Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Jesus Remembered: A Gadfly on Israelite Religion

There is a rhetorical question, often asked: Why would anyone want to kill someone who wandered around the community telling charming stories, reminding neighbors to love one another, healing the sick, exorcizing evil spirits, and even supporting the Roman tax paid to Caesar (Mark 12:17)? The answer may lie simply in the fact that Jesus was remembered by the tradition, in part, as a critic of the religion in which he was reared, before he became, in the faith of the later Jesus gatherings, the savior of the world and much later, the second person in a divine trinity.

In the pronouncement stories Jesus is often quoted being critical of aspects of his own religious tradition.1 A pronouncement story in the gospels is a brief narrative told for the purpose of housing a saying attributed to Jesus. For example, in Mark 2:23-27, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees because his disciples “harvested” grain and ate it on the sabbath day, violating sabbath restrictions (Exod 20:8-11). Jesus replies that even David broke a taboo by eating consecrated bread (1 Sam 21:1-6), lawful only for priests to eat. The Sabbath was meant to serve humankind rather than being an ornery chore.

In another pronouncement story (Mark 3:1-6) Jesus attends a synagogue and met there a man with a withered hand. People watched him to see what he would do. He asked them, is one allowed to do good on the Sabbath? And he healed the man. His critics then conspired to destroy him. Both of these stories put Jesus in the position of challenging a basic aspect of the institutional religious tradition of his day, sabbath observance.

            Mark 11:15-192 is a story of Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple creating a disturbance by chasing-out the vendors and shoppers and saying that the religious philosophy allowing such practices has turned God’s house from a house of prayer into a hangout for crooks (Isa 56:6-8). It resulted in the chief priests and scribes planning on getting rid of him for challenging the institutional religion.

            I am inclined to call the settings of such narratives about institutional religion housing an antithetical saying attributed to Jesus, stories about the criticism of institutional religion that portray Jesus attacking, gadfly-like, Israelite religion.3 Such stories are traditional. That designation means they were products of oral recall, at some point between the public career of Jesus (around 30 C.E.) and the composition of the Gospel of Mark (around 70 C.E.). Mark found the stories in the stream of oral tradition, having been remembered, and passed around orally for about 40-50 years, and eventually repeated to him. Mark edited them to his tastes, and perhaps invented others. The historical character of the settings of the three stories discussed above is mixed. The Jesus Seminar/Westar book on the Acts of Jesus judges the setting of Mark 2:23-28 as likely to be historical (printed in the book in pink); Mark 3:1-6 was printed gray (likely not historical). The incident in the Temple (Mark 11:15-19) is multi-colored, although all seem to agree that an incident in the Temple took place at which time when Jesus rousted vendors and shoppers from the temple; the incident is likely historical (pink) other aspects of the story are gray and black, historically questionable.4

I am arguing that the settings of these traditional stories about institutional religion have historical value in themselves for informing the reader about how the life situation of Jesus was remembered. The memory that produced the setting is historical whether or not the settings reproduce a particular occasion in the life of Jesus or the sayings they house are considered to have originated with Jesus. The settings are not husks to be discarded; they describe social contexts in which Jesus was remembered. Bultmann describes the value of the traditional settings for the stories in this way:

The individual controversy dialogues may not be historical reports of particular incidents in the life of Jesus, but the general character of his life is rightly portrayed in them, on the basis of historical recollection.5

In other words, in such stories Jesus harped about the religion of the Israelites.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London: Macmillan, 1960), 63-87.

2Taylor refers to this narrative as a “story about Jesus,” 151, 179.

3R. Bultmann described the three stories I discussed above as controversy/scholastic dialogues. The History of the Synoptic Tradition (trans. John Marsh; Oxford, Blackwell, 1963), 11-69.

4The Jesus Seminar of the Westar Institute made a study of the stories about Jesus, evaluating whether the settings might be claimed to contain authentic memory of the time of Jesus: R. Funk, The Acts of Jesus. The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1998).

5Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 50.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Early “Christian” Prophets in Pauline Gatherings

There is no end of people today willing to tell you God's opinion on whatever issue is on the table. Few, if any, of them would claim to be officially recognized as prophets by a religious organization. In the ancient world, however, there were many who were called prophets and believed to speak God's words. This was also true among the early followers of Jesus.

The early Christian prophet was an immediately-inspired spokesperson for God, the risen Jesus, or the spirit who received intelligible oracles that he or she felt impelled to deliver to the Christian community or, representing the community, to the general public.1

The earliest reference in Christian literature to early Christian prophets in the assemblies of the Jesus-gatherings is found in 1 Thess 5:19-20. Here Paul speaks approvingly of the utterances of such figures—meaning that he apparently regarded them as divinely inspired by God's spirit; there were many such figures in the religions of the ancient world.2 Paul, however, had reservations about such figures even in his own tradition:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. (NRSV)

In other words, listen carefully, for not everything the prophet says may be helpful. So, discriminate in and among the prophetic utterances and hold onto what is profitable. I detect a healthy skepticism in Paul's statement about the utterances of early Christian prophets.

Prophets, who were believed to be channels for the words of a God, were endemic to his social and religious worlds (Israelite, and Greco-Roman traditions). The matrix and stimulus for such prophets and prophetic utterances in Jesus-gatherings likely came from both reading the Bible and pagan traditions. Prophetism was in the Greco-Roman air, as it were. In such a social environment, it was simply the way Gods were reckoned verbally to communicate.3

In the gathering at Corinth Paul acknowledged that God had given the gift of prophecy to certain people in the fellowship (1 Cor 12:10; Rom 12:3-8) and appointed them prophets (1 Cor 12:28-29). What the prophets were believed to bring was a direct revelation from God (1 Cor 14:29-32) for the encouragement, consolation, and benefit of the community (1 Cor 14:1-6). He did, however, continue to have reservations.

