Markan Priority without Q, support from Mark 4 and parrallels

The synoptic problem-the explanation of the literary relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke1-is intractable, despite (or perhaps because of) the efforts of brilliant men on all sides of the debate.2

Of the numerous possible relationships among the synoptics3 three are seriously defended by scholars today: (1) The Two-Source Theory, (2) The Farrer Hypothesis, and (3) the Griesbach Theory. The Two-Source Theory is that Mark wrote first, Matthew used Mark, Luke used Mark, but Matthew and Luke were unknown to each other. The Farrer (sometimes Farrer-Goulder or Farrer-Goodacre) Hypothesis is that Mark wrote first, Matthew used Mark, and Luke used both Mark and Matthew.4 The Griesbach Theory is that Matthew wrote first, Mark used Matthew, and Luke used both Matthew and Mark.5

The prima facie most unlikely of the three theories is the Two-Source Theory, i.e.: Matthew and Luke’s dependence on Mark but independence of each other. How does one explain the Matthew-Luke double tradition, including frequent verbatim overlap, between Matthew and Luke if one presupposes, ex nihilo, mutual independence?6 One presumes, ex nihilo, a document, “Q”,7 important enough for two canonical gospels to be independently reliant on it, but not important enough to be preserved for posterity or be mentioned by either Apostolic or Church Fathers.8

The most powerful response in favor of the Q/Two-Source theory is the supposed literary superiority of Matthew. Why, advocates of the theory ask, would Luke butcher Matthew’s superior composition?9 Possible arguments that redactions and remixes are not always artistically superior, or that differences in purpose, theological emphases, and audience trump style are minimized by Q-Theorists. I will show that Luke conceivably could have butchered Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and other discourses, given that he has butchered Mark’s discourse on Parables, or Sermon by the Sea. Mark’s parable chapter and Matthew and Luke’s parallels also testify to Markan priority, and to Luke’s knowledge of Matthean additions to Mark.

To summarize Mark 4:1-34 addresses three points in favor of the Farrer Hypothesis:

  1. Contra Griesbach and for Markan Priority.
  2. Contra Q Theorists claim that Farrer-Luke treated his two sources, Matthew and Mark, differently.
  3. Contra Q Theorists claim that Luke is ignorant of Matthew’s additions to Mark, i.e., the Minor and Major Agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark.

Markan Priority

While Griesbachians would claim that Mark 4 supports Matthean priority and Markan posteriority,10 the Farrer Hypothesis is in agreement with the Two-Source theory regarding Markan priority. However the classic arguments for Markan priority: Mark’s fresh vivid style, redundant phrases, bad greek, and theological difficulties can be turned on their head by Griesbachians.11

An argument novel to the Farrer Hypothesis tradition and most developed by Goodacre is not subject to such turnabout, however. Goodacre highlights the pattern of “editorial fatigue,”12 i.e., the inability of a redactor of an earlier source to sustain omissions, substitutions, transpositions, and other editorial choices throughout a passage, thus betraying his use of the earlier manuscript in composing his own.

The Parable of the Sower and its interpretation in Mark 4 and Luke’s parallels are an interesting example in favor of Markan priority.13 By having a paired parable and explanation any redactor would have to be careful to consistently preserve any editorial changes made through both the parable and the interpretation.14 Goodacre notes that three times Luke omits portions of the Markan parable but he nonetheless interprets these portions after he has failed to include them.

First: Luke fails to mention the seed that fell onto rocky soil and “sprang up quickly because it had not depth of earth” (Mark 4:5; Luke 8:6). However, he does include the interpretation that “those who when they hear, with joy they receive the word” (Mark 4:16; Luke 8:16).

Second: In Luke 8:6 the seed that “withered for lack of moisture” is different from Mark 4:6 which notes that the withering is for lack of root. However, in Luke 8:13 (cf. Mark 4:17) Luke reverts to the Markan interpretation “and these have no root; they believe for a while.”

Third: Luke 8:6 lacks the scorching sun reference of Mark which is interpreted as “trouble of persecution.” However, Luke does include the “temptation,” which he later interprets as the scorching sun (Luke 8:13).

Goodacre’s editorial fatigue analysis is a handy tool in the quiver of arguments for Markan priority–which is too often taken for granted and not argued–that doesn’t suffer from being commutative.

