeply. Praise the Triune God for the sinless sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ! Happy Holidays.

On a side note: So, what if Jesus had died as an infant (in the slaughter, perhaps, as Nick Norelli has recently asked), would He still have met the criteria? Or what if He died in a freak accident as a teenager, like being run over by a chariot or slipping off of a cliff? If He had spilt blood in those deaths, would He have still met the criteria? Well, me must answer this in the negative. For Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice required the shedding of blood but also the fulfilling of all righteousness through obedience and faithfulness, not to mention the resurrection and ascension--this was the plan of the Godhead from before the foundations of the world!


Mark's Gospel At Christmastime

Yesterday, we spent some time with my mother's side of the family and exchanged gifts. I recieved a few gifts but my two favorite were:

At present, these are the only two presentations of Mark on video that exist. Each of them are actually one-man-plays (or monologues). In many ways, these are better than movies because they are closer to what the oral presentation of the Gospel might have looked and sounded like in the first-century. I'm excited to watch and re-watch these in the days to come.

Did John Eat Pancakes, Tortillas Or Locusts? Studies in Mark, Pt. 36

While studying the opening verses of Mark again recently, I happened upon an interesting translation issue. In the majority of our ancient manuscripts, Mk. 1.6 retains the term "ακριδας", a term meaning "locusts". Mk. 1.6, of course, is the verse which notes that in addition to John's clothing habits, he also tended to eat "locusts (ακριδας) and honey". However, in a second-century manuscript known as The Gospel of the Ebionites, ακριδας is slightly manipulated and changed to εγκριδος (I found an online version of the text here). Though the new rendering seems minimal, the meaning of the end-product is quite different: pancakes or tortillas. Of course, both foods were common in the ancient Mediterranean (much as they are all over the world today). Yet, it is fascinating to read this verse as, John ate "tortillas (or pancakes) and honey". (See: Exo. 16.31 where the Hebrew "צףיחת" in the LXX becomes "εγκρις". See also: Num. 11.8 and then BDAG, p. 274 for more examples.)

From a text-critical point-of-view, this manuscript difference is quite unreliable. Further, it is a common belief that the Ebionites were a vegan-like community that abstained from eating animals or insects; this accounts for the minor change. In a world where both asceticism and strict literalism were on the rise, they wanted to sacrifice but they didn't want to eat locusts. Neither did they want their hero to be unlike them (and they certainly didn't want to be unlike him), so they doctored their reading of the text. Their reading also loses a bit of the mysticism that Weseterners seem to get from the original rendering (mysticism, which I must say, is heavily imported in/on to the text). Perhaps the gravest harm this does to John is that it kind of removes him from the Elijianic / Elijain tradition (though, not all that much); clearly, Mark wants his readers to know that John is coming in the tradtion and character of Elijah (as chapter 6 of Mark also makes clear). Elijah, believed to have lived on Mt. Carmel, was traditionally thought to have eaten the same types of foods (e.g. locusts, honey, etc.). Needless to say, we don't really know if this was a normal routine for Elijah or not; we do know some birds fed him meat & bread (1 Kgs. 17.1-6). Beyond that, we're clueless.

I just thought this was interesting, a bit more tame than the usual "Studies In Mark" and quite worth posting.


Jesus' Genealogy at Christmas

A few days ago, Alan Knox wrote a post titled “What’s With The Begats”? From there, he proceeded to offer a number of insights on the genealogy of Jesus. I was particulary interested in this post because the Sunday before (12/16/07) I had actually preached on the genealogy; something I’d never attempted before. (I think that visiting the graveyard last week where a number of my relatives are buried is what ultimately got me reflecting on the genealogies.) Anyways, as one who is highly interested in using the social-sciences to interpret the Scriptures, that is the angle from which I approached Mt. 1.1-17. What follows are some insights into Jesus’ genealogy at Christmas (or any other time of the year for that matter).

To begin, we should keep in mind that in Jesus’ world, honor was the thing most sought after and shame was the thing most avoided. It has been said more than enough that antiquity was an honor/shame culture. When reading Matthew’s genealogy, then, and the rest of the birth narrative for that matter, I think we see Matthew doing all he can to show that Jesus is due honor. As would be expected, Matthew even uses the infamous 3 g’s (gender, geography, genealogy) all within the scope of 1.1-2.1.

For example, Matthew’s opening verse notes that Jesus is a “son” of David and a “son” of Abraham. That might seem simplistic to us and there may be a tendency to gloss over it but the fact is, in the 1st century Mediterranean world, the birth of a “male” was usually more honorable than the birth of a female. Gender is doubly emphasized in the first sentence of the New Testament!

As for genealogy, we see that in 1.1 as well. For Jesus to be a “son” of Abe and Dave is an incredibly honorable thing. To be part of their lineage automatically, in Jewish eyes, attributed honor to Jesus. Moreover, the simple fact of being listed with these great “men” of faith, was an honor in and of itself. So, in Mt. 1.1 we already see a number of ways that Matthew is making the point that Jesus is worthy of being honored. In 2.1 we read that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. This is a “geography” reference. I will abstain here from going into a long speech about how “place” of birth or “place” of dwelling determined whether or not one was attributed honor or shame and say that, for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem was an honorable thing. This was the birthplace of King David and any Jewish male born there would have been ascribed some sort of honor because of it. (*Note: When we read things like “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” we should see this as a shaming technique. Evidently, those challenging Jesus thought that living in Nazareth was not worthy of honor.)

So, at this juncture, we’ve seen how in 1.1-2.1 Matthew has used the 3 g’s to bring up Jesus’ honor. I submit that he does this on purpose and that, even more, this is likely his main purpose in telling the birth narrative! Matthew wants persons to pay Jesus honor. This is also why Matthew includes magi bringing Jesus gifts (though, in some circles these magi would have been despised), angels visiting Jesus’ parents and giving directions that would ensure the baby’s protection, cosmic phenomenon, etc. All of this is to reveal Jesus’ honor.

But there is something else that Matthew does too: he includes 5 women in the genealogy. Why exactly does he do this? Well, I am of the persuasion of R. Brown that when we place the 5 women and their stories side-by-side, we notice something: each of them was, at some time or another, surrounded by what appeared to be (or was) sexual scandal. (I will not recount the stories of each of the women here.) However, another thing that they share in common is that despite the seeming scandal, in the end, God vindicated or used them to accomplish some divine purpose. Thus, Matthew’s reason for including them is to essentially say: “Look, people are questioning Mary’s pregnancy; they think she has committed some scandalous sexual act. Yet, if you look at those in Jesus’ genealogy and you reflect on their lives, you will see that, at some point their lives were shrouded in scandal but really, it was God at work. The same thing is happening with Mary!” Thus, what appears to be a shameful act on the surface, actually becomes a way of honoring Jesus; God the Father is acting on behalf of Jesus and His parents. This is an honorable thing indeed!

Apart from the fact that Joseph, Jesus’ father is pictured as such a righteous and honorable man (which automatically gives Jesus some honor), Matthew also desires to portray Jesus as the new Moses (even the overall book is arranged in 5 parts). Jesus is now the prophet par excellence—an honorable thing indeed. Because may books have already been written and still could be written on this topic, I will not say much more about it here. There is one more thing I should point out, though. It seems to me that Matthew is using numbers to bring honor to Jesus as well.

