Monday, September 6, 2021

The Fall

A principal teaching of orthodox Christianity is that human beings have the stain of “original sin” within them. “Original sin is the Christian doctrine that humans inherit a tainted nature and proclivity to sin through the fact of birth.”1 The belief that human beings are born with a proclivity to sin is not found in the Bible. It is a belief that began to emerge in the third century and was given its classic statement by Augustin of Hippo and from him it passed into orthodox Christian theology. Even the word “Sin,” as it appears in English is a religious term used by church folk to describe unacceptable behavior in human beings from a religious perspective and has been defined as follows: “In a religious context sin is a transgression against divine law. Each culture has its own interpretation of what it means to commit a sin. While sins are generally considered actions, any thought, word, or act considered immoral, selfish, shameful, harmful, or alienating might be termed sinful.”2 In the secular world the term “sin” is not used to describe unacceptable behavior. In society at large formal deviant, lawbreaker, or criminal would be terms corresponding to the term sin in a religious context, because the unacceptable behavior is a breaking of the laws of the land. We also use other terms to describe the breaking of social mores, such as informal deviance, improper behavior, or social faux pas in a social context. Social mores are different in different social contexts. Only in religious contexts is sin an appropriate word for describing human behavior.

            Christians who believe that human beings have a penchant for committing sin usually trace the origin of this human inclination to commit sin to the second of the two creation myths in the Bible (Gen 2:4b-2:24), and the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (3:1-24). This account (called the Yahwistic account) focuses on man’s rebellion against God and its outcome. The Priestly account of creation (Gen 1:1-2:4a) focuses on the creation of the heavens and the earth. The rationale that human beings are stained with original sin is a product of how one reads the Bible, and the argument proceeds on the basis of ideas that Christians have about the Bible. It is not an argument made by the writers of the biblical texts themselves.

Here is one way of explaining the rationale that ties original sin to the story about the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden:

Since God made man good the tendency to sin which forms part of his inheritance must be traced back to the disobedience of the first couple in paradise, from whom all are descended. Intercourse, conception, and birth rendered individuals unclean in matters of cult [in ancient Israel, Lev 12:1f; 15:16-18], but were not regarded as sinful in themselves or able to produce the tendency to sin. We are all doing penance for the sin of our first parents by suffering and dying, since “through a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all must die [Sirach 25:24]…through the envy of the devil death has come into the world [Wis 2:24]; easily and logically then we arrive at the conclusion that the sin in paradise is imputed to all men as guilt and is the reason why we carry in ourselves the inclination to evil.3

It is clear from Heinisch’s first sentence his entire rationale is based on his belief system that somehow the creation myth is a historical account of how things actually were, rather than “a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people.”4 It serves the Yahwist as a myth of origins of the ancient Israelite people explaining why it is that men must earn their living by the sweat of their brow tilling the soil (Gen 3:17-20) and women must suffer pain in childbearing and be submissive to their husbands (Gen 3:16). Heinish’s rationale is not mandated by the text in Genesis; that is to say, original sin is not an idea contained in the text. The passages in Genesis do not use either the word sin or the term original sin. The story becomes about original sin in Heinish’s mind.

In the Yahwist’s scheme the story deals with the deeper question of why man and woman, God’s creatures, refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of their Creator, with the result that history is a tragic story of banishment from the life for which they were intended.5

Human beings are more complex and diverse than is allowed by the belief that they deliberately sin against divine law because it is built into the genome system inherited from the mythical characters Adam and Eve.

None of us are perfect, but some of us are worse than others.

How do you see it?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original sin

2en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin

3Paul Heinish, Theology of the Old Testament (trans. William G. Heidt; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1955), 254. References to original sin are not usually found in the subject index to critical Old Testament commentaries.

4Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1990), s.v., myth.

5B. W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (3rd ed.; Prentice-Hall, 1975), 211.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Do Contradictions in the Bible make any Difference?

Here is the definition of a contradiction: "a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another." For me this raises the question: Does even one contradiction between biblical texts make any difference as to how one understands the nature of the Bible? Here is one verifiable contradiction between two biblical writers: Paul, the earliest writer of the New Testament (around 50 CE) and the anonymous writer of Second Peter, the latest writer in the New Testament (around 150 CE). In Rom 8:18-25 Paul says that the creation (ktisis) itself "will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (8:21). He continues his thought about creation in 1Cor 7:31: "the world (kosmos) in its present form (schema) is passing away." Second Peter (3:10), on the other hand, announces that "the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth (gē) and the works that are upon it will be burned up." Since the creation (i.e., the entire created order of things) cannot both be a redeemed ktisis and a burned up ktisis, it would appear that these writers contradict one another on the future prospects of creation, as they understood it.1 What difference might this one contradiction make on how one understands the nature of the Bible? Or put another way, what does it mean for the Bible that it contains contradictions? What follows is my attempt to address the significance of even one contradiction in the Bible.

It means that these two authors do not share the same view as to the ultimate end of the creation. It should also be added that the authors of Third Isaiah (65:17) and the Apocalypse (Rev 21:1-4) disagree with Paul and agree with the author of Second Peter that the whole of creation will ultimately be destroyed. The author of Ecclesiastes, however, seems to disagree with the idea that the earth will be changed in any way: "A generation goes and a generation comes but the earth remains forever." (Eccl 1:4).

It means that there is no single biblical view about the ultimate end of the creation and that, in turn, means the Bible ("God's Word" to many people of faith) is not the ultimate authority on everything in life, as I have heard some ministers claim. Three different positions are taken regarding the entirety of creation, one by Paul and another by the anonymous author of Second Peter and others, and a third view by the author of Ecclesiastes. If one position is selected to represent the "biblical view," then the others have been rejected as being invalid explanations.