Luke’s Treatment of Mark

As mentioned previously the omissions, compressions, and transpositions that Farrer-Luke undertook on Matthew, especially on the Sermon on the Mount, are held unlikely by Two-Source theorists on aesthetic merit.15 The implicit charge is that Farrer-Luke is inconsistent in his treatment of sources.16

Considering Luke’s preface his order (or radical reordering) of sources should not surprise us since he was unsatisfied with the ordering of other Gospel accounts.17

Different treatment of sources is, however, not so hard to fathom when the nature of the sources also differ. Luke’s reordering of sayings material is inherently more likely than would be his reordering of narrative material. Given that Mark is notably a narrative source for Luke and Matthew is a sayings source we should not expect Luke to treat them identically.18

Our chapter of focus, Mark 4, shows us in those cases Luke treats Mark and Matthew the same when they are a sayings source.

Luke regularly shortens Mark’s discourses, retaining some material, omitting other material, and relocating the rest. Turning to Luke’s alleged use of Matthew, we find the same behaviour. Matthew 5-7 is treated in the same way that Mark 4 is treated; some is retained, some is omitted, and the rest is distributed. The scale is different but the redactional procedure is the same… Luke’s attitude is consistent and thus prima facie coherent.19

Given Luke’s compression and rearranging of Mark’s shorter discourse, is it not therefore plausible that he would treat Matthew’s discourses, which are even longer, similarly?20 The weight of the argument against Luke’s editing of Matthew’s magnificent composition, The Sermon on the Mount, is further weakened by the “Rag Bag” nature of the latter part of the composition.21 When we compare Farrer-Luke’s treatment of Mark’s parable chapter and Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount we see that his editorial procedure is consistent.22

Minor and Major Agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark

It will now turn out that the two-source hypotheis has two Achilles’ heels. The first is the minor agreements between Matthew and Luke in the triple tradition, the second, the ‘Mark-Q overlaps’.23

Q-theorists maintain that agreements, of whatever degree, between Matthew and Luke against Mark are too limited in number or coincidental in nature to suppose that Luke is aware of Matthew’s gospel.24

Verbatim agreements in Greek between Matthew and Luke against Mark are problematic for Q theorists, and they are demonstrated in parallels of Mark 4.25 Agreements in order between Matthew and Luke against Mark are problematic for Q theorists, and they are demonstrated in parallels of Mark 4.26

The proposition that this is problematic is supported by Mann, a Griesbach Theorist, who notes that literary dependence that can be explained by extant works should be is a canon of literary criticism.27

The power of these arguments is lessened by a great deal of debate framing and semantics by Q-theorists. Rather than admitting to Major Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark in the triple tradition, they broaden the definition of “Q material” from the Matthew-Luke double tradition to include portions of the triple tradition. These are portions that support the Farrer hypothesis, and Luke’s apparent knowledge of Matthean additions to Markan pericopae. Q theorists have thus framed the debate so passages where Luke is clearly aware of Matthew are off limits.28

On the Mustard Seed, Tuckett claims that an “unpicking” process of redaction would have to have been followed by Farrer-Luke and it is much more likely that Q-Luke followed Q and Q-Matthew conflated Mark and Q.29 Here, Tuckett claims that this sort of “unpicking” is unprecedented, however whether Streeter-Matthew or Farrer-Luke is more consistent with ancient editorial practices is debated.30


“The Q hypothesis is not, of itself, a probable hypothesis. It is simply the sole alternative to the supposition that St. Luke had not read St. Matthew.”31

The Two-Source theory is wholly dependent on the presumption that it is implausible that Luke read Matthew. As we have argued: Farrer-Luke treats source material coherently by type, the conspicuous minor32 and major agreements between Luke and Matthew against Mark, and the contortions that Q-Theorists must go through to explain away or dismiss contrary evidence demonstrate Luke’s knowledge of Matthew is inherently plausible. Further as we have seen with Goodacre’s ‘editorial fatigue’–which also testifies to Luke’s use of Matthew–Markan priority, contra Griesbach, is the most likely explanation.

While I can offer no argumentation from fundamentals, history and experience have shown that when forming explanations you are better off when you explain the most facts with the fewest hypotheticals. When judging between two competing theories that cover the facts equally well, the simplest theory is most likely to be correct.

Parabolic Coda

Until Copernicus, because no one wanted to contradict Aristotle, everyone maintained that the earth was at the center of the universe.

There are problems with this hypothesis, it doesn’t accurately predict the motion of the heavenly bodies. Thus, the geocentric theory accrued complications, to explain why the planets appear to slow down and go backwards, and at different rates, while the sun and moon don’t.

