Criticizing Christ: Studies in Mark, Pt. 14

It is no mystery that when Jesus went back to His hometown, His success rate was lower than usual. In fact, I would suggest that this is one of those places where Mark seeks to remind his audience that, in addition to His divinity, Jesus was very, very human! In Mark 6.1-6, we do not see Jesus fending off mighty storms, nor do we see Him bringing people back to life, no, we see Him meeting criticism after criticism head-on.

Even 6.2, which is normally read as a positive statement, can and probably should be read as a negative remark. The English rendering “amazed” could very well have a negative sense to it. The Greek term, εξεπησσοντο, which has the connotation of amazement or astonishment, can be taken positively but does not have to be taken as such. To give a simple, common example from the English language, one could say, “I am amazed that he did that, I didn’t know he was that type of person.” In this comment, of course, the word “amazed” has a negative sense to it.

Thus, I would suggest that when the synagogue goers of 6.1ff hear Jesus speak, 6.2 reveals that the listeners have a negative sense of amazement towards Him. Further strength for this argument can be found in the concluding statement of the verse 3: “And they took offense (εσκανδαλιζοντο) at Him.” One thing that this means is that the five clauses located within verses 2 and 3, which are opened and closed by two negative remarks, are all also meant to be taken as negatives. It is each of these comments that I want look at briefly.

The first of five consecutive slanders, asks, “Where did this man get these things?” The implication may be that, in leaving Nazareth (His hometown) and relocating in another town, He stumbled upon new teachings, teachings that were foreign to what had always been taught in the Nazareth synagogue. Surely, the message of Jesus, that He was claiming to be God in the flesh and that the Kingdom of God was in their midst via Him, would have been hard for those of His hometown to swallow. The sense of the question, then, is a negative one: “Where did Jesus get these crazy ideas? Did He pick them up from some lunatic in another town?” The next remark may shed even more insight on this one.

The second statement, at least on the surface, does seem more positive than the first, it says: “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him, that He even does miracles?” However, this is not a compliment. As I alluded to before, it is connected to the previous negative remark. Here, the suggestion is that the “wisdom” has come from some crazy philosopher (perhaps someone like John the Baptist) or yet worse, as in 3.20-30, Beelzebul. And the miracles, well, the thought is that Jesus is probably a wandering magician, again, maybe even empowered by the prince of darkness.

So, we should probably take this question as a very sarcastic one. The synagogue goers are neither impressed with His teachings (He has deviated from what had always been taught in Nazareth) nor are they impressed with his “abilities” (δυναμεις), which is perhaps a better rendering than “miracles” here because it brings out the sarcasm of the remark. Lost in many English translations of this verse is the word “hands” (χειρων). This brings out the sarcasm even more, especially when it is connected to the next question.

Thus, verse 3 begins by asking, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” When taken with the previous question, the implication is, “This guy is a simple carpenter, He builds things with His hands; He must be employing magic or something because His hands are not supposed to do these types of things.” But there is even more to this question. It might be the case that in asking about Jesus being a carpenter (τεκτων), the people are actually putting Him down. For example, the townspeople might have been suggesting that since Jesus left town and did not really follow in His earthly father’s footsteps—which was the norm for sons in that time period—He brought shame upon His father. And for bringing shame upon His father, He should be shamed. That is what’s going on here.

Expectedly, another shameful slur follows and as usual, it is connected to the preceding statement. This one asks: “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Joses and Simon?” Having already attempted to shame Jesus for not following in His earthly father’s footsteps, the crowds now take that even further. This question is actually a double slap in the face. On the one hand, by asking if Jesus is “Mary’s son,” the people are calling Jesus a mama’s boy. On the other hand, by asking this question, the people are referring to Jesus as an illegitimate child (in antiquity, to refer to a male by their mother’s name was to deem them a bastard child). This was simply one way of saying, “Your mother’s pregnancy was swirled in scandal and you’re not following Joseph’s footsteps, so, Joseph must not be your father; thus, we don’t know who your father really is!”

Furthermore, by referring to all of the relatives and then asking the question “And aren’t His sisters here with us?” was a way to say, “Your whole life you’ve been claiming to be something special, something of God, but you’re just human like the rest of us. You have brothers and sisters just like we do. Your birth was no different, your family is no different and you’re not different and you’re definitely not any better than us.” Hence the concluding statement, “And they took offense at Him.”

And Mark tells us that Jesus responded saying, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Having already taught and performed miracles in other towns successfully, Jesus has little success in Nazareth. We might even see this story as a contrast with the previous three! Be that as it may, His carpenter “hands” (χειρων, the same term used in verse 2) could not do much in His hometown. The sense of the sentence is: His hands were tied.

We should not overlook the fact here that Mark records Jesus as referring to Himself as a prophet. As I have written in earlier studies, this is one theme that undergirds Mark’s entire narrative: Jesus is a prophet but He is also much more, He is God. Just as well, we should probably see this statement as a precursor to the next scene, where Jesus sends out “The Twelve.” Notice in 6.1 that the disciples are with Jesus in Nazareth. It could be the case that He took them there because He wanted them to see how they might be treated in their own hometowns. Indeed, they may have to “shake the dust off” their sandals and garments and move on (6.11)!

The last thing I want to point out about “a prophet is without honor in his hometown” is the “honor” element. Of course, the opposite of honor in the New Testament world was shame. Therefore, when Jesus makes this statement, He is implying the converse, “I have come to my hometown and they have not welcomed me but they have only tried to shame me.” As I noted in a previous study (click here to read it), the parable of the soils (4.1ff) is not only the key to understanding every other parable but one of the reasons Jesus tells it is to reveal to His followers the types of persons He and they will encounter as they proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The types of people that Jesus meets in Nazareth relate to the third soil: Persons who are close to Jesus and try to choke His ministry to death. And the disciples will also come in contact with these types of people (3.7-13).

The short of the story is: Jesus has broken with the traditions and teachings of His hometown. He has left town, He has not followed in His father’s footsteps and He has turned the religious and political leaders of the day against Him. In short, Jesus is nothing short of a rebel. And it is this rebel of Nazareth that is actually making Nazareth look bad wherever He goes. They are highly offended by Jesus; they want Him to stop. So, they try to shame Him not realizing that in the end, the shame is on their hands and heads. They not only refer to His birth as illegitimate but, as my wife noted, they do the same to His ministry. From their point-of-view, what else is there to do but shame and shun Him?

As we can see, there is a lot going on in 3.1-6. One of the things that we can learn from this episode in Mark’s account is that often times, as believers, we will face ridicule and jealousy and envy and hatred. However, that does not mean that we give-up or we give-in. Even after Jesus endured all of the shameful insults hurled upon Him, He pressed on. Furthermore, in seeing this, His disciples pressed on. Jesus had told them about the types of people they would encounter and Jesus had showed them the same, yet, they forged on. It is often the case that we are too tough on The Twelve. Sure, they didn’t understand it all, but do we? Sure, they screwed up, but don’t we? But they did keep going (at least, most of them) and that’s what we need to do as well.

We may be made fun of, called un-intellectual or anti-intellectual, we may face insults, we may be beaten or imprisoned, we may be robbed or lied to, we may be cheated, we may be denied by our family or our hometown, we may go into places to do ministry only to find that our hands are tied rather tightly, we may hear people call us evil or say that we are only causing problems by preaching our “religion,” but despite all of the mockery and insolence, we must press on. After all, the Gospel is still very alive and still has far to travel!


Do the Gospels Contradict Each Other? Studies in Mark, Pt. 13

The aim of this post is to briefly address the issue of alleged contradictions in the Gospel accounts. I am not going to get into a lot of textual, literary or theological specifics here but rather, I want to look at the stories of the baptism of Jesus in Mark's and John's accounts, and use them as springboards into a discussion on how one should read the Gospels. Let me explain.

I want to begin with the texts, so, here are the passages from Mark and John:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: 'You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.' Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” (Mk. 1.9-12)

“John testified saying, 'I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 'I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' 'I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.' Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!' The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” (Jn. 1.32-7)

Now, if you look closely at these two accounts, you notice something: In Mark's account, after His baptism, Jesus goes immediately (euthys) into the wilderness for forty days. However, in John's account, Jesus never goes into the wilderness. In fact, the very next day, He is seen walking around town. And the day after that, He is walking around again, and he runs into Nathaniel. And the day after that Jesus heads to Cana of Galilee. In John (which I actually believe Lazarus wrote), there is no wilderness stay. In Mark's account there is no conversation with Nathanael and no trip to Cana. What we have here, are two different accounts.

