Monday, October 19, 2020

Comparing Two Productions: Mark and Lincoln

Several nights before beginning this essay I watched the 2012 television production “Lincoln.” The film was well received in the media world and numerous awards were given to the film and to Daniel Day Lewis, who played Lincoln. Available to the writers, production staff, and actors were many artifacts, histories, photographs, and other video productions from which data could be drawn to develop the production. In fact, the historical events themselves are so well known that the sheer amount of data available no doubt frustrated the creative process of producing the film. The known facts of Mr. Lincoln’s presidency limited what the writers might have included in the script. It is nevertheless a work of creative fiction that is historically accurate—but not in every detail.1

            Mark’s essay, on the other hand, is also a creative work, whose overall historical accuracy is dubious, but which, in part, is surely historically accurate. Very little was available to Mark from which to develop the narrative that he entitled: “Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Mark’s story about Jesus narrates how the gospel (euaggellion, euaggelizomai) of the Markan community in the latter half of the first century began. Paul succinctly described the content of the gospel (“good news”) of the apostolic age in First Corinthians 15:1, 3-5. The natural context of “gospel” in Mark seems to be this later apostolic preaching of the church rather than the public career of Jesus.2 Its appearance in Mark’s story about the itinerant Galilean, Jesus the Anointed, strikes me as an anachronism. What Mark wishes to echo in the reader’s mind when he places “gospel” on the lips of Jesus is the apostolic message preached by his own community of faith.3

            The anonymous author we call Mark wrote shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE) and he had at his disposal very little historical data about the public career of Jesus the Galilean, who was crucified by the Romans around 30CE, some forty years earlier. Mark lived in a world of Greek language and culture while the subject of his essay lived in Galilee of Judea, as the Romans called it, a world of Aramaic language and culture. Mark had neither material artifacts nor written sources4 available to him to inform his narrative. What was available to him were anonymous oral reports, church tradition and beliefs, and liturgy.5

            Mark’s literary product, therefore, is a narrative of his own creative imagination and fashioning. Perhaps it is better to say Mark’s Gospel is “fiction” (from the Latin fictio, a making or fashioning). Mark was responsible for imagining the whole and for weaving into his narrative what little information was available to him. He had no known curriculum vitae (course of life) of Jesus that had to be followed. Hence, he had to decide the sequence of things. He strung together independent episodes that he composed and other sub-groupings of material into an overall geographical frame6 through the use of summary statements, which were intended to expand the activities of Jesus well beyond the few typical episodic incidents described more fully in the narrative. These statements “summarize new activities over broad general geographic areas and indefinite periods of time.”7 It was a technique Mark hoped would overcome the impression of how little information he actually did know.

            As an author, Mark was a child of his day. If one judges by the criterion of literary realism, Mark’s narrative is more akin to modern romance than to historical narrative.8 That is, “it is an idealistic tale with supernatural and marvelous features,” more like legends of King Arthur and Harry Potter than Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War.9

Mark employs certain techniques of modern narrative fiction. As an author he is omniscient and knows everything that happens even to the extent of knowing what the characters are thinking. Throughout the narrative he provides the reader interior views of characters. That is, he reveals to readers what characters are thinking. “This shift in a reader’s point of view from seeing events from the narrator’s perspective to seeing the situation from within a paper-character’s mind is a primary feature of the rhetoric of fiction by which a flesh-and-blood author develops characters and furthers the plot of a novel.”10

            What I take away from Mark’s essay is a vague image, a silhouette of a life devoted to the welfare of the faceless multitudes of his people, a life that ended in tragedy. Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude hearing all that he did came to him (Mark 1:7-8). According to Mark, Jesus told his disciples: Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:43-45).

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


2The word “Gospel” appears in every NT book except John, Jude, James, 1-3 John, and 2 Peter.

3See Hedrick, “Parable and Kingdom. A Survey of the Evidence in Mark,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 27.2 (2000), 182.

4Dominick Crossan argued that Mark developed his story in part by reliance on the Gospel of Peter. See the brief reference in Paul Mirecki, “Peter Gospel of” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary 5:279-81. From my reading of the evidence it appeared that Crossan’s evidence could cut either way. In other words, the author of the Gospel of Peter could also have borrowed from Mark.

5For example, with respect to the Passover meal, compare Mark 14:22-24, 1 Cor 11:23-25, and Didache 9:1-5 for the similar format.

6Hedrick, “What is a Gospel? Geography, Time, and Narrative Structure,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 10.3 (1983), 255-68.

7Hedrick, “The Role of ‘Summary Statements’ in the composition of the Gospel of Mark: A Dialogue with Karl Schmidt and Norman Perrin,” Novum Testamentum 26 (1984), 289-311.

8Hedrick, “Realism in Western Narrative and the Gospel of Mark: A Prolegomenon,” Journal of Biblical Literature 126.2 (2007), 345-59.

9Hedrick, “Realism,” 353; for a description of the supernatural and marvelous features see 358.