As the cruft of complicating hypothesis developed there were always exceptions that were difficult to explain from this framework. Someone always stepped in with a fresh auxiliary to buttress the theory that the earth is at the center of the universe. Further unaccountable exceptions to the model’s predictions were always found.

This accrual culminated in Ptolemy’s formulation of the geocentric model which asserted that the earth was almost at the center of the universe and rotated once every day. All the heavenly bodies were attached to crystal spheres (deferents) that revolved around the earth, or the off-centered center-which was almost earth. The moon was closest followed by Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the fixed stars.

Even this of course is too simple, so another complication is needed to account for apparent retrograde motion. Each heavenly body–except the sun, moon, and fixed stars–was attached to an epicycle, another crystal sphere attached to the deferent which revolved relative to the deferent in the opposite direction of the deferents revolutions around the earth. Ptolemy worked out the relative sizes and rates of revolution of the deferents and epicycles to make the system predictive of reality.

Ptolemy was successful. An astronomical clock based on his model, called an orrery, could predict the position of the lights in the sky on whatever date you wished.

There is a problem with Ptolemy’s model, despite it accounting for all the problem cases, it is wrong. By taking a false axiom, geocentrism, hypotheses must be multiplied–the epicycles within cycles, and off centered universes–to cover all the facts. Eventually a simpler theory, heliocentrism, that covered all the facts won the day, but only by throwing away false axioms.

Given that hypothetical source documents are not needed to explain the synoptic problem, we should dispense with Q.


Downing, F.G. “A Paradigm Perplex: Luke, Matthew and Mark.” New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 15-36.

Drury, J. Tradition and Design in Luke’s Gospel: A Study in Early Christian Historiography. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1976.

Farmer, W.R. The Synoptic Problem. Dilsboro, N.C.: Western North Carolina Press, 1964, 2nd ed. 1976.

Farrer, A.M. “On Dispensing with Q.” In Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, edited by D. E. Nineham, 55-88. Oxford: Blackwell, 1955.

___________. The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX). The Anchor Bible, vol. 28. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.

___________. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV). The Anchor Bible, vol. 28A. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.

___________. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), The Anchor Bible, vol. 28A. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.

Goodacre, M. The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem. Harrisburg, Pa: Trinity Press International, 2002.

___________. “Fatigue in the Synoptics.” New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 45-58.

___________. “A Monopoly on Marcan Priority? Fallacies at the Heart of Q.” In Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers 2000, 583-622. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000.

___________. The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze. New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

Goulder, M. Luke: A New Paradigm, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 20. 2 vols. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989.

Green, H.B. The Gospel According to Matthew. The New Clarendon Bible. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

Mann, C.S. Mark. The Anchor Bible, vol. 27. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986.

McNicol, A.J. ed. Beyond the Q Impasse — Luke’s Use of Matthew: A Demonstration by the Research Team of the Institute for Gospel Studies. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International, 1996.

Neirynck, F. The Minor Agreements of Matthew and Luke Against Mark: With a Cumulative List. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1974.

Olson, K. “Unpicking on the Farrer Theory.” In Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique, edited by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin pp. 127-150. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Orchard, B.J. The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels? Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 1987.

Powery, E.B. “Q.” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, 4:697. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.

___________. “Synoptic Problem.” In The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, 5:429-434. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.

Sanders, E.P. and M. Davies. Studying the Synoptic Gospels. London: SCM, 1989.

Stanton, G.N. “Q.” In The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, 644-650. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Stein, R.H. Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

___________. “Synoptic Problem.” In The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, 784-792. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Tuckett, C.M. “The Beatitudes: A Source-Critical  Study. With a Reply by M.D. Goulder.” In The Synoptic Problem and Q: Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum, 180-203. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

___________. Q and the History of Early Christianity: Studies on Q. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996.

___________. The Revival of the Griesbach Hypothesis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

___________. “Synoptic Problem.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 5:263-270. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Vinson, R. “How Minor? Assessing the Significance of the Minor Agreements as an Argument Against the Two-Source Hypothesis.” In Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique, edited by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin, 151-64. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2004.


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Did you click?

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Lear, and Edmund; Means, and Ends

“We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it.  It is impossible.  Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey [absolute value], or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.” (Lewis, 73)

This passage sheds some light on the differences between Lear and Edmund that prevents the two most memorable characters of the play from ever interacting.  Harold Bloom wrote that “King Lear is a play in which the prime villain, Edmund, and Lear never speak to one another,” and “Shakespeare wants us to surmise why it would be unfeasible for them to communicate.”  Why it is infeasible is such an interesting question that it merits inquiry.  Even if Lear and Edmund had conversed, I believe it would not have been true interaction, for while they speak with the same words they use different vocabularies of the soul.

