Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Authorship of Biblical Texts and the Authority of the Bible

Historians lose one aspect of their ability to evaluate the reliability of information in texts that are written anonymously. Where the identity of the author is in doubt, the information recorded in the text is likewise at the very least suspect. Here is a hypothetical example. A document emerges from the shadows of history purporting to be a Civil War era document about the exploits of a certain private from the ranks (Pvt Christopher Smith) in the Battle of Gettysburg, but no trace of Smith can be found in official documents. The report is undated and turns up some 150 years after the war. How reliable is the report given in the anonymously written document?

            My example bears a certain similarity to New Testament (NT) literature. Some of the NT texts are anonymously written, and some of the texts are regarded as pseudonymous by critical scholarship; that is, they are not written by the person claiming to be the author. What follows is a survey of the state of critical studies as to the authorship of NT texts, virtually all of which, except for a few fragments, date from 200 and later. In critical scholarship the following texts are anonymous in the sense that an author is not named in the body of the document: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews, and the Johannine letters (1, 2, 3, John). Their subscript titles are traditional and secondary, and represent the view of the early church. The following texts are thought by most critical scholars to be pseudonymous: the Pastoral letters (1, 2 Timothy and Titus), 1, 2 Peter, James, and Jude. Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians are also thought to be pseudonymous. These texts are called “Deutero-Pauline”; they are from the Pauline school (likely written by anonymous disciples of Paul). The texts whose authorship appears certain are seven letters by Paul: 1 Thessalonians, Romans, 1, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon. The author of the Apocalypse, named John, is an otherwise unknown “former witness to Jesus among the churches of Asia Minor (1:9)…”1

            Not everyone agrees with the way the literature has been categorized above, however. There are even differences between critical scholars on the authorship of the texts. Some critical scholars for example challenge the Pauline authorship of 1 Thessalonians, which is thought by most critical scholars to be the earliest Pauline writing. Critical scholars decide the issue of authorship based on historical evidence alone and they will set out their reasons for critiquing the authorship of a document so that their rationale can be critiqued by other scholars.

            With regard to my hypothetical example above had the author of the anonymous document claimed to be one Edson Williams, 1st Sgt of Company A of the 56th Pennsylvania, a volunteer Infantry Regiment of the First Corps of the Army of the Potamic, the information in the anonymous document would have warranted further research, even though there were no Smiths listed on the Unit Roster.2 The 1st Sgt is expected to know what happened with soldiers under his command would be the rationale for further study.3 This is one reason that the writers of pseudonymous documents of the NT are thought to have used names of known members of the Christian movement to attach to their documents. For example, the name of Paul may have been added to Colossians for this very reason. What is at issue for the modern historian when the authorship of Colossians is attributed to Paul, if it is not written by Paul? It is this: the false ascription attributes the ideas of the pseudonymous author to the known historical figure and invalidates, or at least renders suspect, the historical accuracy of any description of Paul based on the use of Colossians.

            The disinterested historian ideally is interested in the Bible only as a library of texts gathered from the stream of Western civilization and in arranging them with respect to their historical sequence in order to reconstruct the sequence of historical events and thought. The church is interested in this goal as well but only up to a certain point. The overriding interest of the church is in protecting the Bible as an iconic object that communicates God’s eternal “Word,” for the purpose of using the Bible as an authoritative source for faith and morals. Given the Church’s need for a firm basis for faith and morals, anonymous and pseudonymous texts become a difficulty. What for the disinterested historian is an inconvenient problem becomes for the church a serious problem.

The authority of the Bible resides not in the collection of texts themselves but in its authors, that is, in “the authority of persons who being presumed to know the truth communicate it to others.”4 If that is the case, knowing the identity of the authors of the Biblical texts becomes essential in order to support claims made for the Bible’s authority.

            Early Christians shared this idea. The anonymous author of Hebrews opined: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets…“ (Heb 1:1). And in 2 Pet 1:20-21 we read: “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by human will but men and women moved by the Holy spirit spoke from God.” (New Revised Standard). The authority of the prophet’s experience with God was in turn passed to their written texts as well: “All scripture is inspired by God…“ (2 Tim 3:16). But the authority of the prophet’s experience undergirded the authority of the written text for the early Christians.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See the discussion in W. G. Kϋmmel, Introduction to the New Testament (17th revised ed.; Abingdon: SCM Press, 1975), 472.


3Of course, if the author made a specific claim to be Edson Williams, 1st Sgt of Company A, it might be a fraudulent claim and the document could still be pseudonymous.

4The quotation is from C. H. Dodd; see the discussion in Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 303-305.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Mysticism and the Jesus of John's Gospel

I have previously defined mysticism briefly as "the experience of mystical union or direct communion with God."1 In other words, it is an experience in which an individual becomes one with God, or unites with God. Recently I found the following definition on the internet:

In modern times, "mysticism" has acquired a limited definition, with broad applications, as meaning the aim at the "union with the Absolute, the Infinite, or God". This limited definition has been applied to a wide range of religious traditions and practices, valuing "mystical experience" as a key element of mysticism.2

Becoming “one with God” would seem to be a claim that one has become “divinized,” or simply stated: one has become absorbed in God. Is that even possible? Through history, however, there have been those that believed it to be possible. One finds such statements in ancient texts as the Corpus Hermeticum (1,25-26), and Plotinus, for example, said that the goal of humanity “was not to be sinless but to be God” (Enneads, I.6,1-3). Porphyry, his student, claimed that Plotinus had achieved union with God four times during his time with Plotinus and even Porphyry claimed to have achieved it once.3 In philosophy it is known as henosis (becoming one with the one).4

In the modern Orthodox Christian Church, the stated goal of salvation is becoming one with God.5 For a brief discussion of the pervasiveness of union with God in the Christian devotional classics, see the brief discussion in Georgia Harkness, Mysticism. Its Meaning & Message.6

            Against this all too brief background I note several statements by Jesus in the Gospel of John suggesting that the author portrayed Jesus as a mystic who was conscious of being one with God. The plain language of the statements themselves are clearly mystical, but critical New Testament scholarship has generally not taken them to be such.7 There are two levels of mystical statements; in the first Jesus speaks of himself and God and a second level in which he speaks of himself, God, and the disciple. The union of the Father and the “son” are reflected in statements made by others at the beginning and ending of the gospel. At the beginning the narrator describes the “Word” (generally it is assumed Jesus is the Word) as being both opposite God and as being God (The word is Theos, God, and not theios, divine): “The Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). And a second statement by the narrator describing Jesus (from the critical Greek text) as: “the only God in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). And at the end of the gospel Philip’s confession about Jesus: “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). These two statements form a basis for understanding the statements below as mystical.

