A Limerick on the Lord's Day

(based on Mk. 8.22-6; in collaboration w/my lovely wife Kristi)

There once was a man with no sight
Jesus spit and his world became bright
“Now I can see,
But the men look like trees”
Tried to climb one but got in a fight


The Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek & Latin Contour of Mark’s Gospel: Studies in Mark, Pt. 25

A few posts ago, I wrote about some of the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark’s Gospel. In that post, I argued that the Gospel according to Mark was the product (attested to by the Church Fathers) of Mark recording a number of lectures given by Peter in Rome, where Peter compared Matthew and Luke’s accounts. It was during this time that the Romans sitting in the crowd, asked Mark for a copy of his documenting of the lectures. (Click the following link for more on this: Composing Mark.)

What this means, of course, is that Mark’s account was produced in the main, for a Roman audience. What I want to do in this post is to show how the many explanations of both Aramaic terms and Jewish customs in Mark’s work, give strong credence to the fact it was indeed, written in Rome for those of Roman orientation and/or origin. Furthermore, I will show a list of Latinisms and Latin load words that have been uncovered in the text. Surely, Mark would not have included such idioms (which, unlike the Aramiac terms and Jewish practices, he does not have to explain) and terms had his audience not been Roman.

Here is a chronological list of Aramaic uses as they occur in Mark’s Gospel:

* 3.17 (Boanerges – “which means, sons of thunder”)
* 4.12 (here quoting Isaiah, Mark veers from the LXX and follows the Aramaic Targum)
* 5.41 (Talitha Kum – “which means, Little girl, I say to you, get up”)
* 7.11 (Korban – “that is, devoted to God”)
* 7.34 (Ephphatha – “which means, be opened”)
* 10.46 (Bartimaeus – “which means, son of Timaeus”)
* 14.36 (Abba – no explanation, though one might take the following 'ho pater' as a parenthetical mark and thus, as an explanation)
* 15.22 (Golgotha – “which means, the place of the skull”)
* 15.34 (Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani – “which means, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”)

One can see that after each Aramaic term or phrase that is used (with the possible exception of Abba in 14.36), Mark offers an explanation. Needless to say, he would not have wasted time, ink or parchment on writing down explanations of these terms had his audience been familiar with them. Aramaic, the language of the land of Galilee (esp. Palestine) was not the language of Rome, Latin and Greek were. What this suggests is that Mark was not composed for an Aramaic or Galilean audience.

Throughout Mark’s work, the reader also encounters a number of places where Mark takes some time to explain Jewish traditions and/or beliefs. These passages are as follows:

* 7.3-4 (“The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles and dinging seats.”)
* 14.12 (“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread—when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover Lamb—Jesus’ disciples asked Him…”)
* 15.6 (“Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.”)
* 15.42-3 (“It was Preparation Day—that is, the day before the Sabbath—So as evening approached…”)

What can we learn from these explanations? Well, just as he would not have had to explain Aramaic terms to an Aramaic crowd, Mark would not have had to define Jewish rituals and holy days to a predominantly Jewish crowd! So, we can gather from these explanations that the crowd was neither Aramaic speaking nor Jewish. However, there are a number of clues in Mark’s text that suggest that the audience was Roman. One of the most helpful textual clues come with all of the Latinisms and Latin loan words/phrases. Here is a list, which most textual scholars agree on—I have compared this list to other New Testament works, noting where Mark’s uses are unique or where they might correspond with other important uses:

* 2.23 (hodon poiein – Lat = iter facere; unique to Mk.)
* 3.6 (sumboulion edidoun – Lat = consilium dederunt; Mt. usually uses sumboulion elabon)
* 4.21 (modios – Lat = modius; Unique to Mk.)
* 5.9 (legei – Lat = legio; Lk. uses this once at 8.34)
* 5.15 (legiona – Lat = legio)
* 6.27 (spekoulator – Lat = speculator; Unique to Mk.)
* 6.37 (denarion – Lat = denarius)
* 12.14 (kensos – Lat = census)
* 12.42 (lepta; unique to Mk.)
* 12.42 (kodrantes; Used once in Mt. at 5.26)
* 15.15 (hikanon poiein – Lat = satis facere; Unique to Mk.)
* 15.15 (phragellan – Lat = fragellare; Used once at Mt. 27.26)
* 15.16 (Praitorion – Lat = Praetorium; Used once at Mt. 27.27)
* 15.19 (tithentes ta gonata – Lat = genua ponentes; Unique to Mk.)
* 15.39 (kenturion – Lat = centurio; Unique to Mk. When used in Mt., Lk. and Acts, the term is ekatontarches or a derivative of it)
* 15.44 (kenturiona – Lat = centurio)
* 15.45 (kentruionos – Lat = centurio)

As can be seen in the terms above, not all of these Latin terms/phrases are unique to Mark. Indeed, when Mark retells the passion events, he adopts a couple of Matthew’s Latin terms (e.g. verses 27.26, 27). Just as well, there are other terms, such as denarion that are used repeatedly throughout the New Testament. However, there are a number of terms and phrases that are unique only to Mark’s account. What can we deduce from this data? For one, it shows that Mark purposefully adapts his account, which is based on Mt. and Lk., to fit a Roman audience. Second, since Mark does not offer explanations of these terms but simply works them in, is telling; unlike the Aramaic words and Jewish customs, no explanation is needed. Had Mark’s audience not been Roman, we would have expected him to, as he did with the Aramaic words and Jewish practices, to explain. Thirdly, it shows that Mark had some knowledge of Latin but not a lot; he still wrote in Greek!

Thus, it appears, from a textual analysis of Mark’s account that his audience is clearly Roman. This comports well with my previous argument that indeed, Mark wrote in Rome at the request of Roman persons who were in the audience listening to Peter speak. With this knowledge, we might begin to look for some relationships between Paul’s letter to the Romans, the letters he wrote while locked-up in Rome, Roman historical works and Mark’s work. For instance, one can easily see how Romans 14 and Mark 7.1-23 speak to similar issues. One could also see how the opening of Mark’s work (often criticized for seeming abrupt, which I totally disagree with) is Roman in demeanor (click here to read a previous post of mine on this subject: Mark’s Opening Scene).

In forthcoming posts, I will continue to offer evidences for the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark’s work, for now, think on these things.


Added to the Blogroll: NT & Faith - Jacob P. Breeze

Readers of Pisteuomen,

I have added a new blog to the blogroll: NT & Faith. This blog is maintained by Jacob Paul Breeze, an undergraduate at Lincoln Christian College. Be sure to visit and bookmark his site.


“What Comes Out of You is What Defiles You” : Studies in Mark, Pt. 24

In Mk. 7.20, a scene where the religious leaders had just challenged Jesus on food regulations, Jesus teaches the crowds and His disciples that, “all foods are clean.” Now, the immediate context of this scene and of Jesus’ words has to do with food. However, there is a general, ancient principle underlying His statement: “What comes out of you is what defiles you” (7.21). Let me give an example.

Right after His statement in 7.21a, Jesus, in 7.21b-22 gives a laundry list of sins that originate from within. One of those sins that He mentions is “envy.” Actually, in the language of the New Testament that term is “οφθαλμος πονηρος,” which literally means “eye of evil” or “evil eye.” In the times of Jesus, the evil eye was a serious issue. One of the ways to bring disaster or misfortune on your enemies was to cast the evil eye on them. Now, to most Westerners, the evil eye sounds more like a superstition than anything. But lest we act like cultural imperialists or elitists, we should remember that to Jesus, in His culture, this was no small issue.

I should note that there are still cultures in the world today that believe strongly in the evil eye. Many Hispanic cultures adhere deeply to the evil eye principle. Because most Western Christians will never travel over to the Mediterranean, they are not likely to realize that even today, the evil eye is still a cultural phenomenon there. No matter where you go in Turkey, you will see the evil eye. In the pictures I have posted (below) from my trip to Turkey last January, you can see that our bus driver had one on his dashboard and that a restaurant owner placed one over the door frame of his store; they had done this for protection.

The blue and white medallion is thought to be a type of reflective charm. That is, if someone casts the evil eye on your (e.g. on your bus or on your business), the charm will act as a mirror and reflect the evil eye back on the one casting it. Thus, in the end, they have cursed themselves. One way to block or deflect the evil eye was to spit at the one casting the evil eye (hence the story where Jesus spits and heals the man’s eyes) or to strive to prevent persons from becoming envious of you. David Fiensy points out that, in the Talmud, there is a passage concerning the evil eye that says:

“If anyone is going up into a town and is afraid fo the evil eye, let him take the thumb of his right hand in his left hand and the thumb of his left hand in his right hand and say, “I, so-and-so, the son of so-and-so, am the offspring of Joseph and the evil eye has no power over us…If he is afraid of his own evil eye, he should look at the side of his left nostril” (Beracot 55b).

Again, we should not downplay this belief just because we do not practice it. Evidently, Jesus Himself understood it to be an issue of paramount importance; He did not want people to cast the evil eye on others—it was representative of wishing evil or disaster on someone.

