Friday, November 28, 2008
Got this from Brian and I-Ching's website. It's an iPod vending machine! That gives me an idea. Why not I venture into the business of vending machines? My products will be humanities academic books.
1) Rental of space for machine is much cheaper compared to a shop.
2) Maintanance is also cheaper compared to a shop.
3) Mobility: Can put many machines at different faculties of different seminaries/universities. Students or lecturers don't need to travel to the 'nearest' bookshop to get books.
4) Due to lower maintenance cost and cheaper rental, the price of books are cheaper than retail shop.
Retail shop owners will kill me!
JP is making a very vague point here. The epistle was not written to the Gnostics. It was written to the Christians who were encountering some form of distorted teachings. This is shown in the epistle’s often clarification to its readers in 1 John 1.2-5,
“…the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (Emphasis added, ESV)
Here the author reminds the readers of the author’s faithfulness in transmitting the message to them. Then the author went on to clarify what the message is as different from the false teachings,
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (Emphasis added, 1 John 1.6-10, ESV)
Notice the many “if” used in this passage. This shows that the author was referring to some of the false teachings.
To illustrate this point, imagine your best friend heard a rumour that you do not trust her. And when she confronts you for explanation, you may prove the rumour false by affirming your genuine relationship with her by saying something like, “If I say ‘I don’t trust you’, I’m a liar…if the rumour is true, then I am really a good actor all this while…”
Though not a perfect illustration, I hope it brings out the point. And the point is the author was referring the readers to false teachings. This means that the epistle was addressed to the Christians, not the Gnostics. When you say something like that to defend your genuine relation, you are saying to your best friend, not those who spread the rumour.
Therefore at best, JP can say that 1 John is written to the Christians concerning the Gnostics, like how I have suggested above. But even if JP meant it this way, still there is a problem.
There is nowhere in the epistle shows that it was addressed to or concerning the Gnostics. At best, the false teaching resembles some form of Docetism, a false teaching that asserts Jesus Christ was not really a human, hence undermining his life, ministry, and ultimately, his saving actions. It seems that this group was spreading teaching that do not take ethical living seriously (1 John 1.6, 8, 10, 2.4, 6, 9, 4.20). We can also derive some of the false teachings from the epistle itself. See for eg. 1 John 2.29, 3.3, 4, 6, 9 etc.
The mentioned false teaching resembles some early form of, perhaps, Gnosticism but to assert that it is Gnosticism is over confident to the extent of getting out what is not found in the text.
Thank God that I adhere to JP’s advise on page 32 regarding reading JP’s own book, “Even as you read this book (Destined to Reign), I don’t want you to take my word for it. I want you to crack open your Bible and study the Word of God for yourself…”
Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.
Reference: John Painter's "1, 2, and 3 John" in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible edited by James D. G. Dunn and John William Rogerson
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Anyway, when it comes to naming children, there is an interesting sociological studies in 'Freakonomics' on why certain people with certain names are higher in socio-economic status than others.
When someone asked me how would I name my son, I'll say, "Wolfhart Pannenberg Woo". Of course, I am not serious(!). That's just something I brought out to evade the irrelevant question. But on a more serious note, if someone really like a 'theological name' for their son, he/she might want to consider something like "Pannenberg Moltmann Barth Kierkegaard
Back to Biblical names. Besides having unwarranted bias, Christians also tend to use only famous biblical characters' names such as David, Peter, John and Joshua(!). The downside of this is that there will be alot of similar names in the church. For eg. in the youth congregation of ORPC, there are 4 Joshuas.
So if you are looking for a biblical names for your children, why not turn to Nehemiah chapter 7:
Zattu, Zaccai, Binnui,
Bebai, Azgad, Adonikam,
Bigvai, Ater, Hashum,
Bezai, Hariph, Netophah,
Anathoth, Kiriath Jearim,
Kephirah, Beeroth, Lod,
Hadid, Ono, Senaah, Jedaiah,
Immer, Pashhur, Harim, Kadmiel,
Hodaviah, Shallum, Ater,
Talmon, Akkub, Hatita,
Shobai, Ziha, Hasupha,
Zeros, Sia, Padon,
Lebana, Hagaba, Shalmai,
Hanan, Giddel, Gahar,
Reaiah, Rezin, Nekoda,
Gazzam, Uzza, Paseah,
Besai, Meunim, Nephussim,
Bakbuk, Hakupha, Harhur,
Bazluth, Mehida, Harsha,
Barkos, Sisera, Temah,
Neziah and Hatipha
Sotai, Sophereth, Perida,
Jaala, Darkon, Giddel,
Shephatiah, Hattil, Pokereth-Hazzebaim... to list a few.
So when Christians want to name their babies with biblical names, don't confine to John, Peter, Paul, Joshua, or James. There are other ways to name your children 'Christianly'. Personally I think 'Pannenberg Moltmann Barth Kierkegaard Woo' is considerable (my gf must be tearing her hair reading this).
Christians parents, be creative.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Then we have the gen-Y.
I and those who are born in the 1980s and 1990s belong to this category. Basically gen-Y people are the most who blog, use Google as their dictionary cum encyclopedia cum textbooks, grew up with MTV/pop culture, and a bit crazy with spirituality. Though still early to tell, yet some of the prevalent heroes of the gen-Y are Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Karl Barth, Milton Friedman, Stephen Chow, and Christopher Nolan's Joker.
So how would those who are broadly known as generation-Z, who are born after 2000 A.D? These are the offspring of those who came into the world in the midst of blockbuster, rock & roll, cold war, God-is-dead movement, and sexual revolution. Besides this heritage, gen-Z is hit by the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, and current economic crisis.
What does Jesus' royal announcement means to each generation? Not sure yet, but I suspect that Jesus Christ will do what he does best: critique, redeem, and ultimately, love all generation by showing us the wounds his body is bearing.
He has done and still doing these to all heroes from previous generation.
He did it to ours.
He will do it to the next's.
And if Christ's body is the Church, think about what that means to us.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
You might had been asked by others recently these two questions.
Do you still ask these questions? Did you asked them this morning?
This morning, I tried asking them. And guess what, I heard none other than Karl Barth's echo, "God is God".
On one level, these two questions are not questions that humans able to ask by ourselves. The very fact that humans asking is already the gift of God for us to ask. Our curiosity is not the reason why we ask these questions. Instead it is God who are the reason why we ask. We ask because God enable us to ask. This is his grace.
On another level, to say that "God is God" is saying "mystery is mystery". God revealed himself through Christ, yet that does not make God less mysterious. Christ showed us God, yet the very life of Christ made God profoundly unfathomable. Hence to say "God is (something)" is no less a human attempt to create an idol for ourselves.