Lear is an absolutist.  While he is correct to believe in absolute value, he is foolish to believe that words are its true reflection.  He is naive.  The play begins and he is shocked to find that his youngest and most prized daughter will not indulge his vice–the desire for flattery.  His belief in value and order conducive to the veneration of elders and respect for authority is not the root of his error; rather, Lear is blind to the pragmatic dishonesty of his two older daughters.  He cannot fathom the rejection of truth, value, and order; so, when he has first been deceived, he regards Cordelia’s subsequent instruction to be insult rather than a better image of that absolute value that he sees only through a glass darkly.  “So young and so untender?/So young, my lord, and so true.” (I.i.118)(emphasis added)  Lear then unknowingly sells away his humanity in exchange for a mind free of worry, believing that he can retain his honor, “[t]he name and all th’ addition to a king.” (I.i.152)  He has thrown away his authority and humanity and has left the exercise thereof to his daughters’ discretion.

In contrast, Edmund sees clearly, however twisted.  He is the epitome of the modern man in every age.  He is a relativist, a social darwinist, and a nihilist.  He is not a liar; for him words are not a matter of right and wrong but of cleverness and efficacy.

“A credulous father and a brother noble,

Whose nature is so far from doing harms

That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty

My practices ride easy.  I see the business.

Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit.

All with me’s meet that I can fashion fit.” (I.ii.186)

To Edmund, the rightness of actions are decided by the advancement they afford him.  A villain that is immoral is to be feared for the evil of his actions.  A villain that is amoral is to be feared for more fundamental reasons.  A villain like Edmund undermines the foundations of civil society and denies the worth of humanity.  However, in order to thrive Edmund requires others to both be naive and hold onto absolute values.  He can only exist parasitically on the credulous and noble.

γνωθι σεατον.  It is interesting that the villain of the story nonetheless possesses a virtue–insight–that Lear does not.  In a speech given in the second scene of the play, Edmund tells us that he understands his nature and accepts full responsibility for it, his actions, and the outcomes thereof.

“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that

when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits, of

our own behavior) we make guilty of our disasters

the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains

on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves,

thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance;

… … …

… I should

have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the

firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.” (I.ii.125)

Contrarily, as late as the second act Lear defers responsibility of knowledge and action.

“You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!

You see me here, you gods, a poor old man

As full of grief as age, wretched in both.

If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts

Against their father, fool me not so much

To bear it tamely.  Touch me with noble anger,

And let not women’s weapons, water drops,

Stain my man’s cheeks.” (II.iv.313)

However, we should desire for Lear not to have the virtue of insight but, rather, the higher cardinal virtue of prudence.  Nietsche was wrong; nihilism, relativism and amorality are not an advance but a regress to barbarism.

After passing through hell, “…I am bound/ Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears/ Do scald like molten lead,” (IV.vii.52) Lear surpasses Edmund, knowing himself with wisdom–not merely cunning.  He begins a skeptic:

“I will not swear these are my hands…

… … …

I fear I am not in my perfect mind.

Methinks I should know you and know this man,

Yet I am doubtful, for I am mainly ignorant

What place this is, … … …” (IV,vii,62)

It is this same doubt that, in time, leads to wisdom.  When we see Lear again in Act V Scene III the scales have fallen from his eyes.  He is now as wise as befits his age (I,iv,43).

Act V Scene III is downright awkward in Shakespeare’s painfully obvious sidestepping of any direct confrontation between Edmund and Lear.  For, immediately prior to where the action picks up, they must have had some degree of interaction.  Edmund has just conducted a military hearing regarding Cordelia and Lear.  But to include the exchange would have wasted time; Edmund’s treachery, the assassination order, and Lear’s cheering speech do more to delineate how high Lear has risen and how low Edmund has sunk.  The spiritual planes they occupy are presently too distant to be bridged.  Lear:

“No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison.

We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.

When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down

And ask of thee forgiveness.  So we’ll live,

And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh

At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues

Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too–

Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out–

And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,

As if we were God’s spies.  And we’ll wear out,

In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones

That ebb and flow by th’ moon.” (v,iii,9)

Lear is become a stoic transcendentalist.  Edmund, on the other hand, is proud of his treachery, even after having fallen under Edgar’s sword.

“What you have charged me with, that have I done,

And more, much more.  The time will bring it out.

