Before you read another word, the point of this post is, choose compassion. Be compassionate. Reflect compassion. Compassion, Love, first. Compassion is the beginning and the end.

Time for some honesty. I ask that you read prayerfully. An Exercise in having Eyes to See and Ears to Hear.

We conservative North American believers are an interesting lot. We love praise songs. We claim to be devoted to Jesus. We claim we are devoted to “traditional family values.” We act, typically, as if God is a capitalist. We might even think Jesus salutes the American flag and that above all God thinks that homosexual sexuality is the greatest of all sins.

Hypocrisy?

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbors eye” (Jesus, Mt 7.5).

But are we (conservative North American believers) free from the charge of hypocrisy?

I would wager that a good deal of the culture of North American Evangelical type faith simply is not rooted in the biblical narrative at all. Our faith is often simply not based on a deep understanding of Scripture. Do we escape the charge of hypocrisy?

Divorce rates among conservative north American believers are the same and in some places exceed those of nonbelievers (I say this by way of lament! I am a divorcee!). See the study published by Baylor University, Evangelicals Have Higher than average Divorce Rates.

Conservative Christians often vocally condemn homosexual activity as perverted and loathed by God. Yet, adultery and fornication is as likely among Evangelicals as it is among nonbelievers. See Are Most Single Christians in America Having Sex. I was once told that a Christian Single dating site was also known as ChristianSex [dot] com.

Evangelicals are certainly open to the charge of hypocrisy when we claim that homosexual activity is somehow more detestable to God than heterosexual activity outside the covenant of marriage.

Justify Ourselves ?

We conservative believers, often, harshly condemn those who struggle with sexual identity. It is an “abomination” before God. And we quote the old KJV of Leviticus 18.22; 20.13.

Perhaps this shows, however, that we have selectively read the Scriptures. It may also reveal we religious people use the biblical text, as that religious scholar of old did, to justify ourselves.

Abomination

A person does not need to know Hebrew to grasp my point. Simply having a concordance can show that our common religious failings are in the exact same category as homosexual activity … but in an effort to feel superior we sometimes turn a blind eye to the truth.

The Hebrew for “abomination” (KJV) or “detestable” (NIV) is to’ebah. When we consult the concordance (such as Goodrick & Kohlenberger III, NIV Exhaustive Concordance), we learn that this exact same term is used many times in the Hebrew Bible.

Interestingly, it is used 21x in the book of Proverbs. Lady Wisdom tells us in Proverbs 6 that there are “six … seven things the LORD hates.” These things are an “abomination” to him (6.16, NRSV). This is the exact same term in Leviticus 19 and 20. What so interesting here is that homosexual activity is not mentioned but look what is.

There are six thing that the LORD hates,
seven that are an ABOMINATION
[to’ebah] to him:
haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are quick to rush to evil,
a lying witness who lies,
and one who sows dissension among the family.

(Proverbs 6.16-19)

Each of these is characterized as to’ebah. Note that lying is mentioned twice. Note that arrogance is mentioned. Note the various attitudinal attacks upon relationships are mentioned. Note that causing disunity is mentioned. Note also that these seven things are routinely found in most conservative assemblies of North American believers. Yet we do not witness Facebook campaigns against these. We do not see boycotts. We do not even hear sermons on them.

But Paul …

Someone will say, “But Paul says God’s wrath is being revealed against homosexual activity in Romans 1.”

Perhaps, this is yet another example of Paul knowing his Bible and we do not. Indeed, clearly Paul does mention homosexual activity (not orientation), as does Leviticus.

However, a third of the passage is ignored and is about the stuff found in Proverbs 6 that has nothing to do with homosexuality. Paul does not single it out as more depraved than anything else. In fact, Paul lists it along with,

greed,”
“envy,”
“deceit/lying,”
“gossips”
“slanderers,”
“arrogant,”
“boastful,

(Romans 1.28-32)

all of these “deserve death” the apostle wrote in Romans 1.28-32. The apostle would go on to say (quoting the Hebrew Bible) that there is “no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3.10ff; quoting Psalm 14).

Ezekiel, Sodom and Proverbs

The Bible reveals that God really does loath those seven things. We conservatives often point to Sodom and Gomorrah to show that God especially dislikes homosexuality. God destroyed those gay people. Sometimes, we conveniently forget that the Holy Spirit point blank tells us the exact sin of Sodom and it is forgotten by us. Ezekiel tells us what it was.

NOW THIS WAS THE SIN of your sister Sodom:
She was arrogant,
overfed and unconcerned;
they did not help the poor and needy.
They were haughty and did detestable things before me
…”
(Ezekiel 16.49-50)

It is hard to get a clearer statement than “now this was the sin of your sister Sodom.

Notice how this text never explicitly mentions homosexual activity (it may be implied but some scholars debate that in the context of Ezekiel). Some might claim it is in the word “detestable.” Interestingly, this is the same exact term that is used in both Leviticus 18.22/20.13 and Proverbs 6.16-19 quoted above.

The abominations are:

arrogance,
self indulgence,
lack of care for the poor
.

These are just as much an abomination as the homosexual activity. And this is why God destroyed Sodom.

If we read Ezekiel, the Lord makes it clear that Israel’s sin is even worse than that of Sodom (16.51ff) yet there is no suggestion that Judah’s sin in this passage is homosexual activity.

Now I do not deny there was homosexual activity at Sodom, other biblical texts make this clear. I am simply pointing out what is stated in black and white in the biblical text, it is not singled out in Ezekiel nor Paul.

But we conservatives do not like that. It makes “us” like “them.”

It is part of the fallen human condition to want to feel morally superior to “those” people (whoever “those” people may be). But Scripture puts the arrogant, self-righteous, north American believer in the same place as “those” we bitterly condemn. Often our bitter rantings (and that is what they often are) are projections of our own prejudices not that that person is any worse than the arrogant, gossips, greedy, overfed, people welcomed with open arms in our churches.

Following Jesus’s Example

Jesus’s interaction with Levi (Mt 9.9-13); the “woman at the well” (Jn 4); and the “woman caught in the act” (Jn .7.53-8.11) ought to weigh heavily on our interaction with any human being, regardless of the circumstances. Likewise our Lord’s upbraiding of the religious people of his day should echo in our ears (cf. Matthew 23).

We Evangelical and Restoration Christians need a massive dose of humility. We need to revisit the notion of grace once again. We, all of us, are sinners before the holy God. Jesus loves the homosexual sinner as much as he loves those who, in the words of Ezekiel, are “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned for the poor.

When we are convinced, that we ourselves have nothing in our hands to bring but simply “to thy cross” we cling, we will be far more welcoming of other sinners no matter from which direction they come.

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench
…” (Isaiah 42.3)

May the gentle compassion of Jesus flow through us to all who are “bruised” in their lives and hearts.

Having Eyes to See and Ears to Hear. Always side with mercy, always practice love.

(On the term to’ebah see, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, edited Willem A. VanGemeren, vol 4, pp.314-318)

“The Bible” of the
Harlem Renaissance

I first became aware of the Harlem Renaissance in the late 1990s. It has fascinated me since.

The Harlem Renaissance was an extraordinary explosion, an awakening, of artistic output in music, dance, literature, and drama. It is generally dated from return of the Harlem Hellfighters from World War I to the early 1930s when it died the death of the Great Depression.

A confluence of many factors led to this bold assertion of creativity and pride. The Great Migrations that began during World War I (half a million blacks moved from the South to New York, Chicago and other northern urban areas to escape the Klan and find jobs). The taking, and the return, of two hundred thousand black soldiers into the military and off to France “to make the world safe for democracy” cultivated an air of self-confidence. This self-confidence led to a rejection of acceptance of white defined black identity as “aunties,” “uncles,” and “mammies.” They rejected “Sambo” and “Uncle Tom,” as Alain Locke wrote in the volume he edited, The New Negro. When Locke penned those words the Renaissance was already in full swing.

In a sense the Renaissance, the “Coming of Age,” was a collective announcement to white America that blacks are one hundred percent human, with the same aspirations and hunger for meaning as any Anglo-Saxon. Or to quote Locke, it was to demand “the revaluation by white and black alike of the Negro in terms of his artistic endowments and cultural contributions, past and prospective.”

James Weldon Johnson put it, “nothing will do more to change the mental attitude and raise his status than a demonstration of intellectual parity … than by his production of literature and art.”

The Harlem Renaissance says as clearly as can be stated, “We are not slaves. We are not brutes. We are not ignorant. We are not inferior.”

This explosion is all the more remarkable because of the massive surge of racism following World War I. The Red Summer of 1919, massive race riots, Hollywood’s caricature of African Americans (as in Birth of a Nation in 1915), the surge in lynching. The Renaissance attacked stereotypes in myriads of ways while affirming, “we” are equal to “you.”

There is no way to do justice to the Harlem Renaissance in this post. So I am going to divide up categories with names we ought to know (names are representative and hardly exhaustive). Many of my readers will already know them.

Lewis’s is a great introduction
to the writings of the
Renaissance

Publications: The Crises began in 1910 as the publication of the NAACP. The Messenger (1917-1938) was widely read. Opportunity began in 1923 and was a leading organ of the Renaissance. And Survey Graphic which in many ways initially brought the greatness of the Renaissance before the public.