We might think that if we confront Christ,
we will learn more about God and love him more;
but the nearer we get to him,
the more we realize that it is God who is the one confronting us through Christ,
learning us, loving us.
God is God.
So, what happened this morning is that I received a gift.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Previously on chapter 5, JP tried to make the case for the need to divide Biblical passage into old covenant of law and new covenant of grace. But review on chapter 5 has shown that 2 Timothy 2.15 is not about dividing God’s Word.
JP claims that “some of the words which Jesus spoke in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are part of the old covenant. They were spoken before the cross as He had not yet died. The new covenant only begins after the cross, when the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost… Some of what Jesus said before the cross and what He said after the cross were spoken under completely different covenants." (Bold are original, p.92)
Where did JP get the idea of separating Jesus’ words in such way?
Caution Point 2: JP approaches the Bible with unchecked literalism and hence he misses the main point of some passages in the Bible, for eg. Matthew 5.29-30.
JP thinks that the reason why believers do not follow what Jesus said in Matthew 5.29-30 is because Jesus “wants us to rightly divide the Word, and understand who He was speaking to in that passage and what He meant”. (p.93)
“Jesus said all that to bring the law back to its pristine standard, a standard that ensured that no man could keep the law…so that man would come to the end of depending on himself and begin to see that he desperately needs a Saviour. So when we read the words of Jesus in the four gospels, it is necessary for us to rightly divide the Word and understand who Jesus was speaking to.” (Bold original, p.93)
Three things. First, not sure there are Biblical texts asking believers to divide Jesus’ words into old covenant and new covenant. Second, Jesus was speaking to the general public in Matthew 5.29-30, hence it is to both believers and non-believers alike. Third, the fact that we do not amputate ourselves is not because we ‘rightly divided’ the Word, but simply because we understand that Jesus was speaking figuratively just as his first hearers did; if not his apostles and many of his followers would have amputated themselves.
Caution Point 3: JP’s starting point for understanding Jesus, his gospel, Paul and Paul’s letters is problematic.
Let me quote JP at length,
“Paul’s letters were written to the church and are thus for our benefit today. God raised him up to write the words of the ascended Jesus… That is why, when it comes to reading the Bible, I always encourage new believers in our church to begin with the letters of Paul. (Many new believers like to start with the book of Revelation or Genesis, without first getting a foundation in the gospel of grace through reading the letters of Paul.” (p.94)
First, God raised all the authors of all the books in the New Testament to write to the church and for our benefit today. That is especially the case when we want to understand what was Jesus’ message, mission, and hence his significance to us.
Second, without first understanding the message of Jesus, which is recorded in the 4 gospels in the New Testament, one can hardly appreciate the implication that St. Paul was unwrapping for his congregations in his letters.
St. Paul’s teaching to the churches is rooted in his knowledge of Jesus. Hence to understand St. Paul, we have to find out what was his understanding of Jesus. And since it is demonstrable that St. Paul’s understanding of Jesus is rather similar with the 4 gospels, then anyone who is interested to learn about the new covenant should start reading from the gospels in order to grasp a more comprehensive account of Jesus first. Not Genesis, Revelation, or St. Paul’s letters.
Thirdly, all of St. Paul’s letters dealt with specific issues raised by specific congregations at that time. St. Paul customised his response according to each different situation for different churches in each letter. If not careful, new believers may puzzled over certain teachings found in those letters.
For instance, the command for women to cover their head in 1 Corinthians 11 do seems rather weird to some. Other letters such as the epistle to the Romans or the epistle to the Galatians cannot be understood by reading just the letters themselves.
If one really wants to follow St. Paul’s argument in those letters, one has to equip oneself with some background knowledge of the socio-political situation and the religious milieu of that time. Therefore I do not think the usual new believers are apt to understand these letters.
To follow JP’s recommendation is to put the cart before the horse, or in other idiom, to run before one learns to walk. Both situations often end with confusion and messiness.
Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
When your eyes are on the second sentence of a certain paragraph, a young man politely interrupts. He is in his late twenties, well-built and looked clean. He told you that he is an ex-convict.
He told you that he couldn’t find a job because of his social status. He showed you all the certificates to back his testimony. He told you that he is now trying to earn a living by selling you 2 pens for 5-dollar. He asked you to support him by getting the pens.
You looked at the pens and immediately you know that the two pens cost less than 1 dollar.
You know that those certificates could be faked.
You know how awful and stupid you will feel, if you bought the pens and found out that this is indeed a scam.
You know how foolish and pathetic you will be to this man, if you bought the pens and this is indeed a scam.
On a wider social scale, you know that there are scams going around the city. You know that if indeed this is a scam, and if you bought the pens, your act is a form of approval of such scam.
To widen the social impact further, if this is indeed a scam, you know that your act will cultivate more of such ploys. The con-business will bloom because of your act. In a way, your act breeds evil.
You know that the Jesus urged his people to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10.16).
And you know too well that human beings are fallen and wicked by nature.
So, will you buy the 2 pens for a price that is less than your cup of latte? That’s one thing that you don’t know.
Actually, that is not the one thing that you don’t know. If you buy the over-charged pen, you don’t know how much hope does your act will bring to him. You don’t know whether are those certificates faked. You don’t know how grateful he will be. You don’t know how much impact does your act have to the society as a whole.
And finally, at a certain point of time, you don’t know why are you reading a book about bringing hope back into a world that charges 6-dollar for a cup of coffee.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Through all the years of preaching and teaching in his ministry, JP received many accusations from those who disagree with him. JP felt victimised,
“…many people have written and said all kinds of horrible things about me. I have been called all kinds of names, but I have never retaliated in any way… I have never lifted a pen or spoken one negative word against any of my accusers. I don’t come against those who oppose me. In every situation, I just pray that it redounds to the greatest glory for Jesus and to the greatest good for the body of Christ.” (Bold added, p.81-82)
Strikingly, immediately on the next page JP penned,
“…notice that there was one group of people that was very unhappy with what Paul was preaching – the Pharisees or what I call the “religious mafia”… These religious keepers of the law are still around today. The law blinds them… When they see believers impacted by grace, they become “filled with envy” because they have worked so hard and depended on their own efforts to achieve their own sense of self-righteousness.” (p.83)
Here, JP put himself in the position of St. Paul, and put those who disagree with him in the position of the Pharisees who persecuted St. Paul.
With that he was implying that his dissenters, the “keepers of the law [who] are still around today”, as “religious mafia”.
JP deemed them to be blinded by the law. In simpler words, JP is saying that they are blind.
He further described them as envious, before he finally accuses them to be self-righteous.