So, what does this all have to do with Jesus’ statement that “What comes out of you is what defiles you”? Well, it actually has a lot to do with it. In the ancient world, there were four ideas about how the eye worked—none of them like our medical theories today. However, there was one prevailing theory, one that was the most common among those who lived in the ancient Mediterranean world. Plutarch, in one of his works, mentions this view: “Indeed, I said, you yourself are on the right track of the cause (of the effectiveness of the evil eye) when you come to the emanations of the bodies…and by far living things are more likely to give out such things because of their warmth and movement…and probably these (emanations) are especially given out through the eyes” [Moralia V.7,680). In the next verse of this work, Plutarch talks about how the emanations from a jaundiced eye can kill flowers and cause great harm.

Elsewhere, Plutarch records, “Man both experiences and produces many effects through his eyes; he is possessed and governed by either pleasure or displeasure exactly in proportion to what he sees” (Quaestionum convivialium 5.7). Aristotle wrote that “Sight is made from fire and hearing from air” (Problems 31, 960a), “Vision is fire” (Problems 31, 959b) and “in shame the eyes are chilled” (Problems 31, 957b). Scores of other evil eye citations could be given but that is unnecessary here. So, we can see that the common thought was that evil could emanate or come out of the eye. In other words, the evil came from within and went out through the eye. Thus, while Jesus is in the main speaking about food rules in Mk. 7.1-20, the underlying principle that He purports (“What goes out of you is what defiles you”) also applies to the moral topos that makes up Mk. 7.21-3.

One of the items in the topos, as we have seen, is the evil eye—a glance of envy that by its powerful emanations could bring disaster on those one held ill feelings towards. One of the points I wanted to make by writing this study was to show just how easy it is to read the Scriptures and to miss their ancient context. And when we miss the context, we ultimately misinterpret and from time-to-time lead others or ourselves astray. Context, then, is incredibly important. Another thing this reminds us of is that when we read the Scriptures, we cannot be cultural imperialists. We cannot act as though our culture because we have different understandings and beliefs, is better than the ancient Mediterranean culture was. No, we need to acknowledge the differences and take them for what they are. Sometimes we can accept ancient understandings but sometimes we must move past them so that we are not confined to ancient cultural norms. It is not an all or nothing approach to the Bible. We constantly need to be reminded that reading and interpreting the Bible is hard work and it must be done with sensitivity, open-mindedness and to the best of our abilities, accuracy.


Did Jesus Use Protection? Studies in Mark, Pt. 23

Have you ever heard someone say, “Whenever you’re angry, you should count to ten or just walk away for a while”? Of course, the line of thinking behind such advice is: “Right now you’re angry and upset, if you stay here, in this moment, things will only get worse and you are liable to hurt someone; it is in everyone’s best interest to spend some time apart.” Now, for my purposes here, I am not really interested in the scenario itself (e.g. the two persons fighting). Instead, I am interested in the point behind the scenario, namely, that sometimes, one of the best ways of protecting the people you care about is to distance yourself from them.

I think about a young man or woman who, after just having a young child, cannot make ends meet to pay their bills or to feed their baby. Turning to the last resort, the father gets involved in the drug game. In the process of making a lot of money, he also finds that he has made a lot of enemies. Before too long, his family is drug into the mess. What started as a means to helping his family, in the end, only hurt it. Now, the best way to help his family is just to stay away them; he is constantly in too much danger for them to be safe.

I can think of a number of examples where, in order to protect the people you care about most, you have to stay away from them. When I read Mark’s account of the Gospel, I wonder if a similar point lies beneath the surface of the text. In other words, I wonder if the reason Jesus moved away from Nazareth, from His family, is because He wanted to protect them? Did He have an acute awareness of just how intense His ministry would be and did He know that if His family were around, they would get drug into it? I think so!

It has often been argued—and I must confess, up to this point I have thought this way too—that in Mark’s Gospel account, Jesus is offensive to His parents and just as well, Jesus’ family is offensive towards Him. But, to disagree with the majority of commentators (especially the social-science scholars, a group which, in a number of ways I consider myself part of), I want to argue that there is another way to understand what is going on in Mark’s work. I want to suggest that when read correctly, neither Jesus nor His family are offensive to one another. Instead, Jesus is protecting His loved ones and similarly, His loved ones are trying to protect Him.

I begin by looking at Mark chapter 3, the passage where Jesus’ relatives come (to His home) with plans to take Him by “force” and they suggest that He is “possessed” (see: Mk. 3.21). Generally, this statement is taken negatively because the text portrays a negative context. But what if another reading of this text suggests that they came to take Jesus by force because they feared that the religio-political situation, in all of its intensity, was going to result in Jesus losing His life? More support for this view might come from what it said a few verses before this story, namely, that in 3.6, the Pharisees and Herodians began “plotting” to kill Jesus. Again, what if this news traveled to Jesus’ family and they came to protect Him?

And what if the statement about Him being out of His mind and being possessed was not meant to be a slander but actually reveals real concern? To put it differently, what if they really did, deep in their souls think He had gone mad; that an evil spirit somehow got hold of Him? This belief was not uncommon in the ancient world. Indeed, one only has to read Mark’s Gospel to be aware of this; it happened to many people! Jesus’ family members thought that it had happened to Him too, perhaps. Or, could it have even been a last ditch effort to try to save Jesus’ life? I mean, today, in court, many people plead “insanity” for their loved ones with the hope that it will save their lives. What if they were doing the same thing for Jesus?

And what if Jesus knew that they would do this type of thing and that is why He moved away from them? It would not only stifle His mission but it would bring them into the middle of all of the political danger and hype. It is clear from Mk. 7. 9-13 (where Jesus criticizes the religious elite for not honoring their fathers and mothers) that Jesus still respected His mother and father and treated them with respect. While it is not central or all that significant to my argument here, I do believe that Joseph was still alive at this time. I tend to think that he is not mentioned much for two reasons: 1) It would create theological tension with Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, and 2) More practically, he was away working, being the breadwinner for his family. (But what if He is mentioned indirectly, for instance, as the basis of the father/son relationship in Jesus’ parables?)

One of the things, in my opinion, that we must recognize when we read Mark’s account is that there is a seeming tension between what Jesus says in Mk. 7 (again, about honoring parents) and the frequent occasions where He engages His kin. However, that tension can be relieved and actually, it really makes the most sense out of the story, when we realize that Jesus is attempting to stay away from His immediate loved ones because He does not want them to get caught in the middle of the dire religio-political situation. Yet, they do not want Him to be in that situation either. So, both parties are using a form of protection towards one another; they want each other to be safe. In the end, though, Mark tells us that despite their trying to protect one another, they were together: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed Him and cared for His needs…When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (Mk. 15.40-1; 16.1).

One question that I raised for myself while thinking on this issue was: Why would Jesus want to protect His family but at the same time expects others to “give up their lives” for Him? My answer to this is that Jesus expects all of His followers to be willing to “give up their lives” for Him; nobody is exempt from that and neither was Jesus’ family. But He wanted that sacrifice of aligning oneself with Him to come by choice, which, His blood-relatives did not necessarily have; they were, by default, associated with Him. So, this was not association by “choice,” it was automatic association.

So, in light of the eye-catching question in the title of this post “Did Jesus Use Protection?” I would have to say, “Yes, Jesus did use protection; He wanted His family to be safe and above all, for their affiliation with Him to be more about choosing to be affiliated with Him than having to be.” And, no doubt, the same is true for us!


How The Gallio Inscription Helps Us Date Mark's Gospel: Studies in Mark, Pt. 22

Not long ago, I wrote a post that concerned the Gallio Inscription (read that post and see some photos by clicking the following link: The Gallio Inscription). In a nutshell, this Inscription is the only hard piece of evidence that we have to date the life of Paul. We are enabled to do this because the Inscription mentions Gallio, the proconsul before whom Paul is tried in the city of Corinth.

I noted in the previous post that the Inscription is dated to around AD 51, when Gallio was proconsul and around the same time that Paul was tried before him. In the Inscription, the emperor Claudius mentions that during his 26th acclamation, Gallio was assigned this position once again. The date for this 26th acclamation is uncertain but since we know the date of his 22nd through 25th acclamations (which were all in 52 AD) as well as his 27th acclamation (which was also in 52, in August), then the 26th must have come some time in 52 AD, probably during the summer.

If we acknowledge that Paul was in Corinth at this time (where Gallio was) and was tried at the bema seat, we can work both backwards and forwards and attempt to date his missionary travels. From there, we can try to date his life.

Jesus died around AD 30 and Paul, as he asserts, became a Christian about 3 years later (AD 33). In his third year of being a believer (see: Gal. 2.18), Paul went up and met with Peter to discuss the life and teachings of Jesus, as well as the role of the Jerusalem Church (see: Gal 1.18). 14 years from the time of his Damascus Road encounter (AD 44-48), Paul went back to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas and Titus (Gal. 2.1). He brought before the “pillars” his teachings and the head of the pillars (Peter) along with James and John. In Galatians, Paul’s earliest letter, Paul says that he and Peter came to an understanding: Peter's ministry is concerned mainly with the Jews and Paul’s ministry is concerned mainly with the Gentiles (Gal. 2.7ff). This too is an important piece of information as it informs us of a new stage or period in Christian history: the “go ahead” from Peter and the Jerusalem Church to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Again, this was in 44+ AD, which of course, is why Paul can refer to it when he wrote Galatians shortly after in 46-8 AD.