Matthew uses 14’s and 5’s in his first few chapters repeatedly. (e.g. 14 sets of generations, 5 dreams, 5 uses of the title Messiah, 5 women mentioned, etc. The 5’s are probably intended to hearken back to Moses and the Pentateuch.) But the 14’s suggest something else. I think that Matthew (not recounting all of Jesus’ ancestors by any means) is attempting to say to his people: “Look, at 14 generations God acted this way. 14 generations later, God did it again. Now, we’re 14 generations out, so, it shouldn’t surprise us that God is doing a similar thing yet again.” Thus, this is Matthew’s way of saying that God is acting in Jesus’ situation in ways similar to that of Israel’s history. Here, then, Jesus is intimately attached to Israel’s history (also via the Moses connections) and thus, much honor is assigned to Him.

What I have tried to show here is that from a socio-cultural perspective, that is, viewing the text through an honor/shame paradigm, reveals how passages that we often gloss over, come to life with new meaning. It is clear to me that Matthew’s original audience(s), would not have missed this as much as we do. Indeed, they would have much more easily gotten Matthew’s point that Jesus is due great honor. From the standpoint of modern application, we might teach and preach on this text during Christmas or any time of year asking those around us if honoring Jesus is as central to their lives as it might have been to, say, Matthew’s. In the end, preaching the genealogy isn’t that hard when we take into consideration its purpose (then and now): to give Jesus the honor that He deserves.

Witherington On CBS

Since my favorite prof. of all time didn't announce it on his blog, I thought I'd make a brief mention here on Pisteuomen that, this evening the CBS "48 Hours: Mystery" special that aired last year--featuring Dr. Witherington--will be on again. If you haven't seen this yet, do your best to watch it tonight. You'll see one of the things that I love about Dr. W so much: his willingness to stand up boldly and unswervingly for the Gospel. Enjoy.

Merry Christmas To All...

Just wanted to say Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the holiday. Oh, and Happy Birthday Jesus!


Christmas Books

We opened Christmas gifts this morning with my wife's side of the fam. I got a few books this year, which my wife's uncle picked-up for me. He loves browsing old bookstores (and new ones), here's what he gave me:

Vintage Ed., Hasting's Great Texts / Bible (Mk., Gal., Rev.)

Hearing Mark, E. Struthers Malbon

Ancient Chr. Commentary (Mk., Gal/Eph/Php)

I also got some gift cards which I'll put to use soon. Oh, and my wife bought me a great CD--the new one by Phil Wickham. As I've said before, I love the acoustic guitar; this guy's great--very folk sounding. He actually sounds dead-on Rufus Wainwright. Anyways, Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating.


Down Abi Road Again: Studies in Mark, Pt. 35

I thought I would take a break from the Abiathar issue but I found myself having to do at least one more post on it. So here are a few more comments (reflecting on and adding to what I’ve already said):

1. I’ve been looking in detail at the seeming screw-up in Mk. 2.26, the one where Jesus refers to Abiathar as the “high priest”. I've concluded that it does not have to be written off as an error (I should state again that I am not attempting here to cover up some uneasiness with what appears to be a historical slip-up so as to preserve a modern doctrinal construct).

2. Instead, there is a very good explanation as to what is going on in this verse.

3. That explanation has to do with Mark’s movement between two languages: Aramaic (his first language) and Greek (his second language).

4. When one reads the New Testament that we have, they find that Mark uses some form of the term “ἀρχιερέως” (generally, high or chief priest) eight times: Mk. 2.26; 14.47, 53, 54, 60, 61, 63, 66.

5. In nearly all English translations, those eight references are rendered “high priest”.

6. In Aramaic, each of these instances is "רב כהן" (great priest).

7. Thus, Mark goes from “great priest” every time to “high priest” with no distinction between the two – they are one in the same for him.

8. Now, there are only two sections in Mark’s account where he uses “ἀρχιερέως” (Mk. 2 and Mk. 14). In Mk. 14, every single instance of the term refers to the same person! (Thus to try to make too much of the multiple uses in Mark’s work, I think, is quite possibly a reach. If the uses were spread out a bit more, one might have more of a case. We would only expect Mark to use the same title as he keeps referring to the same person repeatedly within the range of a few verses.) In Mk. 2, the one occurrence refers to one person, Abiathar.

9. Clearly, there is a difference between the office and role of Abiathar in the OT and the high priest in the NT. Mark must have known this!!! My question is, Can we not grant him at least that much? And if we can sustain this, then, can we not also agree that though Mark used only one term in both languages, he and his audience realized the distinction? I mean, this is one of the hardest things about going from one language to another, as I’ve said before; especially when you’re only a novice at one of them.

10. It seems odd to me to write this off as an error (again, I’m not shaking in my boots at the sound of that term) when a sensible explanation can be offered. To me, allowing that Mark was aware of the OT & NT differences, though he used only one word in each language, is to rid myself of modern arrogance (saying that he was wrong or did not know what he was doing--the same goes for Jesus) and to acknowledge the difficulties in switching languages. Again, as is typical with Mark, if he had felt a need to define terms or to differentiate, he would have. However, it is likely that in his setting, he simply didn't need to: he and his audiences may have already been able to make the distinctions.

One other thing that I have not suggested is that Mark, in using only one term here, could be enacting a play-on-words. Clearly, in the story, Jesus is talking with religious leaders and is referring to Himself as a type of priest or religious leader. Therefore, to use the term could have simply been a play on words--a play that wasn't interested as much in historical accuracy as it was theological effect. I really like this idea. Perhaps I will think on it more.

For what it’s worth, I am in the main, attempting to show that as scholars, we often overlook the difficulties of translation (going from one language to another), especially if we’re not competent in those languages. Though many competent scholars have been befuddled by this passage, it may well be the case (as it so often is), that a simple answer has been sitting right under our noses.


Abiathar Again: Studies in Mark, Pt. 34

Nick Norelli has chosen to write a reply post to my previous entry in my “Studies in Mark” series. I appreciate the comment that this is a great series. Thank you for that, Nick. I work hard in trying to understand both Mark and his Gospel account. I would like to take the time, here, to answer Nick’s responses. I will approach this in a segment-by-segment manner.

To begin, in his introductory paragraph, Nick says I suggest that when it comes to Mark 2.26, the approach of the “liberal listeralists” is just wrong. Actually, I never said this. Instead, I attempted to make 2 points: 1) that, in general, there are liberals who criticize literalists but in fact, they themselves, in their own way(s) are employing a type of rigid literalism, and 2) that many scholars have adopted this mentality when it comes to Mark 2.26 but if they can let go of their presuppositions, there might be another way to relieve the seeming tensions of the passage.

Nick surely has it right that the heart of my argument focuses on the Greek term ἀρχιερέως and that it can be translated a number of ways. He is also correct in recounting the fact that I think Mark’s Greek could be an “over-literal” translation of Aramaic. To this, Nick replies:

“I think Michael is a little too confident in the ‘evidence’ before us and much too confident in his conclusion. I think it a case of special pleading to take the lone use of ἀρχιερέως in Mark that causes a problem and try to fix the problem by turning to alternative translations. This alternative would not be suggested anywhere else in Mark or the rest of the New Testament.”