Though I will not say that JP is being hypocritical here, but his self-proclaimed graciousness for “never lifted a pen or spoken one negative word against any of my accusers” on page 82 which is immediately overturned by his detrimental remarks against those who ‘persecuted’ him on the following page does say something about the false image he tried to present to his readers, not to his mention inconsistency and self-contradiction.
I might be wrong but when I read that two pages, I got a sense that on one page, JP was portraying himself to be a helpless, unrevengeful and forgiving victim who can do nothing except to look upon the Lord for vindication.
And then on the next page, JP unreservedly stabbed his dissenters with unkind accusations without really discussing the specific disagreements that he received.
But this is not the first time JP lashes out against those who disagree with him.
Take for eg. on page 22, JP wrote that the devil built fences around his teaching. Then on page 24-26, under the chapter's subtitle 'Fences Around the Abundance of Grace', JP implicates the dean of a "reputable Bible school" to build fences around his teaching on 'grace'. In other words, JP is implying that the dean is of the devil, if not the devil itself.
I think demonizing those who disagree with us is unnecessary. I do not agree with JP on many things but I do not implicate him to be of the devil. Thus, JP ought to be fair to the disagreeing parties and stop demonizing others over differences.
Caution Point 2: Following from Caution Point 1, JP suffers from the ‘Martyr Syndrome’ like those of the suicide-bombers.
The ‘Martyr Syndrome’ is a term coined by my friend Steven Sim. It reflects the paradox of the unnecessary reactionary beliefs adopted by both opposite parties that reckon themselves to be the victim as a way to justify their own position.
For eg. In a war, those who blow themselves up to kill their enemy always claim themselves to be the victims of oppression, hence the martyrs. On the other hand, their enemy who also blow themselves up to kill them might also see themselves as the victims, hence also the martyrs. So in such situation where both parties start claiming their own selves to be the victim, everyone is the victim, and no one really is the victim.
When faced with disagreements from others, JP sees himself as the victim, the martyr,
“…it is clear that when you preach the same good news that Paul preached, it doesn’t mean that everybody will be united and say, “Hallelujah!” There will be those who would kick you out of their cities and say all kinds of things about you to assassinate your character.” (p.85)
JP deems himself to be the victim of character assassination by his opposers. And in doing so, he is condemning his opposers as oppressive assassins. And hence his opposers could also view themselves as the victims of JP’s own act of assassinating their character. So in this situation, everyone is the victim, and no one really is the victim.
The better and more civilized (if not ‘Christian’) way is to have constructive discourse over specific differences instead of ‘ad hominem’ at each other. And when disagreement cannot be resolved, the attitude to ‘agree to disagree’ is usually more desirable and ultimately more respectable. This manner of engagement is definitely more preferable than character assassination inflicted on each other. A manner which JP could defer to.
Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
What then is an 'unhealthy' church?
I think a church is unhealthy if it, as an organization, sues another Christian organization for whatever reason. Legal battle within the body of Christ is not only awkward, it's a major defeat to the whole body.
Second, a church is unhealthy when it does not go along with the time and culture. Kar Yong shared to me just now, a church is 'counter-culture' only in the sense of not changing its message; disallow Jesus' gospel to be compromised by cultures. Church must ever be alert to new methods.
Third, you tell me.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
A man walking along a California beach was deep in prayer.
Suddenly the sky clouded above his head and, in a booming voice, the Lord said, "Because you have TRIED to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish." The man said, "Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over anytime I want."
The Lord said, "Your request is very materialistic. Think of the enormous challenges for that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific! The concrete and steel it would take! It will nearly exhaust several natural resources. I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of something that would honor and glorify me."
The man thought about it for a long time. Finally he said, "Lord, I wish that I could understand my wife. I want to know how she feels inside, what she's thinking when she gives me the silent treatment, why she cries. What she means when she says nothing's wrong, and how I can make a woman truly happy."
The Lord replied, "You want 2 lanes or 4 lanes on that bridge?"
"Without Christ, I personally would be an atheist. I believe in God only for Christ's sake, not in a general higher being or whatsoever."
(Jurgen Moltmann, Lecture at Trinity Institute's 37th National Theological Conference, 23 Jan 2007)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The context of JP bringing up this is in respond to someone’s suggestion that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorah is an evident that “God rains judgment to punish His people” (p.50). And the reason that someone brought that up is because he/she views September 11 terrorist attack as God’s judgment on America.
JP disagrees with that. He thinks that:
Thus JP urged that someone to learn how to “rightly divide the Word of God”.
- God’s fiery judgments take place only in the Old Testament and before Jesus’ crucifixion (p.51).
- The fact that God willing to spare Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous men means He would spare America even more, especially when now there are millions of American who are clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness (p.52-53). Hence JP concludes, “what happened on September 11 was not an act of judgment from God” (p.53).
That is the background.
Before we turn to discuss Caution Point 1, I need to clarify that I am not disagreeing over whether is God’s fiery judgement still applies today. Nor am I arguing that the September 11 terrorist attack is God’s judgement. All I am taking issue with is JP’s usage of 2 Timothy 2.15 that I think is a misreading.
“You need to understand how to rightly divide the Word of God. When we read the Bible, we need to follow the advice that Apostle Paul gave to his young apprentice, Timothy… Paul told him to be “diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
God wants us to be able to rightly divide the Word. He wants us to be astute in rightly dividing and clearly separating what belongs to the old covenant of law and what belongs to the new covenant of grace. He wants us to be able to distinguish what occurred before the cross from what occurred after the cross, and to understand the difference the cross made…” (Bold original, p.51)
Quoting from the KJV Bible, JP is saying that 2 Timothy 2.15 shows clearly that St. Paul was asking Timothy to divide the Word, distinguishing the difference between the old covenant which consist of judgment and the new covenant which consist no judgment.
But St. Paul was not talking about this.
See an alternative version of 2 Timothy 2.15-18:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. (Italic added, NRSV)
There is no hint that St. Paul was referring to the importance to distinguish the old covenant and the new here. If St. Paul was warning Timothy to distinguish the old covenant from the new, he would had provided a more appropriate and relevant example rather than the one about Hymenaeus and Philetus.
The fact that St. Paul quoted Hymenaeus and Philetus’ false teaching about the resurrection in verse 18 helps us to understand what was in his mind at that time. He was worried over the spreading of false teaching among the believers; and particularly the one about false resurrection.
This suggests that the issue on the difference between the old and the new covenant was not in the apostle’s mind when he wrote that passage.
On the other hand, the Greek word ορθοτομουντα (orthotomounta) does not merely means ‘dividing’ per se. St. Paul was using the imagery of a ‘workman’ (v.15) who is in the process of crafting vessels (v.20). The word ‘orthotomounta’ itself carries the literal meaning of ‘making a straight or fine cut’. That is another way of saying, “handling something rightly and with utmost care”.