If, all of these numbers have you in a swirl, let me try to boil them down or simplify them: In AD 30, Jesus dies and shortly after (32-33 AD), Paul becomes a believer. In AD 33 Paul met with Peter to discuss the life and teachings of Jesus. 14 years later, Paul finally went back to Jerusalem for a council, which puts us at 46-8 AD. During these years, as Galatians and Acts inform us, a severe famine struck Jerusalem (Acts 11 & 12, Gal. 1 & 2). It is at this time, as Gal. 2.11 reports, that Paul began ministering in Antioch and shortly thereafter went into Galatia. 4-6 years after that, while on a missionary journey, Paul was tried before Gallio the Proconsul in the city of Corinth (AD 52)—and the Gallio Inscription lines up smoothly with this date!

From AD 52, we can work backwards and forwards to order both Paul’s writings and his journeys. For the moment, we look forward. It would be five to six years later, from the time of his trial before Gallio, that Paul would be locked up in Caesarea (see the letter recorded in Acts 23.23-32). Again, this puts us around a date of 57-58 AD. Acts 24.23 notes that while in Caesarea, Paul was kept “under guard” but was also given “some freedom” and “permission” to see his “friends” who would “take care of his needs. This is an incredibly significant piece of information. While under house arrest, Paul began to sense the need for a written account of the life of Jesus that appealed to his Gentile audiences. Who better to write, than his companion in ministry Luke?

As an aid, Luke used Matthew. This means that Matthew is the earliest written document of the New Testament (not Thessalonians or Galatians). Both Peter and Paul had been using the Gospel of Matthew as the proof and source of their teaching and preaching. However, where Matthew, in all of its Jewishness appealed to the dominantly Jewish Jerusalem Church, a lot of it was unappealing to Gentiles. So, Paul realized that a presentation of the Gospel that appealed to the Gentiles was needed. So, he summoned his friend Luke and asked him to begin working on that scroll. Luke left out many of the strictly Jewish elements and in fact, recast the story, as many have noted, in light of a Greco-Roman bios (biography) with elements of the famed genre of "hero story." However, before making this document a “public” document, Paul wanted to get Peter’s stamp of approval.

So, by the time Luke finished, what Peter did was to come up to Rome, it is now around 62 AD, where Luke and Paul were and he compared the two accounts. Beyond this, Peter saw fit to give a series of speeches or lectures that he based on the two writings. When he did this, his recorder (hermeneute) Mark took down all that he said (see: 1 Pet. 5.12-3, Col. 4.10 and Philemon 24 for more on this). Those in the crowd, many high rank Romans, wanted a copy of Peter’s speeches and so Mark made some copies. Thus, it is these speeches that form the account known as the Gospel according to Mark, which was penned around AD 62+. If this all seems foreign to your ears (and it probably is given the “Q” theory that has taken over Gospel studies), well, maybe some more proof will help.

It is at this point that the writings of some of the Church fathers come to the fore. David Alan Black has written a excellent and succinct but rather small tome on this issue and it is from his work, Why Four Gospels? that I draw some of the following inferences and quotes. See for yourself, the belief, from the first four centuries of Church history concerning the authorship and situations surrounding the composition of the Gospel accounts. Since I am only going to quote a few passages, I will list here all of the literary references that also shed light on this issue (they are listed in chronological order):

1. Justin, (ca. 100-165 AD – Dialogue with Trypho 106.9-10)
2. Irenaeus (ca. 130-200 AD – Against Heresies 3.1.1-2)
3. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 – Adumbrationes in epistolas canonicas on 1 Peter 5.13; quoted by Eusebius in Eccl. Hist. At 6.14.5-7)
4. Tertullian (ca. 160-225 – Against Marcion 4.2.1-2)
5. Origen (ca. 185-254 – Homilies on Luke 1; quoted by Eusebius in Eccl. Hist. 6.25.3-6)
6. Muratorian Fragment (ca. 2nd century)
7. Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke (ca. 2nd century)
8. Old Latin Prologue to Mark (ca. 2nd century)
9. Eusebius (ca. 260-340 – Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1 – 16.1)
10. Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-130; derived from a quote in the work of Eusebius at 3.39.15-6)
11. Jerome (ca. 345-420 – Epistle 120.11)
12. Augustine (ca. 354-430 - De Consensu Euangelistarum 1.3-4)

Again, these writers, Church fathers, are in agreement about the orders and manner in which the Gospels were composed. Most important are the comments about Mark’s Gospel for it is in these comments that we find that Mark’s account was the product of listening to Peter’s lectures. And as we have seen, Peter’s lectures were based on comparing Matthew’s more Jewish account to Luke’s more Gentile account. Mark was simply a copy of Peter’s speeches, composed in Rome, around AD 62+.

Since I have already given the specifics above, I will not quote book, chapter and verse here. I am going to simply quote, in order, what the early fathers had to say. For example, Irenaeus tells us that “when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel at Rome and founding the Church,” the written Gospel of Matthew was used. He also tells us that Mark was Peter’s recorder and handed on to us what was proclaimed by Peter. Clement gives even more detail, he says: “Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter was publicly preaching the gospel at Rome in the presence of some of Caesar’s knights and uttering many testimonies about Christ, on their asking him to let them have a record of things that had been said, wrote the gospel that is called the Gospel of Mark from the things said by Peter, just as Luke is recognized as the pen that wrote the Acts of the Apostles and the translator of the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews.”

In the Old Latin Prologue, we read: “Mark, who was also called Stubfinger because he had shorter fingers with regard to the other dimensions of the body. He had been the disciple of and recorder (interpres) of Peter, whom he followed, just as he had heard him relating. Having been asked by the brethren in Rome, he wrote this short gospel in the regions of Italy. When Peter heard about it, he approved and authorized it to be read in the Church with (his own) authority.” In the work of Eusebius, we find the following: “…they (the Romans) urged Mark, whose gospel it is reputed to be, being the follower of Peter, to bequeath to them also in writing the record of the teaching handed on to them by (word of mouth), nor did they let up before convincing the man.”

Papias is recorded as saying: “Mark, having become the recorder (hermeneutes) of Peter, indeed wrote accurately albeit not in order whatever he (Peter) remembered of the things either said or done by the Lord…(Mark) a follower of…Peter who used to deliver his teachings in the form of short stories…so that Mark did not err at all when he wrote down certain things just as he (Peter) recalled them.” Origen says, “Mark composed as Peter guided.” Jerome remarks, “just as blessed Peter had Mark, whose gospel consists of Peter’s narration and the latter’s writing.”

What I have attempted to do is to show how a tangible piece of ancient evidence aids us in dating first, the life and ministry of Paul. It is from this that we can order Paul’s journeys and his encounters with persons such as Peter, Mark and Luke among others. This also allows us to date his imprisonments in Caesarea and Rome with some precision. From there, and with the attestations of many of the early apologists, we can make sense out of what transpired in Rome and how the Gospel of Mark came to be: it was birthed from Peter’s speeches on Matthew’s Jewish and Luke’s Gentile account of the life and ministry of Jesus.


Jesus the Priest: Studies in Mark, Pt. 21

When one reads Mark’s account of the Gospel, especially the first few chapters, they see Jesus going around from synagogue to synagogue teaching, preaching and doing supernatural things. In Mark’s account Jesus also causes a stir among the scribes and priests. He heals on the Sabbath (3.1-6) and He eats with unclean persons (sinners; 2.15ff). He also plucks grain on the Sabbath (2.23-8). And when He is plucking grain on the Sabbath, He tells a story about the time when David entered the Holy of Holies and ate bread. Of course, when David did this, it was not the norm; this bread was reserved only for priests. Jesus likens this story to He and His disciples picking grain. He says, “In the days of Abiathar the high priest David…entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions” (2.26).

I am not going to deal with the issues surrounding the accuracy of Abiathar’s priesthood, needless to say, I believe what Mark recounts here is correct. I may offer an explanation in another post. What I want to focus on here is the idea that by telling this story and making this statement, Jesus is associating Himself with the priesthood; He is referring to Himself as a priest. Why is this so overlooked though (I myself have overlooked this so many times while studying Mark’s account)? In this episode, Jesus who is talking with the Pharisaic priests considers Himself a priest. Of course, Jesus is not in the line of Levi (the priesthood) but of Judah, so, how can He do this? How could He be a priest?

Usually, when people want to talk about the priesthood of Jesus, they go to Hebrews. That is a good place to go and there is much to be offered there but I would suggest that Mark’s account also portrays Jesus, while at odds with the established priesthood, as a priest too. However, He is not like the Judaic priests in office; He is different. This raises a few questions: What was Jesus’ understanding of a priest (as Mark portrays it)? And, How is Jesus different?

It appears that Jesus’ understanding of a priest was someone who was of God. A few verses before this encounter with the priests, Jesus heals a leper and tells Him, “Go show yourself to the priests and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded…” (1.44). If we work backwards in this statement, we see that Jesus understands the priests to be affiliated with Moses. Of course, Moses received the commands from God and brought them to the people. From these two passages early on in Mark’s account, we see that central to Jesus’ understanding of a priest, then, is that a priest is someone who is from God, who brings the word (commands) of God to the people, who serves them the bread consecrated to God and lives a life of sacrifice for the community of God.