Now, some have tried, throughout history to harmonize such things; they've created books with such titles as A Harmony of the Gospels, which try to fit the accounts and events together. However, such books are really unnecessary and miss the point. The Gospel accounts were never meant to be harmonized (at least not in the sense that I just mentioned). No, what makes the accounts so great are their differences. Yet, these differences are not “contradictions.” When Mark wrote, he was constructing a story and he set up his story and told his story differently than anyone else could or would have. Lazarus (the author of John) did the same thing. In other words, each of the authors had different perspectives on the story, different points to make and different agendas, that's why their stories (which share foundational similarities) differ at points.

To Mark, it was important to speak of the baptism and wilderness events, to Lazarus it was not. Why? Well, again, they both had different perspectives and agendas. So, what some people allege to be contradictions, are not contradictions at all. What we have in the Gospels are writers telling the stories from their perspectives and all the while adding their own elements or flares. Anyone who has ever tried to write or recount a true story, can easily understand this. Or just take the example of two persons seeing an event and trying to recount it. Will they use the same words, phrases, idioms, etc.? No. But does that mean their stories stand in opposition to one another? Again, No! The stories still share foundational elements. When we read the Gospels, then, this must always be remembered. And for those who may be uncomfortable with this whole notion at first, well, maybe it will comfort you to know that once you take this position, all of the supposed contradictions vanish! How's that for convincing?


Who, According to Mark, Was Jairus? Studies in Mark, Pt. 12

Traditionally, when one reads Mark's story of Jairus and the healing of his young daughter, they come away with a greater sense of faithfulness, they are inspired by this synagogue ruler's persistence and they admire his seemingly deep respect for Jesus. After all, even when people come from the ruler's home and say to him, “Your daughter is dead, why bother with the Teacher any longer?” Jairus presses on. Indeed, he leads Jesus directly to his home. But I wonder if there may be good reason to question such an ivory tower view of Jairus. In fact, it might well be the case that a closer reading of the story suggests that Jairus was not nearly as interested in Jesus as we would like him to have been.

There are two sections of the text prior to the Jairus story (Mk. 5.22-43) that must be borne in mind when reading Mark's account of the Gospel, these two sections are: Mk. 3.1-6 and Mk. 4.1-20. We will look at 4.1-20 first. As I have written in a previous post (click here for that post), the parable of the soils is, according to Mark, the key to understanding all other parables (4.13). The reason for this is because at the heart of the parable is the divinity of Jesus (again, see the other post for more on this). Thus, if one gets this point, they can make sense of all the other parables (in context, of course). While that is the chief point of the soils parable, there is yet another point that flows from that one: Jesus is telling His followers the four types of persons they will encounter as they proclaim the divinity of Jesus (that is what the four types of soils represent, four types of people that Jesus and His followers repeatedly encounter in Mark's narrative).

The four types of soils and thus, types of people, are: 1) closed-minded and hard-hearted people who have it made up in their minds that Jesus is a liar (4.15), 2) shallow people seeking Jesus for self benefit, who, when they do or do not get want they want, turn away from Him (4.16-17), 3) persons close to Jesus who, for whatever reasons, be it honor status, riches, etc., attempt to stifle His ministry, and 4) Those who hear the word (the seed) and let it permeate their entire lives. As I said, we see these four types of people repeatedly in Mark's story and these are the types of people that Jesus speaks to His disciples of. Indeed, when Jesus sends out The Twelve on their first mission, He warns them of such people (6.1-6).

It might well be the case that Jairus falls within the second people group: shallow people seeking Jesus for self benefit, who, when they do or do not get want they want, turn away from Him. In 1.40-45, such a character has already been mentioned and in 5.35 the people from the home of Jairus suggest the same thing. So, if Jairus decides to continue on to his home with Jesus by his side, how does that suggest that he thought the same thing? Well, this is where the second passage that I mentioned above comes into play: 3.1-6.

In 3.1-6 Jesus attends the synagogue on the Sabbath, conducts a healing and evidently upsets the social norm and the religious leaders. In fact, 3.6 says, “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” If you remember, 5.22 says that Jairus is a synagogue ruler (archisynagogon). So, not long after Mark mentions the plot by the synagogue leaders to kill Jesus, he tells the parable of the soils and shortly thereafter, the story of Jairus. Is all of this a coincidence or has Mark ordered these stories on purpose and with reason? I would argue that Mark has definitely ordered these stories with intention.

Could it be that the elderly woman who was bleeding for twelve years, who shares the story and scene with Jairus is actually a contrast to Jairus? Possibly. And what about Mark's portrayal of the synagogues and their rulers? The first exorcism in Mark takes place in a synagogue (1.21-8). Jesus is indignant with the synagogue rulers in 1.40-45. The synagogue rulers begin their aggressive attack on Jesus by whispering about Him during one of His healings (2.1-12). The synagogue rulers challenge His followers in 2.18-22 and they challenge Him to His face in 2.23-28. Again, they set Him up and then begin to plot to kill Him in 3.1-6. The try to shame Him in front of others by saying that He is of satan in 3.10-34. And in 6.1-6 they mock Him and resent Him in His hometown. In the first six chapters, the synagogues and their rulers are viewed negatively. Why, then, should we take the story of Jairus (a named synagogue ruler) differently? I would say, “We should not!”

In fact, it could very well be the case that the name of Jairus is mentioned as a shaming effect. Mark could have left his name unmentioned but he did not; he wanted everyone to know the truth about this ruler: "Jairus" was attempting to use Jesus and take advantage of Him. Of course, having already been to the synagogues, Jesus would have been aware of Jairus and who he was. That may actually be how Jairus knew of Jesus; perhaps he saw the healing take place in 3.1-6 and used Jesus as a last resort. Most commentators are preplexed that Jairus, (evidently, a little well-to-do), actually went to a wandering "magician" or "physician," my hypothesis could explain why: he was using Jesus was a last resort. It may be telling though that Jairus is never mentioned again in Mark. If he were a synagogue ruler on Jesus's side, maybe he would have been.

From my perspective, it appears as though Jairus is not an example of faithfulness after all; it seems that he, like so many others, was seeking Jesus for self benefit with no intentions of following Jesus. Has much changed since then? I think not.


Sacrificing Isaac : A Look at Genesis 22

I recently stumbled upon some school work done by young children. In the assignment, the teacher asked each of her students to come up with an analogy for what God is like. Here are some of their answers:

1. God is like scotch tape, you can't see Him but you know He's there

2. God is like Sears, He has everything

3. God is like Hallmark Cards, He cared enough to send His very best

4. God is like Tide, He gets the stains out that others leave behind

Interestingly, I think these comments can help us make sense of and understand the story of Abraham taking his son Issac to be sacrificed on the mountain. Of course, that story occurs in Genesis 22 and begins with these words: "Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am," he replied. Then God said, 'Take your son , your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.'"

For starters, there may be grammatical clues that alert the reader that they are not meant to take this story as seriously as Abraham did. For example, E. Speiser has noted that the Hebrew "Elohim" here has the definite article "ha" attached to it (thus, "haelohim). While this is not an incredibly strong argument, it can be the case that when the definite article is attached to a pronoun in Hebrew, it is done so for the sake of emphasis (more on this in a moment). Also, in Hebrew, the common word order is Verb-Subject-Object. Now, when this word order is interrupted in Hebrew, it is almost always on purpose and for the sake of emphasis; that is done here in 22.1. So, it could be argued, from a grammatical standpoint, that the author of Genesis 22 may have been "over-emphasizing" things so much, so that there would have been no way the reader would have taken the command as seriously as Abraham did. Thus, from a grammatical standpoint, the seemingly harsh and terrible story really gets softened. However, when understood contextually, the story really gets softened and is actually not very disturbing at all.

It is well known that in the ancient world, the cult of Molek (a.k.a. Molech) existed. One of the signature marks of this cult was that its devotees often sacrificed their children as offerings to the god. For example, Leviticus 18.21 says, "Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord." And Leviticus 20.2 says, "Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molek must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him." (Other verses mentioning Molek include: Leviticus 20.3, 4, 5; 1 Kings 11.7; 2 Kings 23.10 and Jeremiah 32.35.)

It is within this context that the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac must be read. I would argue that from the start, God was not seriously going to have Abraham go through with this act. In fact, that would defeat the purpose of the story. That would also mean overlooking the "softening" grammar in the opening verse. It would also not make sense of God's providing of the ram. Anyway, I believe that God was meeting Abraham on his level here; He was teaching Abraham a lesson about who He was. For sure, Abraham was familiar with Molek and Molek's cult. So, it was not unthinkable, at least not to Abraham, that a god would ask his followers to do this. But here's the catch, God had Abraham go through all of this so that, in the end, He could make the point: "Abraham, Molek's followers claim that Molek wants their devotion, well, I am the same way, I am just like that. However, I am also very different. I do want your devotion but I will not ask you to kill your son to prove your devotion to me."