            It means that the Bible is better viewed historically rather than theologically. Here is a Southern Baptist view of the "Scriptures":

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.2

This statement, however, does not describe the Bible; it is a theological description of what many (not all) Southern Baptists believe about the Bible. Describing the Bible in a neutral way is a complex enterprise. There are just too many variables to be considered. Here is an attempt at a brief description and even this description does not cover all the issues:3

There are three ancient religious collections (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant) that are called the Bible:

These three collections constitute the traditional remains of two different religious communities, which extend from the Israelite Exodus to the writing of 2 Peter. They reveal different social, cultural, ethical, and religious traditions covering around 1200 years. The Jewish Bible is a library of traditional writings of the ancient Israelites containing among other things the history of the Israelite people told from a religious perspective, along with its ancient laws, prophetic literature, hymnbook, wisdom literature, etc., from the 13th century BCE to roughly 400 BCE (second temple period). The Apocrypha consists of additional Jewish religious texts written between 300 BCE to 70 CE. The New Testament (50 CE to early second century) contains among other things stories, personal correspondence and theological essays.4

It means that the texts comprising the biblical collection are not "a perfect treasure of Divine instruction" or that the biblical matter is "without any mixture of error," simply because it contains contradictions, which must be considered errors and inconsistencies. That in turn means that the Bible could not derive from a perfect deity and could not be "God's Word."

The Bible does not belong to the Church and Synagogue but rather its collected texts, before being collected, belonged individually to the historical movement of human civilization. In short, the Bible is a collection of human words about different views of God in antiquity. One contradiction appears to do a great deal of damage to modern pious views about the Bible.

Something to think about.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1For a brief discussion of the fate of the earth, see Hedrick, "Will the Earth Abide," pp. 35-37 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019). The contradiction between Paul and the author of Second Peter is but "the tip of the iceberg." Here is another contradiction of which the reader may be unaware between the Christian Old Testament and the New Testament. How did Moses come by the Torah? In Exodus and Deuteronomy Moses is described as receiving the Torah the first time directly from God (Deut 9:9-10). Moses broke the first set of tablets and was given a second set, again given directly to him by God (Deut 10:1-5). In the New Testament, however, Paul (Gal 3:19; see also Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2) says that the law was "ordained through angels" (RSV). So, did Moses receive the law directly from God, or was it mediated through angels? For a discussion of how Moses came by the Torah, see Hedrick "How did Moses come by the Torah?" pp. 266-68 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.

2The Baptist Faith and Message Statement, June 14, 2000: https://sbts.edu/about/bfm

3For a more complete picture of its complexity, See Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 87-97.

4Hedrick, "What about the Bible gives it the Status Word of God," Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 94.

Monday, August 9, 2021

A Religious Experience?

What are religious experiences and whence do they arise? I raise the question because certain observations seem to challenge the adjective “religious” as being produced by spirit forces outside oneself. Here are the first two observations:

If God is spirit (John 4:24), then God is not an entity existing in space and time, as we human beings do. We humans are existents, bound in space and time during our brief lives. God, on the other hand, appears to be nothing more than a concept, an invention of the human imagination, whose nature and character changes with each religious group and/or individual. Hence, it appears that God, however conceived, has no independent being, which exactly corresponds to any of those ideations of the human mind.

The rationale for this surprising statement is self-evident when viewed from the perspective of the history of world religions. Each religion (and there have been a lot of religions through human history) conceives God differently, yet the adherents of this or that religion believe that God is exactly like what they conceive. In short, they believe their view is the only accurate and true view that captures the essence of God. But, alas, different understandings of God do exist in other religions and the adherents of these other religions likewise think that their understanding of God is exactly how God is.1

Here is the third observation:

Spirit may still be “tangible,” however; depending on how it is conceived. If spirit is conceived as an entity that takes up space, like visible steam from a tea kettle, or the nearly invisible vapor arising from a heated substance, or the taste left in the rum cake when the “spirits” have evaporated, then it is tangible. If spirit is not left-over taste, or vaporous mist—or something barely visible to the naked eye; that is, if spirit does not leave an image on the retina of the eye, what is it?

I would suppose that God, as intangible spirit, is likely a denizen of a parallel spirit(ual) universe, a complex that does not occupy space and time. In this case, God is not part of the physical universe, but “over there” in the spirit(ual) universe, along with other invisible spirits (good, evil, and unclean), demons, devils, Satan, and other spiritual forces, such as angels, the Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph 2:2), the Principalities and Powers in heavenly places (Eph 3:10), the world rulers of the present darkness (Eph 6:12), the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph 6:12), angels, principalities, powers (Romans 8:38), etc.,2 and including the myriads of other spirits humankind has invented through time.

I boil these three lengthy observations down into three propositions: (1) God, if God there be, does not occupy space and time and (2) is not part of our universe; (3) our human inability to access God directly renders any description of God completely subjective and idiosyncratic.

If these propositions have any merit, then what we think of as a “religious” experience is simply a human response to a perceived “attraction” from a putative spirit world,3 and the “substance” of our religious experiences is all of our own making; it arises from within an individual and is formed by human experience; that is, it derives from what we have been taught by others, from our personal reading, from social conditioning, and the like. In other words, we humans create at a subliminal level “religious” experiences for ourselves out of our personal experiences.

William James, in his Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in Human Nature, examines religious experiences by beginning with individuals who claim to have had such experiences. He examines “the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”4 For an experience to qualify as religious, James cites three criteria: it must reflect religious luminousness, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness. He finds that the essence of religion is human feeling “characterized as a zest for life” coupled with a sense that there is something wrong with us that requires a solution whereby we can be saved from wrongness by connecting with higher power. There are two types of religious psyches: the healthy minded who are unburdened by a sense of sin, and the sick souls who are burdened with a sense of sin. Conversion occurs for the latter person, whereby the divided and unhappy self becomes unified and happy. James has been criticized for relying too closely on liberal-Protestant sources and citing insufficient non-Christian anecdotes. This brief statement of the analysis of religious experience sounds very similar to what I stated in the preceding paragraph.