Now, when we get to chapter 7 of Mark’s account, we see these roles appear again. In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus has another run in with the religious leaders. On the surface, the whole issue looks like it has to do with cleanliness rituals. However, it has much more to do with who is truly a priest, than anything else. Really, the Pharisees have an almost legitimate reason to wonder about Jesus being a priest. Remember, they heard Him refer to Himself this way in 2.26 and now they see Him doing something that doesn’t quite line up with what their understanding of being a priest was: Jesus is eating with unclean hands.

Now, I need to make a clarifying note here. Mark 7.3 reads, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing…” It should be noted that as in many cases in Mark, the word “all” is not meant to be taken wooden literally. For example, in the opening verses of his account, Mark said that “all of” or “the whole Judean countryside and of Jerusalem” went out to the Jordan River. We should not think that every person left Jerusalem and made the long voyage to where Jesus was at; Mark is using a figure of speech here, which we use all of the time too. He does it again in 1.32 where “all” the sick and demon-possessed are brought to Him. This is Mark’s way of saying a lot. So, in 7.3 the reader should not take Mark’s phrase overly seriously. In fact, it was only required for priests to wash their hands before eating, not just any normal Jewish person (see: 30.18-21; 40.30-2). And that is an incredibly significant point! Did the leaders' challenge to Jesus on hand washing issues imply that they were interpreting Him, in some way, as acting or attempting to act in the role of a priest? Where could they have gotten such an idea but from 2.26? They were trying to catch Him breaking one of the priestly roles so that they could discredit His claim to being a priest.

Jesus doesn’t break the hand washing command of the priests because the command only calls for washing before entering the tent of meeting or before approaching the altar (see: Ex. 30 & 40). What the religious leaders had done was add to that law; they tacked on their own extra rules and stipulations. This is what Jesus has a problem with! In fact, He gives a prime example of this when He talks about Korban. Jesus then goes on to tell how they created Korban, a rule that allowed them to place their money in a treasury so that they did not have to use it to take care of their parents. They called it Korban, which meant “funds devoted to God” to make it seem like a holy action. However, Jesus sees right through that act and deems it unholy. He points out that the priests developed Korban under the guise of something holy, in order that they could do something unholy—break the 5th commandment. This is what Jesus explicitly means when He says they nullify the word of God; they nullify it by adding to it so they don’t have to keep it.

Contrary to a surface reading that might make Jesus seem anti-Law, Jesus actually affirms and keeps the Law here. In fact, He blasts the priests because they don’t. What is proven is that Jesus is the one who has fulfilled the role of priest, the only one. There are other allusions to this in Mark. For instance, Jesus bringing the word to the people! Mk. 1.14-5 makes this clear. Jesus also serves the bread that is consecrated to God (in fact, He serves bread many times!). Jesus also is a person from God, as Mark makes clear in the opening verses and is attested all throughout the Gospel. Jesus is also a person who serves among the people (and serves the people). Even a cursory reading of Mark reveals this as Jesus is going all over the place meeting people’s needs. Lastly, Jesus is the one who makes the sacrifice of sacrifices: He gives Himself up to be slaughtered as an offering.

One last thing, it might be the case that all throughout Mk. the priesthood and the Herodians are shown as teaming up (esp. 3.6) because Mark wants to highlight that not only is Jesus, the King of kings but in line with the priestly Christology of Hebrews, He is also The Priest of priests; Jesus is what a real king or priest looks like. Sadly, to my knowledge, this has not been picked up on yet. In fact, many commentators on Hebrews make statements such as, “Neither Paul nor the Gospels portray Jesus as a priest.” It is time, though, that such remarks are corrected.


A Limerick on the Lord's Day

(based on 2Kgs. 2.23-5)

Elisha was made fun of 'cause he was bald
But when it happened, on bears he called
Like when the youth group made fun
And then quickly turned to run
The sight was grizzly, those kids were mauled


Piping Mad at the Claims of John Piper

I am not a fan of calling people out. However, after having read John Piper's blog post on the Minnesota bridge collapse, I was very frustrated. Piper, expectedly, says in a bedtime conversation with His daughter:

"'God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand.' Talitha said, 'With his pinky.' 'Yes,' I said, 'with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.' Talitha said, 'Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.' 'Yes, Talitha,' I said, 'I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.'"

Wow!!! Mr. Piper is "sure" concerning God's actions making the bridge fall. Are you kidding me? Is this guy serious? No, it didn't have anything to do with bad bolts or cracked cement or eroding wire, etc. Piper is "sure" as to God's hand (or removal of His hand, particularly the pinky) in all of this. I just can't get over this!

I pose a question that I ran across recently, "Why is your God of meticulous providence not responsible for evil when He specifically intends for each and every evil thing to happen exactly as it does and does not want the world to be any different than it actually is?"


There Is No Messianic Secret: Studies in Mark, Pt. 20

For many years now, scholars have tried to make sense out of silence mandate that Jesus places on many of the persons He encounters at various points throughout His mission. It is nearly impossible today to pick up a serious study or commentary on Mark’s Gospel account that does not talk about “the messianic secret.”

Basically, for those who might not be familiar with this theory, it suggests that the best explanation for Jesus’ command of persons (or spiritual entities) to keep quiet about Him, is pretty much 1 of 2 things: 1) Either Mark totally made these words up and put them on the lips of Jesus and is using them as a type of literary foil, or 2) Jesus actually said them and wanted people to keep quiet about His identity because they just didn’t get what Jesus was about or because the time had not yet come where people were supposed to know about His mission and identity. These are the base theories; others have been developed or stemmed from them in some way.

While I am treading into foreign territory alone and am going against the grain of the bulk of critical scholarship, I want to argue something that, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be argued: There is no “messianic secret!” The theory (and that’s what it is, a theory) has monopolized the study of Mark’s account and in my opinion, has failed to accurately take into account what Mark reports. Let me explain.

In the opening 15 verses of Mark’s account, indeed, in the very first verse, the identity of Jesus is referred to: He is “The Messiah.” If Mark wanted to create a literary foil, He certainly would not have started out by giving this information. I do not buy into the argument that in the opening of his work, he was giving the readers inside information so that they could be insiders throughout, while the characters were all portrayed as outsiders. This claim is just not true. In fact, all throughout the account, there are frequent insiders! Only a few verses into the chapter Jesus calls four insiders to follow Him (1.16-20). Furthermore, masses of people attend Jesus’ baptism and they see and hear John’s proclamation about the identity and mission of Jesus. Even more, in 1.14-5, Jesus’ mission and identity are spoken of again. From the beginning there are insider and outsider characters. Sure, Mark wants the reader to be an insider but he does not assume that everyone who hears or reads this account is (he's writing to a predominantly Gentile audience after all)!!! If so, what is the point in writing a Gospel or spreading the “Good News” about Jesus, there is no need for people to convert?

Actually, we encounter outsider characters in the first chapter. The first one is satan (1.13). The second ones are satan’s demons (1.21-28). In the first encounter with demons, the reader also encounters the first “silence command.” Jesus tells the demons, who have just spoken, to “Be quiet!” It is incredibly important to note that prior to meeting satan, the mission and identity of Jesus were already spoken of. It is just as important to note that prior to His encounter with the demons, so too were His mission and identity already spoken of. Thus, Jesus silences the demons after His identity and mission were announced, after it has already been made clear who He is! The question, then, is: Why, if they were speaking the truth about Him, did Jesus silence them? Moreover, why does this keep happening in Mark’s account?

I could deal with every occurrence of this in detail here but I’m not going to, it just isn’t necessary. For those interested, though, check out the following passages: 1.25, 1.40-5, 3.7-12, 7.36 and 8.23 (maybe). If you don’t have time to read those, here is a brief synopsis of who Jesus tells to be silent: 1.25/ demons; 1.40-5/ leper; 3.7-12/ demons; 7.36/ deaf and mute men; 8.23/ healed blind man (maybe).

What is important to notice is that throughout, Jesus only tells demons or persons He occasionally healed not to tell about Him. However, there are cases where He does tell persons He has healed, to go share the good news about Him, for example, the demoniac in 5.19. Actually, though He has already taken the disciples with Him while He preached and has already called them to preach, this is the first occurrence where Jesus tells someone to go out and do it on their own. Not too much later, He sends the disciples out on their own (6.7ff).

What I have been trying to show (and there is more evidence for this all over the place) is that because Jesus has revealed His identity and His mission repeatedly and because Mark (as narrator) has revealed those things too, is that the arguments for the “messianic secret” that have been given, just do not work. So, what I want to do is give an alternative suggestion, one that seems more textually and contextually based, one that argues that there is no “secret” theory going on.

I want to deal with the demons being silenced first. Because the majority of commentators realize that in the ancient world, saying someone’s name was often a way of casting a spell on them to gain power over them and the commentators make note of this in the exorcism stories, I am shocked that they can still argue for a messianic secret. When Jesus tells the demons to be quiet, it is not because He wants the secret kept. Again, from the start, Mark and Jesus want Jesus’ mission and identity to be known and to be successful. So, when the demons speak Jesus’ name, they are trying to hinder that success. By speaking His name (casting a spell on Him), they are trying to get power over Him but it doesn’t work. So, when they try to hinder Him, He tells them to stop, not to say anything else. Anyone familiar with spells or cadences used to drive out evil spirits in the ancient world is aware of this practice. As I noted, a lot of commentators speak about this issue and give extra-biblical examples, see those resources for more on this subject.

