Dylann Roof

I wrote this five years ago, on June 23, 2015, after Dylann Roof massacred black Christians as they prayed. I find it as relevant, and perhaps more so, than I did when I wrote it. We are in the exact same place on most of the matters in this post.

The massacre of nine black Christians in worship, at Emanuel AME Church, by the white terrorist Dylann Roof, has been on my mind. Roof, according to his own testimony, chose that church because of its symbolic history and value. Since then there has been continued debate over history, our attachment to a certain heritage and being part of God’s New Creation.

One side, that I strongly disagree with, has again started the old myth that the Civil War was not really about slavery, therefore “the flag” is not about slavery or racism. Some, frankly, do not care what the historical record actually says.

But South Carolina waxes eloquently in her Declaration of Secession on Dec 24, 1860, on Southern grievances regarding the North on the matter of slavery (all mentioned explicitly). These grievances had been building for some time. The Declaration states point blank,

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common government … A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of the President of the United States who opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

After the laundry list of perceived attacks upon slavery South Carolina moved to withdraw from the Union.

There is no way, on God’s green earth, as my mom used to say, any one can read SC’s Declaration, or any of the other States, that followed and not know that slavery was the engine driving conflict and the rock that broke it all.

But what about that 25 years stuff South Carolina mentioned …? In reality slavery was a bone of contention from 1776 to the framing of the Constitution to the “Gag Rule” enforced by slave states in the 1830s.

There was never a time when slavery was not the cause of violence, oppression, sectional strife, constant threats of secession, and slave revolts in the US prior to the Civil War. But in that 25 year period, if you read American history with any attention to detail from 1830ish to 1861 you see the “irrepressible conflict” in America. Look at these events.

1820: Missouri Compromise demonstrates early the death grip of slavery on the USA

1822: Denmark Vesey, free black man and founder of what is now Emanuel AME Church (that Roof attacked) organized a slave revolt. He was “outed” and hung with 35 slaves.

1829: David Walker, free black man, published Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Powerful work. Influenced William Loyd Garrison. South reacted by regulating the press and distribution of books and literature (so much for the free press).

1831: William Loyd Garrison begins publication of The Liberator (which was promptly banned in Southern states)

1831: Nat Turner, slave and preacher in Virginia, leads a revolution. Turner is captured and killed. The revolt was like an earthquake in the South. He was hanged, flayed and beheaded as an example to everyone especially slaves.

1832: Thomas Drew published Review of a Debate. This was a huge influence on the necessity of maintaining slavery in the South.

1833: American Anti-Slavery Society forms

1833 British Empire outlaws slavery

1834: college students at Lane Seminary revolt over the issue of slavery

1836: Gag Rule in Congress

1837: South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun (one of the most influential politicians in the US) insists that “Abolition and Union cannot coexist”

1837: Elijah Lovejoy, newspaper publisher and abolitionist, is murdered defending his press against mob violence in Alton, Illinois. Sends shock waves rippled thru the nation on both sides. People are willing to kill white people on this matter. A young Abraham Lincoln is stirred to the quick.

1837: Presbyterians split in the first north vs south denominational conflict over slavery

1830s: The Underground Railroad begins as Christians engage in civil disobedience led by Harriet Tubman. This is a major thorn in the side of the South.

1839: Amistad Supreme Court case argued by John Quincy Adams to the dismay of slave holders.

1840: the founding of the Liberty Party with an anti-slavery platform

1843: Southern Baptists split on the rock of slavery and form a separate convention

1845: Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative

1845: The US annexes Texas as a slave state

1845: Methodist church splits on slavery. Southerners from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South

1848: War with Mexico over Texas

1850: Fugitive Slave Law & Compromise of 1850 (this was a hugely controversial law that forced Northerners to participate in Slavery).

1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that began the war as Lincoln opined. The book is banned and burned in the South.

