Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The sermon: a waste of time?

Are sermons really important? Does the impact of a 15-45 minute message (depending on church) really justify the focus and effort that goes into it? 

Well, it depends doesn't it? We've all (i expect) sat through some truly tedious and pointless sermons and also been blessed amazed and transformed by others. Now, of course, credit for the transforming goes first to the Holy Spirit, but let's not underestimate the power of a really bad sermon to quench the Spirit either, eh!?

But anyway, while I believe in the importance of biblical preaching, that's not the question I want to address today. I want to flip the question a little for this post. In churches where I've had a preaching role  we generally aimed for a 25-30 minute sermon (and frequently ran over). If there is a 100 people in the congregation that amounts to at least 2500 minutes of congregational time, or about 41.6 hours. How should we value that time? Does $30 (NZD) an hour seem reasonable? (if it was a congregation of plumbers it would be 3x that!) At the rather low rate of $30, a short sermon to a small congregation is worth at least $1,250. Does that seem like a lot? 

My question is, do we put into the sermon - time, study, resources, thought - anything like what it is worth in terms of the congregation's time in listening to it? I suspect that, in those places that they do, there are less questions about the importance of the sermon and more appreciation and expectation around the act of preaching.

Let me know what you think :-)

Friday, March 3, 2023

1 Tim 3:1-7, can girls be bishops?

I got an email recently from a friend concerned about the issue of how complementarian and egalitarian readings of this passage in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 about the qualifications for overseers (KJV: bishops) seemed to come to totally different conclusions about the Greek, surely someone was right or wrong here?

image credit:

Now, disclaimers: 

  1. If you weren't already aware, I should disclose that I am theologically egalitarian myself - although I hope I can come to grammatical issues without bias.
  2. I am dubious as to the extent these debates can be solved via Greek grammar. Accurate reading of the Greek is very important (don't get me wrong), but even the hardest biblicist (if they are honest/self-aware) is also drawing on other resources to decide any controversial issue.  
  3. Also I have only given this only a little time today, if you know better than me I'll be glad to be corrected. This is not an expert opinion but my best stab at the problem based on what I think I know.

The issue is that egalitarians (those who consider the Bible to allow women equal ability to lead,teach, etc, in the church and home) have argued that this passage contains no male pronouns and should be interpreted inclusively. This is because in Greek, while there is a neuter declension for nouns, when referring to a mixed group of people it will use the masculine plural. Thus, there is almost always some ambiguity in the Greek as to whether a plural masculine refers to only men or men and women, unless the author, context or narrative specifies - e.g. Mark 6:44 where Mark says there were 5000 who ate (masculine plural) but then specifies "men" (anēr). (NB. Hebrew is worse, it has no neuter at all, only male and female grammatical gender)

So, in many English translation of 1 Tim 3:1-7 (e.g. the NIV, below) we see the words "he" and "his" we would be forgiven for thinking that the text specified men, however, it is entirely possible to translate this section accurately without such pronouns, because the Greek does not use their equivalents here.

3 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In fairness to the NIV, the pronouns have probably been added to make the English easier to read, but have they made the passage exclusive to men when the original could be read more inclusively? Despite the lack of pronouns we do have being head of a household and being a one-woman man as qualifications here - could these include women also?

The people of the historical-cultural context of the letter would assume that most households are presided over by men, and only in exceptional cases would an independent women be head of a household. This is important for how the passage would be received, but in my view it is unfounded speculation to say whether Paul intended to include or exclude women here. Here is what I mean about Greek only getting us so far, the egal/comp debate was not on Paul's radar at all (it's a new thing) - and so our question is underdetermined by the text. It should go without saying, but Paul was not a complementarian or an egalitarian, but a 1st century Jewish follower of Jesus!

I think the real issue for an egalitarian reading of this passage is the lovely expression "one-woman man" (often horribly translated as "man of one wife/married only once") - but I think this, in historical context, is more likely to be about monogamy than divorce. That expression uses the specific Greek word "anēr" which exclusively refers to men as opposed to women. That said, given female heads of households would have most likely been single/widowed (think of Lydia, e.g.), a direction about monogamy (against polygamy and, more likely, sexual use of others in the household) would not exclude the celibate from ministry.

