Restoration in the Wilderness

JBap

I heard a good joke today. Good by my standards, anyway, which not all who know my humor will wholly trust.

Question: “What do John the Baptist and Kermit the Frog have in common?”

Answer: “Well, besides their affinity for water, they both share a middle name of the.”

That made me think again about my boy JBap. (Yes, that’s what Raymond Brown really calls him.) As Words on the Word inches closer to its one-year anniversary, I am reproducing below some reflections I shared last summer on John the Baptist, the wilderness, and restoration:

From the wilderness comes restoration.

The wilderness for Israel was all too often a place of dissension and lack of trust in God’s promises.

Exodus 17:7 says, “Moses called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, on account of the quarreling of the children of Israel, and on account of their testing Yahweh, which they did by saying, ‘Is Yahweh in the midst of us or not?'” Massah means testing and Meribah means strife or quarreling. “Whining” would not be an inappropriate translation for Meribah. Psalm 78 (go here and scroll down to 78) details the repeated lack of faith Israel had in their delivering God.

(Disclaimer: I am not claiming I would have done better or have done better in wilderness settings.)

In the Gospels, however, Jesus redeems and transforms the wilderness experience on behalf of the entire people of God. In the New Testament Jesus serves as a stand-in for the people of God, both in the wilderness and on the cross.

One of Mark’s first καὶ εὐθὺς statements (“and immediately”) has Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But unlike the people of God in Exodus, Jesus did not sin when he was tempted to walk away from God and worship another. I once heard a preacher say that where Adam failed, where Israel failed, and where all humanity failed… Jesus succeeded on behalf of all people when he refused to listen to Satan in the wilderness.

The wilderness, isolated place that it is, connects with hope to the whole of salvation history. John the Baptist, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness,” hearkens back to Old Testament prophets that “prepare the way of the Lord.” John self-identifies as the prophet par excellence who prepares the way for Jesus. The wilderness may be lonely and despairing, but it is also the place to which Jesus comes.

As R.T. France writes, “The wilderness was a place of hope, of new beginnings…in the wilderness God’s people would again find their true destiny.”

From the wilderness comes restoration—even if it’s only the beginning of the process of restoration. Saint Mark’s first listeners/readers saw the wilderness motif immediately at the beginning of the Gospel (no birth narrative!), with John as prophet in the wilderness and with Jesus conquering Satan’s temptation in the wilderness. This alerted them that something significant was about to happen.

“Is God in our midst or not?”

I confess I’m too quick to ask that question with Israel when I find myself in a proverbial desert. But the desert wilderness is the exact place to which God saw fit to send John, preaching the good news of forgiveness and calling people to a baptism of repentance. The desert wilderness is the exact place to which God saw fit to drive Jesus, so that he could resist the devil’s temptations, beginning to win for us a victory we could never win for ourselves. God in Jesus restores what we have made “Massah” and “Meribah” by our lack of trust and rush to complain.

Next wilderness I come to, I’m going to try to ask myself… what restoration is on the other side of this?

Faith and healing in the Gospel of Mark: a brief reflection

Jesus healsFaith is closely connected with healing in Mark. Jesus heals the paralytic on the basis of the faith of his friends (and of the paralytic himself, too?) in 2:5. Mark 5:34, 7:29, 10:52 feature similar healings where the faith of the healed seems to be at least a partial basis for Jesus’ healing.

At the same time, Jesus shows his frustration with lack of faith. He exhorts his disciples in 4:40 after he calms the storm, since they are afraid and not showing faith. In 6:6 and 9:19 Jesus expresses disapproval of the crowd who does not have faith in him. And in Mark 11:22 Jesus tells the disciples, “Have faith in God” (or, “Have the faith of God,” ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ).

Causation in general is difficult to prove, and although some hold that Mark 6:5-6 say that lack of faith limits Jesus’ power, one should be careful not to conclude from Mark that if someone is physically sick or mentally ill, it is just because that person does not have enough faith. At the same time it is clear that in Mark Jesus heals those who have faith. Mark seems to convey that Jesus’ act of healing is at least in some sense related to their faith, if not a direct result of it.

Robert A. Guelich, in his commentary on Mark, writes, “Faith represented the critical link in one’s relationship with Jesus” (312-3). And, “although Mark does not actually define ‘faith,’…it meant much more than being impressed with Jesus’ words and deeds in view of his modest family background. …To those who came to him in faith seeking help…, he responded by meeting their need” (313).