Just like modern day’s phrase “cutting edge technology” does not mean a technology that is being used to cut edges.
Or “hair-splitting argument” does not mean an argument that can split hair.
These are figurative usages of language. And St. Paul applied such literary style here. This can be further observed in his depiction of empty talk being like ‘gangrene’ (v.17). I do not suppose St. Paul was suggesting that gibberish would mutate into viruses or bacteria that cause infectious skin diseases.
Hence to some extent I cannot help but sense that JP is manipulating this Bible's passage to serve his purpose rather than learning what the text really says.
Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.
Sat Nov 22, 2-5pm
@ Spring Singapore Auditorium
(Bukit Merah Central)
Youth Seminar: Steadfast amidst the tides of change Are you aware of the changes affecting the Christian faith?
November 15, 3-5pm
@ Spring Singapore
Lecture Room #09-01
Other talks by Prof. Hanko:
Threats facing the Church Today (Sat 6th Dec)
Reformed Worldview (Sat 13th Dec)
Organic Concept (Sat 20 Dec)
Far Horizon Gardens Function Roon
Ang Mo Kio Ave 9
For registration and more information:
About Herman C. Hanko
Professor Hanko began his ministry in 1955 with the Protestant Reformed Churches in America and continued as Professor of the New Testament and Church History at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary until his retirement in 2001.
In his thirty-three years as Professor of Church History,Professor Hanko has produced many works as interesting as they are historically reliable. An example of his historical writings is 'Portrait of Faithful Saints,' in which he shows how God used 16th century reformers for the salvation and preservation of the church according to His eternal counsel in Christ."
One of the main themes of the conference is to clear some of the misunderstanding of the end times (eg. 'Rapture' theology from the popular Left-Behind series).
Some of the talks (audio) can be found here.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.
So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed...
Prof. Kalisch, who insists he's still a Muslim, says he knew he would get in trouble but wanted to subject Islam to the same scrutiny as Christianity and Judaism.
Read the whole story here.
The question now is not only why did Prof. Kalisch really think so, but how would the Muslims, especially the fundamentalistic ones, react?
Will they be as 'forgiving' and 'peaceful'?
Christianity and Judaism have been subjected to such critical examination for the past 2 centuries or so. Both communities didn't threaten to harm the scholars involved. In response, believers of both faith take upon themselves the duty to study into those findings and discuss over the criticisms. Not sure if the Muslim communities will do the same...
Witnessing the riots and killings resulted from the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy prompts me to be skeptical.
42 "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 "Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 "Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it."
45 One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also."
46 Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
Friday, November 14, 2008
As for the second lecture, well, listen to it only when you have 1 and half hour to waste. Waste, as in really have nothing to do and plan to dump that time into the temporal junk lot. It's a lecture title "The Bible of Bible-Presbyterian" by Tow S. H. I got it from here.
If you enjoy the view that Darwin's Origin of Species is a "horrible atheistic book" that states our ancestors are monkeys up on trees, you will like the latter lecture. In it you will also find that the speaker deem B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort as the "two archenemies of God". Not only that, he also thinks that 'Rationalism' is the philosophy that says truth is something you can sense and touch and experience. Of course, to anyone who knows a bit about philosophy, that's the exact opposite. Anyway, if you really want to throw your time away, feel free to listen to the second lecture.
(A disclaimer: I was not depressed over the second lecture in my previous post. And I'm feeling much better now. The Lord has strengthen me. Thank God.)
Seeing stupid people happy. - Slavoj Zizek.
You are a disgrace to depression. - Melvin Udall, in As Good As It Gets.
So, Einstein is comforting...
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. - Albert Einstein.
But, Oscar Wilde is wrong...
Cats are put on earth to remind us that not everything has a purpose. - Oscar Wilde.
Not only cats. Some other creatures too.
(I'm very very tempted to hyperlink which creature in particular... Give me strength not to, Lord)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Dr. Roland Chia, theologian from Trinity Theological College, started off by presenting his research on the theological view of 'personhood' and how does such understanding relates to the issue. Then followed by Dr. Lee Hin Peng's sharing from his experience as a medical professor and committee in the Bioethic Advisory Committee of Singapore. He also gave us some suggestion of what kind of 'compensation' package should be provided for the organ donors if there indeed revision will be done on Human Organ Transplant Act. After Dr. Lee was Dr. Jason Yap's presentation. He, being the director of Healthcare Services of Singapore Tourism Board, shared some of the issues that we need to consider when it comes to policy-making or policy-critic.
During the Q&A session, we have questions and comments made by a people from the medical and pastoral profession. The session was rather enlightening. Alex Tang and Soo Inn were there. And each of them had some dialog with the panelists. I wish we can record the session and upload it for download but we lack the devices to do it. This is something that should be provided to the public, especially Christians who are exploring or facing this issue themselves.
One remark made by Dr. Lee during the Q&A session is especially striking. He shared with us about his experience during the debate over abortion. He was assigned to submitted a statement, which represents the Christian community at large, to the government over this issue. Basically the statement disagrees with the practices of abortion. But the government officers were puzzled with the statement. They told Dr. Lee that half of those who went for abortion are Christians.
Amazing. I'm puzzled too.
Puzzlement aside, despite many differences among the participants there was a shared vital concern in the room. We wondered, "Are our local evangelical pastors equipped to guide their congregants on this issue?" Especially such complex issue which involved the welfare of our pluralistic society as a whole.
I'm still wondering.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The next few months seem like Rowan Williams' season. There are some publications featuring him.
Rowan's Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop by Rupert Shortt
The Theology of Rowan Williams: A Critical Introduction by Benjamin Myers
On Rowan Williams: Critical Essays by Matheson Russell (ed)
Rowan Williams on Scripture by John Webster in 'Scripture's Doctrine and Theology's Bible' by Markus Bockmuehl (ed) and Alan Torrance (ed)
Yesterday during a dinner meeting, a friend asked Michael Schluter, who was an Anglican, his opinion about Rowan Williams being the Archbishop of Canterbury. His reply is just one word: "Awful".
Well, no matter how awful Williams might be to some (not to me), we can't deny the fact that he deserves the attention of contemporary theologians, historians, and biographers. And rightly so for his insights and works in each of these fields.
So far, I've dipped into Shortt's earlier work and Mike Higton's excellent introduction to Williams' theology. I'm looking forward to learn more in the upcoming Rowan Williams' season.
