Da Vinci Againci: Superimposed Style

A computer guru and internet technician (from Australia, I believe) is resurrecting the Da Vinci debates. Slavisa Pesci has taken the painting "The Last Supper" and has superimposed it on itself. The result: A couple of new characters appear in the picture, a knight and a woman holding an infant. Just as well, Mary Magdalene disappears from the painting. Of course, a number of people are suggesting that this proves Dan Brown's theories true but really, this only seems to make them more laughable. Anyways, even if the paintings were exact representations of the original, this still really proves nothing. All of us know that if we take a picture of someone, copy it and flip it over on itself, there will all of a sudden be another person in the picture--duh! Anyways, I have posted a copy of the superimposed picture below for your enjoyment--you may need 3D eye-glasses or perhaps crossed-eyes to make sense of it all. Oh yeah, and if you're interested in reading more, click the following link: Da Vinci Againci.


The Hebrew Alphabet: Module 1.1

Friends, I have just created an interactive module of the Hebrew Alphabet (AlefBet). I am looking for some feedback on how to make the module better, as well as comments on what types of future modules might be good to create. You can download the module by going to the right hand column of my blog and clicking the AlefBet 1.1 icon. Once there, click on the "exe" file to download it. Please download and use the module and let me know what you think. Thanks.



Vengeance is Mine

Vengeance is Mine

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the cheated
“I’ll get you back,”
“Revenge is what is needed”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the spurned
“You’ll get what’s coming,”
“Reprisal in return”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the jealous
“What goes around comes around,”
“My fury is zealous”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the politician
“I’ll make you pay,”
“Here comes retribution”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the defeated
“You’ll see how it feels,”
“You’ll get mistreated”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the tough
“I’ll settle the score,”
“Until I’ve wounded you enough”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the leader
“We’ll devastate your nation,”
“On destruction you’ll teeter”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the writer
“I’ll smear your reputation,”
“And your hope will expire”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the ungodly
“Retaliation is a must,”
“My justice is upon thee”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the religious
“An eye for an eye,”
“My resolve is your sentence”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the wicked
“Punishment is deserved,”
“Pain must be inflicted”

“Vengeance is mine,” thus saith everyone
“No pardon or freedom,”
“No mercy for anyone”

“No! Vengeance is mine,” thus saith the Lord
“In me, you’ve been forgiven,”
“So don't hate but forgive forevermore”

--TMW Halcomb


Learn to Read the Bible in a 1-time, 3-minute Sitting

I came across this video and just had to share it with the world. If you have any desire at all to learn how to begin reading the Bible effectively, the short 3 minute video below is a must-see!!! Check it out!


The "Mystery" of the Kingdom: Studies in Mark, Pt. 7

In Mark 4.14, just after Jesus finishes telling a parable, He remarks to those around Him, “Don’t you understand this parable? If you don’t understand this one, how will you understand any of them?” Now, there are a few ways to understand this, I’ll note a couple here: 1) That Jesus is simply saying this in a general sense, that is, He is saying something akin to, “This is one of My easiest parables to understand and you can’t get it; thus, there’s no hope for you getting some of my deeper ones.” 2) That Jesus is saying that this one, specific parable has in it, the key to unlocking the meaning of every single parable He will use.

As I understand Mark’s account of the Gospel, I opt for the second meaning above; that this one parable of the seeds contains within it, the key to making sense of every other parable. Let me explain.

After Jesus tells “the parable of the sower/soils” (4.3-9), He also goes on to explain its meaning (4.14-20). Yet, in between these two sections, Jesus says, “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been given to you.” This leads me to ask: What exactly is the “mystery/secret” that is spoken of here? Well, to get this one has to go back to chapter 1. After Jesus’s baptism and His victorious stint in the wilderness, Mark’s account says this: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. ‘The time has come,’ He said, ‘the kingdom of God has approached you. Repent and believe the Good News’ (1.14-15). We must ask a few questions here:

* Who went preaching or proclaiming? Jesus!
* Where did Jesus go preaching? In Galilee, that is, to the Galilean people.
* What was He preaching? The Good News of God’s kingdom (along with repentance, etc.). (Of course, this is a direct subversion of Caesar’s “good news” and Caesar’s “kingdom”).
* Who has the new kingdom approached the people through? None other than Jesus Himself!

Now, I would suggest that the kingdom approaching the people through Jesus has something to say about Jesus’s divinity. In fact, I think that one of, if not the main thrust of, Mark’s account is to reveal Jesus’s divinity. Who can the kingdom of God come into this world and onto the scene but through God Himself? Even if you don’t agree with me on this last point just yet, it would seem like you have to concede that at the very least, Jesus is making the claim that the kingdom of God has arrived in Him in some special way. But let me continue.

I think that Jesus just having defeated satan in the wilderness and then turning around to defeat a demon in the synagogue is not accidental. Mark is showing Jesus’s authority and power over the evil spiritual realm; a feat that only God Himself is capable of. Mark starts out with these scenes for a reason!!! But then, while in Jesus’s house, some of the religious leaders grow angry at the thought of Jesus forgiving sins. They ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” and when Jesus says that He can and then does (thus proving the fact of His deity), this really upsets them and they charge Him with blasphemy! Now, why would they charge Him with blasphemy if He hadn’t claimed in some way or another to be God?

As I’ve shown in earlier posts, the leaders get progressively upset with Him and eventually are out to kill Him (3.6). Again, it is because of His claims of being God (e.g. calling Himself the bridegroom in 2.19, the Son of Man in 2.28 and even saying that the Sabbath was made for Him in that same verse). Beyond the shadow of a doubt, then, Jesus makes a number of divinity claims in the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel account. Mark himself even labels Jesus the “Messiah” in 1.1. (See other examples such as Mk. 5.7ff.)

While I will not give a lot of attention to it here, when Jesus says in 4.11, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you,” the term dedoti there is, in, Greek terminology, a divine passive. This simply means that the divine is “doing something” to a passive agent. Thus, the divine is the one “giving” the secret here. But from context, who is it that is giving the secret? It is Jesus! What this suggests is that Jesus is using the divine passive of Himself here; He, as God, is giving them the secret of the kingdom.

Now, we’re almost to the home stretch, just a couple more points need to be made and it will all come together. When Jesus gives His explanation of the soils parable, it has to be borne in mind that He is not giving a general parable of the personal, spiritual growth process. Instead, each soil represents characters/groups that have already been encountered in Mark’s story.

* The soil along the path represents the hard-hearted religious leaders who already have their minds set that Jesus is wrong; nothing can change their views, they just want Jesus dead.
* The shallow soils represent the people who come to Jesus for their own personal gain or benefit, namely the large crowds who want a personal healing or whatever. They get the healing but don’t give a second thought to following Jesus (e.g. the leper in 1.40-45). They are shallow like that.
* The seed & soil among the thorns represents those close to Jesus (e.g. His family, see: 3.31-35) but they are getting in the way of His ministry; choking it—they don’t want Him to continue, perhaps due to the loss of family honor or even for fear of Him losing His life.
* The good soil represents the followers of Jesus, the in-crowd, the disciples; those who do His will (3.35).

Why is all of this important? The point of the seed/soils parable, as I said, is not personal, spiritual growth. Instead, Jesus uses this parable to say three things to those who are serious about following Him: 1) The mystery of the new kingdom is that I am God, 2) When people hear this, there will be numerous reactions to it (e.g. some will get angry, some will be shallow about it, some will think it is ludicrous and some will believe it), and 3) When you go out preaching this mystery, that I, Jesus, am God, you too will encounter all of these reactions and you need to be ready for them (thus, Jesus tells them in 6.11, “in some towns, you’ll just have to shake the dust off of your sandals and move on”).

What I am suggesting here is that the seed/soils parable is a parable about Jesus’s divinity and how people react to it. This, then, is why this parable is the key to understanding every other parable. The other parables only make sense in light of Jesus’s deity. If the disciples don’t understand this one, they will not understand any of the others and moreover, when they go out to preach, they will cave in under the pressure, persecution and ridicule. They must stand firm on this fact; anything less is unacceptable!

So, what we need to realize is that the mystery of the kingdom has at the heart of it, Jesus’s God-status (His human status would have been evident to the people). And the “word” that He calls the seed of the kingdom, is centered around this same fact! May we, in our preaching and teaching today, quit watering down these parables and truths; may we build our hope on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. Indeed, on Christ, The Solid Rock, we stand, all other ground is sinking sand…yes, all other ground is sinking sand—or shallow or covered in thorns…you get the point!


The Crime of Holding Your Child's Hand

Without a doubt, I am aware of and sensitive to the widespread tragedy of childhood abuse. It seems that in our culture, this inhumane and appalling practice is on the increase. Statistics show that at present, 1 of every 3 females are sexually abused; what a shame! Indeed, something must be done!

