A Married Jesus? Update

There continues to be a lot of interest in the small papyrus fragment that Karen King and others have now made public that is purported to have a reference to the wife of Jesus. I expect to see seminars about this at the November meetings of the venerableEvangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. This mini-doc is now being called the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife or GJW. I’m sure it will be a Hollywood blockbuster next year, starring Russell Crowe or Tom Hanks as Jesus, maybe with Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston as the wife.

My friend, Dr. Jeff Miller of Milligan College, posted a comment on this blog that contained a link to a scholarly analysis of this by Francis Watson that some of you may have missed, so I want to bring this to your attention. It is on Mark Goodacre’s site:

http://markgoodacre.org/Watson.pdf

There was also a more popular article in Time magazine this week that case doubts on the authenticity of the GJW, “Did Jesus Have a Wife?” Unfortunately, this is available only in print or online to subscribers. Most of the major newspapers have articles on this written by someone who is conversant with the current scholarly discussions, so a google search can yield many resources.

I have done a lot of reflection on how we got to where we are in this sort of debate concerning a married Jesus. The Gospels that made the “canonical cut” are silent about the marital status of Jesus, and this is most plausibly interpreted to conclude he had no wife. The New Testament also contains some additional historical detail about Jesus in Acts, the writings of Paul, the book of Hebrews, 2 Peter, and perhaps in Revelation and other books. This information is meager compared to the Gospels, but agrees with them in being silent about Jesus’ marital status. I thought it might be helpful to diagram the historical possibilities as I see them:

Hope this helps a little.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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Celebrate Incompetence!

I can’t resist posting a follow-up to yesterday’s blog, given the outcome of the game last night. In the larger scheme of NFL justice, maybe the Seahawks finally got a win by ref incompetence that has eluded them for many years. Seahawks fans have almost always been on the other end of this stuff. The guys calling the game for ESPN, who were obviously rooting for the Packers, were upset, but I’m celebrating.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Stifling Dissent in the NFL

We are now in the season of plenty for football fans. Saturdays are filled with college games, Sundays with professional matches. Add to this the scattered games on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and there is more football on television than anyone can possibly watch. Tonight, my Seahawks will be taking on one of the best teams in the past couple of years, the Green Bay Packers. It will be an exciting game in Seattle, probably seeing Packer Quarterback Aaron Rogers on the turf quite a few times.

The technology of high definition, extremely slow motion replay of the action from multiple cameras has brought something out that has been festering for many years: the mistakes made by officials. Right now the NFL is having a strike or lockout or something that means the games are being officiated by inferior replacement officials. Mistakes on the field are glaring, sometimes corrected by the replay officials. I was particularly struck yesterday by a play with Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints who was caught in his end zone trying to stretch the ball across the goal line to avoid a safety. He fumbled, and the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive player should have been allowed to pick up the ball and fall forward for a touchdown. But an untimely whistle called the play dead somewhere between Brees beginning to be tackled and his fumble. Replays showed he clearly was not down when he fumbled, but the whistle stopped play after the fumble, and the defensive players stopped on what would have been a turnover and score.

Kansas City won this game anyway, so the old adage that bad calls never determine the outcome of a game seemed to hold true. Yet don’t try to tell that to Seattle Seahawks fans who witnessed a false touchdown call for the New York Jets Vinny Testaverde in 1998 that lost the game and cost Coach Dennis Erickson his job. For that matter, Seahawks fans still remember the 2006 Super Bowl, won by the Pittsburgh Steelers with what appeared to be multiple questionable calls by referees that went against the Seahawks. As Coach Mike Holmgren said after the game, “We knew it was going to be tough going against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn’t know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well.”

Anyone who thinks that officiating has no impact on a game, whether football, basketball, or baseball, is just being naive. When I used to help with college athletics, we joked that some schools we played always used the same refs, two guys named Homer. There were schools we played that we knew would have a ten-point advantage on their home court because of their hometown officials.

All of this makes it puzzling to me that the NFL and NCAA seem intent on quashing criticism of officiating. Last week, a letter from the NFL office was circulated to say that criticism of the officials would not be tolerated on the field or after the games. This message also was received by the broadcasters, whose commentators seemed to be biting their tongues. These guys, often former coaches or players, found indirect ways to point out the bad calls. In the Saints/Chiefs game, they made the point that in five plays the ruling on the field had been overturned by the replay booth. They wanted to say, “At least they got it right, and that is all that matters,” but this rang hollowly, because I wondered how many other calls had been bungled and not overturned. And no one wants to wait for replay officials to determine every play.

Stifling dissent never works for long, and is always a power play that reveals deeper problems. In the case of the NFL, just get the regular refs back on the field. They were bad enough! Just ask Erickson or Holmgren! And may the Seahawks not get jobbed again tonight. Go Hawks!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

A Married Jesus?

Discoveries of ancient artifacts sometimes catch the imagination of the general public. A few years ago, the National Geographic Society and others promoted the discovery of a fragmentary manuscript labelled the “Gospel of Judas,” supposedly presenting a very different picture of the disciple whom is portrayed by the canonical Gospels as the betrayer of Jesus. This Gospel of Judas has since been discredited as having much of value to offer us in understanding Jesus or the early church, with even the NGS sponsored translation now suspect.

