Greek Manuscripts, Mark 1 and Nomina Sacra

The Suffering Pastor

No thanks, Matthew Mason.  I don’t want to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col. 1:24).  I want my best life now. (Crying like a baby)
Er…I guess actually I don’t.  What I really want is to be conformed to Christ.  To follow Him in His life here and now.  To serve Him and His Church faithfully with His all surpassing love that does not look away from suffering, but embraces it with hands and feet scarred, with head beaten and bloodied, with the wounds of a back bearing the world’s rejection.  Make me like you Jesus…even though it will (and must) hurt.
[originally blogged June 19, 2012 at bluechippastor.org]

Please Don't Prune Me!

Christ the True Vine (Greek Icon 16th C.)
Christ the True Vine (16th C. Greek Icon)

I heard a good message today from John 15:1-11:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. (CEB)

Essentially it was preached as I have preached this text myself: we must allow God to prune us that we might be more fruitful. However, I was struck today by the following thought: What if this is NOT about personal piety, but about communal life?
Here’s what I mean: Such texts seem readily enough at hand to describe the biblical notion of God purifying for Himself a people. He indeed is sanctifying us through and through as individual members of His Church. However, this text seems more intent on the notion of cleansing the community of all unfruitful members. This community that is God’s vineyard finds itself rooted in Jesus as “the True Vine”. All who will not abide in him are cut off and will be cast out.
Instead of this text being about how our God sanctifies individuals, it appears instead to be about how God creates His community, His people as a people. Israel of the flesh would be excised if they would not obey the commands of God and His Son. That is their abiding: to trust in Jesus as Messiah and as Lord. Any claims to belonging to that community apart from remaining in Jesus would lead to death and removal.
Further the community of those who abide in Jesus will have joy fulfilled and receive what they ask in his name. He will be the center of all existence for this community. Their very being is established in him and this because God will cut off all that is not to be found in Jesus.
While I still think there are notions of personal piety entailed (“You are already trimmed”), I think this still has community intent given those who had left Jesus in John 6 over his words about eating flesh and drinking his blood and then later by Judas at the supper in John 13. They had been pruned. Who would remain?
What do you think? Is this a faithful reading of the text? Has our personal pietistic reading hampered our ability to hear this text for its congregational (community) intent and force?

Who Was Joseph's Father?

JosephI was asked today about the seeming disparity between the genealogy of Matthew and Luke, both of whom provide a different father’s name for Joseph the (supposed) father of Jesus: Jacob (Matthew 1.16) and Heli (Luke 3.23).
There are two basic proposals:
1) That both genealogies refer to Joseph, with Matthew’s account intended for Jesus place as heir to the throne of David and Luke’s account intended for the actual biological lineage of Joseph.
2) Matthew is recording Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is recording Mary’s. This is supported by numerous early Fathers: Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Justin Martyr.
It has been suggested (in support of the second proposal) that Mary’s genealogy is given under the name Joseph (by Luke) because (A) women were not official heads in the genealogical records of the ancient world, though they could be mentioned (such as in Matthew) it was always in connection to a husband/father, and (B) that perhaps Mary was an only child (speculation, I know) and would be the family inheritor whose husband is then adopted as the heir for her. Under the second explanation it is usually pointed out that this would make Jesus the heir of David (and Abraham) by both adoption (through Joseph) and by birth (through Mary).
What are your thoughts?

