Mark – What does this mean???

…just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’

Exodus 23:20

“See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.

Malachi 3:1

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (NLT)

Isaiah 40:3

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God! (NLT)

“All four Gospels include a quotation of Isaiah 40:3 (Mk. 1:3; Mt. 3:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) but only Mark combine this with words taken from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1”[1]

The importance of the composite quote:

  1. It is located at the beginning of the Gospel, even before John and Jesus have been introduced.
  2. This is the only editorial quotation from Mark – all the other quotations (about 20) appear on the lips of Jesus or other characters in the story.
  3. The composite quotation of Ex. 23:20/Mal. 3:1 [cf. Mt. 11:10 and Lk. 7:27] is included before the citation of Is. 40:3, even though it clashes with the introductory formula (‘As it is written in the prophet Isaiah’)[2]

There have been two main ways of interpreting this…

“we need an ideology that can explain how Mark can both appropriate Isaiah’s promise of exodus (itself a development of the original exodus tradition), while offering, in Marcus’s words, a ‘radical, cross-centred adaptation of it’ (1992: 36). In terms of this debate, what we need is a more sophisticated biblical theology that can encompass discontinuity as well as continuity, and a more sophisticated literary theory that can combine insights from narrative criticism with insights from intertextuality (taking ‘texts’ in its broadest sense).”[3]

France, quoting Myers states the following:

“by omitting that part of Mal. 3:1 which envisages the Lord appearing in the temple and linking the passage instead to the wilderness location, Mark is already signalling the dismissal of the institutional life of Israel which will be a recurrent theme of his gospel.”[4]

There is more to unpack here, but what seems clear to me is the following:

  1. This being the only editorial quotation is highly relevant to the author’s purpose.
  2. The author did not feel compelled to use literal quotes, but instead took no small amount of liberty in combining texts to prepare his readers for the story.
  3. The quote is both a nod in the direction of the past prophetic tradition as well as a nod to a clear and present change in the thinking and life of the reader/hearer.

I’ll have more on this later.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think!

[1] Steve Moyise, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Steve Moyise, “How Deep is the Wilderness in Mark 1:1-13,” 2005, 86,

[4] R. T France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), 63.



Interpreting Scripture – The Pastoral Epistles As A Test Case

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus
A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an earlier post, I challenged Moises Silva where he was basically stating that his theology should inform his interpretation of a given text.

Building on that, I have found that interpreting the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) prove to be an excellent test case.

Scholars seem strongly divided into two main groups here, and it revolves around if Paul wrote these letters or not.  Now, as I will show later, there are actually dozens if not hundreds of possibilities and suggestions when it comes to how and when these letters were written. But let’s put that aside for the moment.  The two very general interpretive camps, as I see it, come down to the inspiration and authority of scripture.

Those who hold strongly to inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration have a very difficult time accepting that anyone other than Paul himself wrote these letters.  Some may go as far as to say that he used an amenuensis (basically, someone we might understand to be a secretary) assist with the writing, but that the words are Paul’s as he was inspired by God to write them.

Those who are not as interested in inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration are seemingly quite ready and able to see other options, writers and possiblities for the production of these letters.

So, right out the gate, Silva’s model reveals it’s product – the text says what you believe it should say.  If the interpreter is an Evangelical, they read it as coming from Paul.  If the interpreter is not theologically predisposed, they read it as quite possibly coming from sources other than Paul.

Now this is where it gets interesting.

There are all sorts of theological issues embedded in these letters.  Probably the top three in contention these days are the issue of the role of women in ministry, the qualifications for ministry and the formation of scripture.

I would like to address these issues in future posts as I work through these three short letters because, for the most part, these issues can be interpreted in very different ways depending upon how the letters are approached.

Those that know me, will recall that I came from some pretty conservative theological roots.  None of my training for ministry, formal or informal, ever attempted to teach anyone but Paul the Apostle as the author to these letters.  After all, that is what the text itself says, right?


Any thoughts on this before I dive in?

How Do YOU Interpret The Bible? (Part 1 of 4)

KJV Bible

I have come to realize that I have been taught how to read the Bible in several different and interesting ways in my lifetime.

In Junior High, my Lutheran school taught me to interpret the Bible according to Luther’s Small Catechism.

A local Calvary Chapel seemed to want to take the Bible literally, unless of course we were speaking about the book of Daniel or Revelation and end times prophecy, which seemed to be interpretation by current events. Later I would find that this could loosely be defined as Dispensationalism.

In college, I was taught a very specific technique: the Historical-Grammatical method.  Here the focus was on the historical background, culture, literary genre, grammar, syntax, and discourse analysis.

