Archive for October, 2010

Following up on Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of my Resurrection & Marriage series, there is a lot that I still want to say, and with midterms going on, less than optimal amounts of time for me to work on saying it!

Before I get into some broader issues relating to marriage and the resurrection, I thought I’d give a bullet-pointed summary of some additional textual clues that lead me to my interpretation:

1) The Sadducee incident occurs just after Jesus explains that we are to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”—a rather indirect answer to the question of whether one should pay taxes.  It seems to me that the Sadducee episode is one of a longer string of stories in which Jesus is asked a tricky question and replies with a tricky answer which is open to interpretation.  I think, then, that it is completely legitimate to carefully examine Jesus’s answer on marriage and the resurrection to see if it, also, seems less straightforward.  As I explained in my last post, I think it is.

2) The only clear explanation of what it means to be “like the angels” is found in Luke, and here the similarity is that we will both be immortal.  While the mention of this similarity does not mean that there cannot be others, we are merely guessing at what other similarities there might be.  Of course, we can also learn something from the various views of angels present in Jewish society at the time, but regardless, since the text itself offers only immortality as a clue, we need to tread carefully.

3) When Jesus is asked about divorce in relationship to the law of Moses, he treats marriage as more than a simple legal issue.  If someone divorces their spouse without proper justification, remarriage is adultery, he says.  Because he views marriage as something that exists beyond the actual legality of who is married to whom, I think it would be legitimate to ask if marriage is less temporally bound than we are at first inclined to see it.   Even more importantly, since Jesus himself says that “what God has joined, no one should separate,” it seems very odd that God himself would want to end marriages one day.

Next time, we’ll get into some of the more theological issues that relate to this discussion!

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I just received a letter in the mail from SBL with my ID card, tote ticket, etc. It also contained a ticket to claim a free copy of what it called an all new critical edition of the Greek New Testament. It was titled the SBL Greek New Testament and the website http://www.sblgnt.com was listed on the ticket. The website consists of the SBL logo and the words “Coming Soon” though the website was registered and is run by Logos who is also sponsoring the giveaway. Does anyone out there know what this is referring to? Is this somehow related to the NA28? Perhaps some of those big brains out there in  the blogosphere know what is going on.


For people wondering what the heck I’m talking about, here is a scan of the ticket included:


*Update 2*

I received a message with the following link: http://community.logos.com/forums/t/25245.aspx

It turns out the the SBL GNT is a text edited by Michael Holmes, who has an excellent edition of the apostolic fathers, based on the Westcott-Hort text with some textual variants. The whole goal seems to be to provide free access to the GNT and apparatus. I applaud the SBL and Logos for going to the trouble and freeing in some small way the text from the oppressive clutches of the DBG. (You know, the guys who shut down all the cool websites with access to the GNT [R.I.P. Zhubert/ReGreek]) Until more details come out it will be hard to tell just how useful this text will be, but at the least it will provide some open access.

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Many people believe Jesus says current marriages will cease in the new creation, and in my previous post I explained why I don’t think Mark 12/Matt. 22/Luke 20 can be read this way.  In a nutshell: Jesus never actually says that.

There is more to this passage than just what Jesus does and does not explicitly say, however.  In fact, there are a number of important facets to this conversation that might not be readily apparent.  It takes further investigation to understand just how much is being implied by both the Jesus and the Sadducees, and it is then that the ambiguity of this passage overcomes the confident traditional interpretation once and for all.  In other words, if you weren’t convinced by my saying that “Jesus doesn’t tell us,” I hope this post will force you to admit that a proper understanding of marriage and the resurrection is quite unclear, indeed.

The reason why this passage is so complicated is simple: It is multilayered.  Your small group might focus on what seems to be the central question: The Sadducees ask Jesus how to deal with a seemingly unsolvable problem which makes a belief in the resurrection look naïve.  Again, Jesus does not answer this question.  He does, however, come closer to answering some of the Sadducee’s other questions.

Other questions?  Yes, there are other questions implicit in the text.  First, there is the question of how one extends one’s life.  Traditionally, levirate marriage (a widow marrying the brother of her dead husband) was used to continue family lines and, in a sense, continue the life of the deceased.  Of course, the idea of a bodily resurrection also allowed for the continuation of life in a more literal sense, so someone might wonder how the newer idea of resurrection and the older idea of levirate marriage could coexist.  According to Joel Green, the Sadducees are not just interested in who this theoretical woman will be married to but also, in effect challenging Jesus about “two competing notions of ‘life after death'” (Green, 719).