Yet, I feel that a certain women’s activist group has taken it too far. The Massachusetts based group, STOP IT NOW, has started to post some very disturbing billboards. The latest one includes a picture of an adult male hand, holding a young child’s hand. The caption, written from the perspective of a general onlooker, reads: “It doesn’t feel right when I see them together.” (See the billboard below. If you want to read more on this story, click the following link: Stop It Now Campaign.)

Now, either these people are just morons or they have bad campaign management because this is just over the line. Can I, as a father, not hold my daughter’s hand as we cross the street? Am I, as a father, to be looked upon with suspicion when I take my daughter’s hand while walking through the grocery store? Should I be considered a predator when I’m holding my daughter’s hand in the airport? Well, that’s what this sign and this activist group suggest.

Now, don’t get me wrong, as I said, I’m sensitive to the whole issue of child abuse. But what is this all coming to? The group says that they posted this billboard so that if anyone sees a relationship that they are suspicious of, they can report it. But will this simply become a way to smear and ruin an enemy’s credibility? Will this be a way to make an ex-spouse look bad? There have to be some guidelines to all of this.

In a day and age where businesses are constantly trying to put out the most provocative and conversation-stirring ads, this one is just frustrating. Why doesn’t this activist group speak out against organizations like the Man Boy Love Association instead of targeting the sensible and caring dad who just wants to have a nurturing relationship with his children? If they had seen Jesus pick up the little children, in all of their confusion, they probably would have accused Him too. Ridiculous I say, just ridiculous.

As for me, I am going to hold my daughters hand. I don’t care what these people or anyone else says or thinks of me! How about you?


Chris Tilling : Mr. Univers(alism)?

Still thinking about the subject of universalism, well, why not read some of Chris Tilling's recent posts? Click the following links for an entree of universalist ingenuity: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4, Post 5 and Post 6. After admitting that he forgot he was currently doing a series on universalism (don't worry Chris, as the Uni's believe, there will be no hell to pay for that!), he promised more to come. So, keep checking his site by clicking the following link: Chrisendom.


A Surrogate Genealogy in Mk? : Studies in Mark, Pt. 6

It has been suggested by some that Mk. 3.13-19 is a type of surrogate genealogy. I think I agree with this. When one analyzes the evidence, it seems very possible. For example:

* Both Matthew and Luke contain a kin genealogy for Jesus. However, the only other synoptic, Mark, doesn’t.

* Mark frequently shows how the relatives of Jesus do not look favorably upon Him (e.g. Mk. 3.21, 30-35). Matthew and Luke are more concerned with showing the honorable familial relationships of Jesus (in some ways, at least).

* Mark shows how those in the hometown of Jesus do not look favorably upon Jesus (Mk. 6.1-6).

* Near the beginning of His Gospel account and just before he gives the episode where Jesus’s family turns on Him, Mark situates the list of apostles (whom Jesus will refer to as His “new family” a few verses later in 3.34-35). This seems way more than accidental! These two sections were placed this closely on purpose and for a reason (or reasons).

* The twelve are “insiders” while the bloodline family members are “outsiders” (this is seen all throughout Mark). The twelve get to come to Jesus’s house while even the family must wait outside.

Thus, it appears to me (and these are just initial thoughts—a starting point if you will), that the apostolic listing in Mark’s Gospel could very well serve as a surrogate genealogy. What do you think?


A Conversation with John the Methodist: Interview Series, Pt. 2

A few days ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview “John the Methodist” of Locusts & Honey. The conversation was great and I as it progressed, I sensed more and more, an intense love for God in John’s life. As you read the interview below, you will pick up on John’s candor, honesty and deep respect for the image of God in all people. Enjoy the post, the second edition of the Pisteuomen interview series.

: John, tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you currently studying, working and doing ministry?

John: I'm an M.Div student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, two years through a four-year plan. This summer, I am doing a unit of CPE at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville and I also have a student appointment in a small town about three hours north of Orlando. I'm married and Katherine and I have a dog and a rabbit.

Michael: Okay, we've got to know, what's the rabbit's name?

John: Her name is Hyzenthlay. It's a name from the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams. It is Lapine for "fur shines like dew."

Michael: Creative!

John: Thanks! I played an online Watership Down-based RPG for four years, and that's how I got into rabbits.

Michael: Well, let’s leave the subject of rabits if you don't mind and actually, we'll revisit some of those ministry topics you just mentioned, here in a few minutes. For now, I just want to say that one of the things I like most about your blog is that you update frequently. I also respect the fact that you visit other people’s sites and comment (as opposed to some who never do that). How exactly did you get into blogging and why have you continued to blog?

John: I started reading blogs back in 2001 with The Corner, the first blog at The National Review online. Then I started reading Instapundit. And I kept on reading various blogs that Instapundit linked to. I thought about having a blog for a long time but figured that I didn't have the time. Finally, I gave in to temptation in February 2005 and started Locusts & Honey. It's been tremendous fun and a great way to meet many people very different from myself. I have conversations in the blogosphere that I never have anywhere else--including seminary. For example, at seminary, I've only heard the term "emerging church" mentioned twice, and one of those times it was me who said it. In contrast, this movement is discussed daily in the Methoblogosphere.

Michael: Interesting. Well, I’ve noticed that you have an affinity for art or at least, art blogging. How did this interest come about?

John: I've had an interest in art ever since a high school art class when I wrote a paper on Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I delved into the French Impressionists. But later, quite by accident, I discovered the genius of William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The scales fell from my eyes and I fell in love with Academicism. But over time, I've had the opportunity to explore other movements. Lately, I am particularly fond of Art Nouveau and even more, Art Deco, as well as modern Tiki Art. But my heart always belongs to the Academics.

Michael: Do you have a favorite piece of artwork? If so, what is it and why?

John: I started blogging about art in order to write about my favorite artists. But later, I continued art blogging in order to create content for my blog. This discipline has compelled me to explore artists and movements new to me in order to have more content. So, it's been a great opportunity for me to push myself beyond my comfort zones. It's hard to nail down just one as “favorite.” It would be like Homer Simpson selecting his favorite donut. But a few of my favorites are “Pgymalion” and “Galatea” by Jean-Leon Gerome—the most romantic painting in the Western tradition. Other truly masterful works are “Cupidon” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau and pretty much anything by Francois Boucher. Lately, I've been captivated by the playful work of Shag.

Michael: What, in your opinion, is the relationship between art, theology and ministry?

John: I'm still working on a Christian view of aesthetics. But I think that good portraiture reminds us of the image of God written into humanity, and celebrates the love that God has for each of His children. I've used art while preaching to illustrate particular points. Even if I don't directly draw the congregation's attention to a painting, good devotional art expresses the human experience and the nature of God. For example, I've used the painting “The Red Cross” by Evelyn De Morgan to talk about the compassionate love of Christ for a suffering humanity and the hope that we have in Him.

Michael: You speak of “a suffering humanity.” Now, I’ve noticed lately from some of your blog posts, and as you mentioned earlier, that you are involved in a Clinical Pastoral ministry. Surely, you must confront human suffering there every day. However, amid what might seem like so many heart-wrenching experiences, what do you enjoy most about that?

John: I like being of service to people in pain, fear, and confusion. There is so much that an attentive ear can offer. We all need people to share our stories with but countless numbers of God's children have no one to open up to.

Michael: Has this experience helped you find an interface or relationship between theology and ethics?

John: Yes. When I enter into a patient's room, I am there to represent God's loving grace to that person. Hospitalization can be so lonely and so isolating. People feel not only apart from family but also apart from God. I am there to be a means by which God may be visibly present to people in pain. The love of God for each person—let's call it unlimited atonement—is seen in the hospital chaplaincy. Here's an example: I had one patient for a couple of weeks who was nonverbal. She had severe mental retardation, severe schizophrenia and a heart ailment, which brought her out of the state mental hospital to my facility. Her nurse said that I was wasting my time by visiting her because she was unaware of my presence. But I insisted on spending time with her whenever I was on that floor. I was not comfortable going into her room. I was not comfortable watching her. Her suffering was an appalling offense to the justice of God. But I always went in and talked to her and prayed over her. She looked around and fidgeted constantly all day, but didn't acknowledge that I was there. But at the end of my last visit to her room before she was moved elsewhere, I said "Goodbye, _____." And I heard her gasp out: “Bye”—even though she was supposed to be nonverbal! You see, God loves each person and extends his grace to all, calling them back to him, back to a life of holiness and wholeness. That's why I would not skip her as "wasted time." And that's unlimited atonement applied to the chaplaincy.

