Summin’ and rockin’

In the home of some former friends, a group of six adults gathered for a time of worship.  One of the spiritual calisthenics involved trying to sum up worship, narrowing a description to just a few words.  At first, it was five or six words.  Then we tried to narrow it to two or three.  Feel free to try this at home!  It’s great for centering, without much hint of New Age thought.  🙂  More on this specific exercise tomorrow.

But if you had to sum up the message of Jesus in just a few words, how would you do it?

Purposeful death and attesting resurrection?

God come to earth?  Incarnate holiness?

Grace and truth?

Love God, and love humankind?

A recently launched blogsite summed up the Messiah’s message this way:  “Come with me and die . . . and I will give you life.”  Strikes me as eminently on-target.  Isn’t this one way to sum up the core of the gospel message?  I have found this summary, here presented a message of Matthew, strongly corroborated in Mark’s gospel, as well (perhaps not so much in Luke’s or John’s?).

Personally, I find the “Rockin‘” stuff (you know, like “let’s rock!” or “that really rocks!” or “catch you later … gotta rock-n-roll!) a little tiresome, but that’s just me, and it’s likely a legacy the blog author inherited, to some degree.  (I also don’t see how anyone can watch the ridiculous TV series “Glee” with a straight face.  I’m embarrassed for the creators of this show, but I also know people who like it.  At least they could have given it another name, because the “glee club” tradition is light years away from the pathetic subject[s] of this series.  Oddly, I am amused and not embarrassed by “Happy Days” reruns, but that’s beside the point.)  Regardless of their chosen name, the Rock Church in Indiana certainly have themselves a solid “teaching pastor” in Gary Collier.  I know Gary to be committed to, and passionate about, exegetical Bible study.  And he has the tools to carry it forward.

Browse the Rockin’ blog sometime, and consider subscribing.  I did.

Mark wrap-up (2)

As mentioned yesterday, our Bible study group has “completed” its study of Mark.  Below are some more highlights from the highlights.

Words, Themes, Motifs

  • Gospel (euangellion) . . . related terms are “godspel,” good story, evangelist, angel
  • Immersion (baptizo) (a reminder that “baptize” means “immerse” … the micro and macro pictures of baptism in Mark cohere impressively with the unfortunately uncommon view that says baptism is part of coming to Jesus)
  • Solitary Place (eremo) (in some English Bibles, look for “desert” or “lonely place”
  • Immediately (euthus) (one of the most recognizable motifs of the gospel–so many happenings are prefaced with this word, and it doesn’t always make sense in English)
  • Follow (opiso)
  • Kingdom (basileian)
  • Way (hodis) (also “road” and “roadside”)
  • Identity of Jesus
    • Teacher
    • Worker, doer
    • Spiritual authority
      • a significant notion–particularly to a Jew
      • Gk. exousia/Heb. smichah … note the difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the teachers of the law … on this matter, pursue the teachings of Ray van der Laan, who has brought us to tears when speaking of the unique smichah given to Jesus directly from God
      • Holy One of God vs. demons (part of the revelation of the identity of God’s son was His mastery over natural forces, including demons)
      • Messiah, king (only later in Mark)
  • Discipleship/following–a key to interpreting Mark
    • 1:17—the “call”
    • The expression “the way” (road, roadside)—central in structure . . . note the times that the disciples are said to be following Jesus “on the way,” and note especially when Jesus is said to be “on the way to Jerusalem”
    • Obtuseness of disciples
    • Contrast among various groups’ responses to, and views of, Jesus … this is a central feature of the narrative in first half or two-thirds of the text, specifically
  • Death/Passion (and the “messianic secret”–more on death in the final installment)
  • Apocalyptic eschatology (text-criticism has suggested that ch. 13 may be a later addition)

Some unique features & inclusions (some of these strongly suggest an eyewitness’s involvement)

  • Very little OT quoting
  • Only 2 miracles, 1 parable (quite distinct from, e.g., Luke)
  • Names (e.g., 1:29, 3:6, 13:3)
  • Treatment of Sabbath (e.g., 2:27, etc.) and other issues related to (rabbinic) interpretation of Jewish law
  • Two consecutive stories of healing of women
  • Literary cycles (cf. to chiasms/sandwich structures, e.g.,
    • 6:30–44 – Feeding of the five thousand
    • 6:45–56 – Crossing of the lake
    • 7:1–13 – Dispute with the Pharisees
    • 7:14–23 – Discourse about food defilement

I suppose I should mention the ending.  Chapter 16 has at least three possible endings.  Most Bibles, in including the long ending that goes through verse 20, make an explicit notation, along these lines:  “the oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not include these verses.”  A couple of things are clear to me, and a couple are not. First, I find the ending relatively inconsequential; in other words, I care a lot more about the overall picture than the disputed ending.  Second, it is somewhat clear to me (a NON-text scholar who likes to be conversant with scholarly textual work) that the longer ending is not part of the original document.