Intellectual leaders. W.E.B. DuBois and Alaine Locke both men hugely influential.

Music: The Jazz age. Harlem Stride. Duke Ellington. Lucky Roberts. Fats Waller. Louis Armstrong.

Dancers: Billy (Bojangles) Robinson. Josephine Baker – one of the most famous dancers in history, she would live in Paris for a long time and during World War II functioned as a spy for the US.

Artists: Aaron Douglas. Lois Mailou Jones

Writers: Langston Hughes. Zora Neale Huston. Claude McKay. James Weldon Johnson. Jean Toomer. Countee Cullen.

Claude McKay wrote one of the first poems of the Renaissance in response to the Red Summer of 1919. It captures well the defiant spirit of what Locke identified as the “New Negro.”

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monster we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us, though dead!

Oh kinsman! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but – fighting back!

In the face of incredible cultural resistance the Harlem Renaissance proclaimed we are not mere victims rather we are creators and victors in spite of the racist culture.

Wonderful history of the energy,
diversity, and even jealousies
of the Renaissance

The New Negro

The Harlem Renaissance had been in full swing for several years when Alain Locke gathered together the diverse strands of the movement and published what has been called “the Bible” of the movement. That Bible is called, The New Negro which Locke published in 1925.

The volume is divided into two large sections: The Negro Renaissance and The Negro in the New World. In the Renaissance section, Locke highlights the the “Youth” of the day through their fiction, poetry, drama, music and a section on how black America was rediscovering its own past as opposed to the past white America said they had. In Part Two, Locke collected essays by black scholars on Negro Pioneers, their life in America, centers of cultural life at Harlem, Howard University, Tuskegee, and Durham, NC. Then the volume explores how African Americans fit into Americanism and a unique look at “the task of Negro Womanhood.”

Locke’s New Negro is both selective in its representation of the Renaissance and something of a definition of the time. For an “exegesis” of the book see George Hutchinson’s The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White, pp. 389-433.

Major scholarly work on
the Harlem Renaissance. Includes
a splendid exegesis of
“The New Negro.”

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a young poet at the time of the Renaissance. Hughes typifies the race consciousness that embraced many at this time. After generations and generations of being told they were animals, ugly, not human, there was a counter thrust in the Harlem Renaissance. Black and black culture is worth celebrating.

Hughes expressed his point of view in a powerful essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” At some point every American ought to read this essay. Hughes about black artists who have either consciously or subconsciously bought into the prevailing views of white America that black is bad. These artists subconsciously want to be white. On one level this is a searing indictment of racism. On another it is the sad testimony of the psychological abuse of racism upon the victims. Hughes castigates black intellectuals for perpetuating this same view. Thus it is “a very high mountain indeed for the would be racial artist to climb in order to discover himself and his people.” He continues,

So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, ‘I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,’ as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world … An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose …

“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.

You can read many of Hughes’s poems and essays in The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. The full text of the Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain can be read in the linked title.

Conclusion

This brief introduction to the Harlem Renaissance has not even begun to do it justice. My goal is very limited, introduce people who look like me to a very important part of our mutual heritage. Our lives in America are deeper and richer because of the Renaissance even though many of us have been unaware.

The Harlem Renaissance is an absolutely fascinating period of American history. The “roaring twenties” is a period wracked with contradictions that have forever run through America. It is one of the lowest times in race relations. But it was also a time of thriving creativity on the part of many African Americans

Read Alain Locke’s anthology called The New Negro. Or David Levering Lewis’ The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. There are also a number of good YouTube videos that introduce the Renaissance. I especially recommend the documentary Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

How Much Do You Know about the Harlem Renaissance? Now is a golden opportunity to learn.

Shalom.

Textual note in my NIV

I am frequently asked about the ending of Mark and the pros and cons of the various endings.  This is a delicate issue and one should approach the evidence with an open mind without a predetermined outcome.  Some have mistakenly argued that the whole issue revolves around two uncial mss: Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. MSS stands for “manuscripts.” 

It is true that these two important mss omit the passage. However the problem was known and debated long before the discovery of Sinaiticus or the release of Vaticanus.  In fact the problem is as old as the church itself!  The Church Fathers are our first witness to the controversy over the ending of Mark’s Gospel. It is a gross error to say, as some claim, that Westcott and Hort brought this “problem” to us. 

An Apology for this Post

Before I make this note I need to defend it.  I can already hear some one say “you do not have to have a PhD, or be a scholar, to go to heaven!”  But I think this actually misses the real issue because that is not the issue.

When an individual stands before a congregation, or a group of people, assuming the role of a teacher, it is reasonable to assume that person is grounded deeply in the subject at hand (surely James 3.1 is relevant).  Such an assumption is not unwarranted.  When our children go to school, we parents firmly expect the teacher to know more about math than the elementary students who are learning basic “math facts.” If a teacher is instructing children, in any subject, we expect that he/she have first done his/her own homework. 

The same is true in any congregation.  No, one does not need a PhD, or to be a scholar, to go to heaven any more than one needs a PhD in math to be a teacher in elementary school.  But to teach the subject we expect the point of view of the teacher to be grounded in more than mere prejudice or wishful thinking.  We expect that the teacher has a certain level of mastery of the material at hand.

Yet somehow we change our expectations when it comes to the most important subject in our life – the Bible.  But every (there is no exception to this in my view) person who wishes to assume the role of “teacher” in the family of God, should understand how the Bible came together as much as a physics teacher should understand the laws of physics. So a preacher needs to understand the basics of textual criticism and some general knowledge of the history of the Bible.  Preachers do not have to be scholars in textual criticism but they need to know the basics of how it works and why it matters.  We should not build doctrine on something that is no more than the a “thus sayeth the scribe” (to use a Jack Lewis ism).  The needs of polemical debate should not determine our attachment to a textual variant.

The Bible did not fall out of heaven in 1611 to a group of men employed by the Church of England. Those men were not inspired or guided by the Holy Spirit in some special capacity not open to every other translator down through the years. What textual criticism attempts to do is establish what a given writer (Plato, Aristotle, Matthew, Isaiah, Paul) actually wrote.  It does this by principles that have been honed through the years much like the principles of medicine. 

We can tell a preacher is misinformed if he baldly claims “five thousand manuscripts have Mark 16:9-20” to prove the authenticity of these verses.  Why? Because all five thousand of those manuscripts anywhere between 800 to 1300 YEARS later (i.e. younger) than the manuscripts that do not have 16.2-20.  Such a claim betrays that the person does not understand how textual criticism works. 

Think of it like this a thousand people with Ebola can be traced back to a single carrier and the further you get from the carrier the more folks can be infected.  The same with manuscripts.  A single mistake can be copied dozens and hundreds of times down the line.  Thus when those preachers say there are x number of mss with the Long Ending (= 16.9-20 as in the KJV) the vast majority of those manuscripts date to the high medieval period, that is after 1100 AD to AD 1400. Most of these mss belong to the same “family” of mss as well (this family is known as the Byzantine family).

Further these teachers misrepresent the facts of the case because a large number of those mss have more than the Long Ending as we shall see below.  This is why manuscripts are weighed not merely counted.  My point here is that a person standing before a congregation should have a basic understanding of how the Bible came to be in our church pews. 

When every modern translation of the English Bible tells the average ordinary reader “ancient manuscripts do not have the following …” the teacher/preacher should understand why.  The Long Ending of Mark is no exception. 

Textual criticism examines evidence from the Greek and other manuscripts. It also includes “the versions” which are ancient translations of the Greek New Testament into various ancient tongues, some are as old as the most ancient Greek text.   Textual criticism also takes into account quotations of the Bible from various Fathers & Mothers of the church and what they have to say about textual question. A basic introduction to the subject like Bruce Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament or Kurt Aland’s The Text of the New Testament should simply be required reading for preachers and teachers.  Now I did not say everyone had to read these but the person that presents him or herself as that teacher then yes indeed they should have a basic knowledge.  So with all that said I present some thoughts I have put together on the Long Ending of Mark. 

The leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement were all committed to the critical text of the Bible translated into the most current English idiom. See my Words Easy to Understand: The Restoration Movement and the King James Version.

Commentators on Mark 16.9-20

I know of no standard commentaries on the Gospel of Mark that accept the authenticity of Mark 16.9-20 in the Textus Receptus (basically the KJV).  I may be wrong but I do not know the commentary.

Even commentaries among Churches of Christ like Earle McMillian’s The Gospel of Mark (1973) in the Living Word Commentary series and Allan Black, The Gospel According to Mark, in the NIV College Press Commentary series reject the authenticity of the Long Ending.  This is not a “liberal” vs “conservative” matter at all.  It is a matter of the evidence. 