Just as Jesus tells the disciples (as noted above) to “have faith,” he says in Mark 9:23, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” The father of the boy with an evil spirit says, “I believe (πιστεύω), help my unbelief (ἀπιστία)!”

Mark’s Gospel finally reaches a Christological culmination in the profound profession of faith by the centurion in chapter 15, who declares Jesus to be truly the “Son of God.” Such faith!

Amazed by Jesus

Amazement is a common crowd reaction to Jesus’ teaching and to his miraculous powers of healing and exorcism in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark uses the Greek words ἐκπλήσσω, θαμβέω, ἐξίστημιθαυμάζω to depict others’ amazement at Jesus. In Mark 1:22 the people are “amazed by his teaching.” In 1:27, they reiterate their amazement at his teaching and at his command of unclean spirits. 2:12 shows the people amazed at the healing of the paralytic. In 5:20, “All were amazed” (πάντες ἐθαύμαζον) after Jesus healed the Gerasene Demoniac. 6:2 shows the people amazed again at his teaching.

Then in 6:6, whereas the subject of the verb “amaze” has been the people, Jesus is amazed (ἐθαύμαζεν) on account of the lack of faith (ἀπιστία) of the people. The prior verse has said, “And he could not do any miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (AKJV). This is odd. Just as Jesus’ miracles lead to amazement, now his lack of miracles in 6:5 lead to a lack of belief on the part of the people, and this leads to Jesus’ amazement at the people’s lack of faith.

In 6:51 the disciples are amazed at Jesus’ walking on the water, and in 10:24 and 10:26 at his pronouncement that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. In 7:37 the crowd has gone back to being amazed at Jesus’ curing of a deaf man. In 11:18 and 12:17 they stand amazed (ἐξεπλήσσετο) at his teaching.

In 15:5 there is a new subject who is amazed: Pilate is amazed at the lack of a reply from Jesus in his own defense at his trial.

The theme of amazement is significant in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus in Mark is the divine Son of God who has authority to teach, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Because of this the crowds and his disciples are amazed. (Except in 6:5-6, where they are not.) And yet Jesus is not the political Roman empire-conquering Messiah that many Jewish people expected, so there is amazement even on Pilate’s part in 15:5 when Jesus does not respond.

Though no “amazing” words are used, the centurion in Mark 15:39 seems to have the final word of amazement in the Gospel. Having watched Jesus die, he utters in astonishment, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Would Mark’s Jesus have us handle snakes and drink poison? (part 2 of 2) (BibleWorks 9 review, concluded)

The Gospel of Mark has a couple of possible (disputed) endings. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the options for how to understand Mark’s closing chapter.

It is the so-called longer ending of Mark that has Jesus appearing to some of his followers and talking about their picking up snakes and drinking poison.

Of course, even if the longer ending is authentic and original to Mark, there is still the matter of interpretation. As a way to complete my review of BibleWorks 9, I set out to use BibleWorks to try to examine some of the manuscript evidence. A BibleWorks module of Daniel Wallace’s Greek grammar (included in BW9) offered some insight into interpretation, which you can read briefly here (screenshot).

BibleWorks 9 features the BibleWorks Manuscript Project, where you can “compare and analyze original manuscript text and images.” As a part of the Analysis Window, the manuscripts are integrated with the Browse Window, so that as you move around in the latter, the former tracks with you. The perfect complement to the Manuscripts Project is the Center for New Testament Textual Studies’ (CNTTS) NT Critical Apparatus. BibleWorks describes it:

For the first time, the New Testament Critical Apparatus from the Center for New Testament Textual Studies is available for PCs. This exhaustive apparatus covers the entire New Testament. The BibleWorks version has been enhanced to show a matrix of Aland categories and time period for the mss for each reading. Users will especially appreciate having the apparatus track and update as the mouse moves over the text in the BibleWorks main window. In addition, the start of each verse entry summarizes the significant, insignificant, and singular variants. When examining a variant, the text of the verse is shown with the variant text highlighted. No unlock required!

You can’t get NA27 and its textual apparatus in BibleWorks but with what CNTTS offers (it’s thorough), it doesn’t matter! Greek textual critics benefit immensely from the additions in BibleWorks from version 8 to 9.

BibleWorks has some great mini-training videos. Here they explain the CNTTS Apparatus. And here they discuss the Manuscripts Tab. If you’re serious about either (a) considering purchasing BibleWorks 9 or (b) have it and want to figure out how to use those two features, those two videos will get you there.

Now, on to the manuscript evidence regarding Mark’s ending in BibleWorks 9. This gives an idea of what the program can do in an applied Bible study.