            In the first level of statements Jesus claimed union with the father: “I and the Father, we are one” (John 10:30; see also for similar statements: 14:10-11; 17:21-22). In the second level of statements Jesus brought the disciple into mystical union with himself and the Father: “On that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I am in you” (John 14:20; see also 15:4-7; 17;21, 23, 26).

            Is the author of the Gospel of John a mystic? The English New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd had problems with the term mystic and wrote:

If the mystic is one whose religious life is expressed in ecstasy, or one who experiences an impersonal absorption in the divine, then one is right to deny this description to the author of the gospel (Dodd, p. 198).

Nevertheless, Dodd avers that John was not using stereotypical language then in vogue, but clearly using language evocative of mysticism. Dodd surveys the passages in John that suggest “union with God” and chides the German scholar, Walter Bauer, for shying away from the term “mystic” and instead describing the author of John as opting for a “conception of the Christian life” akin to a “kind of legalism.” Dodd himself affirms that the author of John opened up for believers a situation in which faith permitted them to dwell in God and God in them, but opines “whether this should be called ‘mysticism’ I do not know” (Dodd, p. 198). His problem with the term is the ecstasy associated with it.8

            Clearly John uses the language of mysticism, but there is no evidence for ecstatic visions or other mystical retreats from the world to be found in John. Does this suggest John reflects a kind of intellectual “mysticism” (if such is even possible), as Dodd seemed to think?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University



3Porphyry, “Life of Plotinus,” 23: in A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus, Porphyry on Plotinus; Enead I (Cambridge/London: Harvard, 1966; revised 1989), 69.


5Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1964), 236-37. For the quotations, see C. Hedrick, “On Becoming God,” Wry Thoughts about Religion, Tuesday July 4, 2017: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=enneads

6Georgia Harkness, Mysticism. Its Meaning & Message (Nashville: Abingdon, 1973), 20-24.

7For example, see C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press), 187-200; Raymond Brown does not even raise the subject of mysticism in connection with John’s language: The Gospel of John (2 vols.; AB 29; New York: Doubleday, 1966, 1970). Ernest Haenchen sees no hint of mysticism in these verses: A Commentary on the Gospel of John (2 vols.; Hermenia; Fortress, 1984), 2.50. He even translates Theos (God) in John 1:1 as if it were theios (divine).

8See Rev 1:9-20 as an example of an ecstatic vision; for definition see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecstasy

Sunday, November 13, 2022

How do Divine Beings Procreate?

I suppose the short answer is: “anyway they wish!” The question in the title may seem silly to some, but I find it to be a serious question that has largely gone unnoticed, as far as I am aware.1 First some disclaimers. Divinities are not beings, since they have no existence in time and space, as rocks and people do. If any characterization is appropriate, divinities are spirit, if they are at all. If they are spirits, they are not existing in time and space. By spirit I mean to suggest that they are wholly other than the beings, creatures, and things of this universe. In one sense they are eternals; even if they fall out of fashion, they are still there waiting to be rediscovered. Personally, I have no independent knowledge of the nature and character of spirits, I only know what I have been told by others and what I have read. And that includes information as to how they procreate.

As it turns out, literary evidence exists for examining what people thought concerning the origin of divinities in western religious traditions. The Gods of the ancient Greeks, for example, were generally thought to procreate on a human model, by means of a male and female of the divine species, or with human partners, but the fertile imagination of the Greeks devised even more novel ways for how their Gods procreated.2 The “birth” of Aphrodite, for example, was a kind of spontaneous generation: one tradition of her birth was that “she rose naked from the foam of the sea.”3 There are stories about the “sperm” of the Gods as well. The Goddess Athene was set upon by the God Hephaestus. As she tore herself away, Hephaestus ejaculated on her thigh a little above her knee. She wiped it off with a piece of wool and threw it away. The wool with sperm fell on Mother Earth and impregnated her. Erichthonius was born as a result.4 So Greek Gods were known to reproduce by means of sperm, and people were also quite aware that human births occurred from the pairing of the male sperm with matter provided by the female.5

The story of Onan (who spilled his sperm on the ground, Gen 38:7-10), rather than father a child (in levirate marriage) with his brother’s wife (Tamar), suggests that the issue in the story was the identity of the child in the family as the son of Er. Hence, in the final analysis inheritance was the issue: the recognition of the child as the son of the dead brother (Er).

In the Christian tradition Matthew (1:18-23) and Luke (1:26-35) imagined that Yahweh, the ancient Israelite God, procreated by a human female, as did the ancient Greek Gods on occasion. Paul also appears to think that Jesus was born naturally, for he was “born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4). Only in Matthew and Luke is Mary referred to as “virgin” (Parthenos), a term that applies to the period before she became pregnant. Her description as virgin can only apply before her pregnancy—that is, prior to her divine encounter (Matt 1:18, 20).6 In Matthew, Mary’s pregnancy was from a holy spirit (an attribute of God).7 In Luke (Luke 1:34-35), Mary’s pregnancy was going to happen in the future from holy spirit and power of the Most-High (Luke 1:35).8 There must be some connection between the deity, the woman, and the child for him to be acknowledged as the child of the deity. Aristotle associates both these terms (spirit and power) with the process of human procreation.9 For Matthew and Luke spirit and power are attributes of God. Because of the way Matthew and Luke narrate Jesus’ generation (birth through a woman), it is reasonable to suppose that conception might have involved a kind of spiritual “sperm” (so to speak). At least, the author of first John appears to believe that God used spiritual “sperm” in producing the children of God:

Those born of God do not commit sin, because his sperm [sperma] remains in him, and he is not able to sin because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).

The question boils down to this: what did Matthew and Luke think occurred in the generation of Jesus? Not being a mind reader of paper characters in a text, I have no idea. But the historical context and the way they describe Jesus’ birth suggests that spiritual “sperm” is a likely possibility, if not a probability.

The author of the Gospel of John has no birth narrative, but the narrative speculates that the origin of the Word is lost in the fog of “the beginning” (John 1:1-5, 9-14).10 The Word is both distinguishable from deity and yet identified with deity (John 1:1). The Word comes to be in flesh (John 1:14; cf. Phil 2:7); that is, he was not born so there is no issue of “sperm,” spiritual or otherwise.

What is lost or gained in considering the question? I personally think nothing is lost but that something may be gained. It fills out the image of the human model of procreation Matthew and Luke chose to use. The spiritual “sperm” inseminating Mary and producing the child was holy Spirit (Matt 1:18) or holy spirit and power (Luke 1:35), or so Matthew and Luke must have reasoned and wanted (or allowed) the reader to think.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1One welcome exception willing to peel back the mystery of Matthew and Luke’s myth of origins is Robert Miller’s, Born Divine. The Births of Jesus &the Other Sons of God (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2003).