            The prophets in the community apparently could not control themselves and, like Jeremiah (20:9), the Word of the Lord was a "burning fire shut up in their bones," and they could not restrain it. So, they all prophesied at the same time (1 Cor 14:26-31), creating general confusion. Paul insisted that "the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Cor 14:32). So, they should all prophecy but only one at a time (1 Cor 14:30-31).

            Nevertheless, he still had reservations about the utterances of the prophets (1 Cor 14:29). Whatever they said must be carefully evaluated or judged (diakrinetōsan). Why is that? Because different spirits inspire prophets (1 Cor 12:3). And that is the reason why some in the assembly had the spiritual gift of discerning between spirits (1 Cor 12:10).

            It is interesting that in the Deutero-Pauline epistles (Colossians, Ephesians) and the Pastorals epistles (1, 2 Timothy, Titus) prophets are no longer a vital force in the Jesus-gatherings.4 Itinerant prophets are, however, found to be a problem in the Didache (11:3-12).5 Among other things, the writer says "do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit" (11:7), but recognizes that not everyone speaking in a spirit is a "true" prophet. The true prophet can be distinguished from the false prophet by his behavior (11:8-12). So, the writer of the Didache also had reservations about the prophets.

            When someone claims to know the mind of God and assumes to tell you what God requires of you—prophet or not, exercise a healthy dose of Pauline skepticism. Be an adult in your thinking (1 Cor 14:20). Evaluate and judge carefully what you are told, for who really knows the mind of God (Rom 11:33)?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1M. Eugene Boring, "Prophecy (Early Christian)" in D. N. Freedman, et al., The Anchor Bible Dictionary New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5. 495-502; the quotation is on 496.

2See Boring, "Prophecy."

3David S. Potter, "Prophecies," and Robert C. T. Parker, "Prophētēs" in Hornblower and Spawforth, Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.), 1259.

4Boring, "Prophecy," 500.

5Kirsopp Lake, The Apostolic Fathers (2 vols.; Cambridge, MA, Harvard University, 1965), 325-27. The date of the Didache is not settled, but a consensus seems to be gravitating toward the end of the first century or beginning of the second. See Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache. A Commentary (Hermeneia; trans. L. M. Malony; ed., H.W. Attridge; Minneapolis, MN, 1998), 52-53.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Why is the New Testament a Postscript in the Christian Bible?

My beginning question is: why are the Christian Holy Writings attached footnote-like to the end of the Jewish Bible? I suppose one could reasonably argue that the two collections are gathered into the Bible in the historical sequence of their dates of authorship. That is a reasonable thought, for the dates of the Hebrew Bible texts predate those of the New Testament (NT). But why doesn’t the same rationale apply for the order of the books within each collection? For example, the NT texts are not printed in historical order. If that were so, First Thessalonians would be the first text in the NT, followed by the rest of the undisputed Pauline letters, and the next few would be in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews,1 John…and second Peter would be the last text in the NT.

A more basic question now occurs to me: why do Christians use Jewish Holy Scriptures as Word of God and put the Jewish Scriptures first in the Bible? The answer seems to be they were “grandfathered” in, as they were the first canon of Christian Holy Writings. Here is the reason: The earliest followers of Jesus were Israelites, people of the Covenant God (Gen 12:1-3; Gen 17:1-14), whose holy writings were Israelite religious texts.2 When the Jesus movement later moved out into the Gentile world, capturing the imagination of Greeks and Romans, these later Gentile followers of Jesus continued to use the Bible of the Israelites (in its Greek translation), because the Israelites and these later followers of Jesus believed it to be “God breathed or inspired” (2 Tim 2:15-16).3

Those who wrote the NT searched their religious texts and found therein “prophecies” that supported their belief that Jesus was the Anointed One, who would come (Micah 5:2, for example), and applied the prophecies to Jesus. These prophecies, and the fact that they believed the Israelite writings to be Word of God, locked-in the Israelite writings as Holy Scriptures for Orthodox Christianity and secured their first-place position in the Christian Bible.

One notable exception to this “mixed” collection of Israelite and Christian texts was the biblical canon of Marcion that appeared around the middle of the second century. Nothing is preserved of his writings except refutations written by his Orthodox opponents. Marcion rejected The Israelite writings and published an abbreviated NT containing a shortened gospel (Luke) and ten letters of Paul (minus the Pastoral Letters and Hebrews). Marcion rejected the Israelite writings and their God, whom he regarded as a God of Justice (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”). The God of Jesus, on the other hand, was the God of Mercy. Marcion’s NT was the first attempt to form a distinctive collection of “Christian” writings.

The biblical canon of the Christian communities of the first 400 years in the evolution of Christianity retained the old covenant books (which they came to know as the Old Testament [OT]) and added to them the new covenant/testament books (now known as the NT).4 Both collections are named for covenants God is believed to have made with humankind. The covenants are briefly alluded-to in Heb 8:6-12, where the author of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah (31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12), who anticipated a “new covenant” with God. The author of Hebrews adds the following statement to the end of Jeremiah’s quotation:

In speaking of a new covenant, he [Jeremiah] treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:13).

This “prediction” (toward the end of the first century), making the old covenant obsolete or useless, never happened. Christians are still using Israelite writings, and these old “obsolete” writings continue to hold first position in the Christian canon. The connection with the old covenant, although “obsolete,” will likely never “disappear.” For example, when the two different collections are discussed in dictionaries of the Bible under the entry “Canon,” the editors reverse their usual alphabetical listing of entries by listing Old Testament before New Testament. Their alphabetical order would have been NT before OT.

            The tradition of individual churches decided the order of the contents in papyrus NT manuscripts, which was largely determined on the basis of interest and what could be gotten into a papyrus codex (i.e., book). The surviving papyrus fragments of NT texts do not include OT books. In the papyrus manuscripts of the second through fourth centuries, which are mostly fragmentary, there are few differences with the order of today’s NT, which is also traditional.