10Hedrick, “The Problem of History in Mark,” pp. 140-42 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Humanizing the Lesser Human

On June 5, 2017 I published a blog entitled: "On Becoming and Being Human."1 The essay closed with this statement, "Being human is not an accident of birth, but a matter of behavior." We modern humans are called Homo sapiens (intelligent man). There was a time when Homo sapiens existed at the same time as others of its genus. They are now extinct. Our nearest "relatives" in the genus Homo were: heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, erectus, and floresiensis. If I am correct, there is a spectrum, or range, to human behavior, ranging from what is less human to more human. Since archaic Homo sapiens was inferior as a species when compared to modern Homo sapiens, the obvious conclusion is that there is always room for improvement in the humanity of the species. I will describe the lesser human as reflecting the archaic traits of the primitive still surviving in our species. The spectrum raises the question, how do we fully humanize the lesser human? The question seems reasonable, since there are those living among us who have behaved less human than humanity at its ideal best.

            Modern society has developed institutional "treatments" for lesser human behavior in our species. For example, the penal system supposedly aims at the rehabilitation of inmates, those whose criminal behavior has necessitated their incarceration away from Homo sapiens' society at large. The goal of incarceration is to return them to society fully capable of following society's rules—in other words to "humanize" them, since their behavior previously was less than what we think of as ideally human. Society also recognizes that children need to be educated; that is, they should learn how to function and behave in human society. The public-school system in America is dedicated to the purpose of producing well-rounded human beings who will assume their places in society as responsible citizens. Both these institutions in modern society have the full support of Christian Churches as being necessary to society's wellbeing. In other words, the modern Christian Church, as a societal institution, has a vested interest in the humanization of society in the sense I have described it above. What the institutional church does in its religious educational programs is as much for the purpose of humanizing its members as it is for the purpose of religionizing them, since the ideal church member is also expected to be a responsible member of human society.

            It might be surprising to learn that the idea of humanizing society had not occurred to Christians before the fourth century. The early Christians thought of themselves as already belonging to the "household of God" (Eph 2:12) rather than belonging to the present world, for that world was passing away (1 Cor 7:31). The time remaining to them had grown very short (1 Cor 7:29). They stood, they believed, at the very end of time, and hence the usual conventions of first-century society were no longer applicable (1 Cor 7:1-38). The end of the world was coming in their own lifetime (1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor 10:11). Hence, they were not concerned with the betterment of human society. In fact, the Apostle Paul thought that even the created universe would need to be transformed to "be freed from its shackles of mortality" in order to "enter upon the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:19-25, Revised English Bible).

The New Testament writers used a collective adjective to describe aspects of being human. A human being (a person) was an anthrōpos, and the adjective used to describe our species was anthrōpinos, "human" (1 Cor 2:13, 4:3, 10:13, Rom 6:19, James 3:7, Acts 17:25, 1 Pet 2:13). They never wrote, however, about humanizing an anthropos. In fact, their ancient texts do not even contain a word for "humanizing." The ancient Greeks, however, did have such a word. The word "to humanize" (exanthrōpizō) is used, for example, by Plutarch in a slightly different way than I have used it above. Plutarch described a humanizing of the divine: that is "degrading things divine to a human level."2 On the other hand, I am describing degrees in the quality of human behavior and am arguing for the need to humanize the lesser human as revealed by their negative behavior.

The earliest Christians, on the other hand, were primarily interested in divinizing the human. Here is how the author of 2 Peter puts it:

[God's] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3-4 NRSV).

The Revised English Bible translates the italicized phrase above this way "and may come to share in the very being of God."

Only the most conservative of religious groups have retained the intense end-time expectation. The more moderate have adjusted to life in this world and explain the delay in the end as the author of Second Peter does: the end is delayed because of the "forbearance of the Lord, not wishing that any should perish" (2 Pet 3:3-10). Folks, this little blue and white planet so far as anyone knows is the only place in the universe that can sustain life, we had better get serious in caring for it and helping the lesser humans among us to achieve their full potential as human beings. This planet is all we have. And in my view a planet in the hand is worth two heavens in the mind.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Hedrick, "From the Jesus Tradition: On Becoming and Being Human," Unmasking Biblical Faiths. The Marginal Relevance of the Bible for Contemporary Religious Faith (Cascade: Eugene, OR, 2019), 57-58; see also, "On Being Human in the Contemporary World," ibid., 55-56.

2"Isis and Osiris" in F. C. Babbit, Plutarch's Moralia (Loeb Classical Library, 1962), 5.55-56 (360). Plutarch (AD 46 to after 119) was a philosopher and priest of Apollo at the God's cult center in Delphi, Greece.