Connected to this question is the question of the authority of Moses—in fact, Joel Green focuses on Mosaic authority in his title for this pericope (Green, 717).  The Sadducees only accepted the Torah (Jewish law, traditionally attributed to Moses), and they rejected the idea of resurrection because it was developed in later parts of the Hebrew Bible (Witherington, 416; Green, 720-721).  The aforementioned conflict between resurrection and “Torah-approved” levirate marriage and the apparent absence of resurrection from the Torah lead to a second question for Jesus: “Do you follow Moses?”  Jesus essentially answers these two questions with, “Yes, I’m a good Jew who follows Moses.  And actually, I think you’ve misunderstood him.  Even the Torah has some evidence for resurrection, see?”

Lastly, we can notice a third element of the passage that we originally passed over: Jesus’s joke.  Jesus says that at the resurrection, people will be like angels, which is highly ironic because the Sadducees doubted the existence of angels, along with the resurrection.  The idea of angels had become more developed over time in Judaism, and so the Sadducees, being Torah-only, rejected them, as well (Witherington, 414).  For Jesus to answer a question about the resurrection with angels as an explanatory aid clearly smacks of attitude and humor.  That is not to say that the reference to the angels is only a joke, but this dimension of the dialogue should not be lost.

Given these three additional layers—two new questions and a snarky comment from Jesus—we should not reject the idea that this passage might answer the more obvious question about the woman’s husbands.  This multilayered understanding, however, makes it much harder to be sure which questions actually receive a straight answer.  With that in mind, one should be cautious in making too many assumptions from this text.  This is anything but a simple and transparent conversation about the literal question of who is married to whom after the resurrection.

Green, Joel.
The Gospel of Luke.  New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.
Witherington, Ben, III.  Matthew.  Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary.  Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2006.

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As someone with a theological degree who is pursuing an additional degree in marital and family therapy, the way Christians relate to marriage fascinates me.  I have enjoyed looking at Christianity and marriage from a variety of perspectives—psychological, sociological, historical, theological, ministerial—in various courses and outside reading, and I feel there will always be much, much more for me to learn.

One particular question I’ve been exploring lately is marriage and the resurrection, a topic I have found most Christians consider fairly settled based on Jesus’s discussion with the Sadducees in Mark 12/Matt. 22/Luke 20.  My brief look at these passages so far, however, has left me unconvinced.  I admit, I have not yet put as much into this as I would a research paper for school, and I have not even fully translated these three passages myself.  Still, I have looked through a number of commentaries and a few historical sources, and I am left with enough doubt about traditional interpretations that I thought I could make an interesting blog series about it.

Why care?  Well, in my mind, this question might affect how we understand a number of things: marriage, sex, our bodies, the nature of creation (old and new), the resurrection itself, and maybe even God as a person.  As someone who is married, I have not only a stake in this question but also a bias in my answer, and I imagine some other married people might also wish to know that they will still be married to their spouses after the resurrection.  (A few, perhaps, would like to ensure the opposite.)  Similarly, some single people would likely prefer to believe that even dying a virgin would not ruin their chances at marital bliss.  I do not have an answer to any of our questions about marriage and the resurrection, but I do think that it would be safer to simply say, “We don’t really know,” rather than the common Christian belief that present marriages are dissolved in the new creation.

I base my agnosticism towards this question on a number of different factors, but a good place to start is the obvious: When asked about a woman who has been married seven times, Jesus does not give the Sadducees a straight answer.  If we take his answer in the most literal sense (and I’m not convinced that we necessarily should), the most we could say is that new marriages will cease.  This does not tell us anything about the state of marriages existing prior to the resurrection, nor which (if any) of the seven husbands this theoretical woman would be married to if some/all/any existing marriages continued.  Hence, perhaps we can say that people who die single will not enter into marriage after the resurrection, but if we can say anything, I do not think it is any more than this.  (I am not entirely certain we can say even that, though the question of dying single will not be the focus of this discussion.)