Just like the sayings of those children at the beginning of this post, Abraham had an experience here where he learned what God was like. Yet, in learning what God was like, he also learned what God was not like. And what an evangelistic tool this could have been. Imagine Abraham speaking to one of Molek's followers and saying, "You know, about Molek, God is like that, but...guess what, He's also very different!"

I don't know about you but this story has always bothered me. However, when read in its proper literary and social contexts, it makes all the sense in the world. In fact, I think it is an incredibly profound story now that I see the ingenuity behind it. And doesn't God still work like that today? Isn't He always up to something in our lives, something where He can teach us about who He is and what He is like? Have you ever had any of those experiences? And can you experience this story differently now? What say you?


The "Unforgivable Sin" in Mark's Account: Studies in Mark, Pt. 11

When I was a teenager, I used to curse a lot. Though my mother was totally unaware of it (she would have kicked my butt if she knew), there was a point when I had a filthy mouth. Once I became a Christian, though, that all had to change; I had to quit cursing. But I soon realized that there was one curse word that Christians really got uptight about: GD. To say this, people remarked, was to “take God’s name in vain,” “to commit blasphemy.” Not really understanding what either of those phrases meant, I just went with the consensus; they sounded wrong to say, so, I didn’t say them. After all, I didn’t want to put myself beyond the limits of God’s forgiveness.

But as I grew in the faith and as I studied the Scriptures, my understanding of blasphemy changed a bit. While studying Mark’s account of the Gospel, I realized that there were two types of blasphemies. In Mark 3.28-30, Jesus is recorded as saying, “‘Truly, I tell you, people will be forgiven all their sins and all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”

This statement comes in the context of Jesus being challenged by a number of local, religious and political persons about His identity. (I have written more on the context of this passage here.) Jesus has already made several claims of divinity in Mark’s account and here, the act that was spoken of in 3.6 (e.g. “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”), is coming true; the people are out to get Jesus. Not only do they want Him physically dead, they want Him to die a social death too; they want His movement to come to a screeching halt! So, in the context of this statement, what they have done is try to publicly humiliate and shame Jesus. As the religious officials, they think, “We are the religious elite, the people will admire our discernment and buy into what we say.” So, they say, “You are possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons you drive out demons” (3.22). Indeed, they were saying that Jesus had an evil spirit; they were committing the “unforgivable” type of blasphemy.

But “What is it and how do you know if you’ve done it? How do you know if you’ve committed it?” What blasphemy, in general is, is to attach something vain or sinful to something holy. It is like curse words coming out of a person’s mouth who claims before others that they are also a holy person; the two claims just don’t go together. Or blasphemy is saying that you’re a Christian, a holy person while in fact, you are living like a hellion. In doing these two things, you are committing blasphemy; you are attaching sinful actions to a supposedly, holy person. Again, blasphemy is attaching something vain or sinful to something holy. And Jesus says that when you do those types of blasphemies, basically, when you claim to be a godly person but you sin, you can ultimately repent and be forgiven of that. But the key is repentance, changing your ways.

But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, according to the text, is not forgivable. So, “What exactly is it?” In short, it is attaching something vain to the Holy Spirit. In this instance in Mark’s account, it was saying that the Holy Spirit in Holy Jesus was actually an evil spirit. In other words, it was saying that Holy Jesus had an evil spirit in Him by which He was doing His works. So, from this point-of-view, the “unforgivable blasphemy,” is the type of blasphemy where one continually makes the claim that Jesus was not who He said He was, God, but rather something else and something less. In short, it is attaching something vain to Him and attempting to make Him into something less than He was and something less than He claimed to be; something less than God.

Now, here’s the thing, the text says in verse 21, literally, that the people “kept” saying these things—that is, continually. That is what the Greek verb tense suggests—these people kept doing this so much so that they got to the point where they had totally convinced themselves of it and nothing could have possibly changed their minds (and this is consistent by the way, with their actions throughout the rest of Mark’s account, they are bent on getting rid of Jesus). And here’s the thing, I would argue that, if you even have the ability, unlike these people in Mark’s story, to ask if you’ve committed the unforgivable sin, then you know you haven’t. Why? Because your mind isn’t fixed against Jesus and your conscience is still able to feel guilt from the Holy Spirit. If you had committed the unforgivable sin, you wouldn’t even be concerned about asking such a question because you wouldn’t care; you would be so hardened and so insensitive to Jesus that it simply wouldn’t matter to you.

So, if you can ask the question, then that is probably a good indication that you haven’t committed the unforgivable sin. And ultimately, this denial of accepting the fact that Jesus was who He said He was (e.g. God) is unforgivable in an eternal sense. By living a life that is a testimony against Jesus, one is attempting to make Him out to be a liar, just like satan strives to do. Thus, in the end, the “unforgivable sin” is actually not just about denying Jesus but also siding with satan. To side with satan, then, over the Holy Spirit, is to commit blasphemy against the Spirit and to say, “I do not want to live in a relationship with you.” And according to Scripture, there comes a point when God gives persons their way and removes His abiding grace from their midst. It is this point that I refer to as the point beyond forgiveness; a point where the person is not at all interested in seeking God’s forgiveness and so, with their seared mind and hardened-heart, he or she does not.


Enjoy Your Baby : A Poem

Today, my daughter turned 6 weeks old. Wow. I was holding her tonight and at one point, she just stared at me; it was a brilliant moment. Her big blue eyes are so beautiful. We had been out to dinner earlier that evening and the gentleman at the table next to me turned and said, "Enjoy it and let me tell you, that little girl is going to have you wrapped around her finger, I know, I've had three of them." My wife replied, "I think he's already wrapped around her little finger." She was right.

Usually, I try to post my own poetry on Sundays. However, in this entry, I want to post one of my grandpa's poems (I got all three of his poetry books after he passed away; until then I had no idea he was a poet; they are prized possessions in my book collection!). Anyways, the poem is below and I am sure that many of you can relate:

Enjoy Your Baby

Your baby is quite little now
But she will soon grow up

She will occupy her chair so high
And walk before you know it
And as she bites the furniture
Her teeth marks sure will show it

And when she learns to talk
You'll wish she'd never had her say
And she will ask a thousand things
You can't explain away

Then suddenly your girl will sprout
In body and in knowledge
And you'll discover that
She is prepared to go to college

So keep your baby while you can
And feed her with a spoon
A little one is precious but
She grows up all too soon

--Francis "Smitty" Smith

Fav 5 : August Blog Posts You Should Read

Here were my favorite five posts from other people's blogs in August, 2007. (Click on the title to go to the post.):

1. John (the Methodist) : Anxiety About Being Left Behind

2. Clay Brackeen : Are Christians Justified in Claiming to Know that Christianity is True?

3. Scott Bailey : The Fashion of the Christ

4. Alan Knox : A Worship Service

5. Chris Tilling : Kanehbosem

* Favorite post of my own: "In A Beginning ?" : A Look at Genesis 1.1


Why Was Jesus Baptized? Studies in Mark, Pt. 10

When we read some of the New Testament passages concerning baptism, we find statements such as, “Repent and be baptized” or “be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” etc. Such remarks suggest that there is some type of relationship between baptism and deliverance from sin. Such remarks also leave us wondering, then, “Why, if Jesus never sinned, was He baptized?”

To some, the baptism of Jesus is nothing more than a refutation of His divinity (e.g. “If He was truly divine, He would not have sinned but since He was baptized for the forgiveness of sin, well, He must have been a sinner and He surely was not God.). Others see the baptismal event as the moment when Jesus became divine or when God began to do a new work in and through Jesus. Prior to His baptism, some argue, Jesus, as a mere man, had committed sin.

Really, though, remarks such as these are making the texts say something they never intended to. Moreover, these kinds of arguments, which are actually mere “implications” or “suggestions,” do not hold much water. In fact, the baptism of Jesus does not suggest that He was a sinner and it definitely does not do away with His divinity. No, the baptism of Jesus was intended to say and signal something totally different than those claims.

So, “Why was Jesus baptized?” Well, in keeping with the series, I want to explore the issue from Mark’s point-of-view. I would suggest that Mark offers us two reasons for the baptism of Jesus and that each of those reasons compliment one another. The first of these is that Jesus was baptized to show solidarity with humanity.

You will notice that Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is right at the beginning of his story. You will also notice that Mark has set the story up in such a way as to echo the exodus event (I have spoken about this in more detail here). In other words, Mark takes the story of Moses and tells the story of Jesus with similar echoes. Thus, just as Moses was leading the people out from under Egyptian oppression, through the Sea of Reeds (which Paul calls “baptism” in 1 Cor. 10) and bringing them to a new shore where he would guide them towards God’s presence and the Promised Land, well, Jesus is doing something similar. Jesus is leading the people out from under and oppressive Roman government (which the people probably participated in), through the waters of baptism, onto a new shore and into a new Kingdom.