There are a number of problems with the offered response:

1. It is not a case of special pleading to take what appears to us to be a problem word in Mark and ask if alternative translations might provide some insight. I said it before and I stand by this comment: Anyone who has ever worked in detail with translating, knows some of the problems that can be encountered. It is far from special pleading to suggest that this could be one of those cases.

2. Nick is wrong, at least in part, that this alternative (that is, turning to Aramaic) would not be suggested anywhere else in Mark or the New Testament. I say “partially” because for this specific term, he may be right. However, when one gets into the nitty gritty of Mark, we see traces of Aramaic all over the place!!! Again, read my post on Aramaic in Mark! The number of times that Mark finds it necesarry to explain his Aramaic-to-Greek renderings (or just Aramaic) is plentiful. It appears that Mark finds it necesarry to do this when unknown words cropped up. Evidently, he does not need to do this in 2.26. Only familiarity with the Aramaic and Greek terms in Mark would lead one to realize this.

3. If one reads the Peshitta version of Mark (in Aramaic) they find that I am not creating a case of special pleading—indeed second century translators (into Aramaic) used רב כהן, as did 4th and 5th century translators! There is no way then, none whatsoever, to suggest that I am even close to being out of line! This is simply a straw man claim! *By the way, in Aramaic, רב כהן literally means—as two words—“great” or “abundant” “priest”.

*Note: I found at least 8 different words to describe a priest in the Hebrew Scriptures. I also found that when translated into Greek, one of the things that happens is that these 8 words are translated as, wait for it...ἀρχιερέως. Look at Lev. 4.3, for instance. In the Hebrew, it is הכהן המשיח (the anointed priest) but the Greek writers of the Septuagint render it none other than ἀρχιερέως. The same thing type of thing happens in the very same book at Lev. 21.10. There were find the Hebrew הכהן הגדל but the Greek translators use their second favorite rendering ο ιερευς ο μεγας. If you research this topic enough, you will find that despite the many different terms to describe a priest in the OT, the Greek writers toggle between a very small selection (2 or 3) terms. As this shows, sometimes they had to consolidate and perhaps even be over-literal or wooden-literal in their renderings!!! Well, how about that!

4. One of the leading, if not “the” leading NT scholar on Aramaic—who is by no means an inerrantist—makes the Aramaic argument. Thus, Nick, again, you are out of line saying that I am enacting or engaging in special pleading. I am conversing with other serious linguists and NT scholars on this subject, not to mention the earliest translators. Many 4th and 5th century scholars assert that the NT was only and originally written in Aramaic first. Though I do not hold this view, I cite it to show that I am not the one who is out of line!!!

5. I do not mean to sound arrogant when I say this but your comments reveal to me that as far as Biblical Studies go, you are not familiar with the bulk of serious scholarship that has been done on Mark's Gospel. If you were, there would be no way you could say that I was attempting to "turn to an alternative translation". I say this because for the last 40 or so years, serious Markan scholars have been discussing the Aramaic basis / originality of Mark's Gospel. They, in no way, are turning to the Aramaic (nor am I) just for the sake of it or because they can. Actually, from a text-critical standpoint, turning to the Aramaic is how one grades Mark's Greek!!!!! In fact, one of the criteria for deciding whether or not Mark's Greek can be trusted is to see how easily it can be translated back into Aramaic. The easier, the more trustworthy. Even the Jesus Seminar uses this criteria! Anyways, the idea that Mark originally dealt with Aramaic has come in different forms. Some have suggested that there was a written Gospel and some have suggested that Mark, being bi-lingual with his first language as Aramaic and his second as Greek, always had to translate. Personally, I opt for the latter. The great Greek grammarian JH Moulton said it well (and I agree): "[Mark's] Greek is always Greek, yet translation Greek; not that he translates an Aramaic writing but because he reproduces an Aramaic κατεχησις." To get familiar with this aspect of Markan studies, I kindly point you to the works of: CC Torrey, JT Hudson, WF Howard, JR Harris, JH Moulton, LaGrange, Dalman, Hoskyns, Davey, Fiebig, Burrows, and Casey to name but a few!

6. By making the case that this is special pleading (which, I hope you realize by now that it is most definitely not!) does not negate the evidence I offered. Just because this example is unique in the NT is not proof that your argument is right. There are plenty of unique words and meanings in the NT overall and in each work (e.g. hapax). Also, there are occasions where the same words are translated differently. See for instance my previous post that dealt with καταλυματι.

Nick’s next problem is that I don’t speak of Mt. and Lk. and their failures to mention the Abiathar story. My initial reply is that it really doesn’t matter that they didn’t. But to get at what Nick is really after, I would say that even initially, from a literary / narrative standpoint, Mark includes this story where he does because it makes logical sense. I’ve written before that Mark is attempting to show the mounting violence towards Jesus by the religious leaders (this is the first scene where the religious leaders themselves confront JC to His face. Right after this, they plot to kill Him, see: 3.6). This story is but one scene in that overarching story. That could be one reason why it is included. Another reason could be that if these events (in chp. 2) happened to one another in close proximity, this could be why they’re mentioned together. The previous answer is quite convincing, though, in my estimation—especially if one understands how Mark is charting mounting violence.

Next, Nick says:

“I’m also not persuaded by the argument from translating Aramaic to Greek as it seems that this presupposes Mark to be concerned with getting exact wording correct in recounting the sayings of Jesus. I can’t see that this was a goal of any of the Gospel writers.”

(Again, see point #5 above. But also realize that there are many scholars, even from the early centuries who have argued that all of the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic!) Back to the lecture at hand. As for "getting the exact wording right", this seems like a moot point to me and is not at all what I suggested, not at all. I shall not even reply at-length to this because it is not a presupposition that I hold or even came across as seeming to hold. In fact, I said that it is likely that Mark’s translation was over-literal (thus, not “exact” wording—so, Nick, either we have the same view on this or you disagree with yourself). But again, this often happens when one translates. And let me just say this, if you have ever taken courses on translating or read the translations of novice students, almost every single one of them is over-literal most of the time—this is because they want to be cautious! Every translator goes through parts where they have to be over-literal because that’s the best alternative that they have. And as I have suggested, it could well be the case that Mark's rough Greek (if he was a novice) is only a further indicator of his first language being Aramaic.

From there, Nick says:

“Lastly, just because something makes sense (i.e., is possible) doesn’t mean that it makes the best sense (i.e., is probable).”

This is correct. However, I do think that the proof I offered makes the best sense of the seeming tension that exists in the verse. I choose to research before pronouncing “error” on the text—pronouncing error seems like the easy way out, especially when another, good, possible explanation can be offered. The text is not guilty until proven innocent for me but rather, the other way around.

Finally, I expected someone to quote Ehrman regarding this post. They did! Here’s the thing, even if one does not accept my argument, they do not have to concur with the “happy agnostic” Bart Ehrman. Instead, there is a much more simple answer that can be given than what I offered above. Timothy P. Jones says this:

“Mark’s reference to the high priest indicates the position that Abiathar eventually obtained. Abiathar was present in the tabernacle during the incident described in 1 Sam. 21 (see 1 Sam 22.20) but he didn’t become high priest until later.” “It is still a commonly accepted practice to refer to a person by the office or status that he or she ultimately attained. For example, a children’s biography of George W. Bush asks, ‘Where did president Bush attend college?’ Even though Bush attended college 30 years before becoming president, the title president is ascribed at this point because this was the office that he ultimately attained” (153).

