I Would Walk 500 Miles

Yesterday, I got a pleasant suprise when I received a phone call from Daren Wendell. As readers of this blog know, Daren embarked a few months ago on “The Earth Expedition”. At present, he has walked around 1,400 miles, leaving those old pop song lyrics in the dust. An old college (soccer) buddy, Daren is walking around the world to raise awareness and funds for the Blood:Water Mission in Africa. At this point, the Expedition is starting to earn major recognition. You can read Daren's blog, track his progress (his site has an online gps tracker) and interact with him at his site (or Facebook). To visit the site, click the following link: The Earth Expedition.


Farewell Sermon

Today was my last day as the Sr. Minister of the Church where I have been serving for over the last five years. It was an emotion-charged day. A few people offered mini-speeches of remembrances and gratitude for me and still others were teary-eyed and encouraging. In addition to a nice banquet in honor of my family, another emotion-filled event was baptizing a young boy from within the congregation. I had his mom and dad make vows to him; it was a great thing to witness. Today has been an emotionally-wearing day but also a very good day. I really couldn’t have asked for it to end any other way. Below is the sermon I offered. Give it a read as it’s not that long. It’s titled “Farewell Sermon”. (Click on the first page below and the message will open in a pop-out window.)


Athens & Poseidon: Images of Antiquity, Pt. 12

So, I've been trying my hand at "flash" lately and in just a few minutes, threw together this "Pisteuomen" flashplayer. I thought I'd use it for part 12 of the "Images of Antiquity" series. I've made a number of things in flash but never a "flash player". I just wanted to see what I could do in the course of a few minutes. Not bad, I think.


Packin' Up & Yard Salin'

The last couple of weeks have been crazy hectic. Between packing up to move and taking inventory, we've also had a huge yard sale and are also planning another one for tomorrow. So far, we've sold around $2,000 worth of stuff. Since all the money's going towards the adoption, I hope we can sell a bunch more. I'll be glad when we get the yard sale done and once we get the Penske packed (and unloaded) next Wednesday. Needless to say, the blog posts may be a bit less sophisticated for the next week. We'll see.


Greek Theater Vs. Greek Theology

With yesterday's post about Gospel performance still fresh on the mind, I was struck by this quote I ran across today: “To the ordinary Greek, festive and ceremonial occasions were the primary constituent of religion; theology came a very bad second.”

K.J. Dover, Aristophanic Comedy, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1972, p. 33.


A Concise Outline of Mark's Gospel/Script: Studies in Mark, Pt. 69

*Note: Subsequent to writing this post in 2008, I have presented several papers/lectures at scholarly conferences advancing these ideas. Please find those papers for further details on this topic.

I have suggested in previous posts that The Gospel According to Mark was, in the main, a performance piece. Instead of arguing that it should be viewed from an oral perspective or a textual perspective, my view is that both must be given consideration. At this point in time, it is my position that what we know as Mark’s account, functioned as a type of script. There are clues within the text (e.g. “let the reader understand”, all of the explanations of Hebrew and Aramaic customs and phrases, the many Latinisms, borrowed Greco-Romanisms, etc.) that have led me to this conclusion. There are also contextual factors (e.g. the great emphasis in the ancient world on the theater, drama, comedy, tragedy, etc.) that act as contributors to my conclusions.

I take the position that The Gospel According to Mark was performed in myriad settings by numerous persons, to diverse audiences. (This also makes me question even more, the whole notion of “getting back to the originals”!) Anyway, given my view, I have been attempting to work out an overview or outline of the script. Below, I have, in the flavor of a play or drama, provided a concise outline of the structure:

Act 1: Mk. 1.1-3.34
Interlude 1: Mk. 4.1-34
Act 2: Mk. 4.35-6.57
Interlude 2: Mk. 7.1-23
Act 3: Mk. 7.24-9.29
Interlude 3: Mk. 9.30-50
Act 4: Mk. 10.1-12.44
Interlude 4: Mk. 13.1-37
Act 5: Mk. 14.1-16.8 (9-20)

Roughly, the structure I have found is built according to 5 Acts and 4 Interludes. The 4 Interludes are the sections where Jesus takes the opportunity to teach at some length. In my view, when one is working through the stage act or the story Mark has provided, they will notice that as each section comes to a climax, before the next section begins, there is an Interlude between scenes. These Interludes are always points where Jesus gives a teaching discourse. This fits well for a stage act or performance. Mark has placed four Interludes between his five Acts which creates a type of rhythmic flow, almost a cadence, to his performance. This may have also helped with memorization.

I’m not sure if I’m on to something here or not. There are scores of outlines that have been developed for Mark’s Gospel. Usually, it is divided into seven sections but I’m not sold on that approach. For the time being, I’m going to keep working on this as I think it merits more attention. Any thoughts?


Addition to the Blogroll: Vanallsblog (Chris Vanallsburg)

I’ve recently added Chris Vanallsburg’s Blog, “Vanallsblog” to the blogroll. Be sure to give his site a look. One of his posts that I’ve enjoyed so far is "Anything Wrong With Being Agnostic?"


Steve Carell Needs A Break From The Big Screen

I just saw "Get Smart" yesterday and while I thought the movie was alright, I wasn't incredibly impressed. Usually, when I come out of the theater, I want to talk about what I just watched--not so much, this time. Anyway, I think part of the problem is that Steve Carell is doing way too many movies right now. If he stays at this pace, he's going to lose his "funny" kind of like Jim Carey, Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller have tended to do. I guess there's only so much "funny" one person can have. I just hope that "The Office" doesn't become un-funny because of this. Anyway, while "Get Smart" has a few good one-liners and a couple humorous scenes, it's not Carell's greatest. What I did like about it, though it had a few sexual inuendos, was that for the most part, it was clean. I'm just glad Carell isn't getting too raunchy. I really liked "Dan In Real Life"; it was a wholesome film that I'd watch again. In the end, as an ardent fan of Steve Carell, I'd ask him to consider taking some time off so that he doesn't get burnt out and so we don't get burnt out on him. Come on Mr. Carell, "get smart" and take a breather.


A Greek Analysis of Mark 1: Studies in Mark, Pt. 68

Below are some statistics from my own study of the first chapter of Mark's Gospel. Of course, this is one of sixteen chapters, so, it's only part of the picture-hence the lack of commentary on all of the details. Still, I have included a few thoughts on a number of items I found interesting in the course of my data gathering.

· 433 Words (repeats are not counted as separate words, however, derivatives are)
· 20 Most Used Terms (mostly connectives, conjunctions or pronouns—makes it clear that this is a narrative):

1. και (76)
2. εις (15)
3. εν (15)
4. αυτου (13)
5. ο (12)
6. την (12)
7. ευθυς (11)
8. αυτον (10)
9. αυτω (10)
10. τον (9)
11. του (8)
12. ην (7)
13. η (6)
14. προς (6)
15. τη (6)
16. το (6)
17. τω (6)
18. της (5)
19. λεγων (5)
20. δε (5)

· No words that begin with “ksee”, “rho” or “psi”
· 142 Nouns
· 82 Pronouns
· 30 Adjectives
· 101 Verbs
· 27 Adverbs (majority coming after 1.15)
· 94 Articles
· 61 Prepositions

It is clear from the above elements that Mark is telling a story (particularly the close amounts of pronouns, verbs and articles). I find it interesting that the majority of adverbs come after verse 15. Is this because Mark's "storytelling" intensifies here? I also find the 76 uses of "kai" of interest because so often, scholars emphasize "euthys". I know the two work together to a large degree but maybe "kai" deserves more emphasis. Also, I often hear scholars talk about how bad Mark's Greek is. Still, I am impressed at the range of words he uses in chapter 1! Anyway, what jumps out at you and why?


Rethinking The Return of Jesus: Studies in Mark, Pt. 67

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those “aha” moments while reading through Mk. 13. I have argued in a previous post that there is no validity to referring to that chapter as apocalyptic (much less “the little apocalypse”). I argued in that same post that it is errant to read Mk. 13 as an eschatological treatise as well—that is, if by “eschatological” one is referring to the “end times” or the Second Coming of Christ, etc. A close, sensible contextual reading of Mk. 13 rules out any of the above readings (I realized this when, in a Bible study I was leading, one of a few recovering backwoods Dispensationalists said: “Michael, any person with a lick of sense or a shred of reading ability can see that this [Mk. 13] is not about the end of the world but about the Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem).

