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

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_gene

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.

6https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifty_Bibles_of_Constantine

7Ecclesiastical History, III, xxv.

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

9https://www.quora.com/Is-Christianity-a-true-religion-1

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

1https://aeon.co/essays/the-poor-might-have-always-been-with-us-but-charity-has-not

2http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2462.htm

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.

5http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=normative+religious+experience

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.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Did Jesus forgive Sins?

Did the historical man, Jesus from the village of Nazareth in Galilee, in the first century forgive “sins” committed by those Israelites who came under his influence? I cannot answer the question but intend to review the evidence available to answer it. I suppose one could reply to the question: why should he not forgive sins? He is also credited with empowering his followers to forgive sins (John 20:23). In reliance on this one verse some religious groups in the modern Christian church practice the forgiveness of sins in God’s name.1

The word “sin” is also a problem. The Bible uses the generic word sin quite frequently but very few specific acts or attitudes are ever designated as sin in the Bible.2 The modern church, however, regards many acts and attitudes as sin that are not called sin in the Bible. Those acts (called sin) and the persons (called sinners) committing the acts lack a basis in the biblical tradition for so designating them as sin/sinners. Hence, calling people who commit such acts sinners seems little more than a slur against them.3

            The evidence for Jesus forgiving sin is very meager. In Mark Jesus is portrayed as forgiving sin only one time, the Healing of the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). Matthew abridges Mark’s story, and Jesus still forgives the paralytic’s sins (Matt 9:1-8). Luke lightly edits the story, and Jesus still forgives the man’s sins (Luke 5:17-26). To this singular attestation (Matthew and Luke took the story from Mark) Luke adds another story, the Woman with an Alabaster Jar (Luke 7:36-50) in which Jesus forgives the woman’s sins, “which were many” (Luke 7:47). In the synoptic gospel literature, there are only these two incidents in which Jesus is portrayed as forgiving sins.

There is, however, a related story in the Gospel of John, the Woman taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11. The tradition history of this story does not encourage one to regard it as a historical event, although it is an early tradition; the earliest attestation is 5th century).4 We are told a woman was taken in the very act of adultery. The scribes and Pharisees brought her before Jesus and asked him what he thought about the law that required stoning as the punishment for adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:23-24). Jesus replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone.” Her accusers departed one by one beginning with the oldest. Jesus was left alone with the woman. “Has no one condemned you,” he asked. No one had. “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more,” Jesus said. It is interesting that he did not forgive her sin of adultery or her other sins.

Jesus did not condemn her, even though she was clearly guilty of committing adultery (after all, she had been caught in the act, 8:3). Even though Jesus did not condemn her, he did not forgive her and thus she was not absolved of her guilt before God. Hence, her guilt for this sin would have remained with her. Forgiving her sin/sins would have been the greater gift, if one assumes that Jesus, in fact, did have the authority to forgive sins. The story begs the question as to why the author of the story did not portray Jesus forgiving her, as well as not condemning her?

It seems to me that the scribes asked the question that penetrates to the heart of this narrative: “who can forgive sins, but God alone?” The scribes are clearly correct (Mark 2:6-7), it seems to me. Forgiving sins is God’s business.5

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See Hedrick, “Can the Church grant Absolution for Sins?” Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 258-60.

2For the evidence, see Hedrick, “What is sin?” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 247-50.

3Ibid.

4See Hedrick, “Orphan Sayings and Stories in the New Testament” in Wry Guy Blog: http://blog.charl.com/search?q=woman+taken+in+adultery

5Mark 2:5 “Child your sins are forgiven” is rejected as a saying of Jesus the historical man by the Jesus Seminar; The Seminar understood Luke 7:47-48 as a Lukan embellishment: See the analysis by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (Harper San Francisco, 1998), 63-65; 291-292.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Outer Space, Religion, and the Bible

One doesn’t normally think of outer space as having anything to do with religion and the Bible, and it may seem rather strange at first to connect the two. Nevertheless, it seems to me they are related. Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the expanse that exists beyond earth and its atmosphere and that which exists between celestial bodies. Outer space does not begin at a definite altitude above the Earth's surface. The Karmen line, an altitude of 100 km (62 miles) above sea level, is conventionally used as the start of outer space in space treaties and aerospace records-keeping. The framework for international space law was established by the Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force on 10 October 1967. This treaty precludes any claims of national sovereignty and permits all states freely to explore the vast reaches of outer space.1

Outer space is the newest frontier of the human spirit beckoning explorers. We denizens of mother earth, who have lived into our majority in the 20th and early 21st, centuries belong to a first generation of Star Trek travelers whose fate it has become to explore our own solar system in preparation for interstellar space journeys. For a people whose destiny is the stars, the Bible has become, in part, only an interesting relic of our human past. It is a collection of texts accumulating part of the wisdom of our species in its childhood.