In seminary, I continued to develop my historical-grammatical skills, though in many ways I found myself pushing its limits and venturing out into seemingly uncharted territory.  It was here that I began to see that my tried and true hermeneutic didn’t seem to be the all-in-one tool that it was billed to be.

Since then, I have come to realize that there are many ways in which people interpret scripture.  Of course, not all of them can be right.  Just look at all the varied results!  Yet, I believe we must strive to do our best to understand what the Bible meant to the original audience and only then to discover what that means for us today.

In the very near future, I will outline where I am today with regard to interpreting the Bible and expand on the methods by way of investigating some current and popular debates surrounding Christians today.

God, Gentiles and Grace – On the Essence of the Inclusion Debate

Capernaum synagogue
Image via Wikipedia

I recently heard Alistair Begg give an excellent summary (found here, about 17 minutes into the broadcast) of one of Jesus’ most compelling confrontations.

The text at hand is Luke 4:14-30:

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[f]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

23 Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”

28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

Why were those in the synagogue so angry?

It is here that Alistair gives the following maxim (in a paraphrase):

The salvation which Jesus proclaimed they [the Gentiles] need, but don’t deserve.


The salvation which Jesus proclaims we [the Jews] deserve, but do not need.

Brilliant!  I am not sure if this is his own idea or if it has been passed down, but this is the essence of one of the primary early church debates – How do the Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation.

The legalists knew the Gentiles needed the One True God, but could not comprehend them receiving it simply by faith.  Surely, they must conform…look, walk and talk like us.

The legalists also knew that Jesus’ teachings bothered them.  They were just too easy, too open compared to what they knew the religious life to be.

As a result, they believed that they deserved what Jesus was offering, but did not want it as he presented it.

Alistair Begg continues by making the comparison with modern Christians:

Surely those outside the church need Jesus, but they don’t deserve it…just look at how they live.

We Christians deserve salvation, look how obedient we have been!  We just want it to look like something we would design…a nice orderly, religion that can be left at church on Sundays.

I thought this to be quite a good, though basic, summary of one of the earliest debates among the church – that of inclusion of “outsiders” and how that works out in practice.

Should Churches Burn Qurans??? (Or Any Books For That Matter!)

fahrenheit burn
Image by mrtwism via Flickr

In a word and quite simply, no.

But just when we thought this rediculousness went away, now there is another (infamous) church vowing to actually carry it out.

My first thoughts on this go back to a quite unhealthy trend that I have seen in many American churches.  A belief that somehow unites church and state to the point where pastors think government should look and act more like a theocracy, as though the government should act as a church itself.

It surfaces here quite well.  For, Pastor Terry Jones’ original intent was to burn Qurans to “send a warning.”

Now, what kind of warning can a small church in Florida send?  Certainly nothing that would have any lasting change for the good.  That is why I say leave the heavy lifting (the “warnings”) to the government and the politicians that represent us as Americans.

What the church is called to do is to love their enemies – unto death if necessary.  This is clearly the model Jesus left.

Now, on a practical level, is there anywhere in the New Testament that we see books being burned by Christians?

Yes, indeed there is!  Acts 19:11-20.

Form here on out, since the content is so good, I will give credit to the STR Blog where they quote Tony Reinke on the subject:

The Bible, as far as I can tell, mentions one account where religious texts are thrown to the flames (Acts 19:11-20). On the heels of the great work of God in Ephesus, the people had come to fear God and to trust in the Savior. As a result, “a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (v. 19). In modern terms they ignited a bonfire using very expensive magic books….

From this account here are six points to ponder:

1. The Ephesian people burned their own books. These new believers renounced their past. This was not an act of Christians barging into homes to ransack libraries for kindling, or weeding out the public library, or buying up all available copies from the local bookshop. They gathered the valuable books from their own houses.

2. No Christian leader encouraged the book burning. At least the text doesn’t say it. Or would have been better for the books to be sold and the money given to the Apostolic ministry? Perish the thought. There there is no indication that Paul advised the people to burn (or sell) their occultist books.

3. The books posed no threat to the gospel. The gospel overcame the magic power of the books. The gospel is like a hurricane and nothing will stop its wind, certainly not a book of demonic spells.

4. God’s display of power convinced the people that their books were worthless. There was no need to address the value of the magic books directly. Once God’s power and his gospel were seen in the city, the matter was settled.

5. The book burning was a display of godly sorrow. The recently converted Christians wanted to confess their sin before “all.” The high value of the books (50,000 days wages worth!) made a strong statement. It was an act of personal sorrow for their own sin.

6. The burning illustrated the victory of the gospel. The magic books were burned because the gospel was spreading like wildfire: “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (v. 20).

These six points should make us very hesitant about burning other people’s religious books.

Church Buildings Are Like Ghosts!

I absolutely HAD to post this up today!