2See Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (2 vols in 1; George Braziller, 1959). Hesiod, The Theogony: https://users.pfw.edu/flemingd/Hesiod%20Theogony.pdf

3Graves, The Greek Myths, 1.49; 11.

4Graves, Greek Myths, 1.96-97.

5Aristotle, Generation of Animals, 1.xviii; Peck, Aristotle: Generation of Animals (Loeb), 71-89; see also Richard Smith, “Sex Education in Gnostic Schools” in Karen King, ed., Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1988), 345-60; and https://journals.openedition.org/cliowgh/339

6Matthew does not narrate this event; in Matthew it occurred prior to Matt 1:18, 20.

7Robert J. Miller argues that “Matthew’s use of ‘begotten by the holy spirit’ does not imply a virginal conception”; that is, it does not rule out human sperm. See Miller’s conclusion: “Did Matthew Believe in the Virgin Birth?” The Fourth R 21.6 (November-December 2008), 7-8, 26. Luke, on the other hand, reports “that Jesus was born in the manner of pagan sons of God, the offspring of a human mother and divine father. . .” (p. 26). In both cases insemination would have happened by spiritual “sperm.” Miller notes, however, that Luke is “cautious to describe God’s role in a non-physical way” (p. 4). On the other hand, it appears to me that Luke’s language is mildly evocative of a sexual encounter; in Luke 1:35: “a holy spirit will come over you and the power of the Most-High will overshadow you. For a more complete discussion of the issues involved see Miller’s book Born Divine.

8Luke does not narrate this event; in Luke it occurred somewhere between Luke 1:34-35 and 2:1, off stage as it were.

9Aristotle associates dunamis (power) and pneuma (sprit) as being involved in the process of the generation of animals. Dunamis is the physical substance in the semen by which impregnation is effected (p. lii). Pneuma is a substance used as the instrument in the generation of offspring (p. liii). See Peck’s introduction in Generation of Animals, xlix-lix.

10Unlike the “Word,” whose origin at the beginning is not described, Lady Wisdom was specifically described as being created at the beginning (Prov 8:22-31).

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Orthographic Oddities in Identifying Jesus

Orthography is the study of how words are spelled and written in a text, or in general, the standardization of word-forms. Ancient Greek manuscripts frequently contain numerous instances of orthographical variations in the spelling of words (misspellings?) and other errors. Before the use of dictionaries, which help to standardize the use of language, the same is true in all languages. What follows in this essay is one of those orthographical oddities in the Greek New Testament with regard to words used to identify Jesus.

            Matthew (2:1, 4-5) and Luke (2:4-7) agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and they connect Jesus to the village of Nazareth in different ways, as though Nazareth were the better-known identification. In Matthew, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Egypt and then go to Nazaret (Matt 2:13-23) in accordance with prophecy (Matt 2:14-15, 23).1 In Luke, Mary and Joseph return to their own city Nazareth (Luke 2:39)—no prophecy involved.2 There are, here, two different spellings of the small village associated with Jesus. And there is yet a third spelling of the village name, Nazara (Matt 4:13; Luke 4:16). In time, the connection of the village with the man has become a near mantra in confessional and academic circles alike. He is "Jesus of Nazareth." What has led archaeologists and scholars in general to settle on the name Nazareth for the village? I suppose the substantive question is: what was the village generally called some thirty or forty years before Mark wrote (which was around 70)? The present site of the village where Jesus grew to adulthood is apparently at best traditional, for the name of the site is unconfirmed by any ancient inscriptions or texts.3

            Rather than "Jesus of Nazareth" there is another related title given to Jesus in the New Testament. He is described as "Jesus the Nazarene," and is referred to in this manner far more often than he is called "Jesus of Nazareth" in the New Testament. The word Nazarene also appears in multiple forms. It appears several times as Nazarēnos (Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 4:34; 24:19). More often it appears with an awkward form as Nazōpaios (Matt 2:23; 26:71; Luke 18:37; John 18:5, 7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 22:8; 24:5; 26:9). Bible translators more often translate these two words as a noun "Nazareth," rather than an adjective "Nazarene or Nazorean." Usually Nazarene is the preferred translation. "Jesus the Nazarene" (or Nazorean) is an expression describing who he is.4 Calling him "Jesus of Nazareth" describes where he is from.

            Why would there be such plurality of orthographical forms to refer to Jesus? I can think of three. Possibly the author of the text is slavishly following some source or authority, or the author is simply too careless to standardize the terms being used, or because copiers of the text made mistakes that were perpetuated without thinking by other scribes.5

Some translators flag the problem of the awkward adjective Nazorean by providing a note that the word Nazarene, which they put in their text, is literally Nazorean (for example, Bart Ehrman's translation of the New Testament and the New Revised Standard Version). Most translators do not provide an explanatory note and simply use Nazareth or Nazorean instead.

The sum of the matter is that the problem of these orthographical differences in the manuscripts is not generally known and remains unresolved, so far as I know; Jesus remains generally known today as Jesus of Nazareth, rather than Jesus, the Nazarene (or Nazorean), as he was in the first century. In our earliest source, the Gospel of Mark, the name Nazareth does not even appear, and Jesus is known as the Nazarene.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1For the name Nazaret see: Matt 2:23; Mark 1:9; John 1:45, 46.

2For the name Nazareth see: Matt 21:11; Luke 1:26; 2:4, 39, 51; Acts 10:38.

3Lamoine Devries, "Nazareth," in The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol 4, 240-41. Devries says: "The unimportance of Nazareth is reflected in the absence of references to the name in any ancient inscriptions or texts."

4Matthew (2:23) says that Jesus was a Nazarene in fulfilment of prophecy, but there is no such prophecy in the Old Testament. Luke notes that Paul was accused of belonging to the sect of the Nazarenes (Nazōpaiōn, Acts 24:5).

5There are over 5000 manuscripts of the New Testament texts and most of them were copies, which themselves were recopied by scribes.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Luck and the Kingdom of God

The dictionary definition of luck is: "the seemingly chance happening of events that affect someone." What we dub "Luck" (whether good or bad) is our interpretation of life's randomness. The term "kingdom of God" is a mistranslation of the expression basileia tou theou (reign of God). Basileia is a word properly translated a "royal reign"; it describes the extent of kingly influence—in this case the effective reach of God's rule. Basileia does not describe a specific geographical territory, but rather refers to a king's influence over his subjects, those under his rule. Being in the kingdom of God is accepting God's rule over one's self.