So, that takes care of a few of the demon silence passages. What about the others? Why does Jesus not want those He has healed to go and tell about Him? It could possibly be that Jesus, who came to preach, whenever He went into a town rarely got the chance because the people wanted Him to heal. So, He wanted to be known as the preacher (of repentance and good news) more than He did the miracle worker. Though that answer of mine works, there might be another one. If you look at Mark’s account closely, Jesus is selective about who He wants to preach; He commissions those He wants to preach. He even commissioned the demoniac; He told him to preach. However, He never told these others to preach, He did not commission them. So, all the “silencing” denotes is that Jesus is selective in who He commissions to preach. When one compares the commissioning of the demoniac to the persons who were healed, they realize that there is a difference: the demoniac had a conversion experience, the others necessarily did not. This could be an important factor.

Having said that, the commissioning might have to do something with those upon whom the Spirit has begun to work. Could it be that those whom the Spirit has touched are the ones Jesus sends out? In fact, Jesus Himself doesn’t even begin His mission until this point, why should it be any different for His followers? In 13.11 (and I realize that there is a very specific context to this statement) Jesus tells His followers that the Spirit will give them words to speak when they face hardship because of their preaching. Could this be a clue? I think so. Even in the ending (if you take it as a Marcan ending), Jesus gives those who truly have the Spirit “in” them (16.17) to go out and preach to the world.

It is also worth pointing out that while Jesus tells the demons and some of His healees (did I just coin a word?) to keep quiet at points, He Himself keeps quiet sometimes too, before Pilate (14.61; 15.5). We are surely not meant to take this, coming so late in the account, as Jesus trying to keep a secret. By now, tons of people know about Jesus and His mission. Silence plays an entirely different role here. I would venture to say that Jesus does not speak because the Holy Spirit does not prompt Him to (see again, 13.11). Perhaps this is Mark’s way of showing how intent Jesus was on making sure His suffering mission was fulfilled. Maybe if Jesus had dialogued with Pilate, He would have never been lead to His death!

What I have shown here is that the scholarly developed “secrecy theory” is an unnecessary theory. The silence passages in Mark make total sense in their narrative and contextual settings. To summarize, there are a few different reasons in Mark’s account as to why persons (human or spiritual) are commanded by Jesus to keep silent. 1. The demons are trying to gain power over Him and hinder His mission and so, He just tells them to stop it (by the way, notice that He doesn’t even call them by name and one time, He even coaxes them into saying who they are!), 2. Jesus commissions those whom He wants to preach, those upon whom the Spirit has worked, and 3. Jesus is silent Himself because He does not want His mission to get sidetracked or aborted.

One last thing, if you read Mk. 4.1-20 (which I am becoming more and more convinced that this is a key to the entirety of Mark's account), you will notice that in verse 11, Jesus says clearly, "The secret of the Kingdom has been given to you but to those on the outside everything is said in parables..." Of course, the "secret" is the Gospel truth concerning Jesus' identity and mission. As for those who don't understand, well it is because they choose not to! They are simply against Jesus and want nothing to do with what He has to say. Therefore, when Jesus speaks about His identity or mission, they don't even consider it, no, it is like the seed that falls on the path and immediately gets swallowed up, there isn't a chance for it to be considered or to blossom or take root. So, they will not understand His riddles or parables either, which, this one parable, according to Mark, is the key to understanding every parable; if they don't get it, they won't get anything He says (I've written about this in previous posts). Nonetheless, the message has not actually been kept "secret." In the Greek, the word could be rendered "mystery." So, we could even say, though the message has not been kept secret, to those who reject, well, it is still a mystery to them!

As I said, I know that I am in lonely territory here and that my argument goes against the grain of the majority of scholarship but I think my arguments have some merit. Do you agree or disagree?

Gospel Endings - Jacob Paul Breeze

Need something interesting to read? Check out the following posts by Jacob Paul Breeze on the endings of the Gospels. Click the following links: Matthew's Ending, Mark's Ending, Luke's Ending and John's Ending. For his blog in-general, click the following link: Celebrating Thoughtful Faith (or, I think he recently changed the title to New Testament and Faith). Enjoy!


New Features on Pisteuomen

I have added a couple of new features to Pisteuomen, the first is a "recent comments" section. What this does is that in the right hand sidebar, it shows the most recent comments from those who leave remarks regarding my posts. In connection with this, I have also added a second feature that allows readers of this blog to comment without having to sign-up for anything or to even have a blog. So, now, anyone can leave a comment if they'd like; it's as easy as that, there are no prerequisites.


Images of Antiquity: Pamukkale & Pergamum, Pt. 3

Continuing my series "Images of Antiquity," I offer here some photos and thoughts on sights near Pamukkale & Pergamum, both in Turkey. You may copy, save, use and distribute these pictures in their present format. Please do not manipulate or change them. Thanks and enjoy!


The picture to the left is of a theater in Pamukkale. Actually, the theater is located in a city that was known as Hierapolis. This is one of the most restored and therefore detailed theaters that exists today. You can see the decorations at the back of the stage and the various entrances onto the stage. The musicians would sit in the semi-circle in front of the stage or sometimes beneath the stage. Located just behind the stage (you cannot really see it here, is a temple of Apollo). Hierapolis means "Holy City" in Greek. It was known for it hot springs and is located not far from the ancient cities of Colossae and Laodicea.

When one visits Hierapolis today, they have to first go through another small town, a place known as "Nekropolis," which means "City of Death" or "Death City." It is called this because it literally contains thousands upon thousands of tombs and sarcophagi. The picture to the left is of one such tomb. This grave would hold anywhere from 6-12 people. Inside the tomb are levels of shelves that the dead bodies would be laid on.

Here is another picture of the tombs. Again, there are literally thousands upon thousands of tombs that cover an entire mountainside. It is possible that the author of Revelation had such sites in mind when he said, "...you are dead." There are other such sites near Sardis and Petra. A number of the tombs were shaped in the form of male and female reproductive organs. These were often dedicated to the gods or goddesses of fertility. Many of the tombs had large crosses on the doors but scholars are agreed that these could have come no earlier than the 4th century CE.


This is a photograph taken from just below the acropolis ("high city") in Pergamum. If you look closely, you can see the acropolis on top of the mountain. It looks small here but was very large. This gives a bit of insight to sayings such as "A city on a hill cannot be hidden." Actually, this photo was taken at the Asklepion. The Asklepion was the ancient healing center, devoted to the god of healing, Asklepius.

Here is a picture of an underground chamber at the Asklepion. Patients would go through a mudbath, take a hallucinogen and then be led to this dark chamber. They would be told to sleep here until the god Asklepius spoke to them in the middle of the night. When they heard the voice they were to follow his commands. If you look at the bottom center of the picture, you will notice a small hole in the wall. This is actually a pipe-like hole. Those working for the Asklepion were the ones who actually spoke through these pipes in the middle of the night, acting as the god.

We move now, from the Asklepion to the temple of Trajan on the Pergamum acropolis. This may be alluded to in Rev. 2.13 as the "throne of satan." Trajan was an evil emperor. Unfortunately, many of the artifacts have been taken by archeologists to a museum in Berlin and they refuse to return them to Turkey. In this photo you can see part of the remaining roof (middle left of the picture), a column, some walls and an altar. This altar may also be alluded to in Rev. 2.

This is an interesting photo, I think. I took the photo because it really shows the contextual aspect of Revelation. This is a picture of a store located at the base of the city of Pergamum where they make earthenware (e.g. pottery, vases, etc.) fired from onyx, sapphire, jasper, etc. This could very well be the place where the author of Revelation gets his imagery when he says things such as: "And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne" (4.3), "It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal" (21.11), "The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass" (21.18) and "The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald" (21.19).


Ancient Escape Tunnel Discovered in Israel: Insights from Flavius Josephus

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reported this week that, "In Israel, archaeologists have discovered a two-thousand-year-old tunnel in which they believe Jews hid from the Romans. The tunnel is underneath Jerusalem's Old City and was used originally as a drainage channel. Ancient writings have described such a channel that city residents used to flee the Roman siege in the year 70."

"Excavators found shards of pottery, coins and other artifacts that they say is evidence the tunnel was in fact used as a shelter and escape route." Many sources have reported that the historian Flavius Josephus wrote about this tunnel in his The Jewish War, however, none of those sources actually cite his work. These citations, like the tunnel (until now) are, it seems, a type of enigma to them. So, I thought I would do some research and see what Josephus had to say, here are some of his comments:

3.7.36: "And on this day it was that the Romans slew all the multitude that appeared openly; but on the following days they searched the hiding-places, and fell upon those that were under ground, and in the caverns, and went thus through every age, excepting the infants and the women, and of these there were gathered together as captives twelve hundred; and as for those that were slain at the taking of the city, and in the former fights, they were numbered to be forty thousand. So Vespasian gave order that the city should be entirely demolished, and all the fortifications burnt down. And thus was Jotapata taken, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Nero, on the first day of the month Panemus [Tamuz]."

4.1.2. As this city was naturally hard to be taken, so had Josephus, by building a wall about it, made it still stronger, as also by ditches and mines under ground.