‘Tis past, and  so am I. But what art thou

That hast this fortune on me?  If thou ‘rt noble,

I do forgive thee.” (v,iii,195)

Till the end he is remorseless and nihilistic, dismissing his imminent death, desiring only to know who has outmaneuvered him, who was more cunning.  Yet, after hearing Edgar’s speech, he claims that his heart has changed, and sends his sword to stop his last machination.  The token arrives too late, and–supposing the deathbed conversion is legitimate–now, instead of a vocabulary, a wall of guilt separates Edmund from Lear.  In death they are separated further.  Lear’s death is so sublime that it inspires Kent to follow; Edmund’s death is dismissed as a trifle.

As Lewis implies, we cannot have it both ways.  Edmund is a man turned inward obeying his nature.  Lear is a man turned outward, a rational spirit striving to obey the absolute.  These two ways produce antithetical vocabularies that work in the souls of the characters in the play; one, Lear’s, regards men as ends, while the other, Edmund’s, regards men as means.  With such a fundamental difference, the two vocabularies would have talked past each other, had they met.  As it is, their separation provides a sort of dramatic tension that allows each of the two vastly different characters room to emote without getting in the way of the other.

Works Cited:

Lewis, C.S.. The Abolition of Man. San Francisco: HarpersCollins, 2001.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.

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Drones, a Letter to the Editor


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Jesus’ Self Knowledge

Infant Jesus





At what point did Jesus know who he was?

In medieval and renaissance art we frequently see an infant, and sometimes newborn, Jesus standing erect, looking out of the painting at, and making the sign of blessing over the viewer. Of course newborns can’t stand, can’t focus their eyes, and don’t have the fine motor to control to make any gesture much less the sign of blessing.

A pious jew of pious jewish parents according to the gospel accounts Jesus would have said the shema innumerable times. Jesus reveals the shema as the greatest command when questioned directly. Jesus answered similarly when he was tempted by Satan. And Jesus taught similarly when his disciples asked him how to pray. This all seems to distance Jesus from God.

But, Luke put’s a precocious Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. When his parents, having found him after a long search, question him he answers incredulously: “didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” Here just as later he talks of God as his father. Likewise John has Jesus say to his mother at the beginning of his ministry “my time has not yet come.”

Thus there is a definite tension in the gospel accounts about who Jesus thought he was. And it seems that the overriding tendency among evangelicals today (I have the feeling that this is an overreaction to the complementary error of the biblical minimalists) is an overly high Christology. We should always let “Jesus be Jesus.” He was who he was and our elevating him above that is not pious, or humble, or reverential, or glorifying, our making him something he was not is nothing but wrong.

Looking backwards it is too easy to read the beginning with the end in mind. In the case of Jesus’ self knowledge we know Jesus as a resurrected, immortal, ascended, king enthroned at the right hand of God. We have trouble fathoming a Jesus who had to learn how to speak, who had to be potty trained, who had to learn how to walk, who had to learn how to read, etc. etc. etc.

But, if Jesus had been less human and more superhuman, like the infant Clark Kent, then he would have been creating disturbances throughout Judea well before he started his public ministry.

We should be prepared to be surprised as we continue seeking to meet Jesus the Judean peasant, and Jesus the enthroned king.

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Progress 11 years on

How has the economy been doing for the since the bust of 2001? It is pertinent question for we often hear of Japan’s lost decade but not much of America’s. And while our situation may not be as dire as theirs (and our demographic nightmare of babyboom plus SS and Medicare is nothing compared to theirs), adjusting for inflation, assuming that government doesn’t actually contribute anything to the economy, and adjusting for population growth the US economy hasn’t grown in 11 years. And real after tax income per person hasn’t increased for about half of that (The spike in incomes in the middle of the last recession is bankruptcy which is counted as income).

This isn’t the great recession of 2007+, this is the great recession of 2001+.


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A Summary of Jervell’s Perspective on Acts

Jacob Jervell’s work Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts has transformed studies of first century christianity and early jewish-christian relations. It informs and is informed by the new perspective on Paul as we continue trying to read the New Testament in the original context, not in a post-Constantine, post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, post-Modern context.

Before explaining Jervell’s view on the missions to the Jews and to the Gentiles in Acts it is important to understand the prevailing view for most of the Christian period. The dominant view has been that because the Jews rejected the gospel the evangelists then, disappointed, turn towards the Gentiles. The evangelists dust off their feet at this rejection and move on to a more receptive audience because the rejection of the Messiah by the jews justifies them in doing so. This view is present in early Christian thought as well as Catholic tradition. Catholic tradition then developed upon this idea of a “spiritual Israel” a role that the church supplanted the physical nation of Israel in. Jervell maintains that this is not the case and cannot be supported by the text of Acts.