For me, Jones’ argument is likely. However, I think my argument is more likely. In fact, along with the Aramaic linguists, especially Casey, I think it is the most likely. Neither is it unlikely nor is it special pleading. This is why, my friend Mr. Norelli, I can be so confident in my answer. Too bad, I think, that Mr. Ehrman tried to do some fancy exegetical footwork (which eventually led to that devastating decision of rejecting Christ) when further in-depth study might have answered his questions or at least given him an alternative.

Nick, I hope that I have responded graciously to your challenge. I am always hesitant to argue back online because it can often come across as incredibly obtuse. I am not attempting to sound that way here. While your caricature of me being a special pleader is certainly wrong, I also disagree with most of your other statements. That is why, here, I am arguing my case firmly but I am also trying to do it in a spirit of love and grace. I hope I have accomplished that and I also hope that you will see that the scholarship I present is not just haphazard or whimsical; it is scolarly based and thought out. Further, I hope this might spur you on to get deeper into Markan studies.

Jesus Got It All Wrong ? : Studies in Mark, Pt. 33

Mark 2.23-7 is an interesting pericope. It’s main focus is on Jesus and His disciples who, after picking some grain on the Sabbath, are confronted and challenged by the Pharisees. Though there could be two offenses here, 1) The picking of the grain on the Sabbath (e.g. viewed as work) or, 2) Walking more than the allotted and allowed on the Sabbath. It seems most likely that the first offense is in view. Within this story, though, there is yet another story: Jesus recounts an instance where King David, along with his followers, went into the temple and ate the consecrated bread because they were hungry. (I should say here that there is no reason to doubt that this event concerning David happened, though some have.)

To this, I would also add that one need not resort to arguments that either Mark or Jesus got this story wrong or that they misquoted Scripture. It is common, in many commentaries at least, to find persons suggesting that this passage is a clear invention or that it is found historically wanting. Put simply, the only thing found wanting is such an approach to this text. I should say here that it is amazing to me that, often times, those who are most critical of “literalists”, are actually worse than literalists. In other words, persons who are prone to rejecting a literalistic approach to the text, because they simply want to find or hold on to supposed contradictions, are unwilling to bend when a simple answer that relieves textual (or historical) tensions is offered. In the end, they are actually the ones who are the literalists.

When working through the research on Mk. 2.23-7, one sees this phenomenon repeatedly. In spite of this type of “liberal literalism” (did I just coin a phrase?), I want to offer a rather simple answer of how to understand Jesus’ remark concerning Abiathar in Mk. 2.26. First, the passage in English and secondly, the Greek:

“In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread…”

πως εισηλθεν εις τον οικον του θεου επι Αβιαθαρ αρχιερεως και τους αρτους της προθεσεως εφαγεν…”

For the sake of this post, all I want to focus on is the word “αρχιερεως”. In Greek, this is a compound word: arche + hieros. Put together, the two words can have a variety of meanings: 1) High Priest, 2) Chief Priest, 3) Head Priest, 4) First Priest, 5) Great Priest, etc. It goes without saying that in the Greek, one has a variety of words to choose from. Because Abiathar was not the High Priest during David’s reign, something else is probably intended, something like “Great Priest”. Indeed, Abiathar was a law-abiding priest! Moreover, he was a renowned priest in that he served David and for 40 years, along with Zadok, carried Israel’s most holy relic: the Ark of the Covenant. Suffice it to say, Abiathar was a “great” or “renown” priest.

When we take into consideration that Mark may have been translating from Aramaic into Greek, as Casey has shown, we realize that this may be the root of our confusion (I'm not arguing that there was an original Aramaic Mk., however. I'm simply saying that Mark, who evidently knew Aramaic very well--see my previous post which deals at-length with this subject--toggled between Aramaic and Greek languages and in doing so, had to come up with some rendering of terms.). It may seem to us that Mark’s use of “αρχιερεως” is wrong here but it might well be the case that when he translated from Aramaic to Greek, this kind of “over-literal” translation was the result. In Aramaic, רב כהן, literally means “great” or “abundant” “priest”. Thus, we cannot fault Mark for that but rather we can attempt to understand what happened in the process of translation (anyone who has ever done translation is immediately sympathetic to this or at least they should be!!!). Yes, Mark might have chosen another rendering but the fact is, he did not. We have what we have and before we, in all of our modern arrogance, attempt to suggest that Mark was wrong (or perhaps, Jesus was wrong), we should take into account the evidence before us, especially if it makes sense!

Lastly, and on a less pressing note (because we have already determined that Abiathar wasn’t a high priest), we should answer the question of what to make of the “epi” in Mk. 2.26. (If you read some articles and commentaries, you will quickly realize what argument I’m referring to.) When we take the epi + the genitive(s) here, according to Greek grammatical rules, we end up with a reference to “time” (see, for instance BDAG). Thus, epi does not mean “before” (as in the sense of “in the presence of” or “standing before someone”) but rather “in” or “in the ‘time’ of”. Clearly, Jesus is saying: “In the time of the great priest…” not “Standing before the great priest…”--again, Abiathar was not the chief or high priest over David. As we know, Abiathar was a renown priest under David!

I have tried to pare down a very complex argument into simple terms. I hope that in the process, I have done that and that I have also explained the passage in a most understandable way. To me, it is clear that in the process from going from one language to another, Mark encountered some difficulty; we cannot fault him for that, that’s just the nature of translating! It is also clear to me that what Jesus said and what Mark recorded are accurate, especially when the proofs I offered above are taken into consideration. Finally, I would hope that those who have an itch to somehow discredit the Bible and to also pick on those who are hyper-literalists (even though calling them out may be warranted!), will take the time themselves to dissect the text, the evidences and discussions in order that they might let go of their own types of unhealthy literalism(s).

*Note: I should probably say here that even if Jesus had misquoted the passage or gotten one detail of the story backwards, this is no indictment of Him (especially not of His divinity). Jesus was fully human and was born and lived out of a first-century, Mediterranean oral culture. For all we know, if my argument above is wrong, then Jesus might have simply heard the story this way and passed it on as such. Jesus never claimed to know anything and to try to suggest that He did is to make the Scriptures say something they never intended to. See, for instance: Mt. 24.36, Lk. 2.52 and Php. 2.5-11 for but a few examples. Thus, I'm not suggesting "accuracy" out of some theological need for Jesus (or Mark for that matter) to have to had told every detail of the story right!


A Conversation With Alan Knox : Interview Series, Pt. 5

Recently, I had the great privilege of interviewing one of my favorite bloggers, Alan Knox. Alan maintains the site "The Assembling of the Church", a blog that focuses on all things ecclesiological. Below is the conversation I had with Alan; thought provoking to say the least. Take a few minutes to read the interview and to visit his site. Enjoy!

Michael: Alan, thanks for taking the time to interview. If you would, please say a little bit about yourself (e.g. Where you’re from, currently living and some of the things you have going on in your life at present).

