11/30/07

November's Bible Belt Winner

It's that time again folks! This month, leading the pack of my favorite five posts and thus claiming the Bible Belt is: Adam Hodel who maintains the blog "Should We Praise God Now". Check out the winning post: It's About Money...


#2. The Theos Project - McChurch

#3. Double-Edged Sword - Jesus for Every Season

#4. Lingamish - Cyber-Psalm 16

#5. Kata ta Biblia - Political Leanings at Fuller

A Beginning Blogger: New Feature

This month I am adding a new feature to Pisteuomen: A Beginning Blogger. As a fairly new blogger myself (I've only been doing this 5 and 1/2 months), I realize how tough it is to get people to visit your site, comment, add you to their blogroll, etc. Now, I've done a lot to make my blog both resource and user-friendly and I believe that's contributed to its success but it might have also helped if some more well-known persons helped draw attention to Pisteuomen. Well, with the conviction that the biblio-blogosphere is not about constantly catering to the egos of a select few or having to be around for years in order to make it (among other things, like creating a resourceful, edifying online community), I thought I'd add this feature. That said, there are a few guidelines:

1. Your blog has to be less than 1 month old to be added to "A Beginning Blogger"

2. Your blog should be bible / theology oriented

3. Contact me (via Pisteuomen comment box) to let me know you're interested

Though this is in its trial stage, I do hope it proves to be a helpful addition to Pisteuomen. Who will be first?

11/29/07

Christian Militants (Shouldn't this label be an oxymoron?)

I recieved an e-mail today from a friend addressing the issue of pacifism/aggression, violence / non-violence, etc. He said some good things, here's a statement by him and some citations he offered from the Church Fathers. Think on these things (yes, that includes you Mr. John Hagee!!!):

"What I believe and am about to say may offend you, but I think it is borderline blasphemous to say that soldiers died for my freedom. The only person that has died to bring true and uncorrupted freedom and liberty is Jesus Christ!"

"We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies." -Justin Martyr

"...These people [i.e., Christians] formed their swords and war-lances into plowshares, ...that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting. When they are struck, they offer also the other cheek." -Irenaeus

"It is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained." -Clement of Alexandria

"If, then, we are commanded to love our enemies...whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become just as bad ourselves. Who can suffer injury at our hands?" -Tertullian

"Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith-even the rank and file (or any inferior grade), who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments...A man cannot give his allegiance to two master-God and Caesar...How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is true that soldiers came to John [the Baptist] and received the instructions for their conduct. It is true also that a centurion believed. nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." -Tertullian

"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate who wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If an applicant or a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God." -Hippolytus

Heard A Good KJV Only Sermon Lately? Here's One...

Honestly, I didn't know that these types of preachers still existed but here's the proof (interestingly, from a metropolitan congregation based out of Lexington, KY), click the following link to listen: Ed Laurena. For the good stuff go to the 18 minute marker and listen from there (but only for a few minutes, any more than that will drive you to do something very mean). Anyways, listen to the crowd in the background too, if this doesn't make your stomach turn, I don't know what will!

11/28/07

Better Vocab = Free Rice

My sister-in-law sent me an e-mail recently that led me to this great sister site of poverty.com. This new site, Freerice.com, is set up like an interactive game. In the game, for each vocabulary word you get right, 10 grains of rice will be donated to hungry people. I played the game for less than 5 minutes and had over 500 grains of rice donated. Here is the mission statement for the site:


FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site, Poverty.com.

FreeRice has two goals:

1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on this site. Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your vocabulary can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself. Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide. Thank you.

11/27/07

Getting Back To Normal

Since Sunday evening I have been incredibly sick (I think I've had a touch of the flu). This evening, though, I've begun to feel much better. I actually ate and drank some things without them coming back out! I had a few posts in draft format before Sunday and so, I have been able to use those. Being sick and house-ridden has been rough but I'm getting back to normal, thankfully. I now see, as I've looked at some of your blogs that I've missed some important discussions. I've tried to catch up some. For those who've been reading and chatting here, I appreciate it very much.

Rebuking the Idea of Resurrection : Studies in Mark, Pt. 32

The story of Jesus rebuking Peter has always been one of the most attention getting narratives of the Synoptics. Among commentators, one or two things are usually emphasized: 1) Peter rebukes Jesus’ “failure” mentality (that is, Peter believes that Jesus’ vision is too shortsighted), or 2) Jesus rebukes Peter for being possessed by or in-league with the devil, that is, satan. While other views exist (usually just a nuanced view of these two points), these are certainly the ones that dominate literature on Mark. It is my contention, though, that there is a better way to read and understand this story.

A few posts ago, I argued that in chapter 8 of Mark’s work, Jesus is essentially taking stock of His ministry. He asks many question to gauge precisely where His disciples are and what they think about Him. He also wants to know what others think about Him. One of the questions Jesus asks is, “Who do people…and who do you, say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.”

Certainly, Peter got the answer right (Mark refers to Jesus as the Messiah in his opening verses). Yet, Jesus saw right through Peter’s answer. It is like being the teacher of a children’s Church school class. Every time you ask a question, the inevitable answer is “Jesus”. The kids say “Jesus” (and sometimes it is the right answer) but they hardly understand the full ramifications of what they’re saying. So, even though Peter mouthed the right answer, he did not really know what He was saying. This is proven by the fact that as soon as Peter speaks, the reader becomes aware that Mark is portraying Jesus in teacher mode.

As a wise teacher, Jesus wants to see if Peter really understands the answer he gave, so, Jesus presses the issue further. It is akin to Him saying, “Okay, Peter, you say that I am the Messiah but do you really know what that means?” Jesus then says, “I, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and be killed and after three days, be raised” (Mk. 8.31). Upon hearing this, Peter is floored; he is taken aback. What else can he do but pull Jesus aside and lay into Him?

Mark tells us that Peter “rebuked” Jesus. The Greek word “epitimao” implies an incredibly strong rebuke (the same word is used when Jesus rebukes demons as well as the wind and waves). We would love to know exactly how that entire conversation went but we just don’t have it. Yet, the term “rebuked” is not our only clue as to what Peter might have said to Jesus. Indeed, in verse 33, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, satan.” The word “satan” here can be taken as the nomenclature, satan, that is, the devil. However, it can also be taken as its base meaning: accuser (thus, “satan” literally means “accuser”). Therefore, the statement reads, “Get behind me, accuser.” In my view, this fits really well with the overall context of the passage. For example, if Peter had been in-league with satan, as some have pointed out, it would have made more sense of Jesus to say in His next sentence, “You have in mind the things of evil” or “You have in mind the things of satan,” not just “You have in mind the things of men.” Thus, Jesus is not rebuking Peter for being in-league with the prince of darkness. So, this leads us to ask the question, then, “What did Peter accuse Jesus of?”

Well, from the text, we know that the discussion between Peter and Jesus concerned Jesus’ comments about dying and being raised (8.31). We also know that, unlike His usual tendency to speak in parables, Jesus spoke plainly about dying and being raised (8.32). Yet, we find out in 9.9-10, after Jesus has told them again that He will be killed and raised, that Peter and company are “debating what rising from the dead meant.” The word “debating” (suzeteo) should not be softened to “discussing” or any such word. It is used in the following story a number of times and has the connotation of debating there as well. What this passage shows us is that the disciples did not have trouble with Jesus’ comments about His crucifixion or death but rather with His statements concerning resurrection.

Evidently there were different viewpoints as to what “rising from the dead” meant. Were some trying to understand this parabolically? Figuratively? Needless to say, the disciples were arguing about it, which shows that they didn’t really understand it (or at the least, they had not come to a consensus on it). Now, this is where things get really intriguing and actually, here is where I think most commentators (every one that I’ve read anyways), miss a very important point. Typically, the rebuke scenes are read in such a way that the death and crucifixion are taken to be the focus. Put differently, these verses are usually read as Peter being uneasy about the death of Jesus. However, in context, it appears that the story can be read differently. In fact, it seems that as in 9.9-10, Peter is more perturbed by Jesus’ resurrection statements than His crucifixion ones; it is the resurrection statements that he just cannot wrap his mind around.