I was the first who walked out from the class... not because the paper is so easy that I've did it all in a short time. It's the opposite; there are many questions that I don't know how to do. I think it's pointless to stare at the paper while the paper stares back at me. So I went to the library for 4 businesses: To check out the latest 'Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus' and 'Journal for the Study of the New Testament'; because these two journals have Richard Bauckham sparring with his reviewers (!). The other 2 businesses are checking out the 3 commentaries on Mark, and looking out for the budding NT scholar Kar Yong. Met Kar Yong at one of the table. He looked happy.
Anyway I prayed for the gift to interpret tongues this morning, but my prayer wasn't answered... guess I'm doomed without such wonderful 'spiritual gift'. Just imagine you are able to read and understand NT Greek, OT Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, Hieroglyph, and other ancient languages without the need to study! To think about it, it's strange that modern Charismatic Christians seldom asked for such gifts. Instead they like to stick with "ku raba-raba shi ka ra shan dai..."
Monday, November 10, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
Next week is exciting. First, my final exam is on Tuesday(!), then there is the Organ Sales talk on Wednesday by 3 experts, then there is Sherman's lecture on Thursday morning, and there is this Tas Walker lectures around Singapore. Then we have the budding NT scholar coming to town in the same week. Definitely will get him patronize Starbucks in his leisure time. On the other hand, I still have to continue my review on Joseph Prince's book. Oh ya, before I forget, there will be a GCF dinner meeting with Michael Schluter on Monday. Actually I'm still thinking whether should I attend the dinner or should I stay at home and mugged through the night for Tuesday's exam.
On Rowan Williams. Very recently he has made a smart move to visit a Hindu temple as a friendly gesture amidst the violence afflicted on Christians in India. But on the other hand, Williams' congregation, the Church of England, is facing problem with their investment due to the financial crisis.
On business and marketplace. Ng Kam Weng shared about the experiences of his friends who went through some mind-twisting exercises known as the Large Group Awareness Training organized by their company. Kam Weng gave a critique on such training and question its legitimacy, especially when companies obligate their staffs to go through such training.
A CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE
Date & Time
13 November 2008 (Thursday)
11.00 am to 12.30 pm
National University of Singapore
@ Bukit Timah Campus
Blk AS7, #04-13 (Shaw Foundation Building)
Religion Cluster, Department of Sociology,
Faculty of Arts & Social Science,
National University of Singapore
All throughout the history of Christianity, the religion has had to interact with the broader societal and cultural ethe which were dominant in the various geographical localities of its presence. The church of every era and at every place has had to undertake its dutiful obligation of critiquing these wider realities from a theological perspective.
This tradition of church-and-world interaction poses a challenge to the church of Singapore in her interaction with a modernity that is unique unto the Singaporean nation. For decades since Singapore emerged as an independent nation, there has been insufficient articulation from the Christian theological community in Singapore pertaining to the city-state's modern culture. As the Singaporean Church matures, it is now time for her people to interact critically with her wider societal ethos in an attitude of solidarity with the country, and certainly as no less than children of the nation.
This talk highlights some dominant expressions of Singapore's unique modernity, such as secularism, materialism and pragmatism. It delineates how these expressions are variant from what seem to be similar expressions of Western modernity. Thorough descriptions and interpretations of these embodiments of Singaporean modernity will also be presented. Together with that, the speaker will rigorously critique these facets of Singaporean modernity from a Christian theological viewpoint.
Sherman Kuek (DTh, TTC Singapore) is a theological researcher, writer, and speaker from Malaysia who dialogues with people of various backgrounds and traditions on issues pertaining to theology, spirituality, and culture. He is the Convenor of Revolution of Hope (RoH Malaysia), a Christian group of theological and social-scientific thinkers from various Christian traditions. At the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he also serves as Resident Researcher in the Archdiocesan Ministry of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs (AMEIA) and an editorial team member of Catholic Asian News (CANews). At the level of his local church, he serves as a Pastoral Associate.
In this chapter JP introduces a second criterion to test any truth-claim about God. The first one is on the Preface and had received comment. On this second criterion, JP wrote,
“The devil’s strategy is to surround the truths of God with controversies. To prevent God’s people from benefiting from the fullness of God’s promises, he erects controversies as fences around these truths. You can always tell how powerful a truth is by the number of controversies the devil surrounds it with!” (Bolds are original, p.20)
Two pages later, JP re-asserted again,
“The more controversies you find around a truth of God, the more powerful that truth must be.” (p.22)
Then he clarified that,
“Not all controversies are based on the truth of God’s Word. We have to test everything against what the Bible says.” (p.22)
To summarize this criterion, JP thinks that any powerful truth about God has to have 2 qualities:
If Christians were to adopt this criterion, we will have to recognize that Docetism, Gnosticism, Arianism, and many other false teachings as “powerful”. Reason is because these teachings attract controversies, and their proponents assert them to be based on and tested against the Bible.
- It has to be able to attract controversies. The more controversial it is, the more powerful the truth is.
- It has to be based on the Bible.
In fact JP’s own teachings share the same two characteristics with these heresies. First JP’s teaching attracts controversies. Second JP asserts that his teaching is based on and tested against the Bible.
Am I saying that JP is sharing the same platform with these heretics? I am not. JP might just be unaware that his criterion to test God’s truth is unreliable. (But to think about it, even if JP shares the same platform with the heretics, it is the platform that he himself has erected.)
Further, this criterion appears to be arbitrary. JP asserts that everything has to be tested against the Bible, but he did not seem to test this criterion against the Scripture. Which part of the Scriptures says that the ‘more controversies you find around a truth of God, the more powerful that truth must be’? The power of God’s truth can be recognized by the amount of controversies surrounding it? JP did not substantiate this criterion with the requirement he imposes on himself.
In conclusion, this criterion fails on two levels. On one level, whether a teaching is powerful or not does not depend on the amount of controversies it caused. On another level, JP claims that all teachings about God has to be based on and tested against the Bible, yet this criterion itself has not been demonstrated to be based on and tested against the Bible. Hence the rule that JP has laid for others backfires and betrays the arbitrariness of his own criterion.
Caution Point 2: JP misunderstands St. Paul’s analogy in 2 Corinthians 8.9, and thus ended up with a different motivation and conclusion from that of the latter. JP refers to 2 Cor 8.9 to confirm his idea that, “God was restoring the truth of prosperity to the church…” (Bold mine, p.21)
I think JP misreads 2 Cor 8. In the context, the passage is situated in the middle of St. Paul’s appeal for the Corinthian Christians to act out their love to the poorer Christians through sharing of their wealth.
He started by referring to the Macedonians as an example of their act of love (2 Cor 8.1-5). These poor Macedonians care for the other struggling believers so much that they, out of their scarcity, begged St. Paul and his companions to accept and deliver their gifts to ease the struggles of these believers (v.4).