Alan: Thank you for asking to interview me, Michael. My life "story" is not that exciting - at least probably not to other people. I was born in Alabama, and lived there most of my life. I met my wife in the fourth grade, although she didn't become my wife until much later. Even in Alabama, ten years old is a little young for marriage. I went to college at Georgia Tech, where I received Bachelors and Masters degrees in Electrical Engineering. I worked in engineering for almost 10 years before moving to Wake Forest, NC to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I've received an MDiv from SEBTS, and I'm currently in their PhD program working under David Alan Black in Biblical Theology. I work as a web developer, and I also teach Greek adjunctively at Southeastern College at Wake Forest. Margaret and I have been married 19 years (this January), and we have two children: Jeremy, 14 (Saturday), and Miranda, 10. I'm also one of the elders for Messiah Baptist Church.

Michael: How and why did you choose SEBTS?

Alan: Before we moved to Wake Forest, we were attending a mega-church in the Atlanta area. My plan at that time was to graduate and find a job as a minister of education in a church. Our pastor recommended SEBTS. I honestly did not look at any other schools. After I graduated with my MDiv, I did look at other schools. By this time, I was not planning to make a vocation of working in the church. (I'm hoping to support myself and my family by teaching at the college or university/seminary level.) Someone that I respect very much suggested that when I look PhD programs, I should choose based on the PhD mentor that I would work under. I talked with several different scholars, and decided that I wanted to continue working with David Alan Black. While I've been in the PhD program, I can tell that I made the right decision.

Michael: You mentioned Dave Black, whom you occasionally speak of on your blog. What is it like studying under him?

Alan: It is difficult to describe how much Dave Black has influenced me, mainly because of the many different mediums through which he has impacted my life. I love the simplicity with which he writes his books, even on difficult subjects. I've read several of his books multiple times. Similarly, in the classroom he always stretches his students, expecting them to do a little more than they think that they can do. I have come out of each of his classes learning more than I thought I would. He treats his students as individuals, getting to know them and their abilities. So, he is able to stretch each student as they need it. Also, personally, whether in his office or in his home, he is always gracious and kind. If I were to look ahead into the future and see myself as a professor, I would hope that I would demonstrate the same scholarship in writing, concern for my students, and love and graciousness in dealing with people.

Michael: You might be interested to know that last year, Asbury Theological Seminary moved from the standard Mounce grammars, to Black’s. Anyways…So, what is your dissertation focused on and how did you arrive at that topic?

Alan: At SEBTS, we choose a "field of study" for our PhD work: Biblical Studies, Theological Studies, or Applied Theology. There are also a few cross-area concentrations. I chose to study Biblical Theology which is a cross-area concentration between Biblical Studies and Theological Studies. I chose this field primarily because of my interest in ecclesiology. I am studying the meeting of the church in the New Testament - thus the name of my blog, The Assembling of the Church - and applying this to today's church. I started thinking about the meeting of the church in an MDiv class called Theology of Worship. I was required to write an essay on my own personal theology of worship. As I studied worship, I realized that I placed most of the emphasis on the times when the church met together. However, when the NT authors discussed worship, it was in the context of the believer's entire life. So, I begin to study the purpose of the meeting of the church. If the church in the NT did not meet specifically to worship, then why did they meet?

Michael: Fascinating stuff! You mentioned your blog, so, let’s change subjects for a moment and talk about blogging. I want to ask you first, How and why did you begin blogging?

Alan: Well, I started reading blogs a few months before I started publishing my own blog. Friends would send me links to blog posts, and I would read them. I would frequently return to the blogs that I enjoyed. When I was accepted into the PhD program, I was looking for an outlet for my studies. I decided that blogging would be a good outlet. In blogging, I hope to present some of the things that I'm studying and interact with others on the same topics in order to learn from them. Also, blogging can be part of a life of discipleship. So, I write about the church, about some of my experiences, and some things that, hopefully, encourage my readers toward maturity in Christ.

Michael: Your blog is a pretty unique site because it focuses mainly on the subject of ecclesiology. Now, this might seem like a broad or even loaded question but what would you say, from an ecclesiological standpoint, has been the biggest change in the Church since its beginnings (positive or negative)?

Alan: Wow... that is a broad question. On the positive side, the church is more widespread now than it was 2000 years ago. It would seem that the church today has the very real possibility of proclaiming the gospel to every person on the earth. Of course, that assumes that the church and every believer is proclaiming the gospel. On the negative side, the church has become more institutional and fractured and less relational and united in the last 2000 years. I think this negative aspect is one of the reasons that we are not proclaiming the gospel to every person on the planet today.

Michael: These are some great insights, especially the part about “institutional and fractured”. You have been blogging about unity lately; I’ve enjoyed those posts. If you would tell us a little bit about the community of believers you congregate with regularly and some of the ways that they are interested (if they are) in creating and maintaining unity.

Alan: As I mentioned previously, I am part of Messiah Baptist Church. In many ways, we are like other local churches. One of the things that makes us distinct is that we recognize that we do not agree on everything, even when it comes to the nature of the church and its leaders. However, we also recognize that God has brought of us together, and we are attempting to live together in spite of our differences. We've learned that its important to talk about our differences, but even more, its important to consider the other person's opinions and desires. Thus, on Sunday morning, our meetings do not look exactly like I would want them to look - and I'm fine with that. I know that there are elements that some people would like to see on Sunday morning that I wouldn't necessarily want to see. But, if I am considering them before myself, then I will make decisions as a leader that takes them into account. Also, besides the community that I gather with on Sunday mornings, I also recognize that I need to learn to live in community with the other believers that God has brought into my life. This includes my believing coworkers, my neighbors, my friends, my family, and others. These are my brothers and sisters no less than the people of Messiah Baptist Church. I am still learning in this area, but our family has taken a few steps towards living in community with them. Specifically, we have started spending more time with our neighbors, even attending "church services" with some of them.

Michael: Let’s get back to blogging. One of the other things I like about your blog (and another thing that makes it unique) is that you are incredibly positive. I’ve also noticed that this has really rubbed off on the majority of your readers (at least, the ones who reply). Would it be correct to say that this encouraging atmosphere has its origins in your understanding and emphasis on ecclesiology? If so, could you say a bit about that?

Alan: Thank you for those kind words about my blog and my response to commenters. I am so grateful for the tone and the encouragement that I receive from those who comment on my blog - even and especially those who disagree with me. This may sound strange, but I enjoy reading the thoughts and opinions of people who disagree with me. I probably learn more from them than from people with whom I agree. As to the origins, I hope that its the Spirit of God changing me and that this change is being reflected in the way that I interact with other people. Certainly in my studies of the church, I have seen the scriptural emphases of unity, considering others as more important, accepting one another, loving one another, etc. I guess if I cannot demonstrate these characteristics on a blog, then it would be nearly impossible for me to demonstrate them in real life.

Michael: Well, let me ask you another question: A number of my readers do not have blogs. What encouragement and advice would you give to someone who has been thinking about starting a blog or may be starting one soon?

Alan: I do not think that everyone should have a blog, not because they do not deserve to publish a blog, or because they have nothing important to say. Instead, blogging takes time and it requires the blogger to write. Some people do not have the time, nor the inclination to write. If someone is thinking about starting a blog, I would suggest that they start the blog but keep it private, and that they write a couple of blog posts even if they remain in draft stage without publishing them. If a person is able to write a few blog posts a week for a month or so, then they are probably ready to blog. If not, then blogging may not be for them, or it may not be the right time to start. Several people who read and comment on my blog do not publish their own blogs. I appreciate all of them, and I've learned and grown through their comments.