If I’m wondering what Codex Vaticanus (“B”) has in Mark 16:9, I can simply select that Codex in the drop-down menu in the Mss Tab. (BibleWorks refers to it as m-3, too.) The screenshot below (click for larger) shows that there’s no image for Vaticanus at 16:9. This is because Vaticanus ends Mark at 16:8.

Note, too, something I find exceedingly helpful in the bottom right of the shot above–a key to not only BibleWorks’ manuscript numbering system but to abbreviations for manuscripts, their dates, and their contents. This is the stuff budding text critics always have to look up, flipping from page to page and resource to resource. (Or just using that little insert in the NA27. But this is easier!)

In fact, by right-clicking when you do see an image (e.g., Vaticanus at Mark 16:8), you can “load image in viewer” to pull it out and look at it more closely. There you can zoom and drag your way through the various parts of the text. It looks like this:

The top right section of the Mss Tab (in the full screenshot image above) lines up the various readings available in the manuscripts that BibleWorks contains. I can quickly see that “A” (Alexandrinus) and “W” (Washingtonianus) do have text for a longer ending of mark. Pulling up the image for Alexandrinus, I see this for Mark 16:9 ff.:

Hovering over the verse references (superimposed over the manuscript) brings up the pop-up window that you see there, where I can compare the given manuscript, the English, and the BGT Greek text in BibleWorks. (!!) This is all pretty amazing.

The Mss Tab is easy to figure out. Using the CNNTS Apparatus was less than intuitive for me. But this BibleWorks video explained it quite well. I’ve had to work at it to figure out how to best use it, but having done that, it’s a great apparatus. Especially helpful is its classification of variation types (significant, insignificant, lacunae, etc.). The Apparatus is chock full of abbreviations to learn, but what critical apparatus isn’t? And this one hyperlinks the abbreviations to what they stand for, so it’s not too bad.

For the Greek manuscripts that include some parts of the Septuagint (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus), I would love to be able to see both testaments in future BibleWorks editions. That was a loss for me, especially given my appreciation of the Septuagint. So be aware that even though BibleWorks has images of manuscripts that contain parts of the LXX, it’s just the New Testament that appears in BibleWorks.

But the images are already some 8 GB, and this is a work in progress (with future updates promised), so the lack of the LXX/Old Greek is understandable. Viewing Hebrew manuscripts in the future would also be awesome! Until then, what BibleWorks includes and gives the user access to (as part of the purchase price) is pretty remarkable.

BibleWorks won’t actually answer the question I posed in the title of this post: Would Mark’s Jesus have us handle snakes and drink poison? Exegetes will always have to interpret and answer questions like this. (This one’s a bit of a softball, admittedly.) BibleWorks also can’t determine with certainty what the actual ending of Mark is.

But it can sure show you a lot of evidence, and give you just about everything you need to try to have an informed opinion on the matter. Being able to look at images of actual manuscripts still boggles my mind. And it’s not only being able to view those manuscripts (much of which you could do online anyway)–it’s the fact that they’re tied to BibleWorks’ analysis tools that’s truly astounding to me. BibleWorks has enhanced my Bible study immensely.

BibleWorks 9 is easily a five-star program in my book. I’ve enjoyed being able to review it.

See all that’s new in BibleWorks 9 here.

I received a free upgrade to BibleWorks 9 in exchange for an unbiased review. (Thank you, BibleWorks!) See the other parts of my BibleWorks review here. You can order the full program here or upgrade here. It’s on Amazon (affiliate link), too.

Would Mark’s Jesus have us handle snakes and drink poison? (part 1 of 2) (BibleWorks 9 review, continued)

First century snake handler?

Many believe that Mark’s Gospel ends rather abruptly at 16:8 (“for they were afraid”), but others have found it difficult to think of a Gospel ending with Jesus’ followers’ being afraid to say anything to anyone about the resurrection.

So there is the so-called shorter (add-on) ending of Mark, which adds to the above, “…the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation” (RSV). This has 10 words that otherwise appear nowhere else in the book.  In my view the vocabulary and style of the shorter ending do not seem to fit well with the rest of the Gospel, and have the feel of an effort to give the book closure well after the fact of the writing.

Then there is the so-called longer ending of Mark, which is also not satisfied in ending with his followers’ fear. This records Jesus’ appearance to some of his followers, as well as the commissioning of his disciples, including the hard-to-understand reference to picking up snakes and drinking poison.