Following that, in verse 7, St. Paul specifically reminds the Corinthian believers to be serious in helping the poor. He urges them to devote in this work just as how they were devoted to other works. St. Paul invoked the sacrifices of Jesus in verse 9 as an authoritative example to further persuade the Corinthians to show their love for their fellow Christians through their action.
St. Paul was saying something like this, “Jesus loves us and he proved to us his love by giving up his riches for our sake. And in the same way you who are loving should prove your love to your fellow believers through your action.” Hence on the last verse, St. Paul urged the Corinthian once more to “give proof before the churches of your love” (v.24).
Hence the allusion to the riches of Christ is not a divine authorization for his readers to claim material wealth in the present life. He meant the exact opposite. What St. Paul really wanted , by invoking Jesus' sacrifice, was urge the Corinthians to share their wealth with other struggling believers. On the other hand, Christ's 'richness' is not his material wealth or his material prosperity, as implied by JP, but his divinity. JP appears to got both of these wrong.
I have gathered further data on 2 Cor 8.9 at the Appendix below.
Caution Point 3: JP misread John 1.17 and, due to that, wrongly affirms that ‘grace’ is the person Jesus Christ. Pointing to John 1.17 (KJV), JP wrote,
“Notice that the law was given, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The law was given, implying a sense of distance, but grace came! Grace came as a person and His name is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the personification of grace. Jesus is grace!” (Bold are original, p.25)
Just as JP’s missed-reading of the tense in Rom 5.17, he missed another important word in this passage. It is the word ‘by’ (KJV). His slip is evident in the emphases he pointed out,
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (Bold are original, p.25)
JP’s understanding of the passage does not make any sense. The Greek preposition used in John 1.17 is δια (dia). And Greek grammar states that ‘dia’ has two meanings. Each meaning depends on the case of its object. So if the case of the object is in the accusative, ‘dia’ means “because”. And if the object is in the genitive, ‘dia’ means “through”.
In this passage, ‘dia’ is followed by the genitive ιησου χριστου (Iesou Xristou). So the preposition is ‘through’. Thus in other translations such as the ESV, John 1.17 reads, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
It is clear that the preposition ‘through’ does not grant JP the liberty to simply assert, “Jesus is grace”. Both the English and the Greek version do not allow for such interpretation. If someone claims to understands John 1.17 to mean, “Jesus is grace”, then he/she is confused over how language works.
If someone says, “This letter came through that door”, we cannot conclude that the letter is the door. To understand that ‘the letter is the door’ makes no sense at all. The letter came through the door; the letter is NOT the door. Simple logic.
Later on the same page, JP further mistaken grace as truth. His argument is along this line: Because ‘truth’ is on the side of ‘grace’ in John 1.17, and the Word of God declares that if you know the truth, the truth will set you free, therefore grace is the truth that will set you free. (p.25)
To put JP’s argument in preposition sequence:
Premise 1: ‘Truth’ is besides ‘grace’ in John 1.17
Premise 2: Word of God declares that ‘truth’ will set you free if you know it
Conclusion: Therefore ‘grace’ is ‘truth’ that will set you free
There is no logical sequence in this proposition. His major mistake lies in his misreading of Premise 1 that if ‘truth’ is found beside ‘grace’ in a sentence, then that means ‘truth’ is ‘grace’. This is flawed logic. John and James came into the world through their mother. That does not mean therefore ‘John is James’ and they are their mother! JP is simply uttering gibberish here unless he is actually speaking in a kind of tongue that seems like English but is not English.
One more puzzle: If JP concludes that ‘grace is truth’ and ‘Jesus is grace’ in John 1.17, I wonder why he did not conclude that ‘Moses is the law’? Are not all came through the same passage?
Further references on St. Paul's intended usage of 2 Cor 8.9:
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary:
On St. Paul's intention by referring to Jesus in verse 9: ...these Corinthians were diligent to do, as well as to know and talk well. To all these good things the apostle desires them to add this grace also, to abound in charity to the poor. The best arguments for Christian duties, are drawn from the grace and love of Christ.
Bible Gateway Commentary:
On St. Paul's intention by referring to Jesus in verse 9: [Paul] seeks rather to test the sincerity of [the Corinthians'] love by comparing it with the earnestness of others (v. 8). In short, he tries to motivate them by means of some friendly competition...Paul turns not only to the Macedonian churches to test the Corinthians' sincerity but also to Christ himself, the supreme example of generosity. It has been said that no one can outgive God. There is no better proof of this than the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 9).
On the meaning of 'Christ's richness': Paul is probably thinking of the riches of Christ's heavenly existence, which included equality with God and being in the form of God (Phil 2:6). But then Christ became poor. This was a voluntary action on his part. The aorist is most likely ingressive: Christ "entered into a state of" poverty. Paul undoubtedly has the incarnation in mind, when Christ gave up the "riches" of heavenly existence to assume an earthly state called "poverty." Christ went from riches to rags so that we might go from rags to riches. What are these riches? Although Paul referred too verses earlier to the Corinthians' rich spiritual endowments, it is more likely that here he is thinking of the riches of salvation. No fewer than eight riches have been mentioned thus far in the letter: the down payment of the Spirit (1:22; 5:5), daily renewal (4:16), an eternal weight of glory (4:18), an eternal house in heaven (5:1), unending fellowship with Christ (5:8), new creation (5:17), reconciliation (5:18) and righteousness (5:21).
Keener, Craig S. Witherington III, Ben. 1-2 Corinthians , p.205
On St. Paul's intention by referring to Jesus in verse 9: "Commanding" was inappropriate for deliberative rhetoric asking a favor, so Paul takes a more strategic approach here. Here he "tests" the genuiness of [the Corinthians'] love, as he "tested" them in 2:9 (cf.8.24). Writers often invited their adressees to prove their love for them by some particular favor the writer needed, often on behalf of a third party... Example was one tool that persuaders used to advance a case, and Paul produces the most authoritative example of all.
Wright, N.T. Paul For Everyone: 2 corinthians, p.90
On the meaning of 'Christ's richness': Jesus, with all the 'riches' of his life in the glorious mystery of God's inner being, became 'poor', both in the sense that becoming human was an astonishingly humbling thing and in the sense that the human life he took on was not royal, right and splendid in the world's terms but instead poor, humble and eventually shameful.
Hahn, Scott and Mitch, Curtis. The First and Second Letters of Saint Paul To The Corinthians.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Each category of partnership comes with different privileges and types of card. For eg. if you commit USD $500 or more each month, you will get a platinum card! That's an innovative way for ministries. Hmm.... I'm wondering where did they get this idea from? From the Holy Spirit perhaps.