I must say, a straightforward reading of Mk. 13 is one that results in understanding that this chapter is about the Temple’s destruction, not the world’s end and it is certainly not about the 2nd Coming. When I say “straightforward” here, what I mean is simply a close reading. That is, from 13.1 through 13.37, Jesus is talking about the demise of the 2nd Temple. Some have suggested that 13.1-24 or 25 is about the Temple but after that, Jesus’ speech takes a new, end-times direction. First of all, see my comments that this chapter is neither apocalyptic or eschatological, above. Second of all, it would make no sense for Jesus to start talking about that halfway through a lesson directed at and focused on the Temple. Thirdly, such a view dislocates the text from antiquity and imports it into modernity—hopefully, I don’t need to explain why that’s a problem!

So, in Mk. 13.1, Jesus is leaving the Temple. In 13.2, He begins to use it as an object lesson and starts to talk about its impending doom. In 13.3, Jesus and the disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives and looking at the Temple. In 13.4, the disciples want to know when the Temple will meet its end. In 13.5, Jesus begins to tell them about things that will lead up to the Temple’s destruction and He exhorts them to take notice. In 13.6, Jesus says that others will try rising up and being THE Messiah. In 13.7, Jesus says that there will be battles and rumors of wars—of course, when the Romans raided cities, they waged all out wars, as everyone knew. Jesus says that when this happens, the end of the Temple is drawing nigh. In 13.8, Jesus mentions warring nations and kingdoms. Perhaps we could think of the Jewish nation battling with the Roman one, etc. Jesus also says that there will be earthquakes and famines. Without a doubt, famines occur many times during a war. Earthquakes can also be the cause of famines as we have seen recently. The ancient Mediterranean was constantly riddled with earthquakes. Anyway, Jesus suggests that such things will preface the fall of the Temple.

In 13.8, Jesus also mentions “birth pains”. Of course, birth pains start out slow, they’re spaced apart quite a bit but as time passes, they get harder, hurt more and speed up. This is Jesus’ way of saying that things may start out slow but when chaos is about to boil over, that’s your cue. In 13.9, Jesus, talking to the 4 disciples, tells them that they will be handed over to the courts and flogged, etc. He also says that they will witness and preach to kings and royalty. In 13.10, He says that the Gospel must be preached to all peoples/nations/Gentiles, etc. If the disciples are preaching to the leaders of those nations, in a sense, they are preaching to the nations.

In 13.11, Jesus is still talking about the trials of the disciples (literally). In 13.12, Jesus says that the Spirit will give the disciples words, when in court, to speak truth about the identity of the Messiah (a kind of “rebuttal” to those making false claims mentioned in 13.6). In 13.12, Jesus warns them that family and friends will hate them (I can see the elders of the Jewish villages going around promoting their propaganda to join the uprising against the Roman military and some of Jesus’ followers saying, “No, we will not!”) Of course, then, they will be hated and viewed as traitors.

In 13.13, Jesus tells His followers that they will be hated but that if they stand firm through all of the trials, even after the end of the Temple has come, they will be saved. Indeed, it was after the presence of God moved out of the Temple and into people’s hearts that salvation’s power could begin working overtime. In 13.14, Jesus is still referring to the Temple because He uses the familiar “abomination that causes desolation” phrase from Daniel—which is clearly, a statement about the Temple (I wonder if He’s referring to Titus here?). In 13.15, Jesus warns the people on the roofs of the houses, not to go down into them when they are being raided. They must run or hide. If they go down, they will be killed. When Jerusalem is being razed, nobody is safe, not even in their own home.

In 13.16, Jesus says that nobody in the field should go back to get his cloak and in 17 that it is going to be tough for nursing mothers and pregnant women. These two verses, coupled with the next one (18), illustrate the severity of the situation. Notice, still, that in 18, Jesus says, “Pray that it does not occur in winter…” This is important because, while Jesus can give signals as to the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, He does not know exactly when it’s going to happen!!! This is crucial for understanding what Jesus says later in the chapter about the Son of Man not knowing the “day or hour”. In 13.19, Jesus says that there will be distress that has never been equaled. The distress, in my view, is not simply all of the harsh physicalities that might take place but rather, events like those that happened “in the beginning” when God was distressed at humanity’s behavior towards Him and one another (e.g. Gen. 2 and 3).

In 13.20, Jesus makes a play on Isa. 66 (in my view) and is saying that, just as God shortened the pains of labor for Israel, so He will for the “new Israel”, the Church. This is important because it suggests that Jesus is saying: “When God’s presence moves out of the Temple, it will relocate ‘in’ the people of God.” Notice, the first 20 verses are all “Temple-focused”. In 13.21, the same “focus” continues. In this verse, Jesus makes another reference to false Messiahs, just as He had previously done in 13.6 and indirectly in 13.12. For Jesus, then, His identity as the Messiah is a very important matter here. As the Messiah, He will usher in the Spirit to rest with God’s people. In 13.22, Jesus reiterates His point again—talk about emphasis!—and in 13.23, Jesus makes it clear to His disciples that He is talking about the Temple’s destruction when He tells them of the things that will happen to THEM (not you and me or anyone else!).

In 13.24, Jesus begins a string of image borrowing/quote borrowing from the Hebrew Scriptures. In this verse and the next (13.25), He draws on Isaiah. In using Isa. 13, Jesus makes a move that many rabbinical interpreters had and attempted to evoke “judgment imagery”. So, these verses out of Isa. 13 were notorious for being used as judgment imagery. The same goes for Mk. 13.26 and the use there of Danielic imagery. The “coming on the clouds” comment was a Jewish idiom or stock phrase that people used in conversation about judgment. In other words, Jesus’ use of the OT here is meant to bring up thoughts of judgment. Therefore, the Temple’s destruction is not only involving of the Romans but in some way(s), it signified God’s anger and frustration with the Temple and its ways (see chs. 11 and 12 to get an even better picture of this!).

In 13.27, more judgment imagery out of Zechariah is used and in 13.28, Jesus employs another fig tree statement. He had already done this in chapter 11. There, the fig tree was barren, though it appeared to bear fruit. Jesus says that the Temple and its officials are juts like that: they appear to be doing God’s work, bearing fruit, but in reality, they are spiritually barren. Picking up on this again, Jesus tells the 4 disciples (still sitting on the Mount of Olives with Him, looking at the Temple) that just as they can tell a tree by its fruit (or even a season, by a tree’s fruit), so they will know when the season of judgment has befallen the Temple. In 13.29, Jesus employs a “gate” analogy that will carry through to 13.37. Comparable to the fig metaphor, Jesus uses a “gate” image to make His point (however, He doesn’t finish the point until a few verses later; we’ll get to that).

In 13.30, continuing with the gate imagery, Jesus says that the generation (in the sense of time), will not “pass by” before the Temple is doomed. Some translations say “pass away” but that makes no sense. If we recall His “gate” imagery, we must use “pass by”. People do not “pass away” through a gate but rather “pass by” through a gate. Anyway, this is another key verse because it shows that Jesus is still talking to the same group of people about the same subject. In 13.31, Jesus says that “heaven and earth will pass by” (again, in the sense of time; the world going on) but that His “words will not pass by”. What He means is that the disciples who have repeatedly misunderstood Him, in retrospect will get what He has said; they will come to understand. No longer will the power and meanings of His words just pass by misunderstood like they had so often before.

In 13.32, Jesus says that nobody knows about the specific timing, the “day or hour” of these events except God the Father. Now, we must consent that Jesus has never stopped talking about the Temple yet. By the same token, He has not stopped talking about it here. The Temple is still His focus. Its destruction is still His focus. He is saying that nobody knows the specific time the Temple will fall, not even Himself, but only The Father. So, what we realize is that Jesus is not referring to His “2nd Coming” here. No, He is referring to the Temple. We must put an end to the teaching that Jesus admitted that He had no idea of the time of His 2nd Coming. Jesus never said that!!! What Jesus didn’t know the date of was the destruction of Jerusalem’s center of worship!!! This is made even more clear when we look at 13.33. In that verse, Jesus issues the same refrain He has been making all throughout (it is like a chorus to a song for Him): “Be on guard…you don’t know the time.” It makes the most sense to take this phrase in the same vein that it has been stated and taken all throughout Mk. 13—as a warning to the disciples to be prepared for the battles that will break out and lead to a devastating Temple end.