I realize that many will object that I have gone off the deep end by claiming that spirits, Holy or otherwise, are not found in our universe. Spirits, however, like God, can only be analyzed indirectly through the anecdotal claims of human beings who claim to have experienced them. Our inability to examine spirits directly renders any attempt to describe them completely subjective and idiosyncratic. In short, the evidence for spirits, Holy or otherwise, derives from the psychological makeup of the human beings who claim to have experienced them.

Something to think about!

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Hedrick, “God Does not Exist” pp. 168-70 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 168.

2Hedrick, “From Where does a Sense of the Divine Come,” pp. 170-72 in Unmasking, 170.

3Hedrick, Matter and Spirit: Making Sense of it All,” pp. 174-177 in Unmasking, 176-77.

4Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in Human Nature (New York: Longmans, Green and company, 1905). I am following a review of the book by Tim Knepper: http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/relexp/reviews/review_james01.htm

Friday, July 23, 2021

Paul and the Practice of Laying on of Hands

In the undisputed letters1 Paul does not use the expression "Laying hands on…" In fact, he does not even use the word "laying on" (epitithēmi). It is doubtful that he even shared Luke's view of the Holy Spirit: that the Holy Spirit was a gift that could be passed on by the laying on of  hands and that resulted in "signs and wonders by the hands of the apostles" (Acts 5:12). I assume that in Acts these signs and wonders would be considered dramatic displays of divine power, such as, for example, the wonder-working hands of spirit filled apostles (Acts 28:8-9), the appearance of tongues as of fire and speaking in other tongues (Acts 2:3-4), sudden death to those who "agree together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord" (Acts 5:9-10), the healing of the sick and demon-possessed people by Peter's shadow (Acts 5:12-16), and the like.

            In the undisputed letters Paul seems to associate the presence of God's spirit/Holy Spirit within one as initiating with faith in Jesus (1 Cor 3:16; Rom 8;9-11). One receives the Spirit by hearing with faith (Gal 3:2-5). In fact, no one can say "Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). There is no human intermediary through whom God's spirit comes; rather the spirit comes from God (1 Thess 4:8; 2 Cor 1:22). "Things from God are freely given" (1 Cor 2:12; Rom 3:24). Paul does write about "spiritual gifts" but speaks of these gifts as given by God through, and inspired by, the spirit (1 Cor 12:4-26). "You are Christ's body," Paul writes, and God "appoints" functionaries for the gatherings of the body (1 Cor 12:27-31).

God as spirit is described by Paul in various ways: "the spirit" and "his spirit" (Rom 8:11), "the spirit of God" (Rom 8:9), "the spirit of holiness" (Rom 1:4), "the spirit of the living God" (2 Cor 3:3), "his holy spirit" (1 Thess 4:8), the "holy spirit" (Rom 5:5).  Spirit and holy spirit are used interchangeably in 1 Cor 12:3. He even uses the expression "spirit of Christ" interchangeably with the "spirit of God" (Rom 8:9-11; Gal 4:6-7).2

How then should one explain 2 Cor 12:12 and Romans 15:18-19? (which sound very Lucan and in the spirit of Luke/Acts)? Paul writes to the Corinthians: "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." How might Paul have understood this kind of language (1 Cor 4:20), when he gives the reader no examples of such dramatic displays of divine power as are found in Acts?

            One possibility is that he uses these power expressions to describe his personal interactions with people and to enhance the power of God's spirit in human relationships.

When I came to you brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor 2:1-5).

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:3-5).

In other words, Paul is claiming that whatever successes he may have had in advancing the gospel enterprise is due to the power of God's spirit working in and through him, in spite of his many weaknesses (1 Cor 4:8-21; 2 Cor 13:3-4). He did not correct his critics, the "superlative apostles" (2 Cor 11:5), when they claimed that his "bodily presence is weak and his speech of no account" (2 Cor 10:9-11), and he admitted that he was unskilled in public speaking (2 Cor 11:6). The only thing he could brag about were his many weaknesses (2 Cor 11:16-33; 12:6-10). His claim is that the power of God works through him, so that when he is weak, then he is strong (2 Cor 12:7-10). What he preaches comes not only in word but also "in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thess 1:5; 2 Rom 15:18-21), so that through the power of God's holy Spirit, the Corinthians may abound in hope (Rom 15:13). The signs of a true apostle are the building up of the gathering of saints, the tearing down of every stronghold blocking the Gospel of Christ, and his strong successes among the Gentiles, and the like.

            One overlap with displays of spiritual power as found in Acts is speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:1-40; Acts 2:1-13), which is described by Paul as "uttering mysteries in the spirit."3 Speaking in tongues is a personal experience. The one who speaks in tongues "edifies himself" (1 Cor 14:4), but prophecy "edifies the church" (1 Cor 14:4). Paul claims that he "speaks in tongues" more than the rest of the Corinthians (1 Cor 14:18), which for Paul seems to be a kind of personal prayer language that only benefits the one praying (1 Cor 14:14). He considers the gift of tongues a lesser gift because it requires an interpreter (1 Cor 14:27-28). In church, Paul would rather speak five words of prophecy than 10,000 words in a tongue (1 Cor 14:19), because of the obvious benefits of prophecy to the church (1 Cor 14:2-254). In this section it appears that Paul is attempting to lessen the high value that the Corinthians presumably place on speaking in tongues and to advance the value of prophecy for the church.

Paul's critics, whom he snidely called "superlative apostles," were in Paul's view false apostles, deceitful workmen (2 Cor 11:13-15), and peddlers of God's word (2:17). They accused him, among other things, of "not being an apostle at all, for his ministry among the Corinthians had not been marked by signs and wonders and mighty works (12:1-12)."4 Paul, however, insisted that that he was an apostle and had performed the signs of a true apostle among the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:11-12) in the sense that I have argued above, but specifically not in the sense that Luke portrayed in Acts.