To miss this point in the opening of Mark’s Gospel (which most commentators have!), is to miss out on one of the keys to understanding the baptism of Jesus: In the baptismal event, Jesus was showing solidarity with the people. Jesus was essentially saying in His baptism, “I understand your plight, I know your situation and I am here to change it by changing your hearts and minds as well as the hearts and minds of others.” So, to say it once more: The baptism of Jesus was a sign of solidarity with humanity. But this reason cannot stand-alone.

Thus, another reason that Jesus was baptized was to mark the beginning of the fulfillment of His mission. Yet, this mission would never had gotten off of the ground if Jesus had not first shown solidarity with the people; it would have never taken off had He not shown them that He could understand them and the situations they were in. I would argue that Mark situates this story right at the beginning of his account because this is his understanding of the event; Mark places the baptism at the beginning because it signals the beginning of the formal ministry of Jesus, a ministry opposed to Empire and oriented towards the Kingdom of God, His Kingdom.

It is at this point, though, that we must also acknowledge that when the people came out to be baptized, Jesus was not only showing solidarity with them, but they too were showing solidarity with Him and this new movement (why else would Mark mention it, surely not to impress us with “numbers”). And really, when we are baptized today, aren’t we saying the same thing? Aren’t we saying: God, I align myself with You and Your ways; God, I am showing my solidarity with Your life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension; God I am living my life to carry on Your mission and carry out Your work?

I would suggest, in closing, that from Mark’s vantage point, Jesus was baptized for two reasons: 1) To show His solidarity with humanity, and 2) To mark the beginning of His formal public ministry. And at the risk of repeating myself, I would say that when we are baptized into Christ, we are doing the same things, showing solidarity with Him and marking the beginning of our ministries. Furthermore, it is for these reasons (but not these reasons alone), that I would argue that believer’s baptism is essential!

Dancing with the Divine

A few years ago (when I was being, what I refer to as, “Moltmannized”), I began to really take a deep interest in the nature of the Trinity. After reading a few of Moltmann's works, I began reading scholars like Colin Gunton, Stanley Grenz, Miroslav Volf, Gordon Fee and Paul Fiddes, among others. All of these authors have, in some way, contributed to or helped me gain a more healthy understanding of the nature and persons of the Triune God.

In Trinitarian circles, a word has been revived from the times of the Church Fathers: perichoresis. This term was a type of play on words that evoked the image of a circle-dance. Yet, when the term is used, it is meant, not to focus not on the dancers per se but rather on their interweaving movements. The way to picture it is to think of an old-fashioned hoe down where there are numerous movements between various persons. Thus, when used of the Trinity, the imagery emphasizes the motions or movements, the free-flowing yet rhythmic dance steps between the Spirit, Son and Father; the Three are interweaved and interweaving!

On Sundays, when I partake of the communion emblems, the image that I continually return to is this one. Yet, I imagine myself dancing with the Godhead; as I commune with Them, I penetrate and partake of Their dance and They love it and so do I. Just as well, They penetrate my life, my dance, all Three of Them, and I love it, and so do They. I love this imagery and this thought; this is what communion is!

While I was doing some research this week, I came across a word in Hebrew that has the same imagery of a circle dance to it: meholah. I found the word only in two places: 1 Samuel 21.12 and Song of Songs 6.13 (in some translations this may be 7.1). In the Samuel passage, it refers to David’s victory dance, a dance that the whole community joins in and partakes of. The Song of Songs passage reads, “…Why should you look upon the Shulamite as a dance between two armies.” While I do not want to focus on the details of that passage at this point, I do want to acknowledge that the dance being referred to here was a circle-dance which, as an ancient Near Eastern custom, was conducted in the nude. It could have originated as a dance to fertility goddesses (IB, Vol 5., pg. 134-5).

Needless to say, this sent me searching. After reading the Hebrew, I went to the LXX (a.k.a. The Septuagint: the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) to see how they translated these terms. Not surprisingly, they used the term “choroi.” This, of course, is where we get our words “choir” and “choreography” from. So, in translation, the imagery of the circle-dance was not lost. Derivations of this word, “choroi” or “chorego” can be found in a number of New Testament passages (e.g. 2 Cor. 9.10; Lk. 15.25).

In 2 Cor. 9.10, the term has the sense of “ministering to” more than “dancing with.” However, lurking deep within the verse, the imagery is still there. By the way, isn’t this a beautiful image for ministry, stepping into the dance of someone else’s life and becoming a part of it and letting someone do the same to you? I think it is! Anyways, the term is also used in the Lk. 15.25, the story oft referred to as The Prodigal Son. In that scene, the whole family is dancing with one another and rejoicing.

Moving from Greek back to what we started with, Latin, we now return to the term perichoresis. Though this Latin term may not be directly derived from the Greek (it may be!), it is, at the least, a play on words; it has the connotation of doing a circle-dance. Synthesizing my findings, I began to see a wonderful picture unfold and my sense of a dance with the Divine deepened.

For example, I began to wonder if, as a hermeneutical or interpretive move, we could apply the imagery of the “nude dance” mentioned in Solomon, to the perichoretic dance between humans and The True and Triune God. In other words, in this dance are we bearing our souls and selves before God, leaving and keeping nothing from God? And what about ministry? Well, isn’t the interweaving dance with the Godhead, God’s way of ministering to our souls? To put it differently, when we go before the Triune God, enter into Their dance bearing our souls, doesn’t God then, minister to us? And shouldn’t this be a model for how we do ministry?

Shouldn’t our theology of ministry be rooted in the Trinity? Shouldn’t our theology of mission be rooted in the Trinity? Shouldn’t we enter the dance of other people’s lives and minister to them and allow them to minister to us? Shouldn’t this be our theology of life? Shouldn’t we understand life as a free flowing walk or dance with God and others, a dance that does not have every step planned out but rather is created by the movements of the dancers in that moment?

Now, I must confess, if you were to see me dance, you’d have to just laugh because I have no good dance moves. But that’s okay because when I pray and commune with God, it is a beautiful dance, an unfolding dance, a creative dance, a dance that I am not embarrassed to partake in. So, I guess I should ask you, “Have you danced with the Divine lately?”


Apostolic Adventures, Pt. 1

Pisteuomen Readers,

I'm starting a new series for the blog titled: Apostolic Adventures. The series consists of very brief cartoons that I am creating. I will be posting them from time to time for your enjoyment. Hope you like them. The first episode (pt. 1) is below. Click the icon / logo to watch (it should open up in a new window; oh, and make sure you have the sound for your computer turned on).


A Conversation with Scott Bailey: Interview Series, Pt. 3

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Scott Bailey, creator of the blog "Scotteriology" (Click the title to visit his site). We had a great interview, which you can read below. Be sure to bookmark his site and visit frequently. Thanks again to Scott of taking the time to chat.

Scott, first of all, thanks for taking the time to interview.

Scott: It is my pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to interview me.

Michael: Well, let me begin by asking you to, if you would, say just a little bit about yourself. For example, where you are currently living, what type of ministry or ministries you may be involved in, etc.

Scott: I live in Edmonton Alberta Canada. I grew up a pastor's kid and have been actively involved in the church my entire life in many different facets. I think I have pretty much done everything except lead worship. Right now I am pretty much focusing on my studies.

Michael: What exactly are you studying?

Scott: My major is Religion and Theology with a focus on biblical studies, and my minor is Biblical Languages.

Michael: What’s your favorite Greek word?

Scott: Agathos... that's my user name that I post under on my Blog.

Michael: Any story behind that term?

Scott: It means "good" or "useful." It characterizes the direction I think I am heading in my journey.

Michael: Tell us about the name of your blog. How did you come up with “Scotteriology”?

Scott: Well, as you guessed it is a play on the word "Soteriology." I just thought it was a little theological, a little different, and a little funny. Kinda like me!

Michael: When, why and how did you begin blogging and what have been some of the benefits of it?

Scott: I began blogging about 6 months ago. I had been a frequent reader of many blogs such as Codex, Chrisendom and Jim West. I thought it would just be fun to try and a good place to accumulate some things on the web. One of the main benefits of blogging is that it gives me the opportunity to meet like-minded people that I probably would not have run into in any other situation. Also, I think it is also very good practice to find your “voice.” And I get to write things I would not get to in school.

Michael: I’ve noticed that you blog frequently about issues concerning Church, Christ and culture. In a “big picture” type of way, what is your assessment of our current culture and where do you see it heading?

Scott: Well I don't think our current culture is a reflection of the kingdom of God that Jesus frequently talked about. I seriously doubt it is going to spontaneously regenerate itself so I can only surmise that things will get worse and not better. I think it is difficult to broadly paint "culture" with one brush. It is very diverse. There are liberal aspects and there are conservative aspects, but on the whole it appears that in many ways we are becoming more liberal. I certainly am not the biggest fan of culture determining theology.

