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



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.