Michael: I think that, in God’s eyes, the situation you have just described is a beautiful work of art to Him. To use a bit of an anthropomorphism, I would suggest that in seeing this, God was definitely “aesthetically” pleased.

John: Ah, good analogy.

Michael: John, thanks so much for sharing your time and story today, it has been wonderful chatting with you. However, before we go, I have one last question that I’d like to ask (kind of a change of subject here): If you could own just one book (along with the Bible), what would it be and why?

John: Ah, the classic question from Fahrenheit 451. It would be the novel Shardik, by Richard Adams. It is a story of the "Power of God" becoming incarnate and roaming the earth. It is the story of how this power was abused and exploited by men, but those same men found redemption and wholeness by the selfless sacrifice of the "Power of God" for their sakes.

Michael: Fascinating stuff! Well, John, thanks again for interviewing.

John: Thank you so much for asking. I am honored and I look forward to blogging with you in the future.

Michael: Thanks brother, and God bless you, and those you come into contact with, in your various ministries.

Wed to Prejudice: The Chastity Ring

A while back I wrote a post that essentially asked the question: Will Western Christians see more persecution in the coming years? To that, I would say, "Yes!" Now, we must keep in mind that persecution isn't "always" physical, it is manifest in social, economic, ethnic and gender mistreatment too (among other things). Personally, I think that in America, social persecution against Christians is becoming a sort of norm. It's as if we're an easy target and easy to pick on, so, that's why people do it.

Anyways, Old Testament professor Dr. Claude Mariottini has written an interesting post that reveals such discriminiation. In brief, he picks up on a story concerning a young, teenage girl who was forbidden by her school from wearing a chastity ring. The girl took the case to court and was ultimately ruled against. The contradiction or double-standard is seen in the fact that a muslim girl could wear head-coverings and a sikh girl could wear bangles (a type of jewelry) but that this Christian girl was not permitted to wear a chastity ring--as I understand it, the school said it was against their dress code. Anyways, check out the story by clicking the following link: Mariottini: The Case of the Chastity Ring. You might follow some of the links Dr. Mariottini provides if you are really interested in the story.


Face-to-Face: A Communion Meditation

Over the course of the last year in my seminary studies, I have had the opportunity to do something new: take courses online. While this is not the traditional way of “doing education” and it does have its downfalls (e.g. not having the advantage of meeting with the professor and being able to discuss the curriculum face-to-face), there are ways around those issues (e.g. you can email one another, chat with each other online or use the telephone). Similarly, another problem is that you do not get to meet your classmates face-to-face but you only get to know them by name.

Now, I have to admit, I like the online courses. And while it was a completely different way of “doing school” than I had ever done before, it was actually quite convenient for me at times. Yet, if I had two compare the two ways of conducting education, I would have to say that I favor the “in the classroom” experience the most.

However, I recently had something rather neat take place with this whole online study business. Let me explain. For the last year, I have been studying the Greek language (my Greek courses were the ones I took online). In that online class, one of the options us students had was to do the course work completely on our own or to join a team (of about 3 or 4 people) and work with each other throughout the year. We would email our work to the other team members, they would critique or affirm it and then we would meet online once a week to discuss our findings. It sounds a little complicated but it really was not.

Anyways, my team consisted of three other members beside myself. One of the members lived in Grand Rapids, MI, the other in Lexington, KY and still the other in Orlando, FLA. Every Friday around Noon, we would meet each other online and discuss the work for that week. Well, after the year was completed and our course finished, it was kind of odd. Here, I had been meeting with these people for an entire year but still didn’t really know them; I had never met them in person (with the exception of the one living in Lexington). Again, it was such a strange feeling that I experienced as we concluded our studies with one another.

Well, recently, something great happened: I got to meet my classmate from Florida! We went and had lunch together, chatted and I finally got to put a face with the name I knew. Of course, the Kris (that was his name) that I had imagined in my head looked and sounded nothing like I had imagined.

This whole occurrence kind of led me to reflect on Paul’s statement in 1st Corinthians 13. There, the apostle says, “When completeness comes, what is in part disappears…For now we see in a mirror dimly; then we will see Him face-to-face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.” Here, Paul describes his yearning to see Jesus Christ face-to-face; something he will finally see when Christ returns. At that moment, he will no longer feel like he “incompletely” knows Christ because he will know Him fully—just as Christ knows him fully right now.

For Paul, Christ’s return is, in some ways, similar to my experience with my classmate Kris. Through my studying and conversing with Kris, I got to know him and his interests; I got to know his heart and his passion. Yet, because I never got to see him face-to-face, I always felt like something was missing. When I finally met him, it was an exciting time and quite fun. Well, Paul suggests in the verses above that even though he knows Christ, Christ’s interests, His heart and His passion, he will not “fully” know or experience Him until He returns.

As we gather around the Lord’s Table today, our memories of the passion events take us back to the past. Yet, those same events also point us to the future; when Christ will return. And it will be at that moment, that face-to-face moment that we will be filled with excitement, exhilaration and joy; we will rejoice, celebrate and have an incredible time. Today, when you partake of the Lord’s Supper, center your heart and mind on seeing your Lord’s face; seeing it in painful agony upon the cross and seeing it in beautiful glory when He returns. For we have the promise that as believers, we will see Him face-to-fae. Amen.


An Ode to Scripture

An Ode to Scripture

Spanning time, spanning ages
Glorious gospel, careful sages
First was spoken, then in ink
Rolled in scrolls, Christian think

Holy Messiah’s, story is bound
Foolish wisdom, easy profound
Stumbling block, trips the mind
Age to Age, this bloody spine

Peace in papyri, Christly tale
Revelatory, Life unveiled
A Martyr’s memoir, open door
Ask or knock, see the Savior

Preserved book, letters and psalms
Parabolic insights, heavenly songs
Truth instilled, inside and out
Holy leaflets, Jesus’ account

Stripped and pealed, beaten blue
Attacked and ridiculed, even eschewed
Rejected writing, much bashed Bible
Overlooked God, who’s so reliable

Trustworthy texts, despite the laughs
OT, NT, time in halves
Salvation history, two in one
Testaments of hope, transgression undone

Wisdom of believers, written out loud
Sacred parchment, history’s shroud
Keys of life, commands so pure
Love in words, eternal yore

Servanthood perspective, first and last
Author of life, the kingdom’s cast
A history of His Story, being told
Book of Life, being unrolled

Resurrection reflex, inspired index
Guide out of regress, celebrated codex
Ready for remix, a map to change
Trinity’s treasure, no longer estranged

Journal of Justice, touching lives
Transforming hearts, clearing up eyes
How about this, you try to read
And find true life, in this ancient reed

--TMW Halcomb


Who is the "Strong Man" in Mark's Gospel?: Studies in Mark, Pt. 5

Of nearly 50 works written on the Gospel according to Mark that I have recently surveyed, 99.9% of them agree that the “strong man” mentioned in Mk. 3.27 is satan. The argument goes as follows: Jesus is the thief who breaks into satan’s house, ties satan up and then plunders him for his followers. Honestly, I must say that I am shocked at such conclusions. It reminds me of the early atonement theory expounded by Pope Gregory the Great (AD 600) who said, “…matching deceit with deceit, Christ frees man by tricking the devil into overstepping his authority. Christ becomes a ‘fishhook’: His humanity is the bait, His divinity the hook, and Leviathan (satan) is snared.”

I want to show here though, that Christ does not have to trick or deceive satan to lead believers to Himself. Just as well, He does not have to, as would a thief under the cover of night, attempt to break into satan’s home (this earth) and steal believers away! Yet, when Christ is taken as the “thief” and satan as “the strong man,” that is exactly the picture that this interpretation paints.