I was surprised, then, to hear a Baptist preacher exclaim last week: "There ain't no Luck in the kingdom of God!" On the basis of the definitions above, his affirmation on its face would seem to be that chance happenings do not affect one who has accepted God's rule. The difficulty with the minister's statement is that all human beings (Christian and non-Christian) live in a world that is obviously under the control of Powers, natural, political, commercial, etc., that are obviously not under the influence of God's rule.1 Even Paul's disciple, the author of Ephesians seemed to recognize that hostile powers are indigenous to our cosmos:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12, NRSV).

Christians do not yet live in a "territory" that is under God's control, but in a territory largely hostile to all human beings, even though some may already have accepted God's rule over themselves. This already/not yet ambiguity explains the Christian's present situation: the kingdom of God is a future reality (Rom 6:9; 15:24, 50; Gal 5:21), even though one may now be experiencing its benefits (Mark 1:15; Rom 14:17). In short, human beings live in a hostile world where surprisingly good things or depressingly bad things can unexpectedly happen to any of us. Even Christians might win the lottery.

            During the Hellenistic Period of Classical antiquity (323-33 BCE) there was a tendency for the Greeks and Romans to personify abstract concepts. They turned the concept of luck or fortune into the capricious Goddess, Tychē. Her existence was a recognition of their universal experience that one's fortunes (or luck) in life could never be controlled or predicted.2

From my perspective a belief in luck is simply a recognition of a natural law, something like gravity in the physical sciences. This law may be simply stated as follows: "the unexpected sometimes happens." The most carefully laid plans or intentions are always subject to this law. We describe it popularly from our perspective as good or bad luck, meaning that it was unexpected.

            The minister seemed to think that Christians are exempt from this natural law, but even certain writers of the New Testament seem cognizant of life's unexpected and sometimes turbulent ups and downs, particularly the downs—for example, Paul's life experiences as he described them.3 The author of First Peter cautioned the exiles in the "Dispersion" (1 Pet 1:1) "not to be surprised" at the unexpected "fiery trial" that had overtaken them (1 Pet 4:12). Stuff, both good and bad, happened to the early followers of Jesus as well. The universal cosmic law of the unexpected applies to all for whom the law of gravity applies. Apparently, not everything that happens is what God wants to happen.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019): "Natural Disasters, Acts of God, and the Bible," 26-28; "Chance, Luck, Randomness, and the Being of God," 28-30, "Does Anything Happen by Chance?," 30-33.

2Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed.; Eerdman's, 2003), 242.

3Here are only a few of the passages from his letters describing his own personal ups and downs in life, particularly the downs: Rom 8:18, 35-39; 1 Cor 4:11-13; 1 Cor 1:3-11; 11;23-27.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Religions and Religion

This essay is about something we all likely know, or at least should know. The term “religions” refers to various historical movements that captured the religious imagination of believers through human history. The term “religion” refers to these phenomena generically. Religions are only temporary manifestations. They come and go with time and competition. Religion as such, on the other hand, seems to be endemic to the human condition.

I do not know if this is because such a thing as a “God gene” exists,1 or because human beings are simply incurably superstitious.2 The God gene option explains that we are innately predisposed to religion in some form and cannot help ourselves. In other words, religion is a part of the human DNA. The second option explains that human beings cannot rid themselves of a predisposition to superstition. In other words, we seem to be naturally superstitious. Human history is awash with odd beliefs, supernatural beings, and gods that were invented to explain what were found to be unexplainable.3

            Here are two brief scenarios illustrating the rise and fall of two religions. The universal religion of Manichaeism was founded in the third century C.E. by the Iranian prophet Mani. The religion was universal in appeal and moved beyond the Mesopotamian region in which it was born. It was a successful competitor with the indigenous religions it encountered in the regions it entered before it passed from the pages of history. It survived for twelve hundred years and traces of the religion can still be seen datable to the 17th century C.E.4

            Christianity, a religion that emerged in the first century C.E. successfully competed with the indigenous religions of the Roman Empire with the help of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The fortunes of orthodox Christian churches prospered under Constantine. By a decisive victory at the Mulvian Bridge north of Rome Constantine became Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in 317 and in 323 its sole ruler. His victory at the Mulvian Bridge he credited to a vision of a single cross and the words “Be victorious in this.” He sent his soldiers into battle with the sign of a cross painted on their shields. Although outnumbered they won the battle, and Rome and Africa passed under Constantine’s control. Constantine saw the hand of the orthodox Christian God in the victory and to ensure continued support by that God the church was everywhere granted freedom from persecution.  He restored church property that had been confiscated, gave privileges to the clergy, and undertook a building program in the church’s behalf. It appears that Christianity initially received preferred status by the Roman government in the competition between religions.

Christianity was a way for Constantine to unify his empire and in 325 Constantine called and presided over the first Ecumenical Council of orthodox churches at Nicea, where in a climate of theological controversy separating the churches, the Trinitarian Creed was pushed through.5 Constantine further directed that the orthodox Bishop Eusebius procure for the churches, which Constantine intended to build, 50 copies of the Holy Scriptures.6 This action forced Eusebius to decide what books he would include in the New Testament, an issue that was then still in flux, as he reports in his Ecclesiastical History.7

After 440 C.E. no pagan names are listed among the elite at Rome,8 and over time the indigenous Roman religions were driven into the countryside. Today, so far as I know, no one worships Zeus/Jupiter any longer, and the indigenous religions of the Roman empire have effectively disappeared from the historical scene.

The passing away of even one religion raises the question of the permanency of any religion—even Christianity. It causes one to ponder what is meant by the term “true religion.”9

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


2See, for example, Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 1-12, 20-22.

3Hedrick, “Forces at Work in the Garden of the Lord,” pp. 20-22 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.

4Paul Mirecki, “Manichaeans and Manichaeism,” vol. 4:502-511 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992).

5R. P. Davis, “Constantine I,” Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.; 1999), 378-80.


7Ecclesiastical History, III, xxv.

8Charles Hedrick, Jr., History and Silence. Purge and Rehabilitation of Memory in Late Antiquity (University of Texas; 2000), 57.


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

What makes a Successful Life?

This essay is obviously an opinion piece, for success like beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. There is no universal idea for what constitutes a successful life. Judging what is successful depends on the standards one applies to evaluate the journey taken between birth and death and upon who applies the standards. The dictionary definition of success is this: “turning out to be as was hoped for.” Hence, the specifics of what constitutes a successful life change with time, historical context, individual communities holding to a given definition, and individuals whose lives are being evaluated. What follows is my personal view of success in life.