Michael: Back to the Church. There are a number of different ecclesiological movements going on today: The Emergent Movement, The New Monasticism Movement, The House Church Movement, Reclaiming Liturgy, etc. Painting with a broad brush stroke, what are some of the pros and cons of the various movements out there?

Alan: Thank you for allowing me to paint with a broad brush stroke here. In this interview, I'd rather not get into the pros and cons of each of these movements. Generally, I'm excited about many of the movements, primarily because each movement emphasizes something about the Christian faith that needs to be emphasized. We need to think about culture, and practice, and tradition. These are all important, and all believers need to think about these. The cons of these movements is that they tend to fragment the church, creating an "us vs. them" culture within the church. Instead, I would love to see people within these various movements working together. Interestingly, I think that the so-called "missional movement" is doing that. In fact, the idea of being missional is bringing the church together more than any ecumenical movement.

Michael: Alan, before I ask my last question, I want to thank you again for taking the time to interview. Now, I always ask this question (or one similar to it) at the end of my interviews: If you could own only 1 book, in addition to the Bible, what would it be and why?

Alan: This has been a fun interview, Michael. You ask very good questions, beyond the questions that I am normally asked. However, I don't know how to answer this last question. I love books and I love to read! My favorite gifts are books. I suppose, if I could only own 1 book, I would pick a multi-volume set, perhaps the NICNT or the NIGTC. If that were not allowed, then I would pick a very long book that I haven't already read, such as Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - the unabridged version, of course.

Once last time, I'd like to thank Alan Knox for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat. Please, make sure you check out his blog. Bookmark it, add it to your feeds or include it in your page readers, just be sure to read it.


Images of Antiquity: Philippi, Pt. 9

It’s been a while but I’ve finally managed to return to my “Images of Antiquity” series. Formerly, I shared photos and information about sites I journeyed through in the country of Turkey (formerly, Asia Minor). Now, I will cross over into Greece and speak about some of the places I visited there. Feel free to use the pictures in their current form; please, no manipulating them. Enjoy.


The first photo in the slideshow is of King Philip’s tomb. This is actually not located in Philippi (rather, it is in Bergina). I offer it here, though, because Philip was the founder of Philippi. One of Philip’s children was the notable Alexander the Great, perhaps one of the greatest military strategists of all time. Philip’s wife was Helen whom he named Greece after (Hellas). If you visit Philippi today, you can see Philip’s castle, perched over the city. Another testament to Philip’s influence on ancient Greece is seen in the second photo, an engraving, which speaks to Philip’s rule in the Roman Province of Macedonia.

If you look to the far left of the photo, you will see the road that Paul was beaten on. In the top right corner of the picture, excavators are digging through the area they believe Paul may have been imprisoned in (hard to spot in this photo; see: Acts 16.25-40).

The third photo is of an ancient pedestal, which refers to the cult of Pythia (Acts 16.16-24). Evidently, from the inscription, a wealthy patron had this created to bring honor to him or herself as well as to the goddess/being Pythia. This is one of the monuments in Philippi that sheds light on the historical accuracy of the Scriptures. (Acts tells us that it was in Philippi that Paul preached against the cult of Pythia. Also, the inscription concerning Philip is accurate in that it mentions the Roman “Province” of Macedonia. Indeed, in Paul’s day, Philippi was a Roman Province; unlike other portions of Hellas.)

The next picture is of the theater in Philippi. Of all of the theaters in the ancient world, this is one of the best preserved (not least because much of it has been reconstructed). The theater, along with Philip’s castle and other things reminds us that around Paul’s time, Philippi was financially well off. Philippi was an important city and as far as missionary work goes, the believers in this city were eager to support Paul (without any patronage strings attached; see Philippians).

The last two photos concern the woman that Paul baptized in Philippi: Lydia (Acts 16.11-5). The Scriptures tell us that Lydia was a God-fearing woman from Thyatira who made and sold purple clothes. (This too, is historically accurate as Thyatira and the area surrounding it was known for its purple dyes.) While it is quite possible that this is not the exact spot where Paul baptized Lydia, at this point, it is just as good a spot to choose as any. The morning we arrived the scenery was beautiful; the grass was glazed with ice, the stream was gushing and steam was rising off of the water. It had a rather mystical feel to it. This was even more intensified when we went into the newly constructed Church house of St. Lydia (as seen in the last photo).


Why December 25th ?

A couple of years ago a number of mega-Churches decided that they would close down on Christmas Day, which fell on a Sunday. As many of you are aware, this provoked a lot of controversy. As I listened to the arguments on both sides (I also partook in them), I heard a couple of statements that sent me searching: 1) Nobody knows the exact date Jesus was born, and 2) Christmas began as a pagan holiday. What follows are my thoughts on these comments.

It is probably safe to say that when researching the history of Christmas, most people trace its origin to the early years of the fourth century CE. It was around that time that the emperor Constantine was ruling. Constantine came into power, in many ways, with ease. So easily won was the battle over an enemy, Maxentius, that everyone regarded Constantine as favored by the gods. In fact, an arch still stands in Rome today that is engraved with pictures of his enemies drowning with the inscription that notes this victory came by the “prompting of a deity”.

The deity or god that this inscription refers to is the “Unconquered Sun”. While Constantine is commonly spoken of as a Christian, it is true that he worshipped the sun god. In the late Roman Empire, Mithraism, a cult that worshipped the god of light (or the sun) began to flourish. They believed that this light would protect them from all evil. Constantine believed this too.

Prior to entering battle one afternoon, Constantine looked up at the sun. In that moment, he claimed that he saw a cross amid the sun and heard a voice which said, “by this [cross], conquer.” Constantine saw this as a sign from God. For him though, there was no differentiation between the sun god and the God of Christianity. He thought of them as one in the same. Soon after, worship and celebration of the birth of the sun god became popular. The date of the celebration? December 25th. (Others have suggested that something similar took place with Aurelian in CE 274. Whether one champions a Constantinian or Aurelian argument is moot. The argument focuses on whether or not Dec. 25th was developed by Christians before or after pagan celebrations with the same date.)

But Christianity, contrary to popular opinion, did not start celebrating the birth of Christ as a reaction to pagan festivals such as these. In my view, this is simply a widespread rumor that is incorrect. Actually, it seems to be the other way around. Pagans were concocting celebrations to combat the rapidly growing religion of Christianity. You see, in the early second century, a man by the name of Hippolytus went to great lengths in one of his commentaries (Commentary on Daniel) to defend the date of Christ’s birth (this is in the 2nd century CE!!!). What is more is that as Christians in the early second century (again, long before Constantine in the fourth century) sought to define a date for Christ’s crucifixion, in the process, some arrived at December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth. How did this happen?

Christian historian William Tighe (see more from a recent interview with him below) says that there was a common belief that existed among those of Jewish origin that can be referred to as the “integral age concept”. Simply put, this was the belief that great prophets died on the same day of the month that they were born. So, if a prophet was born on the 25th day of some month, he would also die on the 25th day of a month as well. Tighe contends that when the early Christians set the first Passover date (the tine of Jesus’ death by crucifixion / Easter), they set it at March 25th. If you add nine months to that, this is how they arrived at December 25th.