In 13.34, Jesus returns to the gate analogy begun in 13.27. Actually, the call to be alert must be taken with the gate analogy too. Why? Because the purpose of a gatekeeper is to watch the people who come to the gate. If they are familiar, you let them through without question; they “pass by” as usual (just like heaven and earth will pass by as usual). But if someone unfamiliar arrives at the gate, the keeper will stop them, question them and make a decision on whether or not to let them pass. The point is, no keeper will let the stranger “pass by” without taking notice. Jesus is saying that the disciples are like gatekeepers now. When they see familiar and unfamiliar things taking place, they will know what actions to carry out.

In 13.35, Jesus mentions the four watches of the night in the Jerusalem Temple (another factor that shows us He is still talking about the Temple’s destruction). He makes the point that the owner (God the Father) of the house (the Temple) will remove Himself from that place but eventually come back (and dwell in a new place, His people). The point is: If the people don’t know when the Temple is about to be destroyed, they won’t be ready for the absence of God from the Temple and thus ready for the Spirit to take residence in them and begin working. Really, that’s the major point of Mk. 13: When God leaves the Temple, He’s going to relocate in His people (the Church)! So, they better be ready for it. Thus, the exhortation to stay awake in 13.36, to be ready for work and in 13.37 to “watch”.

I go through all of this to make a few points: 1) To reiterate that this is not a little apocalypse nor does it even fit the apocalyptic genre, 2) To reiterate that this is not an eschatological treatise on end-time events or even the 2nd Coming, 3) To reiterate that this is about the Temple’s destruction on the one hand, and 4) the relocation of God’s presence out of the Temple and into His people on the other hand. Lastly, I also want to address the point made in the title of this post, the point about Jesus knowing the time of His 2nd Coming. As I showed above, it is clear that Jesus never said anything about a 2nd Coming nor did He say anything about not knowing when a 2nd Coming would happen! So, we should not say those things either.

Since I have been a student of the Bible I have heard people say, and I have said it myself, that Jesus did not and does not know when He’ll return. Whether He knows now or not, I cannot say for sure. What I can say is that Jesus never admitted, while on earth, that He didn’t know. Again, He was saying He didn’t know the specific time Temple would fall. I wonder, if Jesus, when He became human kind of put the omnis on hold (Php. 2, for instance), assumed them when He ascended back to the Father’s hand? If this is the case, wouldn’t He know the time of His return? It would seem so. That is, unless He had never set a time, chose to forego the idea of a specific time or chose not to know a time which the Father might have set.

Either way, in rethinking the return of Jesus, we desperately need to rethink how we use Mk. 13 in such teachings. Honestly, Mk. 13 does not fit in such a teaching; it is not about that. We might also rethink the notion of Jesus’ ignorance (again, He could be choosing not to know or perhaps not have ever “set” a specific time). After all, He is not admitting ignorance of His own 2nd Coming. He is admitting, as a human, that He doesn’t know about the Temple’s end. It’s amazing how simple, contextual reading often results in reshaping our theology. But then again, that’s the beauty of “aha” moments.


Mark’s Answer to the Ransom Question: Studies in Mark, Pt. 66

Recently, Doug Chaplin offered a response to a post I wrote on Mk. 14.7: Rethinking You Shall Always Have the Poor Among You. In his reply, he argued that the woman who anointed Jesus did so because she viewed Jesus’ impending death as ransom. My reply to Doug was that the “ransom theology” (that is, that Jesus, as “ransom” paid for the sins of the world) might fit in chapter 10 but it does not work in chapter 14. Even if the woman is a “slave woman” in chapter 14, as many scholars have suggested and even if she had knowledge of ransom practices, this pericope is not dealing with such matters. (Actually I don't even hold the view that the typical ransom theology works in chatper 10.) In the end, Doug acknowledged that I was correct and offered some more commentary on the same passage.

Still, the whole ransom argument got me thinking. In particular, it got me thinking about the age-old question: To whom was Jesus’ ransom paid? Was it paid to (the) satan? Death? God? (Of course, each of those answers is theologically based and oriented). But I wonder if the reason we’ve struggled to answer the ransom question is because we’ve made it too theological? Or, I wonder if, we’ve only allowed for one understanding of ransom (e.g. for sin) and have thus, limited ourselves in answers. I’ve heard a lot of people say things like “All analogies break down at some point” and while that is true to a great degree, I also wonder if it is just an easy out? In the end, I think that if we can follow Mark’s line of thinking, we can, at the very least, arrive at a logical explanation of the ransom issue.

One of the important things we must take note of is Mark’s use of the term “dounai” (from “didomi”) and its correlate “paradidomi”. In Mk. 10.45, we read that the Son of Man came to: “…give (dounai) His life as a ransom (lypton) for many.” Actually, the word “dounai” here can, and I think, should, be translated as “hand over”. In other words, the verse should read: “…hand over His life as a ransom for many.” This is in keeping with the word’s use throughout the rest of Mark’s account (14.11, 15.1, 15.15). In these verses, we see a string of “handing over” take place: Judas hands Jesus over to the religious and political leaders (14.11), these officials hand Jesus over to Pilate (15.1) and Pilate hands Jesus over to the crowd, the Roman soldiers and their desires (15.15).

At this point, two questions arise: 1) What is the relationship between Jesus handing Himself over and His enemies repeatedly handing Him over? and 2) How does the answer to the previous question, affect the ransom statement? To answer the first question, I would argue that there seems to be a close connection between Jesus’ handing over of Himself and His enemies (enemies by choice, that is) repeatedly handing Him over. The connection is that, as the people hand Him over, Jesus never retaliates but rather, He lets it happen. Even in 14.48, Jesus makes the point: “I’ve not been leading a rebellion, so, why do you come to capture me?” The word for capture there (syllambano) is very important as Jesus applies it to the religious and political leaders.

Now, this is where our ransom idea starts to come into clear view. In a ransom, you have a variety of elements involved: 1) The captors, 2) The hostage, 3) the ransom money, and 4) Those paying off the ransom. The reason that Doug Chaplin’s “ransom theology” doesn’t work or fit here is that according to Mark’s story, Jesus is neither the “ransom money” nor the one paying off the ransom. Instead, Jesus is the one who is captured, as He Himself admits (14.48).

So, here, according to Mark is how we are to understand the elements of the ransom as the pertain to Jesus: 1) The captors are henchmen, sent from the religious and political leaders, along with Judas, to seize Jesus, 2) The hostage/captured one is Jesus Himself, 3) The ransom money is the money (argyrion; 14.10) paid to Judas, and 4) Those paying of the ransom are the religious and political leaders. Now, I would submit that it is the last part that often makes the ransom analogy seem so confusing. Usually, it is people that care about you that are supposed to be paying the ransom price. However, in Jesus’ situation, the bidders are neither His family nor His friends but instead, those who want Him dead. At this point, then, we can answer the age-old question: To whom was the ransom paid? Literally, the religious and political officials paid it to Judas (they did not redeem Jesus but rather put an end to Him).

The next question that arises, then, is: How does this square with Mark’s statement about Jesus giving His life as a ransom? Remember, while it seems like a minor detail, we must remember that the text says that He “handed over” His life. In other words, as the officials themselves were handing Jesus over, through their chain of command (Judas to officials, officials to Pilate, Pilate to the people), Jesus allowed Himself to be handed over; He did not retaliate or lead a rebellion.

According to Mark’s story, then, while Jesus had a role in the ransom process, He Himself was not physically the ransom. Instead, He was the hostage. Even more, He was a hostage who let the ransom play out (between Judas/henchmen and the officials) without retaliating. He willingly handed Himself over. In the end, from Jesus’ point-of-view, the "end" of His own non-retaliation (and His Messianic claims too) was, in part, what led to the end of His life. When the word “ransom” is used in Mk. 10.45, it is in this same context. There, Jesus is exhorting His disciples to practice non-violence and laying down their own lives—even to the point of becoming a hostage in the ransom process.

Probably, many will critique some of my argument here, contending, “No, Jesus was the ransom, Himself, that’s what the text says.” Yes, a wooden-literal reading of the text, without context, reads that way. However, if taken wooden-literally in Mark’s story, it doesn’t “mean” or make much sense that way. Really, it doesn’t even fit with the rest of the story that follows. What Mark is trying to say is that Jesus was a hostage in the ransom process, a hostage who didn’t retaliate but willingly gave His life—He paid the price for His principles.

