Showing posts with label Mark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark. Show all posts

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Bridegroom is Here

The Pharisees complained to Jesus about his disciples breaking the Sabbath by plucking and eating heads of grain as they made their way through the fields. If you had asked them why this mattered, they would have replied that they were concerned about the commandments of God. “It’s not lawful,” they said.

But when the people asked Jesus why it was that his disciples did not regularly engage in fasting, they were not asking about commandments or laws, but rather about a widespread, optional religious practice of the day.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Unforgivable Sin

Over the holidays I was browsing a bookshop, and by chance happened to pick up a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death (1849).

Now, I’m not saying it’s a book everybody’s going to find easy to read. I don’t think it’s one that an unbeliever — no matter how bright — is really going to be able to understand. Nor do I think an average believer will find it straightforward. But if you’ve got the will and the ability, and especially if you are a person of some theological background and an interest in the welfare of Christians generally, I most highly recommend it.

It’s blowing my mind.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Intended Meanings and Frivolous Applications

Disclaimer time: our loving Father is not indifferent to the details of his children’s lives. He cares about our strained relationships, our problems at work, our finances and our trips to the doctor’s office. It matters to him when we grieve over a lost pet. If you are not grateful for that level of divine attention today, you certainly will be at some point down the road.

The bone of contention in what follows, then, is not whether God cares, but how his care is normally expressed to us. After all, we can’t appreciate the Lord’s love if we can’t recognize it. If we are expecting it to manifest one way and it manifests in a different way, we may feel God doesn’t love us at all.

More importantly, we really don’t want to lead other Christians to expect from the Lord things they are most unlikely to receive.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Mental Scrapbook

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as the famous adage goes. Your raw materials define what is possible with them.

The same is true of your mental life: you cannot make a good life out of bad imaginings.

Your mind is a scrapbook. Like any scrapbook, it collects fragmentary images of whatever you decide to put in there. Over time you fill it up. And eventually, what you have put into it defines the kind of life you’re going to have. That happens because the ‘resources’ you put into your mental scrapbook become the raw materials for your present attitudes, your frame of reference for present experiences, and the repository of images for your present imagination.

Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out. It’s that simple.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Little History and a Look Down the Road

The famous Phoenician seaport of Tyre has a long history intertwined with the history of Israel. When Canaan was first divided into tribal allotments under Joshua, the border of the territory assigned to the tribe of Asher ran right along Old Tyre’s city limits.

This immediate proximity to one of the greatest trading centers of the ancient world made it natural for the people of Israel to engage in commerce with their northern neighbor, so that when David needed to build himself a palace, the materials, carpenters and masons all came from the friendly king of Tyre.

David recognized in this act of friendship an indication that God had established his kingdom. He was not wrong.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

A Thwarted Coup d’État

“And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ ”

The synoptic gospels recount an incident where Jesus is informed that his family members have gathered outside his residence in Capernaum and want to see him. The Lord then turns to his disciples inside the house and asks them, “Who are my mother and brothers?”

Such a reaction may at first sound a little dismissive to us if we do not understand the circumstances. But of the three accounts, only Mark provides insight into the true motives of Mary and the Lord’s earthly siblings.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Anonymous Asks (150)

“Why did the Lord condemn Corban?”

The word korban comes from Hebrew transliterated into Greek, and has most likely made it untranslated into English by way of the 1611 KJV. The gospel of Mark tells us it means an offering, or “given to God”. Of course there is nothing wrong with the practice of giving things to God, and Jesus did not condemn the practice of Corban in any broad, general sense.

It was what the Jewish religious leaders had done with Corban that was the problem. As Jesus put it in quoting Isaiah, the Pharisees were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. They had substituted their own tradition for the command of God, and in doing so were “making void the word of God”.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Unpardon Me

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all make reference to a sin that will, in Matthew’s words “not be forgiven”. Mark calls it an “eternal sin”.

The reference has been a source of distress down through the centuries to Christians who fear they may have committed it and be irreversibly destined for perdition.

Tom: Personally, Immanuel Can, I’ve always thought the unpardonable sin was lazy exegesis, but I haven’t got much scripture to back me up there.

Immanuel Can: Lazy exegesis? Bad, yes, but probably pardonable if you repent. Now, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan … that’s a whole different category: expect perdition.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Things That Are God’s

Most people use the expression “Render unto Caesar” as a slightly more literary way of saying “Pay your taxes.” The phrase is so universally recognizable it has served as the title of an episode of the Hercules TV cartoon, at least one book of teen fiction, and a whole quest in a popular videogame.