Up until three centuries ago, nobody (as far as I have found) was using the argument that the pagan celebration had come first (this is a modern argument). Tighe shows that two men, Protestant historian Paul Ernst Jablonski and Catholic monk Jean Hardouin were the first to make the “pagan origins” argument. Thus, according to Tighe’s research, of which I find very convincing, the Christmas holiday did not start as pagan or have its roots in paganism. Nor was it invented to simply combat pagan celebrations. Again, it was the pagans who wanted to combat Christianity that developed festivals promoting false worship.

Though, in the big picture, the particular day of Jesus’ birth might not change anything about our faith, it is still important to be able to discuss the matter. Further, using the arguments that the mega-Churches used a few years ago is, in my eyes, incorrect and unacceptable. But then again, that’s the reason for writing posts that deal with the issue of Christmas Traditions vs. Scripture. Lastly, here is a segment of a 2004 interview done with Tighe, some fascinating food for thought:

"Last year, Inside the Vatican magazine also supported Dec. 25, citing a report from St. John Chrysostom (patriarch of Constantinople who died in A.D. 407) that Christians had marked Dec. 25 from the early days of the church. Chrysostom had a further argument that modern scholars ignore:Luke 1 says Zechariah was performing priestly duty in the Temple when an angel told his wife Elizabeth she would bear John the Baptist. During the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, Mary learned about her conception of Jesus and visited Elizabeth "with haste."The 24 classes of Jewish priests served one week in the Temple, and Zechariah was in the eighth class. Rabbinical tradition fixed the class on duty when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and, calculating backward from that, Zechariah's class would have been serving Oct. 2-9 in 5 B.C. So Mary's conception visit six months later might have occurred the following March and Jesus' birth nine months afterward."


Updated CV

Just wanted to post a quick note saying that my CV has been updated. More people than I ever expected downloaded a copy, so, if there are others out who are interested, get the new copy by scrolling down the middle column of this site and selecting "Download A Copy Of My CV".

Christmas Tradition vs. Scripture, Pt. 3

I know that Ben Witherington has made mention of Jesus not being born in an inn and I will argue the same thing here. However, in addition to the textual evidence that exists (which Witherington picks up on), I offer much more. So, I hope you find this post helpful. May your heart and mind be blessed as you read!

In various and sundry English translations of the New Testament, we find an interesting word at the end of Luke 2.7. The verse reads: “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The inn? The Greek word used here for “inn” is καταλυματι. Further on in Luke’s book, at 10.34 to be precise, in most English translations the word “inn” is used again. The NIV reads: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. The he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an ‘inn’ and took care of him.” Normally, we would expect that if we looked at the Greek here, we would find that previous term καταλυματι, yet, that’s not the case. The word here is πανδοχειον.

The question arises, then: Is there a difference between a καταλυματι and a πανδοχειον? Actually, yes, there is! A πανδοχειον really was an ancient inn. The lexicons define it as a place that “receives all,” that’s literally what the term means. However, καταλυματι simply means “to dissolve,” “break up” or “loosen”. Perhaps a look at one more passage in Luke’s work will shed some more light on the topic at hand. Luke 22.11 says, “…the Teacher asks: ‘Where is the ‘guest room’, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” There term used in 22.11 for ‘guest room’ is καταλυμα. As we’ve seen, a πανδοχειον is actually an inn while a καταλυμα is the guest room of someone’s home. So, Luke reports Jesus here as going into the guest room of a house to eat The Last Supper.

It is quite interesting, then, that in both 2.7 and 22.11 the word is καταλυματι, yet the English translations render this one word differently. In my estimation we should either use the word “inn” in both places or the word “guest room” in both places. And since the word does not mean “inn” (again, Luke is perfectly fine using a different word for this term), “guest room” is our best option. I mean, it ruins The Last Supper story if we try to import πανδοχειον into it. It would read: “…The Teacher asks: ‘Where is the inn, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”

However, if we take “inn” out of 2.7 and use the original, more fitting “guest room”, the story, in context, makes a lot of sense: “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the guest room.”

Think about this: Bethlehem wasn’t exactly a huge town. Some argue that in Jesus’ day, there were maybe 5 or 6 hundred people in the town proper; that’s not a lot. Others have been a little more generous on the numerical side suggesting that maybe 2,000 made up the town. Either way, the fact is, Bethlehem wasn’t that large of a town and so, there wasn’t much need for a hotel there. Archeology has yet to uncover any such thing either. So, we can reasonably conclude that there was not an inn there. As a kind of side note, we might also refer to the writing of the prophet Jeremiah (41.14) who says that there was an inn miles outside of Bethlehem but not in the town itself. (See also: 2nd Sam. 19.37-40). The point is, there was no inn in Bethlehem. There was a καταλυματι, however. In fact, there were probably quite a few of these—guest rooms that is!

Furthermore, when Luke talks about having the Passover meal in the guest room of a home, he of course, expects his ancient hearers to be able to relate (they would have been familiar with what a house containing a καταλυματι looked like, usually a two story house where the guest room was on the top floor). Let us consider another piece of evidence. If Joseph was going to his hometown, Bethlehem, it is practically unthinkable that in the ancient world, someone from his town would have turned him away. This would have brought shame upon that household. Even more, to turn away a pregnant woman would have been that much more shameful. Nobody would have done this, especially if, as I said, it was Joseph’s hometown. Moreover, this being Joseph’s hometown, if he had bypassed his family’s home or the homes of relatives to try to stay at an inn (with a pregnant wife), he would have been looked upon with shame by his family. Joseph would not have done this!

So, the evidence (textual, contextual and archeological) suggests that when Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem for the census, it was the “guest room” of his family’s home that had no room—this probably because everyone else had traveled there to register too. Since the guest room was full, Joseph and Mary would have slept downstairs in what we might consider a living room. This comports really well with how the birth narrative plays out. In Matthew 5.15, we read, “…if you put a lamp on a stand it gives light to all who are in the house.” This gives us a good image of what the downstairs portion of the ancient home was set up like. The living room was one big, open room and it was often separated from the kitchen / cooking portion of the home by a step (that is, the living room was a bit lower than the cooking room.

Here’s something else to consider: the animals often stayed in the living room portion of the home. Troughs and mangers were built into the floor. Often times these mangers also acted as partitions between rooms. In antiquity people brought their animals in at night so they wouldn’t get stolen. Just as well, in Jesus’ culture to leave animals in the house during the day was unacceptable, so, they brought them back outside in the morning (by the way, this is how Jesus knows that the donkeys will be outside and can thus, tell His disciples to go and get them - Lk. 19.30). In the winter, this was actually quite helpful for heating the house as the larger animals put off much heat. So, in all likelihood, this bottom room of Joseph’s family’s home is where Jesus was laid in a manger (a manger which was readily available).