Taking Acts chapter 1 verse 833 as a thesis statement for the book and tracing it through to the end he comes to a quite different conclusion.

First Jervell dismisses the idea that Jews rejected the gospel wholesale. Throughout Luke’s Acts masses of Jews accept the gospel and therefore Christ. From Peter’s pentecostal sermon through to the end34 Luke has interspersed accounts of Jews accepting Christ in increasing number35. Jervell concludes that there were tens of thousands of Jewish Christians around Jerusalem by the end of the Acts account. This corresponds with other estimates I have seen putting the Church of Jerusalem at about fifty-thousand by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke is always at pains to recognize that it is the most faithful, the most law-abiding, the most jewish Jews that accept the good news. The devout from across the world at Pentecost, many of the priests, and the converts continuing in the synagogues and faithfulness in great devotion to the scriptures36.

Second Jervell writes the gentile mission is not tacked on as an afterthought. The gospel must be preached to the Jews first because it is through Israel, which Jervell takes to be the plural nation and not the singular Christ, that the Gentiles will be saved. Even before Peter’s vision of the clean and the unclean leading to the conversion of Cornelius37 Peter speaks about the gentile mission. Luke records the gentiles coming to Christ through their connections to Judaism and in much smaller numbers than the mass acceptance of the Jews. When the gospel is taken out into the gentile world it is always first to the Jews in the synagogues and then to God-fearing Gentiles before being taken into the pagan agora.

Third Jervell dismisses the idea that the, gentile, church is the new Israel. Luke always uses Israel to refer to Jews who have accepted Christ, never more broadly to include gentile converts and never in a figurative sense. As he was at pains to show that it is the most jewish Jews who accept the gospel he is demonstrating that those Jews who accept Christ are the proper inheritors of the covenant and to defend against any questioning of why the Jewish establishment has not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Those who reject Jesus are cut off from the inheritance and are no longer properly part of Israel. Also now faith in Christ allows Gentiles to be grafted into that inheritance. In this same vein Jervell notes that no evangelist uses brothers to refer to Gentiles but only to those who were sons of Abraham, greetings are always seperated, “brothers, and …”.

Finally, but tied to the previous point, Jervell provides a new conception of jewish conversion. Jews don’t convert to Christianity. Properly speaking Christianity is the continuation of Judaism and its fulfillment. Judaism has been anticipating the messiah and, in a reversal of common understanding, for a Jew to reject Christ is to be cut off from the covenant. Jews accept (and continue) or reject (and leave). Jervell claims that Luke paints a picture not of Jews rejecting Christ but being divided into the penitent faithful and the obdurate unfaithful. The confusing accounts of Jewish mass acceptance of Christ and vicious persecution of Christians, often in subsequent verses, is thus reconciled.


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I decided that the frequent asides are cluttering the blog, so I will delete all of the previous asides (links preserved below) and from now on instead do irregular posts of a collection of links with, I hope, some commentary to put the links in context.

Longevity and Health Care systems

Dead Sea Scrolls online

Our bipartisan apathy towards civilian drone deaths

Public school teachers are in fact over paid

Also teachers are sexist

And schools are bloated bureaucracies 

The church is more fun than I thought

According to the New York Times the right minimum wage is zero dollars

Gun control should mean controlling the governments guns

The Winner of the Election: George W. Bush

Disney buys Lucasfilm new Star Wars movies in the works

Diamonds are worthless 

The case for abolishing patents

Revolutionary Road

Why no one should vote for Obama

Alzheimer’s and diabetes

A map of childhood’s end

Legs broken Crutches distributed

China’s rise America’s fall

Neil Armstrong R.I.P.

Prehistoric brain found pickled in bog

The Grand Shi strategy of Ron Paul

American Class Mobility

How Norwegians react to terrorism

Google Street view in Antarctica

 I hate traffic lights

The strongest trade union in america

God the hidden tyrant?

Population density

Geography of government benefits

Faking the moon landings

Losing the war on people who use non-approved intoxicants

Ray Bradbury R.I.P.

Princeton students love Hitler

American evangelicals (not) behaving badly

Defined as a problem

Mother’s day behind bars

N.T. Wright sings Dylan

Tufte on the iPhone

Who profits from the drug war?

The cost of incarceration



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Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in a Nutshell

In a nutshell 1 Corinthians is concerned with factionalism and paganism in the church of God at Corinth.