            The large parchment uncial Bible manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), surviving from the fourth century CE, however, contain both OT and NT with NT texts tagged on at the end of the OT texts. Why is that do you suppose? Two reasons occur to me: The OT was considered Word of God long before Christians began writing what eventually became NT texts, and it took around 200 years, or so, for these “postscripts” to achieve Word of God status. Hence, the OT/NT order is simply traditional.

            Isn’t it time that some enterprising ecclesiastical scholar reconsidered that arrangement and recommended putting the NT books first? It just seems rather odd to begin the Christian Bible with the Jewish Scriptures!

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, 246. John was written in the last decade of the first century (90-99). Hebrews is earlier “probably written between 80-90” (p. 403).

2There was not at the time of the public career of Jesus (around 30 CE) a collection of religious texts that all members of the Israelite religious community agreed upon. The Hebrew Bible, as we know it today, is thought to have been formed by the surviving group, the Pharisees, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans.

3The comment in Second Timothy does not refer to the Christian Bible but rather it refers to what are today the Jewish Holy Scriptures.

4Covenant in Greek is diatheke; in Latin it is testamentum. The words mean the same thing.

5See note one above. The critical date for the writing of Hebrews is earlier than the writing of John.

Monday, May 27, 2024

The Amalgamated Jesus

The image of Jesus that functions in the institutional church is a composite drawn from the four canonical gospels that is undergirded by a theological statement of the church. Children are taught the theological statement from the earliest possible age and when the child reaches maturity, s/he fills out the image choosing material indiscriminately from the four canonical gospels as taught in the church’s educational program.

            In the popular ecclesiastical mind, the narratives of all four gospels are regarded as reliable historical documents. The truth is, however, that they are written a generation and more after the death of Jesus. The narratives are based on brief anonymous oral reports of the sayings and doings of Jesus. The descriptions of Jesus, his activities, and his words are the products of impressions on the minds of those nameless persons who transmitted the oral reports, and the impressions the reports made on the minds of the evangelists, who then produced the gospels. The information from the oral reports has been filtered through the faith of each evangelist, which s/he had been taught in the church.1 We have nothing directly from the mouth of Jesus. It is doubtful that anything survived the rigors of the oral period intact.

            Hence the gospels are a collage comprised of historical data, ecclesiastical theory and dogma, quotations and misquotations, and invented plots or story-lines. Critical readers of the New Testament have been aware of many of these problems since the late 1700s. The writing, The Age of Reason, by the American Statesman, Thomas Paine, anticipates “many of the insights of contemporary critical biblical scholarship.”2

            Each of the canonical gospels presents to the reader unique portraits of the man.3 A portrait is a unique painting by the artist recording how a particular painter sees the subject, and that is also true of the literary portraits by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are always similarities and differences. At times the differences in their portraits are glaring, at other times subtle. The primary reason Matthew, Mark, and Luke (they are called the “synoptic gospels”) are so similar is because Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, and they also shared another hypothetical sayings’ source, which accounts for similarities in literary structure and in the sayings of Jesus. Matthew and Luke make changes to Mark’s text according both to their own theological proclivities and literary styles. The Gospel of John has little in common with the other three. The images of Jesus in the canonical gospels are not historical photographs but novelistic portraits.

            Here is one glaring example of their contradictory differences. In Mark 4:10, the author we call Mark puts on the lips of his literary character, Jesus, the reason why Mark thinks the historical figure, Jesus, told such difficult-to-understand stories (that is, parables):

So that they may indeed see, but not perceive, and may indeed hear, but not understand; lest they should turn again and be forgiven.

Matthew (13:13) and Luke (8:10b) completely eliminate the offensive phrase, “lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” Matthew and Luke reject the idea that Jesus told parables to prevent people from understanding, lest they turn and be forgiven by God. John, on the other hand, does not even use the word parable and does not portray his literary character, Jesus, telling any of the classic parables known from the synoptic gospels.4

            These kinds of differences in the portraits of Jesus in the canonical gospels are lost in the pious ecclesiastical amalgamations of Jesus.

It’s just common sense, folks.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide.

2Hedrick, “Thomas Paine and the Bible,” The Fourth R (September-October 2022), 4.

3Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide. Studying Jesus (Hendrickson, 1999; reprint, 2013) 30-47.

4See the description of each portraiture of Jesus in Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide, 32-46 and “Is John a Revisionist Gospel?” pp. 151-54 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019).

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Is the Earth still Cursed?

In Gen 3:17 God tells Adam:

cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread…(RSV)

The "curse" on the ground is because of Adam's sin (his disobedience in eating the fruit of a particular tree in God's special Garden, Gen 2:17). The land is cursed and will bring forth "thorns and thistles," specifically for Adam and because of what he did. He must, as a consequence, laboriously work the land for its produce. In the Garden apparently the land did not require work; it simply produced (Gen 1:29-30; 3:23). There is a similar curse in Gen 4:11-12, as well: the land will not produce for Cain because he killed Abel. Apparently, God's curse of the ground for Adam was not a general curse for all humankind, since another curse was needed to register God's displeasure at Cain's egregious act. But this seems refuted by Gen 5:29, where Lamech claims that the birth of Noah "will bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands," which suggests that the cursing of the earth did apply to all flesh.

            Through a great flood God determines to destroy all flesh along with the earth, "for the earth is filled with violence through them" (Gen 6:11-13). Apparently, the earth is to be destroyed because it is corrupted by its association with all flesh (Gen 6:12). God is so delighted with Noah's sacrifice when the flood waters subsided, however, that he vowed never again to "curse the ground because of man" (Gen 8:21), but there is nothing said about the earlier curses being lifted, whether general or specific (Gen 8:20-22).

            The prophet Isaiah seems to share the idea that the earth is generally cursed (Isa 24:3-6). "Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt" (Isa 24:6). Why should the earth/ground/land suffer because of its association with "all flesh"? The reason seems to be that God formed Adam/humanity "from the ground" (Gen 2:7):

In the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:19; cf. Job 34:15; Ps 103:14).