So, both sides of the comp/egal debate could argue this passage aligns with their view, but I don't think it really sides with either. Purely on the basis Greek grammar you could argue this passage doesn't exclude women but it hardly includes them either. On historical-contextual ground you could argue it would assume women were excluded - but neither view is explicitly asserted because (I think) the passage is concerned with the issue of character, not gender roles. 

Let me know what you think. :-)

Saturday, February 18, 2023


No, this is not those updates that Windows computers do to slow down your whole life and suck the energy from your day and make your computer malfunction. This is a blog update to tidy up some out of date and incomplete features . . . This is me gearing up to start blogging a bit more regularly again (maybe). I've updated the following pages (in the menu above)

1. About Xenos - updated to reflect my change in employment (i should probably post about this) 

2. Publications and Papers - updated for the last year's work

3. Markan Typology - updated to include the book and all other publications (annotated) from the research on the book. i was surprised to see there is actually 5 journal articles/chapters I produced out of the PhD additional to the substance of the PhD. I'm sure some people do more, but I was impressed with myself! :-)

Monday, September 5, 2022

Markan Typology - my book! Now available to buy

Blog fans, I know you have been feeling neglected. I'm sorry, but at least a part of that has been because I was working to get this little beauty ready for publication! You can now buy it from here on the Bloomsbury website

This is the blurb, written by my very kind reviewer:

Responding to the suggestion that scriptural typology was a later development of the early church, and not applicable to the earliest canonical Gospel, Jonathan Rivett Robinson stresses that typology has deep Jewish roots, and that typological modes of thought were a significant part of the Gospel’s historical and cultural background. He brings this insight to bear on four of the most dramatic miracles in Mark’s Gospel, discovering a surprisingly consistent typological approach.

Essential to Robinson’s argument is the discovery of distinctive words and phrases taken from the Septuagint, that serve as unique indicators of Mark’s intent to refer back to miracles from the Jewish scriptures, pointing to influence from the scriptural narratives of Jonah, David, Elisha and Moses. These references in turn provide insight into Mark’s Christology, revealing that Mark presents Jesus as the fulfilment of scriptural human types and yet also in the narrative form of Israel’s God. Robinson argues that rather than imposing categories constructed from early Jewish literature, like “divine identity” and “exalted human figures”, the Gospel of Mark should be allowed to speak with its own unique voice.

Jonathan Rivett Robinson is a Teaching Fellow for the Theology Programme of the University of Otago and an Adjunct Lecturer for Carey Baptist College, New Zealand.


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Banquet of Death (Herod's Party in Mark 6:14-29)

A wee snippet from my PhD research as the subject came up on Twitter.

Pic: Salome with the Head of John the Baptist-Caravaggio, from Wikimedia commons

The first feeding account is preceded by an episode unique to Mark’s gospel. ‘Only here is there an extended story in which Jesus does not appear and not directly concerned with him.’[1] In his portrayal of Herod, Mark sets up a contrast between the two ‘kings,’ Herod and Jesus.[2] Two points concern this study in particular. First, Herod’s discussion of Jesus’ identity closely parallels Jesus and Peter’s later discussion.[3] This can be seen in the following comparison of the two discourses with corresponding words and phrasing marked in bold.

Mark 6:14 -16, Καὶ ἤκουσεν ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης, φανερὸν γὰρ ἐγένετο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ.ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίας ἐστίν· ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι προφήτης ὡς εἷς τῶν προφητῶν. ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἡρῴδης ἔλεγεν· ὃν ἐγὼ ἀπεκεφάλισα Ἰωάννην, οὗτος ἠγέρθη.

Mark 8:28-29, οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες [ὅτι] Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, καὶ ἄλλοι Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι εἷς τῶν προφητῶν. καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς· ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει αὐτῷ· σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός.

The striking similarity between the two conversations presents them as an inclusio,[4] whereby Herod’s false conclusion prepares the reader for Peter’s later insight. It is within this inclusio, concerning Jesus’ identity, that we find both the feeding miracles.

