The beginning of the gospel – Mark 1:1

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The gospel message, euangelion or “good news,” begins with Jesus Christ.  It is the message about him and his coming and about his work.  Mark’s book gives us the story of his life, death and resurrection.  Unlike the quotation that allegedly comes from St. Francis of Assisi, it is full of words from beginning to end.

You may know the little saying that I am talking about, the one that says,

Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.

With respect to this saying, a little debunking is in order.  First of all, it is not likely that Francis ever said it.  Second, he did gobs of verbal preaching, so he evidently thought using words was necessary pretty much all the time.  

How on earth can news, bad or good, be faithfully and continuously communicated without words anyway?  This is no criticism of good deeds.  It is simply stating the obvious that deeds and words are different things and the gospel is something that takes words.  That is no doubt why Francis preached so much verbally, out loud and in public.  It is also why Mark wrote a book with words rather than a coloring book or a comic book without captions.

Mark Galli wrote a little biography of St. Francis, which is short and readable enough to enjoy by almost anyone.  It is presently available on Amazon for more money than you want to spend on it.  When I bought it, the price was way lower.  If you want, I might cut you a deal on my own copy, and I’d send it to you for much less than that current high price (and still make a handsome profit).  Then again, even the first few paragraphs of his article on Christianity Today will give you enough information to back up my point about the quotation.  The title alone will help.  It is “Speak the Gospel: Use Deeds When Necessary.”  

For the next few months at our church we will be going through Mark’s Gospel and reading every word, chapter by chapter and verse by verse.  Every week we will look at one more portion of Christ’s life and ministry.  We just finished Matthew and the plan is to go through Luke and John after we finish Mark.  This will be lots of gospel, lots of words and lots of Jesus.  It will also give us lots of good news.

The Concept of “Race” Is a Lie – shared from Scientific American

26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

diversityPaul was speaking in Athens to the philosophers on Mars Hill.  What he evidently knew back then was not particularly controversial to his Greek audience at the time.  For some reason this no longer seems obvious today, but turns out Paul was right.  This is one of the points we tried to emphasize in the recent series Unity, Diversity and Our Identity in Christ.

Check out this post appearing today from Peter G. Prontzos of Scientific American.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-concept-of-race-is-a-lie/

A Sri Lankan Christian Responds to the Easter Bombings

Ajith Fernando

Like most others I was appalled when I heard about the  bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.  It is difficult to quantify cruelty, but the hundreds killed seem to make it harder to even know how to respond. 

At least one Sri Lankan Christian has taken the time to do so.  I can’t do any better than share what Ajith Fernando said.  His thoroughly biblical response illustrate why he is deservedly among the most respected Christians anywhere.  Read what he had to say on the website of Christianity Today.

A Shared Origin: The Story of Creation – Genesis 1-2

Unity, Diversity and Our Identity in Christdiversity
Part 1 of 14

The Bible’s creation story reminds us that we are all connected.

A Shared Origin Gen 1-2.pdf                

A Shared Origin Gen 1-2.mp3

 

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildrose115/27623264486

Honest Q & A: Bible (5) – Forced and/or Child Marriage?

Question:  Does the Bible teach that a girl can be forced to marry her rapist?

The question may seem to border on the bizarre, but it is not irrelevant.  Consider the case of Sherry Johnson of Florida who was married off at age 11, already a mom, and is now advocating for a minimum age for marriage to be set in the state.  A surprising number of states have no such law.  You can read about her case and her cause in a story by Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times.

Anna Parini - NYTimes

Anna Parini – NY Times

As a Christian of many years and a pastor to boot, what I find most disconcerting about the story is that many such cases point to religious factors (Conservative Christian, Ultra-orthodox Jewish) for these underage ties.  Allow me to add my $0.02 to the discussion and voice my support for Sherry’s cause.  Despite some initially uncomfortable verses in the Bible, which make good fodder for a skeptic’s objections to it, allow me to explain why I believe the believers in question are seriously misguided and the skeptics perhaps not-so-well informed.

For example, see Deuteronomy 22:28-29.  Here is what it says in the ESV.  

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

There are at least two issues behind a straightforward reading of these verses that can make or break our understanding.

  1. Whether or not we let other, especially nearby, biblical content inform us.
  2. Whether or not we allow traditional understandings and applications to be heard.

Question:  What does the nearby content say?

As to nearby biblical content, the verses directly preceding these deal with rape.   Here they are.  To summarize, a man guilty of rape should be put to death.  

25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor,27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

These words deal with a man who forces a woman “who is betrothed.”  The case of a married woman would be even more serious.  Rapists don’t get off easy with Moses; rape, biblically speaking, is a capital crime.  If someone wants to believe that a (not-betrothed) girl can be forced to marry her rapist, we have to ask ourselves why the sudden shift.  More on that in in a minute.  Let’s pause, take a deep breath, and absorb the fact that the Torah says a rapist should die.

Question:  What does traditional Judaism say about forced marriage generally, and why?

The aptly named website Judaism 101 is helpful here.  I will quote the applicable sentence.  “In all cases, the Talmud specifies that a woman can be acquired [for marriage] only with her consent, and not without it. Kiddushin 2a-b” (my underline).

Let’s go ahead and quote the reference from the Talmud while we’re at it.  “Alternatively, were it taught ‘he acquires.’ I might have thought, even against her will, hence It is stated ‘A WOMAN IS ACQUIRED,’ implying only with her consent, but not without(my underline).

The origin of this interpretation can be found on another helpful website entitled My Jewish Learning.  It goes back to the first-ever marriage proposal recorded in Scripture, that of Isaac, through his messenger, to Rebecca.  Again, allow me to quote.

