time to re-read

While doing some research on church constitutions and such, I came across a site that offered assistance for how to create such a thing. But I quickly turned away from it because of the opening claim, which said: “A church is an organization much like any other social group or club.” Seriously?! If that’s your understanding, I think you need to go back and read the NT and see what the church is.

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1 thing everyone should know about the “rapture”

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I’m not exactly sure why, but I continue to find myself engaging with Dispensationalist ideas and beliefs about “the end times.” Maybe it’s boredom, maybe it’s curiosity, or maybe it’s for a good laugh. Whatever the reason, and at the end of the temporary engagements, I always come away with the same thought: “Yeah, I’m still not buying it.” The most recent engagement came when I read through a brief article by Dr David Jeremiah called, “4 Things Every Christian Should Know about the Rapture.” It’s a short read if you want to hop over and then come back. I can wait…

After I read Jeremiah’s article, which can be described as well-intentioned and offered in Christian love, not only did I remain unsold but I was also struck by the continued existence of ideas that can be characterized as old-hat and theologically idiosyncratic. I would have thought that, by now, the convictions of Darby, Scofield, Larkin, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Lindsey, Ice, et al (and their allure in some circles of Christianity) would have been replaced with the conclusions of sound exegesis. But alas, it seems that it will have to remain only a thought…. Or should it?

Let me try to get the ball rolling in the right direction. And this is not limited only to eschatologically-minded Christians; it’s open to all who are interested in the biblical perspective on “the end times.” So in response to Jeremiah’s “4 things every Christian should now” (emphasis added), here is the one thing that everyone should know about the rapture: the idea of the “rapture”, as it’s typically espoused (thanks to Dispensationalism) is not a biblical teaching–let alone a biblical idea. Rather it’s a recent(ish) theological conclusion based on unfounded presuppositions that are themselves non-biblical ideas. And yes, it’s really that simple.

just for fun…and a little insight

Every now and then, I’ll look through the blogs of Thom Rainer and Carey Nieuwhof (along with a few others), just to get a feel for how to navigate church leadership type questions or challenges. Most of it is good stuff, some of it is stuff I’ve heard before (only repackaged), and a few bits are simply interesting. This past week I found three posts on Rainer’s blog that fit the last category.

If you have any additions to these or further thoughts on them, I’d love to hear from you.

unnamed “bad girl”

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In Luke 7.36-50, there is an encounter between Jesus and an unnamed woman that sparks a bit of unrest and controversy with the self-styled religious elite. Jesus, along with a few others, is having a meal with a Pharisee named, Simon. At some point during the meal—presumably rather early—an unnamed woman of questionable or dubious character enters with a jar of ointment, begins washing and drying Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, before showering them with kisses and rubbing them with the ointment. The unrest and controversy is sparked because Jesus, thought to be a prophet by those attending the meal, allows it to happen. This becomes grounds for the others to question the legitimacy of Jesus’ prophet-status, for (in their mind) no true prophet would allow an immoral/sinful woman to interact with him in this way, because to do so would make him ceremonially unclean.

One of the marginal features of this story that continuously rubs people’s curiosity is the identity of the woman—or the lack of an explicit identity. (It’s the not-knowing that seems to fuel the rubbing of curiosity). Throughout the story, she is only described as “a woman in the city, who was a sinner” (Lk 7.37; cf. 7.39) or simply, “the/this woman” (Lk 7.44, 50). No name. No nick-name. No rap sheet. Nothing that can be used to make a positive (and definitive) ID. Yet, despite the absence of otherwise helpful information, people seem to be hell-bent on trying to sort out who this unnamed “bad girl”º truly is. Outside of accepting it as, “we simply have no idea who she is,” two options tend to be proffered.

First, the woman in Lk 7.36-50 is said to be the same woman mentioned in the (supposed) parallel account of Mk 14.3-9 (cf. also Mt 26.6-13). It is true that the two accounts share some basic features, but the collection of differences is sufficient enough to resist the conclusion that the accounts are in fact parallel events in the life and ministry of Jesus. To combine (and slightly adapt) the summaries of Stein and Moule, the differences are:

  1. in Luke the setting is Galilee, but Bethany of Judea in Mark
  2. in Luke the episode is late in Jesus’ ministry, but early in Mark
  3. in Luke the feet are anointed, but the head in Mark
  4. in Luke the anointing is a sign of gratitude for forgiveness, but a preparation for burial/death in Mark
  5. Simon is the antagonist in Luke, but in Mark it’s the disciples—which is no real surprise
  6. Simon is a Pharisee in Luke, but a leper in Mark; and
  7. in Luke the woman’s moral status is the focus of debate, but in Mark it’s the loss of potential money.

