Category: The Gospels

Poster for Hidden Figures

The Gospels, Hidden Figures, and Strength in Diversity

Poster for Hidden FiguresDuring January of each year, our church brings in a biblical scholar to teach through a book. This year is Matthew. In the first adult Bible Study last week, Tom Yoder Neufeld covered many introductory topics, including his explanation of the layers that go into each Gospel: Jesus, the oral history, the compiler, and so on. He also talked about how there was an effort in the early church to compile into one Gospel, which was soundly rejected. That left me thinking: Why? If the goal is strictly to convey the story of Jesus, doing it as a single story would have made a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s the whole goal, though.

Hidden Figures

This weekend, we went to see Hidden Figures. It is a fantastic movie from any objective measure, now picking up some Academy Award nominations, but one particular theme stood out to me and two scenes that really captured this theme.

Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

Christmas Without Incarnation

This past Christmas I noticed something: a lot of Christians talk about Christmas without talking about the incarnation, at least not in any meaningful way. This can be from conservatives or liberals (usually the terms theologically, not politically). For conservatives, it most often appears by way of talking about the incarnation as nothing more than a first step in getting to the cross where the real work happens. That’s a problem. The cross was a big part of what the earliest Christians wrote down as “the Gospel” but there’s a lot of other stuff in there, too.

I’m going to focus on the liberal side today, though. Liberals do this more by abstracting away the Christmas narrative into a good inspirational story. To be clear, there are a lot of important details in the Gospels about the birth of Jesus that provide important social commentary. The shepherds being included is a big deal because they were generally not welcome in the upper echelons of society, much like we look down on many blue-collar professions today. The magi were from farther East – probably something like modern day Iran – and were astrologers, a profession explicitly forbidden in the Law and probably associated with another religion.

Refugees on a Boat

Jesus the Refugee

Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph were refugees.

God could have come as a prince or at least a priest. That would be a little more expected, at least from the perspective of privileged Western eyes. In the original Jewish context, steeped in the Hebrew Bible stories of refugees, immigrants, and other outsiders – the first time the command to “love your neighbour” is given, it is specifically in the context of immigrants – it would have made some sense, but despite that history many of them were still expecting a more privileged Messiah.


Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Mark 3:20-35 came up in my daily lectionary. Here’s the full text:

20Jesus went back home, and once again such a large crowd gathered that there was no chance even to eat.21When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was mad and went to get him under control.

22Some teachers of the Law of Moses came from Jerusalem and said, “This man is under the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons! He is even forcing out demons with the help of Beelzebul.”

23Jesus told the people to gather around him. Then he spoke to them in riddles and said:

How can Satan force himself out?24A nation whose people fight each other won’t last very long.25And a family that fights won’t last long either.26So if Satan fights against himself, that will be the end of him.

Rainbow Flag

40 Questions for Affirming Christians Part 2

Continuing to tackle some questions aimed at affirming Christians.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

Most translations render porneia as something broad like “sexual immorality.” Some older translations like the KJV use “fornication” which doesn’t really carry moral weight in modern English. Sometimes it is translated as “adultery” or “sexual unfaithfulness”, which is probably the best option, but the term in and of itself is not particularly specific.

I’ll admit to having not run through a Greek concordance, but as far as I could find with quick Google work, Jesus only uses the word twice, Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:9 (and parallels). The saying in 19 is really just a shorter version of 5, which says:

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’[a]32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness [porneia] forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (CEB)

Pilate presenting Jesus

Sympathy with Jesus’ Killers

Pilate presenting JesusWho killed Jesus? For some reason, this question comes up every Lent season.

Who Was Involved?

In the most direct sense, the answer is pretty obvious: Rome. Rome killed people on crosses. Jesus died on a cross. That’s pretty clear in the Gospel accounts, too. Pilate, as the representative of Rome, signed Jesus’ death order. Roman soldiers carried it out, just as they carried out many other executions, including at least two more in Jerusalem that same day.

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Kings, Wise Men, or Magi?

I’ve been thinking about the implications of the language we use for who visited Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Were they kings, as the popular song says? Were they wise men, another common phrase used? Were they magi or astrologers? The latter is the best translation as far as I understand it, but my question is more in terms of what different messages we convey about Jesus depending on which one we use. This Epiphany, here are some general thoughts:

Medieval Sword

Not Peace but a Sword

If you claim, as Anabaptists do, that Jesus taught nonviolence, somebody will inevitably point out that Jesus said this:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34 NIV)

Seems pretty clear-cut out of context, doesn’t it? The first question I would ask to anybody using this verse to defend violence is what they think Jesus meant by the “sword” here? Do you think he means a literal sword or something metaphorical? Presumably they think a literal sword – translatable to guns or bombs today – if they are using it to defend enacting violence. The second question would be who is it that is using the sword here, to which I imagine they would respond the disciples.

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight

I’m a little late with a review on this one but Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy has definitely given me food for thought. The central idea of the book is that a lot of people use the word “Kingdom” or phrase “Kingdom of God” and we all just have our own definitions of it. These definitions are usually loosely based on Scripture and Church tradition, but I have never personally seen an exhaustive attempt to define what the phrase means. Until now, that is.

Here I’ll just hit on 3 major ideas he covers which form a lot of the basis for the rest of the book:

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

The Birth of Jesus: Solidarity with the Outcast

We typically portray the story of Jesus’ birth in a very romanticized way. It’s all very cute and happy. There’s no blood or sweat or tears or troubling social dynamics. That is pretty far from the truth, as anybody who has had a baby even with today’s technology could tell you.

Jesus the Bastard

I don’t use the word “bastard” to be crude. Before becoming more of a generic insult in recent years, bastard meant somebody who was conceived before his or her parents were married. According to Matthew, Jesus was a bastard: Mary was pregnant before she married Joseph. An even bigger problem was when Joseph found out because he knew that he hadn’t slept with her. As an honorable man who didn’t want to unnecessarily hurt her, he decided to call off the wedding quietly before an angel stopped him.