Monday, September 21, 2020

We are Citizen-Soldiers, Mr. Trump!*

We consider ourselves winners rather than “losers” and “suckers.”2 Although I will admit that from the perspective of a man alleged to have inherited millions from his father, I might have looked like a loser in 1953. After one year at a Baptist college in Mississippi,3 I enlisted in the U. S. Army in May of 1953 as a Pvt E-1 during the hostilities of the Korean Conflict. Some months later (July 1953), while I was in Basic Training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, military leaders signed a “cease-fire” order at Panmunjom. A few months later as the honor graduate of an Army Leadership School at Ft Lee, Virginia, I was given my choice of area of assignment. I chose the European Theater, where I served the rest of my initial three years of military obligation in Germany at Headquarters Southern Area Command (with five years reserve duty remaining to my enlistment). The rest of my class was assigned to the Far East Command (Korea). I returned from Europe in 1956 with the GI Bill in hand and a wife (now of 65 years), who was pregnant with our first child and we headed back to college. Supported by the GI Bill I completed college in 1958 (B. A.) and Theological Seminary in 1962 (B. D.) in California. While serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Needles, California (1962-65), I applied for and received a direct commission from the President as a Reserve Commissioned Officer (Chaplain) on the 8th of September 1964. Why did I join the Army again? I wanted to serve my country—and besides I liked the professionalism and camaraderie of military life.

Volunteers who choose to continue their military service as soldiers in the active reserve force think of themselves as citizen-soldiers. They work in their civilian occupations or careers, but one weekend each month they put on the uniform and train in their MOS.4 At least two weeks every year they serve a tour of active duty working at the military job they trained to do. Citizen-soldiers are required to take additional time away from civilian jobs to go through military schools to qualify for promotion and retention in the service, which again takes them away from family and civilian jobs. In addition, they may also be called up to active duty for special tours anywhere in the world where the military needs their skills. They are paid commensurate with their rank and if they elect to continue this demanding schedule for at least 20 years, upon retirement they are paid a retirement stipend, receive medical coverage for life for them and their spouse, and all the other benefits that active duty soldiers receive. In the event of a national emergency, like the Roman farmer, Cincinnatus,5 they are subject to “activation” to serve wherever the military assigns them for the duration of the war or the duration of the emergency. I was activated for Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and served 7 months as a Colonel (Chaplain) in the Personnel Office of the Chief of Chaplains at the Pentagon (Washington), to which I was assigned as a Mobilization Designee in reserve status. This meant leaving my family and civilian occupation abruptly in the middle of the academic year. I was a tenured faculty member at Missouri State University, and the university had to cover my classes at the last moment. My salary and benefits at the university stopped and I and my family were completely dependent on the Army for salary and medical benefits. My service to the country came at the cost of a disruption to my academic career and to my family (I left behind a wife with a severely broken ankle). When hostilities began, I had no idea how long the war and separation from home would last.

Citizen-soldiers are members of the National Guard and the U. S. Military Reserve that serve as a ready reserve force for the U. S. Military in times of National emergency.6 To understand why they do it, Mr. Trump, one must first understand patriotism. I have found that career soldiers, both Regulars and Reserve, are motivated to choose a profession of arms out of a sense of patriotism; they continue patriotically serving their country from a sense of professionalism. Still don’t get it? Ask a soldier!

Charles W. Hedrick
Chaplain (Colonel), USAR, retired

*This essay is one of those rare occasions where a current issue has motivated me to stray into politics. It has nothing to do with religion except that the author is a retired U. S. Army Chaplain with thirty years’ service.

2It has been confirmed by several different media outlets that President Trump referred to members of the military who are killed in the course of their service as “losers” and “suckers.” This is the article that started the flap:

3Since I had no financial resources to continue my education the next fall, I enlisted in the Army to secure the educational benefits of the GI Bill—an excellent choice for me.

4MOS, Military Occupational Specialty.

5Cincinnatus was a Roman patrician, statesman, and military leader of the early Roman Republic who was called from his plow to serve the Roman State. At the end of the crisis he returned to his plow.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Is "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself" Something Jesus taught?

It seems likely to me that Jesus knew the Scripture “love your neighbor as yourself.” It was part of the legal code of ancient Israelite religion (Lev 19:18), and other Judeans familiar with the Scriptures surely would have known it. In ancient Israel, however, the neighbor was a fellow-Israelite (Deut 15:1-3; Lev 19:17-18). This definition of neighbor was expanded in Leviticus to include foreigners who came to dwell with the Israelites (Lev 19:33-34). It seems likely that Jesus was aware that the obligation of “loving the neighbor” also included foreigners in their midst. The issue, however, should not be decided on whether he knew the Scripture, but on how well it fitted his ideas and attitudes. Is it something he might have taught?

The Jesus Seminar voted several times on the saying and gave it a weighted average of gray,1 which meant “Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.”2 Unfortunately the Seminar did not vote on the saying Lev 19:18 by itself, but rather they considered it as a package with Deut 6:4-5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:5) as one of the two chief commandments of the law. There was a mail-in vote in 1989 on two of the three occurrences of the “chief commandments” appearing in the gospels: for Matt 22:37-40 and Luke 10:27 (Red, 0; Pink, 33; Gray, 60; Black, 7). At the University of Redlands in 1986 there was a vote on Mark 12:28-34 (Red, 11; Pink, 28; Gray, 22; Black, 39). At the University of Notre Dame also in 1986 there was again a vote on Mark 12:28-34 (Red, 4; Pink, 32; Gray, 28; Black, 36).