6.7.3. "So now the last hope which supported the tyrants, and that crew of robbers who were with them, was in the caves and caverns under ground; whither, if they could once fly, they did not expect to be searched for; but endeavored, that after the whole city should be destroyed, and the Romans gone away, they might come out again, and escape from them. This was no better than a dream of theirs; for they were not able to lie hid either from God or from the Romans. However, they depended on these under-ground subterfuges, and set more places on fire than did the Romans themselves; and those that fled out of their houses thus set on fire into the ditches, they killed without mercy, and pillaged them also; and if they discovered food belonging to any one, they seized upon it and swallowed it down, together with their blood also; nay, they were now come to fight one with another about their plunder; and I cannot but think that, had not their destruction prevented it, their barbarity would have made them taste of even the dead bodies themselves."

6.9.4. "Now this vast multitude is indeed collected out of remote places, but the entire nation was now shut up by fate as in prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world; for, to speak only of what was publicly known, the Romans slew some of them, some they carried captives, and others they made a search for under ground, and when they found where they were, they broke up the ground and slew all they met with."

7.2.1: "And here it was that Titus was informed of the seizure of Simon the son of Gioras, which was made after the manner following: This Simon, during the siege of Jerusalem, was in the upper city; but when the Roman army was gotten within the walls, and were laying the city waste, he then took the most faithful of his friends with him, and among them some that were stone-cutters, with those iron tools which belonged to their occupation, and as great a quantity of provisions as would suffice them for a long time, and let himself and all them down into a certain subterraneous cavern that was not visible above ground. Now, so far as had been digged of old, they went onward along it without disturbance; but where they met with solid earth, they dug a mine under ground, and this in hopes that they should be able to proceed so far as to rise from under ground in a safe place, and by that means escape."

7.6.5: "But the event of the battle did not answer the expectation of the assailants; for so it happened, that no more than twelve fell on the Roman side, with a few that were wounded; but not one of the Jews escaped out of this battle, but they were all killed, being in the whole not fewer in number than three thousand, together with Judas, the son of Jairus, their general, concerning whom we have before spoken, that he had been a captain of a certain band at the siege of Jerusalem, and by going down into a certain vault under ground, had privately made his escape."


A Limerick on the Lord's Day

Jonah! The man just wouldn't relent.

Nope, he was making a statement!

Fleeing fast, die being cast,

God-harrassed then puked on grass.

But in the end He did hear God repent!

Jesus Walked on Water...And Almost Went Too Far: Studies in Mark, Pt. 19

Within the short span of two chapters of Mark’s narrative, the reader encounters two sea stories. In the first one, 4.35-41, Jesus is asleep in the stern, is awoken by His disciples and then calms the wind and the sea. I have written on that passage already, you can read that post by clicking the following link: Mark’s Sleepy Jesus.

In this post, I want to take a look at the second sea voyage, which is found in 6.45-53. Many translations and commentators include verses 53-56 within this pericope but because it interrupts a pattern that Mark is using (I will write about this narrative pattern in a future post), it should probably not be included.

It should be pointed out from the beginning that while Mark recounts two sea stories in close proximity and while there are some similarities, the differences between the episodes are greater. Because of this, I am not going to compare the stories as some do; I am going to take them on their own. Of course, because each scene in Mark’s account builds on the previous ones, it may be necessary from time-to-time, to cite the earliest sea story.

As we think about the story of Jesus walking on the water, we should probably begin by connecting it directly to the preceding scene (6.30-44). In fact, Mark himself does this. We can say this because at the end of the story, he says, “Then He (Jesus) climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (6.51-2). This is very interesting because Mark, purposefully links the sea story back to the “teaching and feeding story” (I have written more on the “teaching and feeding,” you can read those posts by clicking the following links: study 16, study 17, study 18).

But why does Mark do this? What does the sea story have to do with the teaching and feeding episode? Well, to arrive at an answer, we must understand what Mark was attempting to convey in the previous story. As I have argued in the 3 posts preceding this one, the encounter with the 5,000 was actually an opportunity for Jesus to “teach” and “feed” them. Moreover, these 5,000 men were religio-political zealots who wanted Jesus to be their new leader (a type of religio-political messiah that would overthrow the corrupt empire).

I stress the fact that Jesus not only fed them but also “taught” them, on purpose. In fact, the miraculous feeding has to be seen in light of the “teaching.” What Jesus, presumably, taught the zealots, was that He indeed was a leader, “the” Messiah, but not the type of leader or messiah that they had always imagined or desired! Jesus taught that He was a different kind of Messiah altogether, a Messiah of peace and righteousness, not a violent leader like they were so used to. He was not the type of military leader, who would lead His people into battle and if persons died, raise them or if they got injured heal them. Yes, He could do those things but not for those reasons. After teaching this, He even showed them He could do it: He miraculously fed them! They could only dream of having such a good military leader. As John’s account notes, when they saw this, they came to take Jesus “by force” to make Him their “king.”

Now, when we get to the next story in Mark, which begins at 6.45, we find Jesus making His disciples leave “immediately” and commanding them to go ahead of Him in the boat. The intensity of the terms used here may indicate that Jesus wanted to get His followers away from the dangerous or corrupted situation. Jesus had taught and the people had not understood; He had performed a miracle for them and they misinterpreted it. Jesus didn’t want His disciples to do the same. So, He sent them ahead. But we find out in 6.52 that like the zealots, they did not understand the events surrounding the miraculous feeding.

But their misunderstanding was not their only trouble here, the disciples who had set off towards Bethsaida, also had trouble rowing and in the end, they arrived at a totally different destination than they had aimed for: Gennesaret. Presumably, it was the winds that got the sailors off course; it is these same winds that calm down when Jesus gets into the boat. But what if Jesus had not gotten into the boat and what if He had never intended to do so? Would the winds have died down? Would the rowing have become easier?

I raise this question because the text seems to raise it. In fact, I would venture to say that in the Greek, this is more noticeable. Verse 48 contains a clause that says, “…and He desired to pass by them.” Most English translations remove the term “desired” here (which in the Greek, is ethelen – “desire” or “will”) and replace it with “He was about to.” This, though, is not what the text says. It says that Jesus “desired” or “willed” to pass by them. Which raises the question: Why would Jesus have desired to pass by them? Did Jesus never intend to get into the boat? Was Jesus being elusive? What is going on?

Many scholars have argued that the phrase “pass by” is an Old Testament echo of passages such as Ex. 33.19, 22, 34.6 or 1 Kgs. 19.11. In these stories, when God (or God’s glory) passes by, it is a sign of salvation. While I love uncovering links between the stories of Jesus and their connections to the Hebrew Scriptures, I do not think this is one. Actually, I think Mark is being straightforward in his account; Jesus desired to walk past them on purpose.

Not only does this prevent us from reading too much of the Hebrew Scriptures into this phrase but also from a grammatical or syntactical standpoint, this reading helps us to make the most sense of the statement. In short, when the verse is read this way (e.g. as Jesus desiring to pass by them), the preceding clause makes more sense. That phrase reads, “Shortly before dawn He went out towards them but…” What is important is the word “but.” It implies that while Jesus was waling out towards them He intended for one thing to happen but given the circumstances, something different took place. So, Jesus was wanting to pass by them “but” they noticed Him and He stopped.

Why did He want to pass by them? Well, here is where we find our connection back to the “teaching and feeding” scene, a scene that the disciples did not understand. As we have seen, what they didn’t understand had to do not only with Jesus’ identity but also His desire not to lead this large group of zealots. To repeat, Jesus had to teach them about the type of Messiah He was; the feeding miracle was a confirmation of His teaching. Sadly, the disciples and the zealots misunderstood this.

The reason, then, that Jesus desired to pass by them was because He wanted to show them that indeed, He was the Messiah-God. It is no accident that Mark prefaces this story with Jesus praying or receiving His strength or power from on high. The disciples should have picked up on this too; they knew He was praying. Thus, a reinvigorated and power-filled Jesus passes by their boat. Not only that but He single handedly walks into the wind, the wind that was holding the Twelve of them back (that was “straining” on them). What is this if not power? And herein lies the point: Whoever the disciples perceive themselves to be (e.g. good fishermen, strong men, competent men), must be viewed in reference to Jesus; He is always greater than they are. If they think that they can do ministry by their own strength then they have fooled themselves (6.7-13, 30); if they think that they can row alone or by their own might, they have fooled themselves. Like the zealots, who wanted to overthrow the empire by their own plans or by their own power, the disciples had reached the point where they too thought they could do it on their own. Perhaps the zealots rubbed off on them after all.

So, in its narrative context, this sea story is to be read directly in light of the teaching and feeding story. It was there that the disciples had failed to understand who Jesus was and what His mission was and it was also there that they bought into the religio-political, self-advancing mentality of the zealots. And it is in this sea scene where that line of thinking is exploited. Can they do ministry alone? No! Can they row alone? No! Can they concoct an agenda that veers from Jesus’ agenda and make it successful? No! Neither can the zealots! The disciples, fearing that one of the evil spirits had arisen from the sea or had manifested itself out of the winds (e.g. as one of the gods of the wind), could not even contain their fears; it took Jesus to calm them!