It is probably bad enough for Peter that Jesus would associate Himself with a vile Roman cross, an association that directly falls upon those who travel with Jesus. Just as well, Peter was probably hot and bothered that the professed “Messiah” would ever be killed by Rome, much less via crucifixion. But that was only the starting point, to make matters worse for Peter, Jesus says that He is going to rise again. Of course, Peter, a good Jewish man, believed that resurrection from the dead was possible (when he previously saw Jairus’ daughter raised, he probably thought “resuscitation”). However, Peter believed in a common or general resurrection, not a single-person event. Therefore, when Peter hears Jesus say this, He pulls Him aside and rebukes and accuses Him.

Peter rebukes Jesus for the words He has spoken and Peter accuses Jesus for misunderstanding the resurrection. Peter was waiting for the vindication of all of Israel, including her deceased, not just the raising of one man. In short, Peter had merely human concerns; Peter did not have in mind the things that Jesus had in mind—that through a one-man death and resurrection, not only Israel but all of creation—would be vindicated and restored. (*Note: It only makes sense that Peter would misunderstand a resurrection, as opposed to misunderstandng a crucifixion!)

After speaking plainly about this, Jesus returns to riddler mode and tries to explain the concept of a one-man death and resurrection and what it means for all creation. He says things like, “Those who give or lose their lives for me will find life” and “You can’t gain the world by giving it your soul but you can gain it by giving your soul to me.” He also says, “If you are unashamed of me in this life, I will be unashamed of you forever.” Jesus’ statements bespeak crucifixion (e.g. cross) and resurrection, death and life. There will be a one-man crucifixion and resurrection via Christ and all those events extend “life” to all persons. Some may die while following Christ and others may not. However, in living or dying for Christ, one partakes of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus even said that some standing there listening to Him would see the Kingdom of God come in power (I take this as a reference to the resurrection). Thus, as Jesus pauses in chapter 8 to take stock of His ministry, He realizes that this is what He needs to teach. This is what the people need to know and hear. More needs to be said about the resurrection!

Before leaving this episode, I should make one last point. One of the reasons this story is so often misread is because it is seen through the lens of the later story where Peter defends Jesus when the soldiers come to take Him away (Mk. 14.43-51, etc.). But we should not read it this way! This story in Mk. 8 comes first and should be read on its own (after discussing this with my wife she pointed out to me that, if anything, from a narrative perspective, Mk. 14 should probably be read in terms of Mk. 8). It should also be noted that in Mark's account, in chapter 14, Peter is not mentioned as the one who defends Jesus! To get this, you have to go to the other Gospel accounts! In other words, you have to read Matthew or Luke's account onto Mark's to know this about Peter. This, I submit, is something that we should be cautious of doing! Let's take this story on its own and let's take it in context.

11/25/07

Cross-Examining Jim West's Conclusions

Recently, Jim West has argued that "Eyewitness testimony does not exist." He uses an example of persons who attended the Richard Bauckham panel at SBL (a panel discussion on Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses book). Evidently, at that panel, James Crossley questioned Bauckham's thesis. Afterwards, some who were there for the discussion, according to West, "misinterpreted" Crossley's statements. This may be a legitimate statement but that is not really of concern to me. What is of concern to me, however, is the logic West uses, he asserts: because some heard and/or interpreted Crossley wrong, that "eyewitness testimony does not exist."

For starters, to draw such a huge conclusion (that eyewitness testimony does not even "exist") from this one instance is, in my opinion, logically irresponsible. I'm not attacking West here, I am just questioning his statements (much like he did when he questioned Mike Bird on Markan Christology).

Next, is it logical or honest to not even consider someone's word when they tell you they were an eyewitness? I think not. Luke tells us that he cross-examined eyewitnesses of Jesus' life (Lk. 1.2-3). Paul says that he met with and in a sense, cross-examined Peter (Gal. 1.18; historia). If we take the word of the Church fathers about how the Gospels were composed, then we have an incredible eyewitness account (many doubt their words though). Sure, we can approach the texts that profess to be eyewitness accounts with a hermeneutic of suspicion but when the evidence proves our suspicions wrong, we must go with it. In a court setting today, eyewitness testimony always has a ring of suspicion but when coupled with cross-examination and evidence, its credibility shines forth.

To use a modern day example (actually, there are numerous examples of this in the Bible), it often comes down to judges deciding on whether eyewitness testimony is credible or not. Are we to assume that the early Church, as it decided on a canon, did not use honest and truthful discretion? Not at all. They wanted to combat heresy and they used true, trustworthy stories of Jesus' life to do it.

I would also argue that another strong case for the existnce of eyewitness testimony, even in relation to the Gospels, is how they (1) recreate the settings and enviroment of Jesus, and (2) they details they often use, which otherwise seem insignificant. These are two pieces of evidence that would go far in any court of law then or now. We see that the Synoptic accounts are quite reliable, even if they each have some of their own shape to them.

I could really go on and on about eyewitness testimony and how it really does exist (that's really the only point that I wanted to make here: that it does exist). I reported on Pisteuomen a few weeks ago that the Church where I serve was robbed and broken into. At this point, I am aching for eyewitness testimony of the person who robbed us. Probably, when most of us are backed into a tough spot like this, we would really value an eyewitness' word. If we had an eyewitness, much of the problem would be settled.

Lastly, I find it interesting that Jim West in debunking the idea of eyewitness testimony, actually goes on to cross-examine (those who misquoted Crossley) and in fact, stand in for Crossley as an eyewitness himself. It seems, then, that the value of eyewitness testimony is not only important but that it surely does exist.

11/24/07

Book for Sale (or trade)

At present, I own two copies of David Fiensy's masterful work Jesus the Galilean (the first copy was used for a book review that will be published next year; the second copy is untouched). Gorgias Press has the book priced at $89. However, they are currently running a pretty good sale (%40 off) on their books, which would bring this tome to just over $53. I will take an extra $5 off which means that I am willing to sell this book for $48 (that includes s&h) or to trade this work with someone. If you're interested, please leave a comment. By the way, this book is great and is very illuminating! Fiensy, one of my old profs is top-notch! Here is the info. and abstract for the work:

Author: David A. Fiensy
Title: Jesus the Galilean: Soundings in a First Century Life
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Publication Date: 5/25/2007 12:00:00 AM 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59333-313-3
Language: English
Format: Hardback 6 x 9, 1 volume(s), xxii + 270 pages, 17 illustrations


Who was Jesus, really? That question has been debated by academics for the last two centuries, and contributions to this important issue in the history of Christianity are still making an impact on public opinion. Jesus the Galilean takes soundings in the life of the historical Jesus based on four readings from the Gospel of Mark (6:1-4; 10:17-22; 7:1-23; and 11:15-17) which represent some of the most controversial issues in the current scholarly discussion about the historical Jesus. Using such categorizations as “Jesus and Culture” in uncovering the background of the New Testament, “Jesus in Galilee” based on archaeological studies, “Jesus and Community” – an exploration of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their issues with wealth, “Jesus and Purity” from the Jewish oral torah in the Mishnah, and “Jesus and the Temple” considering the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, this book explores what can be known about the historical Jesus in the historic Galilee. This handy book may also usefully serve as an introduction for students on the many resources available to reconstruct the life of Christianity’s founder.


David A. Fiensy received a Ph.D. in New Testament and Second Temple Judaism from Duke University. He is professor of New Testament at Kentucky Christian University.

Major Book Sale

Just wanted to let everyone know that Gorgias Press is having a tremendous sale right now (their biggest sale ever actually). They are offering %40 off on all of their books (more than they did at SBL!). Here's the link: Gorgias Press.

11/23/07

Blog Update

Sadly, I am removing two of my blog buddies from the blogroll today. Jacob Paul Breeze of "NT & Faith" has decided to terminate his blogging career. Enjoyed your stuff Jacob! Also, since I am not into dead links, I am also going to remove "Scotteriology." Scott has not officially ended his blogging career but he has taken an incredibly long leave without comment. All that I can say is I hope that everything is okay Scott; thanks for interacting with me while you were blogging! If either of you choose to pick up blogging again, let me know and I will re-add you to the blogroll.

ExegeTV - Episode 4, Finding the Context of the Text



Youtube link: ExegeTV - Episode 4

Thank You Wipf & Stock

I just wanted to say thank you to Wipf and Stock for sending me a pre-release copy of P. J. Achtemeier's book Jesus and the Miracle Tradition. I'm so excited to read this book and I will review it in due time. For now, though, thank you so much!

11/22/07

Happy Turkey Day Everyone!

Fifty Stories: You've Got To Hear This!