            A successful life will have had some sense of purpose, a conscious sense that living is worth the struggle. In a successful life a person will not just have lived willy-nilly, blown hither and yon, by the winds of time, but his or her life will have had a focused direction and goals, however dimly defined. And one’s life will have accomplished something of what was aimed-at, however insignificant the accomplishments might seem to others. Life would have been characterized for the most part (we are not perfect creatures) by integrity. Integrity is defined as “the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.”1 Such a life would have touched others in a positive way and included close friends and family (we are social creatures). Individuals who succeed in life will have learned to live with who they are (self-acceptance) but strived to be self-actualized (aiming to achieve full development of one’s abilities and ambitions). I would like to think that this description could fit either the undereducated farmer or the over-educated college professor.

I personally know of only one description in the Bible of a successful life (it is surely out of date for our times): Prov 31:10-29. In this passage the successful person is extolled as wife, mother, and spousal companion:

Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all (Prov 31:29, RSV).

In Hebrew Bible the successful life was recognized in terms of its longevity (for example Methuselah, Gen 5:27; and Prov 3:1-2; 1 Kgs 3:10-14; Ps 61:6-7; Ps 91:14-16). The writers of the New Testament do not extol successful or prosperous (not necessarily financial) lives lived in the secular world. They only valued success in a life lived from a particular religious or spiritual perspective (3 John 2-4; 1 Cor 16:1-16; 2 Thess 1:3-4; 2 Tim 1:5-9). From the Bible’s perspective only the person who finds favor with God is truly successful in life.

            A successful life should not be judged on the basis of the extraordinary moments it contained but judged on one’s success in ordinary living. Most of us are ordinary folk and live ordinary lives. For example, being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor is an extraordinary accomplishment, but the rest of what the CMH winner does is simply ordinary living. People will choose different paths in life for many reasons and make a success of living (or not) in the different paths they chose.

            When one’s end-time nears, if one can look back over the years and say: “I strived to do the best I could with what I had to work with,” then one can reasonably think of his or her life as successful.2

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The third definition in Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed., 2002), s.v. integrity.

2In this statement I forgive the intemperance of youth and its wasted opportunity.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Is Giving Alms a Christian Obligation?

I ask the question because when I go grocery shopping, the islands separating street lanes around the grocery store are occupied by people holding placards asking for a handout. "Anything will help," many of them read. The spectacle raises the question how should one respond?

"Alms" (eleēmosunē), or charitable giving, is defined as something (food or money) given to relieve the needs of the poor. Altruistic giving, as an organized religious activity (i.e. giving "alms"), was unknown among the Greco-Roman religions in the ancient world,1 but it does appear as a practice in the modern religions of Christianity and Islam. For example, in Roman Catholic Catechism, section 2462, almsgiving is considered "a witness to fraternal charity" and a "work of justice pleasing to God."2 Alms (zakat) is one of the five pillars of Islam.

            The situation with respect to the early followers of Jesus is somewhat mixed. Matthew attributes to Jesus instruction (Matt 6:1-4; Luke 11:41) about how to give alms (eleēmosunē; ηλεημοσυνη), as if giving alms were a formally recognized community custom, and he endorses giving alms as a religious practice by directing something few of us do:

Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourself with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens where no thief approaches and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33, RSV).

Oddly, however, alms as a formally recognized religious custom is not part of the undisputed Pauline religious gatherings nor is it found in most of the New Testament; the word "alms," eleēmosunē, only appears in Acts, Luke, and Matthew. The custom is also mentioned in the Apostolic Fathers (2 Clem xvi.4 and Did. 1.6; xv.4), a little later than the New Testament period.

            Among the earliest Hellenistic followers of Jesus altruistic behavior in giving rather than ritual behavior (alms) seems to have been the practice (1 Cor 16:1-3; 8:1-15; 9:6-7;Gal 2:9-10; 1 Thess 5:15; Phil 2:3-4; Eph 4:28; 1 Tim 6:17-18; 1 John 3:17; Jas 2:14-17). Most of these passages reflect a community ethic; in other words, it is altruistic behavior directed toward those within the religious community. Nevertheless, here and there, the altruistic behavior shades over toward those outside the community (Gal 2:10; Phil 2:3-4; 1 Thess 5:15; Eph 4:28). In the Pauline gatherings it was left up to individuals to decide what they should do by giving to relieve the needs of others (1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8:1-15; 2 Cor 9:6-7). That was not necessarily the practice in the extended Christian family. In the Gospel of Thomas (around 200 CE), for example, a very difficult saying is attributed to Jesus:

Those who go hungry to fill the starving belly of another are favored (Gos. Thom. 69b).

In other words, one is mandated to share with others, nameless or otherwise, in spite of one's own immediate needs and the hunger pangs gnawing at one's own insides.3

            Hence, we find in the "Christian" tradition from its earliest beginnings to the modern-day contradictory advice for those seeking a compassionate way of giving to others. The options vary: ritualistic giving of alms, altruistic behavior to members of your own religious community, a universal altruistic giving, and finally a giving to others indiscriminately until your own resources are exhausted. They all agree, however, that those more fortunate among us have an obligation to help the less fortunate in the human family. The most practical advice for negotiating these alternatives comes from Paul: Give to others in need as you yourself prosper and regularly set something aside for that purpose (1 Cor 16:1-3). Give as you are able and a little more besides (2 Cor 8:3), but don't overburden yourself (2 Cor 8:13-14). Make up your own mind about your giving and develop a cheerful attitude about giving to others (1 Cor 9:6-7). The ultimate goal is to help raise the standard of living of the poor to match your own (2 Cor 8:13-14).

            The sum of the matter among early followers of Jesus is this: give systematically to those less fortunate.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University



3 See Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus (Cascade, 2014), 89 for a discussion of this radical saying.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Responses to the Biblical Proposition: "God"

In biblical texts there are accounts of different responses to divinity. In this essay the divine is considered a proposition that individuals affirm, or not. The content of the proposition (what or who God is) differs from person to person; for people respond differently to the proposition “God,” because they conceive God differently. In general, we gather our ideas of divinity from our culture, engagement in society, religious gatherings, parents, and our own personal thought.1

I realize that people who believe firmly in God would state the title differently. Some might entitle the essay “Experiences of God found in the Bible.” My title and way of focusing the essay is necessary to maintain objectivity, for if there is no God, then claims to experience God, must arise from within the individuals who make such claims.