J. W. McGarvey’s evolving perspective on the ending of Mark is an instructive one to remember.

McGarvey was a sophisticated scholar and understood the significance of textual criticism far more than those who seem to read only his original conclusion to the matter in his 1875 Commentary on Matthew and Mark (or more likely a snippet of a quotation of his Commentary in the Spiritual Sword or other secondary source).  Unlike the debaters, McGarvey never stopped studying and thinking about the issue in light of fresh evidence.  What many do not realize is that much of the evidence known today was unavailable and therefore unknown to McGarvey, especially among the ancient Versions.  But a textual critic, and the informed preacher, will know this and not simply judge the eternal salvation of another on the basis of something that is almost certainly not the word of God.  McGarvey addressed the issue several times in the decades following 1875 and his position moved considerably. See J. W. McGarvey’s Evolving Relationship with Mark 16.9-20.

We will soon learn there are four different endings to the Gospel of Mark and English reader of the NRSV will be able to see these.  One more minor point many of the mss that have the Long Ending have scholia (scribal notes) much like a modern translation.  To the evidence.

Ending of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus

Part One: Patristic Testimony Regarding the “Long Ending” of Mark

One of the surprises we learn when we approach the ending of Mark is that the church has always known there was a “problem” with the text. What that means is the problem was not created nor discovered by modern scholars but has been known and discussed from the beginning of church history.

Eusebius

Eusebius is probably best known to Christians today as the author of a foundational, indeed indispensable, history of the early church. Eusebius also wrote a book entitled “On Problems and Solutions in the Gospels” addressed to Marinus (a bishop of Caesarea).  Marinus was troubled over the apparent contradiction between Matthew 28.1 and Mk 16.9 regarding the eve of the sabbath or the morning of the first day of the week.  Eusebius responds,

The solution is two fold.  For one man, rejecting the passage (to kephalaionauto), the section which makes the statement, will say that it is not current in all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark. That is, the accurate copies determine the end of the narrative according to Mark at the words of the young man . . .  For at this point the end of the Gospel according to Mark is determined in nearly all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark; whereas what follows, being scantily current, in some but not in all, will be superfluous; and especially if it contradicts the testimony of the other evangelists . . . (PG, XXII, 938f).

The above statement by Eusebius is remarkable indeed. The Orthodoxy of the famous historian is not questioned.  But his testimony speaks volumes for it shows: 1) in his day most copies of Mark did not have vv.9-20 and; 2) he states that the “accurate” (in his opinion) copies did not contain the long ending and  3) both he, and bishop Marinus, recognize the ending is “superfluous.” 

In a scholium (a marginal note in an ancient manuscript) bearing the name of Eusebius has been preserved in Manuscript 255.  The scholium means either a rejection of the Long ending or an ignorance of the long ending. Enumerating the appearances of Christ after the Resurrection it states: “according to Mark he is is not said to have appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection” (quoted in Westcott and Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, Appendix p. 33).  There is other material relating to Eusebius but I need not relate it all.

Jerome

Two generations after Eusebius, Jerome — a man with a love for manuscripts, translator of the Vulgate and possibly the greatest scholar in the ancient church — replied to the same kind of question raised by Marinus but this time by a fair lady named Hedibia from Gaul. He writes,

For either we do not receive Mark’s testimony because it is found in few [copies of the] gospels, nearly all the Greek codices being without this section, especially as it appears to contradict the other evangelists . . .” (Epistle 120 ad Hedibiam)

Here again a statement from one of the greatest scholars in the history of the church regarding the text of Mark.  His testimony is that the passage is found in “few” mss — indeed “nearly all” are without it.  This statement is made 800 to 1000 years before the actual physical date of “the vast majority of manuscripts” that some claim in support of the long ending. 

Hesychius of Jerusalem(died around 450)

Hesychius published a work that in previous centuries was thought to be the work of Gregory of Nyssa but now that has been corrected.  The work is titled “An Oration on the Resurrection.”  He has occasion to comment on the textual issue regarding Mark 16, these are his words,

In the more accurate copies the Gospel according to Mark has its end at “for they were afraid” [i.e v.8]; but in some copies there is added, ‘Now when he was risen early the first day of the week. . .‘ But this appears to contradict to some extent  what had been adduced by us [from Matthew]”

(quoted in Bruce M. Metzger, “The Practice of Textual Criticism Among the Church Fathers” in Studia Patristica, vol 12, p. 345).   A little over 100 years later another commentator, Severus of Antioch (died about 540) made the exact same comment — perhaps quoting Hesychius. 

Victor of Antioch (fifth century)

Not much is known about Victor other than he was a presbyter and a careful commentator on biblical texts.  Victor states that vv. 9-20 are not found in most mss but only in “some.”   (Westcott and Hort have an extended discussion of Victor’s Commentary, pp. 34f). 

Several church fathers who quote virtually the whole Bible, but show no genuine knowledge of Mark 16.9-20 are Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian and Cyril of Jerusalem.  All of these Fathers had occasion to quote or comment on these verses but they are deafeningly silent on them. 

What conclusions can we draw from the above information? 1) The early church was acutely conscious of a problem with the ending of the Gospel of Mark; 2) The “majority” copies in their (the Father’s) day did not contain the long ending of Mark; 3) not only did these Father’s testify to the lack of attestation in the mss they said it was lacking in “the accurate” or the “better” mss; 4) The Father’s show some reservations about the text because of the perceived contradiction between vv. 9-20 and the other evangelists.

That many later Fathers quoted from the text (especially later) is not questioned.  But they also quoted freely from the Apocrypha — even by those who when asked would say they don’t consider these works to be “canonical.”   There is a problem with the ending of Mark.  The absolute chaos in the mss tradition in Greek and the versions attest to this.  There are no fewer than four separate endings which clearly indicates there was a problem.  The Father’s voice is a significant one — the Long Ending is most likely not original to the Gospel.

Part Two: Greek and Versional Manuscript Evidence

We examined, briefly, the patristic discussion of Mark 16.9-20 which revealed the Fathers were quite aware of a “problem” with these verses.  When we look at the extant Greek manuscript tradition itself we see more of which they spoke.  The English reader of the NIV encounters this statement at the end of Mark 16.8:

[The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.]

Every modern translation, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, TNIV, NIV2011, JB, NLB, etc, will have this text in brackets, in a footnote, or somehow set off from the rest of the text indicating that it is inauthentic.  The ESV, for example, says “[Some of the Earliest Manuscripts Do Not Include 16:9-20]” this is followed by a note that includes textual data on the other endings of Mark. 

But the statement in the NIV is true as far as it goes but it is also misleading to some extent.  The evidence is far more than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  What a serious misreading and misinformed reading of the scholia.  However, both the uncials just mentioned do in fact omit the text – and they are early and reliable.    There are actually four different endings preserved in the Greek mss tradition, I will briefly list each one. The endings are

1) Ending at v. 8
2) The Shorter Ending
3) The Freer Logion
4) The Long Ending

Ending at Verse 8

The Gospel of Mark ends at v.8 in a variety of early witnesses.  This is where the text ends in Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, numerous Old Latin mss (notably Bobiensis), and in the Old Syriac Gospels, over 100 Armenian, and the Adysh and Opiza Georgian mss (the oldest surviving Georgian mss), a number of Ethiopic end at v.8. All of these manuscripts lack the traditionally known “Long Ending” as represented in the King James Version. 

Special mention must be made of the Armenian version.  In 1891, F. C. Conybeare did pioneering work on the Armenian version.  The Etchmiadzin mss of the Gospels introduces vv. 9-20 with the words, “Of the presbyter Ariston,” that it attributing authorship of these verses to some one other than Mark.  Of the 220 known Armenian mss only 88 include the text at all. Ninety-nine end the Gospel at v. 8.  The remainder present both the Long and Shorter ending of Mark (cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament, pp. 163-164).  This was evidence that J. W. McGarvey never knew about btw. 

Other witnesses that contain the long ending have scribal scholia (that is notes similar to the ones in the NIV and ESV today) that indicate the scribes did not think the verses were authentic.  Scholia have been preserved in the following Greek mss 1, 20,  22, 137, 138, 1110, 1215, 1216,1217, 1221, 1582, etc, etc). 

Codex Regius (L) was discovered and edited in 1846 by Tischendorf.  This manuscript contains both the Long and the “Shorter” ending of Mark separated by ornamental lines after v.8 and the shorter ending.  The scholia says: “There is also current . . .” Then it gives the shorter reading (which I will cover below) and then again: “These are current . . .” A photograph of the ending of Mark in Codex Regius is given in the Aland’s The Text of the New Testament, p. 112.  In many other Greek, and versional mss, this passage is marked with astericks or obeli, the ususal marks by scribes on passages that were questioned.

Codex Bobiensis (k) is an example of
a fourth/fifth century Latin mss with the
Shorter Ending of Mark

The Shorter Ending

The “Shorter” Ending of Mark reads after v.8,

But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”    

This reading ends Codex k, a fourth century Old Latin mss.  Usually in the mss tradition this ending comes after v.8 and then proceeds (after scholia) on with what we know as vv. 9-20.  It is preserved in this combination in uncial msss L, Psi, 099, 0112, many Armenian mss (see above), most of the Ethiopic mss, the Harclean Syriac, Sahidic and Bohairic mss.  A picture of Minuscule 274 where the ending is written in the margin is in Metzger’s Text of the New Testament, plate XI and a picture of the Old Latin k is in Aland’s Text of the NT, p. 188.