Rap music shouldn’t be confined to expletives and shallowness. Today, too many rappers (I hesitate to call them rap “artists” because they no more make art than the Clinton’s make good leaders) are stuck. They’re stuck on money, drugs, sex, rims and jewelry; they’re stuck in a dream whose reality is but a blistering nightmare. Yet, with his self-titled album, Fifty Stories has brought salvation to the rap scene.

Based out of Cincinnati, Fifty Stories (a.k.a. Chris Deering) has birthed a record that is both lyrically and instrumentally wise. Years in the making, this collection of songs leads us out of superficiality and delivers us from monotony. On the real—this record’s got substance!

Whereas most rap albums are one-dimensional, listening to this record is like putting on 3D glasses. Fifty Stories—a tag descriptive of a fella who is prone to sharing the narratives of his life—leads his listeners through city streets, college campuses, family rooms and sacred spaces and he does this, all while making them nod their heads. Indeed, in the truest sense of the term, Fifty Stories is a rap “artist” whose debut release is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Though a variety of themes drive the c.d. one recurrent and recognizable element is that of faith. While he is not a confessed “Christian rapper” (perhaps because he is neither hokey nor Bible Thumping), Fifty Stories is a certainly a man whose lyrics and life are Christ-shaped. From where I stand, there isn’t even a Christian rapper who has ever produced something of this quality.

Clocking in at just under an hour, the c.d. contains 11 tracks. The album starts out with “Some Call It Cincinnati,” a song that asks listeners to pause, take note of what’s going on around them and to learn from it. Touching on issues such as greed, sin and ethnic reconciliation, this track leads smoothly into its follow “Wake Up.” One of the most sophisticated titles on the disc, this track’s chorus says that it’s time to “Wake up” and “Take off the mask and the makeup”.

The third offering on this album actually debuts Fifty’s wife. In addition to her melodic voice, the two rhyme about faithfulness, social justice and unity. Track four has a dope 70’s feel to it and is a song Fifty dedicates to his girl. The follow offers a twist on Psalm 14 and is by far, one of the catchiest on the record. It is songs number six and seven, though, that have the potential to make this record soar! Number six, “Back When We Were Young” has an unforgettable hook and brings about nostalgia in those who hear it. Seven, “Exit Wounds” is the record’s hit. Reflecting on his childhood struggles through the adoption process, his teenage years as the beginning of a spiritual journey and his adult years in the city, this song will make listeners hit the “repeat” button.

Track eight, “Yeah,” a song about the first becoming last, has a southern feel to it. This song actually leads into three acoustic renditions of earlier tracks. Some might see this as a risk but in my opinion, these adaptations showcase Fifty Stories’ talent and musical genius. One is reminded by these three tracks of Lauryn Hill’s passion-filled acoustic album—certainly, nothing less could be said of these! This is the kind of album that anyone embarking on a spiritual search or needing some direction in life, must listen to.

Click the following link to hear some samples: Fifty Stories Samples

Also, click the following link to purchase the album or individual songs: Fifty Stories.

11/21/07

Reading the Bible with the Damned

Michael Halcomb. Review of Bob Ekblad. Reading the Bible with the Damned. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005. 203 pp. $17.95.


Ekblad’s work, which shares its title with a course that he often leads at Regent College, is an attempt to help “sensitize and form Christians for the specific task of communicating the good news” (xiv) to those in the margins of society. This volume, an anthology of sorts for Ekblad, flows from his discomfort with both the typical “white, middle-class, Christian family” (xiii) as well as the ongoing struggles and sufferings of society’s shunned—those ignored by the “empire-like” (7) mainstream culture.

Operating out of a liberation theological paradigm, Ekblad draws on such noted thinkers as Paulo Friere, Thomas L. Campbell and James L. Kugel to bolster his work. Written in an easy-to-read, narrative form, this composition is divided into nine chapters—with the shortest numbering ten pages and the longest thirty-six. The first chapter sets the tone for the book. Largely influenced by the Latin American movement known as lecutra popular de la biblia (grassroots reading of the Bible), Ekblad employs a teaching style that helps marginalized readers “identify contemporary equivalents to the biblical narrative (location, characters, verbs, and other details) in their own lives and world” (5).

Ekblad begins with the Emmaus narrative and readers are asked to leave their comfortable Jerusalems and expose themselves “to encounters with strangers through whom God can open [their] eyes” (3). Following that, the audience meets a praying Abraham and is pushed to relate with the patriarch’s lack of concern for the lost of Sodom. Ekblad writes, “If Abraham had only been courageous enough to intercede for Sodom in the absence of even one righteous person” (3).

In chapter two, readers find themselves interpreting Genesis with prisoners in a rugged jailhouse and ex-inmates in a crowded, low-income house in the projects. Turned off by the creationist/evolutionist debate, Ekblad’s hermeneutic allows him to approach Genesis in a less historical and more theological way, a way that helps those “in and out of jail” (11), sense the presence of a respectful and loving God. He teaches them that this God longs to know them and create new beginnings in the midst of their dark, chaotic and often hopeless situations. While many of these societal “outsiders” consider themselves unholy and thus unworthy of being in the presence of a holy God, Ekblad often reminds them that “most of Genesis takes pace outside the garden of Eden and outside the ‘Holy Land’” (11); it was in those places that God created new beginnings for His people.

Ironically, the third chapter is titled “Getting Back into the Garden”. The focus however, is not on reentering Eden per se but on receiving God’s grace. This section of the work is rich with theological insight as it digs beyond surface readings of the Edenic and Cain & Abel narratives—stories that often times lead to negative images of God. The metaphor most discussed here is that of judge, which, for prisoners Ekblad argues, is an inherently debilitating and unconstructive image. In fact, he argues that this inappropriate representation of God has its origins in none other than the serpent. One remedy to these harmfully, pessimistic ideas, is to begin to see and understand God not as a judge, but as a physician—a gracious and loving God who is ready and willing to heal.

A similar concept is utilized in the next chapter when Ekblad envisions God as a “therapist” (68). While such a thought is certainly not foreign to the Biblical witness, to replace “judge” with “therapist” seems unnecessary. While those serving time frequently feel as though the “system” is out to get them, this is not always the case. Instead of adding fuel to the fire of negativity towards judicial authorities, Ekblad could cast judges in a more positive light by focusing on their dedication to justice, protecting society, loving discipline and power to free. Each of these images can shed favorable light on the nature and person of God—who is both judge and therapist.

In chapter five, the audience finds themselves encountering God in Exodus—a fine parallel for immigrants trekking through the desert and heading for the Promised Land. Identifying with Moses—whom Ekblad argues is no “hero figure” (110)—prisoners and readers alike perceive that God often chooses excuse-making nobodies as His leaders and mediators. Moving from Pentateuch to Prophets, chapter six reiterates this point. In his survey of Isaiah, Ekblad asserts that, while prophets were “often called from what would have been the mainstream of their time, [many] were raised up from among the exiles themselves” (113). To those viewed by the dominant society as “damned losers” (126), this is often empowering and liberating news.

Chapter seven, that last Old Testament-centered study, focuses on how to read and pray the psalms. Ekblad makes an intriguing move here when he teaches that the psalms can be used as weapons in spiritual combat. Almost in a Peretti-like-fashion, he argues that behind every negative option is an evil spiritual force. Asserting a body/spirit dualism, Ekblad writes, “Jesus teaches us to pray for and love our flesh-and-blood enemies even as we cry out to God to combat the deeper spiritual enemies” (140).

The eighth chapter, one of two concerned with the New Testament, deals primarily with the gospels. Ekblad discusses gospel readings such as: Jesus’ call of Matthew the tax collector; Jesus’ encounter with the Gerasene demoniac; the parable of the lost sheep; Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman; and the meanings of suffering, election and atonement. Ekblad is careful to stress the fact that Jesus meets people where they are and there embraces them. As far as the gospels go, nowhere he says can one “find a single negative word coming out of Jesus’ mouth toward the people on the margins of His day” (156).

Given the current discussion regarding immigration in America, chapter nine, which focuses on the Pauline epistles, employs powerful imagery and elicits numerous thought-provoking questions. Of all the chapters in this tome, none seem as timely as this one. Ekblad’s analogy of Christ as a law breaking, rescuer of aliens in a foreign land, resonates deeply with illegal immigrants seeking freedom and opportunity. Though it can be eye opening, it has the potential to be politically and ecclesiastically controversial.