“In the Jewish tradition, we take the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca as our paradigm. From this wedding come our customs of the veil, the blessing of the bride, and the halakhah (Jewish law) that a woman must be asked if she consents to the marriage” (my underline).

In the case of Rebecca and that initial, exemplary marriage proposal, In Genesis 24:57-60 (ESV), we read, 57 They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her [literally, ‘and ask her mouth’]” 58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah …”

The very Orthodox Chabad.org likewise states, “The woman has the last, albeit silent, word at the wedding service. It is the man’s role to pursue, woo, and propose to her, but she must give positive willing consent to the proposal in order for the marriage to be legal.”

In support of this we may also cite the medieval rabbi Rashi (1040-1105), who, in his commentary on Genesis 24:57, says, “AND ASK HER MOUTH — From this we may infer that a woman should not be given in marriage except with her own consent.”

Let’s pause again, take another deep breath, and absorb the fact that the traditional Jewish perspective based on Torah, Talmud and no less an authoritative commentator than the acclaimed Rashi, agree that the consent of the young woman is a prerequisite to marriage.  If we don’t allow these ancient voices to inform our discussion, what we say or believe may seem rather arbitrary.  It would be like saying that people living thousands of miles and thousands of years distant from us know what we meant better than those who know us best.  That is kind of silly, really.

Back to Deuteronomy, with a now restated question.

Question:  If rape is a capital crime, and ancient Jewish sources on marriage very reasonably require the young woman’s consent, how does the victimized girl marrying him who victimized her even fit into the picture?

This requires a bit of conjecture, but at least now we are better equipped to, shall we say, conject?

First, let’s imagine a traditional, ancient, agrarian society in which people all knew one another fairly well.  We are not talking here about megacities; more likely villages or small towns with surrounding fields.  One day, boy meets girl, but in reality they were acquainted already.  They do not hate one another, and may even be mutually attracted.  He does something to her, possibly akin to what we would describe as date-rape today.  Her dad finds out.  

Moses or no Moses, Torah or no Torah, Talmud or no Talmud, he is irate.  Someone better call the elders of the village before he kills the boy himself.  At this point the girl is doubly traumatized.  First, there is the date-rape.  Now her father is ready to kill a boy she has never detested and may not detest even now.  She is angry with him to be sure, very angry, but not stone-him-in-the-public-square angry.  Her father may desire revenge for his damaged pride, but that would for her mean something like watching townspeople gather to gaze at the boy’s battered corpse.

What would it accomplish and what would become of her?  Starting over is hardly an option.  She lives in a small town.  Megacities re still thousands of years off.  She possibly know ten or twelves guys total that are prospective marriage partners and this one is not the worst.

If we reread the verses in Deuteronomy, they now look like less of an oddball requirement that simply injures the girl further.  They even seem like more of a solution which forces the boy to live up to his manhood before his family, friends and people of the village. Notice that almost every verb in the verses refers to the man:  “He did this, he must now do this, and may not do that.”  The girl is, in a sense, being protected.  The man raping her is a serious thing.  He is not allowed to believe he can think freely and easily about sexual relations as if they had no consequences.  She might not only give her consent, but feel a sense of satisfaction or relief that he was (pressured to be?) man enough to marry her.

Back to the sad story of Sherry Johnson.  Her cause is just and we don’t live in ancient, agrarian Israel.  Children have no business getting married.  The responsibilities are more than enough when we’re mature.  Rape is a serious crime.  And any religious group that thinks it is reasonable for a young girl to marry the rapist that got her pregnant needs to think twice and do some hermeneutical homework in the process.  It’s a dumb idea and can only be defended from the Bible by the most superficial kind of reasoning, bolstered by a superficial, though zealous, faith.  As Paul implies in Romans 10:2, zeal is good, but not without knowledge.

The G8 Summit and the Bible

“There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy…”  – Pope Benedict XVI

OK, I’ll gladly admit something needs to be done.  Perhaps politicians should even be involved.  People expect them to find solutions after all.  Still, that quotation, coming as it does from the pope, sounds sounds like something from Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind.  If you check out the two articles below, you’ll see that Russia and China are echoing these pre-apocalyptic sentiments. 

Personally, I don’t think it’s really a question of being for or against global management of the economy or a global currency or whatever.  It’s more a question of keeping our eyes open.  It’s reassuring to know things are still on track, biblically or prophetically speaking.  Our faith should be focused on Jesus, and eagerly awaiting His return, rather than on political or economic solutions.  Human solutions probably need to be tried, may even work for a while, but they will ultimately fail now as they always have in the past.  Someday Jesus will set it all straight.

Here are those two articles:

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

Russia, China to push global currency at G8 summit

“He [the False Prophet] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” – Revelation 13:16-17

Israel, Turkey and Iran

Those interested in Bible prophecy might be intrigued by an article in the Jerusalem Post from Thursday, February 19, 2009.   It points out a noticeable shift in political focus in Turkey, which has in the past been very western-leaning, but now has an Islamist-led government.

The connection with Bible prophecy is found in Ezekiel 38, where a coalition is formed to attack Israel led by “Rosh” (Russia), but including Persia (Iran) and Gomer (Turkey).  This coalition is destined to fail. 

For anyone wanting additional information or explanation about Ezekiel 38-39, I’m including a link to my own notes.  These were written in July of 2005, when we were studying Ezekiel at Horizon Central. 

Finally, there is also a link to a 2005 article from the Middle East Forum, expressing doubt as to whether Turkey can maintain its pro-western tilt.

Jerusalem Post Article

Ezekiel38-39.pdf

Article from Middle East Forum

Thanks to John Colón for pointing out the article in JPost.