It appears, then, that Mark is not issuing a ransom theology for people to subscribe to that says: “Jesus Himself was the ransom.” Instead, he is saying that Jesus, as He was repeatedly handed over, actually handed Himself over, and in doing so, met His death. However, He was raised again, as we know. So, He laid down His life without taking another’s, and in the end, achieved everlasting life. So, why did He do this for many? How did He do this for many? He did it for many in the sense of being an example. He did it for many by sacrifice. We might imagine the scenario of there being two people and one of them must be taken hostage: Jesus or the world. Jesus chose to be taken hostage so that the world could be free. The picture is of one hostage sacrificing for the well-being and freedom of another. Interestingly, this plays out in the Barabbas scene where Barabbas kind of acts as a representative for all hostage-taken-humanity.

*Excurses: It is common, I think, for people to confuse which part Jesus played in the ransom process. I have heard people suggest, in so many ways, that He played just about every part. People say things like “He was the ransom” (e.g. the money) and people say that He “paid the price” (the one paying the captors). I’ve yet to hear anyone say that He was the captor. Mark’s view is that He was the hostage. As far as I can tell, that makes the most sense and it is the view I’m going with!


If Jesus Went Churchin' : A Spoken Word

Here's a "spoken word" I came up with the other night. There are a few lines in here that I just love. Let me know what you think. Enjoy.


How To Find Hidden Folders/Files in Vista

Ever get a bug/virus, lose a file or received an alert that a spyware add-on has infiltrated your computer? Even more annoying, has your virus program alerted you as to the whereabouts of that file but when you tried to find it, it was nowhere to be found? Well, part of the problem is that Vista automatically hides certain files (and spies and virus makers know this) and it is in those folders and to those files that malicious threats are attached. So, how do you find a hidden file or folder in Vista?

1. Click the “Start” menu, in the lower right hand corner of your computer.
2. Scroll up and select “Computer”
3. Double click “C”
4. Now, up in the left hand corner, select “Organize”
5. Scroll down to “Folder and Search Options”
6. Click the “View” tab once
7. Scroll down until you see the folder icon and the phrase that reads “Hidden Files and Folders”
8. Select the box that says “Show hidden files and folders” (this should make just about every hidden file/folder appear in its proper place)
9. Now, find the location of the virus or threat by following the trail of evidence given by your protection software
10. Once you have found the file, highlight it, right click and select delete
11. Make sure that once you’ve done this, you “Empty the recycle bin”
12. Now, if you want to hide your files/folders again, repeat steps 1 through 7
13. Now, select the box that says “Do not show hidden files and folders”
14. Everything should be hidden once again (not the threat, of course)


The End of Envy--Jesus' Death! : Studies in Mark, Pt. 65

Perhaps more than any other scholar, Jerome Neyrey has researched envy and its role within the Gospel of Mark. In a thought-provoking essay, Neyrey surveys Mark’s work with an eye towards elucidating the meaning of Mk. 10.15: “It was ‘out of envy’ (dia phthonon) that they handed Jesus over.” Of course, the “they” here refers to the religious leaders who had been plotting to kill Jesus since the early days of His ministry (Mk. 3.6) and repeatedly trying to trap Him in His words and actions throughout the entirety of His ministry so that such plans might come to fruition (e.g. Mk. 10.2, 11.32, 12.12, 12.14-5, 14.1-2, 14.1-11, etc. *basically all of chapters 11-14).

Of course, envy was a serious matter and was even considered a vice in antiquity. Affiliated with the evil eye (Mk. 722), envy was a way to bring shame, harm, disaster, etc. on one’s opponents. Just as well, in a limited good culture where honor was a most precious commodity, when one gained honor, that meant others lost it. So, when someone like Jesus gained honor, others lost it and thus became envious. Of course, some didn’t react negatively (enviously) but rather sought to emulate Jesus—emulation was the converse of envy in antiquity. So, when we read Mk. 10.15 and run across the statement about Jesus being handed over out of envy, if we allow the ancient cultural matrix to be our guide, one point we will glean is that some who were handing Jesus over probably felt their own honor at stake; to get Jesus out of the picture is to reclaim that honor!

But I want to go another direction with this (one Neyrey doesn't touch on). If we dwell on the social aspect of envy and it being the reason that Mark says Jesus was handed over, we must ask a question about prophecy (in the sense of foretelling). I have argued earlier in this series that Jesus didn’t predict His death (here). Instead, Jesus, having been made aware that people were plotting to take His life from the beginning of His ministry, knew that if He kept it up, the logical consequence would be His death. So, He wasn’t predicting His death in an I’m omniscience, I know the future, super-spiritual sort of way. Instead, as an astute human, He put two and two together and drew a conclusion.

This is the lens through which we should read passages like Mk. 15.10. Jesus knew, as a social personage, as a participant of His limited-good, honor-based society, that the more honor He accrued combined with the religious and political leaders losing honor, would result in them envying Him. The outcome of such envy would be their attempt to regain their honor the only way they knew how—by murdering Jesus. The end of envy was Jesus' death. Jesus knew it was coming and so did others, even if they were reticent to admit it (I’m thinking of people like Peter here, see Mk. 8). Some knew it however, and kept following Him “on the way” (a Markan catch phrase which, to some degree, informs the reader/hearer that people are well aware of what both they and Jesus have gotten themselves into).

So, once again, we see that when Jesus is placed in His ancient cultural milieu, He fits in well; He knows the ins and outs of His society, He knows the limited good, honor versus shame mindsets. Just as well, He knows the powerful role that envy plays. And it is for that reason that we can have greater insight into Jesus, the texts about Him, the world in which He lived and the social, political and group dynamics at work in those days. It is also for that reason that we can choose to subscribe to the Jesus Movement and be emulators instead of enviers. The author of John’s Gospel said it well when he wrote, “I must decrease and He must increase.” Can we say the same (and mean the same thing)? Think on these things!


Fun Prank Phone Call

Here's a prank phone call that a friend and I made back in college. We called a video store asking for some pseudo film titles but as time went on, the call turned into something else entirely. Give the whole thing a listen; I think it's funny anyway (may take a few seconds to load). Prank Phone Call: "Movie Rentals"


"Praise Adonai": The Musical Michael Halcomb, Pt. 5

Here's a song that a friend and I (Chris Deering) recorded back in college. We borrowed Paul Baloche's "Praise Adonai" chorus, Nas's "If I Ruled the World" beat and added to those, our own lyrics. We had a lot of fun doing this; we actually performed it for over 700 people once. Good times! Give it a listen. "Praise Adonai"


Rethinking “You Will Always Have the Poor Among You” : Studies in Mark, Pt. 64

Tucked away in Mk. 14.17 is a verse that, while hidden, is well known. Indeed, I have heard this verse cited many, many times—usually in a pejorative or individualistic sense. In Mk. 14.17, Jesus makes the statement: “The poor you will always have with you and you can help them any time you want, but you will not always have me.” In a recent roundtable discussion with a group of people, here are some conclusions that people arrived at concerning the meaning of this statement:

1. It is a timeless truth, spoken by Jesus, asserting that the problem of poverty cannot be overcome.
2. Jesus is suggesting that we should do some nice things for ourselves because regardless of how much we help there will always be poor people.
3. There is a time and a place to help those in need.
4. Jesus’ statement is actually a critique of Judas’s and others’ complaining about the use of the anointing oil.

Not to let the cat out of the bag but the fourth conclusion is my own. In what follows, I will show why the other ideas are flawed and why I think my explanation is best. To begin, while Jesus uses the term “always” (pantote) here, He is not making a “truth statement” but rather, a point. More on this in a moment. Furthermore, it runs counter to much of what Jesus said and did to suggest that He did not think poverty could be eradicated. Indeed, much of His message was that if people treated one another honestly and without greed, there would be no poverty.

Secondly, there is no way that Jesus could be suggesting that we do some nice things for ourselves here—not least because this was a collectivist, limited good society. Besides, the woman who anoints Jesus is not doing something for herself and likewise, Jesus is not doing something for Himself. In fact, Judas, the one Jesus critiques, does want the money for himself and as we can see, Jesus is not fine with that; He rebukes the idea.

Thirdly, the verse is not simply suggesting that there is a time and a place to help the poor. If anything, in this episode, it is one poor person (probably a slave-woman or a Gentile peasant, see Lk. 7.39) doing something for another poor person (Jesus). Thus, if Jesus meant to say that “there is a time and a place” for this type of thing, it would render the woman’s action moot. This approach only adds confusion to the story.