Reading the Bible with the Damned is a commendable work. Despite numerous grammatical errors and frequent offensive language, this book is theologically adept and socially active. Ekblad reminds his readers of their call to minister to “all peoples,” especially those in the margins. While there is much to applaud, this work also warrants a few critiques. Much of Ekblad’s agenda is to counter traditional teachings of the faith; he seeks to do away with mainstream readings in the name of his liberation paradigm. However, his focus on God as “therapist” aligns him with mainstream American Christianity—for whom “therapist” is the dominant metaphor (i.e. Joel Osteen and the Word of Faith Movement).

This reviewer’s main concern was Ekblad’s attempt to dismiss repentance. One wonders how persons can be liberated from their sin without being made aware of their guilt? That said, Ekblad does not forthrightly water-down the Scriptures. His exegesis is theologically responsible and he offers numerous insights from passages often glossed over. This publication is creatively written, easy-to-read, informed and passionate. Fit for both the scholar and layperson, Bob Ekblad’s work is artistic and resourceful as it seeks to unite theology with service in the name of Jesus.

11/20/07

Faith Comes By Reading: Studies in Mark, Pt. 31

It is quite common these days to hear persons make the following argument (usually related, in some way to the issues of inerrancy, inspiration or the Bible’s authority): “Faith comes by hearing not by reading.” In fact, it is my belief that this point is argued so often that it has now become mainstream. Recently, I came upon it while reading an article by one of my favorite scholars. In the article, the scholar attempted to bolster this argument by saying things such as: 1) Jesus never said, “Faith comes by reading” and, 2) The culture of the New Testament was oral in nature and the literacy rate was below 10%. This is one of the reasons why Jesus never said that faith comes by reading.

However, I think when persons make such arguments they are doing so in a manner that is theologically and Scripturally irresponsible. Indeed, the New Testament alone suggests that in addition to faith coming by hearing (see the oft-cited passage, Rom. 10.17), faith also comes by reading! Before moving on to a few of these passages in Mark’s Gospel account, I want to offer some other New Testament proofs of this.

Firstly, I cite the Eunuch story in Acts 8 (see verse 28 and following). There, we encounter the Greek term that means “read” (αναγινωσκω) a number of times. Upon reading the story, the Eunuch understands what is written and gets up to be baptized as a believer. In the Eunuch’s case, faith came by reading.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the apostle says, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3.4). I need not offer much exposition on this passage because it is rather straightforward. In another one of Paul’s letters, 1st Timothy, Paul exhorts believers to devote themselves to the “public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4.13). In 2nd Timothy 3.16, we find Paul saying that every Scripture is useful (for myriad reasons). So, by default, if the Scriptures are not read and understood, they are meaningless. It goes without saying that for Paul, faith came by hearing and reading—as was true in all Jewish synagogues too.

Within Mark’s account, we find some statements that are not as direct as, say, 1st Timothy 4.13 but nonetheless suggest that, in addition to hearing, faith also comes by reading. For example, one indirect way of reading Mark as saying that faith comes by reading is to simply take note of how many times he cites passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (which he often sees as fulfillment passages). At 1.2, Mark already cites two Hebrew prophets. Evidently, he was familiar with these verses and evidently he located them in his work so that they might edify his “readers”.

Elsewhere in his work, Mark records Jesus as asking the religious leaders questions such as, “Have you not read the Scriptures?” (e.g. Mk. 2.25). The question assumes that if they had read the Scriptures then their frustrations and misunderstandings about Him might have never surfaced or perhaps, would have been corrected. To put it differently, instead of holding Jesus in contempt, they might have placed their faith in Him.

Another thing that we encounter in Mark’s work is Jesus repeatedly telling persons to keep quiet about Him. In addition to this, we find Jesus speaking in confusing parables. So, sometimes, even those who “heard” did not place their faith in Jesus. Sometimes, hearing did not lead to faith but rather often times confusion or a silencing. Jesus even tells a parable about the various types of people who “hear” the word and do not believe (though, some do).

I could multiply my examples of Markan and New Testament occasions of when “reading” brings about faith, however, I think what I have provided above is sufficient. One of the points that I am trying to make is that among our beliefs concerning the Bible (and thereby, it’s authority, inerrancy, infallibility, etc.), we cannot argue that faith only comes by hearing (which, when we do hear the Gospel, in most cases it is being read aloud). Instead, we should acknowledge that even in the Scriptures themselves we find cases where faith comes in many ways (e.g. encountering God personally, hearing, reading, etc.).

Thus, it is time to quit using the weak and unfounded argument that faith only comes by hearing—which I’ve offered proofs against in this post. We would be much better off in shaping our views of the Bible with different points and different proofs. Besides, how many persons have come to faith by reading? How many persons have had their faith strengthened by reading the Scriptures? How many people have been ready to commit suicide in a hotel room but stumbled upon a Gideon’s Bible?

The truth is, most of us live in cultures where reading is incredibly important (e.g. take note of what you're doing at this very moment in "reading" this blog). If we are going to contextualize the Gospel, we must take this into consideration and recognize that faith often comes by reading. Perhaps we should take Paul’s words to the Thessalonians with the utmost care and seriousness and likewise devote ourselves to the reading of the Scriptures.

WJK, Thank You!

I want to say "thanks" to WJK publishers for sending me a copy of the New Testament Library commentary on Mark (by Eugene M. Boring). I'm excited about engaging this text and I'll post a review of it on Pisteuomen after working through it. This gift is very much appreciated.

11/19/07

So Long San Diego

I am back in the Bluegrass state now (KY). It’s good to be home. SBL was a great time but my goodness, it was quite tiring. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting many of my fellow bloggers and making some new friendships. I also got to meet so many Bible scholars that I really admire. While I cannot list everyone, it was great to meet Jerome Neyrey, Bruce Malina, John Pilch, Dennis Duling, Doug Oakman, Richard Rohrbaugh, Scott Bartchy, Mark Goodacre, Warren Carter and many others. I appreciated all of the encouragement from those who offered it.

I am also excited about finishing up this semester and getting into some of the books I purchased. Speaking of books, I should be receiving many in the mail in the days to come (gotta love it!).

I was sorry that I didn’t get to see much of San Diego itself but oh well (I did get a couple of good aerial views when landing and taking off). I’ve already registered and reserved my room in Boston for next year’s meeting—I’m already looking forward to it as I hope to meet more new people, see friends, buy cheap books and present a paper. Anyways, I would encourage those of you interested in the meeting next year to register right now because it is dirt cheap (I only had to pay $50).

For now, though, it is so long San Diego! It’s great to be back home with the wife and daughter!

11/17/07

SBL Pick-Up Lines

The day before yesterday, I saw a guy hitting on a woman here at SBL. I couldn't help but be amused at the way he went about it. So, it got me thinking and this post is the result, enjoy!

1. Is that a book in your tote or are you just happy to see me?

2. Wanna do dinner and a lecture?

3. I know where we can rent a rickshaw really cheap!

4. Has anyone ever told you that you're stacked like the shelves over at the Eisenbrauns booth?

5. I don't normally introduce myself this way but you should know that I'm a bibliophile.

6. I may have gotten 30% off this book but you've turned me 30% on.

7. So beautiful, what's the best Hebrew grammar?

8. You're looking lexy.

9. Are your feet hurting cause...geez, mine are really killing me.

10. I helped a homeless guy earlier.

11. My nickname around here is Exhibit Hall A.

12. Show me your hermeneutic and I'll show you my homiletic.

13. AAR or SBL?

14. You must be staying at the Maryhott!

15. Your suit pants make me think eschatalogically, that is, of end-times.

16. Girl, you best redact that thang up!

17. Don't go near that tree, you'll get midrash.

18. If I were a source critic, you'd be my starting point.

19. My 5 love languages are: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German and French, what are yours?

20. I'm a post-colonial feminist operating out of a GLBT hermeneutic with an eye towards medieval anthropological studies and patriarchy within patristic texts, oh, and I attend an ivy league school, just in case you didn't see my name tag, hat and t-shirt that tell you where I go to school.

21. If it aint King James baby, it aint a date.

22. I'll take you on a date that's theologically fulfilling. What do you say?

SBL: A Bibliophile's Heaven (or hell)

Speaking of my library coming alive, I've made some additions. Here's what I've picked up at SBL so far:

Freebies:

1. Harvard Theological Review, 100/1 (Jan, 2007).

2. The Journal for the Association of Jewish Studies, 31/1 (April, 2007).

3. Scottish Journal of Theology, 60/1 (2007).

4. The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. P. S. Johnson (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2006).