            There appears to be no concept of outer space in the Bible. The romantic biblical view of the cosmos is restricted to the earth and its atmosphere.2 Briefly, the ancient view of the universe in the Bible may be reconstructed as follows: Initially God created a bit of firmament (the heavens) around which swirled the waters of chaos (Gen 1:6-8; 8:27-29). The earth appeared at God’s command (Gen 1:9-10), mounted on pillars (1 Sam 2:8; Job 9:6; Ps 75:3) over which there stretched a vaulted or arched (Isa 40:22; Job 22:14; Prov 8:27) canopy or tent (Ps 104:2) from which the “lights” and stars in the vaulted canopy shined (Gen 1:14-18). Around this protected cocoon swirled the waters of chaos (Ps 104:5-9).

            The best that can be said for this biblical concept of the cosmos is that it is seriously flawed. The poetic theory that God created all things by a word (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 14-16) is not as logically convincing as the scientific theory of the “Big Bang.” The “Big Bang” theory avers that the universe exploded into existence in all directions from a singularity, and as a result of the explosion the edge of the universe continues to expand and recede outward from the earth at tremendous speeds that can be measured by changes in light rays (the Doppler effect).3 The farther away one goes in space from the earth, the farther back in time one moves toward the origin of the universe.4 Peering through the Hubble telescope involves one in time travel; one actually sees into the past to earlier stages of the universe’s formation. Of course. that is true of the Bible as well. Reading the Bible is a kind of time travel which allows one to peer into the past of our species. The Bible’s seriously flawed view of the cosmos disqualifies it as a reliable resource; nevertheless, the founders of the Flat Earth Society used the Bible as a resource for their understanding of the universe.5

Here is the point of this essay: If God created the cosmos (and s/he surely might have6), it is obvious from the existing cosmos that outer space came into existence at the same time or later, as scientists postulate.7 And this datum exposes one serious inadequacy in the biblical record.

The clash between the Bible and the challenge of space travel is only one of the Bible’s many limitations. Its failure to acknowledge outer space is a graphic illustration of its limitations. The Bible loses the how-of-creation argument to modern science, and that should make one wonder what other inadequacies exist in the Bible?8

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1These two statements are slightly adapted from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_space

For the treaty see: https://2009-2017.state.gov/t/isn/5181.htm

2See “The Biblical View of the Universe” in C. W. Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 13-15. An artist’s rendering of this scheme may be found at T. H. Gaster, “Cosmogony,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.; Abingdon, 1962), 1:703.

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redshift

4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang

5https://theflatearthsociety.org/home/index.php/about-the-society

6See Hedrick, “Matter and Spirit: Making Sense of it All” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade: 2019), 174-77.

7Scientists postulate the age of the cosmos at 13.77 billion years, https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-resources/age-of-the-universe

And the age of the earth is calculated at 4.54 billion years, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-age-earth/? Thanks to PaulYR for this correction. See the comments below.

8I address another category of discrepancy in the following: C. W. Hedrick, “Introduction, Superstition, Faith, and the Marginal Relevance of the Bible” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 1-12.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Why doesn't God speak English?

Or for that matter, why doesn’t God speak any modern language? Why do you suppose that is? I suspect, no one knows, if they ever even wondered about it. God, however, is given credit for knowing all languages and is quoted in the Bible as speaking audibly in ancient Hebrew and Greek. In fact, even today many around the world claim that they speak to God regularly in prayer and God answers.

I concluded that God did not speak English several years ago while praying in a men’s Bible class in Baptist Sunday School. I suddenly realized that I was doing all the talking in my prayer. I was aware of no audible, or inaudible, “voice” in any language in my head, other than my own; I detected no indications of a presence other than me. Of course, my thoughts were not audible, but they were in English. Basically, I concluded that prayer was a one-sided conversation, and all effort to communicate came from my end. In my view this situation appertains to most every person who prays. Some, no doubt, do hear voices. Those who hear audible ethereal voices have serious problems and need professional counseling. Of course, it might be objected that God does “speak spiritually” to others in their prayers but that God for whatever reason has chosen not to speak to me. My contention, however, is that my situation is no different from the average person.