Fourthly, my approach to the text is to read it in its socio-literary context. Such a reading suggests that in this scene, Jesus is criticizing Judas (and other complainers) who was stealing money out of the ministry’s community purse (see Jn. 12.1-8). By doing this, Judas stifled the ministry; it wasn’t able to help everyone it could because it lacked in finances. In other words, Judas’s actions (like Levi’s before him) helped make Judas richer while it made the poor even poorer. So, when Jesus says “you will always have the poor…” He is saying it against Judas. It is akin to Jesus saying, “Judas, who are you to complain about helping the poor, you’re the one who is stealing from the ministry purse?! And it is for that reason that you will always have the poor—greed and selfishness. As long as there are people who think and act like you, there will always be poverty.” Thus, it is a point, not a timeless truth statement.

Notice that at the end of the scene, in Mark’s account, the text says that Judas after this run-in with Jesus, left to betray Jesus. Why would he betray Him if Jesus was saying “Do something nice for yourself”? Just as well, Jesus would be standing in agreement with Judas’s complaint if He were stating a “timeless truth” about the poor. In Jn. 12.6, we are told that Judas didn’t care about the poor when he issued his complaint but that he was a thief, thinking about himself. It is my view that when Jesus said this to Judas, Judas was humiliated and embarrassed. That is why Judas not only betrayed Jesus but went on to hang himself. The truth is, Judas not only betrayed Jesus once but many times; he also betrayed his fellow Jesus-followers.

In the story where Jesus makes this statement about the poor, He is not making a timeless statement. Similarly, He is not saying do something for yourself. Instead, Jesus is critiquing a mentality and lifestyle of greed. In the scene, the woman sacrifices for Jesus; she does something for someone else and it is acknowledged. This is meant to act as a contrast to the selfish motives of Judas and the other complainers. The picture is of selflessness versus selfishness. So, no longer can we use this verse to get out of helping those oppressed and forced into poverty. Moreover, we can no longer attempt to use this verse to achieve selfish ends—such a reading goes against the grain of the point of the story. What we should do, however, is take Jesus’ critique of Judas seriously and as much as we can, seek to eradicate the oppressive bonds of poverty being forced upon people. We can also take seriously the other half of the point Jesus is trying to make: As long as there are greedy people, there will be poverty. So, when people stop being greedy, there will not be poverty. Maybe one day, to God’s great glory, there will be no poor among us-but first, there must be no greedy among us.


A Year In Blogging

So, today marks my 1-year blogging anniversary. In my first year of blogging I've had over 25,000 site visits (which is pretty good considering that I haven't pandered to a few certain people) and have written 519 posts. I've had about 400 downloads of software and other resources I've created. I've written over 60 studies on the Gospel of Mark (many more to come!) and have had tons of people land at Pisteuomen to access my posts on barrenness, sterility and adoption (which, I must say, absolutely warms and thrills my heart!). In the past year, my wife had our first child, I completed my second masters degree, I started the adoption process, I had the chance to accomplish some great professional work and I resigned from the ministerial position I served in for over 5 years. A lot has happened in the last 365 days. Blogging has been a release at times and a stressor at other times but it has always been worth it. Charting my thought life, family life, spiritual and professional life has been a wonderful thing. Meeting other bloggers in person and engaging those I will hopefully meet in the future has been exciting. I appreciate everyone who interacts with me at Pisteuomen and I look forward to this next year in blogging with you.


At Scott Bailey's Request(s)

After a number of emails and fussy posts and comments from Scott Bailey, I have decided to cave in and give Pisteuomen an extreme makeover. So, over the next few weeks if you get some fishy posts from Pisteuomen in your page readers or if you're snooping around the site and notice some odd things, it's because the site is under construction. I guess enough complaining can get results sometimes.

Is God’s Word Frozen? Studies in Mark, Pt. 63

In the Gospel of Mark, there is just something about Jesus’ words. Some people attribute power and authority to His words while others consider them blasphemous and troubling. It is this tension that keeps Mark’s drama interesting. The reader/listener is drawn into the story because they want to see what else Jesus has to say and how certain persons will react to His words.

So, while Jesus Himself is the centerpiece of Mark’s account, Jesus’ words, in all reality, probably assume the same, if not, in some ways, a greater role. If Jesus had never spoken, Mark would hardly have a story. Therefore, everything hinges on what Jesus says—His words. This got me thinking about Jesus’ statement in 13.30 that “Heaven and earth will pass by but my words will not pass by”. (If you are interested in why I translate “pareleusontai” as “pass by” instead of “pass away”, see study #62 in this series.) What does Jesus mean when He says this? Are His words frozen in time? Are His words static? How are we to make sense of this phrase?

Well, to get a better understanding of this, we should consider Mark’s story thus far. For example, we need to take into consideration the tension, as I mentioned above, that from the beginning of the story, has some people liking Jesus and some disliking Him. After His first exorcism and teaching session in chapter 1, the people marvel at Jesus and attribute authority to His words. In chapter 2 however, after Jesus heals an ill man and basically refers to Himself as God, some people subscribe and some get ticked. It is not long after this that the Pharisees and Herodians plot to kill Jesus (3. 6). So, with this group, Jesus’ words have gotten Him in trouble. At various junctures throughout the rest of the story, the religio-political leaders will try to “trap” or “catch” Jesus in His words so that they can arrest, try and kill Him.

Thus, there is that aspect of Jesus’ words and then there is another aspect. I’m speaking now of Jesus’ claims about His identity as the Messiah (e.g. Son of David, Messiah/Christ, Lord, etc.). In chapter 12, Jesus refers to David’s “speaking in the Spirit” when he wrote Psalm 110. I have argued elsewhere that this “speaking in the Spirit” means, not tongue-speaking, but rather speaking truth about the Messiah. Of course, David didn’t know that Jesus would be the Messiah. However, what David said, did reveal truth about the Messiah’s identity. Similarly, in chapter 12, Jesus says that when His disciples are arrested and taken to court, they will be given words to speak. These are not just any words and the Spirit is not giving them wisdom to get out of the situation. Instead, what Jesus means is that the Spirit will enable the disciples to speak truth about the Messiah’s identity before the religious and political leaders. This leads me to another point.

All throughout Mark’s Gospel, the disciples have had trouble understanding Jesus’ claims about Himself. They’ve also had questions about His teachings and some of His wonders. In many ways, Jesus’ words seem to have just passed the disciples by; in one ear and out the other, so to speak. But Jesus will say in 13.31 that before too long, His words will no longer “pass by” the disciples as they have been; sometime soon, it will all make sense to them.

So, there are those out to get Jesus because of His words, there are those who attribute authority to Jesus’ words and there are those that will be given words by the Holy Spirit that will align with Jesus’ own words about His identity as the Messiah. Now, when we get to Mk. 13.31, when Jesus says that His words will not “pass by”, He’s referring to two things: 1) His words about His Messianic identity, at some point, will finally make sense to the disciples, and 2) The words He has spoken concerning the Temple will also make sense (the disciples, like others, had a hard time understanding Jesus’ comments about the Temple being destroyed).

Really, in the end, Jesus’ words are what get Him killed; Jesus’ words are a central piece of Mark’s story. However, Jesus’ words are neither frozen nor static. As I have shown above, His statement is not that His words will “never pass away” but rather that His words will “not pass by” (the word “never” isn’t in the text!) without being acknowledged. In this way, then, Jesus could very well be drawing on Isaianic tradition, for, in Isaiah 55.11 (see also: Isa. 40.8), the text says: “…the word that goes from my mouth will not return void”. As we know, what Jesus spoke of certainly came to pass. I would hope that when we read verses such as Mk. 13.31 (and those in Isaiah), we would not attempt to formulate doctrines of Scripture on them (e.g. Inerrancy, Infallibility, etc.) because that’s not at all what is being spoken of. What can be adapted and adopted from such passages, however, is that our confession of Jesus as Messiah is just as truthful today as it was then and as such, Jesus Himself yields authority over our lives. In realizing this, we actually move from being part of Mark's audience to being part of Mark's, and thus Jesus', story.


Bouncing One Off The Almighty

Have you ever been in a Church setting where, when someone is called on to pray, instead of praying, they offer up a sermonette or a moral treatise? For instance, the preacher will ask so and so to pray and they say something like: "Lord, we need to all be better people. Many among us have done things they shouldn't have and others have worn themselves out doing things. There is always room for improvement. We should just keep working hard, remain dedicated and faithful. We need to sacrifice our time, money, talents and whatever better than we do. Be with us as we leave this place, God, amen."