Currently, I am writing a paper to be submitted to a journal on this topic. However, I want to share many of my initial findings here. What I want to do here is to show how the “strong man” is actually Jesus and that satan is the thief. Now, very few people have argued this point and usually when they have, they have only do so because they cannot stomach the thought of the term “thief” being used to describe Jesus. While I understand their hesitation, I must say that in other places the Gospel writers refer to the return of Christ as “a thief in the night.” I don’t have any qualms with that. What I do have a problem with is Jesus having to deceive satan to gain followers. When the return of Jesus is mentioned, it is not a return to “gain” followers or to “make” new believers but rather it is to judge and to pardon. There is a huge difference between the two uses of thief language! Moving on…

In Mark, the “strong man” has to be Jesus because that is the only reading that, from a narrative / literary standpoint, makes any sense. Putting it all in context, here is what has happened prior to the “strong man” comment in 3.27:

From a spiritual standpoint:

* satan has tempted Jesus in the wilderness without avail (1.12-13)
* Demons attempt to gain control over Jesus repeatedly by calling His name (1.24-35; 3.10-11)—it should be noted here that, in ancient exorcism handbooks, one way to gain control over the demon or evil spirit was to call it by name, thus, when the demons call Jesus by His name, they are attempting to reverse the norm and get control over Him

From a religio-political standpoint:

* The empire has taken John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, to be killed (1.14)

Note the progression of violence towards Jesus here in each of Mark's episodes:

1. The religious leaders, sitting in the home of Jesus, talk amongst themselves about Christ’s claims and actions; they see Him as a blasphemer (2.7)
2. The religious leaders challenge the followers of Jesus to their faces, concerning Christ’s actions (2.16)
3. The religious leaders work up the nerve to confront Jesus to His own face (2.18)
4. The religious leaders begin spying on Jesus (2.23)
5. The religious leaders attempt to boobytrap Jesus by placing an ill man in the synagogue (3.2) to see if He will heal Him on the Sabbath
6. The religious leaders plot with the Herodians to kill Jesus (3.6)
7. The religious leaders bring the Herodians to the home of Jesus and accuse Him of being in-league with satan (3.20ff)
8. The family of Jesus sides with the majority and agree that Jesus is possessed (3.21)

The point of showing all of this is to bring to the fore the fact that in Mark’s account, there is a mounting aggression towards Jesus on behalf of both the spiritual and religio-political realms; they both want control over Him and want to shut Him up. In short, because He is drawing so many people to Him and the people are listening, they want Him dead. And why not, if He’s taking their fame and authority away from them (1.27)? What all of the forces are trying to do then, is to shut Jesus down and shut Jesus up. He, then, is the strong man that everyone wants bound! Yet, He will not be intimidated by these people; He will keep professing that He is God in the flesh—even though He knows His end.

Now, one of the other telltale signs that Jesus is the “strong man” comes in the parables directly after the “strong man” analogy (e.g. ch. 4). For example, in the parable of the soils, Jesus uses the soils not as a sermon on inner-spiritual growth (God help us) but He uses it as a way to tell talk about the types of people He has confronted thus far on His mission. Moreover, He is using it to tell His disciples that if they preach that He is God, they too will face these same people and types of opposition. This is why in 6.11 He tells them that from time-to-time, they will simply have to “shake the dust off of their shoes” and move on.

To spell it out: 1) the soil near the path represents satan and demonic forces, 2) the rocky, shallow soil represents the crowds who only come to Jesus for a miracle, not discipleship, 3) the soil among the thorns represents those close to Jesus who try to hold Him back from carrying out His ministry, for example, His family (see: 3.31-34), and 4) the good soil represents those who are willing to follow Him despite hardships.

Again, Jesus is using this parable to tell His disciples the types of hardships that He has encountered and that if they are serious about preaching the Good News that Jesus is God, they will encounter these hardships too. As with Jesus, the rest of society will try to tie them up and plunder them—perhaps even kill them.

The point, then, is that from a narrative standpoint, it makes no sense that the “strong man” is satan whom Jesus is attempting to bind; it is the other way around. Also, from a theological standpoint, when we follow the satan equals “strong man” theory, we are led back to Pope Gregory’s atonement theory—a sad theory indeed.


Ben Witherington on St. Cuthbert's Island

At present, I am studying Hebrew rather intensively; I am enrolled in two back-to-back courses this summer that total about 7 weeks. As you might imagine, smashing an entire year of Hebrew into 7 weeks is not an easy thing to do but as I'm coming to realize, it can be done. I'm doing it. I started two weeks ago and can already read and translate. Anyways, each day at the end of my Hebrew class lectures last week, I dropped in nearly every day on one of my favorite professors of all time, Ben Witherington, to listen to him lecture on 1 Corinthians. While I don't agree with Dr. W. on everything, I still love this guy. He is so God-centered, so passionate and such an incredible "teacher." If you ever get the chance, you need to hear this guy! Actually, if you want to hear the sermon he delivered in chapel last week, click the following link: Dr. Witherington's Sermon.

Another thing I love about Dr. W is that he is rather funny too; all of his lectures are seasoned with humor. But even more, he just knows how to make the text applicable to life today. My friend, Clay Brackeen, has been taking the 1 Corinthians course for credit this summer and he has been compiling some little sayings or quips that Witherington has said and is sharing them with the world. It appears that Clay is arranging the sayings chapter-by-chapter. If you want to read some of them, visit Clay's blog, "St. Cuthbert's Island" at the following link: Ben Witherington on St. Cuthbert's Island.



The Rhetorical Jesus: A Fresh Look at Mk. 4.24-25: Studies in Mark, Pt. 4

A while back I was watching a debate that took place between Christian scholar William Lane Craig and some other fellow who was an atheist. Craig did an excellent job in the debate. In my opinion, though, the most forceful part of his argument came when he cited a statement that his opponent had previously published in a journal article. The atheist opponent was dumbstruck; he was shocked that Craig had done this. To make matters worse for him, after Craig had showed how illogical the statement was, the atheist recanted and began to plead that he had no recollection of writing any such statement and that if he did, well, he no longer believed it.

In my opinion, some of the most interesting passages in the New Testament are those where some figure fires off a quote from their opponent in order to show them how illogical their thinking is. For instance, Paul does this in his Aeropagus speech in Acts 17. In verse 28 the apostle says, “…for in [God] we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘we are his offspring.’”

In 1 Corinthians, Paul does this same type of thing. Here, though, he is not quoting some eulogized, Greek philosopher, instead he is quoting the Corinthian believers. In particular, he is quoting a local saying of theirs, a kind of slogan they say amongst themselves. Paul’s aim is to show them the problem with such thinking though. For example, in 6.12 Paul repeats one of their slogans: “Everything is permissible for me.” He does this twice and both times, he appends his own tagline to the end of the statement. He does this in 6.13 as well, where the slogan is: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will destroy them both.” Paul attempts to replace this statement with a type of rhythmic parallel: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body.” Quite frankly, moments like these show the depth and breadth of Paul’s ingenuity.

Of course, Jesus does this type of thing too. In His infamous Sermon on the Mount, He is recorded as repeatedly saying, “You have heard it said…” and then He goes on to cite those He disagrees with. From a rhetorical standpoint, these types of moves allow the speaker to discredit their opponents and give credence to themselves and their own arguments, all at once.

Well, I’ve mentioned Acts, 1 Corinthians and Matthew, so, what does all of this have to do with Mark’s account?

In Mark’s account, I would suggest that we find something similar—Jesus quoting His opponents, not in a Sermon on the Mount (there isn’t one in Mark’s narrative) but rather in a Sermon on the Boat (4.3-34). In particular, Jesus is quoting His opponents in the elusive and often confusing 24th and 25th verses. There, Jesus is recorded as saying (and I am adding my own punctuation here: “Consider carefully what you hear: ‘With the measure you measure it will be measured unto you—and even more.’ ‘Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’”

So, how do I know that Jesus is citing His enemies here? Well, for starters, I don’t know for sure but the evidence does seem to favor this reading. J. Jeremias and C. Myers have picked up on this but I don’t agree with how Jeremias breaks things down and I think Myers reads this text a bit too literally. I would suggest, apart from them, that Mark is making a blatant literary move, kind of giving his audience some signals. For example, Mark goes to great lengths to make sure that his readers understand that Jesus has two different ways of telling His hearers to listen; one is a good type of listening (or listening for something good) and the other is a bad type of listening (or listening for something bad).

Thus, when Jesus Himself is about to say or has already said something “good” and wants the audience to listen and adopt it, Mark records Him as saying, “Those who have ears, let them hear” (e.g. 4.9, 4.23). However, when Jesus wants to warn His audiences about listening to bad things or people, He uses the (Greek) term blepete. In 8.15, 12.38, 23.5, 23.9, 23.23 and 23.33, every time Jesus uses this word, it is to warn the hearers that the religious or political leaders are espousing something false (see also the Isaiah quotation in Mk. 4.12 where this word is used a number of times). If this is the case, then, one would be hard-pressed to suggest that 4.24-25 is the one place where that doesn’t happen! Thus, it seems that 4.24-25 contain local quotes or slogans that Jesus is going against. In fact, I think that understanding the verses this way is the best way to make sense of them.

What Jesus is doing, then, is quoting a saying of the local religious and political leaders who have been out to get Him from the get-go (see especially 3.6ff). Their kingdom is founded on the principle of taking advantage of people. Thus, they say amongst themselves, “The greater the measure you give to the kingdom, the better off you will be. And if you don’t give to the kingdom, well, we’ll the kingdom will just take whatever you’ve got.” Jesus wants to counter such thinking. You may recall that in the previous few verses (4.15-16), He had said, “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

Jesus, then, is essentially saying to the audience is: “You hear the kingdom of Caesar making threats and you also hear the kingdom of Caesar making enticing offers, but either way, you shouldn’t give into Caesar. Instead listen to Me; if you have ears, this is news you’re going to love hearing because it is Good News! I am the new King in town (1.1-14). And do you want to know what My kingdom is like? Well, consider this parable…and this one…and this one…Mine is a kingdom based on equality and holiness—it is the kingdom of God and you can be a part of it.”

