Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category


It’s a white Boxing Day in Memphis after flurries (that didn’t stick) on Christmas Day.  Both very unusual, but not unprecedented.

This morning I began to read Luke.  What strikes many readers in chapter 1 is that Zach and Mary seems to have similar responses to the angelic promises, yet Zach gets struck mute in judgment.  Mary’s concerns seem to be valid:  “How on earth will this happen, since I’m a virgin?”

But Zach’s concern seems justified to modern readers as well.  We all know about being too old to reproduce, and we all know about being barren.

One big difference here is that Zach, being “righteous in God’s sight” (1:6), should have known his salvation history well enough not to doubt that God could give life to a dead womb.  It wasn’t frequent, but it certainly happened, and if an angel of YHWH showed up to tell you that grace was falling on you, there was really no option but trusting the God of Abram and Sarai and buying a skin of wine to split with Elizabeth.

But Mary’s pregnancy had no precursor.  Her question for clarification shows that something new was happening in salvation history, something that was even greater than what happened for Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah.

The Messiah came in an unprecedented fashion, precisely because he himself was unprecedented.


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Because my name is Mark!

A funny quote by Jim Gaffigan (a pretty good stand-up comedian) from his Twitter account:  “I’m writing a book all about the life and times of Jesus. I’m gonna name it “Mark”. Because my name is Mark.”

This quote also points up the importance of remembering Mark’s own title for his book, which had nothing to do with his name.  The title in a book, esp in Hebrew tradition, was often the opening phrase or line.  So, Mark 1:1 effectively titles the work, “[The beginning of] The Gospel of Jesus Christ”.  And when Mark does appear (I think), it’s an embarrassing moment with no mention of his name, 14:51-52.

So we’ve effectively named Mark after the author.  Compare it to calling Cat in the Hat “Insanity according to Dr. Seuss” 2000 years from now.

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The number of the beast (or really, “the number of a man” associated with the beast) is, rather strangely, one of the most famous items in the NT–many people who could not name the four gospels know about 666.

There are some good comic riffs on this number floating around the web; I’ve taken some, and come up with a few of my own.  But first let me point out that I think it’s important to joke about this.  One of my recent bank account numbers had 666 in the middle of it, and some folks I know would flip about this.  But as far as the original author of Revelation was concerned, the point of the number is not the number itself.  Christians who take the Bible literally must account for symbolism.  John never intended for people to get worked up over a number–he had something far more important to say, to which that number was a mere pointer.

Here we go then.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.  To borrow from JFK (and Brian Regan), “Ask not what the number of the Beast is, ask what you can do with the number of the Beast.”

668   The neighbor of the beast

666%  What the beast gives at work and at play

2/3    The fraction of the beast

111   Payment plan of the beast

666F    Temperature for cooking roast beast

999    Number of the beast in Australia, South Africa, etc.

66,666    Number of the Costco version of the Beast

NT 666     New Testament course on the beast (and the rest of Revelation…there is a real course on Revelation numbered NT 666 at Asbury Seminary; you can download the course at ITunesU)

222    Number of the beast on the moon

Fe666     Ironman version of the Beast

H2O2 666    Blonde Beast

Ag 666       Al Davis

665.95   Retail price of the Beast

29A    Hexidecimal number of the beast

1010011010   The binary Beast

Belle+666     Beauty and the Beast

666i   The BMW model driven by the beast

00666     Beast. James Beast.

616     The beast in witness protection (also based on real life; one of the earliest available texts of this passage in Revelation cites 616 as the beast’s number rather than 666; see the third line of the fragment below, XIC with line over it).

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The Revelation of Jesus

In Revelation 1:9ff, John introduces himself to the recipients of his letters as one who, “in Jesus”, shares in “the tribulation, the kingdom, and patient endurance”.  He describes what he has seen:  the Messiah, the Son of Man, holding the seven stars (churches) in his right hand while he walks among them.  Michael Wilcock scatters some nice comments through this section of his commentary.

The lampstands are scattered across the earth; but the stars are held together in the hand of Christ.

En Patmo we suffer; but En Pneumati we reign. [Noting the juxtaposition of being in exile on Patmos, but being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.]

The Christian knows he lives in the real world; but as to what it means, where it is going, why it treats him so capriciously, how can he know these things?  [L]et it be related to that world, and he begins to understand.  He comes to see a plan in history, and to grasp what is really happening, where he fits in, and how it will all end.

He is able to face the tribulation, because of what he knows of the kingdom:  to confront the storms, because his foundations are deep in the rock.

‘The tribulation and the kingdom’ produce ‘the patient endurance.’  That is the object of the book of Revelation.

Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, 42.

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“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him . . . ”

I reckon most of us would first think to say, “blessed is the man whose sin is never discovered.”  But that’s not what is said here.  In fact, it’s really the opposite:   you cannot have blessing or forgiveness apart from awful discovery.

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The Church is sojourning, going through wild places on the way to an awesome destination. We are being led out of the wilderness, and while we lose a few (and sometimes almost entire generations) along the way, and the task of leadership requires discipline, but that doesn’t mean throwing them under the bus.

“The Church is not ideal. It is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a gathering of the nicer people in town. God is not fastidious in the company he keeps. There are sinners aplenty, hypocrites in droves, the ill-mannered and unwashed … men and women who are on the way to growing up to the stature of Christ. Not many of them are there yet.” Eugene Peterson, The Practice of Resurrection, p. 184

HT: Maxie Dunnam

Peterson’s book is on Ephesians, about (among other things) resurrection life at work in believers. Highly recommended.