Admittedly, there are potential weaknesses in a couple of these points, but such weaknesses would not (in any real way) lessen the difficulties in seeing these accounts as parallel events. If anything, and just by comparison, we would be on better ground to say Mark’s account parallels not only Matthew’s but also (quite possibly) the account in Jn 12.1-8. And if the latter parallel can be established (as the similarities outweigh the differences between them), then we might be able to conclude that the woman in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John is Mary of Bethany—Lazarus’ sister. But due to the noticeable differences between those three and Luke, the conclusion does not extend or apply to Luke’s account.

To augment the lists of Stein and Moule, there are two other related reasons for why the unnamed woman in Luke 7 cannot be Mary of Bethany. On the one hand, there is the simple designation, “sinner” used of the woman in Luke. As Erdman pointed out (years ago): in the other three accounts, the woman is referred to as “the woman”, or “Mary” in the case of John; only in Luke 7 is the woman classified/known as a “sinner.” And on the other hand, subsequent church testimony shows no indication of seeing the woman in Lk 7 as Mary of Bethany. One would think that if the woman in Lk 7 is the same person as Mary, there would evidence to support the connection. But in fact, the early witness of the post-apostolic period shows the woman in Lk 7 to be a distinct individual—beginning with Clement of Alexandria, maintained by Tertullian, and carried on in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (which is quite late). Moreover, in the vast majority of cases in this early testimony, the woman’s sinful reputation becomes the means by which she is identified (and distinguished).

The second option, and we can be briefer on this one, is to see the unnamed woman as Mary Magdalene. This connection is offered because of the woman’s known sinful or immoral reputation along with the assumption that Mary Magdalene was a harlot. This is a connection, especially the harlot assumption, that goes back to Pope Gregory the Great (c. 594 CE), and one that continues to be rear its head from time to time—most recently with Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus (2013).* But, and to be rather blunt, the whole connection (and assumption) is completely bogus. There is simply no biblical support for it. In fact, in the next chapter, Luke introduces Mary Magdalene for the very first time (cf. Lk 8.1-3), and nowhere in that introduction do we get any indication that Mary just recently anointed Jesus’ feet, had any prior acquaintance with him, or that she had a slutty reputation. All it says is: “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (8.2).

Moreover, as with the Mary of Bethany suggestion, Mary Magdalene is not referred to as a “sinner” (cf. the demon-possessed designation), and there is no early (post-biblical) attestation of the woman in Lk 7 being Mary Magdalene (or vice versa). As we said above, this early testimony shows the woman in Lk 7 as being distinct from other known Marys in the Gospel accounts. And, for what it’s worth, the connection of the woman in Lk 7 with Mary Magdalene is also lacking in the Gnostic Gospels. In fact, when referring to the Lk 7 incident,  Gnostic texts identify the woman merely as “the woman” or “the sinner.” Thus, given what we know from the Gospels, the early church testimony, and the Gnostic fascination with Mary Magdalene yet not specifically identifying her as the woman in Lk 7, we can easily say the woman in Lk 7 cannot be Mary Magdalene.

So where does that leave us? Well, in the light of what we’ve just said, it certainly rules out a third (and overly idiosyncratic) option recently proffered by Kent,^ who suggests that all three women (the sinner, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene) are the same person. At the very least, and completely disagreeing with Kent, it leaves us with a conclusion of who it is not—i.e., it’s not Mary of Bethany or Mary Magdalene. At best, it leaves us with the unfortunately unsatisfying conclusion: we simply do not know who the woman in Luke 7 was. Quite frankly, and against a cultural desire, I’m okay with that.

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º I’m borrowing from Liz Curtis Higgs’ book, Bad Girls of the Bible (WaterBrook, 2013).
Cf. R.H. Stein, Luke (NAC 24; Broadman, 1992), 235 n.169; C.F.D. Moule, Gospel According to Mark (CBC; Cambridge University Press, 1965), 112.
See C. Erdman, Gospel of Luke: An Exposition (Baker, 1949),90-91.
* See B. O’Reilly, Killing Jesus (Macmillan, 2013), 144 for an example of his blind and uncritical acceptance of the notion. In fact, in a footnote he tries to validate the connection with an argument that is not only guilty of special pleading but also flat out ridiculous.
^ Cf. G. Kent, “Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the Sinful Woman of Luke 7: The Same Person?,” Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary 13.1 (2010): 13-28.