Purchased (short bibliographical info.):

1. From One Medium to Another: Basic Issues for Communicating the Scriptures in New Media (R. Hodgson & P. A. Soukup)

2. Fidelity and Translation: Communicating the Bible in New Media (R. Hodgson & P. A. Soukup)

3. Ancient Texts Alive Today: The Story of The English Bible (J. S. Kerr)

4. A Feminist Companion to Mark (Amy-Jill Levine)

5. Provoking the Gosple of Mark: A Storyteller's Commentary (Richard W. Swanson)

6. Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 1-8.26 (Robert A. Guelich)

7. Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8.27-16.20 (Craig A. Evans)

8. Mark: Images of An Apostolic Interpreter (C. Clifton Black)

9. Social Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible (ed. J. J. Plich)

10. Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (ed. Ken M. Campbell)

11. Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining Truth (John C. Cavadini)

SBL: The Night My Bookshelves Came Alive

For the most part, it has been an incredible day. Tonight, though, was one of the best experiences I've had at SBL yet. Indeed, when I walked into a certain undisclosed hotel room, and as was said in a conversation with someone there, "my bookshelves came to life." For starters, I rode the elevator up to the room with one of my biblical heroes: Jerome Neyrey. Also on the elevator was Richard Rohrbaugh, his wife and Eric Stewart. When we walked into the room, there sat Bruce Malina and John Pilch eating Tostitos and salsa. I proceeded to have a long, fulfilling conversation with Doug Oakman (who, after all of his cancer treatments, looks great!) and met many other people whom I could go on and on about. Exciting times! I was so busy shaking hands that I didn't have time to snap any pictures (though, somehow, Bruce Malina managed to get a picture of myself and Mrs. Oakman together). Hopefully, I'll get some good pictures tomorrow.

SBL: Likes & Letdowns

Okay, so, I have a lot of good things that I can say about SBL so far this year. Firstly, I've gotten some great deals on books; I always like that! Secondly, I've seen and will soon personally meet, some of the scholars I most admire. Thirdly, I've had some great conversations with other conference goers and even some people who just live in San Diego and are interested in what's going on at the convention center. However, there are some things that have been letdowns.

For one, it is such a letdown when you see a great paper title but when you go in to hear the lecture, you realize that the title was merely a dreamer's title and that it had nothing to do with the content of the paper. Another thing that has been a letdown is when you attend a lecture of some big-named scholar, he or she is as dry as the Nevada desert I crossed over on my flight here. Still another letdown (and for me, this was such a big letdown!!!) is to see the scholars you admire acting like jerks. Not sharing names, I saw two scholars today who have been at the top of my favorites list for a while now and they were being real jerks to another guy, a guy they didn't even know. I was there when the two scholars approached the man and I was there when they left; the guy was overwhelmed by them and the things they were saying. This was not in a lecture setting and so, I was shocked at the vigor with which they approached this guy; I couldn't believe it. Needless to say, I lost a ton of respect for these persons because they definitely were not living out what they wrote so much about.

Despite the letdowns, though (I'm sure there will be more), I really am having a great time. There's much more to look forward to. I'll post some more stuff this evening, so, check back in with Pisteuomen when you can.

11/16/07

Flying With Mormons

So, on my flight out of Salt Lake City, I got seated next to a mormon girl, 22-years old, who worked for a real estate company. We didn't talk much but I did ask her some questions about her religious persuasions. At one point, I asked, "So, are you serious about your religion?" She replied, "Yeah, I'm very serious about it." A few moments later, I asked her, "So, do you consider yourself a Christian?" She struggled to answer. I interjected, "...You know, some mormons do not differentiate between mormonism and Christianity, do you?" Again, she struggled. Then, she finally replied, "I really don't know that much about mormonism or Christianity."

Sound familiar?

Touched Down in San Diego


Well, I finally made it to San Diego and after a long morning of flights, it's good to be here. The first photo is a shot I snapped as we were entering Salt Lake City, Utah. I'd never been there before, so, it was an interesting first for me. After I made the connecting flight in SLC, I was on my way to San Diego. However, due to a lot of fog and low visibility, when the aircraft was 20 minutes out, it was delayed. So, we spent 45-minutes circling a pond out in the middle of the Nevada desert. That was awful. Still, it wasn't as bad as the guy who snored for 3 and 1/2 hours on the first flight! Anyways, we were diverted from San Diego and had to make a stop in Ontario, California to refuel. Hours later, I arrived. Right next to the hotel is Padres stadium, as you can see in photo two. Anyways, it's been a long day and I'm just glad to be at SBL / AAR. I'm excited for some good lectures and discussions. I'm off to hear Chris Seitz speak tonight and I have a full day planned tomorrow. I'll post when I can.

11/15/07

Series On Pisteuomen

Below are two posts that contain the links to two of my ongoing series: Images of Antiquity and Studies in Mark. Enjoy.

Studies in Mark : Studies 1 - 30 (+ A Markan Precursor)

Below are thirty-one posts from my "Studies in Mark" series. Hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. (Feel free to engage these past posts any time and I will readily respond.)

A Markan Precursor - Did Jesus own a home?

#1 - Did the Disciples Know Jesus Before He "Called" Them?








#16 - The Feeding and Teaching of the 5,000...Zealots

#17 - Jesus the Prophet?

#18 - Why the Zealots Wanted Jesus to be Their Leader

#19 - Jesus Walked On Water...And Almost Went Too Far

#20 -There Is No Messianic Secret

#21 - Jesus the Priest

#22 - How the Gallio Inscription Helps Us Date Mark's Gospel

#23 - Did Jesus Use Protection?

#24 - What Comes Out of You Is What Defiles You

#25 - The Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek & Latin Contour of Mark's Gospel

#26 - The Mes-Sigh-ah

#27 - Miracles or Mere Distractions?

#28 - Why and How God Hardens Hearts

#29 - The Quest for the Questioning Jesus

#30 - Did the Disciples Believe in Ghosts?

Images of Antiquity Series : Asia Minor Entries

Here are the Asia Minor entries from my Images of Antiquity Series:

#1 - Smyrna & Thyatira

#2 - Sardis & Philadelphia

#3 - Pamukkale & Pergamum

#4 - Laodicea

#5 - Ephesus

#6 - Assos, Alexander Troas & Troy

#7 - Asia Minor Compilation

#8 - Pix From Ben Witherington

11/14/07

Did the Disciples Believe in Ghosts? : Studies in Mark, Pt. 30

The whole scene of the disciples thinking that Jesus was a “ghost” really fascinates me (Mk. 6.45-56). After Jesus has told the disciples to go ahead of Him, He goes up on to a mountain to pray. From atop the mountain, He looks out and sees the disciples having a hard time rowing against the wind. Moments later, He comes down the mountain, walks out to them on the water and they think they’re seeing a ghost.

Now, the episode itself is quite incredible. Yet, I think there is even more going on than originally meets the eye that makes this story even greater than first appears.

In my opinion, there are a few important words in this narrative that must be analyzed to get at what is going on. One of those terms is phantasma, that is, “ghost” or “apparition.” (Of course, this is from whence we get our word phantom.) This word also occurs in the Matthean account of this tale (Mt. 14.26). This word refers to a being from the spiritual realm. It can denote a demon or some type of god or goddess.

Another important term here is the word thalasses, which means “sea.” As is well known, it was a common belief in the ancient world—especially in Jewish circles—that the sea(s) inhabited spiritual creatures, usually evil ones (see for example, Rev. 9-11 and even Job). Now, many commentators have had a heyday with this. In fact, a large sum of those who have written on this passage have argued that here, the disciples must have thought that the “ghost” came up out of the evil sea to attack them.

Bultmann and others actually took this a bit further and suggested that the whole story was really nothing more than a myth whose aim was to show Jesus’ power over evil (e.g. Jesus walking or treading on top of the domain of the evil spirits shows His power over them). This is an interesting story but I don’t believe it is the best one that could be told. Just as well, it raises a lot of questions about authorial credibility, the historicity of Jesus’ words and deeds, why would Jesus appear as an evil spirit if He was not one, etc. Thus, I do not subscribe to this view.