Thus, there was no inn at Bethlehem that Jesus was turned away from. Instead, there was not space in the guest room of the family’s home. This tells us that there were other family members there already, most likely, including other women. It is speculation but given the cultural norms, these women probably helped Mary birth Jesus. One last piece of evidence is in order. When you read on in Luke’s narrative, at 2.21-22 he writes this: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.” Now, this is based off of Leviticus 12.2-4 which says that after giving birth, a woman could not go to the temple for 33 days—this was to ensure her cleanliness and purity. If you add 8 days to 33, you get 41. 41 days is a lot of time, about a month and a half. Joseph and Mary, then, were planning to stay a long time, not just a few days. Thus, it seems that they would have not tried staying in a hotel (think of the cost!) but with family who lived in that town. Besides, in that culture, this would have only been expected.

Hope this sheds some light on the subject for you!


New Feature At Pisteuomen

I've recently added the AIM feature to Pisteuomen. This not only allows you to see when I'm online and available for conversation but, if you have AIM, it also allows us to talk to one another. So, if you're ever online and see that I'm online too, drop me a note and we'll talk for a bit. Also, feel free to add me to your buddy list; I'll do the same.

Rethinking the Shema

One of the projects I have going on at present is another formal book review to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Stone-Campbell Journal. As I was methodically working through the book under review last night, something rather fascinating came to my attention. That “something” has to do with Israel’s infamous Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength” (Dt. 6.4-5).

Now, most of us have probably heard this, read this or even recited this. However, most of us have probably never asked what light the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed on this passage. Of course, the Scrolls were documents found in caves just a few miles inland from the Dead Sea—most notably the Qumran caves. Though it is debated, it is my contention that there was a Qumran community in this area, which was the breeding ground for a society of devout, religious, Hebrew men.

David Fiensy, among other Bible scholars, has pointed out that the Qumran sect was incredibly community oriented. This being true, one of the major aspects of making this close-knit community work was the mingling of funds. In other words, the Qumran sect had a stringent financial process that an initiate had to go through before being fully accepted and integrated into the Qumran group. The process consisted of a 1-year waiting period of various tests and tasks (to prove one’s faithfulness to the group) and another waiting period where, upon its completion, the initiate gave the community every cent he had. This money went into the general community fund, which any member could draw from (this comports with what both Josephus and Philo report).

There are a multitude of texts that speak of this process but there are also a number of texts that speak of money in general. Put simply, the men at Qumran either had a negative outlook on money, spoke of its potential to create a type of financial lust or cautioned persons against using or acquiring too much of it. They believed that their community fund or their setup, prevented men from falling prey to seeking after mammon.

This is precisely where the Shema comes back into play. In Qumranic interpretations of the Shema, we read: “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your מאד (money).” Now, the Hebrew Bible has מאד too but the difference is that there, it has the meaning of "strength" or "might". Scholar Catherine Murphy has cited at least four other Hebrew texts that read the same: The Damascus Document, Onekelos (Targum), Pseudo-Jonathon (Targum) and Neofiti (Targum). However, each of these texts along with the Qumran documents, interprets the Hebrew word with the Aramaic meaning of “money”. This is a huge difference from a plain Hebrew reading!!!

The point, then, is that for the Qumran sect (and evidently other groups of Hebrew heritage), loving God with all of one’s being (e.g. heart and soul), also entailed (and produced) the act of sharing or regulating one’s wealth or money with the community of believers. This, of course, is not at all far from Jesus’ teachings (Mk. 10.17-22) or the practices and aims of the Early Church (e.g. Pentecost, Paul and the Philippians, Corinthians, etc.). Today, though, in a society that has fallen head-over-heels in love with the prosperity Gospel, what might this fresh reading of the Shema say to us? It may say many things but to me, one thing seems certain: if we were to read and say it aloud enough times in our gatherings, people might really begin to believe it and practice it!


Questions Of A Worker Reading History

I stumbled upon this excellent poem today and thought I'd share it; incredibly thought provoking!

"Questions Of A Worker Reading History"

Who built seven-gated Thebes?
Books list the names of kings.
Did kings haul the blocks and bricks?
And Babylon, destroyed so many times
Who built her up so many times? Where
Are the houses where the construction-workers
Of gold-gleaming Lima lived?
Where did the masons go at nightfall
When they finished mortaring the Wall of China?
High Rome is full of victory arches.
Who put the up? Whom did the Casesars
triumph over?

Did chronicled Byzantium build only palces
for its inhabitants? In fabulous Atlantis
the drowned bellowed in the night when the sea
swallowed them up after their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India
Just he?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Didn't he at least have a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his Armada
Went down. Did no one else?
Frederick the Great won out in the Seven Years War.

Who won besides?

A victory on every page.
Who cooked the victory feast?
A great man every decade.
Who paid the bills?

Lots of facts.

Lots of questions.

--Bertolt Brecht

On Teaching & Learning

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn." - Ben Franklin


Hermeneutics: Theology & History

I've been engaged in a convo with my pal Jake regarding my previous post, "History and Theology Go Together Like..." Conversations with Jake are always fruitful, despite the fact that we disagree. Jake is certainly a minimalist when it comes to historical biblical events (though he seems to define this differently than me; as of now, I do not know how though). His minimalist view comes from his commitment to theological hermeneutics. However, like many, I feel that Jake has gone too far. Certainly, there are a number of issues at play here: epistemological, philosophical, theological, etc. What follows in this post is a brief explanation of what I feel to be a hermeneutic that is both historically and theologically sensitive and respectful.

Four quotes are in order here (and by no means do I assert that I agree with "everything" each of these persons say by virtue of one quote from them). Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, here they are:

1. "Any study of the Old Testament that does not begin with its character as a witness to God's action in history is condemned to sterility because it does not take account of the facts." --Von Rad, God at Work, 154-5

2. paraphrased: 'Any fictionalizing tendency that may be present in interpretation must always be subordinate to the backward historical reference.' --Francis Watson, Text and Truth, 33

3. paraphrased: 'The distinction between chronicle and history is that where a chronicle is a mere recording of events without any attempt to find a relationship between them or meaning in them, history seeks to tell about unfolding events all the while explaining them.' --Hegel, World History, 12

4. "It is a mistake...to presume that the Biblical writers, in the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, were not concered with history and that they set out to construct a religious mythology, or that they chose, as communicative strategy, to couch essential spiritual or rational truths in the form of a fictional historical narrative. There can be no doubt that the writers of the historical narratives in the Bible intend to refer to the prior historical reality...We may say, therefore, that the Bible is a theological account of history...That it is a theological account, employing categories peculiar to its own concerns, does not render it illegitimate as history--any more than a political or economic history should be called into question just because it is shaped by and seeks to explain the course of history according to a strictly defined interest." M. A. Rae, Behind the Text, 283

The point of these quotes is to assert the following: The writers of the biblical documents were concerned with actual historical events and the fact that they happened. Though they told them from different (and same) persepectives, in no way deems them faulty or untrustworthy historical accounts. As Von Rad asserts, any hermeneutic that does not start here is to be taken lightly. Thus, from my view, there does exist a positive, healthy relationship between history and theology. A hermeneutic that lets the narrative be the mediator between the two is a hermeneutic worth embracing and seeking. It is not the narrative world in and of itself that is important but also the fact that the story is historical (I'm not speaking of things like parables here) and that it really took place; God acted in history. Thus, it is when we employ a hermeneutic that allows the story to act as mediator between event and text (along with the Holy Spirit and the Great Cloud of Witnesses) that we are on the proper path to doing faithful interpretation.