In biblical mythology Adam and the ground are the same kind of "stuff." The answer to my question seems to be that it is on the basis of the same principle (although in reverse) from which Paul argues in 1 Cor 15:21-22 (i.e., the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, Deut 5:9-10).1 God appears to be holding the earth responsible for the sins of its progeny, for people are descended from "earth." In this case, the sins of the children are visited upon the father (earth).

            Is the cursing of the earth in Genesis the background for understanding Paul's "restoration" (Rom 8:21) of creation (ē ktsis) in Rom 8:19-22? Possibly. I know of one scholar (there are no doubt many others) who thought that to be the case: James Denny finds the need for the "restoration" of creation in Romans 8:19-22 to be the cursing of Adam in Gen 3:17, "where the ground is cursed for man's sake; he [Paul] conceives all creation as involved in the fortunes of humanity."2 Paul never clearly says that in so many words, so far as I know. Only in the rather obscure phrase at the beginning of Romans 8:20 is it possible to infer it when he writes, "the creation is subjected to futility (mataitēti, i.e., meaning its lack of value, or usefulness), which is the condition to which God's curse rendered it for Adam, requiring it to be laboriously worked.

            Colossians 1:19-20 seems to include "all creation" in its "all things on earth or in heaven" (note: Col 1:16, ta panta is everything). If this expression can be said to include all creation, then a Pauline disciple (the author of Colossians) includes even the insentient "stuff" of the universe of God's created works in the economy of redemption.

            The difficulty, however, is that the Bible doesn't speak generally of the restoration of an original creation. By far the more dramatic image in the Bible is the dissolution of the old creation, and the birthing of a new heavens and earth (Isa 65:17, 66:22; 2 Pet 3:7-13; Rev 21:1). Will there eventually be an old creation restored, as Paul seems to think, or the destruction of the original creation and the birth of a new heavens and earth, as "Peter" believes will happen? Who is right Peter or Paul?

How do you see it?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1For the Idea of blaming the children for their father's sins, see also Exod 20:5-6; 34:6-7. For a rejection of this idea, see Jer 31:29-30; Ezek 18:2-4.

2James Denny, "St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans" in W. R. Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament (5 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 2.649.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Ancient Paganism and Modern Paganism

The words pagan (paganus) and paganism are derived from the Latin and had a number of secular usages in ancient Roman society.1 In early ecclesiastical Latin, however, the terms are used pejoratively by Christians to designate those who do not share Christian faith; hence they are heathens or pagans. The word pagan is used in much the same way that the Greek word ethnos (the nations; usually translated “gentile”) served those of the Jewish faith (and later Christians) to designate those who did not profess faith in the God of Israel. This same word (ethnos) is also used by Paul to designate the prior polytheistic status of the Corinthian members of the Pauline gathering (1 Cor 5:1; 12:2, see also 10:20) where it is translated by the word pagan.2 In the fourth century paganism is broadly conceived as the “religion of the peasantry,” what was practiced in the countryside.3 A pagus was a person who lived in the country out of the city and practiced the old polytheistic ways of the Greco-Roman religions.

            Modern paganism seems to be something different from ancient paganism in the early Christian period. From what little I know about modern paganism it does not worship the ancient Greco-Roman Gods. My limited knowledge comes from a book I ran across in a modern book cemetery (Good Will). I rescued it and brought it home to read.4 The book is by two practicing pagans and appears to be a primer for persons considering a pagan faith and lifestyle (pagan wannabes). The sub-title to the book (see notes) characterizes the basic tenet of modern paganism. According to the authors, modern paganism originates in a particular attitude to the universe of which our earth is representative. The author briefly discusses only what he regards as the two major faith groups (Wiccan and Asatru; he alludes to others). I came to think of the groups, simplistically, as “denominations” in Earth-Centered Religions, similar to the various faith groups in Christianity.

            The authors of Paganism find a set of core principles (pp. 39-41) to Earth-Centered Religions, with which they think most pagans would agree. Three of these they emphasize as integrating “a variety of mystical and scientific perspectives” (pp. 133-34).

“Principle #4: Everything contains the spark of intelligence. Many pagans believe that everything from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest planetary system contains a spark of intelligence, or has some type of consciousness” (p.133). Hence, the universe is alive, has an interconnected sentience, is supportive, and is trustworthy. It operates “not only at levels that are physically grounded in time and space, but also at levels outside of time and space (p.199).

“Principle #5: Everything is sacred” (p.133). Hence the universe has a “sacred nature” and pagans “frequently feel a sense of kinship and connection with the universe”; they “may also believe that Deity permeates the universe and therefore see the universe as holy and blessed” (p. 134).

“Principle #6: Each part of the universe can communicate with each other part and these parts often cooperate for specific ends.” “Herin lies the heart of magick.5 Magick is a natural, not supernatural process, which in its simplest form, is the communication of many consciousnesses” (p. 134). Hence the pagan can engage the universe by the “process of stepping into the universal flow and choosing to participate with it in a deliberative fashion” (p.163) in much the same way that other religions think of prayer, meditation, inspiration, bliss, visions, revelation, miracles, etc. (p. 163).

            Although it may be dismissed as only figurative, Paul also appears to use sentient language of the creation in Romans 8:19-23: the creation waits with eager longing…subjected to futility not of its own will…creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God…creation has been groaning in labor pains…Eager longing (i.e., desire), having its own will (i.e., intent); sharing liberty (i.e., participating in redemption); groaning in labor pains (i.e. consciousness of pain and discomfort).

            Some interpreters of Romans seem to take Paul’s sentient language seriously: There is “a mysterious sympathy between the world and man…Creation is not inert utterly unspiritual, alien to our life and its hopes. It is the natural ally of our souls…[Creation] is the world and all that it contains, animate and inanimate…”6

            Does Paul express an attitude similar to that of modern paganism with his description of a sentient universe (κτσις)? Or, put another way, is Paul only using anthropomorphic language poetically and one should not, therefore, take it literally? So, how do you know?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1P. Rousseau, “pagan, paganism” in S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.; Oxford), 1091.