I've never really understood why people do this. There is no plea for help, there is no seeking God's guidance, there is no sense of cogency, coherency or even communion, all that exists is a broken up moral treatise/sermonette. This prayer is not said with the purpose of entering into God's presence, it is to exhort the group that is listening. One of my professors used to say of people who did this type of thing, that they were "Bouncing one off the Almighty". In other words, they would open the prayer with an address to God but starting with the next word, they'd focus on everything but praying; it was like throwing the prayer at God, only to have it bounce back and hit everyone else.

There is another type of prayer that I label as "Bouncing one off the Almighty" as well. Let me give you an example. Recently, I was preparing to lead a week of High School summer camp. I spent weeks calling people and asking them to be camp counselors; I called over 80 people and nobody was able to commit. One day, I called the camp office and was talking to a person there. The person gave me three names and phone numbers of people to contact. Before I hung up the phone to make those calls, the person said, "Well, before you call, you say a prayer and I will too; maybe something will come through." (I had been praying all along, by the way.) Anyway, I hang up the phone and dialed all three numbers. Wouldn't you know it, one resulted in leaving an answering machine message and the other two numbers had been changed or disconnected. I couldn't help but laugh. And maybe I was wrong, but the first thought that crossed my mind was, "The person at camp who had prayed, just had their prayer bounced off the Almighty."

Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone could relate to this? What stories do you have? What do you think about the phrase "Bouncing one off the Almighty"?


Heaven And Earth Will Pass Away? Really? Studies in Mark, Pt. 62

While Mk. 13 certainly sounds apocalyptic (many have dubbed it the “Little Apocalypse; e.g. Colani, Wiffenbach) and quite eschatological (many have suggested it is about the End Times), and while I will most certainly be seen as something as a nuisance for saying what I am about to, I wish to share a different view. I do not think Jesus is being overtly apocalyptic or eschatological in Mk. 13. Yes, there are some statements Jesus makes that seem apocalyptic in nature but in the end, I am wholly unconvinced that what Jesus is saying is meant to be taken in the sense of apocalyptic.

If we go by the SBL definition of apocalyptic, building on the work of T. R. Hatina, I can come up with over 15 reasons as to why Mk. 13 doesn’t fit the bill as apocalyptic (e.g. no revelation given from an otherworldly being, no transcendent/supernatural world mentioned, Jesus says the “end is not yet” – something contrary to apocalyptic lit., etc.). So, I do not believe that Jesus is being overtly apocalyptic in Mk. 13. (Neither is Mark himself.) By the same token, neither Jesus nor Mark are being incredibly eschatological. Jesus is not speaking of the end of the world in Mk. 13 but rather the destruction of the Temple.

Many try to pull a switcharoo and argue that in the first few verses Jesus is talking about the Temple’s destruction but somewhere around the 24th verse, He begins talking about the end of the world. This is just patently incorrect and makes no sense. It just ruins and interrupts the story to take it that way. So, if Jesus is not being apocalyptic or eschatological, what are we to make of Mk. 13? Some have suggested that it is a farewell discourse. I am not too convinced by that answer either. Perhaps what we need to do with Mk. 13 is to stop trying to fit it into some specific literary category. We do not single any other chapters out of Mk. and force them to be their own category, why should we do it to this one? In my opinion, the best thing to do is to read Mk. 13 as a continuation of Mark’s narrative.

If we read it this way, then it all makes much more sense. In chapters 11 and 12, Jesus has been railing against the Temple and its authorities. In chapter 13, Jesus leaves the Temple, talks to His disciples about its destruction and then gives some pointers as to when that destruction will occur (though, He doesn’t give a specific date; more on this in another post).

Also, if we read chapter 13 as a continuation of the overall narrative, we can make sense out of Jesus’ statement, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near (eggus). Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near (eggus), right at the gate. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away (parelthei) until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away (pareleusontai) but my words will never pass away (pareleusontai)” (13.28-31). Let me point out a few exegetical items here.

First, notice that Jesus, in verse 28, brings up the fig trees and how they’re supposed to bear fruit. Back in chapter 11, the fig tree was representative of the Temple and its authorities; the same is true here (thus, He’s still referring to the Temple). Also, in verses 28 and 29, Jesus uses the term “eggus” which means “near”. This is a temporal phrase or a phrase that denotes time. The term “near” must be related to the term “pareleusontai" from "parerchomai” and its correlate which is used three times in verses 30 and 31. Parerchomai can mean “to pass away” but it can also mean “to avert”, “to neglect” or “to pass by”. Traditionally it is always rendered “to pass away”. However, there is good reason to question this translation. In chapter 8, where parerchomai is used, Jesus is not “passing away” when He walks on the water towards the disciples in the boat. No, Jesus is going to “pass by” them. In other words, He’s going to go right past them and they won’t even recognize or understand that it was Him.

That’s how the term should be taken in 13.30-31, as “pass by”. So, we can translate the passage as: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass by until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass by but my words will never pass by.” This makes so much more sense, especially when taken with Jesus’ “gate” analogy. In verse 29 Jesus says that the disciples will know the Temple’s destruction is close because these things will be right at the “gate”. Jesus picks back up on this analogy a few verses later in 32-6. Now, we should ask here, Why the gate analogy? What’s the significance of the gate?

Well, a gate is something that people use to bypass something or rather, to pass by something. So, Jesus is saying, “This generation (time period) is not going to pass by (as usual) until all these things have happened to the Temple.” He is also saying, “Heaven and earth are going to pass by (as usual) but my words will not pass by (as usual).” So, there will be famines, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes—which were all common in that day (just as they are now)—and things heaven and earth will pass by as usual. However, Jesus’ words will not pass by as usual. What does this mean? I take it to be a contrast to the disciples’ continual lack of understanding Jesus throughout Jesus’ ministry. Many times, the disciples misunderstand Jesus and what He does or says. Many times they ask Him to clarify Himself in private. Many times they just don’t get it; just like on the boat, Jesus can pass by and they have no idea what He’s doing. Here, Jesus is saying, “No longer will my words pass by you like they have been passing by you. When you see these things happen, you will take note of what I’m saying and it will all make sense.” (Of course, the disciples, like everyone else, must have been confused about Jesus’ statements about the destruction of the Temple.)

Then, Jesus returns to the gate analogy. The gatekeeper will stand at the gate and when someone familiar and usual arrives, he’ll let them pass by—just like people will let heaven and earth as usual pass by. However, when the Temple is destroyed, something unusual, people will pause, just as a gatekeeper would pause when an unfamiliar face tried to pass by. Jesus is making the point: “Don’t be alarmed by unusual things, just be ready. Don’t get anxious and don’t start making predictions and don’t join the prophecy club, just be ready, just be prepared.”

One last thing, Jesus says that His words will not pass by (perhaps more on this in another post too). I take this to refer not only His statements about the Temple, but also His statements about His own identity as the Messiah. Just as the disciples will be tried in the courts and given words by the Spirit to speak truth about the Messiah’s identity, Jesus is saying that, via the Spirit in God’s people, His words about His identity as Messiah will be understood once all of these things that He’s talking about happen.

So, this chapter is not a little apocalypse. In fact, it is not really that apocalyptic at all (though some apocalyptic language may be hinted at). By the same token, it is not eschatological. So, we should not read Mk. 13 either of those ways. What we should do is read it as a continuation of Mark’s story thus far. To do anything else, I think, is to do the text injustice. Just as well, we should translate verses 30 and 31 with “pass by” instead of “pass away”. This makes much better sense of the gate analogy, Mark’s own use of the term “pareleusontia / parerchomai” and the Temple discourse. Jesus is not saying that heaven and earth will pass away. I mean, think about it, What sense does it make for heaven and earth to pass away but His words still remain? It is quite illogical (even if heaven and earth are replaced with something else). Jesus is saying that His words will no longer pass by His disciples, misunderstood, as usual. A generation will pass by and heaven and earth will pass by as usual, but not Jesus words about His identity as Messiah and not Jesus’ words about the impending fate of the Temple.

We must stop attempting, in our applicatory endeavors, to make this story about people beyond the first century. Moreover, we must stop trying to make it about us today. It fits neither of those categories (what it does come strikingly close to, however, is Amos 9, give that a read). When it comes to application, what we can glean from this text is that, in the face of trials, we can do a few things: 1) Endure, 2) Continue to speak truth about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, and 3) Be receptive to the Holy Spirit’s desire to work in us as individuals and as the community of God.


Tips For Starting A Blog

Yesterday, I wrote a post on why Christians should blog. In this post, I offer a few thoughts/tips on getting started.