Should it matter to readers of the New Testament that Luke and Paul do not agree on the character of God's holy spirit?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Thessalonians.

2Hedrick, "Is the Holy Spirit part of a Trinity," pp. 177-179 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 177.

3Tongues in Acts are different from tongues in 1 Corinthians. In Acts the "gift" of tongues seems to be that the speaker speaks in his native language while others hear in their own native languages. It is not as in Paul a personal prayer language.

4S. M. Gilmour, "Corinthians, Second Letter to The," pp. 692-98 in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon, 1962), 696.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Laying on Hands, To Pass On the Holy Spirit

In ordination services today many religious groups practice the custom of laying hands on candidates for ministry. This is their moment of ordination in the religious group. The laying on of hands appears in the Israelite tradition for several purposes: to transfer the sins of the people to the scapegoat (Lev 16:21-22), to identify a blasphemer by those who heard him blaspheme God’s Name (Lev 24:14), laying hands upon bulls, one of which is selected as a sin offering (Num 8:12), to do physical violence to someone (Neh 13:21; Est 3:6), to appoint a new leader, following Moses, who (Num 27:15-23) would be full of the spirit of wisdom (Deut 34:9), and speak the words of Yahweh (Deut 18:18).

The practice of laying on of hands is referred to in several New Testament texts with no certain reason as to why hands are being laid on someone (1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6; Heb 6:1-2). In other cases, specific reasons are given: sick people are healed by having hands laid on them (Mark 6:5; 16:18; Luke 4:40; Luke 13:13; Acts 28:8), laying on of hands is an act done before praying for someone (Matt 19:13-15), laying on of hands is done to bring someone back to life (Mark 5:23), laying on of hands is a metaphor for doing physical violence to someone (Luke 21:12), hands are laid on someone to commission them (Acts 6:6; 13:2-3).

            The most interesting reason for the laying on of hands is a feature that appears only in Acts. It is a means of giving the Holy Spirit. Peter and John are dispatched from Jerusalem to lay hands on certain people in Samaria who “had received the word of God” and had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Yet, the Holy Spirit had not fallen on any of them. Peter and John lay hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-24; see also Acts 9:17; 19:6). Curiously the Holy Spirit apparently also operates independently of the human medium and the Spirit simply spontaneously “falls” on whomever it chooses (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15).

This curiosity (Spirit by hands/no hands) raises several questions. Why didn’t the Holy Spirit spontaneously fall on those in Samaria (Acts 8:14-24)? Why was human mediation needed in that particular instance? Does a necessary relationship exist between the hands of Peter and John and the gift of the Holy Spirit? In other words, do the Apostles control the giving of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands?

            It is not surprising that there should be Greco-Roman and Near Eastern parallels before the Christian period for the laying on of hands. Hands are laid on to heal, to exorcise demons, to install officials, and to consecrate.1 I am more interested in the Apostles as a reservoir of the Holy Spirit than with the other reasons why hands are laid on in these pre-Christian parallels. Is there a Greco-Roman parallel for special persons being infused with divine power? Apostles (Acts 11:24) were said to be “full of the Holy Spirit,” as were the seven chosen to administer the distribution of food to widows (Acts 6:1-6, 7:55). Even disciples bestowed the Holy Spirit through the laying on of their hands (Acts 9:10, 17). If these persons in the early church were “full” of God’s Spirit, we should likely think of the Spirit residing in them in a fashion similar to that in the possession by evil spirits, for example, in the story told by Jesus (Luke 11:24-26=Matt 12:43-45). In other words, God’s Spirit possessed the Apostles, rather than the Apostles possessing the Spirit.

We should not think of God’s Holy Spirit as an appendage to God, or as a second entity so that one may distinguish it as an entity independent from God; for “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). Hence, the depiction of the Apostles being possessed by God’s spirit is a kind of “divine” possession similar to the slave girl who had a “Pythian Spirit” in Acts 16:16. The Pythia was an “inspired” oracle through whom the God Apollo spoke. “She was the instrument of the God’s revelations at Delphi” in ancient Greece.2 “Crowned with laurel, she sat on the tripod [of the God Apollo], became possessed by the god, and, shaking a laurel, prophesied under divine inspiration.”3 In like manner the Apostles and other disciples are thought to be possessed by “God, who is the Spirit,” to perform their mighty deeds, as indeed was Jesus (Luke 4:1).

Except for the name of the authority under which the act occurs, there is little difference between The Pythia’s possession by Apollo for prophetic utterances, the slave girl’s possession by the Pythian spirit, or the Apostles’ possession by the Holy Spirit. They were all thought to be possessed by divine power (Acts 1:8, 8:19, 10:38; Rom 15:13). That people can be possessed by spirits both good and evil is simply part of the belief structure of antiquity. The only difference is the naming of the different authorities under which the various acts are performed.

How do you see it?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1John Fleter Tipei, “The laying on of Hands in the New Testament” (PH.D. Thesis, University of Sheffield, July 2000), 81-95 https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/3506/1/339937.pdf

2Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed.; Eerdmans, 2003), 214. See also Hedrick, “Prophecy, Divination, and Fate,” Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 250-56.

3Christine Sourvinou-Inwood, “Delphic oracle” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.; Oxford University Press, 1999), 445.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole

In 1865 Lewis Carroll wrote a novel about a seven-year old English girl named Alice who, bored with a book her sister was reading, chased a large white rabbit with pink eyes down a rabbit hole “into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.”1 The literary nonsense genre “is a broad categorization of literature that balances elements that make sense with some that do not with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.”2 It strikes me that the definition of literary nonsense literature in many ways is an apt description of the biblical world when compared to the world in the 21st century. Nonsense literature “has a kind of internal lunatic logic of its own, and often comprises enigmatic variations on the absurd.”3 The absurd in contemporary literature and literary criticism is a term reflecting “[e]xtreme forms of illogic, inconsistency, and nightmarish fantasy.”4

The Earth and the cosmos, as we currently learn about them in public schools and the universities of Western culture, are quite different from the worlds reflected in nonsense literature. The world today operates on the basis of the observations and principles of modern science. This includes the physiological and psychological make up of human beings, and the animal and plant kingdoms, which evolve on the basis of natural selection.