As a side note on the “Shorter Reading” and the so called blank space in Vaticanus (=B).  Some have made much of the blank at the end of Mark in B but they should not get their hopes up to high if they think the blank space would contain the long traditional ending.  It is unusual in B for this space but scholars have calculated the letter sizes used by the scribe and there only enough space for the so called “Shorter Ending” not nearly enough for the Long Ending – this was demonstrated as far back as 1909 by Theodore Zahn (cf. William L. Lane, New International Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark, p. 602). 

The Freer Logion v. 14.

Until 1906 the only knowledge we had of what has become known as the “Freer Logion” came from Jerome. Codex W was published in 1910 and is now in the Freer Art Gallery in Washington D.C.  Jerome testifies that this particular reading was in a large number of Greek mss in his day but it was not known independently until Codex W was published.  At verse 14 in what is the Long Ending we read:

And they excused themselves, saying, This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits.  Therefore reveal thy righteousness now’ – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years for Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near.  And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more; that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.” 

We have here a variant that was once prevalent but has only been preserved in one mss.  For those who want an in-depth discussion of the Freer Logion see Lane’s The Gospel According to Mark, pp. 606-611.

The Long orTraditional Ending in the Textus Receptus

The Long Ending is attested in most of the medieval manuscripts that make up the Byzantine family. Interestingly enough a large number of these also contain the “Shorter Ending” discussed above. 

The Long Ending (v.19) is quoted by Irenaeus around 180. Some have suggested that Justin Martyr also did but this is disputed.  Irenaeus is the only confirmed quote in the Ante-Nicene period of any of the material in these texts.  Two early Fathers are especially enlightening: Tertullian and Cyril of Jerusalem.  Both did extensive lectures on baptism, they refer to every NT text on baptism except Mark 16.16.

Reflections

It is evident to any thoughtful reader that the ending of Mark is indeed a “problem.”  Had Mark always included the “Long Ending” it would be very difficult to explain how the other endings came about.  But if Mark did end at verse 8 then it is easy to see why, and how, the other readings came about.  I believe the evidence lends itself to the placement of a very large question mark by these verses as unoriginal.

One who originally was quite confident in the authenticity of the Long Ending was, noted above, J.W. McGarvey in his Commentary on Matthew and Mark published in 1875.  McGarvey interacts with British scholar, Henry Alford, a critic of the authenticity of the passage.  McGarvey in the years following learned of more info regarding the question.  Interestingly enough by 1896 McGarvey seems to be agreeing with the very commentary by Alford that he had struggled to disprove.  He wrote in the Christian Standard,

I think the trend of opinion in recent years is in favor of the suggestion first made by Alford – that the fragment was not originally a part of Mark’s Gospel but that it is an authentic piece of history appended by a contemporary writer.  This would account for its absence from some MSS and its presence in others.” (“An Oft Repeated Question,” Christian Standard 32 [1896], 1239).

That is a long way from what his Commentary states in 1875.   Much of the information shared in this note was not known to McGarvey’s in 1896 – and the story is not over yet.

Appendix: Reading on the Matter of the Ending of the Gospel of Mark

Here are some resources on the issue of Mark 16.9-20.  Some of the sources that follow are necessarily more complex due to the nature of the case but Metzger and Aland are not that difficult to get into. 

Basic Introductions

Kurt & Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament (Revised and Enlarged Edition).  This work has the feel of a introductory “handbook” to what textual criticism is and how it works.  It is peppered with charts for the distribution and dates of various manuscripts, photographs of passages that are of interest, and the contents of all the known papyri.  Several points of contact with Mk 16.9-20.

Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.  This classic is now in its Third Edition with Bart Erhman’s name attached.  This work is laid out differently than the Aland’s.  It has informative chapters on how books were made in the ancient world, a history of the text of the New Testament and how textual criticism works. Like the Aland’s work it has many (but not as many) pictures.   It has specific discussion of Mark 16.9-20.  

D. C. Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible.  Parker gives a wonderful introduction to Aleph.  How it was made.  The scribes that produced it.  The correctors who in centuries following that wrote all over it.  The story of its rediscovery in the West.  Lavishly illustrated.  A valuable book just to get into the world of ancient Bible making.

More Specific Resources

Ernst Cadman Colwell, “Mark 16, 9-20 In the Armenian Version,” Journal of Biblical Literature 56 (1937): 369-386

Fred C. Conybeare, “On the Last Twelve Verses of St. Mark’s Gospel,” Expositor 2 (1895): 401-421

Stanley Helton, “Churches of Christ and Mark 16:9-20,”  Restoration Quarterly 36 (1994): 33-52

P. E. Kahle, “The End of St. Mark’s Gospel. The Witness of the Coptic Versions,” Journal of Theological Studies 2 (1951): 49-57

T. C. Skeat, “The Codex Siaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus, and Constantine,” Journal of Theological Studies 50 (1999): 583-625

John Christopher Thomas, “And the Signs are Following: Mark 16:9-20 – A Journey into Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11 (2003): 147-170.  (This is a fascinating article.  Many Pentecostals have held dearly to the Long Ending of Mark as have debaters in Churches of Christ.  Both do so from largely doctrinal reasons rather than textual evidence.  The Pentecostals for verses 17 and following and CofCs for verses 15 and 16.  Sometimes we can see ourselves by seeing our fault in others.

John Christopher Thomas, “A Reconsideration of the Ending of Mark,” Journal of the Evangelical Society 26 (1983): 407-409

Charles Russell Williams, The Appendices to the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Textual Transmission, University of Yale Press, 1915.  This is a comprehensive study of the Endings of Mark as they were known in 1915.  It is very informative. It has considerable information on the state of the question.  This book is available FREE on Google Books. 

Travis Williams, “Bringing Method to Madness: Examining the Style of the Longer Ending of Mark,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 20 (2010): 397-418.

There are, of course, many more resources but I am not attempting to be exhaustive.  These works can give us a healthy respect for the status of the Mark 16.9-20.  It is almost certainly not authentic.  The evidence against it is pretty clear and at the very least so questionable.

You will do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2.8; cf. Galatians 6.2)

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950)
Father of Black History Month

The Valentine Discovery of Black History

This month is Black History Month. I did not always know what Black History Month was nor have I always appreciated why we need it. While living in New Orleans, in the early 1990s, I first learned about this month. At the cajoling of some African American friends, I read Lerone Bennett’s Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619-1962 which was truly a perspective on American history that was completely alien to me.

The closest thing I ever recall to an exposure to black history was in my senior English class with Mrs. Dowdy, she made us read Richard Wright’s Native Son, a book I detested at the time because I had absolutely no way to meaningfully receive what was in it. I do not recall us ever discussing the book in class. It would be the late 1990s early 2000’s that I was able to read Wright with any perspective at all.

Grenada, Mississippi was my “baptism of fire” from which I have never been the same. New Orleans had, as I look back opened my eyes to the depth of my naivete but it was Grenada that forever changed me. Some will say for the better and some of my friends and family think I have lost my way. But I think I have come closer to the kingdom of God and its values

When my family moved to Grenada, MS in 1997, I had several books under my belt. We moved from New Orleans to Grenada because it was significantly closer to Harding School of Theology in Memphis (and I had been driving one day a week, every week). It was in Grenada, where I discovered that Black History Month might as well have been communist history month with the local powers that be. The Daughters of the American Revolution presented the Mayor with a declaration, that he signed every year I was there, that declared February to be American History Month. It was an intentional slap in the face. It was in Mississippi that I became quite familiar with the Daughters of the American Revolution and their partners the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Ignorance is not bliss!

I began to incorporate themes from Black History Month into my preaching in during the month of February. Then I was invited to teach at a couple historically black churches and did so for several years. I became President of the Ministerial Alliance and continued to be involved and was recognized by the Belle Flower Missionary Baptist Church for “unselfish dedication and service in observance of Black History Month” in 1999. It was not long after that I was told to pack my bags.

Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History Month

Black History Month was the creation of black scholar Carter Goodwin Woodson in 1926.

Woodson’s is, itself, an inspiring story of a man overcoming nearly insurmountable odds to accomplish so much for so many. Woodson was born in New Canton, Virginia, December 19, 1875, the son of former slaves, Anne Eliza (Riddle) and James Henry Woodson. His parents were both illiterate and his father, who had helped the Union soldiers during the Civil War, supported the family as a carpenter and farmer. Woodson’s chance for education was slim growing up having to work with the family simply to avoid starvation. Nonetheless, through self-instruction, he was able to master most school subjects.

At the age of seventeen, Woodson followed his brother to Huntington where he hoped to attend the brand new secondary school for blacks, Douglass High School.

However, Woodson, forced to work as a coal miner, was able to devote only minimal time each year to his schooling. In 1895, the twenty-year-old Woodson finally entered Douglass High School full-time, and received his diploma in 1897. From 1897 to 1900, Woodson taught at Winona.

In 1900 he was selected as the principal of Douglass High School. He earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky in 1903 by taking classes part-time between 1901 and 1903. From 1903 to 1907, Woodson was a school supervisor in the Philippines.