I Can Almost See Jesus

BenHur2I recently bought the blue-ray edition of Ben-Hur (1959) and we had a family movie night last night enjoying it. One thing, however, kept coming up. Cambria (8) kept commenting how badly she wanted to see Jesus’ face. If you have ever watched the film you will know that you NEVER directly see his face (or hear his voice).
We watch as shepherds and wise men arrive, but we never quite get a glimpse of the baby Jesus. We see him from a distance walking the countryside of Galilee. We hear about him from a neighbor that is bothered enough to confront Joseph about his son not working sufficiently as a carpenter. We get a peek from over his shoulder as he gives a drink of water to the recently enslaved Judah ben Hur and then face down a Roman centurion. We hear some of his teachings, acts and sayings in the mouths of others. We follow behind him on a hillside while thousands wait upon him attentively. He is hidden behind a Roman cross as he traverses the Via Dolorosa and as Judah takes opportunity to try to assist Jesus in carrying the cross. We even scan the onlooking crowds from behind him as he hangs on the cross and Judah looks on. Even his last words are only heard in the voice of Judah ben Hur. Not a glimpse of his face and no sound of his voice.
This seemed to particularly disturb Cambria (though my other children were also bothered). She wanted to “see” (and hear) Jesus. But that is not the story of Ben-Hur. It is entirely an oblique story of Jesus. One in which a faithful affluent Jew suffers the evils of empire and broken friendship, is miraculously preserved and restored, only to discover life is more than all of this. Life is found in the man he encounters only obliquely, yet who transforms his entire world. And this is our story. We do not (yet) see him or hear his voice directly. Now, we see in part and hear in part. We hear his voice in the voice of others. We see him only in passing even as we seek the more intently to gaze on him. We see his hands at work, we see the lives of others changed. We hear his words repeated by others. But we do not yet see him face to face.
And so it is with this wonderful classic film adaptation of Lew Wallace‘s novel which is rather fittingly subtitled “A Tale of the Christ” because ultimately the story of Ben-Hur is not really about him, but about Jesus.
And, from my perspective, this is the way our stories of redemption flow. Until that day when we will know him fully even as he knows us…

Do We Really Need the Old Testament?


As someone who serves as an Instructor in Old Testament at one college (Providence University College and Theological Seminary) and an Assistant Professor whose primary focus is in Old Testament at another college (Trinity Bible College), this question has significant concern for me.
Yet, more significantly this question is of paramount concern for me as one who professes faith in Christ…that is, it is a thoroughly Christian question that must be answered in the affirmative. What do you think about John Oswalt’s “Seven Minute Seminary” answer to this question?
Recommended Reading
Seitz, Christopher R., The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible (Studies in Theological Interpretation; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011).

Asking for Blessing or Giving Thanks?

English: Hostess Twinkies. Yellow snack cake w...
English: Hostess Twinkies. Yellow snack cake with cream filling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a recent conversation, I noted a particular question that was posed about “blessing the food” when we gather to eat. Here are my reflections: We do not ask for the food to be blessed, per se, but we bless the Lord and we give thanks for the food.

  • “We do not ask for the food to be blessed, per se,…” – What I mean by this is that the “food” does not need “blessed” (I’m never quite sure what that is supposed to really mean in many of our contexts). I have been witness to prayers offered for God to bless by making nutritional what was self-confessed by the one praying as not nutritional (think Twinkies). The food that we eat is our choice and responsibility. If we should not consume it because of health issues then simply don’t consume it. However, we do well to not ask for some “blessing” for what we already know to not be blessed by the Lord. However, if it may be “consecrated” (another factor in being “blessed”) then we do well to do so in faith. Whatever we eat or drink must be done in faith. If we can do such, then we may “consecrate” (or “bless”) the food given by the Father for our enjoyment and His good pleasure (cf. Matthew 26:26; 1 Cor.10:16).
  • “…but we bless the Lord…” – If any blessing is to be requested and/or given, it is a blessing of the Lord for His grace and mercy in provision. We do well to bless the Maker of heaven and earth. We do well to bless the Father of Lights who knows how to give good and perfect gifts (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17) to those who ask Him.
  • “…and we give thanks for the food.” – In everything we give thanks, because we recognize ourselves to be the undeserving children of God.  Let us give thanks as our Lord Jesus gave thanks in sharing the supper with his disciples (Luke 24:30).

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ.‏
“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Let it be said by God’s people: “You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you.” (Deut.8:10 – NRSV)Berakot
 

A Day To Celebrate?

