Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Does the Name of Jesus work like "Magic" or has the Bible misled us?

In the Gospel of John Jesus told his disciples to “ask anything” in his name: “whatever you ask in my name, I will do it…If you ask anything in my name I will do it” (John 14:13-14; see also 15:16; 16:23-24; 16:26). And so the custom has evolved in conservative Protestantism to conclude every prayer with the refrain “in Jesus name Amen.” In fact, many deeply religious folk feel that prayers lacking this refrain are not heard by God (or Jesus, to whom some people also pray).

Adding “in Jesus name” to a prayer is apparently a reminder to Jesus of his promises in John, for Jesus was believed to intercede for believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). But the practice of praying in Jesus name appears to have been unknown in the synoptic gospels. For example, in the model prayer where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray there is no instruction that prayers should conclude with “in Jesus name.” This model prayer is a Q tradition, an early source, which Matthew and Luke used in addition to Mark (Matt 6:9-13=Luke 11:2-4), and it appears also in the Didache (8.2; dated from 70-150 CE).

The model prayer Jesus taught his disciples is slightly different in all three versions.

His disciples said to him “Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them “when you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come! Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.’” (RSV Luke 11:1-4).

But there is no mention of praying in Jesus’ name. The earliest instance of praying in Jesus’ name may be Paul’s prayer language regarding the gathering at Rome: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you…” (Rom 1:8; also Eph 5:20; Col 3:17). But this is likely just a recognition that all approaches to God should be made through Jesus the mediator (Ephesians 2:14-18), rather than a specific indication that early Christians ended prayers “in Jesus name.”

Nevertheless, Jesus’ name does appear in early literature authorizing the performance of miraculous deeds. His name is represented as being a powerful force. Demons are cast out and other mighty works are done using the formula “in the name of Jesus” (Matt 7:22; [Mark 16:17]). Peter, for example, heals a lame man saying: “‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (Acts 3:6-7, 16; 4:10). Paul drives a spirit of divination out of a slave girl by saying, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her, and it came out that very hour” (Acts16:18). Unspecified “signs and wonders” are also performed “through the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). In one instance a person who was not even a part of Jesus’ band of disciples was casting out demons by using the name of Jesus (Mark 9:38-39=Luke 9:49-50). So the evangelists apparently regarded power as residing “in the name of Jesus.” Incidentally I know of one contemporary scholar, critically trained, who claims to have stopped a thunder storm and other such things by saying “in Jesus name.”

Perhaps the greatest claim for the name of Jesus is made in the Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes 14:5: “The name of the Son of God is great and incomprehensible and supports the whole world,” a claim similar to Colossians 1:15-20.

Traditional Reformation-era churches regard the performance of these kinds of mighty deeds performed using Jesus’ name, as restricted to the “Apostolic Age.” That is, such things were actually done, but only during the time of the earliest apostles, which one New Testament introduction dates as 30-65.1 Nevertheless, today in contemporary churches many of these deeds are thought to continue into the modern period. The Catholic Church, for example, has scheduled a week-long international conference in Rome on the exorcism of demons for April of 2018.2 In 1990 the International Association of Exorcists, a Roman Catholic organization, was founded and recognized by the Vatican in 2014.3

Does anyone know the earliest time in recorded history that the words “in the name of Jesus, Amen” (or the equivalent in any language) appeared at the end of a prayer?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1R. W. Crapps, E. V. McKnight, D. A. Smith, Introduction to the New Testament (1969), 373. The apostolic age is generally considered to be the period from around 30 to 100, covering the period of the lives of the earliest disciples/apostles.
2Springfield News-Leader, Feb 25, 2018, B2.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Deliberate Omission or a simple Oversight?

In Baptist Bible study several weeks ago I stumbled into an interesting problem in Acts. Luke (the putative author of Acts) includes a narrative about Apollos (Acts 18:24–28).1 He is described as a Jew, a native of Alexandria. He was an "eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures, and fervent in the spirit." Apollos "had been instructed in the way of the Lord" and he "spoke and taught accurately (ακριβῶς; that is, in strict conformity to a pattern or norm) the things concerning Jesus." That comment suggests Luke agreed with what the man had to say about Jesus. Luke mentions, however, that Apollos knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:25), but nevertheless Luke does not describe him as being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, as the disciples in 19:1–7 were. Is this uncorrected deficiency an oversight by the narrator? The observation is left to dangle and nothing is made of it.

            Apollos spoke boldly in the synagogue, and when Pricilla and Aquila heard him speak, they apparently found deficiencies in his address before the synagogue, so they took him aside and "expounded to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26; ακριβέστερον comparative of ακριβῶς). Using the word "accurately" in one verse (18:25) and "more accurately" in another verse (18:26) sets up the following problem: "the statements are contradictory: if he taught accurately, he required no further instruction. If he required further instruction, he did not teach accurately."2 Richard Pervo describes the problem as a "gap intentionally left by the narrator."3 Pervo explains that Apollos' lack of knowledge of the baptism that brings the Holy Spirit (as we find it in Acts 19:1–7) is "a Lucan cipher for inadequate doctrine and rite, not explicitly false teaching, since it is based on ignorance other than deceit, and the like."4 He refers to his solution as cutting "the Gordian Knot," meaning I take it, as an unsatisfactory solution to an intractable problem (a problem having no obvious or simple solution).5

            Could the problem relate simply to the difference between Apollos' excellent knowledge of "the things concerning Jesus" and his need for some improvement in his understanding of God? That seems unlikely, however, for a Jewish man from Alexandria who was "well versed in the scriptures" and proficient in his knowledge of things pertaining to Jesus would likely be well versed in what scripture says about God.