Woodson later attended the University of Chicago where he was awarded an A.B. and A.M. in 1908.  He completed his PhD in history at Harvard in 1912, where he was the second African American, after W. E. B. DuBois, to earn a doctorate. His doctoral dissertation, The Disruption of Virginia, was based on research he did at the Library of Congress while teaching high school in Washington, D.C. After earning the doctoral degree, he continued teaching in public schools, later joining the faculty at Howard University as a professor, and served there as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Why Black History

Carter Woodson was an industrious scholar with a passion for the dignity of his people. He had already started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and began and edited a professional journal titled The Journal of Negro History to promote the study of black history. But Woodson needed to do more to get the “message” out, not only to blacks who needed their personhood affirmed but whites who happily denied it.

So Woodson began “Negro History Week” in 1926 and it has become “Black History Month.” February was chosen, by Woodson, because Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois were born in February and the 15th Amendment was passed in February. In February 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. It is surprising how many Republicans these days bemoan Black History Month when it was a Republican who officially recognized. Many times the party of Lincoln is only the party of Lincoln in name only.

White Americans tend to romanticize the 1920s as the “Roaring Twenties.” The age of the Flapper. The age of free spirits. The Golden Age of the Silent Movies. The Great Gatsby.

But that is just the politically correct version of American history of the Twenties. Nineteen-twenty six when Woodson began Black History Month was a violent era.

This was an era of intense racism, not only in the old South but across the United States. The Red Summer of 1919 when riots broke out across three dozen American cities killing hundreds of African Americans, frequently black soldiers who had come home from the War in Europe. It was the age of the Tulsa Riot of 1921 when hundreds of blacks were murdered and Black Wall Street was burned to the ground. It was the day of Rosewood in which an entire town was wiped off the map in Florida. The Ku Klux Klan proudly marched down the streets of Washington DC. Perhaps the “spirit of the age” was captured best by the raging success of the movie “Birth of a Nation” released in 1915 and was screened to the delight of Woodrow Wilson at the White House.

But it was also the age of the Harlem Renaissance. African Americans fought the stifling racism on the street, on the screen, and in the hearts and minds of Americans.

In that mix, Woodson created “Negro History Week” (i.e. Black History Month). If you can deny or erase a person’s history (=story) then you can deny or erase the personhood of the “other.” Black history was not taught, it was not acknowledged, because the personhood of blacks was denied and erased. Black History Month is a recognition of the humanity and dignity of the personhood of blacks in the United States.

When the chips are down, this is why Black History Month matters: It brings me (and us) face to face with the humanity of African Americans. Now as a Christian, and that is how I approach this, this simply means loving my neighbor as myself. I cannot love my neighbor if I do not know my neighbor.

An Act of Love

Black History Month is more than posting a photo of Martin Luther King Jr on Facebook. I want to encourage you to step purposefully, in the name of love, outside your ordinary walk for the purpose of learning and understanding. (See my blog article that makes the case that Black History Month provides a golden opportunity for Christians to obey the Law of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves: For the Love of Christ Compels Me: Seeking to Understand is Rooted in Love.)

The more we know another person’s story the more we appreciate who that person is. The same is with a group of people. And the whole is richer by recognizing the contribution of the parts … this is simply the application of Paul’s “body” metaphor of the church. A very biblical idea!

For More See:

You Sound Like a Racist, An Autobiographical Moment.

Learning & “Thinking” about “Race” as a Southern White Disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

You shall love your neighbor as your self

Seeking to understand your neighbor is a work of love. We will never seek to understand our neighbor if we do not love them.

Love is Hard Work.
Love is Hard Work.
Love is Hard Work.

Love is hard work, that is why it is the path least chosen. Love is required to make an effort to listen. Listening will never happen apart from the God gift poured into our hearts, the gift of love.

The New York Life Superbowl commercial was surprisingly good and right, Love takes Action.

One of the most frequent exhortations in the Bible is some variation of “having eyes to see and ears to hear.” Have you noticed this. Yahweh said them to Isaiah (6.9ff) and Jesus quoted them (Mt 13.14-16).

Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand
…” (Isaiah 6.9ff)

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes, but do not see,
who have ears, but do not hear
” (Jeremiah 5.21)

When the Bible speaks of “listen” the text does not mean simply hearing words, rather it means “understanding.” Listen till we get it. This is, of course, difficult. We like to think we have heard. We already “get it.” Thus some have taken umbrage with me (and I at them).

Listening is love. Listening requires work because love takes work. This is true with fathers with daughters; mothers with sons; husbands with wives; and most of all it is true of our enemy and our neighbor. Listening is hard because love is hard.

That brings me to Black History Month.

Black History Month is an exercise in loving my neighbor. Black History Month is an exercise is attempting to listen. It is digging the wax of my experience out of my ears, so that I can hear and putting the right lenses on so I can see. This is completely biblical. But it is hard work. This is why, as a Christian, the love of Christ must compel us.

I was listening to the rock band Disturbed’s rendition of “Sounds of Silence.” Have you ever paid attention to those words? The song was released in September 1965. What in the world was going on when Paul Simon wrote those words. Look at these words,

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,
‘The words of the prophets are written
on the subway walls
And tenement halls’
And whispered in the sounds of silence
” [end quote]

Just wow!
People do not listen.
They do not listen to each other.
Ears that do not hear.

What a powerful song. What a surprisingly biblical song. It is a modern Psalm.

The Civil Rights movement was in full, and bloody, swing in 1965. The “words of the prophets” are written on the subway walls. Wow. But we do not hear (=listen).

We need to listen to the biblical text till we “get it” (or it gets us). We need to listen to our Black and Hispanic friends (do you have any real ones) till we “get it.”

We need to do the work of love. This is, surprisingly, simply living the greatest comman: Love your neighbor as yourself. And do not tell me how much you love your wife, your husband, your daughter or your black or brown neighbor until you tell me how much you know about them. This is easy for those we want to love (wives, daughters, husbands, sons) but it is hard with others. But sometimes we do not do the work of love, the work of listening, even with our wives, husbands, sons and daughters.

Love takes action. What action will we take to enable us to listen? I want to encourage you to read (I offered a suggested reading list on Feb 1) and watch a few films (I suggested a few on Feb 1 in Black History Month Moment for that day).

Martin Luther King Jr said, from inside a Birmingham City jail,

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

Do we have ears to hear?? Do I?? What action of love will we take to gain insight and understanding (ears to hear and eyes to see) for the sake of loving our African American brothers and sisters. Let me recommend, indeed urge, reading one or more of the following books or watching the following films (or do both!). You can simply click on a title and purchase the item from Amazon (I make no money off this) today.

Suggested Books:
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption ($10 on Amazon!)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me ($13 on Amazon)
Candacy Taylor, Overground Railroad: The Green Book & Roots of Black Travel in America
Henry Louis Gates, Jr, The Classic Slave Narratives ($7 on Amazon)

Films:
Just Mercy (based on the book above)
Harriet
Selma
Hidden Figures
Malcolm X
Eyes on the Prize (PBS documentary)
African American: Many Rivers to Cross (PBS documentary)

Black History Month is our chance to focus on doing the work of love … Listening, learning, so we have ears to hear … to understand.

M. C. Kurfees (1856-1931)

Sectarianism is a horrid, ugly, sinful, thing. It is in the religious world what partisanship is in the political world. Every act of religious and political terrorism has been carried out with a clean conscience by a religious sectarian or a political partisan (many times these are in the same person).

Sectarianism/partisanism dwarf the soul by whitewashing our own gross shortcomings (and outright sins) while at the same time attributing nothing but lies and evil motives to the other. We hold all the truth but they hold none (even while they seemingly believe and hold many of the same values and beliefs).

One of the historic strengths of the Stone-Campbell Movement has been that we resist the notion that we have the corner labeled “Truth.” This is essential, in fact, for any notion of undenominational Christianity. Restoration is a quest not a destination.

However, this noble commitment to openness, to searching, and seeking has been difficult to maintain. So sectarianism has not infrequently raised its horrid head even in our midst … even as we decry “sectarianism.”

Religious terrorism has resulted from the growth of the acrid festering boil of sectarianism. Everyone is the enemy except ourselves (or “me”).

Everyone is blind and rebellious except for my own, seemingly, “sinless heart” (the very notion is unbelievable) even though “we” embrace some radically false doctrine (i.e. the indwelling and work of the Spirit, we have deniers of the Trinity, we have Preterism that has grown out of our semi-gnostic views of resurrection, racism, etc, etc).

Back in 1922, M. C. Kurfees published an article in the Gospel Advocate in which he recognized that other people were genuine believers and lovers of the Lord and his word and were Christians even though in a “denomination.” Kurfees stated that we “should endorse all the truth taught by the denominations and condemn all the error.” This, of course, is the classic Stone-Campbell position.

Sectarianism had grown to such an extent that some could not even recognize nondenominationalism when confronted with it. Kurfees was soundly rebuked in the pages of the Advocate. The critic told Kurfees “I think we have to condemn the whole business.”