So, Jesus offers us here, a couple of really good things: 1) a lesson in rhetorical argument, and 2) an understanding and opportunity to be part of His kingdom! Indeed, there is no better news than that!


A Conversation with Josh McManaway: Interview Series, Pt. 1

I recently had the privilege of conversing with Josh McManaway, the author of the blog titled "A New Testament Student." The interview went well and as you will sense while reading below, Josh is an interesting fellow with some good insights. Enjoy the interview (it is the first in a series of interviews that will take place with other bloggers) and be sure to visit Josh's site frequenty at: Josh McManaway: A New Testament Student.

: Josh, tell us a little bit about yourself: Where you are currently studying and some of the goals you hope to achieve?

Josh: I'm a North Carolina native. Just turned 23 July 1. I'm entering my senior year at Southeastern College at Wake Forest (the undergrad program at SEBTS) double-majoring in Biblical Studies and History of Ideas (a great books program, basically) and minoring in history. After graduating next may, I'm hoping to pursue a MA in New Testament, then on to a PhD, then on to teaching at a university somewhere.

Michael: Well, let's shift away from the academy just for a moment, we'll come back to it but, I want to ask you, "How long have you been blogging and why did you start?"

Josh: I started blogging February of this year. Basically I had read the blogs of Mark Goodacre, Chris Tilling, David Alan Black, etc., and really enjoyed them. But I noticed that most Biblioblogs are run by guys who are at least in graduate studies. I figured that it would be a neat experiment to see what happened when an undergraduate started blogging. So, I kind of use it not only to discuss the New Testament, but also to document my time at school.

Michael: Would you say that blogging has been beneficial to you, then?

Josh: Absolutely! I've been able to ask questions about Greek and have them answered, ask for good books to read, blog about my frustration with my school's grading scale (which is insane). I think it's been extremely beneficial thus far.

Michael: That kind of leads us back to the academy. In the field of biblical studies what interests you most and why?

Josh: Certainly the New Testament and the Early Church. Within those sub-fields, I'm really interested in the Synoptic Problem, Source Criticism in general, Patristic Hermeneutics, and the whole "historical Jesus" quests. I think there are several reasons why I became interested in the New Testament. For one, I was a thoroughgoing atheist for quite some time. So, I suppose God has a sense of irony. Secondly, it's hard to imagine the level of impact that the Bible has had on Western Thought. Reading through the History of Ideas program has given me an opportunity to see just how much the Bible has shaped ideas like democracy, or philosophy, or literature. And thirdly, I think it's just an interesting time period in history to study. It's pretty perplexing as to why this nominal Jew in the 1st Century is so important. I don't think people realize how big of a deal (both historically and spiritually) this is.

Michael: Your "history of ideas" and "new testament" studies would seem to give you an interesting perspective on some things, could you say a little bit about how you see the Bible's influence in early American history and compare it to what you're seeing today?

Josh: Sure. I should start by saying that I don't think that America is, or ever has been, a Christian nation. As a Baptist, I feel like my Anabaptist forefathers worked far too hard to separate church and state for me to buy into civil religion. Nor do I think that the New Testament is a prescription for civil religion (far from it!). However, I think that the fathers of America used Judeo-Christian principles in the forming of their ideas. For instance, when one reads Alexis De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", he discusses how important religion is in the American life. I think this is because a lot of the principles contained within our laws are contained within the Bible and make significantly more sense to those who are Christians. Now, what am I seeing today? People who don't care at all about the law in any shape or form (from the top down!). But I'm not really a sociologist, so that's really just my silly opinion (and we all know what they say about those).

Michael: Interesting insights! Well, switching gears just a little bit, “What scholar would you say has influenced your thinking the most when it comes to biblical studies?”

Josh: A very good question. There are so many! I'd say that the first author I read who really kicked off my critical study of the Scriptures was N.T. Wright. Calvin is a close second because of his amazing ability with exegesis and Biblical languages. But Wright's "The New Testament and the People of God" (although I didn't finish it the first time I read through it) started me thinking about critical study of the New Testament.

Michael: Wright and Calvin! That is an interesting combination there!

Josh: I'm a bit of mutt in my theological studies. I rarely seem to be able to camp out with one crowd. I think that's probably healthy, though.

Michael: I would agree. Those two authors represent more than just differing views on some things, in my opinion, they stand as monumental scholars of their time. They should be read! Which leads me to my next question, "What are you currently reading?"

Josh: As I posted on the blog, I just got some new books in so I'm currently reading "Studying the Historical Jesus" and "Jesus in Context" by Darrell Bock (who is a really brilliant guy and is overlooked a bit too much in NT studies today), along with re-reading Hurtado's "Earliest Christian Artifacts"...it's such an exciting book. And I'm also reading E.P. Sanders "The Historical Figure of Jesus.” I like to read a lot of books at once because I generally find that the ideas interact with each other in some way, so, it helps me remember what I read versus just reading one book straight through.

Michael: So, you sound like you lean in the direction of The New Perspective, is this correct?

Josh: Not necessarily. I'm generally uncomfortable with titles just because I tend to agree with some things from some groups and other things from others. So, I end up not wanting to associate myself with "The New Perspective" only because there are things with which I disagree. But yeah, the emphasis on understanding Jesus as Jew is something I'm completely into. I think it's a vital part of understanding Jesus, so on that issue I'm completely in agreement with the New Perspective crowd.

Michael: Well, that makes sense; probably many people share your thoughts on that subject. Before we end the interview, I want to ask you one more question, “If you could own only one book (along with the Bible), what would it be and why?”

Josh: I rarely read anything outside of New Testament studies or philosophy, but if I had one book to read over and over again...it would probably be either C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity", Martin Amis’ "The Rachel Papers", or J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye.”

Michael: Alright Josh, well thanks for taking the time to interview.

Josh: It’s been my pleasure.


Lyrics in My Head

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had two lines of lyrics stuck in my head. The first comes from Relient K and the second comes from David Crowder Band. While they are rather simple lines, the more I think about them, the more I begin to see how incredibly rich, at least from a theological standpoint, they actually are. Any thoughts?

1. "The amazing thing about grace is that it makes life not fair."

2. "You make everything glorious and I am Yours, so what does that make me?"

Mark's Indignant Ihsou: Studies in Mark, Pt. 3

One of the things that I love about Mark’s account of the Gospel is that when it comes to showing the emotions of Jesus, Mark is “no holds barred.” For example, Mark repeatedly shows the angry side of Jesus; a side that few of us ever think of except when we hear about the temple episode (a.k.a. the temple tantrum). Yet, there are a few places where Mark shows Jesus getting upset.

For example, in Mk. 1.41, the text in English reads: 40. “A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees, ‘If You are willing You can make me clean.’ 41. Jesus was compassionate (or indignant). He reached out His hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ He said, ‘Be clean!’”

Now if you noticed, in verse 41, the term “indignant” or “angry” can stand in the place of compassionate. Indeed, a number of early manuscripts have orgistheis (angry) instead of the traditional splagchnistheis (compassionate). Of course, the term “compassionate” fits the story well and makes for a simple reading. However, the term “angry” makes the reading harder and seems to complicate things a little bit. Yet, following the simple rule that the harder reading is usually closer to the original (this is because a scribe would not have come along and made an easier reading harder but instead would have made a harder reading easier), “angry” or “indignant” seems to be the better term here.

In the context of Mark’s account, it fits well too. Over and over again, Mark shows that Jesus is upset with the empire and with what the Jewish religion has been turned into. In the case of the leper mentioned above, Jesus was upset because the religious leaders had marginalized him in society and had probably banned him from the synagogue. He was disgusted at the way they treated him; they made him an outsider to the faith. I think that this is why Mark takes such great pains to mention just a few verses later that Jesus is eating with the sick, the sinners and the tax collectors. Mark wants to show the contrast between the two ways that faith or religion is done!

Even more, in 3.5, Mark tells us that when in the synagogue, Jesus “looked around at the religious leaders in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.” He was upset with them because they were putting their own politics before loving others. We see this anger (righteous anger, of course) in 11.12-26 as well when Jesus began driving out the religious leaders who had turned the temple into a place where the empire’s political agenda was being carried out (note: Jesus is not upset here because people were exchanging coins, the temple was where they were supposed to do that; He is mad because the place has been overcome with the imperial agenda).