2C. T. Lewis and C. Short, A Latin Dictionary (London: Oxford, 1922), 1290.


4Joyce and River Higginbotham, Paganism. An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2002).

5Pagans use this spelling to distinguish magick from magic, slight-of-hand, and parlor tricks (Paganism, 163).

6W. R. Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament (5 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), vol. 2. 649.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Superstitious Survivals from the Ancient Past

What is superstition, anyway? According to one dictionary it is “any belief, based on fear or ignorance, that is inconsistent with the known laws of science or with what is generally considered in the particular society as true and rational; esp. such a belief in charms, omens, and the supernatural, etc.”1 Hence superstitions are beliefs or actions that violate rational thought as conceived in a particular society—which makes superstition relative to what passes as critical thinking in a given community.

Since the rise of human reason in the 18th century many of the superstitious survivals of antiquity have generally lost their influence in our scientific based Western culture—particularly with the rise of modern Western secular education. Yet many superstitions still survive in a kind of underground way in the modern Western world—similar to the survival of paganism in the ancient Roman world. Paganism was edged-out by Christian ascendancy around the fifth century. After 440 CE no pagans are listed among the elite of the City of Rome.2 Yet the ancient religions and superstitions of the Greek and Roman worlds survived in the countryside away from the population centers of the cities, where Christianity had established itself.

            I was reminded of the fact that ancient superstitions still survive in modern society upon reading a sentence from Homer’s Iliad. In a speech Achilles made before the assembled Achaean warriors on the occasion of a pandemic caused by the God Phoebus Apollo over a slight by Agamemnon to Apollo’s priest, Chryses. The Achaeans were pondering why Apollo had sent his arrows of pestilence among them. Achilles suggested that they “should consult some seer (mantis), or priest (iereus), or interpreter of dreams (oneriopolos) to discover the cause.3

A seer in the ancient world (and in the Bible) is one who divines the future and answers other questions from various means, such as observing the flights of birds, for example.4 A priest in the ancient world (and in the Bible) is one who was authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as an agent of mediation between people and God.”5 Oneiromancy, the interpretation of dreams, was prevalent throughout the ancient world (and in the Bible). Gods of the ancient world were thought to communicate with people through dreams (Matt 1:20-21; 2:13).

There was a prohibition of such practices in ancient Israel: there should not be found among you “anyone who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer” (Deut 18:10-12 RSV), but such figures were consulted anyway (1 Sam 9:9-12, 18-19).

These three supernatural practices still survive in modern Western society in various forms.  A psychic is a spiritual medium who answers questions dealing with matters beyond the physical world (check their availability on the internet). Priests are in the employ of certain modern religions. They are believed to have the power to mediate between God and people, particularly in the more ritualistic religious traditions (ascribing the divine presence to the elements of the Mass/Eucharist, for example). Dream interpretations are offered by psychics or mediums, who are believed to have the power to interface with the spirit world. Dream interpretation, however, has now also gone mainstream, and is a technique used by medically trained psychotherapists (hopefully not through the powers of spirits).6

Is Christianity’s Holy Spirit, perhaps, only another ancient superstition from the ancient past? It would seem, on the surface, that there is little difference between the ancient pagan belief that certain people communicated with and through spirit (not Holy Spirit) and Christianity’s belief that modern Christians communicate with God through Holy Spirit. Both groups access their Gods through the medium of spirit, what they both channel is a spiritual “reality,” and they are both pre-critical survivals from the ancient past.7 In what way is Christianity’s belief in Holy Spirit not also a survival from the ancient past? Why is it not also superstition, if pagan beliefs in spirit are superstition? If there can be one spirit (Holy Spirit), why can there not be more (pagan spirits)? Luke seemed to think so, when he described Paul as exorcising a spirit of the Pythia (Acts 16:16-18).

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th edition, 2002), s. v. “superstition.”

2Charles Hedrick, Jr., History and Silence. Purge and Rehabilitation of Memory in Late Antiquity (Austin: University of Texas, 2000), 57.

3Homer, The Iliad, Book 1, lines 62-63.

4See Charles W. Hedrick, “Prophecy, Divination and Fate,” The Fourth R 36.2 (March-April 2023), 15-18, 10. For other appearances of a seer in the Bible see 2 Sam 24:11; 2 kgs 17:13; 1 Chron 25:5; 2 Chron 9:29; Isa 29:10; Amos 7:12; Mic 3:7.

5Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1990), s. v. “priest.”

6National Library of Medicine:

See also Charles W. Hedrick, “Does God Communicate in Dreams,” Blog: Wry Thoughts about Religion, May 16, 2013:

7Hedrick, “Laying on Hands, to Pass on the Holy Spirit,” Blog: Wry Thoughts about Religion, July 8, 2021:

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Privative Life of God

Can it be true that God has a private life? Folks at my church seem to assume that God is always on duty, 24/7—particularly to receive all prayers. People seem to think God is even available to make spiritual house calls and hospital visits on a moment’s notice. Imagine; going to God in prayer and sensing a message glimmering in your mind: “call back in a week; on vacation!” Yet there are hints in the Bible that God does have something like a private life—moments when he is away from being hands-on (so to speak) running the world. The ancient Graeco-Roman Gods, on the other hand, are regularly depicted as having private lives.1 I grant you that Yahweh’s free moments are all depicted in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (OT). The New Testament (NT) writers are not much-given to reflecting on God anthropomorphically (i.e., depicting God as being human).2 Nevertheless these hints are there in OT.

            One indisputable attestation of God’s private life is revealed at the creation when God “finished his work and rested on the seventh day from all his work” and immediately “hallowed the seventh day” of the week (Gen 2:2-3), presumably as a day of rest (Exodus 20:8-11). What do you do when you are resting? The answer is, anything but work!3

The depiction of God as “walking in the garden [of Eden] in the cool of the day” (Gen 3:8) and making innocuous chit-chat (before the conversation got serious, Gen 3:9-13) with Adam and Eve sounds as if God’s refreshing pause in the heat of the day was spoiled by the coming of age of Adam and Eve.