Michael: So, from your vantage point, then, what is the one area that the Church of the West needs to improve on more than any other?

Scott: Putting Christ back into X-tianity. It doesn't matter how relevant, missional, conservative or traditional you are, without Christ, it is just empty religion.

Michael: Why do you suppose Christ has been so removed from Christianity?

Scott: There are so many reasons, and obviously we can't cover them all in this type of format, but I think it is a natural weakness of humans to move from revelation to regulation, and to start putting our trust in tangible manmade things.

Michael: That is an interesting statement. So, you sort of see idolatry (in a variety of forms) as the root of the removal?

Scott: No, I don't think that I would use the word idolatry, but I do think there can be an unhealthy overemphasis on people and their actions. "If we just do things this way then everything will be all right." I think that sometimes we get a little too excited for how we are doing things and forget to focus on the source. The “Prosperity Message” would be a good example of this. There, it's not about Christ but rather it's about you, or worse yet, the pastor and "his anointing."

Michael: We’ve been talking a bit about ecclesiology (e.g. the study of the Church, for those who may not be familiar with the term), let’s talk for a moment about theology and theologians. As far as theology goes, what would you say is the main issue that you are thinking on more these days than any other? Why is that?

Scott: I have been very focused on the corporate nature of the writings of both the OT and NT. When I first started my studies I had the typical western individualistic worldview when I read my Bible. Bringing some of these concepts to our western audience I think will be quite a challenge.

Michael: Absolutely. So, have you been leaning towards a corporate understanding of salvation? For example, would you say that Christ did not die for “me” alone, but for the “Church” as a whole? To put it differently, “It is not for ‘me’ that He will return but for the Church.”

Scott: I would say that would have probably been the understanding of the men who wrote the Bible. But again, the real challenge is how far that type of thinking is from our own culture

Michael: I agree. For sure. I agree with Bruce Malina's dictum: "If, when we read the Bible, it makes perfect sense to us, we're either misunderstanding and/or misinterpreting."

Scott: Yes, that's very good. I was given a series of books to read by my professor in a summer study last year on the social context of the NT world. Malina's was quite good.

Michael: Well, let me ask you this: What theologian or author (famous or not) has influenced you the most in your Christian thought and walk?

Scott: Wow. There are so many. I would like to write something really cool and academic sounding to show how smart I am, but I think that I would have to say Philip Yancey. Not that he is the greatest writer or the most theologically astute, but in the honest way that he looks not only into tradition but also into himself as well with humility and openness, it causes me to feel very “at peace.” This is the sort of disposition I have adopted. For example, sometimes, when I am just being smart and arguing theology, I may say the right thing theologically about Christ but I certainly don't reflect Him if I am just arrogantly beating someone down to my point.

Michael: You mentioned above that you grew up in the Church. If I’m correct, another aspect of your background is that you were a professional hockey player. Care to say a bit about that?

Scott: Sure. I played pro hockey for a number of years, and I think it gave me the opportunity to see life in a unique way. I traveled all over the world and got to meet people from many different cultures. Hockey is also a different sport and I think I learned some lessons about people that come in handy in my present endeavors. It is no longer something I do, but it is part of what made me what I am. And I got to play in the NHL, which was pretty darned cool!

Michael: Were you a goalie?

Scott: Yes I was a goalie. Which may explain some of the things I write on my blog. Years of 100 MPH slapshots of the head will change a man.

Michael: Haha. Did you have a favorite rival? Ever play against a childhood icon?

Scott: No rival except the limitations of my own ability. I got to play against many of my favorite goalies from when I was growing up such as Grant Fuhr and Ron Hextall. Also, I was scored on by Gretzky, Lemieux, and Messier (amongst many others). And I played with Hofers Bourque and Neely, which also was fun.

Michael: Wow. Those are some unforgettable memories (even if as a goalie, your head knocks have left you prone to memory loss). Well, let me ask you a final question, Scott. If you could only have one book, besides or in addition to the Bible, what would it be and why?

Scott: You're killing me with these selections. I love all my books!

Michael: Sorry. :)

Scott: I think I would have to go with my "Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics." Of course, that is cheating a little but I would get some theology and some darned good writing, which is a pretty good combo. Either that or Left Behind! They are pretty close in quality.

Michael: I’m rolling here. You know how much of a Left Behind fan I am.

Scott: Yeah, they have a link to your articles off of their site

Michael: Seriously?

Scott: No, I'm just kidding. I seriously doubt that those of that worldview are seriously interested in debating a rational person.

Michael: Hahaha. What a good segue for “leaving," what do you say we “end” there friend? Well, Scott, thank you so much for interviewing; it has been fun. God bless you in your studies and ministries my brother.

Scott: The same to you Michael. Thank you and be good.


Greek AlphaBeta 1.0

A number of weeks ago, I released my Hebrew AlefBet 2.0 module, an interactive interface that allows one to learn the Hebrew alphabet. You can still download that for free by clicking on the icon in the right hand column of this blog. Also, you may distribute it freely in its current form.

Today, I am releasing a similar module: Greek Alphabeta 1.0. It is interactive, has audio and one-touch clicking. Feel free to download and distribute this module as well, in its current form. You can download it by clicking the icon in the right hand column. Let me know if you find it helpful, have any comments or suggestions. Hope you find this useful!

***Note: Shortly after I posted this, I made a brief update to the AlphaBeta module. I know that a few people downloaded the interface before the update, so, I just wanted to inform you that one slight change had been made. Thus, you may want to get the updated version in addition to or as a replacement of your first download.


Is There A Difference? : A Poem On Duty & Double Standards

Is There A Difference?

Is there a difference?
I suppose that there is,
In the eyes of non-Christians
About how I should live.

Is there a difference?
I imagine there is,
In the mind’s eye of the doubter
Who tries to corner me in.

Is there a difference?
Yes, I see that there is,
They expect something more,
But only of me and not them.

Is there a difference?
Yes, of preconceived notions.
They question my hope when,
They show no devotion.

Is there a difference,
From my life and theirs?
Yes! It's like climbing the stairs
And bearing the world’s cares.

Is there a reason why,
I welcome the difference?
Why I stand at a distance
And shoulder the penance?

There is a difference,
You can get it from subtracting:
Take away the gospel,
Then see how I’m lacking.

For that is the difference,
The triumph in life,
The hope of my heart,
This gospel of light.

It postures me different,
It makes me stand tall,
It makes all the difference in the world,
To heed to this call.

--TMW Halcomb


Forthcoming Book Reviews

I have a number of book reviews that will be published within the next few months, a handful of them are listed below in picture format (so you can view the cover of the book). Currently, I am working through the great book just published by David A. Fiensy titled, Jesus the Galilean: Soundings in a First Century Life. That review should be published around April. Recently, though, I completed a review of Marshall Govindan's, The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas. I am interested in telling you specifically about this one because the book was free and it was easy to acquire. I was surfing the net one day and came across http://www.spiritrestoration.org/. If you are qualified, you can sign up and they'll ship you a free book to read and review, they'll then publish your work on their website (mine is still forthcoming on their site; however, and though this was not nearly my favorite book or review, since it was easy to get, I have gone ahead posted the review below in this column; for those of you who may be interested in starting to do this type of stuff, this might be a good place for you to begin).

Reviews of mine currently in the process of publication (or soon to be published):

SpiritRestoration.org Review (in their format, of course):

The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas (Quebec, Canada: Babaji's Kriya Yoga & Publications, Inc., 2007), 219pp.

Author: Marshall Govindan
Rating: 1 (1 as lowest score, 5 as highest score)

As a young man, Marshall Govindan made a decision to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It was this choice that led Govindan to begin think more deeply about life and its connections with spirituality. Ultimately and early on, though, the energies of Govindan’s search were channeled away from Christianity and towards Buddhism. It was in this newfound experience of Buddhism that Govindan remarks, “I felt as if I had finally found my path to God” (15).

When Govindan eventually returned to reading and studying the Bible, it was from this vantage point that he did so. In short, he began employing a Buddhist-spiritual hermeneutic (this is the hermeneutic, which The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas operates on). This, combined with the scholarship of extremely liberal Bible interpreters, though, is what ultimately skews his reading of the Biblical texts. Indeed, Govindan’s work is littered with eisogesis and distorted claims about the Bible. Even a quick perusing of his bibliography reveals his bias as he relies solely on the works of authors such as J. D. Crossan, E. Pagels and J. S. Spong. It is their works and the claims of the Jesus Seminar that Govindan takes as Gospel, something that any serious Bible scholar would be incredibly wary and suspicious of.