When you couple these scenes with all of the warnings where Jesus tells His followers to “watch carefully” or to “be on guard” against the religious leaders (4.24; 8.15; 12.38; 23.5, 9, 23, 33), you cannot help but see that Jesus is angry with the leaders and the ways that they have set things up; they are oppressing people!

I wonder if one of the reasons we have overlooked or ignored this fact is because when Jesus is upset, He is mostly upset with the religious leaders? Do we religious leaders not want the finger pointed back on us? Now, I know He gets upset with the disciples too (e.g. 8.33). Many times we don’t shy away from those passages because they include everyone, especially “the congregation.” Perhaps it is time for today’s religious leaders to read these passages in a way that holds them accountable for their ministries; may we speak out against injustice and preach the truth; may we get righteously angry and hate sin while at the same time, standing up for what’s right and loving others!


A Prayer for Lydia Claire: My Newborn Daughter

Early Saturday morning (7am), my wife Kristi started to go into labor. After a few hours, she begat the newest addition to the Halcomb family: Lydia Claire. We decided on the name Lydia when we were in Philippi a few months ago at the supposed site where Paul baptized Lydia. As for the middle name, it is a family name from the wife's side. She was 6 lbs. 10 oz. and mearly 19 in. long. Below is a picture of the baby and a prayer for her. God is good!

Lord, I am thankful that You love us; I am thankful for Your grace and beauty. I ask today, O marvelous God, that You would bless this baby. I ask that You would place a calling of greatness on her life and that You would raise her up to be the most godly woman of her generation and one of the most godly women in all of history. Holy Spirit, breathe Your breath of life upon Lydia and bathe her in Your presence. Help me and Kristi, O God, to raise this girl up to think, feel, walk and talk in Your ways; to be just like You. I pray all of these things for the sake of Your name and for Your glory. Amen.


Living In An Unsound Univers...alism

Last night, one of America’s premier news shows, 20/20, devoted an entire episode to the topic of hell. Of course, the show wasn’t entirely Christian in nature but it did seem like most of the content centered on the traditional Christian doctrine of hell; the doctrine that most Westerners are probably familiar with (e.g. a fiery pit that, if you dig deep enough below ground, you will eventually reach).

The most disturbing and frustrating thing about the whole show, though, was what I consider to be a grave and fundamental misunderstanding of God. It is this misunderstanding that causes people to embrace teachings such as universalism—the teaching that all people will “go to heaven.” The problem here is how people perceive of and talk about heaven, as if it is a place where all of our wildest dreams, fantasies and selfish ambitions come true.

However, it is exactly this idea of heaven that is more like hell than anything else. Many people who say that there is no hell usually say that hell exists here on earth; they point to places where famine, poverty and genocide are taking place and refer to those places as hell. But I just have to ask, Why are those places in the conditions they are? Precisely because some selfish people are trying to fulfill their fantasies, cravings and self-centered ambitions! Oddly, the same self-centered vision they condemn here on earth, also fuels their ideas of heaven. How can they curse this earth that has hell on it which is caused by selfishness and at the same time, long for a place where they get to be selfish forever? Yet, how do they overlook this contradiction? You see, selfishness is what is at the root of both their ideas of heaven, and hell.

But so many people think that this is what heaven will be like! Do you see the problems with that? The kingdom of God is based on selflessness, not selfishness. And all who truly and honestly want to dwell in God's presence with everlasting life, well, they will do what Jesus asked them to, “To give up their lives to serving Him and others.” In short, they will make this earth less like hell by first giving themselves up to God (selflessness at its best) and then by giving their lives up to serving others in God's name.

Fundamental to a healthy understanding of God is this: He gives humans the freedom of choice and He honors that choice. Therefore, if you choose to be in a relationship with Him, He honors that and will honor that in the hereafter. And if you choose to reject Him, He will honor that too. You see, God doesn’t send people to hell; they send themselves to hell or better yet, they choose life apart from Him. And what is hell but that? That is how C. S. Lewis depicted it; as a place of lonely, self-absorption and separation from God & others?

It is truly astounding how universalists can so blatantly contradict themselves and in the end, still assert that they are the most loving and kind people—not to mention the fact that they make “their” God out to be just like them! Enough of the creating God in our image and enough of the patronizing religiosity that wraps itself in the seeming garb of Christianity but is nothing more than a hedonism chasing after the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life. Enough already!

A Series of Interviews

To the readers of Pisteuomen,

I just wanted to let you know that in the next couple of weeks, alongside my series of studies on Mark's Gospel account, I am also going to be posting a short series of interviews. These will be interviews with the authors of a few of the blogs that I read most frequently. Keep your eyes peeled!


Mark's Sleepy Jesus (& Extra Boats): Studies in Mark, Pt. 2

As I continue to work through Mark’s narrative and the works that have been written to try to explain it, I am constantly amazed at the lack of attention that commentators tend to pay to certain passages that seem obscure. For example, when it comes to a couple of phrases in Mk. 4.35-41, it seems that the majority of interpreters simply gloss over them (some simply skip over them with no mention at all). Take the statement in 4.36 for instance, which says, “…and other boats were with Him.” Every single commentary I read (over 40 of them), said something akin to: “the boats mentioned here are not mentioned in the other accounts and are a simple embellishment by Mark; they have no other role in the story.”

But can the "other boats" just be written off so easily? I would suggest not. I would also suggest that Mark wasn’t just wasting ink but rather, these boats are indeed, part of the story he wants to tell and as such, they are included for a reason, even if only minor! And what about the other odd phrase found here (the first part of the same sentence), which says, “Leaving the crowd, they took Him in the boat just as He was.” What does that mean, “Just as He was?” Well, again, the answers usually given are not satisfying. The most commonly accepted answer seems to be: “As He was" means "as He was sitting in the boat.” I find this interpretation unacceptable.

What I want to do here is to give some better answers to the questions that 4.36 raises. However, to do that, I need to first reiterate a couple of the main points of my previous post on Mark’s account (Studies in Mark, Pt. 1): 1) The disciples already knew Jesus when He called them and He already knew them, and 2) The disciples were not called to abandon everything instantly or in a haphazard manner, much less forever.

I should say here that, there seems to be no proof whatsoever that any of the disciples who were fishermen left that trade for good! Again, see the previous post (and the discussions about it) for more details. What this means, then, is that they kept and maintained their vocations and their boats. Even a cursory reading of Mark’s account shows us that time and time again, Jesus has the disciples get a boat ready for Him (presumably “their” boats since Jesus wouldn’t have mandated stealing somebody else’s; on a side note, one wonders if the disciples may have used their boats as tools to gain honor status before Jesus—e.g. He’s riding in my boat today since He rode in yours yesterday).

So, when we read 1.16-20, where Jesus “calls” the fishermen to follow, it is not meant to be taken in the sense that they just abandoned everything forever; it is simply meant to suggest that they followed Him at the moment (and remember, in the wake of losing their leader, John the Baptist, they were quite eager to follow). Thus, in 3.9, when Jesus tells the disciples to have a boat ready for Him, He is telling them to get “one” of their boats ready. Again, we wonder if they fought over it like they did later on in 9.34 where they are arguing over who is the greatest!

When we get to 4.1, we finally see Jesus getting in a boat; a boat owned by a disciple. In the scene just before this one, Jesus is at His home and the people have crowded Him. It is this same crowd in 4.1 that has followed Jesus to the lake. His inner-circle has followed Him there too. Now, we have to remember that Jesus is out in public at this point; He is not sitting in a boat on someone’s private lake. So, when He gets to where the boats are located, along with the crowds following Him, it is only reasonable to assume that there were other boats with fishermen in them, around. Therefore, there are people (the crowds who had followed Him) on the shore and there are people already there in boats (the fishermen).

It is at this point that I would argue that we have to flashback to Mk. 1.16-20. We remember from that episode that Simon and Andrew had a boat and so did James and John. But Mark gives us some extra information here. He says that Zebedee was on the boat with some hired help. We know from the 1986 excavation of a boat from Lake Galilee that the average boat was pretty sizeable. The one that was uncovered could hold a five person crew and about the same amount of passengers. (The excavated boat was 26.5 ft. long, 7.5 ft. wide, 4.5 ft. deep, could hold about 1 ton and was dated between 40-70 AD.) It is this type of boat that, in Mark’s account, Jesus travels in. For instance, Mk. 6.45-54 appears to describe such a boat!