            For some reason, God attempts to kill Moses as Moses is on his way to Egypt. God meets Moses at a lodging place on the way and tries to kill him (Exodus 4:24). It does not appear that God is acting in the performance of his official duties, however. Apparently, this act is “off the books” (not an official act) but a clandestine act, if you will, for God fails to kill him—Is this kind of thing something God does in his spare time, do you suppose? Perhaps! God’s all too casual “back-room bargain” with Satan (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6) to allow a testing of Job’s piety appears similar to the incident with Moses. No wonder Jesus followers prayed that they not be put to the test (Matt 6:13=Luke 11:4). God’s bargain with Satan to prove Job’s piety to Satan appears pointless and hence a waste of God’s time.

            There is one kind of thing that God is represented as doing quite frequently in the Bible. One finds repeated references to God “changing his mind,” or “repenting” about things he has done or things he intended to do.4 For example, God “was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:6-7). He later changed his mind again, even about his previous change of mind to destroy everything he had created, because Noah subsequently found favor in his eyes (Gen 6:8). God must have spent a great deal of time mulling over his deeds and pondering what his next course of action should be in the circumstances. One mulls and ponders in the spare moments that one has available—not in the busy moments of life. The frequency with which God ponders certain of his actions suggests that he spent a lot of time reflecting, pondering, and being inactive while in self-recriminating thought.

            There is also “evidence” from sherds, pottery, and the Bible that God may have had a wife (or significant other) at some point in the dim past. It has been suggested by an Oxford scholar, who now teaches at Exeter, that at one time the goddess Asherah (Deut 16:21; I Kgs 14:23) was considered a consort (wife, significant other) of the Hebrew God, Yahweh.

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to [Francesca] Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th-century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.

"The inscription is a petition for a blessing," she shares. "Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from 'Yahweh and his Asherah.' Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife."5

This is an interesting development that, if true, certainly support the idea that God at one time was thought to have a private life.

            I think, however, I can hear someone thinking quietly: “But you haven’t proven God has a private life. All you have shown is that an ancient semitic tribe at one time suspected the God they worshipped had odd moments when he might have been doing something other than ‘God-like’ things.” And that someone would be correct! When talk of God commences, we are always at the mercy of human imagination. For all God-talk has little to do with factuality. All words about God, like grass in its season, pass with each generation that coined them, like the dissonance between old and new covenants (Heb 8:1-13). Unless members of the tribe get together and canonize their words about God as an iconic object.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See, for example, Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (2 vols.; George Braziller, 1959), vol. 1. 53-55. This section describes Zeus’ philandering ways, and his home life with Hera, his wife.

2This gap between the OT and NT in God-thought happens between the more primitive anthropomorphic thinking of the OT authors and the slightly-more “philosophically” oriented NT authors. Even one ancient Hebrew prophet recognized the wrong headedness of thinking of God in human terms (1 Sam 15:29).

3Some of the kinds of things God did in his “creation work” are reflected in God’s answer to Job (38-41). Today, God is generally thought-of as doing “religious” work, like answering prayer (or not), rewarding the faithful, and punishing the wicked.

4Repent, means to change one’s mind; sometimes translated as “relented”: Exod 32:14; I Sam 15:11, 35; 2 Sam 24:15-16; 1 Chron 21:15; Jer 8:8; 15:6; 18:10; 26:3, 13, 19; 42:10; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9-10.

5Jennifer Viegas, NBC News:

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

"A Power came-out from Him": Healing and Exorcisms in Luke

Last Sunday morning as the minister was reading the text I was following along in the Greek and was immediately struck by a statement in Luke 6:19, which only appears in Luke.

The whole crowd sought to touch him because power came-out from him and healed all.

What struck me was that Jesus was not portrayed as the source of the healing of the crowd, rather “a power (dunamis) that came-out from (para) him” brought-about the healing. Jesus was the source for the power but the power itself was the source of the healing. The same phrase appears in Luke 8:46, “a power had come-out from (apo) him,” and that is also the case in Mark’s parallel passage (Mark 5:30), “A power (dunamis) had come-out (ek) from him.” In this latter passage the woman had touched his garment, which triggered the emanation of power from him. Jesus did not know who had touched him and was only aware that power had suddenly emanated from him.1 It seems that the power operated independently of the will of Jesus (Mark 5:30-32).

            It appears that Luke conceived the power in Jesus as the power of God: “And there was a power of the Lord [present] for him to heal” (5:17). Again, it was not his power but the power of the Lord. This sentence is lacking in the parallel passages Mark 2:2 and Matt 9:1. In Luke’s source, Mark (1:25) reads “With authority he commands the unclean spirits,” whereas Luke (4:36) reads “With authority and power he commands the unclean spirits.” One might almost say: Jesus’ authority and God’s power. When Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission, Matthew (10:1) and Mark (6:7) read that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits. Luke (9:1), on the other hand, reads: Jesus “gave them authority and power over the unclean spirts.” In his second volume (the book of Acts) of his two-volume work (Luke-Acts) Luke makes a point of emphasizing the role of the power of God active in the community of Jesus followers (1:8; 10:38; compare Luke 24:49).

            In other healing or exorcism stories in Luke, it is not a power emanating independently of Jesus without his intentionally directing it that heals. Jesus heals by a laying on of his hands (4:40; 13:12-13), by a touch (5:13) by words or a word (5:24-25; 6:10; 7:14-15; 8:54; 9:42). In some cases, there is no description as to how he healed (14:4; 17:14). Once, the healing is at a distance but no description of how the healing occurred is given (7:9-10).

            Luke appears to conceive of this power of the Lord present in Jesus but not totally controlled by Jesus. It acts in a similar way to demons, and unclean or evil spirits, when they are exorcised. Luke describes the emergence of the power of the Lord from Jesus with the same expression that he uses in describing the exorcism of a demon or spirit: “it came/went-out from him” (4:35-36, 41; 8:33; 11:14; 11:24). Luke 9:42 does not contain the phrase: “it came/went-out from him,” but such is suggested by 9:40.