Paul (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:9, 10) and James (2:8) knew the saying, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but they do not cite Jesus as their source. It seems more likely that they were familiar with the saying through the Israelite Scriptures. Luke, however, seems to think that the saying fitted the attitudes of Jesus by associating it (Luke 10:25-29, 36-37) with the story Jesus told about a robbery and assault on the Jericho road (Luke 10:30-35). From my perspective Luke’s reading of the story is simply misguided. The story is an exaggeration of what it meant to be a righteous man in late Judaism: “a righteous man risks his life and living for the nobodies of the world.”3 The story has little to do with loving neighbors. But from Luke’s perspective the story reflected an attitude toward others similar with that found in the saying about loving the neighbor.

Surely it is not a wrong thing to love one’s neighbor, even defined as one’s “own people.” Paul even thought that loving the neighbor fulfilled the whole law (Rom 13:8-10)! But loving the neighbor, however defined, does not go far enough. Thus Paul (Rom 13:8a: “owe no one anything except to love one another”) and James (Jas 2:1-9: “show no partiality”) expanded the horizon of the saying “love one’s neighbor” to include one’s fellow human being (an attitude also shared by Jesus in Luke 6:32, which implies that love must be extended beyond one’s own kind); and Jesus expanded the horizon of the saying even further to include love for enemies (Luke 6:27b and Matt 5:43-44).4 Thus, these three ideas, loving one’s neighbor (narrowly defined), loving one’s fellow human being (broadly defined), and loving one’s enemy come together under the obligation to love others. It seems inevitable that Jesus would have taught all three concepts.

While the saying “love your neighbor as yourself” fails to meet the criteria of dissimilarity and multiple attestation, it may be considered a saying of Jesus under the criterion of coherence.5 “Love your neighbor as yourself” is an idea that is consistent with Jesus’ attitudes on love of others, and as such deserves a pink rating; that is to say: “Jesus probably taught something like this.”

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The weighted averages ranged from a high of 0.42 to a low of 0.35: The Jesus Seminar, “Voting Records. Sorted by Group Parallels by Weighted Averages,” Forum 6.3-4 (September/December,1990), 299-352 (319).

2Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 36; Jesus Seminar, “Voting Records. Sorted by Gospels, by Weighted Averages,” Forum 6.3-4, 319.

3Hedrick, Parables as Poetic Fictions. The Creative Voice of Jesus (Peabody. MA: Hendrickson, 1994; reprint, Wipf and Stock, 2005), 116 (93-116).

4Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014), 87-88.

5The Criterion of Coherence states: “material from the earliest stratum of the Jesus tradition may be original, provided it coheres with material established as original by means of the criterion of dissimilarity.” For a short discussion of the criteria for determining authenticity see Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide. Studying Jesus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999; reprint, Wipf and Stock, 2013), 135-52 (143-44).

Sunday, August 23, 2020

What is the Meaning of Life?

Who among us, at one time or another, has not pondered what the meaning of life is, or asked: Why am I here? What’s life all about? These latter two questions are asking about the life of the individual. This essay, however, looks primarily at the issue from the “perspective” of Life itself.

The dictionary gives two definitions for “mean” used as a verb: (1) to mean is to have in mind as a purpose, to intend; (2) to mean is to intend to convey, to show or indicate, to signify. These definitions lead me to the question: what does Life intend or signify, if anything? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to the question. Here is what I think.

According to scientists, the first stirrings of Life on earth were humble:

In those early days lightning and ultraviolet light from the sun were breaking apart the simple hydrogen-rich molecules of the primitive atmosphere, the fragments spontaneously recombining into more and more complex molecules. The products of this early chemistry were dissolved in the ocean, forming a kind of organic soup of gradually increasing complexity, until one day, quite by accident, a molecule arose that was able to make crude copies of itself, using as building blocks other molecules in the soup.1

This description of origin distantly echoes elements of the Genesis account of creation:

The earth was without form and void, darkness was upon the face of the deep…a firmament in the midst of the waters…separate the waters from the waters…earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed…waters bring forth swarms of living creatures… (Gen 1:2, 6, 11, 20 RSV) 

When no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground…formed man of dust from the ground. (Gen 2:4-7 RSV)

The biblical account of creation is a hypothesis and the scientific account is a theory. A hypothesis is a “working hunch or single tentative guess”; a theory is “a broader, more definitely established conceptual scheme. The difference between theory and hypothesis is a matter of degree.”2

However Life on earth may have happened, from inception it must have been self-programmed to survive, continue, and progress—judging by the fact that our earth continues to thrive with Life of all kinds. We Homo sapiens joined this great stream of Life millions of years later.3 Our species emerged from the great stream of Life without being consulted and I doubt we will be consulted about life’s ending or the fading away of our species.