Reading the Bible, entering its world, is much like going down Alice’s rabbit hole. One finds in its pages a world that operates with a logic all its own yet illogically from the perspective of modern science. In the Bible one finds talking snakes (Gen 3:1-13) and donkeys (Num 22:5); that the laws of physics can be suspended so that the earth can be paused in its journey around the sun (Josh 10:6-14); that a Judean Holy man can feed 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:32-44); that the dead can walk after an earthquake opens their graves (Matt 27:52-54); that magic cloth has the “magical” capability to heal disease (Acts 19:11-12); that ax-heads can float (2 Kgs 6:1-7); and that the bones of a dead holy man, like a talisman, possess the power to raise the dead (2 Kgs 13:20-21).5 The “logic” that enables these fantasies to work is the presence in the universe of invisible spirit forces.

The biblical world is the scene of a great cosmic struggle between the invisible forces of Good and Evil (Eph 6:10-12). Demonic forces cause sickness (Luke 11:14), insanity (Mark 5:1-20), epilepsy (Matt 17:14-21), paralysis and other diseases (Matt 4:24). They can demonize the human body (Matt 12:43-45) and cause deafness and muteness (Mark 9:25). On the other hand, there are emissaries (Matt 25:41) of an invisible power stronger than the demons but this power sometimes helps (Acts 12:11) or sometimes harms (Acts 12:23) people.6

Many continue to view the cosmos from this religious and superstitious perspective. Nevertheless, in the modern Western world, the strength of the biblical worldview has been rendered ineffective because of the advances of modern medicine. In the ancient world what was attributed to unseen invisible forces has been successfully explained by science as due to natural causes. For example, organisms (germs and viruses), unseen by the naked eye but visible under magnification, cause disease; evil spirits do not. Medical practitioners have virtually replaced the religious shaman as the first to consult in the case of illness. The physician’s advice and treatment, rather than prayer or exorcism, is now sought first to combat what in the ancient past were understood to be disease-causing spirits.

The texts that comprise the Bible are flawed by their antiquity and hence the collection is only marginally reliable as a basis for contemporary life. Those anti-intellectual institutions that continue to measure the world and human life by the Bible’s flawed views will only succeed in marginalizing themselves further from the mainstream in the 21st century. Figuring out what century one lives in is a primary responsibility of living in the present.

Here is the main point of this mini-essay: The Bible does not depict a world that actually was but rather a world as it was perceived to be.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland.

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_nonsense.

3J. A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (revised by C.E. Preston; 4th ed.; London: Basil Blackwell, 1999), 551.

4C. H. Holman and W. Harmon, A Handbook to Literature (6th ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2.

5Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 1-12.

6Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 20-22.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Worship in the Ancient Christian Tradition

It has been common for Baptists to describe what the church does on Sunday mornings at the customary hour of eleven as "worship." The gathering of the church at this hour is referred to as the "morning worship service." Baptists regard this ritual as one hour in the week that the church formally and corporately revers or pays homage to the deity,1 or as Gaines S. Dobbins, the imminent Baptist educator, said it is an hour the church recognizes the "worth-ship" of God. Be that as it may, whatever else this gathering is, it is clearly a Baptist ritual or rite. Ritual is defined as "any formal and customarily repeated act or series of acts." A rite is defined as "a prescribed form or manner governing the words or actions for a ceremony."2 The word that describes such rituals in the New Testament is sebomai, which means the expressing in gestures, rites, or ceremonies an allegiance or devotion to deity; that is to say worship in a corporate sense.3

            In my experience virtually all protestant and catholic churches follow similar rituals (Quaker services, I have read, are more spontaneous4). Until recently the Baptist Church that I currently attend follows, in general, a basic ritual for Sunday morning worship that varies a bit depending on emphasis or the season. The following elements seem regularly standard, however:

Welcome; Call to worship; Hymn/Praise song; Opening prayer; Hymn/Praise song(s); Prayers of and for the people followed by the Lord's Prayer; Reading of the text for the day; Special Music; Preaching/Sermon/Lecture; Prayer; Song of Commitment/Dedication; Benediction, Postlude.

Ritualistic language introduces aspects of the various parts, particularly in the benediction. A short meditative video is generally used in various parts of the service.

Describing this Sunday morning ritual as "worship" led me to ponder two questions: (1) how does what Baptists do on Sunday morning compare to the earliest gatherings of Jesus followers? (2) how is it that corporate ritual can be construed as worship?