Kurfees did not back down. “What a fearful statement” (my emphasis), he declared. He goes on and writes,

When I was a little boy, a denomination taught me that Jesus died on the cross to save the world; that he was buried; that he arose from the dead; that he ascended to heaven; and that he is the Savior of all who obey him. It taught me that I must obey him to be saved and that water baptism was one of his commandments …”

To condemn the “whole business” would mean condemning such powerful truths. What a fearful thing that only blind sectarianism could do. Instead of condemning we should recognize and celebrate every truth that is held. These, in fact, are the most important of all truths.

Kurfees confesses that while he came to believe that immersion “for the remission of sins,” but he could not, and did not, “condemn the whole business.”

Why? Because what he learned, as a boy, was in fact the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Kurfees, in true Stone-Campbell Movement fashion, did not arrogate all goodness and truth to himself, nor “us.” As my shepherd, Monroe Hawley, once noted, “the focus of our faith is Christ and not ourselves, Jesus not the church.”

The fact of the matter is, the “stuff” Kurfees claimed to have learned is what the apostle Paul calls “the gospel” and of “first importance.” How can anyone but the blind sectarian “condemn the whole business?” I am with Kurfees (though Kurfess and I would likely disagree on a few minor things)

Sectarianism and partisanship, in the end, produce cults. The problem with sectarianism and partisanship is that the circle of accepted people becomes smaller and smaller till, as Alexander Campbell noted, we become a church made up of only our self.

When it comes to sectarianism … I condemn the whole business. But I celebrate all the truth held by all seeking to follow the Lord Jesus. Just as I am also seeking to follow God’s truth.

(On Kurfees see, “Where Are the People of God?, Gospel Advocate [20 January, 1922], 67-68)

Shalom.

Baruch, ch. 3 in 1611 King James Version

Baruch, An Old Little Treasure

The little book of Baruch is one of the oldest books in the “Middle Testament” (my “term of endearment” for what Protestants call “the Apocrypha”) dating, according to many, as far back as before 300 BC. Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah are almost always together and attached to the Book of Jeremiah itself in the manuscript tradition. This is true in ancient Greek, Latin, Armenian, Ethiophic versions. This means Christians everywhere were reading this little treasure.

The Letter of Jeremiah was discovered in Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we do not know if it contained Baruch as the piece is not complete but in most manuscripts the two are together. Many Jews continued to value Baruch highly and used it in worship as it directs (cf. 1.3, 14). According to the fourth century A.D. Apostolic Constitutions, Jews read from Baruch (at least in Syria) on the Ninth of Ab. The text reads,

For even now, on the tenth day of the month Gorpiæus, when they [= Jews] assemble together, they read the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in which it is said, The Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord was taken in their destructions; [= Lamentations 4:20] and Baruch, in whom it is written, This is our God; no other shall be esteemed with Him. He found out every way of knowledge, and showed it to Jacob His son, and Israel His beloved. Afterwards He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men [=Baruch 3.35-37]. And when they read them, they lament and bewail, as themselves suppose, that desolation which happened by Nebuchadnezzar; but, as the truth shows, they unwillingly make a prelude to that lamentation which will overtake them. (Apostolic Constitutions 5.20, Gorpiæus is from the Macedonian calendar and corresponds to Ab).

Baruch was regarded as Scripture among many in the early church. Among the Fathers it was typically regarded, along with the Letter of Jeremiah, as part of the greater book of Jeremiah.

Discovering a Small Treasure

Baruch contains some wonderful passages. Both chapter 4 and 5 have been used in Eucharistic (communion) liturgies for many centuries in various Christian traditions. Though I had read through Baruch numerous times previously, it was in 2013 that I discovered “treasure” in Baruch. I had gone through an unexpected and painful divorce. I spent a week at Santa Rita Abbey in Kentucky Canyon not far from the Mexican border in AZ. Baruch was included with a Psalm reading. I talked with Sister Margarita after and asked where this passage was. She encouraged me to read 4.30-5.9 for the rest of the day. It was powerful. I had been rejected and humiliated like the lady in the text (Jerusalem) but the voice of God comes through with amazing comfort and promise of renewal, salvation and the return of joy.

Take courage, O Jerusalem,
for the one who named you
will comfort you
” (4.30)

For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness
that come from him
” (5.9)

I have since learned 4.30-5.9 was part of readings associated with the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper for many ancient Christians. On that day in the southern Arizona desert it was a powerful word of grace.

Baruch, Paul, and the Fathers

Baruch 3.29 shows up in Paul in Romans 10.7. Baruch 3.29 reads,

Who has gone up into heaven, and
taken her,
and brought her down from the clouds

New Testament scholar, Richard Hays calls this a “filtered citation of Deuteronomy.” Filtered through what? the wisdom traditions contained in Baruch and Sirach. Christ is the answer to the “who.”

Another passage that Church Fathers such as Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius and Tertullian quoted as Messianic and fulfilled in the Incarnation. It is in 3.35-37 (this text was cited also in the Apostolic Constitutions in the quote above).

This is our God;
no one can compare to him.
He found the whole way to knowledge,
and gave her to his servant Jacob and to
Israel, whom he loved.
Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind.

(Baruch 3.35-37).

Baruch, the Geneva Bible, 1560 edition

Discovering Great Treasure: Gracious Prayer

Chapter 2 contains a beautiful prayer of penitence, pleading with God for salvation. This is typical, honest, praying in Spirit and Truth. Prayer, someone has said, reveals our true doctrine of God. If that is true then what a wonderful doctrine Jesus, James, Mary, etc inherited with their Jewish ancestors. I will quote the whole.

And now, O Lord God of Israel, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and with signs and wonders and outstretched arm, and made yourself a name that continues to this day,

we have sinned,
we have been ungodly,
we have done wrong,
O Lord our God,
against all your ordinances
.

Let your anger turn away from us, for we who are left, are few in number among the nations where you have scattered us. Hear, O Lord, our prayer and our supplication, and for your own name sake deliver us, and grant us favor in the sight of those who have carried us into exile; so that all the earth may know that you are the Lord our God, for Israel and his descendants are called by your name.

O Lord look down from your holy dwelling, and consider us, Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord and see, for the dead are in Hades, whose spirit has been taken from their bodies, will not ascribe glory or justice to the Lord; but the person who is deeply grieved who walks bowed and feeble, with falling eyes and famished soul, will declare your glory and righteousness, O Lord.

For it is not because of any righteous deeds of our ancestors or our kings that we bring before you our prayer for mercy, O Lord our God.”
(Baruch 2.11-19)

The prayer ends with the forthright confession that,

we did not obey your voice … which you spoke by your servants the prophets.

The prayer is offered simply so the Lord God will show mercy. Neither we nor our ancestors are righteous. But God is full of “kindness and compassion” (an echo of Ex 34.6-7 in v.27).

For “your own sake delver us” is the plea. This is a plea for GRACE pure and simple.

If a person did not know any better, and read this prayer, they would think it was in the Book of Psalms. This is a Spiritual treasure. And it was quoted by the Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers, included in congregational worship to this day in churches across the Middle East and the ancient Mar Thoma Christians in India.

This prayer can and will feed your spirit. It cultivates humility before our God. It exudes no self righteous claim. It models what our own stance before God should be:

God is right.
We are wrong.
God is merciful.

We are grateful for his “kindness and compassion” given to us in spite of our sin. There is no conception here of salvation by precision obedience, earning standing before God by works of righteousness or any other such heresy. That God hears our prayer is an act of grace, of Steadfast love, we do not demand. But Israel is driven by powerful, trusting, faith in the God who will hear our prayer in mercy.

O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, the soul in anguish and the wearied spirit cry out to you. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned before you” (Bar 3.1-2).

Mercy, the Discovered Treasure

God is the God of all comfort. God is the God of all mercy. God is the One who disciplined but refuses to caste off. God hears our prayers even as we are “guilty as sin.” “This is our God; no other can be compared to him” (3.35). God is merciful in spite of our sin. What a treasure for me!

So the Gift of the Apocrypha here, is not only understanding the world in which Jesus was born. It literally feeds our souls. And we learn that God has never been without witness. God has worked, and continues to work, even in the anonymous author of Baruch … when we go around the museum in the renewed earth and find all the treasures that God has kept that were made by his people, I will not be surprised in the slightest to find Baruch on display. I may utter underneath my breath, “Well, I’ll be!”

Blessings

If you enjoyed this then you May Be Interested in …
Spiritual Treasures of the Old Testament Apocrypha

Words from The Prophets

Many Americans are stunned by how much of the USA was once part of Mexico. This map, remarkable as it is, still does not tell the whole story. This is only the territory surrendered after the US invasion in 1848. All of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming was also once part of Mexico. Mexico lost about 50% of its territory.

He [Yahweh] shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore
.”
(Isaiah 2.4)

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore

(Micah 4.3)

Crises of 1846-1848

It is a pity Campbell is hardly known by his spiritual descendants. He was a man of great vision and liberality. A child of his times in many ways (as we all are) but burst beyond them in astonishing ways. As huge supporter of education he even advocated education for women. He was one of the few to protest Andrew Jackson’s “barbaric” removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks and Seminoles from their lands in the southeast in what has become known as the “Trail of Tears.” As much as Campbell, a immigrant from northern Ireland, loved his adopted homeland, he did not live by the philosophy “my country right or wrong.” Loyalty to Christianity trumped allegiance to any human nation. But, like us all, Campbell had blind spots, some glaring.