One of Govindan’s aims in this book is to suggest that there are parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the instructions of the Yoga Siddhas (free thinking Buddhists whose legacy, from the present, reaches back thousands of years). Yet, in this reviewer’s opinion, Govindan never achieves that aim because he gets too sidetracked in attempting to discredit the claims of traditional biblical scholars. Indeed, that seems to be Govindan’s focus. He could have shown supposed parallels without employing any form of defamation.

At one juncture, Govindan says that, to the Siddhas, “The teaching not the teacher is what is important” (77). This point, foundational to Govindan’s book, is what leads him to suggest that Jesus did not want people to worship Him but rather to practice inner worship. Govindan also notes that, “as Buddhism itself became a religion, Buddha became an object of worship, just as Jesus did” (71). Again, to Govindan, individual worship within oneself is the key to true spirituality, not the worship of another. Govindan compares himself, others and the Siddhas to Jesus arguing that through meditation, many enlightened persons have reached and still can reach divine status (68, 82). Jesus, then, is not “special” (68). It is remarks such as these that attest to Govindan’s stepping outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy—a step that he, as a “free thinker” is proud to take.

While Govindan’s book is riddled with inaccuracies (e.g. the statement that “The concept of plagiarism was unknown in ancient times,” 49), slanted exegesis (e.g. reliance on the most extreme liberal scholarship) and misshaped theology (e.g. anyone can achieve divine status just as Jesus did) there are a couple of positive things one can glean from the book: 1) The reader will be forced to think about and research a great number of historical, religious and theological issues, and 2) The reader will accrue knowledge of another religious sect and thus, be able to converse with members of that group.The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas has the potential to be a good discussion starter but with that said, for fruitful discussion to occur, one must carefully work through the plethora of errors contained within this volume. Indeed, that may be an issue worthy of discussion in and of itself.


Be My Guest...Seriously

Ahh, come on, hundreds of you have viewed the blog since yesterday's post but only a handful of you have commented, we can do better than that, surely. If you can find a minute, please, say a bit about yourself in yesterday's comment section. Thanks.


Be My Guest

About one week ago, Alan over at The Assembling of the Church (by the way, you should really frequent this guy's blog!) posted an entry inviting his readers to talk about themselves on his blog. I thought I'd try something similar. So, I am asking and inviting you, the readers of Pisteuomen, to say some things about yourself in this post. It doesn't have to be a lenghty and detailed description of yourself (but it can). If you want you could just copy the following list and paste it into the comment box with your answers:

1. Name
2. Location
3. Age (if you want)
4. Your blog title and site address
5. Suggestion or compliment for Pisteuomen

I'm looking forward to hearing from you, so, please take a couple of minutes and talk about yourself here. I may leave this post up for a couple of days (something I don't normally do) just to give the non-daily readers some extra time to respond. I will compile the results in a few days in another post. Hope to hear from you. Thanks!


Staring Death and Life in the Face: Studies in Mark, Pt. 9

One of the most fascinating stories in Mark’s Gospel account, in my opinion at least, is the story in which Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat while a furious storm is raging outside (Mk. 4.35-41). I have written about some of the seeming peculiarities of this passage in a previous post (click the following link to read it: Mark’s Sleepy Jesus).

Many scholars have suggested that Mark tells this story in such a way as to echo the Jonah tale. Though I do not rule out the possibility of this, indeed, it is very possible, it seems most unlikely to me that Mark was doing this. Moving on, though, I would argue that the point of this story centers on death and life or better yet, death and resurrection.

It is interesting to me that in this narrative, the disciples are “terrified” and they fear for their lives. Just as well, they cannot understand why, like them, Jesus isn’t scared for His life and moreover why He isn’t trying to help them keep the boat under control—and from sinking. When Jesus sees their fear of death, He emerges from the stern and calms the storm. The text suggests that when the disciples see this, they become even more shocked and terrified. They ask, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey Him?” Aware of their terror, Jesus asks them, “Why are you still afraid? Do you still lack faith?”

Now, I think that when preachers and commentators offer exposition on this passage, they tend to over-emphasize two points at the cost of the main point. Again, the main point is death and life. The two points that are often spoken of though, are: 1) The miracle of calming the storm, and 2) The lack of faith on behalf of the disciples. When the second of these two topics is dwelt on, it frustrates me very much. This is the case because if we are honest with ourselves, if we were on a sinking ship, we’d all be scared to death! Why do we look down on the disciples when we’d do the same thing? The first point mentioned above is an important one but it is not the theological centerpiece of the narrative. The authority of Jesus over nature is already presupposed (though this does not mean that He caused the storm; no, the text suggests that He "exorcised" it). I suppose that to us twenty-first century Westerners, it is dwelt on because in our society such miracles are regarded with great suspicion.

As I’ve noted, though, I think that the point of the story is death and life. Here’s what I mean: At one moment, the disciples are sailing along smoothly, at another they fear dying of being drowned and still at another, they are terrified but feel secure. Do you see the string of emotions there? They go from living one minute, to staring death in the face at another, to living securely again.

What takes place in the story, though, is that Jesus pushes back the waters that are threatening to drown the sailors; Jesus pushes back the ensuing waters of death. And what does He do? He spares, and in a sense, gives them another chance at life! In one instant then, these disciples experience the tension between life and death, death and life.

In Christianity, there is particularly one place that death and life are experienced in one event like this: baptism.

It is significant to me that this boat story (one of a few in Mark’s account) is the first! It is also significant to me that this boat story begins by saying, “Let’s go to the other side.” Just as well, it is significant to me that this boat story is the one where water overcomes the disciples. Further, it is significant to me that the tension between death and life appear here and Jesus pushes back death and offers life! I see in this story, more echoes of baptism than I do the story of Jonah.

For instance, if we go back to the opening scene of Mark’s account, what we find is Jesus coming out to the wilderness to be baptized. There are also others who come from far and near to undergo baptism as well. The way Mark tells the story (I have written about this in more detail at the following link: OT Referents) is not accidental. He compares the baptism of Jesus to the Red Sea event of Moses. Just as Moses led the Israelites out from under an oppressive, Egyptian government, through the waters (see 1 Cor. 11 where Paul refers to this as baptism) and to the other side, Jesus is doing the same thing. He is delivering the people from an oppressive, Roman government (in which many of them are participating), through the waters of baptism and to the other side: spiritual freedom. In other words, when these people passed through the waters of baptism and onto the other side of the shore, it was symbolic of them burying the old person and receiving new life.

This is, in large part, what I see going on in Mk. 4.35-41. Jesus is leading these disciples through the waters, to the other side. Not just to the “other side” where the region of the Gerasenes but to the other spiritual side! On this trip they will confront death face-to-face and will also experience life. In a spiritual sense, that is what takes place in and at baptism: we confront sin and death, face-to-face, bury it and receive new life in Christ. We come out of the water, step on to the other side and begin living as a new creation.

While this story has the potential of raising other issues, for example, theodicy (notice again, that Jesus didn’t create the storm here but instead, He rode through it with them), I will leave it at that for now. The important thing we need to glean from this story is that Christ has pushed back death, He has rolled it away, all the way back to the first human, so that we might find life in Him, the second Adam. In the squalls and storms of life that we often experience, what could be more comforting? Not much! But thankfully, Mark preserved this story and in the end, when the question is asked by others, “Who is this Jesus?” we can firmly and confidently say, “He is God. He is God who rolled back the curse of death and gives us new life! He is God, do you know Him?”


Spener, Wesley, Whitefield & Edwards: Early Evangelism and Pietism

When one reflects on western Church history in the 17th and 18th centuries, they are sure to notice a number of key events. Yet, there are three that events that when placed together seem to stand out, at least to me, a little more than the rest; three events that took place over a sixty-three year sweep but culminated in one great movement.

In 1675, the Pietest Movement began. Leading up to the culmination of this movement, though, were many trying years for the Church. Right alongside the Thirty Years’ War (1614-1648), which raged in central Europe and all at once dealt with serious “religious, political and economic matters,” the Reformed-Calvinist debated thundered. Just as well, in Germany, the Lutheran Churches were squabbling amongst themselves and having been placed under a tight government, an interest in theology started to wane while a desire to learn philosophy intensified. Because of this, spirituality had become a misnomer within the walls of the Church and the heart of worship seemed to disappear. Formalism, which led to elitism, had become the norm and all of this led to insincerity on behalf of the Church leaders.

It was at this time that a minister by name of Philipp Jakob Spener rose through the ranks. Spener, who would come to be known as “The Father of Pietism” saw the Church whirling into obscurity and in an effort to re-ignite its flame, shouted a call for the Church to wake from its slumber. He was ashamed at how the Church had become a social club, worship a social event and how ministers were lapsing into social sin and insensitivity. Spener, in the spirit of the reformers who had come before him, sought to reform and recover the Church once more.