This week there has been a minor hubbub concerning a small fragment of Coptic text that has been proclaimed as a fragment of a newly-discovered, formerly-lost Gospel. Coptic is an ancient language which is understood simply as the Egyptian language written using the Greek alphabet. It is a little more complicated than that, because Coptic has been influenced by Greek in more ways than just the alphabet it uses. But scholars know Coptic as the ancient language used by certain Christian sects in Egypt of the second through the fourth centuries A.D.

The most spectacular reading in this little fragment has been translated by Karen King as saying,

Jesus said to them, “My wife … [gap in text] …  she will be able to be my disciple …”

This has led some to proclaim this as The Gospel of the Bride of Christ. I can testify that Karen King is a respected scholar, and she certainly would not wish to be tainted like the folks associated with the Gospel of Judas were, so I imagine this translation is about as accurate as it can be. The fragment itself is of limited value because it is so brief, and because no one is sure where it came from. But if Dr. King says it is not a recent forgery, I can accept her verdict.

Let’s suppose for a minute that this little scrap of papyrus testifies to a fact that was not preserved elsewhere in the early church: that Jesus was a married man. First, I would say that I doubt this, because the earliest testimonies (the books of the New Testament) have no hint of this, and I find it hard to believe that those authors would not have known of Jesus married status or suppressed this detail of his life. To the contrary, I think there would have been good reasons to tell this part of Jesus’ story.

But second, what if this were true? I know I will sound like one of Ross Douthat’s heretics to some of you, but the idea of Jesus having a wife does not trouble me too much. To make this an impossibility seems to be driven by theological reasons. Yet orthodox Christology would seem to make this a possibility. To deny the possibility of a married Jesus would seem to be a denial of his humanity. There was nothing evil or improper about a thirty-year old Jewish man being married. It was the norm, not the exception. Furthermore, there is also the possibility that Jesus was once married and then a widower before he began his ministry, although I find that unlikely.

More troubling would be if it was shown that Jesus was not only married but had a child. But I’ll leave that sort of speculation to Dan Brown and the lovers of The Da Vinci Code.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Theological Mistakes: Sower or Soil?

In teaching the Bible to college students, I often feel like I’m swimming upstream. There are many issues of interpretation that seem simple to me, but are only simple for those who read the Bible with context in mind. Some issues have been muddled for years. There are two mistaken notions that seem to cause much mischief and misunderstanding.

The first set of problems come when we have the “treasure box” approach to Scripture. This is when the Bible is treated as a catalog of verses, each of which is independent and contains free-standing theological truth. While each verse is important, responsible reading of the Bible will take verses as part of a larger whole. We would never fool ourselves into thinking we could read a random couple of sentences from the middle of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and understand what the author was trying to say.  Here, give it a try:

Ahab’s quenchless feud seemed mine.

How’s that working for you? We need the whole story to appreciate his message.

The second and more insidious error comes from an approach to Scripture that always thinks it is speaking to us directly and individually. There is no question but that the Bible has timeless truths that apply to our lives, but, to paraphrase Rick Warren, “It’s not always about you.” Let me give you an example of misinterpretation that has rattled my cage for many years: the Parable of the Sower.

Here is the question: is the parable about the soils (people, so by extension, about us) or is it about the sower (a preacher, by extension, about Jesus)? This is seen in the titles assigned to this parable: “Parable of the Sower” or “Parable of the Soils.” If you google “Parable of the Soils,” you will find hundreds of sermons by that title. This is despite Matthew’s choice to call it the “Parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:18). If we think this parable is about us, we will focus on the characterizations of the four types of soils pictured in the parable, and end by asking “What kind of soil are you?” This leaves the impression that we should change our personal soil type and become like the fourth soil, the good soil that produces a great harvest.

But even a cursory reading of this parable in context (found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8) would show it is not about the soils, not about us. It is about the sower, an allegorical representation of a preacher. As Jesus says in the beginning of his explanation of the parable, “The sower sows the word” = preaching. This is about a preacher who experiences four different reactions from hearers of the preaching of the word (the Gospel). In the book of Mark, Jesus encounters all of these reactions when he preaches. If we are preachers of the Gospel, we will experience these reactions, too. But, if we, like the sower, scatter the seed widely (or preach every chance we get), our preaching will sometimes be heard by those with fertile hearts, ready to believe and respond to the message with a life-long commitment. Soils don’t change, but people do, so keep preaching, keep preaching faithfully.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Prophecy and the Church

Christians have long believed that a central element to biblical faith is understanding the nature of prophecy. There are a couple of kinds of prophetic activity in the Bible. One is less known and harder to understand: the phenomenon of typology. This is were there is a person, event, or institution found in the Old Testament that serves as a pattern (type) for persons, events, or institutions in the New Testament and therefore in the church. Typology has been widely misunderstood and misused in the history of biblical interpretation, so much so that it is discredited and avoided by many scholars. But there are passages in the New Testament that are impossible to understand without an appreciation of typology. For example, 1 Corinthians 10 shows Paul using typology to take events from the history of Israel as lessons for his wayward Corinthian readers. Paul is even able to point to the miraculous provision of water and manna in the wilderness as foreshadowing the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

The second, more well known prophetic method is prophecy leading to fulfillment. In this view, predictions of specific things are given by the prophets of the Old Testament, and these are fulfilled (actualized) in the New Testament. For example, Isaiah foresees a pregnant virgin woman giving birth to a son who will be the Messiah. Matthew understands this as a prediction of what took place with Mary in regard to the birth of Jesus. For Matthew, this is a “sign,” a testimony that Jesus truly was the Messiah, although later theologians twisted this to be way for Jesus to escape the curse of Original Sin (something neither Isaiah nor Matthew envisaged).