1. Choose a blog host. In other words, choose whether you want to have a "Blogger", "Wordpress", "Typepad", "Vlogger" etc. blog (google any of these to land at their website). Wordpress has some great themes but Blogger is much more dynamic. With Wordpress you cannot manipulate the xtml/html to your liking. With Blogger, you can do whatever you want. I highly reccommend Blogger as a host because it is much more versatile.

2. Choose a blog title. The title should reflect the content of your blog. Decide if you want a personal blog, a topic-related blog, etc. Let your name reflect the type of blog you will maintain.

3. After you have chosen a host and a title, start a series of posts. I've found that by doing series, I always have something to write about. Often, bloggers can get writers block or burnout because they feel like they have nothing to say. However, if you have a topic you can always write about it.

4. Begin commenting on other bloggers' sites. This will get your name and blog name out there.

5. Create a blogroll and add people's names to it. Often, when you add someone's blog to your blogroll, they will add yours (not always, though). This reciprocity is a good thing; it is like blogging currency.

6. Don't sell advertising on your blog to try to make money; this gets annoying.

7. Update your blog frequently. Put a number of posts in draft mode so that you have backup posts. Don't let your blog become static or go to waste.

8. Interview bloggers whose work you enjoy reading.

9. Get a page reader so you can keep up with everyone else's blogs.

10. Don't contstantly post YouTube videos. Once in a while, those are great. But write stuff with content and substance; keep your blog related to your theme.

That's it for now but that should be enough to get you started. If you're a beginning blogger or want to become a blogger, contact me and I'll add you to the blogroll and I'll also help you get started if you want me to. Blessings!


Why You Should Start A Blog

I shared a few thoughts on blogging a while back on a friend's blog. I thought I might share those and some more here as to why people (Christians in particular) should blog. Now, I think it's hard to tell sometimes if our blogging is just something for us to do (a hobby) or if it is making any kind of positive change or being a positive influence in the world. But, I've been blogging for a year (well, 51 weeks) and at this point in time, there are a few reasons I keep blogging and also reading other blogs:

1. It forces me to keep writing and to become better at writing.

2. It forces me to engage others (with my ideas and theirs).

3. It reminds me that people all over the world, whom I otherwise would never get to speak to, are reading and interacting with the stuff I have to say.

4. It allows me to not waste my thoughts. (In other words, it gives me a place to store all of my thoughts instead of just thinking about them and then letting them pass.)

5. Whenever I look at the searches that people employ which lead them to my blog, I am encouraged. 99.9% of the searches are academic/biblical studies related. I know some people list the funny things that people search for but it is the serious stuff that encourages me. I know, without a doubt, that my blog has helped persons in their studies and spiritual life.

6. Every day, people are downloading my biblical studies resources. If nothing else, this makes it all worth it.

7. I could be doing other things on the internet that are much less productive.

8. It keeps me tied-in to a biblically-oriented community and in conversation with critical, academic-minded people (for the most part).

9. It allows me to chart my thinking patterns and theological progress over a period of time.

10. It is a great way to share Christ and His love.

11. A nice bonus of blogging is name recognition. I'll leave it at that.

I say all of this to make the point that bloggers can be a positive influence in the world and that they can help people make changes--people they may never know or meet! Still, it's worth it.


Jesus and the Miracle Tradition (by: P. J. Achtemeier)

Achtemeir, Paul J. Jesus and the Miracle Tradition. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2008. Pp. 255.

Jesus and the Miracle Tradition, one of P.J. Achtemeier’s latest books is a great contribution to the field of biblical studies. The book, nearly 220 pages in length, is a fresh and timely piece of exegetical work. The point of the book, according to Achtemeier is not to question whether Jesus really performed the miracles, how they happened or whether Jesus was a magician of sorts. Instead, Achtemeier presupposes that they happened and that Jesus did them; this allows him to move past old disputes and on to another, and perhaps, more important issue/queestion: What did the miracles mean?

Of course, when asking what the miracles meant, one is really asking how the Gospel writers made them mean, interpreted and understood them or what meaning they infused them with. While I find the whole “community” behind the text approach lacking to a good degree and while I am not convinced that there were miracle “traditions” as such, there is a lot of good to be gleaned from this book. For example, the decision to pursue the meaning of the miracles is priceless. For too long, post-Enlightened readers of the Bible have tried to analyze the scientific aspects of the miracles (e.g. whether they could have happened or not, how they happened, etc.) at the cost of understanding them from literary and theological points of view.

Of course, the whole “let’s just accept them and move on” attitude can be problematic at certain junctures, but it does have its strong points. Exegetically, I must say that I was unconvinced by Achtemeier’s conclusion regarding the “Son of David” passages in Mark’s Gospel. I have answered some of his critiques and offered my own response to that, which you can read by clicking the following link: Was Jesus Both Lord and Son of David?

I did find the discussion on the “Son of Man” passages valuable as well as the probing of the relationship between miracles and discipleship in Mark. Again, I was less impressed or convinced with the sort of redactional, source-critical approach but then again, I’ve never really been big on those methods anyway. At the end of the day, I would recommend this book to new and seasoned readers alike. Achetemeir, as usual, does great research, impressive exegesis, raises many questions and paves new avenues for research with this timely work. Thanks for the review copy Cascade!


Performing & Proclaiming the Gospel (by: R. Horsley; W. Shiner)

Horsley, Richard A. Performing the Gospel: Orality, Memory, and Mark. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006. Pp. 239, and Shiner, Whitney. Proclaiming the Gospel: First-Century Performance of Mark. New York, NY: TPI/Continuum, 2003. Pp. 214.

In this post, I am going to offer a brief review of two books that shared similar foci: Whitney Shiner’s Proclaiming the Gospel and Richard Horsely’s Performing the Gospel.

Probably, of the two, Shiner’s title is the most accurate. In his work, he deals with performance in the ancient world and its myriad elements. However, in each chapter, he ties that in with Mark’s Gospel. For example, in the 9 main chapters, he deals with: Oral Performance, Types of Performances, Emotion, Delivery, Memorization, Gesture/Movement, The Audience, Applause Lines and Including the Audience. Shiner applies each of these to Mark’s work in a creative and detailed manner. That makes this book not only a good resource for Markan studies but also research in ancient theater (e.g. drama, tragedy, public speech, etc.).

As for Horsely’s work, while the title isn’t terribly off, this is another book where the subtitle is more accurate: Orality, Memory and Mark. Composed as a tome of essays, this book is divided into three sections. The first section deals with literacy and orality in the ancient world. The second part, building on the first, deals with literacy, orality and memory in antiquity. The third part, rooted in the previous chapters’ research zeroes in on orality, literacy and memory as they apply to Mark. In all thruthfulness, not much is said concerning Mark’s Gospel in the first two sections. These partitions are very scholarly and attempt to construct an erudite framework for Mark’s Gospel.

One of the great things about Horsley’s work is that it is learned, articulate and trend-setting. Another plus is the attempt to engage portions of the Hebrew Scriptures to illuminate Mk. Just as well, the close attention paid to the culture of the first century Mediterranean is impressive. One of the downfall’s of this book is that for those interested primarily in Mk., it seems like it takes a while to even get to Mk. Perhaps a title change would work in this tome’s favor.

In regards to Shiner’s book, there are many wonderful things I could say. His interaction with primary sources, his clear style of writing, his creative approaches, his detailed analyses, his in-depth look at ancient performance and his constant appeal to Mk. is nothing short of top-notch. Actually, my favorite chapter out of the work edited by Horsley is actually written by Shiner (chapter 9: Memory Technology and the Composition of Mark) which is a “must read” essay. While I do not subscribe to everything Shiner says (e.g. his view concerning the date/setting of Mark’s Gospel), I find a great deal of what he has to say quite appealing.

In the end, both of these are great works. The Horsley text is more technical and may not be for the common reader. Still, it is a great contribution to the field. The Shiner book is an excellent addition to my personal library and I am thankful to Continuum for sending it.


Mark and Method (ed. by: J. Capel Anderson, et. al.)

Anderson, Janice Capel. Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008. Pp. 288.

Honestly, I cannot sing enough praises for the second edition of Mark & Method. Edited by Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore, this work is first rate. A compilation of scholarly essays, this tome makes an excellent textbook for students of Mark’s Gospel. In fact, I would recommend this book before any others when it comes to getting a firm, introductory grasp on Mark.