With the conviction that God’s people were to be different than the rest of society, Spener formed what he called the “pious assembly.” They met to “pray, discuss the previous week’s sermon and apply passages from Scripture and devotional writings to their lives.” In the midst of this, Spener came upon an opportunity to publish a writing. He titled it Pia Desideria. This was a work that he modeled after his “pious assembly” and their meetings. In it, he laid out standards and expectations for the pious (or those who called themselves Christians). He called for ministers to return to a state of graciousness, sincerity and studiousness and he called for the priesthood of believers to exercise good judgment and to abstain from sin. In short, in a time period when Germany and England were experiencing much turmoil and were relishing in sinfulness, Spener called for Christian piety.

In a way quite similar to the birth and advancement of the Pietist Movement that occurred in Germany and England, in 1734 a revival took place in America. This revival is known as “The First Great Awakening.” It is analogous to and contemporaneous with the Germanic and English events in that, as one scholar has put it, the “Lack of organized Churches and schools, shortage of worthy pastors, the rough frontier life and constant border warfare, had a demoralizing influence on colonial society. Something had to be done to make the colonists more interested in religion.” This new movement or revival began in New Jersey among the Mennonites and Moravians and under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, began to spread like wildfire. The Awakening promoted evangelism, spirituality, missionary work and holy living—the lifestyle of a pious believer. It followed the river through the “Middle and Southern Colonies” and along the way touched the soul of one George Whitefield—a Methodist minister and one of the greatest American evangelists of all time.

It was 1738 when Whitefield arrived in America. He had “followed the Methodist John Wesley from England to Georgia.” While Wesley took a ministry that fell to pieces after a short time, Whitefield went back and forth between England and America preaching and leading revivals (the eventual split between the two men may be due, in large part, to the differences between their Calvinistic and Arminian outlooks). Though Wesley had been ministering for a long time, it was in 1738 that he and his brother Charles both had their own spiritual awakenings. Roger Olson recounts John’s experience:

On May 24, 1738, the young Anglican minister attended a religious meeting in a rented hall on Aldersgate Street in London. Scholars believe it was a meeting of Moravians. There, according to Wesley, he listened as someone read from Luther’s preface to his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans and while listening experienced the much-needed religious awakening: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Thus, it was Wesley’s influence on Whitefield and his own conversion that, in this brief span of years in the mid-seventeen hundreds, the world was changed forever.

The Holiness Movement spawned by Wesley and the Pietist Movement brought to fruition by Spener were spiritual remedies in a time of moral and religious decay. Though each of the movements had their differences, they were incredibly similar and undoubtedly, the tie that binds them is the emphasis on holy and pious living. At an even deeper level, though, one sees that in these two movements, individual spirituality must be balanced with social spirituality. Put differently, both Spenner and Wesley along with Whitefield and Edwards, each issued a clarion call for Christians to practice both individual and social holiness.

In our current era, a time period when Liberation Theologians tend to focus on the social Gospel and many Pentecostals are overcome with individual spirituality (this goes for many other Protestant denominations too), these two early movements seemed to balance the scales and put things in their proper perspective. Indeed, being a pious Christian is not one or the other, it is both, it is personal and social. Feeding the physically hungry and feeding the spiritually hungry are both necessities; it is not one or the other and we see that whenever it has been, Christianity has collapsed into something it was never meant to be. Thus, the movements of Spenner and Wesley still contribute to the development of the Christian faith today as they help us to put our theologies and lives in balance and perspective and urge us to be holy people.


A Repost - Expelling from the Church : Yea or Nay ?

I don't usually do this, but due to the unusually low amount of activity in the blogosphere this past weekend, I decided to repost an entry from Saturday. I am really interested in your thoughts on this, so please, if you have time, respond to the following question:

Is it okay (and if so, when), to expel someone from the Church?


Kierkegaard & Kerygma

The Peculiar Prophet, Dr. William Willimon, has written an interesting little post on the relationship between Soren Kierkegaard and the challenges of ministry. You can read the post in whole by clicking the following link: Willimon & Kierkegaard. For now, here's an interesting quote from none other than Kierkegaard himself, speaking, basically, on the issue of preachers, teachers and ministers selling out and watering down the Gospel (not that this ever happens today):

As long as the clergy were exalted, sacrosanct in the eyes of men, Christianity continued to be preached in all its severity. For even if the clergy did not take it too strictly, people dared not argue with the clergy, and they could quite well lay on the burden and dare to be severe. But gradually, as the nimbus faded away, the clergy got into the position of themselves being controlled.

So there was nothing to do but to water down Christianity. And so they continued to water it down till in the end they achieved perfect conformity with an ordinary worldly run of ideas - which were proclaimed as Christianity. That is more or less Protestantism as it is now.

The good thing is that it is not longer possible to be severe to others if one is not so towards oneself. Only someone who is really strict with himself can dare nowadays to proclaim Christianity in its severity, and even then things may go badly for him.
(Kierkegaard, Journals)

Willimon closes by saying, "Still, all things being considered, being a pastor is a high vocation, a great way to expend a life. The way of Christ is narrow and demanding, but it is also a great gift, even 'in its severity.' These are my thoughts, thinking with Kierkegaard looking over my shoulder, as I begin this week of ministry."

What's on your mind as you begin a new week of ministry?


"You shall have no other gods before Me" : A Brief but Fresh Look at Dt. 5.7

This week I was translating what is perhaps the most famous section of the entire Bible: Deuteronomy 5.1-22 (The Ten Commandments). While translating verse 7, the first commandment, I came across something interesting, something I had never thought of before. In English, the verse reads, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Of course, this is God speaking to the Israelites. But the statement is rather interesting because that term “before” can be taken a couple of different ways (e.g. in terms of degree or in a locative sense).

In Hebrew, the word used for “before me” here, is ’el-panay. This term is associated with the word face and has a number of nuances to it (e.g. “face,” “above,” “presence,” etc.). A derivative of the same term is used in Genesis 1.2 “…darkness was upon the face of the deep.” However, it might well be the case that here, in Dt. 5.7, the term is supposed to be taken in a locative sense and thus, meant to connote “presence.”

One might even appeal to Dt. 5.4, which comes just a few lines earlier and uses the term twice (probably as a Hebraism, “face-to-face”). The idiom certainly denotes being in someone’s presence, face-to-face with them (in this case, God & Israel). If we remember, Moses had just finished giving a long lecture on idols and idolatry (4.15-31); the Israelites were not to have any idols in God’s presence—it detracted from and distracted true worship. Thus, one reading of the passage could be as follows: “You shall have no other gods in my presence.”

It is interesting to read the passage this way because now, while there is still some emphasis on priority, the passage suddenly becomes more focused on entering into a state of pure worship, not desecrating the covenant or the gift of worship. One cannot bring idols into God’s presence or before His face! Thus, while God is still to be number one, with no others in second, third or fourth places (and so on), He also desires true and pure worship. Here, we see a strict call to monotheism in a world that was plagued with pantheism. Here, too, we see worship that is focused on God, not a song set that talks all about me and how much I enjoy and reap benefits from God (perhaps the type of song list found in most 21st century American Church bulletins on Sundy morning). When we come into God’s presence, it is to glorify Him and Him alone; as a byproduct, the Body of Christ is edified but even this is to, and for, His glory.

Next time you enter into worship, keep these words in mind and be careful about how you enter into the presence of God. But also be reminded that His face is shining upon you with glowing exuberance, as Dt. 5.5 describes it, like a great “fire." May we all be immersed in the warm and loving presence of the one true and living God. Amen!


Putting the "sin" in Blessing : Just Can't Cope with the Copelands

Below is a clip from one of the infamous “Instructors of Individualism & Increase,” Kenneth Copeland. Coping with the Copeland’s is not easy and as far as I can tell, they, and their Word of Faith Movement pals are doing nothing more than putting the “sin” in blessing. Mike King has an interesting post on another one of these false “Word of Faith” teachers, which he recently came in contact with while in Africa, check out his story by clicking the following link: Mike King's Last Day in Africa. May God put an end to all of this nonsense!

Oh yeah, here's a nice little line from Gloria Copeland's book, God's Will Is Prosperity, "Give $10 and receive $1000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000 … give one house and receive one hundred houses or a house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane. … In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal" (p. 54). (Click Here for Citation & More.) Isn't that some good, sound exegesis?


Yet, Another Blog to Add to the Blogroll


I have added another link to the blogroll today: Scotteriology (a play on words I take it, from soteriology, the study of salvation / wholeness). Anyways, Scott's site is fun, interesting and rather insightful. One of my favorite posts of his can be reached by clicking the following link: "Jesus Wants You to Read This." You can reach the home page of his blog by clicking here: Scotteriology. Enjoy.