Mark could well have ended with “For they were afraid”–Mark is not unknown for being abrupt—nor would he have a problem upbraiding (or reporting Jesus’ upbraiding) people for their lack of faith or for their fear.  But would someone who started so positively with a proclamation of Jesus as “Son of God” in 1:1 have truly ended on such a dour note?  One possibility is that Mark’s original ending was lost.  R.T. France says, “It is one thing to emphasise and exploit paradoxical elements within the story of Jesus’ ministry and passion, as we have seen Mark doing again and again, but quite another to conclude his gospel with a note which appears to undermine not only his own message but also the received tradition of the church within which he was writing” (683).

Of course, lacking evidence of such a “lost” ending means that to postulate one is speculative, and it is perhaps a wiser hermeneutic to accept the text as we have it to be the intended one.

Can BibleWorks help here? One of the major new features in BibleWorks 9 is the BibleWorks Manuscript Project. From the BibleWorks site:

This massive project has been years in the making. BibleWorks 9 includes the first installment of this ongoing work. The BibleWorks Manuscript Project’s initial release covers the following:

  • Sinaiticus
  • Vaticanus
  • Alexandrinus
  • Bezae
  • Washingtonianus
  • Boernerianus
  • GA1141

For these manuscripts, the BibleWorks Manuscript Project includes the following:

  • New full NT transcriptions
  • Complete NT digital image sets (over 7.5 GB!!)
  • Verse location tagging in images
  • Extensive transcription notes
  • MSS comparison tool
  • Morphological tagging (not complete for all manuscripts but updates will be provided free of charge to BibleWorks 9 users as they become available)

Manuscripts are fully searchable and integrated with the full array of BibleWorks analysis tools. As you change verses in BibleWorks, the MS image display tracks with the current verse. Compare, inspect, and analyze the text and images of key original manuscripts. Tweak and enhance the manuscript images using the sophisticated image processing panel now included in BibleWorks.

Before I could even get into the manuscripts, there were two ways BibleWorks immediately helped me to explore this issue. First, with my NET Bible notes open in the Verse Tab (which I review here), I see a nice, lengthy note that explains the options–with manuscript evidence–for Mark’s possible ending. (You can see the NET note itself by clicking on footnote 9 here.) That much I’ve come to expect from BibleWorks.

What pleasantly caught me by surprise was that the NET note mentions a section in Wallace’s Greek Grammar that discusses the grammar of the contested snake-handling verses. I quickly and easily navigated over to the “Resources” tab in my analysis window and looked it up (click for larger image, or open in a new tab):

Wallace’s grammar is free with BibleWorks, a nice bonus. And it’s set up so that as you’re working your way through a text, Wallace tracks with you, so you can easily look up what he has to say about a given verse or grammatical topic.

Already some great help from BibleWorks in exploring a difficult textual issue. In my next post, I’ll use BibleWorks to get into the Mark manuscripts themselves, exploring the possible endings of the Gospel of Mark.

See all that’s new in BibleWorks 9 here.

I received a free upgrade to BibleWorks 9 in exchange for an unbiased review. See my prolegomenon to a review here, part 1 (setup and layout) here, and part 2 (the Verse tab) here. You can order the full program here or upgrade here. It’s on Amazon, too.

William L. Lane free downloads on the Gospel of Mark

Here’s a link to a Mark teaching series that Dr. William L. Lane led at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN in 1998. He’s the author of the commentary pictured at right, one of the best for the Gospel of Mark. (Click on the image to look inside the book at Amazon.) From the By/For site:

This Mark teaching series is led by Dr. William L. Lane, author of The Gospel According to Mark from the New International Commentary on the New Testament series. This series was the final time Dr. Lane lectured on Mark.

The study page includes a pdf file of class notes and 13 lectures by Dr. Lane. See it all here.

The hyphen in my last name, and, What happens when kids with hyphenated last names marry?

This post is not about sex or colonization.

NPR’s All Things Considered played a story yesterday called, “When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up.” It’s Family Friday at Words on the Word, and in my family we all roll with the hyphenated last name (K-J). My wife was K, I was J, she wanted to be K-J, invited me to do the same (with no pressure), and I agreed. So we and our three kids are all K-J.

But we’ve often asked, what happens when they get married? What will they do with their last names? And what if they meet someone else with a hyphenated last name?

Read and listen to NPR’s story here.

It doesn’t offer much by way of answers to my questions above, but at least our children will not be alone.

Why did my wife and I opt for K-J? For me, it’s simple: joining our two last names together with the hyphen seemed a perfect “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” namely, what Jesus teaches–“the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8).