The early Jesus followers (not yet Christians) did gather together (1 Cor 11:17-33) for encouragement (Heb 10:25), to gather contributions for mission work (1 Cor 16:1-4) on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1-4; Acts 20:7). They also gathered to break bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 11:17-22). Music, teaching, admonishing one another, and giving thanks to the Lord were also a part of their gatherings (Eph 5:19-20; Col 3:16). The only extended passage I know, describing a gathering of Jesus followers, is 1 Cor 14:1-40. This passage is unlike gatherings in the mainstream churches that emerged from the Protestant Reformation (Anabaptist, Anglicanism, Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic, Orthodox). It focuses on speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophesying. None of which, in my experience, have been a part of Baptist gatherings for worship. Paul tried to order the confusion in the gathering with this comment: "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (1 Cor 14:26). Yet he concedes that prophecy and tongues should continue to be a part of the Corinthians' gatherings (1 Cor 14:39-40). But I do not find in any of the passages I mentioned that these early followers of Jesus described their gatherings as worship.5 The word worship is derived from Old English and Middle English rather than from Greek. In the writings of the earliest New Testament writer (Paul) five words have been translated as worship in modern translations: proskuneō (1 Cor 14:25); latreuō (has the sense of carrying out of religious duties of a cultic nature; Rom 1:9, 25; Phil 3:3); sēbazomai (Rom 1:25); latreia (Rom 12:1; 9:4); leitourgeia (2 Cor 9:12; Phil 2:17, 30). The lexicon Danker-Bauer translates only three of these words using the English word worship: proskuneō, sebazomai, and latreia. It appears to me that Paul uses two of these words to describe individual worshippers (1 Cor 14:25; Rom 12:1; 9:4). He uses latreia once (Rom 9:4) describing worship in a corporate sense when writing of the worship of the ancient Israelites (as does Heb 9:1).6 In Romans 12:1 he appears to address my question when he describes worship as an individual act rather than a corporate act:

I therefore appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship (logikēn latreian).

            The heart of the issue seems to lie in the following question: are cultic acts to be considered worship or is worship only characterized by an inner attitude of awe? No doubt many Baptists on a Sunday morning only formally carry out cultic acts of a ritual nature, for who never dozes or finds their minds wandering during prayers or sermons. And if that is the case how can a corporate act be worship if all are not completely engaged?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The deity that is the focus of the service is increasingly changing from God to Christ under the influence of the Trinitarian dogma, which is not reflected per se in the New Testament.

2Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, s. v., ritual, rite.

3F. C. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago and London: University of Chicago, 2000).

4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meeting_for_worship#:~:text=A%20meet.ing%20for%20worship%20is,comparable%20to%20a%20church%20service.&text=Attenders%20are%20encouraged%20to%20speak,and%20beneficial%20to%20the%20meeting

5Except, perhaps, for Eph 5:19.

6It is worth mentioning that at least two of the prophets report that Yahweh was repulsed by the corporate worship of the ancient Israelites: Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Have you ever Doubted your Faith?

Someone asked me recently: have you ever doubted your faith? The question itself is interesting as a question. For one reason, it seems to be lacking a prepositional phrase specifying the object of faith. For example, have you ever doubted your faith in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible? Or perhaps the questioner intended that the word "faith" in the question evoke the entire spectrum of my religious beliefs. Or perhaps the question is more secular and the questioner was asking whether I have ever doubted faith in friends, family, or country, and in this secular form it has the general thrust of have I ever doubted the confidence I placed in something that I believe to be certain, like gravity, for example. If all these observations are possibilities, then I must refine the question and pick the subject that is most interesting to me.

Here is the question I choose to address: have I ever doubted aspects of my personal religious faith? The short answer is yes, and I suspect that every one of us has moments of doubt about aspects of religious belief. At least I hope so. From my perspective doubting something you think is certain is a positive ability, not a liability. Doubt is a warning mechanism of the mind that can lead to a correction of misplaced confidence.

Like everyone, my personal religious faith has never been static. It began with the child's prayer I was taught, "now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." But through the years it has become more sophisticated, logical, and rational with education, as my understanding of life and my place in the cosmos evolved. My faith began with what I was taught in a Southern Baptist Sunday School in the Mississippi Delta of the 40s and 50s. Hence, it was traditional and conservative. Since childhood, however, my faith has been a thing in process, shedding childish ideas and developing in, what I regard as more mature and philosophical ways. There is a statement attributed to the Apostle Paul (that he likely did not compose), which best characterizes the development and remaindering of the faith of my childhood: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways" (1 Cor 13:11 NRSV). Doubt has played a major role in developing and remaindering my religious faith. A major premise for me has been the following: faith may not require me to believe something I find to be patently false or impossible given the world as I experience it.

Briefly here are three examples of where this process has brought me. God, if God there be, is spirit and does not exist in the sense that we normally use the word "exist." As spirit, God is not an entity that occupies space and time, as we human beings do. God, as understood by human beings, appears to be an invention of the human mind, whose character and nature change with the confessions of each religious group and individual. God does not correspond exactly to any of the many ideations of the human mind that claim to describe God. And if God does correspond exactly to one of these ideations, how could we tell? The Jewish and Christian Bibles present at least three different concepts of God. Thus, God, if God there be, is shrouded in mystery. There can be no direct knowledge of God. We learn about God from what others tell us, from the study of religions, and from those who claim to have experienced God, but all these sources offer us radically conflicting opinions.1

Whatever else he may have been, Jesus was certainly regarded as a Judean sage, thaumaturge, and healer, or at least the author of the earliest canonical Gospel, Mark, regarded him as such, and those features are reproduced in the other three canonical gospels. His popularity with the masses and laxity in following the traditions of the elders ran him afoul of the Judean religious leaders. He was arrested, found guilty of blasphemy, and eventually crucified for political reasons by Roman authority. The early followers of Jesus, however, believed him to be much more, and used grandiose titles to describe him: God (John 20:28), son of God, Lord, the Anointed of the Lord (Christ), son of David, King of Israel. These honors are not verifiable by naked eye but rather are verified only through the eyes of faith. These days I prefer to think of Jesus as my brother in faith.

In Acts and Hebrews, Jesus is portrayed as a pioneer (archēgos), perfected through his own sufferings and his suffering qualified him to lead the way to glory for many other sons of God (Heb 2:10; 12:2). In this way Jesus, the Judean sage, became the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). My view of Jesus may make me appear as an apostate or certainly a heretic (they are not the same thing2), since it by-passes divinity for humanity as a classification for Jesus. There were various views about the nature of Jesus in antiquity, and it depended on whom you asked as to whether Jesus was divine. People holding a view different than the so-called orthodox view must nevertheless be classified as being in the stream of Christian history.3 Whatever group was dominant became the judge of what was orthodox.