One does well to ponder the meaning of Life, even though there is no definitive answer providing insight into our own personal living of Life. Initially, we pick up a little guidance from the influence of parents, and from that beginning we must make do. The simple truth is we live, and Life will become whatever we make of it.

These observations lead me to think of Life as a spectrum; at one end of the spectrum the meaning of Life is simply the living of it; that is to say: staying alive, or simply existing. At the other end of the spectrum the meaning of Life is living it well, or poorly. Within limits we get to decide which of these three options it will be. Living Life well is whatever one decides “well” is. It might be, as many believe, serving God (if God there be) or helping others; or it might be selling more beer than one’s nearest competitor. Living it poorly translates into frustrating the aggressiveness of life. Life aims at constant movement and improvement. Anything that one does to frustrate or block that intention is living Life poorly. Suicide, war, poverty, ignorance, racism, and other anti-life initiatives all frustrate the bountifulness and progress of Life.

For conscious life-forms4 what to do with life becomes an existential choice; non-conscious life-forms5 progress over time, or not, by means of natural selection, the process by which organisms change based on genes provided by “parents” and natural circumstances. Life’s prime directive for both life-forms is staying alive and progressing in the great stream of life. It is interesting to me that this areligious directive is not unlike that reflected in Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Gen 1:28).6

Perhaps Life’s prime directive will become clearer if one asks oneself what is the meaning of life during a world-wide pandemic? The answer can only be: staying alive!

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 30-31. Here is another description of life’s origins:,and%20are%20classified%20as%20inanimate.

2Louise B. Young, Exploring the Universe (2nd ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 23.


4Conscious life-forms: capable of thought, will, design, or perception.

5Non-conscious life-forms:

6This prime directive is repeated to Noah with some significant differences (Gen 9:3-7). The formula, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is also found at: Gen 28:3; 35:11; 48:4; Lev 26:9; Jer 23:3.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Greek New Testament is a Virtual Text

The word “virtual” means that a thing “is so in essence or effect, although not formally or actually.”1 Thus, the Greek New Testament (GNT) that a scholar pulls off the shelf is a modern construct comprised of readings derived from over 5000 ancient manuscripts, which have been critically compared to each other and evaluated in order to determine what the original author’s copy (the autograph) of an ancient manuscript might have read, according to the scholars who made the GNT. Our modern GNT never existed as such in antiquity in any one gathering of ancient manuscripts. It exists only virtually in that its readings are from different ancient manuscripts. There can be any number of GNT since different groups of scholars evaluate the data differently.

Frequently translations of the GNT used by translators differ from the critical text they are translating. Luke 22:42-45, the prayer of Jesus on the Mount of Olives, is one such example: Verses 43-44, however, are omitted by the Revised Standard Version and an American Translation, both of which read:

“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will but thine, be done.” And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow. (RSV, Luke 22:42, 45)

The following translations, however, include verses 42-43 in their translations: New International Version, James Moffat translation, New American Bible, The Berkeley Version, the New Living Translation:

“Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. (NIV, Luke 22:42-45)

            The Nestle/Aland text (28th revised edition of the GNT) includes Luke 22:42-43 in the text in double square brackets. Double square brackets indicate that the enclosed words are thought not to be a part of the original text, but they are rather very early insertions into the text. The rationale of the Editorial Committee that established the Nestle/Aland GNT was as follows: The absence of these verses in ancient and widely diversified manuscripts, as well as their being marked with asterisks and obeli (signifying spuriousness) by scribes in other manuscripts, and their having been transferred to Matthew’s Gospel (after 26:39) in a few manuscripts strongly suggests that they were not part of the original text of Luke. The presence of Luke 22:43-44 in many manuscripts, some ancient, and as well as their citation by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and many other Fathers of the church is proof of their antiquity. The Committee did not think it probable that the two verses were deleted by scribes who felt that the account of Jesus being overwhelmed with human weakness was incompatible with their belief that he shared the divine omnipotence of the Father. The Committee thought it more probable that they were added to Luke from an early source, oral or written, of extra canonical traditions. In view of the evident antiquity of the two verses and their importance to the textual tradition a majority of the committee decided to retain the words in the text but to enclose them in double square brackets.2

            Specifically, how is the GNT a virtual text? The readings of the original author’s copy, the autograph, may exist somewhere among some 5000 Greek manuscripts dating 3rd century3 and later, but the best that scholars can do is make an intelligent guess at what the autograph might be, based on reason and logic. As this instance shows, however, even logic and reason are sometimes unable to achieve a definitive solution. One cannot look at the apparatus4 of the GNT without recognizing the relative value of the scholarly reconstructions and the challenge they present to the popular epithet of the New Testament, that it is the Word of God.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus

Missouri State University

1Oxford English Dictionary, Compact Edition, s.v., virtual (4th definition).

2This description is adapted from Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (4th ed. rev.; United Bible Societies, 2000), 151.