            If people do receive answers to their prayer, as a great many people claim, could such “answers” arise from the subconscious?1 Our subconscious is aware of what goes on in the conscious mind, while the conscious mind is generally oblivious to what goes on in the subconscious. While the conscious mind prays, the subconscious mulls over the issues raised during prayer, and these subconscious ruminations return to the conscious mind as flashes of insight, which the one who prays interprets as answers to prayer. Such answers may constitute the “still small voice” (1 Kgs 19:12), which Elijah claimed to hear in a cave on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19:1-18).

If this speculation has any merit, answers to prayer do not come from outside us but arise from within us. We are not conversing with God but with our subconscious selves. Subconscious thoughts that suddenly break into our consciousness are not God speaking. It is the subconscious summoning us to what we have neglected and/or providing us with answers to problems we have worked out subconsciously. At least such an analysis might explain the awesome silence of our one-sided prayers.

            The apostle Paul describes what may be a similar attitude toward the experience of prayer. He did not seem to think much of a believer’s effectiveness in prayer; he regarded the human spirit2 as simply inadequate at the business of praying:

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27, RSV).

What Paul describes seems to be a subliminal experience. I have never been aware of the Spirit in my head when I pray. Our stumbling attempts to engage God in prayer are simply inadequate. According to Paul, it is the deep sighs of the Spirit that bring our concerns, requests, and pain before God. God knows the mind of the Spirit; hence, the communication (if any) is not between God and the one who prays, but between God and the Spirit. The one who prays may initiate the process, but the Spirit intercedes.

            I am not sure what to do with Paul’s early directive: “Pray continually!” (1 Thess 5:17).3 If true, we must have the subconscious capacity for prayer while we consciously tend to other matters. The Spirit intercedes, and the subconscious responds with flashes of insight, while our conscious minds meanwhile are occupied with other things.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-unscious-2796004

https://imotions.com/blog/what-is-the-subconscious-mind/#where

2For Paul’s references to the human spirit see Rom 1:9, 8:16-17, 1 Thess 5:23.

3This is the translation of the Revised English Bible, and the NIV. The verse is translated as “Pray without ceasing” by the Revised Standard Version, the New American Bible, and Bart Ehrman. Two rather interpretative translations that remove the idea of continually being in an attitude of prayer (which is implied in the present imperative) are Dewey, et al. (“live with reverence”) and Goodspeed (never give up praying”).

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Piety and the early Christian Tradition

Do you think of yourself as pious? In the practice of religion, the word pious is construed today in contradictory ways. The first definition for pious in my dictionary is: "marked by or showing reverence for deity and devotion to divine worship." The second reads: "marked by conspicuous religiosity." The first definition is positive; reverence for deity (if such there be) and devotion to worship of the divine (if such there be, and if one believes in behaving in such a way) is a positive act. The second definition sounds like "excessive religiousness." How could anything in excess be positive? Too much of anything is not a good thing (nothing in excess is an ancient Greek maximum). The fourth definition is divided into two parts: 4a reads: "marked by sham or hypocrisy"; 4b is: "marked by self-conscious virtue."1 So it seems the definitions for piety range from a humble reverence for deity at one end and conspicuous hypocrisy at the other.

            Several words for piety from the ancient Greek world appear in the New Testament. The verbal forms (eusebeō and thrēskeuō) and their derivatives receive different translations from scholars. These words appear in what I construe as the later books of the New Testament. The words do not appear in the gospels or the undisputed Pauline letters. In the Bauer/ Danker lexicon eusebeō is translated as "to show uncommon reverence or respect, [that is,] to worship." And thrēskeuō is translated "to practice cultic rites; to worship." Here are some passages that use these verbal forms or their derivatives (1 Tim 5:4, Acts 17:23, I Tim 2:2, 2 Tim 3:5, 2 Pet 1:3, 2 Pet 1:6, Tit 1:1, Acts 10:2; James 1:26-27, Acts 26:5, Col 2:18). These words in the New Testament do not seem to have the strange positive/negative definition found in the meaning of the English word "piety." Likely because they do not address the issue of motivation.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-7:29), created by the gospel's flesh and blood author,2 one finds a short section (Matt 6:1-7, 16-18) directly addressing motivation for religious behavior. (Motivation constitutes the reasons why one behaves as one does.) Matthew does not use eusebeō or thrēskeuō. Instead Matthew uses dikaiosunē a word usually thought of as "righteousness." In its context here it is best translated in English as "righteous behavior,"3 but translators have rendered it variously into English as piety, religion, good deeds, charity, acts of righteousness, and righteous deeds in the few translations I checked. In these few verses Matthew condemns conspicuousness in the practice of religion and directs that charitable deeds, prayer, and fasting should be quietly and inconspicuously done.4 Those who do these acts in order to be seen by others get no credit with God (6:1, 2, 5, 16). Those who do receive credit with God for their righteous behavior are those who do their religious acts "in secret" (6:3-4, 6, 17-18).