In forthcoming posts, I will explain why I do not think this narrative itself warrants the conclusion that current marriages must be ended in the life to come.  I will also offer some theological ponderings that, in my view, make it more logical to believe that marriage will continue, despite the admitted ambiguity of these particular texts.

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Mark Goodacre, whose podcasts are simply delightful, has been weighing in recently on the absence of Joseph in the text of Mark:

Take, for example, the question of Jesus’ father.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus does not have a human father.  He is “the craftsman, the son of Mary” (Mark 6.3); his father is in heaven and addresses Jesus directly as his son (Mark 1.119.7) and Jesus calls him “Abba” (Mark 14.36).  Other supernatural beings know that he is God’s son too (3.11).  The unwary reader of Mark might easily assume that Mark’s Jesus, who simply appears on the scene as an adult in Mark 1, is some kind of god, perhaps the product of a union between a god and Mary.  Matthew sees the problem.  He gives Jesus a father, named Joseph; indeed, he begins the book with him (Matt. 1).  In redacting the Rejection and Nazareth story, he makes Jesus “the son of the craftsman” (Matt. 13.55) so that there can be no doubt about the matter.

With respect to Dr. Goodacre’s superior level of education and careful reflection on the synoptic relationships, I find this to be a very odd sort of argument to come from him. Elsewhere, Dr. Goodacre has argued for Markan priority on the basis of Mark’s unique portrayals of Jesus. An example that he  uses is the story in Mark 8:22-26 wherein it takes Jesus two tries to heal the blind man. This story is of course one of the few pieces of text found only in Mark. If I remember correctly, Dr. Goodacre made an argument along the lines of the later Synoptic witnesses being uncomfortable with the implied fallibility of Jesus’ failure to heal the first time. I am having some small measure of difficulty reconciling such an argument with the one being presented now. Are we to suppose that a Mark who unabashedly reports such imperfection on the part of Jesus might also intentionally leave open the idea that Jesus is a god? Beyond that, are we to view Mark as leaving open the possibility that Jesus is something like the divine offspring found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (given that we are firmly told he is the son of Mary)? In any case, it seems a little inconsistent to pair such notions with Markan primacy via low Christology so to speak.

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Part 1

Even so, the question of continuity naturally arises. What of the Jewish people and God’s promises to them? Or to be more precise, how can God’s promises be true in light of the fact that the Jews refused to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ and the Gentiles who had no right relationship with God are now experiencing the grace of YHWH (Hays 221)? By Hays’ reckoning, Paul’s powerful trust in the faithfulness of God via the faithfulness of Jesus Christ leads him to search the Scriptures for signs that this was God’s plan all along. So says Hays, “God’s oracles and promises are interpreted anew, in ways that no one could have foreseen, in light of the experience of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus” (Hays 221).

Again when we turn to the text found in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, we see something akin to what Hays has presented. What is arguably the foundational narrative of the Jewish faith, the exodus, is presented in a radically different way. Paul engages in a program of sacramental re-imagination, couching the story in terms of baptism and communion, drawing together the Jewish narrative and the Christian narrative (if I can be forgiven for using such terms) and weaving them together in such a way as to declare that they are the same story. In verse 7 and in 11, speaking of the disobedient Israelites he declares that “these things happened as an example.” Scripture is for the improvement of the people of God which somehow now includes the Gentiles. It would be a mistake to think that these categories of nation and church simply collapse. There can be little doubt that the uniqueness of Israel remains even as it is juxtaposed with a strange continuity between Jew and Gentile.

Perhaps the answer lies in verse 4, wherein it says, “For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (NET).The faithful figure of Jesus Christ provides the elusive point of radical continuity. Jesus Christ fulfills for Paul both the dramatic role of Jewish messiah as Second Temple Jews might expect (Wright 43) and that of the one Lord about whom the good news has been proclaimed (Wright 69). Jesus traverses the gap between the ardently hoped for deliverer of a broken covenant community and the true Lord of the world who surpasses the might of Caesar and his empire. The cross dramatically speaks into these different contexts, and through participation in the death and resurrection of the one who bore it, all are made cruciform whether Jew or Greek.


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“His reshaping of Southern and the course of the SBC will long outlive him in a way that is not possible with parachurch organizations.”
—Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary, as quoted in “The Reformer,” an article on Southern Seminary’s president and Souther Baptist giant Al Mohler from Christianity Today.