These descriptions of the activities of Jesus are simply another reminder2 to the reader that in Luke’s Gospel we are not reading a historical account of Jesus’ career as it actually happened but rather we read what Luke thought had happened from the disparate bits of oral tradition s/he gathered from oral reports, or that s/he had read in the written reports of others (Luke 1:1-4).3 And that brings me to the rubric “Word of God” used to describe the Bible. At its worst, the expression is a learned religious confession elevating the Bible to an iconic status in the religious community. At its best, it is a metaphor converting the human wisdom of its authors and texts into a divine guide for faith and practice. Nevertheless, calling the Bible the “Word of God” dismisses the human role in the production of the Bible.4

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See W. L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (NICNT; Eerdmans, 1974), 192-93.

2See Charles Hedrick Blog, Wry Thoughts about Religion: “The Challenge of the Proverb”:

And “Euphemisms in the Bible”:

3Modern scholars have identified three of those written sources as the Gospel of Mark, the hypothetical source Q, and Luke’s special source, dubbed “L” (written or oral is unknown”). See Vincent Taylor about sources in Luke, “Luke, Gospel of” in G. A. Buttrick, et al., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.; Abingdon, 1962), vol. 3. 184-85.

4See Charles Hedrick Blog, Wry Thoughts about Religion: “The Bible’s Story: A Brief Summary”; for the part of human beings in making the Bible a book, see:

And “Inspired Writings”:

Monday, February 19, 2024

Euphemisms in the Bible?

Sometimes the biblical writers do not speak plainly and are less than “honest or frank in what they write.”1 Instead they will use a euphemism for certain body parts, acts, or ideas. A euphemism is: “The use of a word or phrase that is less expressive or direct, but considered less distasteful, less offensive than another.”2 The biblical writers, in some cases, tend to avoid the use of disagreeable, or what were considered offensive or “impolite” words or expressions.3 I have been aware of such being the case for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament since my seminary days, when it was pointed out that the expression “to cover one’s feet” (KJV, 1 Sam 24:3, Judg 3:24) was an euphemism for “relieving one’s self” (as it is translated in the RSV). Candidly, the expression means to urinate or defecate.

It turns out, however, that there are many expressions found to be euphemisms in the both Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament that are used to avoid speaking plainly. “Most of the euphemisms found in the HB/OT relate to three areas of common human experience: (1) death; (2) sexual activity and the organs associated with it; and (3) certain bodily functions,”4 whereas most “euphemisms in the NT have to do with sexual organs, sexual relations, or death.”5

The King James Version (KJV) generally translates the biblical euphemisms literally (what the text says). The New Revised Standard Version (RSV) generally translates biblical euphemisms by expressing the offensive idea concealed in the euphemism, but nevertheless translates them into an English euphemism. Here are examples of euphemisms in the NT for each of the categories: “see a man’s shame” (KJV) is an euphemism for “male genitalia” (NRSV, Rev 16:15), which itself is an English euphemism for penis and testicles; “the fruit of his loins” (KJV) is an euphemism for “put a descendent upon his throne” (NRSV, Acts 2:30), which itself is an English euphemism for seminal ejaculation and impregnation; “I do not know a man” is an euphemism for “I am a virgin” (NRSV, Luke 1:34), which itself is an English euphemism for not having had sexual intercourse; “give a wife due benevolence” (KJV) is an euphemism for “give a wife her conjugal rights” (NRSV, 1 Cor 7:3), which itself is an English euphemism for satisfy a wife sexually; “put off my tabernacle”(KJV) is an euphemism for “death” (NRSV, 2 Pet 1:14); “let your servant depart in peace” (KJV) is an euphemism for “dismiss your servant” (NRSV, Luke 2:29), which is an English euphemism for die (see Luke 2:26).

Euphemisms in the Bible are not exactly lies or untruths but they are clearly a softening of the truth in order to disguise what is considered distasteful, impolite, or offensive. They are not straight-forward, candid, or frank statements, which makes them something less than the “unvarnished” or complete truth. Their use by the writers of the Bible makes the Bible seem a more human product and little less a collection of texts divinely inspired. It hardly seems possible that the Almighty could be involved in a shading of the truth, as John (16:13; 17:17) and the psalmist (119:160) seemed to think—although the authors of First Kings (22:22-23) and Second Chronicles (18:21-22) appear to think differently. Go figure!

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed., s. v., “candid.”

2Ibid., s. v., “euphemism.”

3Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, s. v., dysphemism: using “a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging word or expression.”

4Here is a list of expressions considered to be euphemisms by a jointly authored essay:


Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Challenge of the Proverb

Proverbs are traditional pithy sayings that briefly and memorably express some general truth about life in the world. Proverbs are distillations of community wisdom whose ideas have been hammered out of common human experience. One might think of it as a bit of homely wisdom that originates around some nameless person’s kitchen table and becomes part of community lore by oral transmission. It is a universal form emerging through the ages in various cultural contexts and languages. The Book of Proverbs in Hebrew Bible is an anthology of many such sayings.

            Here are a few American proverbs that I have learned somewhere along the way: “A stitch in time saves nine”; “The early bird gets the worm”; “Actions speak louder than words”; “Birds of a feather flock together”; “Better late than never.” One I quote to myself all the time is “Haste makes waste.” I am certain that the reader recognizes most, if not all, of these, and can easily add more to my short list.

The New Testament also has a few proverbs, but they are not necessarily traditional oral sayings that emerge out of the life of a people. In some cases, identifiable writers compose proverbs, such as George Bernard Shaw, Robert Frost, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Herman Melville, and others.1 Here are a few of the proverbs in the New Testament: Luke 4:23, Acts 17:28, Acts 26:14, 1 Cor 15:33, Titus 1:12. To these I would add Mark 2:21-22, Gal 6:7 (compare Prov 22:8). One must argue, however, for the position that these proverbs are traditional rather than having a known origin in a given author. Some of them come from ancient Greek poets. Other proverbs in the New Testament come from Hebrew Bible: Prov 11:31=I Pet 4:18; Prov 3:11-12=Heb 12:5-6; Prov 22:8 (Septuagint)=2 Cor 9:7; Prov 25:21=Rom 12:20.