Now, on the “less than clear” side–it seems plausible to me that Mark or some other believer/scribe added verses 9-20 at some later time.  (The other, shorter ending would be OK w/me, too, but seems less likely–and I’m basing this mostly on intuition.)  Alternately, I could easily accept that this longer ending is “bogus” (though not false in any sense) and that the original document was truly intended to end with the fear and apparent doubt of the disciples in v.8.  That would jibe with one literary theme of the gospel–that those who on the surface would appear to be in the inner circle really aren’t getting it.

Next/last in series …  goals and life applications of the study

Mark wrap-up (1)

Our Bible study group has “completed” its study of Mark.  Although Bible study is never finished, there comes a point when one says, “We’ve gotten about all we can from Mark, given our limited intellects.”  That point came a week or so ago; as part of the wrap-up, I prepared a summary document for our fellow studyers.  Below are some highlights from the highlights, for which I give credit to Greg Fay, Ben Witherington III, N.T. Wright, and Kenneth Wuest.

Literary traits of Mark

  • Mark likes a quick pace and “action” (commonly observed, but even more noted when one reads the entire gospel in a sitting!)
  • Mark’s style
    • Not carefully wrought
    • “Punchy,” Vivid word pictures
    • Jesus’ “looks of inquiry”
    • Hunger, sleep
    • Jesus’ attitudes toward people:  pity, wonder, sighing, grieving
  • Non-chronological nature
    • aspects of the structure of Mark give clues as to which pericopes–literary sections–appear to be in chronological sequence and/or proximity
    • the assumption by scholars is frequently that Mark pays little attention to chronology in painting a picture of our Jesus
  • Mark is fond of
    • Gk. historic present tense
      • “When they had come near to Jerusalem”
      • He sends two of His disciples
      • While He was still speaking, Judas comes
    • Aramaic expressions as an evidence of Peter’s eyewitness—according to one author, “There were times when Peter could hear again the very sound of Jesus’ voice and apparently could not help relaying things to Mark in the very words Jesus spoke.”
    • Picturesque and/or human, vivid details:  “Sat down in 100s and 50s,” “Took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them,” “asleep on a pillow”
  • Few (but meaty!) teaching sections, e.g., parables
  • “Triptych” or “sandwich” structures, chiastic structures
    • this element of Mark’s literary structure continues to inspire me and instruct me — it’s quite compelling!
    • Ex.: 2:1-12

To be continued …

Marcan vocab (early)

The spelling “Marcan” (referring to the writer of what we know as the second gospel) reminds me, oddly enough, of “Vulcan,” and I’m not even a sci-fi fan. Anyway. . . .

In preparing for the third meeting of our study group, I decided to begin listing and investigating some vocabulary that appears significant to understanding this gospel. Here, I’ll use the English word, and also a reasonable facsimile of the Greek antecedent:

  • Immediately/straightway/at once/euthus
  • Desert/deserted place/lonely place
  • Baptize/immerse/baptizo
  • Gospel/godspel/good news/euangellion
  • Follow/opiso
  • Kingdom/basileian
  • Way/hodis
  • Authority/Heb. smichah/Gk. exousia

These terms and others appear to figure prominently and structurally into the early portion, at least, of Mark’s gospel. I think that the more we “get” some of these terms, their uses, and their immediate literary contexts, the more cohesive Mark’s inspired, whole picture of Jesus will be for us.

On “doing Bible study”

His name was McCarthy. I liked this director a lot as a person, actually. But he would speak of marvelously inspiring musical moments in the most un-inspiringly pedestrian terms: “sing ‘the Götterfunken'” or “do ‘the allargando’ now,” he would suggest. He seemed to be reducing those profound moments to simple actions … mere head-exercises and activities. (I’m not sure how else to say this.)

I hear people talk about “doing a Bible study,” as though studying Scripture is punching a time clock. I question that, too. I’ve never “done,” for instance, a Beth Moore study, but I’m heard them spoken of as though they consist of listed items to be performed and checked off.

Recently, we visited a church and had a “Bible study” experience that amounted to nothing more than going through motions. It was really pretty sad–a “teacher” stammering through paragraphs in a preprinted lesson book, randomly jumping from Hebrews to Matthew to Colossians to Numbers to Ephesians, never once looking at his “class,” and only periodically muttering that this other guy should “read that one.” (“That one” referred to the sporadically inserted references to isolated verses in other books/letters that we were therefore encouraged to rip from their contexts in support of some human’s point.) The result was a Bible “study” that appeared inadequate to penetrate human hearts–being decidedly lifeless and relatively meaningless.

Now, I do not impugn motives here; because my intent is not primarily to criticize, I am not naming the church or the people involved. Rather, I want call devotees of the Man from Galilee to something higher.

Bible study should be more than going through the motions or being steered through a contrived program.

On the other hand, we had a high-calibre, enthusiastic, small group of students in our home on Saturday for the first session of a study of Mark’s gospel. We read the entire gospel aloud in a sitting; this, for us, was a great place to start in coming to understand this inspired author’s message about the Rabbi Messiah Jesus. We look forward to serious investigation of the book-level context, syntactical structure, word choices, and themes/motifs of Mark! This will be more than “doing a Bible study,” we hope.