This sea story is a reminder for us today that without God, we are hopeless. We rely on His strength and His might. This, of course, is not the same thing as saying that God is “in control of” or “controlling” everything, I do not take such a fatalistic stance but it is to say that when we rely on God, He is in abiding presence and force “in” our lives. The disciples had not yet grasped this point; they were still seeking God “outside” of them. But make no mistake, Jesus gets “in” the boat and dwells among them; He is in their midst and all they can begin to do is sit in amazement. Praise God for incarnating Himself among us and praise God for the Spirit who incarnates Himself in us.


Bishop N.T. Wright

As I have noted before on Pisteuomen, currently, I am finishing up some graduate work in Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. One of the benefits of being at such a great institution is that many of the world's leading scholars often come to lecture or preach. That said, soon, N.T. "Tom" Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and a leading British New Testament scholar, will visit Asbury Theological Seminary. The dates are set for Nov. 13-14, 2007. Details are not yet finalized, but a public lecture is planned addressing the use of Scripture in contemporary political discourse. More details will be released when available. If any of you are interested in coming to the lecture and are not students of Asbury, I would be more than glad to accompany you and show you around. This is a great opportunity, so, if you are within traveling distance, don't miss it!


The Issue of Theodicy

Over the last few years I have done a lot of thinking, reading and researching on the issue of theodicy (in its simplest form: God can either be all-loving or all-powerful but not both at the same time). It has continually been the prophetic passages of Scripture that have been the hardest to wrap my head around. For instance, today I was reading Amos 3.6, which says: "Or if the horns are blown in the city will the people not tremble? Or if there is disaster in the city has the Lord not made it (or: acted)?" Clearly, here and at many junctures all throughout Amos, it is God who is involved in heaping disaster upon the people. And that is the issue: Yes, an all-powerful God can do this but how could an all-loving God do it? Doesn't God have to be one or the other?

There are a couple of ways that I have been dealing with this issue: 1. From a theological point-of-view, I have re-configured my definitions of the "omnis" (e.g. "all"-whatever). When I use this term now, I think of it in terms of "most." So, God is the "most-knowing," the "most-powerful," the "most-loving" being in the universe. This leaves room for God to choose, instead of us boxing Him in categories where He cannot act. For instance, with these definitions, God can choose not to know something or someone, He can choose not to use His power, He can choose not to be somewhere, etc. So, redefining these terms has helped me.

Another way that I've been dealing with this issue is to see the events such as the one described in Amos, in light of Israel's covenant with God. Early on they and God made a pact. They agreed that if certain stipualations or agreements were broken, then the failing party would recieve punishment. So, in a sense, when God brings about disaster, God is not really culpable because Israel agreed to it beforehand. If God was not the "most-loving" being, He would not uphold His end of the covenant.

Still, this leaves us to wonder about the other nations (those other than Israel, who did not enter a covenant); is it really okay, since they did not agree, for hardship to befall them? This is a bit tougher to answer. But I would say that if we recall God's interaction with Abraham early on in Genesis, where God desires to make His relationship with Abraham extend to all nations, that is, the entire world, then it makes a little more sense. Not only has God tried to speak to and woo these people, but these people have rejected His wooing and in turn, have rejected Him. God sends them warnings through His prophets and messengers but even then, God is still ignored. Because they have neglected covenant or better yet, rejected it, knowing full well what the consequences could be, then they have no room to complain.

While there are many philosophical ways to approach this issue, I wonder if a biblical exegetical way is not the best way to go? It makes the most sense to me!


Where Did Your Blog Get Its Name?

John the Methodist over at Locusts & Honey, asked his readers in one of his recent posts "Where did your blog get its name?" Though I don't expect a tremendous response (I've noticed that since the fall semester has started, the blogging activity has been cut way back), I thought I might ask the same question to the readers of Pisteuomen, so: Where did your blog get its name? (Here's another chance for you to advertise your blog on my site!)


Vick: Vicious or Victim? ***Entry Updated

A few days ago, Ben Witherington wrote a brief post on the situation surrounding Michael Vick. Click the following link to read Ben's article: Michael Vick's Mea Culpa. Witherington also provided a video link to ESPN where Vick is claiming to have "found Jesus," repented and turned to God. Check the video out by clicking the following link: Vick Vid. This is some interesting stuff; I hope his confession is heartfelt! Regardless, as Witherington noted, we should be praying for this guy.

***Update: Shortly after posting the link to this Michael Vick video, it was brought to my attention that Paris Hilton did something similar not long ago. I have posted a link to that video below. Have a look at the Vick vid and compare it to this one. I wonder, is Jesus simply a "reputation savior" to these celebrities? Let me know what you think: Hilton Finds God


Why the Zealots Wanted Jesus to be Their Leader: Studies in Mark, Pt. 18

In the last couple of posts dealing with "Studies in Mark," I have been analyzing the story generally referred to as "The Feeding of the 5,000." I have argued a number of points in those posts: 1) The story is not just about a "feeding," it is also about Jesus "teaching," 2) The 5,000 men in the story were political zealots, 3) The zealots wanted new leadership because of all the evil and corruption brought about by the Herodian family, and 4) The way that Mark arranges and tells his stories in chapter 6, is done purposefully and with numerous echoes from the Hebrew Scriptures.

In this post, which I will keep short, I want to add some more thoughts on this. In thinking about the arrangement, structure and context of Mark's narrative of the story about the 5,000, a question came up: Why did the zealots choose Jesus to be their new religio-political leader? In other words, what piqued their interest in Him above anyone else? After thinking about ths question from a number of viewpoints, I soon began to think about it from a literary (or narrative) point-of-view and it really made a lot of sense. Let me explain.

In all of my posts up to this point, I have shown repeatedly that Mark's account of the Gospel has an incredibly religio-political sense to it. Indeed, in the opening verses, Mark portrays Jesus and John the Baptizer in the roles of Caesar and his forerunners (e.g. they are replacing them!). Moreover, in 1.14-15, Mark is already talking about a new "kingdom" being brought about by Jesus. After the initial chapter, the reader constantly sees the synagogue and political leaders out to kill Jesus and in 3.6, the Pharisees and the Herodians team up against Jesus--a teaming up that would have been unthinkable in that time period. So, as Mark shows, the situation is intense.

But before the encounter with the 5,000, Mark also shows a number of supernatural things: Jesus drives out demons, heals lepers, calms the winds and the waves, heals an impaired woman and raises a dead girl among other things. And it is at this juncture that my initial question needs to be asked again: Why did the zealots choose Jesus to be their new religio-political leader? Actually, we might ask: Why wouldn't they have? Think about it, if they want a new military leader, isn't Jesus the best choice? If they find themselves in a war and they are up against a mighty evil, their new leader can drive it out! If they find that some of the soldiers have come down with illnesses, He can heal them! If they are traveling and get caught up in a storm, He can calm it down! If they get injured and bleed, He can heal them! If they die in battle, He can raise them to life! If they are on an excursion and lack food, He can feed them! Again, why wouldn't these zealots want Him to be their leader?

In the eyes of these military men, Jesus is the type of leader one could only dream of! But this brings me back to one of the points raised in my previous two posts: Mark tells us that Jesus not only fed the people but "taught" them too! What He had to do was teach them about His identity, that He was not that kind of leader or any other leader they had ever seen or heard of. This is, again, why I say that the "teaching" aspect of the story cannot be swallowed up by the "feeding" aspect of the story! Besides, as anyone who reads the narrative will recognize, the teaching comes before the feeding. This means that it is after Jesus explains who He is that the miracle takes place; in other words, the multiplying of the fish and loaves is a testament to what Jesus taught about Himself, not a stand alone event as so many preachers and commentators imply!


Jesus the Prophet?: Studies in Mark, Pt. 17

In my previous post dealing with “Studies in Mark,” I argued that one of main points of the episode generally referred to as “The Feeding of the 5,000,” is often overlooked. That point is that, in the story Jesus not only miraculously feeds the people (zealots) but also teaches them; He teaches them about His identity and mission. The zealots wanted Jesus to be the leader of the religio-political faction, a faction that would overthrow the Roman Empire via force.

In Mk. 6.34, Mark says that when Jesus’ boat reached shore, He “saw a large crowd and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.” As I showed in the last post (click the following link to read: Feeding and Teaching of the 5,000), that phrase “sheep without a shepherd” was a political idiom. Mark was drawing on Num. 27.17. In that verse, Moses has just handed over his leadership role to Joshua. He did this so that as the text says, “…the Lord’s people would not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

When this phrase is used in Mark’s account, the religio-political context is the same: God’s people need a good leader amid all of the corrupt leaders in the world. Of course, in Mark’s context, the corruption is coming from the Herodian family (Mk. 1.14; 6.14-29). Indeed, in the scene just before the “feeding and teaching,” Mark recounts Herod’s murdering of John the Baptizer. Now, it is no secret that John the Baptizer was portrayed and cast as the forerunner of Jesus. In the opening scene of Mark’s account, that is exactly what John is doing. John says that Jesus will “come after him” and will be “greater than” him. Thus, it is no surprise that in 1.14, when John gets arrested, Jesus takes the helm. But we should not overlook the fact that when this takes place, it is meant to signify that Jesus, as the Baptizer said, has surpassed John; Jesus is the prophet par excellence. Jesus even sees Himself in this light in Mark’s Gospel account (Mk. 6.1-6).