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A brief Labor Day thought on some of God’s own labor:  “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13) . . .

(1)  It’s well worth spending some time thinking about the awesomeness of God’s involvement in your own individual creation.  I suppose at some point that we could get all wrapped up in narcissism, but I reckon that most of us don’t do enough thinking about God’s role in our formation.  And if he’s knitting at the start, how ’bout the ongoing details?

(2)  Note that the psalmist, by crediting God with the work, is not denying natural processes at work in his biological development.  (Pretty sure David knew how babies happened — that’s the knowledge that led to him becoming a murderer.)  Can that help us as we try to create a biblical perspective on the relationship between Scripture and science?

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In biblical scholarship one inevitably encounters data that appear challenging or “threatening” to traditional points of view.  To oversimplify, there are three possibilities:  head-in-the-sand denial of difficulties; learning to accommodate to them, allowing that God uses Scripture as he chooses, which is sometimes not in ways we would expect; or rejecting the value of Scripture altogether.

After a fairly destructive review of Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus in Books and Culture, Robert Gundry closes with a word of encouragement not just for Ehrman, but for all of us.

Despite the foregoing criticisms, my sympathies often lie with Ehrman.  The rigidity of the fundamentalism in which I grew up far exceeded anything he has described concerning his own experience.  His inveighing against homogenizing the distinctive messages of biblical authors for the sake of historical harmony strikes in me a resonant chord.  And at an early stage of my doctoral research on Matthew’s use of the Old Testament, what increasingly seemed to count as misquotations—the usual suspects:  reversing Micah’s description of Bethlehem as small into a strong denial of that description (2:5–6), quoting Hosea’s reference to Israel’s exodus from Egypt as though it predicted the Messiah’s stay in Egypt and exit from there (2:15), and so on—led me at one point to say aloud in the privacy of my study, “God, it’s not looking good for you and your book.”  So why didn’t I arrive at Ehrman’s “dead end”?  I have no explanation except to say that “by the grace of God” . . . I was spared a hardening of the categories through which Scripture is perceived. Or since they were already hard—unreasonably hard—I should rather say that the Spirit of God softened my categories so as to give them an elasticity that accommodates the human features of Scripture without excluding its ultimately divine origin.  I pray that Ehrman and all others like him may enjoy such a softening.

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Chris Wright, in his fine commentary on Deuteronomy (NIBC series), comments on the “missiological significance” of Deuteronomy (page 8):

Deuteronomy is a book for people on the move, literally at first, spiritually and morally thereafter.  It sets Israel on the boundary of the land and looks beyond that boundary to what lies in store for Israel as it moves into the future with God.

Furthermore, it is a book addressed in the name of a God on the move–Yahweh, the God who has been dramatically involved in Israel’s past movements, and indeed also in the movements of other nations on the great chessboard of history.  It presents, therefore, a God of sovereign worldwide purpose and a people with a sharp spiritual mandate and moral agenda.

Earlier Wright fleshes out some of the dynamics between God’s mission and our mission:

“[T]he detailed requirements of God on Israel are all founded upon the grace of God manifested in their history.  This is not only a structural matter but is also reflected in the way the very vocabulary of Israel’s response to Yahweh in chapters 12-26 mirrors that of Yahweh’s actions toward Israel in chapters 1-11.  This [is the] priority of grace and divine action within the covenant framework…”

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“When John echoed the Old Testament prophecies of the doom of Babylon and the doom of Tyre, using them to compose his own prophecy of the fall of Babylon, he was not ignorant of their original reference to the great pagan powers contemporary with the prophets who pronounced their oracles.  But he saw Rome as the successor to Tyre in its economic empire and the successor to Babylon in its political oppression.  Since the evil of these cities was echoed and surpassed by Rome, how much more must God’s judgment on them also fall on Rome.”

Biblical prophets did two things:  (1) they addressed their contemporaries about their own present and the immediate future; (2) they “raised hopes” so as “to continue to direct later readers to God’s purpose for the future.”  “Biblical prophecy was only preserved in the canon of Scripture because its relevance was not exhausted by its reference to its original context.”

Richard Bauckham, who I’m quoting throughout this post (Theology of the Book of Revelation) notes that grasping this approach helps readers avoid two extremes.  The first is the historian’s extreme, supposing that Revelation was only concerned with the immediate events of its audience–the historian’s extreme.  The second is the fundamentalist’s extreme, which so concentrates on what Revelation has to say about some future events at the end of time that it neglects “to ask what it meant to its first hearers”.

A bit of experience reading the Bible shows us that “prophetic promise frequently exceeded fulfillment.”  So in the OT, we find glorious promises of restoration that by anyone’s view must go beyond what actually happened when, say, Israel returned from Exile.  The prophets really were vindicated, “but in another sense they continued to inspire hopes for a much greater salvation event in which God would be vindicated universally as the God both of his people and of the nations of the world.”

Even though the premier issue at hand in Revelation is the church versus the world in the middle era of the Roman Empire, the Apocalypse “depicts the impending conflict between the church and the beast in terms which are eschatologically universal rather than historically realistic.  It superimposes the vision of the coming of God’s universal kingdom on the immediate future which John and his readers confront.”

And it still works the same way for readers today, who can look back on the judgment on the beast that was Rome’s Empire, or the protection granted the woman in the wilderness in the midst of her conflict (depicted by William Blake above) and believe in God’s promise to gain the victory and rescue his people in the future . . . no matter how dark the 21st century becomes for them.

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