Imbued with a lengthy list of impressive contributors, this work contains 8 chapters that plummet the depths of hermeneutical issues, perspectives and approaches to the Gospel According to Mark. After a nice, concise history of the interpretation of Mk. in the first chapter, the next seven chapters illustrate the ways in which various hermeneutical methods illumine the text in various ways. The chapters’ titles are: Narrative Criticism, Reader-Response Criticism, Deconstructive Criticism, Feminist Criticism, Social Criticism, Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Criticism.

I found chapters 2 (Elizabeth Struthers Malbon), 5 (Janice Capel Anderson), 6 (David Rhoads) and 7 (Abraham Smith) most illuminating. Then again, I am biased as my interests reside in socio-literary approaches towards the Scriptures. Given the way the book is structured—an individual, unthematic, essay format—it is difficult to, in a short amount of space, to offer any detailed analysis. That said, if anyone has questions about this book or any of its chapters, I’d be more than willing to discuss them.

This work makes not only a good introduction to Mk. but also a fine introduction to hermeneutical issues and methods. If you are a professor, I highly recommend using this book. If you are a student, especially in Markan studies, you must own this. And if you are an avid read or someone with an affinity for Mark’s Gospel, it would be a travesty not to have this book on your shelf. Thanks to Fortress Press for sending me this outstanding work on the Gospel According to Mark!


Mark's Story (by: LaHaye & Jenkins)

LaHaye, Tim and Jenkins, Jerry B. The Jesus Chronicles: Mark’s Story. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s & Sons, 2008. Pp. 308.

As one whose scholarly interests are assuredly Markan, I must admit, the new novel by LaHaye and Jenkins, Mark’s Story, is neither incredibly scholarly or novel. In fact, the Left Behind Guys, in this new addition to “The Jesus Chronicles” series, left me very unimpressed. For starters, one-third of the book is, word-for-word, the Gospel According to Mark plus 1 and 2 Peter, all of which they suggest Mark wrote. Reproducing these sections of Scripture in the book was just unnecessary. Secondly, the story takes a fundamentalistic, narrow approach to reconstructing the man Mark’s life (e.g. maximalism to the max). Now, I realize this is a novel and that as with all novels, some liberties must be taken. However, these two seem to push full steam ahead on every maximalist coal they can find; nothing is ever critically questioned (for a good critique of this view, see the first few pages of Clifton Black’s, Mark as Apostolic Interpreter). Thirdly, they never ever cite any other scholars even though their work is based on maximalist scholarship. Fourthly, the multitude of midrash is almost too much to handle.

Okay, so, maybe I’m a little biased. I’m a critical scholar reading this “novel” with a critical eye. But I guess what frustrates me the most is that millions of people will read un-critical works like this and never those that do an awesome job at explaining and bringing Mark to life. Of course, I’m anti Left Behind, so, I was hoping this book would provide a little redemption for the dispensationalist duo. I must say, that did not happen. Honestly, if you “surface read” the Gospel of John and Acts (that is, without any critical or questioning exegetical eye at all) you can get the gist of this book. The only thing I can promote this book for is that it is a stellar example of an uncritical, maximalist historian’s approach to the Gospels. Now, I’m not a minimalist and I’m not against maximalism that is well researched and sturdy. But that is not what we get here. I’m thankful for the review copy but I am sorry that in this review, very little in the way of “positives” can be said.


The Life of a Galilean Shaman (by: Pieter Craffert)

Craffert, Pieter. The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective. Minneapolis, MN: Cascade, 2007. Pp. 451.

A recent addition to the "Matrix: The Bible in Mediterranean Context series", Pieter Craffert’s The Life of a Galilean Shaman, is quite a thought provoking read. While the main title is indicative of the work’s content, it may well be the case that the subtitle is even more explanatory: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective. Craffert uses the label “Anthropological-Historical” in contrast to the typical historical positivism that undergirds most commentaries and biblical studies. Craffert sums up his approach: “Against the notion that historians can recreate the past, anthropological historiography admits against a naïve realism that there is no one-to-one referentiality (or representation of reality)” (14). To put it more bluntly, Craffert believes that re-creating the past is never objective (e.g. the “history of ideas” approach). For him, then, when it comes to Jesus, one must consider the social and cultural processes that shaped Him. Certainly, there is merit to his claim; this is one of the strengths of His book.

Another item that readers will find valuable is his discussion of “Historical Jesus” research; it is succinct and well researched. Just as well, Craffert’s explanations of how different societies think about, preserve and pass on cultural elements, practices and views of the world and reality is profound. After reading this work, one cannot walk away without recognizing the need for being more aware of our own cultural biases when reading the Scriptures. By the same token, readers must also be more aware of the cultural biases of inhabitants of the first century Mediterranean world.

An invaluable section of The Life of a Galilean Shaman is when Craffert argues (in a nutshell) that too much time has been wasted on attempting to get back to the original texts of the New Testament. For Craffert—and for the most part, I find myself in agreement with his conjectures—it doesn’t matter what the original text was. Interpretation was fluid—constantly being developed and shared. I cannot reconstruct his whole argument here but I do offer one quote that gives you a glimpse into his approach: “…the canonical Gospels no longer consist of an authentic kernel covered with traditional or church overlay but are seen as different configurations of the above cultural processes about the same historical figure. They are four versions of specific cultural processes about a specific social personage that already started during Jesus’ lifetime. They are, so to speak, the literary residues of a Galilean shaman’s life” (124). In my opinion, this chapter by itself, makes the book worth owning.

While there are a lot of excellent things that can be said of Craffert’s work, I have a number of critiques as well. First of all, there are a great number of typos. I was surprised to find one on the very first page with content (ix; a word is missing). Also, I felt at times as though Craffert went overboard with charts that added more confusion to what was said than anything. Another thing that I found bothersome was that all throughout the first couple of chapters Craffert uses the self-coined phrase “cultural bundubashing” without ever defining it. Finally, in the third chapter he gets around to a definition.

I heard Craffert deliver a lecture last year that stuck closely to one of the chapters in the book; I was not impressed with the lecture or the chapter. Craffert seems to dig up the old “group think” argument concerning the resurrection, baptize it with new terminology and dress it in a social-science garb. He suggests that Jesus’ followers did not really believe Jesus was raised from the dead but that in a moment of ecstasy—which was common in that culture he says and not necessarily ours—everyone shared a vision of Jesus. I think Craffert has gone too far here, not just because the content is the resurrection of Jesus but because the contention is greatly flawed. Craffert’s theological reticence towards miracles leads him astray, or so it seems. I would argue that if as many people as Craffert claims all had the same exact vision, that might be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself.

And this leads me to my last point about Craffert’s biopsychosocial approach. While it is a great social-science model in many respects, it seems to have some rather large loopholes. By “biopsychosocial” Craffert basically means that how a person defines sickness and healing, is culturally conditioned. So, a first century person would define an illness common to them entirely differently than someone would in the West today. In the same way, then, both parties will define the healing process and total healing differently as well. Craffert’s intent is to focus more on socio-cultural aspects of Jesus’ life than factual-historical ones. The problem is, in the end, he totally dispenses with (f)actual history and therefore, he gets to define Jesus, Jesus’ society and Jesus’ reality. While those in the West today definitely need to strive to understand the ways in which Jesus’ culture was/is different from theirs, in many respects, Craffert makes it seem as though to engage Jesus, one must engage an ancient Galilean legend or dream, or better yet, that Galilean’s (social) reality and not the Galilean Himself. Contrary to certain claims, Christianity is not just about engaging Jesus’ teachings; the Gospel is about meeting God in Christ!


Pisteuomen "Book Review Week"

Thanks to Blogger’s new “set and publish” tool (you can set a post to publish, just like an alarm clock and it does), I’ll be able to post while I take a week away from the computer. So, starting tomorrow, I will begin “Pisteuomen Book Review Week”. Each day, Monday through Friday, Pisteuomen will contain a book review. Here are the books to be reviewed and the days on which the reviews will be posted:

Monday: Craffert, Pieter. The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective. Minneapolis, MN: Cascade, 2007. Pp. 451.

Tuesday: LaHaye, Tim and Jenkins, Jerry B. The Jesus Chronicles: Mark’s Story. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s & Sons, 2008. Pp. 308.

Wednesday: Anderson, Janice Capel. Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008. Pp. 288.

Thursday: Horsley, Richard A. Performing the Gospel: Orality, Memory, and Mark. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006. Pp. 239, and Shiner, Whitney. Proclaiming the Gospel: First-Century Performance of Mark. New York, NY: TPI/Continuum, 2003. Pp. 214.

Friday: Achtemeir, Paul J. Jesus and the Miracle Tradition. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2008. Pp. 255.