            In Matthew's view righteous behavior (think of it as pious acts) in the earliest Christian tradition consisted of unostentatiously giving charitable gifts (alms), praying privately, and inconspicuously depriving oneself of food (i.e., fasting) for religious reasons. In addition, one must do these activities motivated by the right reasons (Matt 7:35 = Luke 6:45). The writer we call James adds to these behaviors, humane consideration for others (1:27-28; cf. Matt 25:31-46):

Devotion to God (threskeia) that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

To judge by Matthew's words our modern ecclesiastical ideas about piety may be misguided. Piety does not consist of church-based religious activities. For example, attending a preaching hour of the church is not a "service" rendered to God. (I assume we attend such a gathering for ourselves.) Piety is an attitude toward deity that may be judged positive, negative, or misguided by its behavioral expression. In other words, piety is expressed in specific activities that are commensurate with a certain attitude toward deity. Modern piety, which seems to consist of serving God through group activities in a church context, differs from piety in the early Jesus tradition, which, idealistically, was a deep reverence toward God expressing itself in certain private acts performed with no pretentiousness—or so Matthew thought.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. "pious."

2There are five addresses by Jesus that the flesh and blood author of Matthew's gospel has arranged throughout the gospel: Matt 5:1-7:28; 10:1-11:1; 13:1-53; 18:1-19:1; 24:1-26:1. Note especially the endings to the addresses: "when Jesus finished these…"

3Some manuscripts use the word "alms" (eleēmosunēn), suggesting the tradition found the word (dikaiosunē), as used in most manuscripts, to be unclear or unsatisfactory.

4Very little of this material (6:3 and perhaps 6:6a) was found to have originated with Jesus by the Jesus Seminar: Funk and Hoover, The Five Gospels, 147-48. Two of these religious acts (giving alms and praying) are found linked in Acts 10:2.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Does Ancient Greek have Dangling Prepositions?

A dangling preposition is also called a hanging preposition or a stranded preposition. That is, it is a word that appears to have no function in a sentence. It is dangling because prepositions in English and Greek are words that appear in prepositional phrases in which the preposition takes an object. Here is an example: I went into the house. Into is the preposition and house its object. Occasionally, however, we use prepositions without an object in conversational English and in that case the preposition is said to dangle, having no real function in the sentence, since it no longer functions as a preposition. Here is an example: I wish I had a friend to travel with. With, in this sentence, is a preposition; it has no object. On the other hand, one might construe the verb to be "travel-with," which is not really a word, except, perhaps, in casual colloquial English. Here is another: I bought some new music to listen to. To is a dangling preposition since it has no object; although in colloquial English it might be "thought-of" as a part of the non-existent verb "listen-to." Here is another: Under these circumstances crucial actions are called for. For is the dangling preposition unless you construe it to be part of the nonexistent verb "called-for."

            A similar situation with prepositions also appears in ancient Greek but is nevertheless considered proper Greek by grammarians. I "looked-up" in the Gospel of Mark all the uses of the Greek verb eiserchomai (εισερχομαι). This word is a compound comprised of a Greek preposition eis (into) + the Greek verb erchomai (to come). It has the resulting translation (in the Danker-Bauer Greek Lexicon) of "to enter" or "to come into." In other words, the word has the force of something moving into something. If such a translation is correct, then why does Mark use another eis (into) with eiserchomai, which already has a preposition built into the verb eiserchomai? As best as I can tell the word appears some seventeen times in the Gospel of Mark. Fourteen times it appears using what I construe as the unnecessary preposition eis (because eis is already compounded in the verb). Once it appears using the preposition pros (to, unto, 15:43).1 And twice it appears without a redundant preposition (5:39; 13:15). In Mark 15:43 eis (into) would clearly be incorrect (one doesn't move into another person). Hence Mark uses pros (to): Joseph enters to Pilate. Mark drops the unnecessary eis in 5:39 and 13:15 since no location being entered into is stated. The general grammatical rule for Mark seems to be that eis is required to complete the verb eiserchomai, if a location being entered into is stated.2 If the location is stated, then eis or another preposition is required.