Many critics of Christianity point to its belief in prophetic fulfillment as nonsense in our scientific world. How could anyone know the future or predict it with accuracy? Critics have seen Christian claims of providential, prophetic fulfillment as “vaticinium ex eventu,” a Latin phrase that means “prophecy from [after] the event.” In other words, prophecies were written to fit events after they occurred, then predated to seem to know the future beforehand. This would be as if someone claimed to find a prophecy that said:

And there will come a time when the Brothers Lehman,
Will fail at their corrupt game of financial chicanery,
And the House of Lehman will fall,
And its fall will cause worldwide panic.

If I could prove this was written in 2006, it would seem to be a remarkable prophecy, for Lehman Brothers was flying high then, and no one expected this bank to fail and trigger the recession of 2008. But that is not the case. I just wrote that “prophecy” this morning, vaticinium ex eventu.

Many years ago, I heard Mildred Welshimer Philips speak of her father, P. H. Welshimer. (BTW: his first name was “Pearl,” which explains the initials.) In the first decades of the twentieth century, Welshimer was the minister of the First Christian Church of Canton, Ohio. At its height, this was often recognized as the largest church in the world, with a Sunday School attendance of 6,000 each Sunday.

One of Welshimer’s more audacious public acts was to stage a debate with Clarence Darrow, the attorney who had won national recognition as the defender of evolution in the Scopes Monkey trial. Darrow was seen as the spokesman of a new kind of person in America, a public figure who was openly agnostic/atheist and who saw the Bible as nonsense, the church as a medieval relic, and Christian faith as preposterous. The debate was inconclusive, as most of these sorts of things are, with Darrow rarely engaging the arguments of Welshimer. But, remarkably, the two became friendly, and after it was over, Darrow confessed that Welshimer presented one argument about the Bible that gave him pause: its record of prophecy and fulfillment.

It should still give us pause today, I think. The fulfillment of prophecy in the Bible is one of the strongest arguments for its authority and reliability.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Neil Armstrong the Pioneer Moon-Walker

Last month, Neil Armstrong died. It has been decades since Armstrong has been in the news, so younger folk may be excused for connecting him with the recently disgraced bicycle dude with the same last name. Neil Armstrong was an icon for my generation. We all grew up wanting to be astronauts. This guy wasn’t just an astronaut, he went to the moon and walked on it! Despite what Ralph Kramden always threatened (“To the moon, Alice!”), those of us who came of age in the 1960s thought that would be the coolest thing we could do.

Then, as now, Armstrong had his detractors. Some ridiculed him for muffing his famous line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” More recently, researchers have raised the possibility that Armstrong did add the “a” in the appropriate place, but it was lost in the relatively primitive radio transmission system of that day. Buzz Aldin, his moonwalking companion, has always maintained that Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for a man …” Others have recently pooh-poohed Armstrong and Aldrin for their lack of courage in exploring the moon while there. It is said that if we can imagine their lunar module landing on the pitcher’s mound of a baseball field, they would have never gotten much beyond the infield. But the pair were military officers and followed planned protocol and therefore their orders. They were on the moon’s surface for about 2 1/2 hours, 150 minutes. It was not the time or place for a long hike.

Perhaps the most stinging criticism of Armstrong at the time was that he was a manufactured hero, a product of the program. He was just one of a dozen men who might have been chosen for the distinction of being the first human to walk on the moon, and therefore deserves no special recognition. I think this has a ring of truth, but is very misplaced. Certainly Armstrong did not build or fund the rocket and spacecraft that took him to the moon, but he had the necessary courage and skill to accomplish the mission. He was chosen because of who he was, not by default. The most famous explorers in American history, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were chosen by President Jefferson for their task and they exceeded all expectations.

Armstrong was always private about his faith. Some have claimed he was a deist because he was a man who believed both in God and in science. Others have even claimed he converted to Islam later in life. But there are stories of his faith in Jesus. A little remembered mini-event in the first moon landing was that Buzz Aldrin had brought a small container with bread and wine, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper before exiting the spacecraft. It is reported that Armstrong merely watched and did not participate, but as the commander of the flight, he certainly could have disallowed this act.

Let us remember this courageous man, this great American, who served his country in a way none of us will ever do. The only thing I really want to debunk about him is the Michael Jackson version. I don’t think he walked backwards on the moon. He took his small steps and giant leaps in the forward direction.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College