1854: Kansas-Nebraska Act

1855-6: the “bleeding of Kansas.” Attack upon Lawrence and John Brown leads attack against proslavery settlers in Pottawatomi. The Civil War is on before the secession of South Carolina.

1855: James Shannon, a Disciples preacher, addresses the Missouri Pro-Slavery Convention, proclaims that his right to own a black person is not only worth dividing the Union over but going to war over.

1857: Dred Scott Decision seals the deal on the inevitable war.

1858: Lincoln-Douglas debates (if you have never read them do so because they lay to rest the myth that Lincoln somehow was not against slavery)

1859: Raid on Harpers Ferry and the hanging of John Brown.

1860: election of Abraham Lincoln and secession of South Carolina before Lincoln takes office.

1861: Other states join South Carolina in secession. Ratification of Constitution of the Confederacy guarantees the right to own slaves and white supremacy. Alexander Stevenson, VP of the CSA, delivers the Cornerstone Speech, the Southern government is founded upon the principle that men are not created equal and that Negros are by design inferior to whites. Confederacy starts war by firing the Star of the West on January 9, 1861 and then on Ft Sumter on April 12, 1861.

These are just the bare bones of those twenty-five years of agitation the Confederates mention in their grievances against the United States. Had there been no slavery the War would never have have happened. The participants knew this as they were doing it. They were willing to fight to the death on this supposed right to own a black human being.

I love Civil War history like many people. But there was a side that was right and there was a side that was wrong.

I am glad that the Nazis lost.
I am glad the Confederacy lost.

With 150 years of hindsight we should be able to say without equivocation that the Confederacy, its reason for secession, its reason for existence, its constitution, its symbols belong to a time long ago and should be left in the history books, the museums and not romanticized and held up as something “good.” They are not “good.”

Slavery, based upon white supremacy, was the issue driving every other issue.

I thank God it was defeated. The flags of the Confederacy are genetically connected to the values, aspirations and aims of the the explicit and stated purposes of the Confederates States of America as surely as the Swastika and Hammer and Sickle are inseparable from the governments they represented.

They do not represent my values, nor what I understand the Bible’s values to be, in any fashion. To say that all men are created equal is our corner stone is true. But the corner stone of the CSA is the denial of that proposition in explicit and express words.

The Confederate States were founded upon the confession that all men are NOT created equal. Alexander Stephen, the Vice President of the CSA, explicitly stated that black inferiority and slavery was the “Cornerstone” of the Confederacy. The flag is the visualization of the dreams of Jefferson Davis, William H. Thompson, and all the Secessionists.

I am so proud of how God’s People are coming together in South Carolina today. It is my hope and my prayer that all God’s people will do what it takes to move forward.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) Father of Southern Secessionist Doctrine

1850. More than Ten Years before Abraham Lincoln was elected, John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was not only at the end of his long political career but his life. He was regarded as one of the greatest of Southern statesman of the day from South Carolina. He had served as congressman, Senator and Vice President of the USA. He was a leading architect for the notion that the South had the right to secession to protect its white supremacist “way of life.” In 1837 he had proclaimed slavery as a “positive good” (a fundamental tenant of the religion of the Lost Cause. Follow the link to read Calhoun’s “Positive Good.”)

Calhoun’s last speech read to the Senate by James Mason because he was to frail to do it himself was on the “The Cause by Which the Union is Endangered” was delivered on March 4, 1850. Calhoun had already proclaimed as early as 1838 that “Abolition and Union” cannot co-exist. Again, for those that vainly imagine that slavery was not the primary issue of issues are simply wrong. Calhoun briefly mentions the “South” being excluded from certain territory and tax distribution. The former the South was not actually excluded rather slavery was banned from expanding into certain territory. And the taxes were mingled with the slavery issue as well (the north had more people than the south). I will quote from Calhoun and he will tell us just what the danger to the Union was … ELEVEN YEARS BEFORE ABRAHAM LINCOLN was elected.