One word that has been zeroed in on in this story is parelthein, which means, “to pass by.” Indeed, it does seem odd that Jesus “willed” or “desired” to “pass by” the disciples! Numerous scholars have argued that Mark does not use parelthein accidentally. In fact, it is often argued that Mark used this word so that his readers would be reminded of Old Testament passages such as 1 Kings 19.11 where God’s “passing by” of Elijah was actually God’s way of saving and protecting him. Thus, in the story of the disciples in the boat, Jesus’ passing is an idiomatic way of saying that He was aiming to save and protect them. While this view is incredibly compelling, I’m still not sure that I can commit to it. (I have argued against it here: Jesus Walks On Water. I also argued in that post that Jesus’ walking on water served the specific purpose of teaching the disciples something about His relationship to them.)

For me, there seems to be something more going on. In fact, I have been pondering an idea that, as far as I know, has yet to be mentioned. This merits a look at another word: anemos (Mk. 6.48). This word is a Greek word that means “wind.” In his account, Mark says that the disciples could not progress because they were straining against the anemos. Perhaps it is because the “evil sea spirits” or the “theophanic” interpretations have dominated conversations of this passage that the term anemos has been overlooked. I, however, think it is “the” key to going deeper with this story.

In ancient Greece, there were many cults. Of course, each cult revered its special god(s) or goddess(es). A very prominent cult was the Cult of the Anemoi, that is, the cult of the wind gods. There were various gods of this cult (8, I believe, N, NE, E, SE, etc., one for each direction). Now, I need to be clear here. I do not believe that the disciples subscribed to these cults. However, I do believe that it was highly likely that they were aware of such cults. Even more, I believe that this awareness informs their ideas that Jesus was a “ghost.” Let me give some examples.

All throughout Greek literature, we find mention of the Anemoi (especially in hymns written about them). Personally, I have read hundreds of these fascinating accounts, not the least of which appear in Homer’s works. In fact, in my opinion, Homer had a great fascination with them; he speaks of them often, usually personifying them. Others personified them too, often portraying them as spiritual beings having the appearances of humans. Actually, most of them were pictured as having beards, donning cloaks and occasionally carrying weaponry (e.g. Boreas, Kaikias, Apeliotes, etc.). Here is an excerpt from Hesiod’s Theogeny (note the personification and the use of the word Anemoi):

"Zeus in tumult of anger cast the typhoon giant Typhoeus into broad Tartaros. And from Typhoeus come boisterous Winds (Anemoi) which blow damply, except Notos (South Wind) and Boreas (North Wind) and clear Zephyros (West Wind). These are a god-sent kind, and a great blessing to men; but the others blow fitfully upon the seas. Some rush upon the misty sea and work great havoc among men with their evil, raging blasts; for varying with the season they blow, scattering ships and destroying sailors. And men who meet these upon the sea have no help against the mischief. Others again over the boundless, flowering earth spoil the fair fields of men who dwell below, filling them with dust and cruel uproar." [869]

My point in showing this passage (I cannot show the hundreds of others, in fact, I have included 15 accounts at the end of this post that the beginning reader might be interested in) is to point out that perhaps scholars have focused too much on the evil sea beings and because of this, have totally missed out on the evil wind beings (again, to my knowledge not one person has ever argued this, until now). Notice that in Mark 6.45-56 it is not even the waters or the seas that are the source of the disciples’ problems. Instead, it is the “wind” that is giving the disciples a fit. Moreover, the disciples freak out when, as they are rowing into the wind, see a being. In a world where hundreds if not thousands of accounts of personified wind beings existed, doesn’t it make more sense, then, to say that it is likely that the disciples thought the “ghost” was an evil amenos? I think so. However, when they realized that it was not an evil being but rather Jesus, who as a real, physical human, climbed into their boat, they were shocked.

Is it possible that they were thinking He created and thus came out of the storm and that is why they were so stunned? Were they temporarily confused, that is, did they think that this Jesus they had been following was, after all, just another one of the wind gods? I think this option is highly likely. It may even help us make sense of the “hard hearts” and not “understanding the loaves” comments. Taken together, these two statements refer to the previous scene where Jesus “taught” about who He was. Yet, the disciples had not grasped His “teachings” and thus, they also misunderstood the miracles (notice in that story that Jesus teaches about Himself before He ever does the miracle! I have written about that here: Feeding Story). Thus, by including these two statements in the boat scene, Mark is showing that if the disciples would have previously gotten what Jesus had said, they would have never confused Him with a wind god or anyone or anything else.

In my opinion, then, reading the story this way reveals something profound not only about the misunderstandings of the disciples but also about Jesus’ relationship to them and also about His human / divine nature. So, to return to the title question: Did the disciples believe in ghosts? Well, it appears that they did. However, to them, these ghosts represented wind gods or spiritual wind beings! This is what they had mistaken Jesus for. Yet, in the end, Mark shows that Jesus is not just some other cultic or mythological figure. Nor is Jesus some evil wind (or even sea) being. Moreover, Jesus is not some personified phantom or ghoul, instead, He is the God-Man who desires to be among the people, so much so that He is willing to walk out to them, go through the storm with them and get into the boat beside them. What a great God we serve!


*Here are a few passages from select works concerning the Amenoi:

Hesiod, Theogony [378]
Homer, Iliad [23.194]
Homer, Odyssey [10.1]
Apollodorus, The Library [E7.10]
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica [4.819]
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy [2.549]
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy [3.580]
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy [4.1]
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy [14.467]
Ovid, Metamorphoses [4.663]
Ovid, Metamorphoses [11.430]
Virgil, Aeneid [1.50]
Suidas s.v. Ges agalma
Hyginus, Preface
Statius, Thebaid [1.205]

11/13/07

N.T. Wright Live

This morning I attended chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary (where I am a student) and following worship, I listened to N.T. Wright preach. It was a pretty good experience. His message was (loosely) focused on the use of Scripture in political discourse. The place was so packed out that people were sitting on the floor! Anyways, he preaches again tomorrow morning (11/14/07). The service starts at 11am (the cameras begin rolling around 10:50am) so if you want to watch via internet, come to Pisteuomen and click the following link around that time: NT Wright Live @ ATS.

"Overlooked Names of God"

Here is my 'take-off' of the "original" Names of God Poster, enjoy!

Covnert or Die Meme

I was tagged:

I am presently a part of the Stone-Campbell Movement (e.g. Independent Christian Churches / Churches of Christ / Disciples of Christ). If I had to convert (not sure that I like the term "convert" as I would not be changing allegiances to a new diety) I would join the Evangelical Free denonimation or some branch of the Wesleyan Tradition.

11/12/07

The Quest for the Questioning Jesus: Studies in Mark, Pt. 29

Jesus, according to my count, asks 66 questions in Mark’s Gospel. I’ve categorized the questions, broadly, into three groups (realizing that sometimes a question may overlap between categories). Here are my findings and categorizations:

+Interrogative - (2.8, 5.9, 7.18a, 8.12, 8.17a, 8.18a, 8.27, 8.29, 9.12, 9.23, 10.8, 11.30, 12.11, 12.15, 14.6)

+Rhetorical – [when a specific answer is expected or given afterwards, sometimes even in the form of another question] - (2.9, 3.4, 3.23, 3.33, 4.13a, 4.21a, 4.21b, 5.39, 8.17b, 8.17c, 8.36, 8.37, 9.19a, 9.19b, 9.50, 10.3, 10.38, 11.17, 12.9, 12.16a, 12.16b, 12.24, 12.26, 12.36, 12.37, 13.2, 14.37a, 14.41a, 14.48)

+Genuine – (2.25, 4.13b, 5.30, 6.38, 7.18b, 8.5, 8.18b, 8.19, 8.20, 8.21, 8.23, 9.16, 9.21, 9.33, 10.36, 10.51, 14.37b, 15.34)

For my purposes here, I want to reflect on category number three. In fact, I would suggest that this category is, in some ways, the hardest for many Christians to deal with—it is probably safe to say that the first two categories pose no problems for people. Moving on, many hold the view that Jesus was omniscient—I do not. I believe that as part of the Godhead, when Jesus the man showed up on the earthly scene, He put the omnis on-hold (however one defines “omni”). Paul, in the Philippian hymn, seems to hold this view as well (Php. 2.6-11).

Thus, I think that Jesus, as one who was fully human, asked “genuine” questions seeking sincere answers—answers that He did not know. And while there is an itch to talk about Christological issues at this juncture, I am going to abstain from that conversation so that I can entertain a different one. The issue I want to think on has to do more than anything else, with how interpreting some of Jesus’ questions as “genuine”, can influence our interpretations of entire stories. I will limit myself on examples here.