I would suggest that the “sheep without a shepherd” idiom also has this connotation. When Mark draws on Num.27.17, not only does he do it for religio-political reasons, he also does it to make a point about Jesus as a prophet. As numerous Old Testament scholars have pointed out, that whole scene deals with the passing on of Moses’ prophetic legacy to Joshua. In fact, many argue that Moses, the original “great” prophet, was such a great prophet that nothing less than the entire Pentateuch could have been his (or at least ascribed to him). This is incredibly important for understanding what is going on when Mark refers back to the prophetic succession in Num. 27.

Remember, Mark has just told the story about John’s death. Prior to that he had recorded John as saying Jesus, the great one, would come after him. Now, at this juncture in Mark’s account, He finally has. We should see, then, a type of prophetic succession going on here; the legacy of The Baptizer is being passed on. Indeed, Jesus is the prophet but Mark wants his readers to make sure that they view Him correctly: Jesus is a prophet but He is the prophet par excellence. Jesus is greater than The Baptizer, He is greater than Moses and He is greater than Joshua. Nonetheless, the prophetic tradition lives on through Him and as with Joshua (and Joshua’s successors), God’s people now have a leader and a prophet.

The nations were without good leadership, they were without a true prophet from God and so Jesus filled that role. Indeed, Mark goes to great lengths in the first six chapters to show that Jesus is the greatest prophet in the tradition of God’s people! This comports well with how Mark has characterized Jesus throughout, as one coming in the stead and tradition of God’s prophets. That is why we find references and echoes to Isaiah, Malachi, Elijah, Elisha, Moses, Joshua and others throughout Mark’s narrative. Indeed, Jesus, in Mark’s story is a prophet (Hebrew: nabi). While nabi (Greek: prophetes) can have a variety of meanings, it appears that Mark understands it to mean, using the words of J. Blenkinsopp: “one who speaks out against the corrupted ‘power structures of society’ in favor of the ‘socially peripheral, disposed or deprived.’”

May we, as God's people, carry on this prophetic tradition and like our Lord, speak the truth at all times and speak out against corruption when we see it.


The Feeding And Teaching of the 5,000...Zealots: Studies in Mark, Pt. 16

The more I read and study Mark’s Gospel account, especially from a socio-literary point-of-view, the more I see a lot of the little details that piece the story together. Just as well, the more I read and study, the more I become convinced of two things: 1) Mark’s habit of telling stories about Jesus and polishing them with Old Testament echoes and imagery and, 2) The centrality of the parable of the soils (Mk. 4.3-20). I have written about the meaning and importance of this parable in other posts, click the following link to read that information: Mystery of the Kingdom.

Now, before I come back to the parable of the soils, I need to make a few more points. As Ched Myers and other scholars have noted, in the 1960’s, H. Montefiore argued that Mk. 6.30-44 (“The Feeding of the 5,000”) was in the main, a story about Jesus feeding 5,000 zealots. While Myers and others disagree with Montefiore, I actually do agree with his findings but, I would also add to them some other points, for example, the fact that the miraculous feeding should not overshadow the fact that Jesus "taught" the zealots. In fact, Jesus teaching them is as central to the episode as the feeding. This, though, is usually overlooked. What I want to do is argue that the “teaching” should not be overlooked but rather emphasized. To do this, I want to draw on some of Montefiore’s work but I also want to add to and elaborate on it and show that, in the end, by connecting it with the parable of the soils, the “teaching” aspect is surely just as important as the feeding miracle and actually illuminates it.

Montefiore argued that when one compares Mk. 6.30-44 to Jn. 6.1-15, there are many parallels (they are both a retelling of the feeding of the 5,000). I do not want to focus on those grammatical parallels but rather on how Jn. 6.14-5 sheds light on Mark’s account. The verses (14-5) from John, that Mark does not include, read: “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.”

If we take this scene that the author of John is describing and append it to Mark’s (and as Montefiore has shown, I think we should), then the story is automatically read in a religio-political context: the 5,000 people are zealots who are trying to make Jesus their leader, their king. This is important because in Mark’s account, just before the feeding of the 5,000, there is a long narrative that deals with Herod killing John the Baptizer—a very political story! As I wrote in my previous post (click the link to read: Tyrant Tales), Mark goes to great lengths to characterize Herod in a negative light, as a tyrant! In short, Mark recounts that story and locates it before the feeding scene because of its political overtones; He wants to show the need for a new leader. In fact, Mk. 1.1-15 (for more on that, click the following links: Source 1, Source 2), the opening lines of Mark’s account, show Jesus as setting up a kingdom that is in opposition to Herod’s, a new kingdom, The Kingdom of God; the people do need a new leader.

The problem is, the people desire one kind of leader, a political zealot like themselves, which Jesus is not. Thus, when Mark says in the feeding story that Jesus taught them, we should understand that Jesus is teaching them that He is not the kind of leader that they think He is but rather, a very different type of leader. Mark says that Jesus looked up on the people and had compassion because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” This phrase, as Montefiore has suggested, is an ancient idiom. Mark uses it here because of the religio-political context of the story. Moreover, he borrows it from Num. 27.15-20. That too, is a religio-political story; a story about Moses handing over his leadership to Joshua (comparable to the name “Jesus,” of course). The text says: “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

Okay, so we can see the religio-political context of the story and we can also see how Mark imported echoes of an Old Testament story that had the same type of context into the story. As with Joshua taking on a new leadership role in that story, the same thing is taking place with Jesus in Mk. 6.30-44. If we briefly recall, once more, the beginning of Mark’s Gospel account, we will remember that Mark shows the people coming out to be baptized for “repentance” and “forgiveness of sin.” These people are coming from near and far to be baptized for these things. I have argued that, as Mark tells the story, he reveals that the are repenting and asking for forgiveness because they have succumbed to the Roman Empire and its sinful, deceitful, materialistic ways.

This point actually brings us back to soils parable. In explaining that parable, Jesus says that some, “…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” (Mk. 4.18-9). I have even argued that the parable that follows these comments (Mk. 4.21-5), makes the same point! (Click the following link to read that post: The Rhetorical Jesus) Since the 4 types of soils represent the types of people that Jesus and His disciples encounter in Mark’s story (and in ministry in-general), these people represent the third soil, a group of people who have succumbed to the pressures of the Empire and society.

So, what does all of this have to do with the feeding of the 5,000? Everything! What I have attempted to do thus far is to show how, considering the literary (e.g. narrative) context of Mark’s story, as well as the religio-political context of those stories, gives the feeding scene much more significance than just the usual “multiplication of fish and loaves” type of sermon leads on. There are Old Testament echoes, political ramifications, religious influences, narrative tie-ins and much more going on than just the telling of a feeding miracle. I am not trying to downplay that miracle, I am simply trying to say that there is more to the story. Too often, when the miracle is overemphasized, the "teaching" aspect is overlooked.

But what was Jesus teaching? Well, this story is, in the main, a story about the identity of Jesus. The 5,000 zealots want Him to be something other than He is; they want Him to be their religio-political leader. But Jesus “teaches” them that He is not that type of leader. He understands that they have succumbed to the Empire and He wants that to change. He understands that they have repented and baptized. He understands that they have no good leadership. He understands how horrible the Herodian family is. He understands how much they have been oppressed. He understands that at present, something new is happening with Him, much like the situation that happened with Joshua.

Indeed, He is going to lead the people of God in a new way and as a new leader but He is going to do it His way, not anyone else’s. He is going to be non-violent and He is going to tell the truth. And when He sees that people just don’t understand who He is (remember, this is what the parable of the 4 soils is about, people and their reactions to who Jesus claims to be), He is going to take the time to “teach” them. And not only is He going to multiply physical food for them but He is going to multiply His new kingdom as well; it is going to be like a mustard plant that, like wild weeds, spreads far and wide (4.30-4). He is going to do things His way, not Herod’s way, not the way of the crowds nor anyone else because when He does things His way, it will bring the Godhead glory. So, first Jesus "teaches" the zealots about who He is and then, to reiterate that fact, He multiplies the fishes and loaves. The "teaching" and the "feeding" go together!

One of the things that I think this story, when placed in its proper context teaches us today is that we should not try, like the zealots did, to make God conform to our desires, agendas or wishes. We should not try to dream up a God who will justify our sins and injustices. We should not try to manipulate God in prayer or other things. We should not try to shape God according to our likings and likenesses; we should not create God in our own image. Instead, we should conform to God and His ways. We should let Him continually create and recreate us so that we can be like Him, holy and true. We should bend our wills towards God’s and our desires towards His. We should conform to His agenda instead of trying to get Him to conform to ours.

Perhaps if you are guilty of trespassing God in this way, you, like all those in the beginning of Mark’s story, need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Perhaps you need to be baptized in the name of the Triune God and become part of His people. Perhaps you have succumbed, not to the Roman Empire, but to your society or its political and economic evils. Maybe it is high time for you to change your ways and to fall before God Almighty and ask Him to forgive you and bathe you in His amazing grace. Perhaps you’ve had the wrong impression about who God is, maybe your eyes have been opened and you’re starting to see Him in a different light; maybe you just need to be taught. I encourage you today to seek Him; to pray to Him and to join yourself to Him. Let Him make a new you and let Him give you an invitation to His table, where He’ll feed you a miraculous banquet. But still, despite all of the food on that table, the thing you’ll be most hungry for, is a relationship with Him and His people. Now that’s something to be zealous for!