A Navy submarine was named for this man. Statues are dedicated to him. Thankfully on June 24, 2020, South Carolina took down his idol in Charleston. See Charleston Removes a Statue of Slavery Defender and Former Vice-President John C. Calhoun. 1850 would see the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the “Compromise of 1850” which forced citizens of non-slave holding states to engage in slavery.

John C. Calhoun was never a person that should have been honored with a statue in the first place, he was so honored because he was the embodiment of the racist ideals of the society he represented. Some historians have called him “the man who started the Civil War.” He was willing to go to war for the “right” to own a human being … but Calhoun did not believe African Americans were created in the image of God.

“John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina to the U.S. Senate, March 4, 1850: THE CAUSES BY WHICH THE UNION IS ENDANGERED”

“I have, Senators, believed from the first that the agitation of the subject of slavery would, if not prevented by some timely and effective measure, end in disunion. Entertaining this opinion, I have, on all proper occasions, endeavored to call the attention of both the two great parties which divide the country to adopt some measure to prevent so great a disaster, but without success. The agitation has been permitted to proceed, with almost no attempt to resist it, until it has reached a point when it can no longer be disguised or denied that the Union is in danger. You have thus had forced upon you the greatest and the gravest question that can ever come under your consideration — How can the Union be preserved? To give a satisfactory answer to this mighty question, it is indispensable to have an accurate and thorough knowledge of the nature and the character of the cause by which the Union is endangered. Without such knowledge it is impossible to pronounce, with any certainty, by what measure it can be saved; just as it would be impossible for a physician to pronounce, in the case of some dangerous disease, with any certainty, by what remedy the patient could be saved, without similar knowledge of the nature and character of the cause which produced it. The first question, then, presented for consideration, in the investigation I propose to make, in order to obtain such knowledge, is — What is it that has endangered the Union?

Calhoun’s statue coming down

“To this question there can be but one answer, — that the immediate cause is the almost universal discontent which pervades all the States composing the Southern section of the Union. This widely-extended discontent is not of recent origin. It commenced with the agitation of the slavery question, and has been increasing ever since. The next question, going one step further back, is — What has caused this widely diffused and almost universal discontent?

“It is a great mistake to suppose, as it is by some, that it originated with demagogues, who excited the discontent with the intention of aiding their personal advancement, or with the disappointed ambition of certain politicians, who resorted to it as the means of retrieving their fortunes. On the contrary, all the great political influences of the section were arrayed against excitement, and exerted to the utmost to keep the people quiet The great mass of the people of the South were divided, as in the other section, into Whigs and Democrats. The leaders and the presses of both parties in the South were very solicitous to prevent excitement and to preserve quiet; because it was seen that the effects of the former would necessarily tend to weaken, if not destroy, the political ties which united them with their respective parties in the other section. Those who know the strength of party ties will readily appreciate the immense force which this cause exerted against agitation, and in favor of preserving quiet. But, great as it was, it was not sufficient to prevent the wide-spread discontent which now pervades the section. No; some cause, far deeper and more powerful than the one supposed, must exist, to account for discontent so wide and deep. The question then recurs — What is the cause of this discontent? It will be found in the belief of the people of the Southern States, as prevalent as the discontent itself, that they cannot remain, as things now are, consistently with honor and safety, in the Union. The next question to be considered is — What has caused this belief? One of the causes is, undoubtedly, to be traced to the long-continued agitation of the slave question on the part of the North, and the many aggression’s which they have made on the rights of the South during the time …

Remini’s fine study of Henry Clay’s desperate attempt to save the Union in 1850

“The first of the series of acts by which the South was deprived of its due share of the territories, originated with the confederacy which preceded the existence of this Government. It is to be found in the provision of the ordinance of 1787. Its effect was to exclude the South entirely from that vast and fertile region which lies between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, now embracing five States and one territory. The next of the series is the Missouri compromise, which excluded the South from that large portion of Louisiana which lies north of 36” 30′, excepting what is included in the State of Missouri. The last of the series excluded the South from the whole of the Oregon Territory. All these, in the slang of the day, were what are called slave territories, and not free soil; that is, territories belonging to slave holding powers and open to the emigration of masters with their slaves. By these several acts, the South was excluded from 1,238,025 square miles – an extent of country considerably exceeding the entire valley of the Mississippi …