It is statements like this that make me shudder.  It is not that Al Mohler’s brand of evangelicalism does not have a right to exist—it does, whether you want to call it evangelicalism, fundamentalism, or something else.  My problem with this situation is that I agree that the Southern Baptist Convention is quite powerful and extremely large, and I don’t think there are any moderate Christian denominations with even a fraction of its power.  And if Mohler can do a lot more through a denomination than the parachurch, that means he, along with both more conservative and more liberal Christians, can do a lot more to change the face of Christianity in American than can moderate evangelicals.  As someone not interested in domineering religion but hoping to help put a moderate option on the map, this is a frustrating and frightening situation.

There are virtually no Christian denominations that represent what I mean when I call myself an evangelical.  I do not mind moderate evangelicals attending either more conservative or mainline churches where they feel comfortable, but I don’t think these places of refuge make up for the fact that there are so few moderate evangelical denominations and that the existing denominations are tiny.  Who, from looking at denominations, could even know moderate evangelicals exist?  We are invisible to the public eye and too often invisible to both further-right and further-left Christians, who—whether they are looking for a new approach to theology or simply want to accurately represent reality in public discussions of the Christian spectrum—deserve to know we are here.

The Evangelical Covenant Church is a great example of an evangelical denomination that is not inerrantist, affirms women, teaches on ethnic reconciliation and justice, and generally is made up of some respectable people, from what I can see.  The problem with the Evangelical Covenant Church is despite being one of the fastest growing and most racially diverse denominations in the United States, it is still absolutely dwarfed by the SBC, or even smaller conservative denominations like the PCA.  And where are the other denominations in this vein?  They are rare, just as small, and not always completely committed to more moderate stances.  Every denomination has the right to organize itself as it pleases, of course, but I find myself wishing so badly that the Anglican Mission, for example, did not just tolerate some people who support women in ministry but would wholeheartedly advance the cause.  I can see the Anglican Mission as a denomination that is almost right for someone like me, and yet, it is not exactly what I would hope for.  I find myself wanting AM to succeed because I like so much of what they stand for, but I find myself wishing there were many more and more sizeable options.

I also find myself wondering if perhaps the more moderate evangelicals have thought it was ok to be involved in advancing their beliefs only through parachurch organizations.  InterVarsity is moderate, Fuller is moderate, other organizations and charities and schools you might support are moderate, so what’s the big deal?  The moderate voice is out there, right?  And there are a number of significant moderate voices in academia.  But as this quote says, there are lots of things that can be done through a denomination that can’t be done through a parachurch group.  As much as I find myself feeling like parachurch organizations are what is saving moderate evangelicalism, I’m not certain how long the parachurch alone can keep our head above water.

I don’t like violent take-overs, I don’t like splits, and I want to maintain a sense of fellowship with more conservative evangelicals, evangelical mainliners, and even more liberal Christians (a term I think does not have to mean Unitarian-Universalist-in-Christian-garb) so I’m not sure where this leaves us.  I just feel like it’s not enough that I have friends who during college, thanks to InterVarsity, explored theology, opened up to women in ministry (or at least remained friends with those who did), and started serving the poor.  I don’t think it’s enough that Fuller professors are moderate or that I know there are sizable moderate factions—even majorities—at other colleges and seminaries friends have attended.  I don’t think it’s enough for me to just be a part of Christians for Biblical Equality or to donate to World Vision or to know that my college buddies are on a similar theological page.

I wish—without causing all kinds of drama and hurt feelings and the like—that I could magically and instantly create a half dozen solidly moderate denominations (even if they, like the Evangelical Covenant, are shrimpy for the next century).  Then as Al Mohler continues his reign, as many get fed up with aspects of mainline denominations, and as many people who could go to an SBC church or an Episcopal church or some other church perhaps don’t feel comfortable in the particular church of that sort of their community, all would feel they had another option.  I just want people to have an alternative to simply checking out of Christianity altogether, moving significantly to the right or the left, or being a part of a church they can’t feel comfortable actively taking part in.  I want there to be representatives of a moderate evangelicalism in every town—not just as a couple for friends you might or might not run into but an organizational presence that will last longer than smaller, transient social networks.

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