            In the Bible there are very few personal testimonies about experiencing God made by those individuals who had the experience. A personal testimony is made by the person who claims the experience. In such cases the identity of the claimant must be known, for the claim to be personal testimony. All other claims are secondary or tertiary. A secondary level of testimony is when a given writer claims an experience with the divine on someone else’s behalf. For example, the author of Acts, regarded as Luke by critical New Testament scholarship, records three accounts of Paul’s religious experience (Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:4-16; 26:9-18) and another of Stephen (Acts 7:55-56). Paul also describes religious experiences on the part of Peter and others (1 Cor 15:5-7). A tertiary level of testimony is when a writer of unknown identity claims a religious experience on someone else’s behalf; for example, Mark makes a claim for Jesus (Mark 1:9-11); the author of the book of Job records the religious experience of Eliphaz (Job 4:12-17); the author of First Kings records a religious experience of Elijah (1 Kgs 19:9-18). There is less chance of accuracy in secondary claims of experience with the divine, since such claims can be made to serve the interests of the writer.2 Tertiary claims of experiencing the divine are reliably open to charges of being fictionalized.

Here are three personal testimonies of experiencing the divine. Isaiah claimed a personal experience with God when he “saw” the Lord “high and lifted up” (Isa 6:1-3). This distant, holy, yet forgiving Lord (6:4-7), called on Isaiah to proclaim a harsh message to the people of Judah (6:8-13). Did Isaiah “see,” these things in the sense that the images were registered on the retina of his eyes (i.e., there was actually something physically there to see), or did he imagine the entire experience (i.e., it only happened in his mind), or did he “create” the account out of his religious faith?

John, the author of the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse), describes a psychedelic-like3 experience when he was enraptured “in the spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10). He heard behind him a voice “loud like a trumpet” (1:10). What he “saw” was the resurrected Lord presented in rather bizarre images (Rev 1:12-19). The rest of the book of Revelation constitutes other things John sees: “what is, and what is to take place hereafter” (1:19), which John wrote down in obedience to the command to “write” (1:19). Once again, a reader must decide if this experience was registered on the retina of John’s eyes, or were produced by his imagination, or created out of his system of religious beliefs.

Paul does not describe the actual moment of his encounter with the divine but alludes to aspects of it (Gal 1:11-17; 1 Cor 15:8). The elements of the event were:  God revealed God’s son to Paul to preach among the Gentiles (Gal 1:16; 1 Cor 15:8) and Jesus Christ himself revealed to Paul the gospel he preached (Gal 1:11-12).4

None of these experiences with the divine should be regarded as normative for one’s own experience. There is no such thing as a normative religious experience because people have different ideas about God.5 Gods conceived differently, “interact” differently, with those who conceive them.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1The Bible is not listed here because it is something we learn about and are taught by our parents and the culture in which we live.

2As in the case of Luke’s description of Paul’s experience: see Hedrick, “Paul’s Conversion/Call: A Comparative Analysis of the Three Reports in Acts,” Journal of Biblical Literature 100 (1981): 415-32.

3Imitating the effects of psychedelic drugs such as distorted or bizarre images or sounds.

4It is unclear to me whether Paul’s confidence that God set him apart before he was born and called him through grace was part of the divine encounter or is simply a part of Paul’s personal faith.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

Is Jaywalking a Sin against God?

Jaywalking is the act of pedestrians walking in or crossing a roadway that has traffic, other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules.1

In 2015 I published a blog entitled “What is sin?”2 In the essay I surveyed acts and attitudes in the Bible that were specifically described by Greek and Hebrew words that Bible translators rendered by the English word “sin.” What I discovered was surprising to me. There are very few acts and attitudes in the Bible specifically designated as sin. That made me wonder at the arrogance of contemporary religious leaders who impose on their flocks an expanded and rather modern list of sins. How does anyone know what offends God?

            Some of the early writers of the New Testament encouraged those who shared their faith to present themselves to the Graeco-Roman religious pubic and the civil authorities as positively as possible (1 Thess 4:10-12; 1 Tim 2:2-3; Tit 3:1-2; 1 Pet 2:12-14), so that there would be no cause for criticism of the faith. Paul shared this view, except that he raised the significance of public image by incorporating it into his theological system as a religious obligation. Whether he did or not depends on whether you think Paul wrote Romans 13:1-7, which sets forth theological reasons for the Christian’s obedience to the civil authority and the state.3

            The author of Romans 13:1-7 argues that Christians should be subject to the authority of the state, apparently any state, that is the governing authority under which the Christian lives.4 With respect to civil laws (which would include jaywalking) this passage asserts three things.

  1. All governing authority is instituted by God (Rom 13:1-2).
  2. Civil servants are God’s servants and instituted by God for the purpose of governing the state (Rom 13:4, 6).
  3. If one rebels against civil authority, one will incur God’s judgment (13:2), for God punishes the law breaker though the civil authority (Rom 13:4).

In other words, civil laws are God’s laws. Therefore, one would have to conclude that the author of Romans 13:1-7 might have understood jaywalking to be a sin against God, for jaywalking defies laws instituted by the civil authorities, who are God’s servants for the good of the state.

            Such reasoning seems patently absurd to me. While it is plausible that God may have endorsed the concept of governing authority in general, it is absurd to think that God endorses every government. For that would make God responsible for approving repressive, incompetent, and inhumane regimes. Further, it is rather obvious that civil servants are not God’s servants but are appointed to their positions by flawed leaders, who (at bottom) have their own or party interests at heart. Consider only our democratic system of government. How many elected officials in congress think of themselves as “servants of God” and consider themselves “appointed by God” to the task of governing?

            But, perhaps, I am simply too disillusioned from following the news closely these past ten years or so. I find it difficult to think of jaywalking as a sin that offends God. If God “thinks” about jaywalking at all, God would likely consider it as most of us do, foolhardy and an unnecessary risk (unless the streets were empty of traffic and the jaywalker had looked both ways to determine their emptiness). Would this hold true, do you suppose, about all minor infractions of the civil code?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaywalking#United_States

2 http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=what+is+sin

3Romans 13:1-7 is likely an interpolation into the letter and not by Paul: for the argument, see Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge, 2010), 253-54.

4The major governing authority in the first century CE Mediterranean area was the Roman State.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Nobody Smiles in the New Testament

Why is that, do you suppose? I am not sure the question can be answered, but characters do not smile (meidiaō) in the New Testament and the word smile never appears. A relaxed smile is seen as an expression of inner contentment, happiness, and emotional calmness. A smile, however, can be used in numerous ways. For example, to put others at ease, or it can be used, deceitfully, to fool someone into thinking that all is well, but that is because people generally understand a smile to reflect a contented inner being and friendliness. The absence of smiling in the gospels, for example, is a bit perplexing, for other emotionally related attitudes do appear. In Mark, for example, Jesus is moved with pity (1:41); he is angry (3:5), greatly surprised (6:6), exasperated (8:12), indignant (10:14), hungry (11:12), sorrowful (14:31), and feels forsaken by God (15:34)—but never smiles.