Here are two traditional proverbs preserved in Luke 12:54-55. Luke has narrated them in a prose form: “He said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It’s going to rain’: and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’: and so it happens.”

Notice that both proverbs are not attributed to Jesus, but in the text of Luke’s gospel they are attributed to Luke’s character, Jesus, who in turn attributes the sayings to the crowds. In their present form they are neither pithy nor memorable, however. In a proverbial form they would have been orally repeated, I suppose, as something like: “Clouds in the west, rain comes on apace.” “South winds gust, heat scorches us.” So far as I know, however, these proverbs are not preserved in the literature in memorable forms. They are only preserved in these prose forms.

Matt 16:2-3 is similar to Luke 12:54-55:

[Jesus] answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.”2

Again, in the context Matthew’s Jesus takes it to be a traditional proverb by attributing it to the Pharisees and Sadducees as a group (Matt 16:1).

These verses are, however, a suspected interpolation into the text of Matthew.3 At least three modern translations of the Bible treat the saying as an interpolation and accordingly follow the lead of those ancient manuscripts that do not have the saying in the Gospel of Matthew (The Complete Bible. An American Translation; the translation of James Moffatt; and The Revised English Bible).

If there are traditional proverbs in the Bible (and there appear to be), it poses a problem for those who place such a high value on the biblical text by referring to it as “the Word of God.” Such an idea completely overlooks the human inspiration for proverbs and raises the question: Why should the traditional words of a given people, hammered out of their common sense and human experience, be regarded as divine words? The people that I know who use the expression, “the Bible is the Word of God,” do not regard that expression as metaphorical, rather they seem to regard it as literal.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


2Compare the modern proverb thought to be derived from Matt 16:2-3: “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight.”

3See Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (Macmillan, 1993), 205, 344. For the reason see Bruce Metzgar, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed; United Bible Society, 2000), 33.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Once upon a time, a Man Became God

How in the world did that happen, do you suppose? Well, as with all good stories, there are several different accounts in the New Testament. The best known appears in two different versions (Matt 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-2:20).1 These narratives are blended and celebrated annually every December in Christian church and family settings. The narrative leads the reader to think that the God-Man (or man-God) was born naturally like all human children, as a flesh and blood child through the vaginal canal of his birth mother. The conception of the child by the birth-mother, however, is most unusual. Matthew says that the child’s mother conceived by a holy spirit (Matt 1:20) in fulfilment of Scripture. The child was to be called Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14), which Matthew interprets as “God with us” (Matt 1:23). Luke also describes the child’s conception through a holy spirit that “comes upon” the mother and a “power of the Most-High overshadowing her,” suggesting that conception occurs in fashion similar to human conceiving, by a spiritual sperm.2 This child, Luke opines, shall be holy and called a son of God (Luke 1:35).

            In John’s Gospel, there is a third version of the story in the prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) for how a divine figure came to be man. The fragmentary narrative (John 1:1-2, 14) lacks in clarity. A figure, described as logos,3 who was from the primordial beginning alongside God and “what God was, the logos was.”4 Hence, the logos shared God’s essence, while being distinguishable from God (cf. Phil 2:6). In John 1:14 this spiritual figure “was made flesh” (cf. John 1:3).5 I take this to mean an incarnating or “enfleshing” of the logos in the sense of Phil 2:7: “taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and being found in form as man…” How ever the author of the introductory poem to John may have conceived the event, it seems clear that conception and birth in the Matthaean and Lukan sense is not the process being described.

            A fourth version of the story appears in Rom 1:3-4 where God’s son is “born (genomenou) from the sperm (spermatos) of David according to the flesh,” and “appointed (oristhentos) son of God with power according to a spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.” Jesus was a human being, a descendent of David, born of fleshly sperm, and was appointed, or declared, son of God by the spirit at his resurrection. His historical life was therefore not lived as the son of God. He was only advanced to that status at the end of his life at his resurrection.

            The early period of the Jesus movements was one of speculation about the identity and nature of Jesus. The historical matrix providing the spark that led toward the regarding of Jesus as son of God was plausibly the influx of gentiles into the gatherings of the Jesus followers.6 The cessation of early speculation about the nature of Jesus, which effectively weeded out other views and resulted in the dominance of the stories of Matthew/Luke, was occasioned by the early confessions of the church in the fourth century and at the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth,7 where Jesus was acclaimed as “very God and very man.” That declaration by the council is an uneasy solution, since it is challenged by other views reflected in the early Jesus gatherings and preserved in biblical texts. So, What is your thinking was Jesus a God-man or a man-God?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1They are not contradictory narratives but just completely different, but they both agree in the birthing process.

2See Charles W. Hedrick, “Early Christian Confessions and the Language of Faith,” The Fourth R 52.1 (January-February 2019): 15-20; idem, “How Do Divine Beings Procreate,” The Fourth R 36.6 (November-December 2023): 18-19.

3Logos is a central term in classical Greek culture. Its range of meaning in English is generally covered by two different ideas: speech and reason. See the entry logos in Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed. Oxford: University Press, 1999), 882. And the discussion by Ernst Haenchen, John 1. A Commentary on the Gospel of John Chapters 1-6 (Robert W. Funk, trans. and ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 135-40.

4Here is the translation of John 1:1-2 in the Revised English Bible: “In the beginning the Word already was. The Word was in God’s presence, and what God was the Word was.” It is at once as much an interpretation as a translation.

5See Bauer-Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed. revised; Chicago: University, 2000), 196-99, taking ginomai in the sense of Bauer-Danker’s second entry rather than the fifth.

6Hedrick, “Early Christian Confessions,” 13-20.

7Hedrick, “Early Christian Confessions,” 17, 20.