“As, then, the North has the absolute control over the Government, it is manifest, that on all questions between it and the South, where there is a diversity of interests, the interest of the latter will be sacrificed to the former, however oppressive the effects may be; as the South possesses no means by which it can resist, through the action of the Government. But if there was no question of vital importance to the South, in reference to which there was a diversity of views between the two sections, this state of things might be endured, without the hoard of destruction to the South. But such is not the fact. There is a question of vital importance to the Southern section, in reference to which the views and feelings of the two sections are as opposite and hostile as they can possibly be.

I refer to the relation between the races in the Southern Section, which constitutes a vital portion of her social organization. Every portion of the North entertains views and feelings more or less hostile to it. Those most opposed and hostile, regard it as a sin, and consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy it. Indeed, to the extent that they conceive they have power; they regard themselves as implicated in the sin, and responsible for not suppressing it by the use of all and every means. Those less opposed and hostile, regard it as a crime – an offence against humanity, as they call it; and, although not so fanatical, feel themselves bound to use all efforts to effect the same object; while those who are least opposed and hostile, regard it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the Nation, and feel themselves accordingly bound to give it no countenance or support. On the contrary, the Southern situation regards the relation as one which cannot be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity, and the section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness; and accordingly they feel bound, by every consideration of interest and safety, to defend it.

The “Slave Power”

This hostile feeling on the part of the North towards the social organization of South long lay dormant, but it only required some cause to act on those who felt most intensely that they were responsible for its continuance, to call it into action. The increasing power of this Government, and of the control of the Northern section over all its departments furnished the cause. It was this which made an impression on the minds of many, that there was little or no restraint to prevent the Government from doing whatever it might choose to do. This was sufficient of itself to put the most fanatical portion of the North in action, for the purpose of destroying the existing relation between the two races in the South.

The first organized movement towards it commenced in 1835. Then, for the first time, societies were organized, presses established, lecturers sent forth to excite the people of the North, and incendiary publications scattered over the whole South, through the mail. The South was thoroughly aroused. Meetings were held everywhere, and resolutions adopted, calling upon the North to apply a remedy to arrest the threatened evil, and pledging themselves to adopt measures for their own protection, if it was not arrested. At the meeting of Congress, petitions poured in from the North, calling upon Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and to prohibit, what they called, the internal slave trade between the States – announcing at the same time, that their ultimate object was to abolish slavery, not only in the District, but in the States and throughout the Union. At this period, the number engaged in the agitation was small, and possessed little or no personal influence …

“As for myself, I believed at that early period, if the party who got up the petitions should succeed in getting Congress to take jurisdiction, that agitation would follow, and that it would in the end, if not arrested, destroy the Union. I then so expressed myself in debate, and called upon both parties to take grounds against assuming jurisdiction; but in vain. Had my voice been heeded, and had Congress refused to take jurisdiction, by the united votes of all parties, the agitation which followed would have been prevented, and the fanatical zeal that gives impulse to the agitation, and which has brought us to our present perilous condition, would have become extinguished, from the want of fuel to feed the flame. That was the time for the North to have shown her devotion to the Union; but, unfortunately, both of the great parties of that section were so intent on obtaining or retaining party ascendancy, that all other considerations were overlooked or forgotten.

Calhoun detested the Abolition Movement. He did not believe in freedom of speech. His vitriolic denunciations of the movement against slavery – agitators – sounds strangely contemporary.