Addition to the Blogroll : The Assembling of the Church

Pisteuomen readers,

A new blog has been added to the Pisteuomen blogroll: The Assembling of the Church. This blog is authored and maintained by Alan Knox, a student at SEBTS. As you might have noticed from the title of his blog, one of Alan's main interests is in ecclesiology (the study of the Church / body of Christ). He has some great insights and fascinating posts. Be sure to check out his site by clicking the above link.

While there are a number of blogs that I read most frequently (about 10), in order to keep Pisteuomen from getting messy with so many links, I have only been adding those who update frequently (every day or every couple of days). If you update every 1-2 days and you want to trade links, let me know by responding to this post.


"In A Beginning..." ?: A Look at Genesis 1.1

Recently I happened upon something very fascinating in Genesis 1.1. Now, this is nothing novel and of course, interpreters before me have taken note of it. However, if I had to hypothesize, I would guess that the majority of Bible readers do not realize that the very first word of the Bible is such a riddle. It can be translated, at least from a grammatical point-of-view, a number of different ways:

1. “In the beginning”
2. “In a beginning”
3. “When God began to create”

However, any intelligent reader of the Bible (or a reader of just about any other text for that matter) knows that when a certain number of interpretations are plausible or possible, the evidence has to be weighed and the best interpretation accepted. One of the questions to ask regarding Genesis 1.1, then, is: Do we have enough evidence to select one reading over others? I would suggest that we do. What I want to do here is to try to dissect the issues surrounding the text and then offer my understanding of the most plausible and permissible reading.

In English, we often use a part of speech that we likely don’t know the technical word for. The term I’m referring to is the word “THE.” This term, “THE” is what is known in grammatical terms as a “Definite Article.” In the phrase, “The cat,” “THE” is the definite article and “cat” is the noun. Thus, in this phrase, the noun is defined by its Definite Article. That is, it is not just any old cat or a cat, it is “THE” cat.

The Definite Article, as we might expect, is the opposite of an Indefinite Article. The difference between the two has to do with one being “specific” and the other being “general.” Thus, the Definite Article is “specific” while the Indefinite Article is “general.” To give an example I’ll use the following sentence: “The boy is young.” Or a similar sentence: “A boy is young.” Do you see the difference between “The” (Definite Article) and “A” (Indefinite Article) in the two sentences? Thus, we would say that the first sentence is Definite and the second one is Indefinite.

Now, in Hebrew, to make a word go from general to specific, one only has to add “he / ha” to the beginning of the word. The problem we confront in Genesis 1.1 is that there is no such prefix; there is no Definite Article. Thus, the text seems to read “In a beginning” (a more general sense) as opposed to “In the beginning” (a more specific sense).

Though the word “bereshiyt” (literally: “in beginning”) lacks the Definite Article, there is an explanation as to why we can still include it in translation:

Just as with English, the Hebrew writers had ways of denoting when a phrase was time-oriented (a.k.a. “temporal”; which does not necessarily mean temporary).

If we reference texts such as Isa. 41.4 and 41.26 we find out, as T. K. Lim has noted, that temporal phrases often lack a Definite Article. In other words, in temporal phrases, the Definite Article is assumed because something is happening at a specific moment in time. Isaiah 41.4 reads: “Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from (the) beginning?” Here, the Definite Article is missing but because this is a temporal phrase, the Definite Article is implied. It is the same in Isaiah 41.26, 46.10, 48.16; Prov. 18.23; Eccl. 3.11 and Genesis 1.1, among others. (*Note: As with temporal phrases, this same idea of an implied Definite Article shows up in cosmological phrases.)

It has been suggested by some that though it is a temporal clause, Genesis 1.1 is also a dependent clause. What this means, according to some, is that for 1.1 to make grammatical sense, it depends on 1.2 or 1.3. In other words, because 1.1 lacks the Definite Article, it cannot stand alone. It is well known by scholars that the interpreter Rashi (1105 AD) made 1.1 dependent on 1.3. To him, 1.2 was a parenthetical statement (that is, it should be put in parenthesis as a kind of transitory side-note). By doing this, Rashi believed that the first word, “bereshiyt,” took on an absolute sense. Yet, such a grammatical move is not necessary. Neither is Abraham ibn Ezra’s (1167 AD) argument that 1.1 is dependent on 1.2. Thus, the argument that we have here a “construct state,” which seems so en vogue at present, actually appears to create nothing but more questions and problems. Again, the Definite Article is implied in the temporal / cosmological clause of 1.1.

While the Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) also lacks a definite article (e.g. it simply reads “en arche”), various Greek scholars have suggested that the clause has an absolute sense to it. This comports well with the temporal / cosmological argument above. Lim also points out that The Samaritan Pentateuch actually points the article as Definite (bareshiyt). (*Note: If you click on the link above to view the SP, you will notice that there are no Hebrew vowel markers!)

So, there are strong evidences for 1.1. reading “In the beginning.” Indeed, this appears to be the strongest reading after all. The theological implications for this are huge too. Here are some implications of such a reading:

1. It assumes that God exists and is before all; theologically, this suggests His supremacy
2. It assumes that God is one (even while Elohiym is in the plural and the Spirit is spoken of here, not to mention the plurality of Gen. 1.26-27; though, in Hebrew, terms that are plural in form often contain a singular meaning, so, this is nothing incredibly exceptional)
3. It teaches that God existed before any matter / creation and that nothing existed before God
4. It suggests that God created out of nothing (ex nihilo), which comports with other Scriptures
5. It suggests that, if Moses, the author of Genesis, knew of other creation myths (e.g. Marduk), that he didn’t borrow language or imagery from them but rather, argued against them (*Note: The Genesis account is widely different than any of the other battle myths or what have you)
6. It suggests the moment when God started to create (e.g. the beginning point) and then successive acts that follow (e.g. each day of creation)


The Hebrew AlefBet v 2.0

Last week I posted the first installation of my Hebrew AlefBet module (1.1). After having found a slight error and chatting with some folks about how to make the module more helpful, I did an update. So, now I have developed the Hebrew AlefBet 2.0 model. It includes the Hebrew alphabet, transliterated letters and audio files for each letter. The module is also interactive and allows you to hear the letters pronounced and navigate from letter to letter. I may add one more feature to the AlefBet model in the near future, although, I am not positive about that. I plan to create a Greek AlphaBeta module soon as well. Watch the blog for updates and additions. Feedback and comments are always appreciated. Oh yeah, the programs are open source (or free/shareware) so, feel free to distribute and use them in their current forms. To get the updated module, click on the "alefbet 2.0" icon in the right-hand column of this blog. Be blessed and be a blessing!


Tendencies: A Spoken Word Confession


Some things
We just don’t like mentioned
Like when I
Turn my blind eye
To the world’s suffering
And why?
To remain a comfy closet Christian!

I convince myself
That I aint meant to meddle
In the middle
Of this mess
I’ll simply sit and settle
Relax and dismantle
While millions out there peddle

To this end
I just defend
How I’m con-de-scend
Yep, I con-serve
I’m mister right wing
That’s my think-ing
But am I not thieving?
And can you follow my reasoning?

Am I stealing from God?

When this hungry sister’s
Starving heart whispers
When this war torn land
Devastates this man
I’m gone
Vanished…like footprints in the sand
Am I a man
Of God
Or a thief?
A selfish steward
Whose faith is putrid?

There’s a tendency
To keep
The heart from the head
And the head from the hands
So, personally
And socially
We can be
At the same time
Yet unholy
And consequentially
Still act like we’re free…in Christ
But that’s a vice
A deadly sin
So, who are we kiddin’?

We need caught by a vision
To be men & women fishin’
We’re commissioned
To live in
Relation not religion
Our hearts cut like circumcision
And what I’m saying yo, it’s relevant
It might be obvious, like a room with an elephant
But we need sold on this truth & I be sellin’ it
From roof top to top, straight yellin’ it

Yep, it needs told
Needs believers who are bold
Who’ll march the tough roads
And someone who’ll hold
The young and the old
The rich and the po’
Cause you know
It’s hard to keep your hands warm
When the fire has no coal
We know
That, what bread is to hunger
Jesus Christ is to the soul

Let’s tally the score
And leave open the doors
Cause what’s done in here
Can’t be hidden no more
We need
Men & women of integrity
Good deeds for all the world to see
To be
And to simply
Do honest ministry
That’s the need of the century
In this age where they’re censuring
The voice that carries density
The voice of truth

I’m seeking life after life
Where we win, not lose
But this truth
It’s been banned from the radios and the news
But since I
Since I
Regard the truth as sacred
I take the truth as truth
Cause there’s no other way to take it

So men
And women
We don’t need a revolution
No, what we need is a conclusion
Where we worship, serve and live like the saints
Instead of yawning in communion

--TMW Halcomb