Not everyone could tell you the line comes from the Bible. Fewer know it was Jesus who said it. A smaller subset still can actually quote it in full: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

It’s funny how easily that last bit tends to get forgotten.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Authority and Example

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time may remember that I have struggled with the idea of Bible history being authoritative. Many things were done by many people during the roughly 4,000-year period during which the history of mankind is explored in scripture, some of them good and some of them bad. We can learn from all of those stories, but that doesn’t mean we ought to imitate the conduct of everyone we find in them. Abraham makes a better role model than Ahab, but even Abraham was far from perfect.

Accurate history simply records what happened. Telling you what you should conclude about it — or, much more importantly, what you should do about it — generally requires some sort of editorial comment or authorial aside. As Hume famously put it, you can’t get ‘ought’ from ‘is’.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Unforgivable Sin

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (4)

Sometimes Christians make arguments which are broadly correct, but wrong in the specifics. They reach the right conclusions, but do it by wrong reasoning. More often than not, they do this by inadvertently making false claims about the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words, usually for lack of careful research.

Now, it may be argued that perhaps this sort of error is not a big deal, since the listener gets to the correct place in the end regardless of the road used to get him there. Unfortunately, one of two things occurs: (1) the listener cannot navigate to his interpretive destination again without his misguided mentor, or (2) he can, and in doing so he too becomes a proponent of errors in method, if not actual errors in doctrine.

Either outcome is undesirable.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (30)

“Is the unforgivable sin knowing the Holy Spirit and accepting his existence and then opposing him, or is it having Satan in you without you knowing about it and then claiming it’s the Holy Spirit, and vice versa?”

Well, that’s quite a mouthful. Let’s try to unpack that.

There are a couple of things about this question that show the person who asked it is at very least headed in the right direction in his thinking. For instance, he grasps that the unforgivable sin is closely related to the person of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely true.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Deprived of this Grace

I’ve been struck lately by the relevance of the Lord’s kingdom parables to the whole issue of John Calvin’s concept of election.

You may have noticed that the Lord’s disciples appear to be not entirely comfortable with the whole ‘parables’ concept. We know this because they have to ask the Lord to explain the parables to them, and enthuse about it when he does. They obviously find themselves on surer ground when he speaks “plainly” than when he tells stories that require interpretation.

But the Lord explains the reason for parables to them in this way:

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

On the face of it, this sounds terribly determinist, doesn’t it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Love and Response

Several years ago I gave some good advice to a struggling, depressed young adult. Basic things, really: Go to bed at the same time every night, get up at the same time every morning, brush your teeth and get dressed rather than lying around moping until all hours. Eat properly. Exercise. Clean up after yourself. Jordan Peterson stuff, but before everybody knew who Jordan Peterson is.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus established a base of operations near the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, about 40 miles from Nazareth where he had grown up. Matthew tells us he made this move right after the arrest of John the Baptist, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

It was near Capernaum that he called his first disciples, preached the Sermon on the Mount and calmed the storm. It was from the same region that he sent out the Twelve into the rest of Israel to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Bridegroom is Here

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Mental Scrapbook

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, May 08, 2017

By What Authority?

Busted for blogging with insufficient authority
I love error. Error is a beautiful thing.

Don’t panic. Let me get going here and you’ll soon see what I mean. And in case it doesn’t become howlingly obvious, I promise I’ll clear it up at the end.

Ready? Here we go. So … Tish Harrison Warren is an author and a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She currently serves as co-associate rector at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m going to quote her a bit here, so I mention this not at all in an attempt to disqualify what she says, but so that you can better enjoy the many, many helpings of mouth-wateringly delicious irony she dishes up.

You see Ms. Warren fears the Christian blogosphere is off its leash. She thinks its various Christian and heretical voices are operating without spiritual authority and ought to be reined in.

Wow. Just … wow. Pot, meet kettle.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Heft and Substance of Cobweb

The other day I referenced an Andy Stanley quote about the historicity of Adam and Eve. Andy believes Adam and Eve were historical because Jesus believed they were historical — or so he argues.

I agree with Andy that Adam and Eve were real, flesh-and-blood human beings, not mere symbols or allegories. Making the first couple mythical upends a great big nasty can of worms all over the pages of our New Testament. Let’s not do that.

Unfortunately, the way Andy has framed his argument gives it the heft and substance of cobweb.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Truth Under the Bus

Liars gonna lie. It’s what they do.