“What has since followed are but natural consequences. With the success of their first movement, this small fanatical party began to acquire strength; and with that, to become an object of courtship to both the great parties. The necessary consequence was, a further increase of power, and a gradual tainting of the opinions of both of the other parties with their doctrines, until the infection has extended over both; and the great mass of the population of the North, who, whatever may be their opinion of the original abolition party, which still preserves its distinctive organization, hardly ever fail, when it comes to acting, to co-operate in carrying out their measures. With the increase of their influence, they extended the sphere of their action. In a short time after the commencement of their first movement, they had acquired sufficient influence to induce the legislatures of most of the Northern States to pass acts, which in effect abrogated the clause of the constitution that provides for the delivery up of fugitive slaves. Not long after, petitions followed to abolish slavery in forts, magazines, and dock-yards, and all other places where Congress had exclusive power of legislation This was followed by petitions and resolutions of legislatures of the Northern States, and popular meetings, to exclude the Southern States from all territories. acquired, or to be acquired, and to prevent the admission of any State hereafter into the Union, which, by its constitution does not prohibit slavery. And Congress is invoked to do all this, expressly with the view to the final abolition of slavery in the States. That has been avowed to be the ultimate object from the beginning of the agitation until the present time; and yet the great body of both parties of the North, with the full knowledge of the fact, although disavowing the abolitionists, have cooperated with them in almost all their measures. Such is a brief history of the agitation, as far as it has yet advanced.

“It is a great mistake to suppose that disunion can be effected by a single blow. The cords which bound these States together in one common Union, are far too numerous and powerful for that. Disunion must be the work of time. It is only through a long process, and successively, that the cords can be snapped, until the whole fabric falls asunder. Already the agitation of the slavery question has snapped some of the most important, and has greatly weakened all the others, as I shall proceed to show. … [Calhoun reviews how slavery has divided “ecclesiastical” bodies already and this is a harbinger of things to come] …

“If the agitation goes on, the same force, acting with increased intensity, as has been shown, will finally snap every cord, when nothing will be left to hold the States together except force. But, surely, that can, with no propriety of language, be called a Union, when the only means by which the weaker is held connected with the stronger portion is force. It may, indeed, keep them connected; but the connection will partake much more of the character of subjugation, on the part of the weaker to the stronger, than the union of free, independent, and sovereign States, in one confederation, as they stood in the early stages of the Government, and which only is worthy of the sacred name of Union.”

End of Speech.

John C. Calhoun, Congressman, Senator, Vice President from South Carolina in his last speech to the Senate on March 4, 1850. His thoughts are are crystal clear. And incapable of being misunderstood. Again this is eleven years before Abraham Lincoln (who wasn’t even in Congress in 1850), eleven years before Calhoun’s speech became reality in the bloody Civil War.

Over the years I have learned the value of listening to critics. Of finding someone who has a significantly different point of view than me.

I do not enjoy it, I confess.

I do not always agree with these people. But I can truthfully say I have had significant areas of my life that I was blind to opened up by those who challenge my own beliefs.

For example, I have learned a great deal about “Christianity,” and Jesus himself, from several Jews. In fact I have, at times, had to revise my own view(s) as a result of such encounters. I learned about the content and the serious matter of living “Christianly.”

When I have talked to nonbelievers, I have even learned how Christianity often “comes across” to others … and not in good ways. To use a very personal example, I never understood how unloving, ungracious and simply unChristian we sound toward the divorced until I went through it myself. Suddenly I was painfully aware of just how unlike Jesus much of the stuff we have said actually is. This learning process is Spiritual growth.

I recall the first time I encountered members of the “Nation of Islam” in the city of New Orleans many years ago. I did not know anything about it honestly. All I knew was the word “Islam” was attached to it.

I had no clue who Malcolm X was (I barely knew who Martin Luther King Jr was at the time!). I did not understand. But I knew he was a “Muslim” and so that was inherently bad. In the congregation I preached for, and from some of the brothers in the “inner city,” I learned some could speak favorably about Malcolm. I was extremely confused. I did some superficial investigation and my worst fears were confirmed. I just thought, Malcolm X how could anyone be a fan (much less a Christian). As I said, I honestly knew nothing about Malcolm except that he was called Malcolm X.