Now, I can offer two options that, to my knowledge, no scholar has yet to offer. First, it is a possibility that the disciples got a number of boats ready for Jesus in hopes that He would choose theirs (maybe they could score some brownie points with Him, they thought). We see them do this type of thing repeatedly, so, it is not out of place or character. However, the second option I have to offer may be more plausible. It seems to me that in a manner similar to how Jesus found Simon, Andrew, John, etc. when He first “called” them, is how He would have found their boats on this day too. When he showed up on shore, Zebedee and co. would have been working. Further, there could have been other fishermen on the water, in their boats too. Thus, when Mark tells us that there were “other boats” with Jesus, he is probably referring to Zebedee and the hired crew, along with the disciples. This is where we need to take into account the two parts of the "Sermon on the Boat" where Mark tells us that there were “others” there with Jesus in private (4.10, 34)!

The picture, then, is of a number of boats surrounding Jesus. Probably, some of the people on these boats He and His disciples knew (or were even related to). The story does not mandate a reading that suggests that the other boats traveled to the other side with Jesus, though it is certainly possible to read it that way. If they did, then Jesus’s entourage is sizeable here. If they didn’t, then they were sitting around listening to Jesus’s teachings and explanations while He was close to the shore. It might be telling, though, that the custom of Jesus asking people to “follow” doesn’t show up here; they may have stayed. This, in my opinion, is a much better answer than anything else I’ve come across and in may ways brings fresh insight to the story.

This takes us back to the other point previously raised: What does it mean that “they took Him just as He was”? In Greek, the statement is: “paralambanousin auton os hn en toi ploioi.” It could literally read, “they take Him as He was in the boat.” I need to point out here, another important point that I have yet to see any scholar make. In verse 38, there is almost an equal statement, compare the Greek: “Kai autos hn en thi prumnhi” (And He was in the stern…”). Of course, there are some differences, but there are also similarities, namely, the parts that say “He was in the…”

What I would argue is that these verses should be taken together to be referring to the same thing: Jesus sleeping. That is the action of Jesus in verse 38 and I think verse 36 should be read in the same way. Therefore, when 4.36 says that “they took Him as He was in the boat” it should be understood that Jesus is already sleeping. Thus, the disciples have started to the other side of the lake, perhaps not knowing why, but simply carrying out Jesus’s wishes to do so. He is asleep as they begin (it is night after all; and we should keep in mind that this is the prime time for fishing, perhaps this is why they waited until then to leave and it was during this time of waiting that Jesus went on to bed). In my estimation, this makes much better sense than anything that has yet to be offered (and you should know that I am saying that humbly, not arrogantly!).

Lastly, one thing that scholars have noted is how this story has echoes of the Jonah story. I would agree that Mark may be telling the story in such a way as to remind his audiences of that narrative. If that is the case, in light of my above research, I would add to the points already made, that, before the sailors even set the ship off to sail, Jonah is already sleeping! This makes sense of Mark’s statement about them taking Jesus as He was: sleeping!

One of the things I am realizing more and more is just how important it is to read the Gospels from a literary-critical perspective. When we fail to do this, we overlook stuff, write it off as insignificant and just miss out on so much. We have to remember that Mark wasn’t into wasting time, parchment or ink; when he wrote something, he wrote it for a reason: because it was a part of the story. Sometimes (probably many times), it is those little details that open up so many new vistas for us in our studies. May we think more creatively and diligently when it comes to studying and interpreting The Text.


Some Thoughts on Constantine & the Nicaean Council

After Constantine had gained control over the eastern half of the empire, he quickly journeyed in that direction. Yet, just as quickly as he traveled east, he was also quickly and incredibly disappointed. Indeed, what he found there threatened not only his own Christian faith but also the very political system he had set up. In particular, what Constantine had come across was a widely divided Church. There, amid the fiery schisms and churning controversies, stood two bold and prominent theologians: Arius and Athanasius (an associate of Bishop Alexander’s who would later become a bishop himself).

Displeased with the current state of the Church in the east (and west for that matter), Constantine desired unity and as such, decided to call an ecumenical council. The end result was what is known in history as “the first Council of Nicea.” On one hand, the meeting was highly political in nature and pointed to the fact that the Church had become a major player in politics. On the other hand, the meeting was incredibly theological in nature—even the gathering itself as an ecumenical event made a profound theological statement. However, in the end, no middle ground was found between the disagreeing parties—that was not what Constantine had hoped for. Instead, Arius and his doctrines were shunned while all things Athanasius were accepted.

Though the debate was in essence Trinitarian, it seems that the chief focus or better yet, the starting point of the council was the subject of Christology. More specifically, the issue of greatest prominence was that of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Arius and Athanasius had two competing views which can each be seen in the following table:

As shown in the above table, the disagreement begins at the root of the issue: Did the Father create the Son or has the Son always existed, uncreated but in relation and begotten? While the Nicene Creed espoused the latter and Arius and his views were rejected, the Arians did not go away quietly. As Donald McKim notes, “it went underground and surfaced at numerous points throughout the next half-century…The Arians struck back at the Third Council of Sirmium in 357 and at the synods of Nice in 359 and Constantinople in 360, where they were able to get Arian creeds passed.” However, it would be in the years immediately following the 360 meeting in Constantinople, that Athanasius, along with the Cappadocian fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nasianzus and Gregory of Nyssa), would write and speak vigorously against Arianism and ultimately bring it to the end of its wick. At the tail end of this, as we know, Augustine would add his polishes. Indeed, Church history is an amazing (and often times disturbing) thing! Both God and humans, surely work in mysterious ways.


Did the Disciples Know Jesus Before He "Called" Them? - Studies in Mark, Pt. 1

This post is the beginning of a new study series that I'm going to be doing on Mark's account of the Gospel. Actually, I might consider the old post "Did Jesus Own a Home" the first of these but I wrote that about a month ago; by the way, you might want to check this out again, some more discussion is being generated from it. As I noted in a brief post yesterday, I am going to try to offer more thoughts on Mark's work more frequently on this blog. I hope this generates some good discussion. Enjoy.

When I was a child, I grew up listening to some of the great musicians of the 70’s and 80’s. One of my favorites—who I still enjoy listening to today—includes Bob Seger. Thanks to Chevy, Seger is probably best known for his hit song “Like A Rock.” And though he does have quite a repertoire of songs, his second most famous tune is “Ol’ Time Rock-n-Roll.” The lyrics say, “Just take those ol’ records off the shelf, I sit and listen to them by myself…” And though that was a long way of getting to the point here, it actually is fitting because many times when I hear preachers and read commentaries, I feel like the same ol’ record is being pulled from the shelf. This is especially true when it comes to passages like Mark 1.16-20. The verses read:

“16. As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17. ‘Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 18. At once they left their nets and followed Him. 19. When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and His brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20. Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.”

At first glance, this passage does seem to suggest that fishermen Jesus called “left everything.” In fact, in sermons and commentaries, this point is usually over-emphasized and under-analyzed. Typically, the preacher or commentator suggests that the disciples gave up everything “for good” or “forever,” to follow Jesus. Just as well, it is usually implied and often even stated, that this was the first time these fishermen had ever seen Jesus and that prior to this, they knew nothing about Him. The picture is painted of these men who had no knowledge of Jesus and in an instant, just up and left everything to follow Him. No doubt many a preacher and expositor have used these verses as a springboard into talking about “commitment to Jesus” and “being willing to give up everything we have and everyone we know in a heartbeat, for the sake of the Kingdom.” (Yet, how many preachers do you know that have done this?) Unfortunately, many have also used such passages to desert their families, jobs, responsibilities, etc.

There are many reasons, though, that we should question such thoughts. Indeed, as I am going to show here: 1) The disciples already knew Jesus before He “called them,” 2) The disciples did not leave everything for good but only temporarily, and 3) These verses are not a call to abandon everything and everyone in an instant and to live a life of escapism.

What we need to realize is that Mark opens his Gospel account up with John the Baptist on the scene, on purpose (Mk. 1.1-14). As the narrative reveals, John is in the wilderness preaching about Jesus before the Messiah shows up. Of course, John, though He did not know Jesus as a “close” relative, definitely knew of Him because Jesus was his cousin. More importantly, though, is the fact that John was a Pharisee (though I do not rule out that he had Essene affiliations) and as such, he had his own circle of disciples (Mk. 2.18; Jn. 1.35). Given this, it only makes sense that as their leader, John who was preaching about the coming Messiah (e.g. Jesus) must have been doing this in the midst of his disciples. Moreover, it is probably likely that he was teaching them about this while they were alone. It is only logical that this would be the case!

