Category Archives: Biblical Studies

“it shall not be so among you”: authority and the bible

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

– Mark 10:32-45

In the above passage, and its parallel in Matthew 20, we are told that James and John want to be placed in positions of high rank when Jesus conquers Jerusalem. Their fellow disciples are incited to anger. Jesus, however, in his usual style, redefines the nature of the topic at hand. Authority is used by the Gentile imperialists for violence and control, but disciples of Jesus are to enact something different, a servant authority, even to the point of death.

Such a vision of authority stands in stark contrast to the authority of the world. Read the rest of this entry

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pentecost and the subversion of empire

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel (1563)

In the Bible there are perhaps few images of “empire” more poignant that that of the Tower of Babel.

This narrative tells the story of an attempt to build a city and a tower with its top in the sky. This is of course no mean feat – the building of such a magnificent tower, historical or otherwise, is an accomplishment of considerable time, effort and determination. Read the rest of this entry

q&r: the armour of God in ephesians 6?

This post is dedicated to the late Walter Wink who died on May 10, 2012. The content of this post is indebted to him, and without his life’s work I could not have come to this understanding. Presente!

From a life.remixed reader:

Hi Matt,

I have a question. I have been advised on more than one occasion recently to apply Ephesians 6:10-18 in my life, as in daily putting on the Armour of God. I have been told to physically put it on, going through each piece aloud whilst going through the motions of actually putting on said armour.

This doesn’t quite sit right with me and seems somewhat ritualistic. Has the passage been taken out of context? What are your thoughts on how you apply God’s Armour?

Thanks

Great questions. It seems there are at least two considerations here, one is the pastoral aspect of your question, and the other is the more “theological” element (i.e. what is the context and meaning of the armour of God? How do we apply it?).

From a purely pastoral point of view Read the rest of this entry

jesus the gardener: an easter sunday reflection

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalenewent and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

It is far too easy for us to overlook seemingly minor details in the biblical text. Perhaps this happens because we have become overfamiliar with the stories and no longer read them carefully, or because we have not been trained to pick up on subtlety.

Whatever the case, in John’s account of the Resurrection story such subtlety is apparent, though we must pay careful attention to perceive it.

Recounting the day of the Resurrection John opens his story, “Now on the first day of the week.”

Of what does that remind you in earlier biblical tradition? Read the rest of this entry

show me the tribute money: a perspective on “render unto caesar”

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they senttheir disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

Recently I posted about the above passage, asking people to contribute their thoughts. From that attempt I gather that people are more comfortable responding to a positive contribution than to an open-ended invitation; in this post I will attempt to oblige this preference.

As I said in my original post, the way we interpret the above passage and its parallels says a lot about our methods of reading the Bible and our understanding of the connection between the Church and civil powers, or alternatively between discipleship and citizenship.

The standard way Evangelicals read this passage, at least in my experience, is that Jesus is teaching people to pay taxes to Caesar, and thus to submit to authorities, but give themselves to God. Implicit in this reading is an assumption about the distinction between civil life and religion. This reading, very often taken for granted with no further exploration, is often backed up with a reference to Romans 13.

I have written on Romans 13 previously, and I don’t intend to explore it here. I do however intend to go beyond mere assumption in our reading of Matthew 22:15-22 (and parallels) and explore what the text might actually be saying, rather than what our ideological commitments might require. Read the rest of this entry

render unto caesar: to pay or not to pay?

[UPDATE: I have added a sequel to this post which explores my perspective on this passage.]

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they senttheir disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes toCaesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

A Denarius from around the time of Jesus inscribed with the face of Caesar Tiberius.

This passage is one of those that garners a wide variety of interpretations. It is interesting that for most Westerners it is taken for granted that Jesus is saying his contemporaries should have faithfully paid their taxes to Caesar.

I think the way we read this passage is important, as it reveals so much about our attitude to the relationship of the Church and civil powers.

In this light I may, in the near future, offer a personal perspective on “Render unto Caesar”, but I acknowledge that in regards to this passage there is no real “gotcha!” argument in favour of any available interpretation. This means that we all need to do a little listening as we seek the truth together.

Did Jesus instruct his hearers to pay taxes to Caesar? What does the answer mean in regards to our modern world, given we live in the midst of a vastly different economic and political situation? Read the rest of this entry

is wealth God’s blessing to the righteous?