A few years later, I read Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice’s book, More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel in 1998. In that book, Spencer relates how his minister father, John Perkins, had been beaten and nearly killed by the police in Brandon, Mississippi. Spencer was only 16 at the time. He testified how angry he got with his father who was having a “crises in his faith. Frankly, I hoped he would conclude that the gospel and Christianity were for white folks. I hoped he would finally see the light and agree with Malcolm X” (p. 43).

There was that name.

So in 1998, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. Suddenly, I was in a world in which I was an alien. I confess Malcolm made me mad more than once. Not as mad as James Cone did however when I first read him. But I was mad and convicted at the same time.

Malcolm convinced me that, most of the time, I had no clue what I was talking about. But I thought I did. He gave me a window, a narrative, a life that allowed me to see, literally in black and white, how radically different America has been for people different than me.

Not just America, but Christianity. I have since come to believe that Malcolm is a massive “God sent” rebuke to Christianity as it has often functioned in America. I have since learned that Frederick Douglass, long before Malcolm can function in the same capacity. And before Douglass there was David Walker and his Appeal. Malcolm certainly is not friendly to white Christianity. But this is what I needed to hear, Malcolm was in fact reacting to his experience of Christianity as it was expressed among a group of people in North America.

I could denounce Malcolm, I could say Islam is wrong (and I think it is is). But making such assertions does not deal with the reason Malcolm embraced Islam over Christianity. It was “that” that not only I but so many believers simply did not want to face.

Malcolm forces us to listen to the critic. To have ears to hear. To look in the mirror. To examine ourselves and ask how do we come across. Like my Jewish teacher, Malcolm made me ask just what is Christianity and why do we do what we do if we claim a Crucified Jew as our King?

Back to the book.

It took only three pages of the Autobiography for me to have my first Muhammad Ali face punch. Here I was confronted with a black man’s reason for rejecting Christianity as it is found in America. We read on p.3:

when my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house the Klansman shouted threats to my pregnant mother warning her we better get out of town because ‘the good Christian white people’ were not going to stand for my fathers spreading trouble among the good niggers.

At the time I read this, I still had virtually no idea of the bloody history of surrounding me in Grenada, MS. I still had not heard of the White Citizens Council, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the bashing of elementary school children with bats, chains and bricks in Grenada. I would learn all that though after.

Back to Malcolm. We can protest this, and I do. I want to say “but that is not Christianity.”

And yet Christianity’s apologetic is the lives of those claiming to be disciples. Here, Christianity is blatantly intertwined with white supremacy. Malcolm testifies just a short time later on p. 46,

all praise is due to Allah that I went to Boston when I did. If I hadn’t I’d probably still be a brainwashed black Christian.”

Boston is where Malcolm was arrested, spent time in prison and was converted. Christianity was, forevermore in his mind, a white man’s religion.

In 1891 there was an average of 20 brutal lynching’s per month across the Bible Belt of the United States. But for every lynching there were dozens and dozens of brutal beatings, tens of thousands of rapes of black women (most white Americans have no idea that Rosa Parks long before she refused to give up a seat on a bus had been an anti-rape crusader in Alabama), churches bombed and burned to the ground … I confess to you I grew up in Alabama and thought I was at least conversant with our history. But I was, in the epic words of Jethro Tull, “thick as a brick.”

“Good Christian” white people doing what they threatened Malcolm’s mother with. The Lynching Tree is where white Christians were crucifying Jesus … aka black men, women and children … Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd.

Malcolm has done something for me over the years. He helped me see something I did not understand and still don’t from an existential pov. That is anger and rage. The anger that Spencer Perkins had.

So many times what people call “black racism” is more likely simply long submerged, unresolved, frustrated anger over decades and centuries of injustice … typically done in the name of Christianity.