3There are a few manuscripts dated 2nd century: P52 (John 18:31-33. 37-38); P90 (John 18:36-19:1; 19:2-7); P77 (Matt 23:30-39); P98(?) (Rev 1:13-21); P104 (Matt 21:34-37; 21-43-45 [?]); *0189 (Acts 5:3-21). Two of these are dated 2nd/3rd century: P77; *0189.

4The apparatus of the GNT is the data listed at the bottom of the page noting the significant differences in readings between the ancient manuscripts.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Who Gives Paul Strength?

Here is an interesting question whose answer depends upon a text critical and literary critical analysis of the Bible: What is the proper translation of Philippians 4:13?
1.  Living Bible Paraphrase: "For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."1
2.  King James: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthenth me."2
3.  New International Version: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
4.  Revised Standard Version: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me."
5.  My translation: "I can do all things in the one (masc.) who gives me strength."
In the first two translations Christ is specifically identified as the one who strengthens Paul. In the last three translations it is unclear who does the strengthening.

            The first problem to resolve is what did the author's original autograph of the text read? This is a problem in textual criticism. We have over 5000 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Most of them are fragmentary and no two of these exemplars agree alike in all particulars. Text critics weigh the readings of the various manuscripts, discuss them, and then vote to determine what the author's original autograph most probably read. They will then print that reading in a critical Greek text. In Phil 4:13 they determined that the reading "in Christ" (Xristō) was a later addition to the text:

The Textus Receptus, following several of the later uncials [manuscripts with capital letters] and many minuscules [manuscripts with lowercase letters], adds Xristō ["in Christ"]. If the word had been present in the original text, there would have been no reason to omit it.3

If one decides that the text critics are correct and Christ is not identified as giving strength to Paul, the text becomes unclear. The second question to ask is: who then is Paul asking for strength, God or Jesus? In the immediate context (Phil 4:4-13) God is invoked three times (4:6, 7, 9), and the Lord (God or Jesus?) is invoked three times (4:4, 5, 10). The situation most similar to Phil 4:13 is 2 Cor 12:1-10 where Paul asks "the Lord" to remove his "thorn in the flesh: "Three times I implored the Lord (kurios) about this, that it should leave me." But exactly who Paul is addressing is unclear. If we read through the undisputed Pauline letters searching for appearances of the word "Lord" by itself, we discover that Paul uses the word "Lord" to refer specifically to God,4 at other times specifically to Jesus,5 and once to the master (kurios, lord) of an estate (Gal 4:1). With all other uses of "Lord" by itself it is unclear to whom the word refers.

Most of the usages of Lord to refer to God are within quotations from the Old Testament but the context makes it clear that Paul is referring to God in the passage. Where the word "Lord" refers to Jesus the context makes the situation perfectly clear.

            Who do you think Paul is referring to in Phil 4:13? Who is it that Paul thinks grants him strength? Based on Phil 4:6-7, 9, 19, my money would be on God. How do you see it?

            For my conservative brothers and sisters: this exercise reveals that the Bible is as much a human word as a divine word.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The Living Bible is a paraphrase by Kenneth N. Taylor of the English of the American Standard Version of 1901.
2The King James Version of 1611 is based on the Textus Receptus ("received text"), an ancient Greek text established in the 16th century used mostly by Protestant Groups. Today most scholars use the current Nestle/Aland text, which appears in the 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece.
3Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; German and American Bible Societies, 2000). 550.
4God: Rom 9:29; 10:12-13, 16; 11:3, 34; 12:19; 14:11; 15:11; 1 Cor 1:31; 2:16; 3:20; 4:4; 10:26; 14:21; 2 Cor 6:17-18; 10:17-18;1 Thess 4:6; 5:2.
5Jesus: 1 Cor 2:8; 4:5; 6:14; 7:10; 9:1, 2, 5; 10:21-22; 11:26, 27; 2 Cor 3:16-18; 8:5; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess 1:6; 4:16-17.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thomas Paine and the Bible, Third Part

Readers of the Age of Reason should not assume that Paine is in step with all positions of modern critical scholarship. One way that he is out of step with the results of modern scholarship is his view of the canonical gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Judging by the current state of scholarship, Paine correctly understood that the gospels were anonymous and that their authors were not eye witnesses; that they contradicted one another in many ways both large and small; that they were written many years after the times they describe by persons he described as “half-Jews”16 (meaning, I gather, that they were from a mixed culture); that they were not written by apostles.17 He thought, however, that the canonical gospels were independent of one another,18 whereas the dominant position in modern scholarship postulates that a literary relationship exists between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source drawing on another source no longer extant (Quelle, “source”) for material Matthew and Luke shared but does not exist in Mark. The dominant position on the Gospel of John is that John was written independent of the other three gospels.