Second, Herod’s conversation is followed by a description of a meal where Herod gives a banquet for his ‘courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee’ (6:21).[5] In the typical form of a Greco-Roman banquet the meal, δεῖπνον (6:21), would usually be followed by a drinking party, συμπόσιον, during which entertainment such as music and dancing could also occur (Plut. Quaest. conv. 612E-F).[6] During the entertainment following Herod’s banquet, Herodias’ daughter dances for the guests and John the Baptist’s fate is sealed. His head is presented on a platter like a macabre part of the feast (6:22-28). In 6:21 Herodias finds an opportune time (εὔκαιρος) to dispose of John, while in contrast the disciples have no opportunity to eat (οὐδὲ φαγεῖν εὐκαίρουν, 6:31).[7] When Jesus makes the crowd recline (ἀνακλίνω) and organises them into ‘banquets’ (συμπόσιον) in 6:39 this evokes a banquet and so links back to Herod’s birthday dinner.[8] Indeed, Herod’s δεῖπνον (6:21), main meal, finds a complement in Jesus’ συμπόσιον, drinking party. However, it should be noted both δεῖπνον and συμπόσιον could metonymically denote the whole banquet.[9]  Thus Herod’s banquet of death both provides a contrast to and sets the scene for Jesus’ feeding miracle.[10] This juxtaposition creates a narrative analogy between the adjacent Gospel pericopae, ‘through which one part of the text provides oblique commentary on another.’[11]

Reinforcing this connection is a possible allusion to 1 Kings 18:4. As Pesch argues, there is a strong parallel between the story of John, Herod and Herodias and the story of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel.[12] Just as John opposes Herod because of Herodias, so did Elijah oppose Ahab because of Jezebel (1 Kgs 21). Just as Herodias seeks the life of John, so did Jezebel seek the life of Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). Drewermann finds both Jezebel and Herodias are linked by the motif of ‘der verhängnisvollen Allmacht einer Frau über die Königsgewalt ihres Gatten.’[13] John, of course, has already been identified with Elijah (Mark 1:6) and will be again (9:13).

The ‘groups of hundreds and fifties’ of Mark 6:40 are generally thought to evoke Moses’ arrangement of the people of Israel in Exod 18:21, 25; Deut 1:15. However, 1 Kgs 18:4, καὶ ἔλαβεν Αβδιου ἑκατὸν ἄνδρας προφήτας καὶ ἔκρυψεν αὐτοὺς κατὰ πεντήκοντα , presents a closer, albeit less prominent scriptural correspondence to ‘hundreds and fifties’ (Mark 6:40). Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, rescues a hundred prophets in groups of fifty in 1 Kings 18:4 and then sustains them with bread and water. These prophets are specifically men, ἀνήρ (LXX 18:4), which corresponds to Mark 6:44. Importantly, the immediate narrative context for Obadiah's act is, ‘when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord’ (1 Kgs 18:4,) which corresponds with Herodias having John killed (Mark 6:14-29).[14] Immediately following, Ahab divides up the land between himself and Obadiah so that they can find grazing for the animals (1 Kgs 18:5-6). Thus Obadiah is portrayed as a pastoral herder of horses and mules who finds a way (ὁδός) to save them. Shepherding (as in Psalm 23) and the Exodus are two significant Biblical themes recognised as present in Mark 6:30-45. Given the strong parallel in 6:14-29 to the Elijah story, the mention of hundreds and fifties in 6:40 could possibly be an allusion to Obadiah (and by extension Ahab). This would serve to reinforce the contrast between Jesus and Herod, already implied by the juxtaposition of the murder of John at Herod's banquet and Jesus' feeding miracle.


[1] Boring, Mark, 176.

[2] Boring, Mark, 177.

[3] Sanae Masuda, ‘The Good News of the Miracle of the Bread: The Tradition and Its Markan Redaction’, NTS 28 (1982): 213; Marcus, Mark 8-16, 611.

[4] Feneberg, Der Jude Jesus und die Heiden, 145.

[5] Birthday celebrations were a regular part of the Greco-Roman patronage system, see Kathryn Argetsinger, ‘Birthday Rituals: Friends and Patrons in Roman Poetry and Cult’, Classical Antiquity 11 (1992): 175–93.

[6] Dennis E. Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2003), 31, 34–36, 49.