Is it true that God blesses the righteous with financial wealth? Does he want to bless you with such wealth?

I’ve been a Christian for little over a decade and I’ve heard such a perspective propagated dozens of times in a wide variety of denominational backgrounds – God wants his people to be rich, and financial and material wealth is a form of his blessing.

This view is normally derived from the Old Testament, particularly from the stories of Abraham and his family. It is true, God does indeed bless Abraham and his sons with wealth:

And the LORD has blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and he has given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses. (Genesis 24:35)

Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. (Genesis 26:12–13)

There is no getting around the fact that wealth is here viewed as God’s blessing by the author. However there is no definitive reason to view these reports as constituting a prescription for us. Read the rest of this entry

“enough is enough”: walter brueggemann on abundance and scarcity

Below is an article by Walter Brueggemann entitled “Enough is Enough”. Brueggemann is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, prolific author and a prophetic voice in a world dying for lack of imagination. I don’t normally post exterior articles, but this is more than worth the exception.

Source: The Other Side, November-December 2001, Vol. 37, No. 5.

Enough is Enough

“In feeding the hungry crowd, Jesus reminds us that the wounds of scarcity can be healed only by faith in God’s promise of abundance. “
by Walter Brueggemann

We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day. Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other.

But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich – the ones with the abundance – rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor – the ones suffering from scarcity – rely on an ideology of abundance. How can that be? The issue involves whether there is enough to go around – enough food, water, shelter, space. An ideology of scarcity says no, there’s not enough, so hold onto what you have. In fact, don’t just hold onto it, hoard it. Put aside more than you need, so that if you do need it, it will be there, even if others must do without. Read the rest of this entry

q&r: genesis and evolution?

What is your opinion on evolutionary theory vs. creation theory?

I have been apart of a discussion where both sides were argued, the evolutionary theory being that God instigated or created the cellular/atomic structure that began evolution, and that Adam and Eve are the result of the human evolution from cells to animals to primates to people, and the garden of Eden only begins after all the evolving is finished. I had not really heard this theory before, and find it somewhat uncomfortable, as I was a pure creationist at the time, but given that believing either theory doesn’t really change anything in the course of Jesus coming here and dying, I really don’t know what to think.

I’m not sure that anyone really knows what to think. Knowledge is a clumsy beast, though humans seem to think they can completely tame it.

Evolution is far from proven, but according to the majority of biologists it is the best theory (or theories) we have right now. Might it be developed in the future? Yes. Will it be changed? Yes. Will it be disproven? Maybe. Would that “prove” creationism? No – disproving evolution does not prove creationism.

There is a lot I could talk about here, including the false paradigm of debating faith and science, and also issues in modern scientific philosophy. What is my personal opinion? At this point I believe in evolution, inasmuch as it is the best option out there that I know of. Many people will disagree, and that’s fine.

But that is a moot point, since I am no biologist. What is important for me as an exegete is how we read the Bible. The pertinent question is, does the Bible have anything to say about the prehistory of the world and humanity? Read the rest of this entry

q&r: “no one comes to the father but through me” in john 14:6?

G’day Matt

I am enjoying reading your blogs on life remixed, especially the most recent on non violence and the debate that it is raising, brilliant, well done.

As you are one of the few who like to challenge the orthodox and traditional Christian beliefs there are a couple of bible verses that Christian Fundamentalists quote incessantly to justify that Christianity is the only way to salvation and therefor all other faiths / religions are false. One of these verses is John 14:6 which seems extremely exclusive and supports the Fundamentalists teachings. This teaching is to the detriment of billions of people all over the world who are not Christians due to the simple fact of where they were born and the culture and beliefs of their parents.

Your thoughts?

Cheers

A popular understanding of John 14:6

Thanks so much for the great question. I think it is a really important issue in the context of our pluralistic culture. In regards to John 14:6: there is perhaps no verse that has been interpreted with greater arrogance. 99% of the time I have, like you, heard it used as proof that other religions are false and that to enter heaven one must believe in Jesus. It has been used for so long by some groups for the purpose of asserting faith in Jesus as the sole way of salvation that we have stopped asking what the verse might actually mean in its context! Read the rest of this entry

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