            Paine, however, was not really interested in advancing the cause of critical scholarship of the Bible. He was primarily interested in the Bible only as a means of debunking Christianity as a religion of revelation, for Christians argued that the Bible was the word of God, God’s revelation to the world. Paine, on the other hand, argued that it is “fraudulent” to classify the Old and New Testaments as “being all revelation”:

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrible cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the divinity, the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. It is better, far better, that we admitted, if it were possible, a thousand devils to roam at large, and to preach publicly the doctrine of devils, if there were any such, than that we permitted one such imposter and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God in his mouth, and have credit among us. Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Old Testament is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? The lies of the [Old Testament] have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the [New Testament the cause of ] the other.19

Nevertheless, Paine should probably be regarded as something like an “independent” scholar in the history of biblical scholarship. In contemporary language the term means that the individual so designated is not connected to an institution of higher learning, but has the requisite credentials and demonstrated learning to be included among the “guild” of scholars. In Paine’s case he would qualify as a scholar who demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the subject to be taken seriously by others in the field of the critical study of religion. “Layman” is an ecclesiastical term, meaning that that an individual is not ordained clergy, and hence would not be familiar with the professional knowledge of clerics. This term is surely not appropriate for Paine because of his demonstrated hostility against both the church and members of the clergy. As a deist, he would not want to be associated in any way with traditional Christianity.

Although his writing does not reflect the discipline of a mind academically trained, his insights were original for his day. He deserves to be included among the vanguard of modern critical scholarship and required reading for theological seminaries.

Paine deserves the last word. To close this essay, here is a challenging comment from Thomas Paine completely dismissing the entire theological enterprise as practiced in a Christian context, which relies on the Bible for its data:

The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.20

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

16Paine Collection, 217, 219.
17Paine Collection, 210-16.
18Paine Collection, 212, 216.
19Paine Collection, 222.
20Paine Collection, 225.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Thomas Paine and the Bible, Second Part

It is surprising to me that, although my graduate education was in the critical study of the New Testament literature in its historical context, I never read Paine’s Age of Reason. I cannot recall offhand that anyone ever cited Paine as a part of the history of biblical criticism. Because of the character of his book, one would think that at some point I should have encountered Paine’s work since he preceded both D. F. Strauss and F. C. Baur in describing the importance of mythology and its influence on Christianity and was interested in the historical Jesus before Ernst Renan.1

Paine’s writings reflect a better than competent knowledge of the content of the biblical texts. Although he lived at a time when public education was not compulsory, on his own initiative he read in translation many of the Greek and Roman classics, especially in the sciences.2 He was basically self-educated with respect to the biblical texts yet he anticipated many of the positions that critical scholarship has come to hold today.

            For example, Paine anticipated the necessity for textual criticism, a basic approach to the Bible in modern criticism, but did not have the requisite skills or training to follow it through. Textual criticism is an investigation of the ancient manuscripts of the Bible with a view to producing a version of the biblical texts that restores the readings of the originals.3

It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as they now appear under the name of the Old and New Testament, are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them; or whether they added, altered, abridged, or dressed them up.4

The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of willful alteration, are of themselves evidence that human language, whether in speech or in print cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God.—The Word of God exists in something else.5

Paine’s Age of Reason is a part of the Quest for the historical Jesus, an attempt to separate what can be known of the historical man from the Christ of early Christian faith. Paine viewed Jesus as the son of God “in like manner that every other person is; for the Creator is Father of All.”6 The canonical gospels do not present a “history of the life of Jesus Christ but only detached anecdotes of him.” Little is known of his childhood.

Where he lived, or how he employed himself during this interval, is not known. Most probably he was working at his father’s trade, which was that of a carpenter. It does not appear that he had any school education, and the probability is that he could not write, for his parents were extremely poor, as appears from their not being able to pay for a bed when he was born…Jesus Christ founded no new system. He called men to the practice of moral virtues and the belief of one God. The great trait in his character is philanthropy.7

The public career of Jesus was short, lasting “not more than eighteen months.”

            Paine raises the issue of traditional material being found in the Bible, meaning that it was not invented by the author in composing the text in which it appears but was material passed down until its inscription. For example, he says of the Genesis account of creation:

[I]t has all the appearance of being a tradition which the Israelites had among them before they came into Egypt; and after their departure from that country, they put it at the head of their history, without telling, as it is most probable that they did not know how they came by it.8

The canonical gospels he regarded as “founded upon tales, upon vague reports, and put together by I know not what half-Jews, with but little agreement between; and which they have nevertheless published under the names of the apostles of our Lord…”9 The recognition that the Bible contains traditional material anticipates at least two contemporary critical approaches to the biblical literature: Form Criticism (the attempt to identify oral forms in Old and New Testaments before they became incorporated into the biblical texts),10 and Tradition Criticism (the study of Hebrew and Christian oral traditions).11

            Here are a few of the conclusions that Paine shared with contemporary critical scholarship: Moses did not write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible);12 the Book of Proverbs was not written by a single author but it is a collection;13 David is not the author of the Psalms; they are rather a collection;14 and the canonical gospels were not written by eyewitnesses.15 It seems clear that Paine shared the critical spirit of modern scholarship.

