Writings in the First Century

Okay, so I’ve complained about my professor; let me now state that his practice of participating within the forum discussions is completely outstanding.  He challenges our way of thinking, directs and nudges gently to areas we might want to explore, and seems to truly be delighted when he learns something he hasn’t read or thought about before.  I believe that if we simply got him a TA to organize and distribute a full set of notes for when he gets distracted while actually lecturing, all would be just fine. 🙂

So, this past week’s topic was with regard to the Synoptic “problem” (their word, not mine).  There are a ton of theories, and absolutely nothing to prove any of them.  But, that’s what makes theories fun to contemplate.  In any case, one document referenced was a theory by Bauckham about how he believed (contrary to mainstream belief) the gospels were not written for any particular community by the author, but rather for the community of Christians at large.  The professor argued for sort of a middle point, that each gospel would have been written for the particular community in which it was written, but could then be extrapolated into the larger community.  My comment back:

As for Bauckham, I tend to think it was probably a combination. We have references where Paul refers to letters that he’s written to other communities, and yet he expects that the community to which he is writing has read it. Would this have been an unusual event? Or did the organizers (for lack of a better term) of the faith agree to send copies of things to one another so that 1) there was a system of accountability; one person wasn’t saying something that went against what the teachings actually were or what another teacher had said; 2) there was a system of organization so that the archives, so to speak, could be preserved for future generations; and 3) if something happened to them (and apostles did have a bad habit of being martyred), someone would be able to pick up where they left off?

The professor asked for the references.  I provided:

1 Cor. 16:1, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia.” Here, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, referencing instructions he gave to Galatia.

A portion of 2 Pet 3:15-16 reads, “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters.” This one is actually an Epistle, not directed to any specific community, and the authorship is in question, but it’s included in the Bible, so it’s meant to be there in any case. The reference, though, as included in a general, [Christian] community-wide book, implies that everybody hears from Paul.

In Colossians 4:16, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.” (This actually sounds more like an instruction to travel and trade letters, since Paul is writing from prison, and may not be able to get too many letters out?)

But it leaves me wondering if there are other references that I may be entirely missing with regard to how the writings of the first century were distributed and disseminated.  How did one get mail in those days?  Were you dependent upon travelers?  Messengers?  Caravans?  Pony express hadn’t been invented yet. 🙂


Peter as the Rock

Okay, need to work something out and my brain’s getting confused, so it’s going here to see if I can come to a conclusion regarding the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

General consensus is that Mark wrote his gospel from the point of view of Peter, writing for the Roman church.  A full 56% of Mark’s gospel is included in Matthew’s gospel, and 42% of it is in Luke’s gospel, which would imply both that Mark’s gospel was written first, and that both the writers of Luke and Matthew had access to it.

So, some of the confusing things:

  • If Mark is with Peter, Peter was a Jew, knew Jewish law, etc.  Yet Mark got a lot of things wrong with Jewish law that was actually corrected in Matthew.  Another supposition was that Mark was a disciple of Peter, and actually wrote everything down after the death/martyrdom of Peter, focusing on the Christian aspects, and he didn’t have the Jewish background.
  • Why would Matthew’s gospel be the one to say:   “And I tell you, you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)?  Why would Mark not mention that?
  • Did Matthew and Paul get along?
  • Luke’s gospel, and it is estimated that Luke was a friend who traveled with Paul, does *not* mention this.
  • All three gospels have the surrounding conversation that’s found in Matthew.
  • There are scholars who say that Matthew 16:17-19 was added later, in order to support the primacy of the Roman church.  If that’s so, wouldn’t it have been in Mark?

Then, of course, we have the Q source which apparently both Luke and Matthew consulted, given that a full 235 verses (not quite 25% of each book) are shared in Luke and Matthew, but not in Mark.  Here’s a better chart of how it all fits together:


Now, to make things just that much more interesting, the professor asked us to read something that also adds in the similarities in the Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical tract found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Some scholars put it before Mark, the earliest believed Gospel; some put it a couple centuries after all of them.  Because of the language, more believe it was circulated about the same time as Mark.  And then there are scholars who think Mark copied from Matthew and Luke, but they’re in the minority.

Oh, now I’m having fun.  There’s a website that puts everything in parallel!