In church I was never taught data about the Bible except for the most obvious information. Generally, I was taught to regard the Bible as "God-breathed"4 and to pattern my life on its precepts. My views have changed. I no longer think of the Bible as a "Holy Book" but as a collection of texts that reflect the evolution of the faith of two religious communities, Jewish and Christian. There are currently three versions of the Bible: the Jewish Bible, the Protestant Bible, and the Catholic Bible. Their contents are not the same. The Protestant Bible with which I grew up uses the Jewish Bible, which it regards as Old covenant books; to these texts were added certain new-covenant writings, twenty-seven other texts (the New Testament), which were assembled as a collection by the fourth century common era and added to the Jewish Bible. By the fourth century followers of Jesus regarded all these books in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek as in some sense "inspired" by God. Modern Christians transfer that high value to its translation into modern languages, forgetting that no translation is an exact reproduction of the original.

I have only touched the surface of my view of the Bible today as compared to where I began. My hasty summary nevertheless shows that if the Bible is "inspired" by God (a view that cannot be proven), it is also to be regarded as a human product. Human beings collected and canonized the writings, and text critics established what they regard as the original wording of the texts and they still debate what words should appear as the original wording.5

I have learned to live with the evident lack of certainty in matters of religious faith. The major difficulty with religion is that too many are absolutely certain that their religious faith is the true faith.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1C. W. Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2019), 168-70 and in particular: "Out of the Enchanted Forest. Christian Faith in an Age of Reason" pages 13-24 in When Faith Meets Reason (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2008).

2Hedrick, "How do I Describe Myself," Wry Thoughts about Religion, Friday, February 15, 2019: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/2019/02/how-do-i-describe-myself.html.

3Hedrick, "Is Belief in the Divinity of Jesus Essential to Being Christian," Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 221-233.

4But this could only refer to the Jewish Scriptures in Greek (the Septuagint) for the New Testament had not yet been collected and given the status of "inspired Scripture."

5Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 87-102.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Pondering the "Messianic Secret" in the Gospel of Mark

In 1901 Wilhelm Wrede published Das Messiasgeheimnis in Den Evangelien (The Messianic Secret in the Gospels).1 He argued that Mark’s attempts to conceal the identity of Jesus of Nazareth was Mark’s own design superimposed on the Jesus traditions that he received. Wrede called the concealment of Jesus’ identity the “Messianic Secret.” I tend to think of it as an incognito motif or the motif of the concealed king. C. M. Tuckett has summarized features of the Messianic Secret in the gospel as follows:

(1) Jesus explicitly commands the demons to be silent about his identity after exorcisms (1:25, 34; 3:11-12); (2) Jesus gives orders that his miracles are not to be publicized (1:43-44; 5:43; 7:36); (3) Jesus commands the disciples to be quiet about him (8:30; 9:9); (4) Jesus tries to keep his whereabouts a secret (7:24; 9:30); (5) Jesus gives private instructions only to a chosen few (7:17; 10:10); (6) the so-called “theory of parables (4:11-12) shows that in Mark, Jesus teaches in parables in order deliberately to hide his intent from the crowds; and (7) despite their privileged position the disciples in Mark regularly fail to understand Jesus (6:52; 8:17-21).2

Nevertheless, the secret is broken in Mark’s narrative at 1:44-45.

To these features must now be added an additional feature: Mark’s omission in chapters 1-14 of Jesus’ identity as son of David and legitimate heir as King of Israel, which appears as a standard element of early “Christian” beliefs about Jesus in the later gospels.3 Recognition of the Messianic Secret has endured as one of the most successful achievements of critical New Testament scholarship.

The motif that Jesus was a king in disguise, which Mark uses, is known elsewhere in ancient literature. For example, Julius Caesar disguises himself in a Wild beast’s skin and wanders among his troops observing and listening to them.4 Nero in a slave’s disguise (so as to be incognito) wandered the streets of Rome to brothels and taverns with his comrades.5 Odysseus, King of Ithaca, was changed beyond recognition by Athena to return home and rescue his palace from the profligates who had been courting his wife Penelope. Athena changed his physical appearance so that he appeared as an aged disreputable vagabond clothed in disgusting rags.6 Zeus was King of the Graeco-Roman Gods. He frequently disguised himself to consort incognito among human beings by changing his appearance. His two most famous liaisons were with Leda, where he changed himself into a swan,7 and with Europa, where he changed himself into a tame bull.8 Of these examples, mentioned just above, Mark, writing in the late 60s/early 70s of the first century, would most likely have been familiar with the latter two. Attesting to the popularity of the myth of Europa, in his novel, Leucippe and Clitophon, Achilles Tatius (2nd century) describes his hero seeing a painting of Europa and the Bull, which is described in the novel in great detail.9

The images of Leda and the swan and Europa and the bull were ubiquitous in the ancient world. They appear on ancient coins, statuary, pottery, mosaics, wall frescos, paintings, objects of art etc. For example, Sidonian and Roman coins depicted an image of Europa and the Bull.10 Mark could scarcely help from being aware of the myths and the images. If Mark were aware of the myths and images, he was also aware of the incognito motif. In other words, the incognito motif, or the motif of the disguised king, in Mark may well be simply a literary feature inspired by Graeco-Roman myths.

Guessing at motives is always a risky business, but were I to hazard a guess about Mark’s motives in applying the incognito motif to the Jesus traditions, I would think that he likely did it out of a sensitivity for the political situation in Judea 66-73 CE. These were simultaneously the dates for the composition of the Gospel of Mark, the time of the first Jewish war prompted by the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule, and the subsequent Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.11 During such a tumultuous time in Judea, Jewish followers of Jesus would scarcely need any additional reasons for Rome to notice them. There is a later tradition that they fled the city before the war to the nearby city of Pella in the Decapolis (compare Mark 13:14).12

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1William Wrede, The Messianic Secret (Greenwood, SC: Attic Press, 1971).