            The third part of Thomas Paine and the Bible will follow.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Paine Collection, 148, 153, 156, 161, 170. See Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1968) 1968. For Strauss, pp. 68-77; for Renan, pp. 180-92. For F. C. Baur see:
2Paine Collection, 172, 186.
3W. Randolph Tate, “Textual Criticism,” in Interpreting the Bible. A Handbook of Terms and Methods (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 2006), 368.
4Paine Collection, 158.
5Paine Collection, 160.
6Paine Collection, 161.
8Paine Collection, 158,
9Paine Collection, 217.
10Tate, Interpreting the Bible, 137-38.
11Ibid., 374-75.
12Paine Collection, 186.
13Paine Collection, 159.
14Paine Collection, 200.
15Paine Collection, 216.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Thomas Paine and the Bible, First Part

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-born American. As a youth he attended an English Grammar School (Thetford) for five years (1744-49) before he was apprenticed to his father as a corsetmaker at age thirteen. Later as a master corsetmaker he opened his own shop in Sandwich, Kent in England. He emigrated to America in 1774 at age thirty-seven, where he blossomed into a political activist, philosopher, political theorist, revolutionary, and Bible critic. He is best known for his political pamphlet (1776) Common Sense that had a profound influence on the common folk of the American colonies leading them to support the cause for independence from England.1

            He was born into a religious family (his father was Quaker and his mother, Anglican), but he himself in his maturity described himself as a Deist, which meant the following to Paine:

I believe in one God, and no more, and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.2

The true deist has but one Deity; and his religion consists in contemplating, the power, wisdom, benignity of the Deity in his works [i.e., nature], and endeavoring to imitate him in every thing, moral, scientific, and mechanical.3

When we behold the mighty universe that surrounds us, and dart our contemplation into the eternity of space, filled with innumerable orbs revolving in eternal harmony, how paltry must the tales of the Old and New Testaments, profanely called the word of God, appear to thoughtful man.4

            Paine was severely critical of organized religion of any sort5 and particularly harsh in his condemnation of Christianity and “revealed religion”:

The Christian mythologists, calling themselves the Christian Church, have erected their fable, which for absurdity and extravagance is not exceeded by anything that is to be found in the mythology of the ancients.6

As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of atheism; a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man rather than in God. It is a compound made up chiefly of man-ism but with little deism, and is near to atheism as twilight is to darkness.7

[T]he church has set up a system of religion very contradictory to the character of the person whose name it bears. It has set up a religion of pomp and revenue in pretended imitation of a person whose life was humility and poverty.8

            He had no documented formal training in biblical criticism and did not know Latin or the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew.9 Nevertheless he wrote several pamphlets critical of the Bible, which were collected to form the Age of Reason10 by applying what scholars have later come to know as “literary criticism” in analyzing the biblical texts. Basically his analysis relied on human reason and common sense in reading the texts. What is surprising is that he claimed to have written Part One of the Age of Reason without access to a written Bible at the time of writing but rather he was writing from memory.11

Paine was arrested in France on charges of treason and jailed in the French prison at Luxembourg on December 28, 1793.12 His release was secured by his friend James Monroe on November 4, 1794.13 Before he was arrested, he hurriedly finished Part One of the Age of Reason, and entrusted it to a friend, as he was on his way to prison.14 While he was in prison, Part One was translated into French and published without Paine having proofed it.15 Not knowing what might happen to him or the manuscript he had written, Paine says he committed it through his friend Joel Barlow “to the protection of the citizens of the United States.”16 Part Two of the Age of Reason was written in the home of James Monroe while he was recovering from his incarceration of nearly a year. Monroe found him in prison “more dead than alive from semi-starvation, cold, and an abscess. It was not supposed that he could survive.”17

After his release from prison, he acquired “a Bible and a Testament,” and commented “that I have found them to be much worse books than I had conceived. If I have erred in anything, in the former part of the Age of Reason, it has been by speaking better of some parts than they deserved.”18

Much of Paine’s critique of the Bible in the late 18th century surprisingly parallels many of the insights of contemporary critical biblical scholarship. Paine’s critique of the Bible and modern critical scholarship will be the subject of a second essay to follow.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


2Thomas Paine, Thomas Paine Collection. Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason, An Essay on Dream, Biblical Blasphemy, Examination of the Prophecies: Age of Reason (1793-94), 152. [No editor or publication information given.]

3Paine Collection, 173.

4Paine Collection, 233.

5Paine Collection, 152.

6Paine Collection, 156.

7Paine Collection, 167.

8Paine Collection, 162.

9Paine Collection, 169-70, 172.

10Age of Reason consists of two parts and a never published third part, consisting of several essays: an Essay on Dream, Biblical Blasphemy, Examination of the Prophecies, Appendix; and an essay entitled, My Private Thoughts on a Future State: Paine Collection. Table of Contents.

11Paine Collection, 183.

12Luxembourg Prison was formally a palace but turned into a prison during the French Revolution:,for%20crimes%20against%20the%20country.

13Paine Collection, 149.

14Paine Collection, 183.

15Paine Collection, 145, 183.

16Paine Collection, 183.

17Paine Collection, 149.

18Paine Collection, 184.