Take, for instance, Mark 8.22-6. There, Jesus, after rubbing spittle on a blind man’s eyes, asks Him, “Do you see anything?” If we use my categories, I think that this question best fits that of “genuine.” There might be an interrogative sense to Jesus’ question but usually, Jesus asks interrogative types of questions when He wants His audience to look deep within themselves and reflect on a certain issue. That’s not going on here. The question is not rhetorical because there is not one specific answer expected afterwards—the answer can be either “yes” or “no” here. This leaves me to take the question as a genuine. Jesus wants to genuinely know if the man can see.

Now, this is quite interesting. Jesus the healer, standing right in front of the man, asks him if he can see anything. Evidently, Jesus cannot tell just by looking at the fellow. Just as well, He does not employ some divine power so that He just knows. Instead, Jesus does not know if the man can see and so, He asks in order to get an informative answer. I am not inclined to argue, as some do, that, in the ancient world healing blindness was the hardest of all healings and that is why Mark includes Jesus having to give it two tries—though proponents of this view might still see Jesus as asking a genuine or sincere question.

Okay, I want to leave this story for a moment and address the one immediately prior to it. In that story, Jesus and the disciples are on a boat, the disciples have forgotten to stock up on bread and they are worried that Jesus is upset with them for it. Jesus, hearing their chatter, proceeds to ask seven questions in a row. In my opinion, in these seven questions, Jesus employs all three types of questions (that is, if 17b & 17c are not Genuine):

17a - Interrogative
17b - Rhetorical (possibly Genuine)
17c – Rhetorical (possibly Genuine)
18a - Interrogative
18b - Genuine
19 – Genuine
20 – Genuine

Such a reading suggests a number of things. First of all, this suggests that we should not just lump all of Jesus’ questions into one category. Instead, we should take each one on its own terms. Secondly, when reading these passages aloud (these were oral-oriented documents!), one can add tonality or inflection to each of them. In my opinion, when one does this, my categorizations fit well. Thirdly, this suggests that Jesus is not reaming the disciples here. Every commentator I’ve read makes this argument. I wonder, though, if such a reading misses some things?

If the last three questions are taken as genuine ones, then this passage does not reveal Jesus as angry with the disciples but rather being a sincere teacher who wants to know if His students are catching on yet or not. Jesus, as a good teacher, might be asking these questions for pedagogical purposes. Could He be attempting to gauge where His students are? When He asks if they still do not understand, what if He is asking out of sincerity instead of rebuke? This really puts a different spin on the passage.

From a literary standpoint, most scholars have suggested that the “seeing” theme runs through a number of surrounding stories (e.g. 7.31-7, 8.11-3, 8.14-21, 8.22-6, 8.27-33, 9.42-50 and even 10.46-52). Whereas many scholars try to develop some kind of Markan outline through these stories, I am more reticent to do so. I also question the notion that by asking the disciples if they have “eyes but fail to see” in 8.17 and 18, Mark has set himself up to make a contrast with the next story (8.22-6) where the blind man sees. Actually, at first, the blind man does not see!

Just as well, I am not sure that the double-healing attempt (partial sight to full sight) is meant to “parallel” the supposed misunderstanding and then enlightenment that occurs in 8.27-33. Indeed, even after Peter makes his confession Jesus rebukes him. Evidently, he was not totally enlightened! Evidently, Peter did not have "total" insight in to the work and person of Jesus! In my view, the parallels are stretches. That said, the “sight” theme does have merit to it.

Something that has been overlooked, though, is how Jesus’ questions shape these various pericopies. Furthermore, I would contend that in these verses we get a very human picture of Jesus. Here, we see Jesus asking genuine, sincere questions. Jesus, at this point, then, is trying to gauge where His ministry is at. Have His followers caught on? Sure, the crowds often flock to Him but what do the people really think of Him? How effective are His healings and miracles? (I should point out here, that, previously in 6.5, Mark has said, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.” One gets the sense that Jesus tried but had limited success. Perhaps we get an inkling of that in 8.22-6.)

Moreover, if the bulk of chapter 8 is meant to show Jesus attempting to gauge where His ministry stands, then the end of chapter 8, which seems rather disconnected to some, makes a lot of sense. There, Jesus issues the call for those who desire to follow Him, and says that they must take up their crosses. Furthermore, they must leave fleshly, worldly desires behind. This is how Jesus wants His ministry to be characterized; this is what He wants it to be gauged by. Where better to locate such a statement than at the end of chapter 8, a chapter where Jesus is repeatedly asking genuine questions about Himself, His ministry, His followers and His crowds? Where better to locate such a statement than after a passage where Peter has just been reprimanded for misinterpreting Jesus and His work?

In my opinion, there is no better place to locate such a statement! In fact, it seems to me that Mark’s ingenuity shines through here as he shows Jesus taking stock of His ministry (which is one, if not "the" main point of chapter 8) thus far so that He is more prepared as He is starting “on the way” to Jerusalem! Better to know where He stands than not. May we be more open and inclined to seeing a genuine Jesus in these verses than we have up to this point!

11/11/07

Blogger Michael Halcomb Makes New Da Vinci Discovery


Dan Brown's Da Vinci discovery was only the start of miraculous things found in the painting. Following Brown, the Italian computer guru Slavisa Pesci claimed to find hidden persons in the picture. I poked fun at that claim in a post titled Da Vinci Againci. Following Pesci, and just days ago, another Italian (what is it with these Italians?), this time a musician named Pala, has found a musical score in the painting. Wow :)

But what about me? What about my discovery? Why has it not been promoted? Here's how my discovery came about:

I went to Rome, photographed the painting, came home and began to fiddle with it in Adobe Photoshop. I tried a few tricks such as inverting the photo, rotating it 45 degrees, changing the hue / tone, and surprisingly, nothing worked. However, when I used my special effects "blogger lens" tool, something amazing happened: The painting totally changed.

From left to right, the faces of numerous bloggers appeared to be having dinner with Jesus: Chris Tilling, Jacob P. Breeze, Nick Norelli, Jason Gaines (the youth minister at the Church where I serve...he is peeking through the window), Me (Michael Halcomb), Josh McManaway and a younger, much more desirable Jim West. Incredible. I did notice, though, that of everyone in the painting, I am located closest to Jesus--that's only to be expected. Ironically, Tilling is the farthest away from Him--again, that's only to be expected!

I don't know about you but I definitely think this is newsworthy! So bring on the cameras CNN and as for the rest of you, let's make this discovery of mine known!

11/10/07

ExegeTV - Episode 3, Genre & The Bible




YouTube link: Episode 3, Genre & The Bible

Clay Brackeen's "Word from the Lord"

The day before yesterday, a friend of mine, Clay Brackeen, commented on my post about our Church house getting vandalized and robbed. The great thing, though, was that in his comment, Clay said that the Lord gave him a word for our Church. The word was: "You will hear from the Lord." Amazingly, less than 24-hours after Clay wrote that, I recieved a phone call from the authorities informing me that tremendous progress had been made in the case and that the process of recovering and returning our stuff was underway. Was this "the" expectant word? It sure seems like it! God is good! Oh, and by the way, check out this aspiring mystic's site by clicking the following link: Clay Brackeen. He's got a nice little devotional series going on. Also, thanks for sharing that word with me Clay.

11/9/07

The Communal Aspect of Baptism

I should begin by pointing out that this post is in addition to a few notes that Jacob P. Breeze has already posted on his blog. There, Jacob asks if insights from archeology might inform our understandings of baptism? I have been wondering the same thing. Now, I’m no excavator of ancient ruins but I am an exegete of texts and ancient culture. That said, I am well aware that it was not uncommon in the ancient world for persons to be buried together. In fact, when one tours the ancient world, they see this practice all over the place--I did!

While I disagree with James Tabor and the whole Jesus family sarcophagus / tomb, it does go without saying that people were buried together—even entire families. The problem with Tabor is that we have a detailed description of Jesus’ burial and Tabor’s theory does not line up. Anyways…

I’ve included some photos from antiquity here that show communal burial. There first one is from the city called Necropolis. I actually walked into the tomb in this picture. There were slabs/shelves that held the bodies. 10 or more bodies could have been easily stored in this tomb.