The first, factionalism, is revealed as the focus of Chloe’s report in the first chapter and taken up in chapters one through four. After addressing some other topics-mainly purity: sexual , marital, meat offered to idols-Paul returns to divisions again in Chapter 11.

It is interesting that Paul’s teaching on the perversion of the Lord’s Supper by the Corinthian believers comes after his mentioning pagan banquet halls and altars, for the Corinthian believers were falling into their pre-conversion, pagan patterns of banqueting when partaking of the Lord’s supper.

Even pagan writer’s such as Plutarch bemoan the “rich lording over the poor” at in the banquet halls. Where the rich would be served by the poor (slaves) and within the rich there was a seating arrangement to show finely discerned degrees of status. Plutarch presents a view of a better arrangement in his humanistic Banquet of the Seven Sages

Paul condemns their practice of socio-economic stratification and cliquishness during their so-called agape feasts. Paul declares that if the rich are humiliating the poor it is certainly not the Lord’s supper/meal/feast they are eating.

The rich Corinthian believers seem to have had an overly vertical conception of the Lord’s Supper, so when Paul directs them to discern the body this is not incipient transubstantiation but instructions to discern the body-that-is-the-church.

As Paul comments elsewhere on the body and jealousy, here we might likewise insert “certainly the noble parts will not starve the feet and legs so that they atrophy and die”. Paul insists that at the table of the Lord every member of the body is to be equal.

If the rich are so weak that they cannot wait for the poor to arrive38 then they should eat before the gathering so that they can wait on the poor for the meal of the Lord. This is not to say that the solution is to have a sliver of cracker and a sip of wine, that is everyone starves together, but that in the feast/meal/supper of the Lord the priority should be on the poor getting their fill of the food that the rich provide.

Whereas the earlier discussion of divisions in 1-4 is primarily on cults of personality, this division (which is more important for our context) is over the withdrawal of association from the poor by the rich.

In addition to chapters five, six, and seven’s focus on reforming a formerly pagan sexual ethic, chapters eight through fourteen (overlapping with the factionalism in eleven mentioned above) reform a pagan mindset of worship.

Roman Corinth was a pagan city, and the church there seems to have been majority converts out of paganism, for example see the discussion in chapter 10 of pre-conversion practices by the letter’s addressees of idol worship and pagan sacrifices. This leads to their worship of Yahweh being influenced and corrupted by a pagan worldview.

Ecstatic speech, here ‘speaking in tongues’39, was, and is, not limited to Christian practice. Speaking in tongues was a hallmark of both the indwelling of God’s spirit and of the daemonic40 possession of oracles in the Greco-Roman pagan world.

The Corinthians in their over-realized eschatology latched onto the ‘already’ to the exclusion of the ‘not yet’. The took the regeneration and resurrection of the gospel promise to have already occurred in the pouring out of the spirit and thereby rejected a future physical regeneration, physical resurrection of the dead41. The Corinthian believers were especially enamored with the more ostentatious, self-centered gifts of the spirit.

Backing up to chapter 12 were the discussion of gifts begins, in the context of unity Paul states that the primary gift is teaching. Teaching is an other centered gift. This is carried through chapter 13, the love chapter, and into 14 where un-interpretted tongues are decried as the least of all gifts, and the most self centered.

Contrary to pagan worship where divine madness and ecstatic speech, glossalia, were celebrated, in Christianity Paul writes that worship is to be rational, of both spirit and mind. He asserts that it is better to keep quiet than to confuse visitors with displays of irrationality. Paul directs the Corinthian Church to limit tongue speaking at their gatherings, to only allow one person at a time to speak, to only allow glossalia if someone present is able to interpret it.

Order is more important than tongues, so is the interpretation which completes it, and prophecy which is better still. This is not to be taken to say that Paul denies the indwelling of God’s spirit or gifts of the spirit-he “speaks in tongues more than any”-but rather to remember that our focus should be on building up the body not glorifying one part.

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A Summary of the New Perspective on Romans

To understand the new view on Romans, and its bedfellow the new view on Paul, one must understand the old view (“of course it wasn’t called that at the time”). Prior to the work of Sanders, Dunn (who coined the term), and Wright for four hundred years a special position accorded to Paul’s letter to the Romans has shaped the dominant view of Pauline theology.

The early reformers looked to the New Testament in order to find a foundation for their, rightful, critique of late medieval/renaissance Catholicism and saw in Romans a letter that seemed heaven-sent for their context. Forgetting that the New Testament was written for them but not to them they embraced Romans as expositing true Christian theology contra the Roman perversion. They saw the catholic view of salvation based on meritous works in the judaizer/jewish view Paul was condemning as trusting in “works of the law”.