He was also a man consumed with a biblical vision of God’s kingdom of peace. Sometimes he even took up a nearly prophetic mantle in its pursuit. He did this in 1848 in his Address on War. In 1846 the United States invaded Mexico. Alexander Campbell, with stunned alarm, viewed this invasion as nothing but naked American aggression and a thinly veiled land grab for the sake of expanding slavery. Campbell was appalled. He dared to sound “anti-American” in his opposition to the war.

So, Campbell addressed the Congress of the United States on the subject of war (and he delivered it in other places as well). It is a remarkable speech. He decried the war with Mexico. He decried war as an entity. He even called for the creation of an international court to arbitrate disputes among nations to avoid wars. “Why not have a by-law-established Umpire? … a Congress of Nations and a High Court of Nations for adjudicating … all international misunderstandings and complaints?”

Campell lamented how much money nations dedicate to the evils of war. You can read the entire text of Campbell’s Address on War (follow the link). Near the end of this (by today’s standards) long speech he waxes eloquently what he would do if he was given control of the money nations use to make war upon one another. I quote,

Give me the money that has been spent in wars, and I will clear up every acre of land in the world that ought to be cleared–drain every marsh–subdue every desert–fertilize every mountain and hill–and convert the whole earth into a continuous series of fruitful fields, verdant meadows, beautiful villas, hamlets, towns, cities, standing along smooth and comfortable highways and canals, or in the midst of luxuriant and fruitful orchards, vineyards and gardens, full of fruits and flowers, redolent with all that pleases the eye and regales the senses of man. I would found, furnish, and endow as many schools, academies and colleges, as would educate the whole human race, — would build meeting-houses, public halls, lyceums, and furnish them with libraries adequate to the wants of a thousand millions of human beings … [if such monies were used in literature, science and art] What would be wanting on the part of man to ‘make the wilderness and solitary place glad,’ and to cause ‘the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.”

A drone can cost 28 million dollars. That same drone can cost over 3,600+ dollars per hour to operate. That drone is armed with a Hellfire missile that cost 115,000 dollars (the meme to the right is out of date).

The money used on the planning, the carrying out, and paying for previous wars from a single year, could permanently change the world. Campbell found it remarkable that Christians do not hesitate in defending billions (and trillions) on the war machine but balk loudly at spending trifles by comparison on human development. But Campbell argued that spending money on human advancement is not only more cost effective but also more biblical. Campbell’s vision is breathtaking.

Given the fact that what was spent on war in 1848 was “peanuts” compared to today I can only imagine what Campbell would say. (For example the war in Iraq has cost the United States trillions of dollars. Study The Cost of the Iraq War: It’s Timeline and Economic Impact).

Sometimes our forefathers and mothers give us reason to stop, ponder and smell the roses of a better world.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Jesus the Nazarene).

James Shannon

Or how slavery and women’s equality are linked historically.

James Shannon (1799-1859) was one of the most educated men of the Stone-Campbell Movement prior to the Civil War. He served as president of the first college among in the Stone-Campbell Movement, Bacon College, and other institutions. He was recognized as a scholar as part of the American Bible Union and edited its critical edition of the Gospel of Luke.

However, Shannon utterly bought into the Southern way of life as the ideal human society. He would become a vocal and passionate defender of slavery. In 1849, he delivered a speech, then published it, “The Philosophy of Slavery as Identified with the Philosophy of Human Happiness, An Essay.” He won lots of kudos for this essay. He would go on and debate John C. Young, himself a slave holder who believed in “gradual emancipation” (and did emancipate some of his slaves). Shannon rejected the notion of even gradual emancipation because people of color were ordained by God to be slaves.

Against the backdrop of the “Bleeding of Kansas” (where the Civil War began long before Ft. Sumter) he addressed the Missouri Pro-Slavery Convention in 1855. His An Address … On Domestic Slavery amounted to a declaration of war on abolitionists for trying to “steal our property.”

a persistent violation of that right [to own slaves], even by government, is as villainous as highway robbery; and when peaceable modes of redress are exhausted, IS A JUST CAUSE OF WAR BETWEEN SEPARATE STATES, AND OF REVOLUTION IN THE SAME STATE.” (emphasis in original).

Those who dream the Civil War was not about slavery live in delusion.

Shannon argued that God instituted “various grades of bondage.” It will probably offend a lot of white women today to know that men of that day made no bones about women also being in “bondage” to men. Shannon appeals to women’s subjugation to justify, and explain, black subjugation through slavery to whites.

Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and, more importantly, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth, realized the link between race and gender in the fight for justice in the United States. Garrison, Douglass and Truth promoted women’s equality while fighting for abolition of slavery for blacks.

This riled up white men in many ways. Many do not realize the deep roots of the Suffrage Movement in the Abolition Movement. This movement for women’s right to vote was, according to Shannon, certain symptoms of “politico-religious fanaticism and infidelity of the age” that if left unchecked results in “anarchy” and “speedily overthrow our liberties.” He continues,

The attempt, which is being made in these United States, to elevate the wife to a POLITICAL EQUALITY with her husband [i.e. the right to vote, right to divorce, right to property, etc], or to change in any respect the relation established between them by God himself is rank infidelity, no matter what specious disguise it may assume; and it cannot fail to be replete with mischief to both parties, and to the best interest of the family, the State, and the Church. For the PUNISHMENT, then, as well as for the CURE of her sin, she was put in bondage to her husband. And though infidel fanaticism may blaspheme, enlightened Christian philanthropy will always say amen.” [emphasis in original].

Women are in “bondage” to men. For Shannon it was the crystal clear. The man, a father or husband, has complete control by the design of God over women. Shannon moves from the wife bondage, slavery, to black slavery for the next twenty-eight pages or so.

Today the same passages folks hijack, out of both historical context and literary context, to claim women can do nothing are the same ones used in previous generations to say a woman was held in bondage, slavery, to her husband, could not vote, could not do anything without permission … she could even be physically abused.

It is no accident that Shannon and men generally equated racial equality and gender equality. Both are human slavery. If you can enslave the “image of God” based on sex organs then you can enslave the “image of God” based on color too.

What makes the example of Shannon so tragic is that 150 years later … so many Christians are still such horrific readers of Scripture. Race and Gender are still linked … we are equal images of God or we are nothing.

While many today would balk – and distance themselves – at Shannon’s honest forthrightness, the views of many are not substantively different today.

The great images of the Messianic age in Scripture show a return to and glorification of the Adamic state of humanity. The Adam was not exclusively “male” but both “male and female” (Gen 1.27-28) and equally servant rulers of God’s creation (Gen 1.28). Dominion, ruling in God’s stead, is given to both male and female, not to the male alone.

The Adam is all humanity; male and female; white, black and all shades in between. The Adam is not merely the guys or even the white guys. Joel (2.28), Peter (Acts 2.16-18) and Paul (1 Cor 12.13; Gal 3.28) all indicate that when the Fall is undone then the degradation of images of God will cease. That “new creation” has already begun through the Messiah and is a present reality through his People. For we are “new creation” which means there is no white and black but it also means there is no male nor female that is the basis of relationship and service to God.

We need to learn the lesson of horrific exegesis from our ancestors.

Seeking Shalom.

I realize, before I post this, that some will be troubled by it. Yet it is the truth as I understand it. My thoughts are not new and have shared them before. It is possible to hold biblical truth as we understand it yet do so in nonbiblical and sectarian ways, this seems especially true on the doctrine of baptism. Baptism is the victim of both neglect and zeal without knowledge.

I Believe Baptism is GOD’s Work

I believe the Great Commission: Preach, Make disciples, Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. I believe in Matthew 28.19, Acts 2.38; Romans 6, Colossians 2 and 1 Peter 3.21.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28.19)

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.38)

all of us who have been baptized int Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6.3-4)

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3.21)

These are wonderful and great texts in the New Testament. They, and other texts, many of us had memorized before we even knew John 3.16 or Psalm 23. We believe every one of them.

I celebrate the fact that the wider Christian world is rediscovering the beauty of baptism. (Some never lost it). May we also continue to grow in a healthy and robust doctrine of baptism. We need to stress the wonderful grace centered biblical doctrine of baptism, for a positive exposition of baptism as I understand it see my Baptism: Work of God, Dripping in Grace.

The great baptismal hymn of Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson captures well this part of our blog.

Come, Holy Spirit Dove divine, On these baptismal waters shine,
And teach our hearts, in highest strain, To praise the Lamb
for sinners slain …

“We sink beneath Thy Mystic flood, And thank Thee for they saving grace;
We die to sin and seek a grave With The, beneath the yielding wave

(Songs of Faith and Praise, #427, vv. 1 & 3)

Alexander Campbell celebrated the great work of Judson in India and Burma. No reason we cannot too.