The point, then, that I am making is that the disciples had at the very least, heard of Jesus, the coming Messiah and had probably already seen Him. And if their own leader, John, thought so highly of Jesus, it only follows that they would have too! Therefore, when we read Mk. 1.14 about John’s arrest, it is no accident that Mark has Jesus filling John’s shoes. Even more, it is no accident that this comes before the episode of Jesus “calling” the fishermen. They are so ready and willing to follow Jesus: 1) because they knew Him, 2) they knew about His mission, 3) they respected John and realized that the one “greater” than John was actually taking his place, and 4) they were angry with the political system against which Jesus was preaching, the very system that had imprisoned John. In other words, when Jesus approaches the fishermen, He already knew them and they already knew Him; the loss of their leader and the harsh political situation made it the perfect time for the disciples to follow Jesus. (I would also posit here that it is quite possibly the fact that Jesus moved to the Galilee area to work with these guys. As a woodworker, it is quite likely that He helped build, restore and preserve boats; thus, He could have known them this way too--though I cannot fully prove this (but why do we automatically assume "carpenter" equals home builder? How does one prove that traditional claim? Further, if He hung out around the lake as much as Mark says He did, then there was no way that they couldn’t have known this guy.)

This leads us to the next point: The disciples did not just up and leave everything forever. In fact, a few scenes later, Mark tells us that Jesus and co. went to Peter’s home. Evidently they hadn’t left their family, home and work behind (Mk. 1.29-34)! Moreover, when we read John’s account of the Gospel, what is it that we see the disciples doing when Jesus (in glory form) comes back to see His followers? They are out on their boats fishing!!! (John 21) They didn’t leave their family business behind; they remained fishermen. They didn’t leave their families behind either. Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 9.6 that Peter’s wife engaged in the ministry of the Gospel with him. So, the age-old picture of the disciples leaving everything behind for good is not a good one. Indeed, the disciples left things temporarily but definitely not forever.

So, what kind of message does it send to the world when the Church teaches people to simply abandon their families and responsibilities in the name of Christ? Not a good one! Not a biblical one either. Sure, we may be called to the mission-field and that call may bring with it the hard choice to spend time away from our loved ones but that is hardly the same thing as abandoning everyone and everything dear to us. And just as well, that is a totally different thing than family members holding us back in our Christian walk.

Thus, I propose that we put the old record of “disciples who didn’t know Jesus and left everything forever to follow Him,” back on the shelf! It is time for a fresh reading, preaching and teaching of these verses. And as a close reading of the text shows, the disciples did know Jesus and given the circumstances and events at the time, they were eager to follow Him as He preached against the empire that had taken their leader. It is this Jesus, who in the opening scene of Mark’s Gospel account is strolling through the wilderness in the likeness of a royal Caesar. It is this Jesus who, like Caesar, has forerunners going before Him announcing His arrival. It is this Jesus who is preaching the Good News, not of Caesar’s kingdom, but of God’s Kingdom. And it is this Jesus who is going to establish a rule founded on truth and equality; it is this Jesus who is taking the place of the empire that kept the whole ancient world in its shadows of oppression. It is this Jesus that we today are called to follow!


The Gospel According to Mark: A Study Series

Just wanted to post a note that starting tomorrow, I will begin a series of posts on issues in Mark's account of the Gospel. I will try to add posts in this series about every other day. I want to do it this way so that I can use the in-between days to address various other topics. Anyways, I hope to generate some good thought and discussion.

A Predetermined Punch in the Face?

Below is a little humor I stumbled upon recently that I really enjoyed, so, I thought I'd share it. Personally, I just love the Arminian's response; it's great! Enjoy!!!!


Persecution in America?

About a week ago, I posted an article on the Christian movement that is taking place in China. There, I noted how many of the Chinese believers undergo suffering, persecution and martyrdom for their faith in Jesus Christ. In China, as well as in many other parts of the world, Christians (and Christianity in general) are simply not accepted. While America prides itself on being a country where persons can express “religious freedom,” it seems that more and more, the Christian voice is being suppressed. I wonder if in the next 5, 10 or 20 years, Christians in America will be facing the same type persecution that those in many Eastern countries face?

Let me give you a few examples of what I am talking about. It is no secret that the media in America frowns upon and suppresses Christianity. They feel free to bash our faith while at the same time they strive to be politically correct about all other religions.

For instance, why didn’t the media make a big stink about the actions of one Buffalo middle school when the teachers planned and took the students to a mosque for worship (and made them obey all the Islamic regulations, e.g. removing shoes, wearing head coverings, etc.) as well as a Hindu temple? First, why was this allowed? Second, why was the Christian viewpoint excluded? I think most of us know the answer to that question! Anyways, you can read more about the New York, field trip by clicking on the following link: Field trip to the mosque.

And what about the New Jersey school who had its students go through a “terrorist drill” where they made the terrorists wear long, black, trench-coats and then labeled them as crazy Christians? Why did they have to make them any particular religion? Why couldn’t they just do the drill and leave it at that? If a private Christian school had done that using muslims or any other religious group as the terrorists, there would have been hell to pay from the media. For more on this disgusting story, click the following link: Terrorist drill.

Oh, I have another question, why was it only on KET’s “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly that the news was reported that 10 Christians were killed in Izmir, Turkey about two months ago by a group of radical muslims? If it had been the other way around, it surely would have been reported. Now, I’m not trying to provoke animosity towards muslims or anyone else, that is not my goal here. All I am trying to do is expose the ridiculous double-standards taking place in America (which have been taking place in other parts of the world at a far more serious level for much longer now). Will American Christians have to endure persecution in the next decade or two? Maybe so, if things continue as they are! We’ll see soon enough.


The Problem With the Cross: A Communion Meditation

A couple of years ago, mega-Church pastor T. D. Jakes decided to go from the little screen (that is, television) to the big screen. He helped produce and even starred in a drama titled “Woman Thou Art Loosed.” The film takes the viewer through the tough journey of a beat-down, walked-on, abused and imprisoned woman named Michelle. It begins with her childhood years and shows how, from that time on, her life went into a downward spiral.

While still a young girl, Michelle’s mother began to date a man named Reggie. Reggie is the type of person that makes anyone with a sense of decency cringe. He is a manipulative liar; he uses people to get out of trouble and to get what he wants. He was also the type of guy who could make Michelle’s mother believe anything he said, even that he didn’t rape and molest Michelle when, in fact, he did.

It was this demoralizing and dehumanizing act that turned Michelle bitter. And as much as she despised Reggie, this was the only type of male figure she had in her life while growing up so, as soon as she was old enough, this was the same type of men she hooked up with—users and abusers. Well, as the movie chronicles her life, it shows her eventually killing Reggie. Yet, she guns him down at the most unexpected time and in the most unexpected place: during a revival, while kneeling at the altar.

Michelle had just completed a small sentence in jail and when she was released, she was determined to do better by herself. So, she started going to Church. After a few days of going to the revival, she heard the preacher (T. D. Jakes) say something akin to, “If you ever want to move on, you have to leave what’s holding you back at the foot of the cross.” On the last evening of revival, Michelle brought the bloodstained dress that she had been wearing the night that Reggie first violated her. She had kept it all of those years and was now bringing it to the altar so she could move on.

Yet, as she approached the altar, with tears streaming down her face, she looked over and who else was there giving his life to the Lord but Reggie? These two people, one who abused the other and one who hated the other, stood at the foot of the cross at that same moment. Both had come because they wanted to move on, they wanted to experience God’s grace. Yet, Michelle couldn’t fathom sharing this experience with Reggie and so in a moment of violent rage, she pulled out a small handgun and shot him three times, killing him.

You know, as we take communion today, along with you, I remember the sacrifice that Christ made. But that movie also reminds me of something else, it makes me remember the fact that the cross can be a problem. It can be a problem when those who have caused us hurt and injustice, meet us there. It can be a problem when we go before it and don’t release our grudges. It can be a problem when we stand before it and do not allow it to change us.

But it can also be an answer.

It can be an answer of forgiveness, an answer of hope, an answer of healing, an answer of assurance, an answer of meaning, an answer of purpose and an answer of freedom. It can be an answer to broken relationships, an answer to a hurting heart, an answer to a hateful world, an answer to deep philosophical questions, an answer to what true love is and an answer to how God will set right all injustice.

Life’s answers are found in the cross. When we take communion, we are affirming this truth. It is true that the cross towers over the ages of history, over every human life and over this juice and this bread. And it is true that when we meet the Triune God in communion, that He reminds us, “In Me, thou art loosed.” This morning as you partake of the emblems, may you find yourself at the altar letting God’s blood cover you on the outside and letting His reconciling grace work throughout you on the inside. And as we reflect on the cross event of the past, may it dispel those things in our pasts that may be holding us back. Let's leave behind what haunts us so that we can press on and so that God may do new works in us here and now as well as in the future. Amen.

(Please let me know if you use this material in any form. You can e-mail me at halc dot fortydp at mailcity dot com)