I was just enjoying the passage in Mark where the chief priests, scribes and elders of the Jews — all those folks who, at the time of Christ, were supposed to be the moral authorities to which everyone looked for an example — come to Jesus in the temple and ask precisely where he has acquired authority to clear the temple, driving out the money-changers and salespeople and overturning their tables.

So Jesus agrees to tell them, provided they answer this question first: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”

At which point the chief priests, scribes and elders start sweating bullets.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Reading Too Much Into It

While observing that the vocabulary, syntax and idiomatic language of holy writ retain the characteristics of individual human authorship, I am confident each of these things was in every case perfectly superintended by the Holy Spirit of God. Thus Paul does not write exactly like James, who in turn does not write like David or Moses. Yet all not only spoke the word of God, they spoke the very words of God.

Let’s start with that. Even if I end up somewhere not everyone may like.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Someone Else’s Stuff

Erick Erickson wants to give away your stuff. [Caution: language in linked post]

Technically, I suppose, he wants YOU to give it away. But he would also like you to give away your wife’s stuff, your neighbour’s stuff, your co-worker’s stuff and your children’s and grandchildren’s stuff. So it amounts to the same thing, right?

As a Christian, I have to draw the line at such extravagant generosity.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Unpardon Me

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Twelve-Year Illustration

The first two gospels tell the story of an unnamed woman who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.

Believing even the briefest, most ephemeral contact with Jesus would heal her of her condition, she crept up behind the Lord to touch the fringe of his robe. And we all know the rest of the story, including the “your faith has made you well” part.

Mark records that the woman had “suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse”. Having spent some time in the care of doctors, I can relate. I can more or less imagine what that might have meant for her medically.

The part of the story I never really thought about before is what it meant for a Jewish woman socially and religiously to be declared ritually “unclean”.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


People whose foremost desire is to disqualify the word of God from application to the human experience start with a set of baseline assumptions that cannot help being wrong.

One is that the world has always operated exactly the way they have personally experienced it to operate. Another is that every difference in eyewitness testimony amounts to a contradiction.

Neither is remotely true.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Doing It the Hard Way

The Wailing Wall: Last vestige of Herod’s temple
How much does the church matter to the Lord?

When we look at the condition of most local churches today and compare them to Christ’s original intention as laid out in the epistles and patterned for us by believers in the first century, we might well wonder why the Lord continues to bother with the church at all.

Most of us do not really understand why we’re here and what we’re supposed to be doing. Great numbers of professing Christians atrophy in the pews, putting in an hour or two a week listening to a lecture and going home to a largely secular existence into which God is only allowed to intrude when things have gone disastrously wrong.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Debunking Baptismal Myths #2: Baptism and Belief

We’re looking in depth at a series of objections raised by one of our readers to the Protestant argument that one must be a believer to be baptized.

First off, Protestants would almost universally concur with the statement that it is possible to be baptized and not be a believer. Not good, but certainly possible. It happens. Rightly or wrongly, evangelical churches vet prospective candidates for baptism quite thoroughly in the hope of avoiding that exact situation. Baptizing an unbeliever — and possibly giving him or her a false sense of security about whether he or she has actually found peace with God through faith in Christ — is something most Christians want no part of.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Christians Against Climate Change

Mick Pope is marching about climate change, not in spite of his faith, he says, but because of it. He insists that:
“… a solid theology of creation and of the resurrection means that Christians should be concerned about climate change.”
Huh. Remember the whole “What Would Jesus Do?” fad from a few years back? It became a trendy thing to have on a bumper sticker or t-shirt, sold its share of merch in Christian bookstores and has largely disappeared, I think.

So what would Jesus have said about climate change, I wonder?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Mental Scrapbook

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Slavery in the Old Testament [Part 1]

The following quotes are lifted from another blog commentary. Like many comments that appear after blog posts with a sizable audience, they are completely unrelated to the actual topic under discussion. Possibly to their credit, neither the moderator nor any other commenter took the bait these two were dangling.

I, on the other hand, have great difficulty resisting a baited hook, so here goes:
“I have always wanted a slave and from what I can read in MY bible that is totally ok with God right?”
— Emily
“Hi Emily, You see God only let them keep slaves then, because at the time that was how economies worked. There was simply no other way for God to help Israel prosper, they needed to be just the same as the surrounding nations.”
— Minion68
(It ought to be mentioned, in case it is not evident, that the second comment is pure sarcasm, as Minion’s other comments relating to the same post make exceedingly clear.)

From their tone, I get the feeling that both commenters have already made up their minds.

Saturday, June 07, 2014