            Ancient Greeks construed eiserchomai as a deponent verb (passive in form but active in meaning); it is also construed as intransitive (meaning that it does not take a direct object) even though it is active in meaning. Hence, they would not usually complete the verb with a direct object. With certain prepositions, however, ancient Greeks can attach a complement in the accusative case directly to the verb without an extra redundant preposition. Mark, for example, renders proerchomai as transitive in Mark 6:33 and gives it a complement in the accusative (autous): "came before them" (proēlthon autous).3 The question becomes why should not the implicit preposition built into the prefix of the compound verb eiserchomai also obviate the need for another preposition after the verb? Or to put the issue differently: Why exclude eiserchomai from the list of verbs that can be used without the redundant preposition? What is different about the preposition eis? Surprisingly according to Liddell and Scott, Homer and the Greek poets use eiserchomai with the accusative and without a redundant preposition, but among prose writers eiserchomai is used mostly with the extra preposition and a complement in the accusative. Here is an example of eiserchomai with the accusative from Homer, The Iliad 3.184: και Φρυγιην εισηλυθον ("I went into Phrygia").4 In such instances, one wonders, would the Greek writer construe the accusative as the object of the preposition or the direct object.5

            An enterprising Greek linguist might regard Mark's duplication of the unnecessary preposition as an instance of a pleonasm (the use of more words than are necessary in order to convey meaning, which is either a fault of style or done for emphasis6). Blass/Debrunner/Funk report that "it is a common feature of the [Greek] language that a preposition compounded with a verb in its literal, local sense is repeated with the complement."7 Perhaps it is a pleonasm, but the use of eis with eiserxomai seems to me more a fault of style than something used for emphasis. An emphatic pleonasm would have been amen, amen (John 1:51; compare a single amen in Matt 5:18). In other words, Mark has presented the reader with a redundancy of linguistic expression by using eis after the compound verb eiserchomai; eis appears to be completely unnecessary or useless, since it is already built into the verb.

            From a historical perspective the ancient Greeks appear conflicted about what to do with eiserchomai. Should an extra preposition be added to the deponent verb compounded with eis? Homer and the poets say no; prose writers say yes. For Homer and the poets eiserchomai with the added complement was construed as sufficient; no extra redundant preposition was needed.

What is the significance of my observation? Perhaps it is nothing more than a pedantic exercise. On the other hand, however, perhaps it might suggest that Holy Scripture is not a "perfect treasure"8 (although some do regard it as precious9) since the Greek language in which it is written is not a perfect medium, and for that matter neither is English, one language into which Holy Scripture is translated. Language is no more perfect than the people who speak and write it.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Oddly, Mark uses pros with eiserchomai in this case rather than change the verb to proserxomai.

2Winer reports that compound verbs using eis "uniformly repeat εις." G. B. Winer, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament (7th ed. revised, enlarged and improved by G. Lünemann; Draper, 1892), 427.

3F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (trans. and rev. by Robert W. Funk; Chicago, 1961), 83-84 (para. 150). Here are two other examples of erchomai compounded with a preposition followed by the complement in the accusative: Luke 22:47; 19:1. There is probably another instance in manuscript P45at Mark 6:48. Other examples will be found in paragraph #150.

4Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Clarendon: Oxford, 1996).

5See H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (revised by G. M Messing; Cambridge: Harvard, 1956), para. 1553.

6 https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pleonasm

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/redundancy

7Blass, Debrunner, Funk, Greek Grammar, 256 (para. 484). F. Blass, Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch (revised by Albert Debrunner; Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht: Göttingen, 1949), p. 224.

8Baptist Faith and Message Statement, 2000: "The Holy Bible is a perfect treasure of divine instruction." https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#i-the-scriptures

9From the hymn, "Holy Bible, Book Divine," whose first line reads: "Holy Bible, Book divine, precious treasure, thou art mine," words by John Burton, Sr. in 1803.