Mark has missed many opportunities to tell the reader that Jesus or some another person smiles. Here are two examples where Mark misses a chance to show Jesus' humanity: Mark 7:29, Jesus replies to the Syrophoenician woman's retort: "and he [smiling] said to her..." Mark 14:45, Judas's deceitful kiss: "and [he smiled] and kissed him…" (compare also:1:41; 2:5; 5:19; 5:24; 6:34; 5:36; 6:31; 8:21; 9:23; 10:21; 12:34; 16:6). Or should one assume that Mark wants his readers to think that Jesus never smiled? The author of the Gospel of John does tell the reader that "Jesus wept" (John 11:35); so why not at some point portray Jesus smiling?1

The absence of smiles in Mark is all the more perplexing when one realizes that characters are made to smile in other ancient literature. For example, smiles are mentioned in the Septuagint (Sir 21:20) and the New Testament Apocrypha (Acts of Paul 3:4, where Paul smiles). And smiles appear in classical literature: in the Illiad 1.595, where the Goddess Here smiles; in the Illiad 5.426, where Zeus smiles, and in the Odyssey 4.609, where Menelaus smiles.

The author of the Gospel of Mark, as a rule, does not encourage the reader's imagination with visually descriptive language.2 I have argued that whenever Mark occasionally does use language that titillates a reader's visual imagination it appears to be due to inadvertence.3 The most glaring exception to Mark's lack of visually descriptive language is the Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9), which is quite descriptive. It is, however, possible that Mark wants to cast Jesus as a clever man4 and has been influenced by Sirach 21:20, which has this to say about smiling:

A fool raises his voice when he laughs, but a clever man only rarely smiles.

How do you see it?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1A related attitude, laughter (gelōs), only appears once in the New Testament in a positive sense (James 4:9). Other uses of laughter in the New Testament occur as scornful laughter (katagelaō: Matt 9:24, Mark 5:40, Luke 8:53). Did Jesus ever laugh, do you suppose? While Mark does not specifically rule it out, s/he does not encourage the reader to think of Jesus as laughing.

2See Hedrick, "Conceiving the Narrative: Colors in Achilles Tatius and the Gospel of Mark," pp. 177-97 in R. Hock, J. B. Chance, J. Perkins, eds. Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative (Scholars Press, 1998).

3Hedrick, "Conceiving the Narrative," 186-97.

4Note Jesus' clever response to the question of the Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes to Caesar, Mark 12:17.


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Exaggerations in the Gospel of Mark

Do little deceptions in the interest of furthering the kingdom of God matter?

To Exaggerate: “To magnify beyond the limits of the truth; to represent something as greater than it really is.”1 What difference does it make if the author of the Gospel of Mark occasionally overstates the truth? Mark’s exaggerations are most noticeable when Mark uses the Greek words olos (whole, entire, complete), or pas (all). Not all uses of these words are exaggerations, however, but when Mark uses them in connection with incidents or things he could not possibly have known even if he were present, then the statement becomes a clear exaggeration.

            What I consider Mark’s classic instance of exaggeration is Mark 1:5, regarding the popularity of John the Baptizer:

And there came forth to him all (πας) the Judean countryside and all (πας) the inhabitants of Jerusalem and they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.

My response to this statement is: “Now just a minute Mark; are you saying that at that moment even those on their deathbeds or the mother giving birth, or those incapacitated by disease went down to the river to be baptized by John? Did your all include Roman soldiers and the entire priestly cadre of the Jerusalem temple, even the high priest himself?” Even though the Greek verb εξεπορευετο (“were going out” to him) indicates continuing action in past time (meaning that it is not a single event but events happening over time), it is not enough to render Mark’s statement credible.

Here is another example of Mark’s tendency to exaggerate:

Truly, I say to you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole (ολος) world, what she has been done will be told in memory of her (Mark 14:9).

This is not a description of something that has occurred but is an exaggerating prediction that the woman’s actions in the narrative (Mark 14:3-8) will be remembered throughout the entire world. That Mark’s prediction will, at some point in the future, come to pass is not something that Mark can know for certain. Mark believes that it will, and that makes it a faith supposition on Mark’s part.

            Other passages that I would describe as exaggerations are the following: ολος (entire): 1:33; 15:16; 15:33. Πας (all): 1:37; 4:32; 5:20; 6:30; 7:3; 9:3; 11:18; 12:44. Other uses of πας and ολος for comparison to Mark’s exaggerating statements are πας (all): 2:13; 5:33; 6:56; 9:15; 11:32; ολος (whole, entire, complete): 1:28; 1:33; 1:39; 6:55; 8:36; 12:30.

            If the reader is convinced that Mark has in some instances exaggerated, that suggests several things.

  1. An exaggerated history is unreliable.
  2. An evangelist that exaggerates is untrustworthy.
  3. On the theory that God has in some way inspired the evangelist (Mark) raises the following conundrum: is God responsible for the exaggerations, or is God simply forced to work through a flawed writer in this case?
  4. Exaggerations in Mark raise serious questions as to what we think is most reliable in Mark. For example, Did John, the baptizer, baptize Jesus? Even critical scholarship affirms the datum that Jesus was baptized by John.2

These observations prompt the question: Why would Mark exaggerate? Handbooks of literary form say that the “bold overstatement [hyperbole] or extravagant exaggeration of fact or possibility [exaggeration]” “may be used either for serious or ironic or comic effect.”3 Mark is very serious, using exaggerated statements to increase the appeal and effectiveness of his story with the reading public, at the cost of candidness.

Should deceptions in support of the kingdom be considered permissible? What do you think?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Oxford English Dictionary, definition #3.

2Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: What did Jesus really do? (Harper, 1998), 54. Mark 1:9 is printed in a dramatic red. For an opposite view see C. W. Hedrick, “Is the Baptism of Jesus by John Historically Certain,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 44.3 (Fall 2017), 311-22.

3M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (6th ed.; Harcourt Brace, 1993), 85.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Lord our God is One Lord

Mark reports an incident in which a scribe asked Jesus, “What commandment is first of all?” Jesus replied using the words of Scripture, “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29; Deut 6:4). In Mark this statement introduces the first commandment. The statement is the beginning of what Israelites called “the Shema” (Deut 6:4-9) from the Hebrew word for “hear.”