2C. M. Tuckett, “Messianic Secret” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary 4.797.

3Hedrick, “Did Jesus Claim to be King of Israel?” Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog, April 19, 2021: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/

4Tacitus, The Annals, 2:13.

5Tacitus, The Annals, 13:25

6Homer, Odyssey, 13.363-434.

7Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (2 vols. in 1; New York: George Braziller, 1959), 1.206-207 (62a).

8Graves, Greek Myths, 194-195 (58b-c).

9S. Gaselee, ed., Achilles Tatius (Cambridge and London: Harvard and William Heinemann, 1961), 1.1-2 (pp. 3-9).

10For images of such a coin see: https://www.google.com/search?source=univ&tbm=isch&q=sidon+coin+image+with+Europa&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj-gYepjpXwAhUBHM0KHfWaDSYQjJkEegQICBAB&biw=1458&bih=675 Here are also two from the period of the Roman Republic: https://www.coinarchives.com/a/results.php?results=1000&search=europa+and+bull

11L. I. Levine, “Jewish War (66-73 C. E.)” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary 3.839-45.

12Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 1.3.5.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Did Jesus claim to be King of Israel?

The short answer is that there is no saying attributed to Jesus in the canonical gospels in which Jesus claims to be the King of Israel. The theory and practice of religion, however, is not an exact "science"; hence, the answer to this question, like all things in religion, depends on whom you ask. So, I will put the question to the author of the Gospel of Mark. All references to Jesus as king in Mark appear in chapter fifteen in connection with a hearing before Pilate and the crucifixion. At that hearing the first question Pilate asks Jesus is: "Are you the King of the Judeans?" (15:2, Ioudaiōn). Jesus responds evasively: "so you (sing.) say" (15:2). Pilate chides him for failing to give a direct answer to the question in view of the numerous charges brought against him (15:3-4). But Jesus remains silent (15:5). Pilate is astonished at his refusal to answer the question directly.

            Pilate appears to attribute the information that Jesus claimed to be a king to the Judean people themselves (15:9, 12). The soldiers ironically mocked him as King of the Judeans (15:18) and the inscription of the charge against him read simply "The King of the Judeans" (15:2). That the kingship of Jesus in Mark is an idea that came from the Judean people is confirmed by Mark 15:36, when the chief priests and scribes mock him saying, "Let Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross" (15:32). By this mocking statement the religious leaders expanded the area of his kingship to include the whole of the traditional borders of Israel.

During the career of Jesus, Idumea, Judea, and Samaria constituted an Imperial province, governed by a Roman procurator (Pontius Pilate). The son of Herod the Great (Herod Antipas) governed at Rome's behest as tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and another of Herod's sons (Philip) governed at Rome's behest as tetrarch of the area east of the upper Jordan from Mt. Hermon to the Yarmuk River.1 The only actual king over the area was Caesar. Therefore, if Jesus were a claimant to the throne of Israel, he would have been in competition with Caesar Augustus for the status of king (as noted in John 19:12).

Mark reports no sayings in chapters 1-14 where Jesus overtly claims to be king and there are no sayings with a political edge to them. "King" Herod Antipas did not fear Jesus as a rival (6:14-29), and apparently not even the Judean people were thinking of him as a king (8:27-30). At the entry into Jerusalem the exulting crowd did not refer to him as a king (11:9-10). There are only two sayings attributed to Jesus in Mark that have political content. One is a factual statement about the power of rulers (10:42) and in the other Jesus supports the paying of taxes to the Roman government (12:13-17). Where then in Mark 1-14 does the idea that Jesus claimed to be King originate in order to account for that specific charge in the hearing before Pilate in chapter 15?

Likely it originated with the early Christian belief that Jesus was descended from David and is frequently referred to in the canonical gospels as the "son of David," who was the divinely anointed King of Israel (2 Sam 22:51; Ps 18:50). Hence, they gave him the title Christ, that is, "the Anointed One." It is the general view of the New Testament that Jesus was the son of David; that is, he was a descendant of David, the King of Israel (Matt 1:1, 6, 16; 9:7; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 14; 22:42; Luke 1:31-33; 18:37-38; Mark 10:47-48; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5, 22:16). There was apparently a political component to this belief—the disciples are reputed to have believed that he would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6; Luke 24:21). The author of the Gospel of John described Jesus as the King of Israel (1:49; 12:13) who was descended from David (7:42) and provides a specific prophecy to that effect (12:12-15).

Oddly, in Mark Jesus is referred to as son of David only twice (10:47-48). That raises the question: would those two appellations be enough to evoke for the general reader the early Christian expectation that Jesus, the Anointed (i.e., the Christ) is the king of Israel in order to account for the heavy emphasis on his kingship in chapter 15? Or is something else going on in Mark? Has Mark, perhaps, deliberately downplayed for political reasons this general early Christian belief in the first fourteen chapters of Mark so as not to raise the ire of Rome?2 The two instances that he is called son of David (10:47-48) would not necessarily raise the ire of Rome, however, for others are also described as a "son of" David, that is, a descendent of David with no inevitable regal expectations (Joseph, for example: Luke 2:4). The two references to Jesus as the son of David might, however, be enough to evoke the early Christian belief in a clandestine way for the knowledgeable reader (cf. Mark 13:14). How do you as a reader of Mark account for Mark's failure to provide in the first fourteen chapters an occasion for this specific charge in chapter 15?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1G. E. Wright and F. V. Filson, eds., The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), Plate XIV and p. 92. A tetrarch was a ruler over a fourth part of a region.

2Another likely possibility is that Mark was not a careful writer. See Hedrick, "Conceiving the Narrative: Colors in Achilles Tatius and the Gospel of Mark," pages 177-97 in Ronald Hock, et al., eds, Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998), 186-97.