This next picture is of a tumulus (a hill/mound that contains tombs/coffins). In fact, this is the tumulus of Philip, Alexander the Great’s dad. In these tumuli, families were often buried together—we might compare it to a family graveyard today.



In this photo, you see some sarcophagi, coffin-like boxes that held single or multiple bodies. Many of these have been uncovered in Sardis—that’s where this photo is from.




One thing that this suggests is that in the ancient world, the idea of communal burial did exist (it still does today, too). Thus, when Paul talks about “all” believers being buried with Christ and thus, all believers sharing in His death, he could very well have this image in mind. Indeed, baptism is not and never was meant to be taken as a solely individual event. (Not least because those being baptized were already sharing in Christ’s death.)

Furthermore, baptism was seen by the Early Church as the event whereby the baptizee was initiated into the Church / Body of Christ. It was also in this event where one began to enter into a saving relationship with the Triune God, receiving forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Spirit and spiritual gifts. In our individualist culture, we would all do well to keep this in mind. Indeed, baptism is, in its own right, a communal event, just as salvation is a communal gift.

11/8/07

Why And How God Hardens Hearts: Studies in Mark, Pt. 28

Humans can harden their hearts but we also read in the Bible that God hardens hearts too. This has baffled many and leads to the question: Why does God harden hearts? There are a number of instances in the Scriptures where God does this. Perhaps one of the most well known of these occasions is when God repeatedly hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus). For our purposes here, Mark’s Gospel account is in focus.

Anyone who has read Mark’s work knows that from time-to-time, Jesus notes that persons, including the disciples, have hard hearts (Mk. 2.8, 3.5, 6.52, 7.6, 8.17, 10.5). This is where it gets interesting. Often, when Jesus brings this up, it is said in the perfect passive (see the listed verses). This is to say that the tense is in the past and that the hearts of the disciples were hardened by someone or something other than themselves. I want to submit that we should not overlook or oversimplify this. I also want to submit that the perfect passive reveals that, as with Pharaoh, God has a part in hardening the hearts of the persons (including the disciples). (*Note: I do not think that hard the perfect passive refers to the Pharisees/Herodians hardening the hearts of the disciples. Nor do I think it is meant to be taken in a reflexive sense.)

So, what does this mean? To be straightforward, I would suggest that God only hardens hearts that have already been partially hardened. Put differently, God is never the initiator in hardening a heart but rather, when someone has a hard heart only then, will God harden it the rest of the way. Of course, the question arises here: Why would God want someone’s heart to be harder than it already is? Furthermore, what does it suggest about God if He has a hand in hardening hearts?

Perhaps I should explain here, my understanding of what the phrase “hard heart” means. Firstly, a hard heart is not the opposite of a soft heart. As much as we are inclined to think in these dualistic terms, we should not. Secondly, the opposite of a hard heart is freedom. Thirdly, then, a hard heart is the equivalent of determinism. I know, I know, this seems ridiculous but keep reading anyways. Let me explain: A hard heart is a heart set on denying God. The result of denying God is losing knowledge.

In fact, that’s what sin is: losing knowledge of God, self and others. So, when one repeatedly sins or hardens their own heart, they move further and further away from true knowledge of God, self and other, every time. This path of the loss of knowledge can be viewed as a path that gets narrower and narrower until finally, those walking it are altogether closed off from true knowledge of God, self and other. And really, what else does this culminate in but the place we refer to as hell?

To summarize the argument to this point, then: When one continually hardens their heart, they lose knowledge of God, self and other—a path that culminates with hell. As we have seen, this narrow path is one of determinism. This path is not open to others. This path is not open to God. This path is not open to change. This path is closed. Because there is a lack of knowledge of the truth about God, self and others on this path, there are no relationships on this path and there is no interaction on this path. Thus, there is no freedom to live a meaningful life on this path.


This is why the opposite of a hard heart is freedom. When one does not have a hard heart, they are free to know the truth about God, self and others and to live life in a meaningful way. Now, here’s the thing. When persons begin to head down the path of determinism, when they harden their hearts towards God, He does not just give up on them. In fact, He continually tries to woo them back to Him. Yet, there comes a point when God gives some “last chances.” These last chances or “the” last chance that God gives, is nothing other than God hardening one’s heart the rest of the way. Humans hardened it first; God hardens it the rest of the way.

This hardening, then, is actually an act of grace on God’s behalf: He is reaching out again—even if a last time. Heschel has said that God knows that a half hard heart will remain obstinate. In my opinion, this is why God hardens humans hearts the rest of the way. God knows that some, in the pits of despair will cry out to Him. He also knows that none sitting on the fence of a hard heart will seek Him. So, God hardens hearts as last chance effort.

In Mark, when Jesus asks if the disciples hearts have been hardened, I think that Jesus is asking them if God has hardened their hearts or put differently, if they have hit the depths of despair yet so that they might cry out to God. This, then, is why and how God hardens hearts; it is an act of grace, a call out of determinism and into truth and freedom.

11/7/07

I Was Interviewed By Jacob P. Breeze

To read the interview, click the following link: Michael Halcomb Interview.

Our Church House Was Robbed

Last night I was dropping our weekly newsletter off at the Church house (where I serve as sr. minister) and to my surprise, when I walked in, glass was everywhere. The glass had been busted out of the back door and we had been robbed. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment was taken. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night angrily sweeping and cleaning up glass and filing police reports. We boarded up the back door, as you can see in the picture. What's wrong with people?

11/6/07

It's Election Day...

It's Election Day and I feel like I've lost complete faith in the American political system. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'd let a single one of these politicians come into my home. However, for the last 4, 5 or 6 months they have been barging their way in via their mud-slinging advertisements. These candidates, who are supposed to be serving the people and edifying the nation, do nothing but cut one another down. I can't speak for everyone but when I am constantly hearing about are the skeletons in every politician's closet, I cannot help but distrust the system. Why don't these candidates ever talk about what their opponent has done right and how, if they win, they'll build on that foundation? Why all of the put-downs? Why not work together? Why not listen to and serve the people? As it stands, I'm sick of it!

A Case Study In Religion & Magic

I was watching a film this morning that shared the title of this post and I heard an interesting statement which I thought I'd share:

"...like people everywhere (the Azmat) feel the need to understand the workings of the world. Grasping the ungraspable and taming the supernatural is a matter which falls into the realm of religion. This is a case study of how magic and religion play a crucial role in helping a jungle-bound people cope with eternal fears of existence...Like all people, the Azmat use religion and magic to deal with the forces that threaten them. Ritual, is the visible expression of religious thought and gives a sense of control over unpredictable events....Ritual gives one a sense of control over the supernatural, the sense of knowing the unknowable and changing the unchangeable."

This got me thinking about "Christian rituals." Do we perform our rituals to make ourselves feel as though we have some kind of control over the divine? Is there an underlying element of this in baptism? Communion? Sermons? Prayer? What do you think?

11/5/07

Why Pisteuomen?

The title of this post can be taken a few different ways. It could be taken in the sense of, Why did you name the blog Pisteuomen and what does it mean? Pisteuomen is a Greek word that means "we believe." The "we" connotes "community."

This actually leads to another way that the title of this post could be taken: Why did you start Pisteuomen? Actually, I created Pisteuomen thinking that it would be a site where people's faiths / beliefs could be edified when they visited. While I still desire for that to happen, there is yet another aspect of "Why Pisteuomen?" that has come into being.

I should begin by saying that for me, my blog is not primarily concerned with self-promotion or self-publication (inevitably, though, self-publication is a part of any blog; every blogger wants to get their name out there and to get their site promoted, however, the reasons behind such motivations vary considerably). Pisteuomen has increasingly been taking on the character of being a site for others. Of course, "we" includes me as well as my readers, but as of late, the purpose of this site has become more than anything, a resource / knowledge sharing page.

One of the reasons I was hesitant to start a blog was because I was afraid someone would take my ideas or something. But the realization hit me that knowledge should not be kept from people, especially biblical / spiritual knowledge. So, along with adding posts every day, I have slowly been developing free, biblical / theological, open-source resources. At this point, I think that is the main reason "why" Pisteuomen exists. This site is meant to share and distribute knowledge and resources that will not only help build up individual faiths / beliefs but also the community ("we") of faith.

To all of my readers thus far, thanks for reading. Enjoy the free resources and if you have any ideas for new resources I might create, please let me know as I am consantly working on new projects.