PicnicToday was my final worship service with the congregation I have loved and served for the last decade. And it was exactly the kind of day I wanted to share with my church family: our annual church at the lake.
We sang together, heard testimonies of healings, shared communion (although I accidentally forgot the grape juice at home, so we just used grapes instead 🙂 ), swam, played games, feasted, prayed over each other, and just enjoyed being together. This is the life of the church. Not simply “weekly worship services”, but where the community of believers share life together around the table of communion and celebrate our Great God and Savior who is Himself perfect fellowship: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I love my church family in Karlstad. I love my community.  This is the way I want to remember our life together. Enjoying each other. Laughing and crying. Playing baseball and praying in the Spirit. Singing God’s praises and soaking each other with water balloons (thrown in love, of course). Visiting around the tables filled with food. Celebrating with the cup (or at least grapes) and the bread of remembrance.
This is a day that will be emblazoned on my mind. A day stored in the treasury of my heart. A day for future reflection. A day to celebrate God’s grace and mercy and a family that is bound to one another as the very body of Christ himself.
This is the conclusion of a decade of ministry: life shared with both seasoned saints and the newly regenerated. Sharing life with those who have been in the Faith for nearly 70 years…and others whom I led through the waters of baptism only a few years ago. Children and parents whom I’ve led to Jesus feet. A widow whom I have visited regularly in her sorrows and consolations. Families I have worked to see restored to wholeness. Young adults I’ve watched mature and helped to grow in the Faith in the midst of their many struggles and questions.
It was a day to remember. A day to celebrate…in sorrow for the distance that will separate us…in joy for the things which God has done and will yet do.
Thank you Lord for my many days in Karlstad!

IHS – What Does It Mean?

IHSI had a conversation with a couple of the ladies in my church today about a symbol that is imprinted into the fabric lining the bottom of our brass offering plates. I had overheard one of them telling the other that “IHS” stood for “In His Service”. Sounds good enough. Makes sense. It would be a good meaning to take away from it. But that isn’t what it actually means.
I have found that many times symbols have a way of taking on a life of their own and often their significance shifts (sometimes rather dramatically) over time. This may largely be to a lack of pastors and teachers discussing the meanings and significance of symbols within the Church (or perhaps many pastors and teachers don’t know such matters themselves). But we really should take care to do so.
I have encountered times in my own life where folks have decided that such symbols are somehow pagan…often this comes from a lack of historical appreciation. Or because of the lack of historical understanding it was easy for some other folks to force their seemingly spiritual interpretation onto the other folks in order to attack such symbols. Sadly lacking historical appreciation of the Church makes us easy targets for false teaching.
So what does “IHS” mean? It belongs to a VERY EARLY tradition found in the Greek manuscripts of the early church wherein the sacred name (nomina sacra) of “Jesus” (Gr. ‘ΙΗΣΟΥΣ; transliterated as ‘IESOUS) was abbreviated by use of the first two letters of his name (IH – sounded like “yeah”) and the final letter (Σ which is a ‘sigma’ for ‘s’). It is actually a Christogram where the name of Jesus holds great significance and has been used as a tool of veneration among many.  As a Christogram it has been also variantly explained to refer to an abbreviation of the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus, Savior of Humankind” which provides both the sacred name “Jesus” and its implicit meaning found in Matthew’s gospel 1:21: “he will save his people from their sins”).
While the simple misunderstanding mentioned in my church today was nothing significant (it was my own understanding for many years) it simply reminded me of the need to ground the local church in the history of the Church as one guard against false teaching and a greater appreciation for the richness of our heritage as members of the Church universal. Or maybe I’m just sentimentally reflecting on my responsibilities as a pastor and one who desires to find myself an understanding and appreciative member of the wider Church. And I’m convinced such symbols aid our congregations to find creative entrée into discussing and appreciating the rich history of the wider Church. 🙂