The obscenities contained in the show is no less than those in the Bible. If the OT authors were to make a movie and be explicit with all the imageries and stories, it will be a movie filled with gore (eg. Samson' eyes being plucked out like those in Kill Bill), nakedness (eg. Adam & Eve), coitus interruptus (eg.Onan), and so on.
This show is being explicit. Really, it's not porn. The movie is based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk who wrote the fantastic 'Fight Club'. Choke tells the story of our desperate condition to look for ourselves in an accidental history. The main character Victor is a sex addict. He is the ultimate symbol of the sexual culture. It's all about consumption; exploding orgasm upon orgasm with strangers. But of course we know that the critique is not the sexual culture per se but the whole story and meaning about sex.
In the attempts to find out his real father's identity from his mother who is a dementia patient, he came across his mother's journal. But it was written in Italian. So Victor asked the doctor who is taking care of his mother to help translate the diary. And Victor found out that he is the result of his mother's participation in an experiment by the Vatican to create humans from the genetic artifact from Jesus. So he is the half-clone of Jesus!
That was shocking to him because up till now 'holiness' hasn't come across his life. His life was just daily orgasm. And now being the half-clone of Jesus, he has to rethink seriously about his life. That's what you'll face if you realized that you are Jesus's clone! And does that mean now he has to live a holy life? Worst, does that mean all this while he really has been living in sins?
I'll end with this ironic part where Victor asked a blonde stripper, whom he despised, about Jesus' life and meaning. And he did it without expecting anything good from her. He asked just for the sake of asking. He wondered whether was Jesus a sinner in the unknown years before he started his ministry. And to his surprise the stripper suggested to him to start reading the New Testament, starts from the gospels and then Paul's letters (this is strangely familiar). She even highlighted the epistle to the Galatians that being a follower of Jesus is about loving others.
So is this porn? That's up to you to decide.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
"When are you coming back, Lord?"
"Why God used strangely obscene images?"
In Jer 13.11, God declares that He made his people clings to Him like how g-string attach to the butt. The ESV translates the garment as 'loincloth'.
Then in Jer 13.26, God said He will sexually harass disobedient people to embarrass them.
Though I'm not sure why He likes obscenity, but the way these passages were used brought out their precise meanings. Everyone can understand that underwear, especially g-strings, stick tightly to us. And (almost) everyone knows that being exposed nakedly without their consent is a dreadful embarrassment.
This is also the reason why media likes to report scandals. Everyone likes to see who is being embarrassed lately. Perhaps it helps to make ourselves feel a bit more 'valuable' by knowing that others are being embarrassed. It's all about our individual dignity; which of course is nothing other than our self-imposed nickname under the knife of postmodernism. Think Fight Club's operation mayhem: destroying the very prestige that we have fashioned ourselves.
God created Adam and Eve naked. And they didn't know that they were naked. Zero embarrassment. Even God didn't told them they were naked. The moment they fashioned themselves with fig leaves, their individual dignity dominates over them. Since then, humanity goes fanatic over this nickname, 'dignity'.
Didn't realize that I just psychoanalyzed the Adam and Eve story. So, why am I studying Greek and doing marketing?
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Not the other way around (something that Steven might have already know). Hence our understanding of Paul's gospel and his notion of Jesus has to be understood in the light of the 4 gospels.
However, Richard Hays disagrees,
"...if critical history is our interest, there is great value in asking how Jesus looked through Paul's eyes, since Paul is our earliest extant witness. The usual procedure of taking the Gospels (written twenty to forty years later) as the primary frame of reference and asking how Paul matches up is historically anachronistic. The first step is to clarify what Paul tells us about the identity of Jesus; only then, as a second step, can we compare Paul's Jesus to information from other sources." (Richard B. Hays, 'The Story of God's Son,' in 'Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage', p.199. Italic original; bold added.)
Without dismissing the fact that Paul's knowledge of Jesus is reliable, I think that even if we differ with Hays, we are not being anachronistic for the following reasons:
1) We have no evident that Paul know the historical Jesus personally or as intimately as the 12 disciples, especially the inner 3 (Peter, James, and John). In other words, Paul is not an eyewitness of the historical Jesus as far as I'm aware. On the contrary, the 4 gospels are derived from eyewitnesses.
2) Paul's letters are not meant as introductory narrative of the life of Jesus. Paul's references to Jesus always serve as a foundational support for his argument. Hence his references are not as exhaustive as the 4 gospels. On the contrary, the 4 set out as narrative about Jesus' life.
3) Paul's information about the historical Jesus was most probably received from the eyewitnesses (the 'pillars' in Jerusalem). Hence his information is sort of 'second-hand'.
4) Luke's gospel is one among the 4. And if Luke got most of his data about Jesus' life from Paul, then the relation between Paul's data and the data from the 4 is not as simple, direct, and distinguishable as Hays suggests.
5) If 'Q' exists, it is another early source about Jesus. And if Luke derived from 'Q' in writing his account, then his account must be more comprehensive than what he was able to pick up from Paul. In this case, 'Q' contains data that even Paul doesn't have.
6) If Mark's gospel really was derived from Peter, one of the inner 3, then a lot of its material must be earlier and historically revealing than Paul's.
That's what I think. How about you? Start from the 4 or Paul?
When Adam Day By Day
by: A.E. Housman (1859 - 1936)
But Eve from scenes of bliss
Transported him for life.
The more I think of this
The more I beat my wife.
For David Burke so loved the netizens that he gave himself, that whoever come across his blog shall not be isolated but have conversations.
You may download his latest sermon on 1 Samuel 17, preached two days ago; God's King Winning God's Battle. The rest can be found here. Oh no worries, just download and listen. They are free.
Question: What is the Gospel?
Answer: Jesus is Lord; governments, churches, CEOs, senior pastors, friends, Zouk, Apple-Mac, and Starbucks are not.
Question: What is the 'kingdom of God'?
Answer: The network of caring, loving, and life-giving services to those who were socially, economically, politically oppressed or marginalized.
Question: Who is Jesus?
Answer: The President/Prime Minister/Parliamentary/Constitutional power of the entire existence as we know it.
Question: What do all these got to do with you, me, Starbucks, and the parliaments?
Answer: Jesus has shown us the means and the end of what he and his two other divine partners wants for our known existence. All is found in Jesus' own life, ministry, death, and resurrection. And we are invited to join in his trans-global effort to bring in the 'kingdom of God' which is already partly here.
For longer experimental answers to the first and the second question, go here respectively:
What is the Gospel?
What is the 'kingdom of God'?