Avoiding the Human Centered Sectarian Trap

Sometimes we react to the (seeming) trivialization of the sacraments in (especially) American Evangelical churches by going to the other extreme. One of the great gifts of the Stone-Campbell Movement has been pointing to the significance of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. We must stay grounded in healthy biblical theology by reminding ourselves that

Christ is the Savior, Baptism is not.
Christ is the Judge, Baptism is not.

But, sometimes, when I read brethren and sisters, I think we have come to view baptism like some ancient Israelites did Moses’s bronze serpent (Num 21) that became an idol that needed to be destroyed (2 Kgs 18). It seems to me that some of us in Churches of Christ make baptism their whole canon (with instrumental music possibly in there). Baptism is everything, that is it is exalted above every Christian duty. K. C. Moser even quipped,

I have long noticed that most any position is tolerated just so it appears to exalt baptism, even at the expense of faith or the blood of Christ.”

So recently, I had a brief discussion about baptism that highlighted this very sectarian tendency. I was accused of not believing in baptism because I will not declare that Martin Luther, John Newton and millions of others who have served the Lord sacrificially but were baptized as infants were automatically condemned to hell. According to this brother, if I admit that God is merciful – this is not an opinion but fact – then I deny baptism altogether. In his position baptism is the savior rather than Christ, in his position baptism is the judge rather than Christ. This is actually false doctrine even has he was attempting to protect baptism.

Mercy, Not Sacrifice: Who is a God like You?

I confess that I not only believe such servants of the Lord are in fact part of the new creation, but that I pray that is the case. These disciples are not Hindus, Muslims and witch doctors. It was suggested I “need to study the Bible more.”

I agree we all need to study our Bible more. And it is because I have spent years studying the Bible, that I am troubled by this position not only on baptism but more importantly on the doctrine of God and Christ that support it.

So let me pose some questions that give me cause for pause. When we do we will find out that God “delights” in mercy. What does the Bible mean when it says God “Who is a God like you, who Delights in showing mercy” (Micah 6.18)?

What does it mean when God claims to “forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin“? (Ex 34.6; Joel 2.13; Num 14.17f; Pss 86.15; 148.8; etc).

It was Jesus who chastised some pretty sophisticated Bible students with these words, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath” (Mt 12.7-8, citing Hosea 6.6 which Jesus also quotes in Matthew 9.13)

If such people like Augustine, Luther, William Tyndale, John Newton, C. S. Lewis, and millions more are automatically lost, in spite of a lifetime of sacrificial service to the Lord because they were poured on rather than immersed, this is hard to reconcile with the claim God “delights in mercy.” It is not out of line with the pagan deity Zeus however!

So when we say “who is a God like you?” the answer is none because our God “delights in mercy!” Are we like the Pharisees who need to “go learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice?‘” (Mt 9.13, citing Hosea 6.6).

Do we have the courage of Hezekiah to pray for those who were technically wrong (and it was not even a mistake but deliberate!) about the technical details … read 2 Chronicles 30, not once, not twice, but three times. All 27 verses. Underline everything from v.16 to v.20.

Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests splashed against the altar the blood handed to them by the Levites. Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the Lord. Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

If this is not mercy over sacrifice then nothing is. Here the Holy Spirit is teaching us what mercy means. Hezekiah’s prayer is rooted in his faith that Yahweh is a certain kind of God, one who delights in mercy. That is the basis of his intercession. Is not the story of Hezekiah written for our learning (Rom 15.4)? What do we learn from it? Is it not something that is good for doctrine and makes us wise unto salvation (2 Tim 3.15-17)? What doctrine does it proclaim for our salvation?

It blows me away to, absolutely, insist that those heroes that gave us our Bible itself … Caedmon, Alfred, John Wycliff … men who loved the Lord with all of their heart, soul, strength and mind – like William Tyndale – who gave the ultimate sacrifice to the Lord. Tyndale was burned at the stake — and we are going to insist that these men who sacrificed everything they had to share God’s word (and we ourselves would not have it, if not for them) but they are no better than a pagan witch doctor to us? None of them were immersed. But they all thought they had been baptized!

Christ the Savior, Christ the Judge

But Jesus himself said “not greater love has any man than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15.13). These disciples (and many more) certainly have more love for Christ than many a sectarian, who is technically correct on baptism.

The Jesus who is the Savior prayed for those who hung him on the cross, “Father forgiven them,” … are we going to believe that Jesus the Judge is going to look at these people and on the day of judgment not stand up for them before the God of Steadfast Love??

Is failing to be dipped a bigger crime than crucifying the Son of Man?

Again what does it mean to “delight in mercy” (Micah 7.18-20)? I find it interesting that Jonah certainly had no doubt that Yahweh would forgive, at the drop of a hat, even the pagan Assyrians … Notice his words, carefully, in Jonah 4.1-2 … God “is gracious, merciful, full of steadfast love and relents from punishment.” Jonah, like Hezekiah, knew what kind of God our God is. G. C. Brewer once lamented, and for years I simply did not know enough of Bible to grasp how truthful he was, “we sing a better gospel than we preach.”

To admit that God has reserved judgment for Christ, the One who died for the ungodly enemies (Rom 5.1-11), and that William Tyndale and John Newton will be saved in the end … in no way minimizes the reality of faith in Christ and being baptized in his name. It simply recognizes the biblical truth that God has a long record of forgiving people that God’s people would not because he delights in mercy.

And He ordered us to preach to the people and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10.42)

He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness/ through a Man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.31)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ …” (2 Cor 5.10)

Jesus is the Judge. The Judge is not even God the Father. Jesus has been appointed by the Father to that role.

The Judge is the One who died, the One who shed his blood, the One who said “Father forgive them.”

I simply do not believe that that Jesus will look at a person who has loved him in everything, worshiped him, served him, many have even died for him but failed to understand a technical point on getting wet will be treated as if they are a rebellious rejecter of God. I think of those 45 disciples who were slaughtered in Alexandria, Egypt in 2017 refusing to deny Christ, yet not one had been immersed.

An old time preacher named Basil the Great commented on baptism and those who died without it but died in the service of Christ. It is insightful and I agree with it.

There have been some who in their championship of true baptism have undergone death for Christ’s sake, not in mere similitude, but in actual fact, and so have none of the outward signs of water for their salvation, because they were baptized in their own blood. Thus I write not to disparage the baptism by water, but to overthrow the arguments of those who exalt themselves against the Spirit.” (quoted in Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 591)

Our “Fathers” Understood Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Alexander Campbell met Nathan Rice from November 15 to December 1, 1843 in an epic debate. Campbell certainly did not back away from his understanding of biblical baptism. He also did not divorce it from biblical theology. He said, seemingly anticipating a myriad of bad Facebook memes and posts,

according to our teaching, there is no one required to be baptized where baptism cannot be had. Baptism, where there is no faith, no water, no person to administer, was never demanded as an indispensable condition of salvation, by Him who has always enjoyed upon man ‘mercy, rather than sacrifice.‘” (Campbell-Rice Debate, pp. 519-520)

This is a deeply embedded biblical principle in Campbell. Campbell himself had been baptized as an infant and knew that he loved the Lord, worshiped the Lord, served the Lord and even had fellowship with the Lord for a good portion of his life before he came to believe that adult immersion was the proper biblical practice. So he wrote in what has become known as “The Lunenberg Letter,”

I cannot, therefore make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of the father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy … as aliens from Christ and the well grounded hope of heaven … Should I find a Pedobaptist more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians. Still I will be asked, How do I know that any loves my Master but by his obedience to his commandments? I answer, In no other way. But mark, I do not substitute obedience to one commandment, for universal or even general obedience. And should I see a sectarian Baptist or a Pedobaptist more spiritually minded, more generally conformed to the requisitions of the Messiah, than one who precisely acquiesces with me in the theory or practice of immersion as I teach, doubtless the former rather than the latter, would have my cordial approbation and love as a Christian. So I judge and so feel. It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves; and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known.” (Alexander Campbell, “Any Christians among the Protestant Parties,” Millennial Harbinger 8 [September 1837], 412)

These words by Campbell are not cited to give him biblical authority. They are cited because they demonstrate understanding of biblical theology and nonsectarian Christianity. For a deeper look on Campbell’s baptismal journey see Alexander Campbell, Rebaptism & Sectarianism.

Conclusion

I believe and teach baptism as much as anyone (its in books with my name, there are articles on my blog, there are sermons, I’ve baptized many over the years). I will continue to do so. But when we make baptism an idol we gut the biblical witness and loose any credibility when we paganize those whose faith dwarfs our own.

I love baptism. It is God’s work. But I know that as Jesus said that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” that that same principle applies to baptism. Sectarian positions on baptism are powerful obstacles that often hinder presenting the biblical and historic Christian teaching on baptism.

Baptism serves faith; faith does not serve baptism.

We have faith in Christ our faith is not in baptism nor any other thing we may treasure and hold dear. We honor baptism by kneeling before Jesus’s cross … “nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.”

Christ is the Savior. Baptism is not.
Christ is the Judge. Baptism is not.

Paul, quoting the Lord God himself, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9.15; Exodus 33.19)

That settles it. For me. God is Merciful and does not ask my permission.

I already know some will go say I do not believe in baptism.