            There is a textual variant in Acts 18:26 that might make a solution possible. Acts 18:26 in Codex Bezae reads simply "the Way," which is an expression describing Christianity (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Text Critics, however, insist that the preferred reading is "The way of God."6

            Another possibility, not considered by Pervo, was that Luke simply overlooked the contradiction; hence it was an accidental oversight by Luke, like (perhaps) the failure to baptize Apollos in the "name of the Lord Jesus." If so it becomes just another example of sloppy writing by a biblical writer.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Apollos is mentioned only twice in Acts. In this narrative and in a transition to the one that follows, Acts 19:1. He plays a much larger role in 1 Corinthians 1–4 and 16:12.
2My source is R. Pervo. Acts (Fortress: Hermenia, 2009), 460, note 16. The statement is by Ernst Haenchen as cited by Pervo.
3Ibid., 460, note 16.
4Ibid., 459.
6Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 414. Two respected scholars, however, accept the reading "the Way" as the best reading: Jackson and Lake, Beginnings of Christianity. Part One, Acts of the Apostles, 3.178.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Authority and Religious Value of the Bible

The early twentieth-century New Testament Scholar, C. H. Dodd, argued that "the measure of any authority which the Bible may possess must lie in its direct religious value, open to discovery in experience; and this value in turn will be related to the experience out of which the Scripture came."1 One reviewer (J.Y. Campbell) objected arguing that "I cannot see that anything is gained by talking of authority if what we really mean is religious value."2 Dodd defined authority "in its primary form" as "the authority of the truth itself, compelling and subduing," and adds to that a "secondary sense of the term 'authority,'" which he sees as the following: "the authority of persons who being presumed to know the truth communicate it to others."3 Hence for Dodd the authority we meet in the Bible is in this secondary sense, which is "the authority of experts in the knowledge of God, masters in the art of living; the authority of religious genius."4 We cannot, however, today engage these "experts in the knowledge of God" in person. They can only be met in written texts that have been passed down to us.
            Campbell counters, however, that "any such authority is certainly quickly destroyed when we discover our 'authorities' [i.e., the written texts] making erroneous statements,"5 which modern critical studies have clearly demonstrated to be the case with the Bible, as Dodd himself acknowledges.6
            The preeminent "religious genius" in the Bible in Dodd's view is Jesus. According to Dodd, "His inner life possessed a unique moral perfection, which would account for the unique authority His words have actually carried in spite of all local and temporal limitations."7 Sayings of Jesus as reported by the evangelists, however, do not possess the same authority as the man, for in the Gospels one finds sayings attributed to Jesus, as Dodd admits, that "either are simply not true, in their plain meaning, or are unacceptable to the conscience or reason of Christian people."8 This acknowledgement by Dodd of the clearly flawed condition of the gospels leads Campbell to conclude: "This crucial instance suffices to show that no authority of this secondary sort can be claimed for the Bible."9 In other words, the religious authority of those living "experts in the knowledge of God" is not passed on in the texts that contain writings about and by them. On the other hand, Campbell agrees that modern biblical scholarship "has revealed more clearly than ever" the "abiding spiritual value" of the Bible "as Mr. Dodd has shown so excellently."10
            This brief exchange contrasting the ideas of Dodd and Campbell uses two words in assessing the relevance of the Bible: authority and value. Dodd had in his book considered and rejected the word: "infallible," in the sense that "the biblical writers infallibly set forth the truth."11 And Campbell rejects Dodd's claim that the Bible has authority in itself.  Both agreed, however, that the Bible has religious value.
            Both scholars, however, were speaking as men of faith and evaluating the Bible from within the house of Christian faith, rather than from a disinterested broader historical perspective in a universal and timeless sense. Objectively speaking the Bible has no inherent or intrinsic religious value or authority in itself; the Bible only has that religious authority and/or value that one chooses to give it. According to Dodd, "the Bible itself does not make any claim to infallible authority for all its parts."12 How could it? Later people of faith collected its various parts to make it a whole long after the individuals who lived and wrote it had passed from the historical scene. The Bible is the product of modern critical scholarship, and represents only two episodes (Israelite and Christian) in a longer and broader human quest for God.
            Calling the Bible "the Word of God" is a learned personal opinion about the Bible and is not a description of the Bible itself. The Bible consists of human words about how God was understood in two religious communities long before the modern era commenced. Hence its words and ideas need to be vetted for contemporary religious significance. Quite clearly the Bible has historical significance as part of the religious history of Western civilization, but whether or not it has a claim to be the exclusive authority and value for shaping religion in contemporary life is a personal choice on the part of its readers.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
1C. H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible (2nd ed. London: Nisbet, 1938), xiii. The first edition appeared in 1928.
2J. Y Campbell, "An Interpretation of Biblical Authority," Journal of Religion 10.3 (July1930) 423.
3Dodd, Authority, 21.
4Ibid., 25.
5Campbell, "Biblical Authority," 424.
6Dodd, Authority, 233.
7Ibid., 240-41.
8Ibid., 233.
9Campbell, "Biblical Authority,"424.
11Dodd, Authority, 8-18. The quote is from page 8.
12Ibid., 15.