[7] Collins, Mark, 318.

[8] Collins, Mark, 324.

[9] Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist, 49.

[10] Aus, Feeding the Five Thousand, 131–32; Collins, Mark, 324; Garland, Mark, 254; Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, 217; Sick, ‘The Symposium of the 5,000’, 14. On the socio-economic significance of this contrast see Alicia J. Batten, ‘Fish Tales’, BTB 47 (2017): 11.

[11] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 21.

[12] Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, 1.339; also Collins, Mark, 307; Thomas R. Hatina, ‘Embedded Scripture Texts and the Plurality of Meaning: The Announcement of the “Voice from Heaven” in Mark 1.11 as a Case Study’, in Biblical Interpretation in Early Christian Gospels, Volume 1: The Gospel of Mark, ed. Thomas R. Hatina, LNTS 304 (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 42.

[13] ‘The fateful omnipotence of a woman over the royal power of her husband.’ Drewermann, Das Markusevangelium, 407. This in no way absolves Herod of guilt for John’s murder, however. See Hatina, ‘Embedded Scripture Texts and the Plurality of Meaning’, 39–40.

[14] Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, 331.

Monday, April 12, 2021

CFP for ANZABS 2021





6-7 December 2021

Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College



The 2021 Annual Meeting of ANZABS will take place at Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College (formerly Good Shepherd College) in Auckland on 6-7 December 2021. Further details of the meeting will follow later. But please put it in your diary now!


We are seeking papers of 20 minute duration, which will be followed by 10 minutes of discussion. As a rule of thumb, presenters talk at about 100 words a minute so a 20- minute paper should equate to roughly 2,000 words.


When you submit a paper proposal, please include a title and a 100 word abstract of the proposed paper.


Paper proposals should be sent to Emily Colgan at: Proposals should be received by 24 September 2021 – though early proposals are most welcome!


Further details on registration and conference arrangements will be sent out in late September. Conference fees will be set at $30 (waged) and $20 (unwaged, including retirees). This will be paid to the organization hosting the conference to cover expenses including catering.


Please share this call for papers widely, and do especially encourage graduate students to think about offering a paper.


We look forward to seeing you at Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College towards the end of the year!


Emily Colgan

(on behalf of the ANZABS Executive)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Gourd is the Messiah!?

No this is not a Monty Python sketch, but my new article on Jonah's gourd and the way it is (possibly/probably/maybe) referenced in Mark's account of Jesus in Gethsemane. 

Jonah’s Gourd and Mark’s Gethsemane: 

A Study in Allegorical Messianic Intertextuality

A number of scholars have recognized a verbal allusion to Jon. 4.9 in Mk 14.34. However, the Gethsemane account (Mk 14.32-42) may allude to the narrative of Jon. 4 in other ways not previously observed. Some modern interpreters have suggested an allegorical messianic interpretation of Jonah’s gourd as Zerubbabel, despite lacking any basis for this interpretation in early Jewish literature. Mark’s allusion may be formerly unrecognized evidence of such an interpretation from the first century CE. This article will examine the wider allusion to Jon. 4 in Mk 14, suggest what kind of exegesis of Jon. 4 might motivate that allusion, and argue for the coherence of such an allusion within the immediate Markan context.

It is now published in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 43:3 (2021), pp. 370–388. If you don't have access to the journal you can read a pre-publication version on If you need to cite it and don't have access, contact me and I'll be happy to share the published version with you.

The idea for this article came out of my PhD thesis, although this article is only a footnote in the actual thesis, I thought the idea was worth exploring further. It's nice to have it published as now, when and if I publish my thesis, I can reference my own article (scholarly life goals)! As he is today, there is evidence that Jonah was a character that inspired a lot of speculation and interpretation beyond the "plain reading" of the book named after him. Both Ancient Jews and Christians saw him as a significant figure, and Jewish traditions considerably embellished his story in exciting ways. The book of Jonah ends unfinished and on a question. I wonder if Mark got the idea for his abrupt and open ended conclusion to his Gospel from reading/hearing the story of Jonah?

Let me know what you think :-)

The sermon: a waste of time?

Are sermons really important? Does the impact of a 15-45 minute message (depending on church) really justify the focus and effort that goes ...