This part of the answer in Jesus’ response, oddly, is omitted by Matthew (22:36) and Luke (10:26-27), making Matthew and Luke disagree with Mark by their omission of the idea of the oneness of God. This statement (the Lord is one) was voted gray by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar by a mail vote. There were no red votes; 40 persons voted it pink, 53 voted it gray and 7 black (the weighted average of the vote indicated the saying had a 0.44 percent chance of being original with Jesus), which necessitated a gray color in The Five Gospels.1 The color gray signified that “Jesus did not say this but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.”2 The principal rationale for the negative vote is that the saying has singular attestation; that is, it only appears in Mark.3 Singular attestation for the saying, however, should not disqualify the saying, since the Seminar voted numerous sayings with singular attestation as originating with Jesus (for example, Luke 10:30b-35). A second objection to the saying being something Jesus said is that it is an integral part with the dialogue in which it is embedded. But that is also true of other sayings of Jesus approved by the Seminar (for example, Luke 9:59-60, Mark 2:27-28, Matt 22:21).

            Had Jesus grown up in a social context that was even nominally religious he could scarcely have helped being familiar with the Shema or even speaking its words numerous times:

“You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be a frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9).

That “the Lord is one” became Judaism’s confession of faith; it both stresses Yahweh’s exclusiveness, and emphasizes that Yahweh is “an integral person, not divisible into a number of other Gods or forces.”4 If the Book of the law discovered in the temple (2 Kgs 22:8-13) and that was responsible for the reforms of Josiah in 622 BCE (2 Kgs 23:1-25) was the Book of Deuteronomy, as is generally assumed,5 the Shema subsequently would have played an important role in the religious life of the Israelite. I see no serious argument causing me to doubt that Jesus shared the view of the Shema that “The Lord, our God, is one Lord.”

            Mark 12:29, however, surfaces a serious clash between Jesus (if he actually shared this idea) and contemporary Christianity. Jesus’ statement “the Lord, our God, is one Lord” seems to me to be something very different from Christianity’s the Lord, our God, is three persons in one.6 What do you think?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1“Voting Records,” Forum (6,3-4 September/December 1990), 271.

2Robert Funk and Roy Hoover, eds., The Five Gospels (Macmillan, 1993), 36-37.

3Five Gospels, 104-105.

4J. A. Wharton, “Shema, The” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 321-22.

5 J. Kenneth Kuntz, The People of Ancient Israel (Harper & Row, 1974), 317-27.

6 C. W. Hedrick, “Public Image and a Triune Deity,” Blog: Wry Thoughts about Religion: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/searchq=public+image+and+a+triune+deity

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

My Ears and the Bible

For several years my hearing ability has grown increasingly worse. In recent months the tinnitus has increased to a crescendo in both ears. Without hearing aids, I am virtually deaf in my right ear, while the loss of hearing in my left ear is severe. I have sought help from otolaryngologists (ENT docs). They have been able to do little, except to puncture my right eardrum to reduce pressure in the right ear, and my hearing loss in the left ear continues to decline. It set me to wondering what ear problems might look like from a biblical perspective.

            I discovered that the biblical writers attributed loss of hearing to a variety of reasons (a great deal of inconsistency exists between biblical writers) and there are several reasons for, and several “cures” of, hearing problems to be found in the Bible.1 One ancient writer (2nd Sam 19:31-40) attributed loss of hearing to age (2nd Sam 19:35) as though it were a natural phenomenon. It was regarded as one of the assorted ills of advanced old age that naturally comes with the territory. Today, we are told that nearly half of those older than 75 have hearing loss. Such information offers me little that I can do about my hearing loss. Today’s docs seem to agree with the author of Second Samuel: my hearing loss will continue to decline.

Another reason for loss of hearing is that God (if such there be) has chosen to make particular people “mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind” (Exod 4:10-11), for reasons known only to the divine mind. In ancient Israel such physical infirmities were believed to have been sent by God.2 Like Job said: should we receive good at God’s hands and not evil? (Job 2:10). It was not until after the Babylonian Captivity (587 BCE) and the Restoration of Israel (539 BCE) to the land that an alternate evil force emerged as a part of the belief of the people.3 Hence, if this is the reason for my loss of hearing, I must assume that I have been cursed by God for some unknown reason and I could never regain my hearing, unless God changed his/her mind.

A third reason for deafness is found in one story in Mark 9:14-29. Jesus exorcized an unclean spirit that had caused muteness and deafness (Mark 9:25; cf. 9:17) in a possessed boy. Matthew (17:14-21), however, regards the boy as an epileptic (17:15), a condition also believed to be caused by demon possession (17:18). Luke (9:37-43a) describes the boy as possessed by an unclean spirit (9:42) but says nothing about deafness. There is a related story in Mark (7:31-37) in which Jesus lays hands on a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. Neither Mark nor Matthew (15:29-31) regard this as an exorcism. In both gospels (Luke omits it), Jesus lays hands on the afflicted person (Mark 7:33-34) and “his ears were opened, and his tongue was released.” This story seems to authorize faith healing as an option for regaining hearing. In my case I presume that I should then seek the services of an exorcist or a popular faith healer.

There may be a fourth option for regaining my hearing. The book of James (5:14-15) recommends the following:

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

In some ways this option resembles the story in Mark 7:31-37; it seems to be a kind of faith healing with multiple healers involved. I am not sure that the elders (if we had them) of a Baptist church would have been up to such a miracle.

            Are any of these “cures” for hearing loss reasonable today? Anyone taking advice from the Bible probably should first decide what the present world is like before considering any of the Bible’s ancient recommendations. In my view in 2022 human beings are not manipulated by spirits (either good or bad). We do not protect ourselves by fetishes or prayer (although we may pray), rather we live in a century where genes, ancestry, germs, viruses, bacteria, vaccines, and medical science have more to do with determining health outcomes than do evil spirits.

Unfortunately, however, even rational, intelligent people can be guided into primitive solutions (“fetishes, spirits, or gods”) instead of ones recommended by modern medicine because of a personal phobia or an obsession originating in the mind4 or simply by being misled by some well-meaning but ill-informed minister. It is a good thing to remember that the earth moves around the sun; the sun does not rise every morning.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1This is because the Bible reflects about 1200 years of the passage of time and the demise of many cultures.

2Compare Isa 6:9-10 where God commissions Isaiah to interfere with people’s hearing so that they “will not hear with their ears and understand with their hearts.” A passage quoted in Mark 4:12.

3This story has the trappings of magic: fingers stuck in ears, spitting, a magic utterance, and sighing (Mark 7:33-34).

4Carl G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (Dell, 1964), 31-33.