This lead to the aforementioned 400 years of viewing Romans as special. Romans was supposed to be a systematic, propositional treatise on the nature of Christianity divorced from any context, situation, or occasion; after all Paul had not previously visited Rome, he was writing to make sure that this major church understood everything. Paul intended to visit them but wanted to make sure that they were on the same page when he showed up. Therefore this is an exposition of salvation, grace, and election42.

We must remember that the scriptures are written for us but not to us. The new perspective on Romans maintains that the reformers didn’t just pull some verses out of context in their proof-texting efforts but an entire book.

Sanders, Dunn, and Wright write: to understand Romans we must approach it not with the questions that we want answered but with the questions and context of the original occasion. Thankfully we now have a better understanding of the occasion and situation of the letter.

Broadly the context is tied to the new perspective on Paul. First century Judaism was not a legalistic religion (for the most part marginal Jews like the Qumran community were legalists who seemed to think they could merit salvation 43, just as some throughout the history Christianity have been legalists). Judaism was a religion of grace and grateful obedience, for the elect (that is the nation of Israel). Surveys of first century Judaism show that God’s choosing Israel was seen as an act of grace, God’s gift of the Torah was seen as an act of grace, God’s repeated deliverance of Israel from its enemies was seen as an act of Grace, God’s system of animal sacrifice for sin was seen as an act of Grace. The same surveys show that obedience to the law was seen as an expression of gratitude, and most importantly to distinguish the chosen nation from others. The works of the law are not considered to be good deeds meriting salvation but ethnic boundary markers.

Bringing the context into focus on Rome in the middle of the first century highlights the occasional nature of the letter.

Seutonius writes in his account of the life of Claudius that Claudius expelled the Jews at the instigation of one “Chrestus”44 in 49 AD. The church in Rome was seemingly well established at the time, perhaps having been founded by penitent Jewish Christians who had received the Gospel from Peter at Pentecost, but Roman authorities were not yet distinguishing between Christians and Jews. While Rome did not contain as much of the diaspora as Alexandria did, a significant number of Jews were expelled by the order45. Among those expelled were the Jewish Christians including Priscilla and Aquilla.

Roman edicts such as this seem not to have been to long lasting and only enforced so long as the issuing Emperor was still in power. When Claudius died in 54 AD those Jews and Jewish Christians who had been expelled returned to Rome. When the Jewish Christians came back they were uncomfortable with what they found.

The five year period without Jewish direction of the Roman church meant an accelerated rate of change towards a gentile flavored church. When the Jews returned they insisted on Jew first, Christian second.

The new perspective maintains that Jew first means enforcing the old ethnic boundary markers, the “works of the law”. This new view of Romans meshes nicely with Galatians, the “little Romans” in the old view, which deals more explicitly with circumcision as a demarcation of group affiliation.

The old proposition that this is not a situational letter but a treatise demands an answer to the question “even if we now know what was going on at the time that Paul wrote Romans how could he gain knowledge sufficient to address their needs?” Contrary to the idea that Paul had no idea of the internal strife, divisions, and problems in the Roman church his acquaintance, during and after the time when Claudius edict was enforced, with Priscilla and Aquilla and others from the Roman church mentioned in his closing remarks at the end of Romans would have informed him of the pastoral needs of the Roman Church.

As a libertarian I find the new view of Romans especially enlightening regarding the “pro-government” passages in chapter 13 within Paul’s prescriptions of chapters 12-14. Given that the Jews were expelled from Rome because of “Chrestus”, that is Christ, Paul is concerned that the actions of the Jewish Christians, now that they have returned, might bring further shame upon the name of Christ. Therefore Paul’s writing about the Christians relationship to the Roman state is occasional as well.

Thus Romans is really about the nature of the covenant, submission to christ (faith) versus submission to ethnic boundary markers (works of the law). Further Paul insists that gentiles are fully Christian and not subordinate like they had been under the old system. Finally he insists there should be no boasting on either side. All of this occasioned by the specific needs of a Roman church suffering from a clash of cultures.

Criticism of the new view comes mainly from Lutheran/Calvinist/Reformed circles who don’t want to see their foundation go.

But in the new view of Romans all letters of paul are respected. There is no longer a two tier system of Pauline writings: Romans and Galatians versus everything else; everything else treated as mere criticisms and encouragement with not much to offer to our theological understanding.

The new view has elevated the position of Paul’s other letters, not demoted Romans.


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