Monday, February 27, 2017

When the "In-Crowd" is not the place to be.

As conservative evangelicals in the States are concentrating on raising the drawbridges and witch hunts, it's worth taking another look at the Gospels and the way Jesus delights in breaking the boundaries. John Donahue writes,

While this debate is still unresolved and resolution of it is not within the scope of this essay, we might remark that both schools agree in locating the focus of Marcan discipleship theology in Mark's picture of the twelve. This, we feel, constitutes a narrowing of Mark's understanding of discipleship. In fact "discipleship" itself is a somewhat infelicitous term since in Mark those who respond to the gospel of God (1:15) are a group wider than the disciples (mathetai) or the twelve and from observation of this group and particular sayings associated with them we can get a more comprehensive picture of what it means "to convert and believe in the gospel" (1:15).

Throughout Mark there are a curious number of places where other people do those very things which the twelve are summoned to do, "to follow Jesus," "to preach" "to do mighty works."73 In 1:45, the healed leper begins to proclaim many things (keryssein polla) and spread the word (ton logon used absolutely almost as equivalent to gospel, cf. 4:13). Many toll collectors and sinners "follow him" (2:15 pkolouthoun) and the Gerasene demoniac begins to proclaim (keryssein 5:20) as do the witnesses to the healing of the deaf and dumb man (7:36). An exorcist who is explicitly designated a non-follower is for Jesus (9:40) and blind Bartimaeus follows Jesus "on the way" after the disciples fail to comprehend the way of suffer- ing (10:52). The scribe who answers rightly is, as we have seen, not far from the kingdom of God and a widow fulfills the true cultic worship. (12:41-44). A woman anoints Jesus before his death and will be heralded wherever the gospel is proclaimed (14:1-9). Women accompany Jesus to the cross (15:41) and a Jewish member of the council who "was waiting for the kingdom of God" (15:43) performs those burial duties which the disciples of John per- formed for him (6:29). A gentile centurion utters the proper Christian confession (15:39) and women are recipients of the paschal message (16:1-8). Clearly Mark does not limit positive response to the gospel nor to the teaching of Jesus to the example of the twelve or those originally called to be with him and to do the things he did.

From "A Neglected Factor in the Theology of Mark" JBL 101, 1982, 563-594

Let me know what you think. :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

λαῖλαψ: theophanic storm?

It is a rare word, λαῖλαψ (lailaps, rhymes with prolapse). Essentially meaning a whirlwind of hurricane it is sometimes associated with God's wrath against evil (Job 21:18; Jer. 32:32), or the destructive effects of evil (Wis. 5:23), or used in describing evil's temporary nature, frost (Wis. 5:14) or clouds (2 Pet. 2:17) carried away by a storm.



But in Sirach 48:9, 12 it is the whirlwind which takes Elijah "up" and in Job 38:1 it is the wind out of which God speaks. So it seems appropriate that it is also a λαῖλαψ which reveals Jesus' God-like powers of weather control when he clams the storm (Mk. 4:37, Lk. 8:23).



And that my friends is all ten uses of λαῖλαψ in the Bible.

The Significance of Jesus' Miracles

In a helpful corrective to common approaches to the miracles Paul Achtemeier writes,

While much can and has been said with respect to the significance of miracle-stories in the Gospel traditions, let two observations suffice for the present. First, it must be pointed out that the fact that miracles are recorded of Jesus in no way makes him unique for his age. The fact that Jesus performed miracles, or that miracles could be reported of him, does not in itself prove his uniqueness. Similarly miraculous acts are reported of many of his contemporaries, Jewish and Gentile alike. Rudolph Bultmann, in his work on form-criticism (soon to appear in English under the title History of the Synoptic Tradition), has assembled a large amount of material which indicates the relative commonness of miracle-stories in Jesus' time. Thus, whatever miracles as such would prove about Jesus, they would also prove about a number of his contemporaries.

Secondly, one cannot avoid the impression that the Gospel traditions themselves understood the basically neutral character of the miraculous. That is to say, witnessing a miracle performed by Jesus would not con- vince a man that Jesus unquestionably was the Son of God. Quite the contrary. In one instance at least, a miracle of Jesus proved to his contemporaries that he was working, not at the behest of God, but of the Devil (Mark 3:22) ! The fact of miracles as such, then, does not make Jesus unique for his age, nor does it constitute irrefutable proof that he was God's Son.

This, in turn, means that we must look elsewhere to find the significance which the miracles had for the Gospel traditions. A careful study of the miracles will indicate that the significance lies, not in the acts themselves but in the person who performs them. Therefore, Jesus does not draw significance from the fact that he performs miracles; rather, the miracles are significant because they are performed by Jesus, who is the Son of God. This is illustrated in the account of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41 ). The reaction of the disciples to this miracle —"Who then is this?"—indicates that it was the person of Jesus which holds the significance.

From "Person and Deed" Interpretation 16, 1962, p170

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Conflict in Mark's Gospel

E.S.Malbon, a narrative critic of Mark's Gospel diagnoses three different layers of conflict, she writes

The conflict between God and Satan is clearly a mismatch in God’s favour in Mark’s Gospel, and the conflict with the authorities, although not without intrigue, lead to a known outcome: the seeming victor of the authorities, Jesus’ crucifixion, is overturned by the victory of God, Jesus’ resurrection. Thus the conflict between the Markan Jesus and the disciples is of the greatest dramatic interest for the implied author and the implied audience. Jesus and the disciples are the only “round” characters in the Markan narrative. The other characters are “flat”: the unclean spirits are always evil; the Pharisees are always conspiring. The disciples change . . . The dynamic portrayal of the disciples in their relation to Jesus is one of the reasons the implied audience is most drawn into their conflict.

Mark's Jesus: Characterisation as Narrative Christology, 2009, p49

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Non-Propositional Gospel

James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love (2016), writes,

". . . the gospel isn't just information stored in the intellect; it is a way of seeing the world that is the very wallpaper of our imagination. . . Our imaginations are captured poetically, not didactically. We're hooked by stories, not bullet points. The lilt and cadence of poetry have the ability to seep down into our imagination in a way a dissertation never could." (p107)

Which makes you wonder why I'm about to embark on 3 years of dissertation writing, I guess I'll have to make sure I keep writing songs as well.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Early Christian Writing Style

Hengel notes three significant features of early Christian writing

1. Codices were used rather than scrolls
2. Terms like God, Lord, Jesus and Christ are always written as nomina sacra
3. The scribes were not calligraphers but document scribes who worked in their spare time for the community

He writes: "This development of a distinctive Christian scribal tradition which presumably goes back to the beginnings of Christian literature in the first century 'seems to indicate a degree of organisation, of conscious planning and uniformity of practice among the Christian communities which we have hitherto had little reason to suspect, and which throws a new light on the early history of the church.' The circumstances and customs in the church in the second half of the first century do not seem to me to been as diffuse and chaotic as people like to present them today."

Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, 1985/2003, 79. 
He quotes Roberts and Skeats, Birth of the Codex, 1983, 57.