Aside from a good laugh, I see this as one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the church: the fact that most people and many Christians believe the church is a building.

Cruise through the New Testament and see if you can find a building called the church…

On Pastoral Ministry And Financial Stability – Part 1 of 2

I just stumbled across a well written article on Pastoral Ministry (via Dave Black’s site) and the question of salary or pay for this work.

Why reinvent the wheel when someone else has already done so!

The full article is here.

I particularly liked the following concluding thought:

“If our churches truly implemented New Testament patterns of ministry, one wonders whether there would be any real need to support one, full-time pastor? If the local church had a functioning priesthood (as opposed to the passive, spectator event that is the mark of most churches) and an equally shared eldership, there simply would not be the urgency or necessity to hire someone on a full-time basis. This is because (1) leadership responsibilities would be shared; (2) one man and his gifts would not become the focal-point of the meeting; (3) corporate teaching would be shared and not left to one sole pastor; and (4) each member would actively participate and contribute to the meeting.” (Darryl Erkel)

Consider what would happen to the church if such a model once again became the norm?  I can think of ten things right off the top of my head that would make the church stronger, yet I cannot think of one single thing that would make it weaker.

So, the question as I see it is this:

What was the reason for the change?

Fundamentally, the answer is found throughout the Bible as we read story after story.  This is nothing new to God.  He has seen this over and over for years, centuries, millenia!

The answer centers around one central idea – God is not enough.

Ponder that, and I’ll post more on this topic later…

Early Church In The New Testament And Apostolic Fathers

Just came across a fellow blogger’s interview with Dan Wallace.

In asking Dan what some of the biggest trends in NT studies might be over the next decade or so, I found this quote interesting:

“There are also key areas in NT study that are heating up, issues that need to be honestly examined in the next couple of decades by all sides. Among these are the relation of the Apostolic Fathers to the NT (in terms of quotations from the NT, emerging canon consciousness, ecclesiological developments, the Fathers’ view of grace, and whether the AF and the NT reflect the earliest form of Christianity or just that form that became the dominant one).” (Emphasis mine)

Apparently Dan thinks that there will be/should be an emphasis on the Apostolic Fathers (AF) specifically to ask if their representation of the early church is an accurate reflection.  He also obliquely suggests in this statement that perhaps the New Testament (NT) itself may or may not accurately reflect “the earliest form of Christianity.”

Now, I found this fascinating!  Mostly because it is my personal opinion that most of the writings from Apostolic Fathers do not accurately reflect the earliest forms of Christianity.  I am persuaded that what they do reflect accurately is how the church looked and functioned as it was on an organizational and institutional trajectory. 

To ask this same question of the New Testament is ultimately compelling. 

Could it be that we don’t have an accurate picture of the first Christians and how their communities looked and functioned? 

Is it possible that what we see today is more a picture of how those early churches developed in two, three or four generations? 

How might this have affected our canon? 

Could certain books have been chosen because they were a better representation of the dominant trends among the churches?

I believe that indeed we are missing some of the clearest pictures of the earliest churches in the New Testament.  The Bible simply does not answer the specific questions asked by a Westerner (especially a California native) in the 21st Century, but the essence of it is there.  Frankly, I have always wondered if some of the material in the New Testament reveals more or less of the trends and changes in the earliest church practices and beliefs.  Of course, I would love to have more pointed and specific answers, but I still believe that all that is truly necessary is there in the texts we currently call the New Testament. 


Bumper Sticker Theology

Out the gate, I wonder if this is meant to be taken on a personal level or a national level???

On a personal level, I can empathize with the premise.  That said, we do not live in a Christian theocracy, and neither did the early church.

True, Jesus said to love our enemies, but didn’t he also say that if asked to carry a soldier’s pack a mile we should go for two? (Mt. 5:41)  Imagine a soldier today asking a pacifist Christian to carry his gear.  Maybe the reason soldiers don’t these days is because they don’t want to hear the resultant sniveling and whining.  But I digress…

So, I say let’s not buy into this particular bumper sticker theology.  The last thing we need is for it to catch on and become national policy.  I would guess we might last about 100 years before our country would be besieged and we would all be speaking another language.

If I were one to put a bumper sticker on my car, I might have this made up:

“We sleep safely in our beds because rough men [and women] stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us.” (George Orwell)

Then again, having served in the Marine Corps, I am only slightly biased!


Superb Resource – Bibledex

I am so happy to see this new resource in development by the university of Nottingham!

The video below is a short overview..their goal is to have a video for each book of the Bible.  They currently have Matthew, 1 Corinthians and Philemon posted.

These videos are sharp, cutting-edge, and well crafted on all fronts.  I look forward to future videos and hope they are even a bit longer!  Highly recommended to any student of the Bible…