Monday, November 03, 2008
The question is how would regular pedestrians of that time understand such message? What did Jesus mean? These are vital questions that we must ask if we are serious in finding out the meaning of the ‘kingdom of God’. And unless we do so, all of our understanding of the phrase is just our own fabrication.
“The time is fulfilled…”
Given the Greek word used here for ‘time’ is kairos (appointed occasion: appropriate time) rather than chronos (period), it suggests that Jesus’ proclamation has something to do with an appointed occurrence. Surely that alone does not tell us much. To find out more we need to look at the earlier part of Mark.
Mark began his narrative by reciting an ancient oracle prophesied by Isaiah that found its fulfillment through the mission of John the Baptist (1.2-3). This oracle is about the upcoming rescue mission that will be launched by the God of Israel. He intends to liberate his suffering people by engaging and overthrowing the corrupted religious, social and political systems that were ravaging them at that time (particularly Isa 40.11; 29-31; the entire chapter 41-42).
Upon invoking Isaiah 40.3, Mark transposed John’s own awareness of the coming of someone much greater than him (presumably the Messiah). It is highly notable that John saw himself as the one prophesied by Isaiah; one who prepares the way for the visitation of the Lord, one who helps in the initiation of the kingdom of God into the world (1.7-8). And when Isaiah 40-42 being put side by side with the awareness of John, we are hit with the impression that the divine coming is imminent. It is at hand.
As to make his point obvious, right after citing the anticipated prophecy about the visitation of Israel’s God, Mark wrote pretty much assertively that, “Jesus came…” This is remarkably revealing. Mark directed all the ‘coming’ prophecies as the background, and here in Mark 1.9, he gave us the climax ‘Jesus came…’
Further, Mark recorded the divine confirmation of Jesus during his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And this citation drives us back again to Isaiah 42.1: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. This seems like Mark’s further attempt to reinforce the kind of kingdom that Jesus will bring into the world.
Out of all these, we get the sense that Jesus is someone whose life is intertwined with Isaiah’s prophecy. As it appeared to Mark, Jesus’ presence characterizes the promised rescue plan. He saw Jesus’ arrival as the appointed occurrence. He saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40-42; the inauguration of the kingdom of God into the world.
Therefore the phrase “the time is fulfilled” is Jesus’ self-referential decree. Jesus saw himself as the promised ‘Lord’ who brings God’s kingdom into the world. To Mark, Jesus is the kurios (Lord) precisely because he is the kairos (the appointed occurrence).
“…the kingdom of God is at hand”
To discover what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of God”, we have to go back again to the oracle to find out. Because for Mark the phrase makes sense only within this tradition of prophecy as we saw in his chapter 1.
In Isaiah 40-42, the main concern of these passages is the socio-political predicament facing the Israelites. God’s mission was to eradicate all these mess. And it was further revealed that this mission is a global movement that concerns not only Israel alone, but also ‘the nations’ (Isa 42.1). In other words, when God come to reign in the world, he will get rid off all the nonsense, crap, and injustice.
These actions can be seen through Jesus’ own dealings with the people around him. For example, Jesus’ declaration that all foods are clean (Mark 7.19) is more than just an issue about food. It is about Jewish kosher observation (food-law) that separates them from the non-Jews. And this observation is the basis of Jews’ discrimination towards non-Jews. Hence when Jesus declared that all foods are valid, he was challenging the social discrimination (our modern’s term: racism) of his day.
A more tensed example is Jesus’ drastic actions in the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11.1-13.38) that provoked the temple authorities to plot against him (Mark 11.18). The vandalizing highlights Jesus as confronting the corrupted systems and not the individual businessmen at the temple. Jesus takes the temple as a worship place for all people; an inclusive place of worship. But it has been mismanaged by exploitative systems that favor the rich and disdain the poor (Mark 12.38-44).
Therefore the ‘kingdom of God’ concerns primarily over the establishment of a better world; a world under the dominion of God. The kingdom of God is not chiefly concern over individual’s aspiration to be materially wealthy and rich, nor individuals’ desire to have a struggle-less and carefree life. It is first and foremost about God’s mission to get rid off all the nonsense, crap, and injustice of the world.
Here we need to note that God’s reign is not an idea that empowers or promises prosperity to individuals. The divine kingdom’s main concern is to care and bring hope to the less-fortunate, the marginalized, the outcasts, and the godless. Jesus ultimately demonstrated this vision through the cross and his resurrection; two climatic events that subvert all corrupted and exploitative systems in the world. That is the kingdom of God.
“…repent and believe in the gospel”
The call to ‘repentance’ here should not be confused with our modern over-emphasized notion of individual’s regretting and restraining of private sins, impurity, and guilt. At least this is not the main concern of the regular pedestrians in Jesus’ era. They had the sacrificial system at the temple to take care of these. Thus we cannot read back our modern understanding of ‘repentance’ and ‘believe’ into those passages.
The writing of Josephus, which dated very closely to Mark’s narrative, helpfully provides a context to learn about the meaning of ‘repent and believe’. In an incident where Josephus was convincing his opponent to abandon his plot, he used the same root word as those used by Mark,
“…if he would repent and believe in me…” (Greek: metanoesein kai pistos. The same root words for ‘repent’ and ‘believe’ in Mark 1.15 metanoeite kai pisteuete)
Definitely Josephus was not asking his opponent to feel guilty and restrain himself from his private sins. Josephus was calling him to stop rebelling and submit loyalty to him. In other words, Josephus was extending an invitation to the rebel to abandon his cause, switch alliance and join him.
And when we apply this background into Jesus’ phrase, we see that Jesus was extending invitations, asking people to give up their cause and join him in his mission in establishing God’s kingdom.
On the other hand, giving up our own aspiration and submitting our loyalties ‘to the gospel’ throws us back to asking what is the ‘gospel’?
And again we have to look back to Isaiah 40 to find out. And when we do that, we stumble across this:
“O Zion, herald of gospel; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of gospel; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" (Isa 40.9)
Read, “Behold your God!”
The occurrence of God through Jesus into the world is the gospel. Jesus was revolutionary in announcing that the arrival of God was found in him. He was asking his hearers to abandon whatever their own pursuits, switch their alliance to him, and join him in fighting for the divine cause; and fight it in his way: not by swords or spears, but through the cross. This is the ‘kingdom of God’.
Green, Joel B. McKnight, Scot. Marshall I. Howard. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.
- On the temple cleansing, p.817-821.
Loader, William. Jesus and the Fundamentalism of His Day
- On Jesus’ attitude towards kosher, p.36-39.
- On Jesus’ dealings with the temple, p.45-49.
Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God
- On Josephus’ notion of repentance, p.250.
- On the temple and sacrificial systems, p.405-412.
- On Jesus and his relation with the temple, p.490-528.