So, have I figured anything out?  Nope.  Now, the good news is, scholars all still are trying to figure this out.  So I’m in good company if nothing else.

Hubris Much?

Holy cow, I can’t believe my last entry.  Let me explain my idiotic legal mind which will go into why the concept of humankind setting any part of the covenant is beyond stupid, but why my brain went there.

Most contracts are taken into mind with the concept of “parity”, that is, the state of being equal.  My idiocy comes to light immediately, and I am reminded of the very admirable quality of humility.

This would be why the idea of a Divine covenant is actually a promise by the supreme power who really doesn’t have to do anything for us (aside from any obligation a Creator may feel toward the created, but again, that’s *His* decision, not ours) to do something, and hold *Himself* to that promise – we are simply the benefactors of the benevolence.

Now, the idea that we do have a choice to do what He has asked us still holds true, but that being said, most of the covenants created by God have an “if/then” clause – e.g., I will do X.  If you follow me and obey my law, then you will gain X.  Now, implied in an if/then clause is, if you *don’t* or if you *choose* not to do that, then you will experience the loss of the Divine.  Other than Israel, the entity given “son-ship”, the very uncomfortable absence of God is the only consequence.  Israel, however, is treated as a parent would treat a disobeying child – with forbearance, patient and loving discipline to bring them back to the right response.

Now, to my way of thinking, this goes back to the covenant made at Sinai, where the people chose that this would be their God, and they would be His people.  And while it seems like God’s been fighting an uphill battle for the rest of time as we know it, if we look at God being outside of time, and knowing what the results are, He displays far too much faith in humanity for me to think we always get it wrong. 🙂

So, my apologies to the Divine and promise to keep that legal mind in check, particularly when dealing with matters of divinity, and to remember that humility in the face of the Divine is a desired quality.

Off Track

Okay, so attempting to write a paper regarding Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament, my fingers took a wrong turn into a topic that doesn’t belong in the paper, but it looks rather interesting to explore:

The pattern of covenantal relationship between God and humanity always begins with God’s initiative and continues with His promises, and humanity’s response. In some ways, these covenants are unilateral, in that humanity has no input into their composition, but rather has the choice to either comply with the right response (righteousness) or defy God’s conditions for covenant, thereby refusing the grace God has offered.

Obedience is going to enter into there somewhere, along with the benevolence of an all-knowing God and the responsibility of the creation to pay attention to the Creator.

But, I don’t have time at the moment, so I’m parking it here, and going back to the paper.


I received my paper back on Micah (only got an 89), and one of the comments was that I did not tie the concept of the cycle of justice that is found in the whole book to the theological message.  I’m attempting to figure out if I’m the only one who thinks that when God devotes a minimum of two books to laws, plus several to right behavior, and then has Christ point out that if you’ve replaced your idols with the concept of the letter of the law and have forgotten justice that God might just consider justice to be up there with love?  That the “theological message” in Micah is justice…

There’s a Baha’i CD created by one of my favourite artists, Rebecca Johnston-Garvin – a very talented woman who takes the writings and creates music that enhances the *words*, but the words get the focus.  I was fortunate to sing backup on a couple of her CDs, and one of the songs I sang on was entitled “Justice.”  The words are from the Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah:  “O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.”

I guess I can’t make assumptions like that, or maybe I need to be more clear in my statements.  When you’ve only got 2500 words, I guess I kinda skipped saying what was obvious to me…

This Term’s Paper

So, with John 1:1-5 being turned down, I thought about doing 1 Timothy 3:14-16, but then a sentence in Luke on the parable of the hemorrhaging woman caught my eye.  Luke is the only one who says that Jesus said he felt the power leave him when she touched the fringe of his clothing.  I believe that this could be an interesting statement on the duality of Christ, being both man and God, because all other healing takes place in the knowing presence of God.  It makes me wonder if we’re able to be conduits for God’s healing power, but that if we use our own energy (consciously or subconsciously, obviously), we will feel a drain.

That’s actually been a lesson that was hardest to teach my son – that he should merely channel the energy from God, not draw him from himself.  He’s a tool, not the ultimate healer.

So anyway, it’ll be an exegetical paper, and this time, I get 2500 to 3000 words.  <g>  I’m moving up in the world. 🙂