I think Malcolm has something to say to us. The only question is will we be brave enough enough to have ears to hear.

I believe I am a more faithful Christian because I have attempted to listen (however successfully is open to debate) Malcolm X. Malcolm forces me as a white Christian to ask myself,

“Bobby are you getting pissed off over the right stuff?”

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5.24)

He has told you, O Human, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love HESED and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8).

Let me recommend encountering Malcolm. Several years ago Denzel Washington captured the spirit of Malcolm X powerfully in Spike Lee’s film. Make a decision to watch it and perhaps even discuss it in a church group.

The blowing of the Shofar announced the
Year of the Lord’s Favor

Here is a mental exercise for us. What do you think might happen on the CofCs of all 12,000+ congregations adopted a lectionary that we all followed for 52 wks. This lectionary would focus on the expository preaching the following texts from the Torah, the former Prophets, Psalms, Prophets, Gospel and select episolary texts. All would be addressed within a single calendar year.  These texts call attention to a major, neon bright, theme in Scripture that is so frequently near the very bottom of priorities with American disciples, that of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  So lets call this A Year of Jubilee.

Jubilee is a world based upon GRACE, pure GRACE, real grace.

The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to
the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of JUBILEE,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort those who mourn ...”
(Isaiah 61.1-2)

Exodus 1, The Paranoia of the Oppressor
Exodus 2.11-23, God Sides with the Oppressed
Exodus 20.8-11 & Deuteronomy 5.12-15, Sabbath, Remembering the World that Was, Living for the World that Will Be
Exodus 23.1-13, People of God’s Reign
Leviticus 19.17-18, 33; Galatians 5.14, Love, even Aliens What the Whole Law Hangs On
Leviticus 25, Restarting the World by Erasing the Values of the Fall
Deuteronomy 10.12-21, It’s So Simple a Caveman Can Do it! The Bottom Line of What God Requires
Deuteronomy 15, Redeemed Slaves Make Good Neighbors
Deuteronomy 16.9-12; 26.1-10, Worship! Welcome the Women, the Slaves, the Poor and … the Aliens!
Ruth 1-4; Deuteronomy 23.3, God Loves, Blesses, and Uses the Legally Excluded
1 Kings 17, What the Anti-Kingdom Looks Like
Psalm 10.1-18, Praying with the Poor
Psalm 68.5-6, God of the Poor and Needy
Psalm 72.1-14, God’s Political Platform
Psalm 146.1-10, Creator and Rescuer of the Lowly
Isaiah 1.10-20, What False Worship Looks Like or Why God Does Not Hear our Songs of Praise
Isaiah 5.8-22, Its all about the Porfolio!?
Isaiah 11.1-9; Micah 4.1-3; Zechariah 9.9-10, Make John Deere’s Not Bombs or the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace
Isaiah 58.1-14, What it Looks Like when Yahweh is Our King
Jeremiah 22.13-18, Is this not to Know ME?
Jeremiah 34.8-22, JUBILEE Subverted
Ezekiel 16.49, Why God Really Nuked Sodom!
Hosea 2.16-23; 4.1-3; God’s Covenant with the Animals … Human Sin Rapes God’s Covenanted World
Amos 1.1-2.3, God’s Geneva Convention
Amos 4.1-4, Avarice, Self-Indulgence, Fat Cows
Amos 5.18-27, Churches are Full but God is not There
Micah 2.1-11, When Greed is Kosher
Micah 6.6-8, God’s Heart Values
Habakkuk 1.6-11; 3.16-17, The Enemy is God’s Servant! In Times of Fear the God’s People Live By Faith
Matthew 5.1-11, Profiles of Kingdom Citizens
Matthew 5.38-48, Love from another Kingdom
Matthew 6.7-15, On Earth as in Heaven
Matthew 25.31-40, Jesus’s Doctrine of Judgement
Luke 1.46-56, The Mother of the Son of God’s Song of Reversal
Luke 2.22-24, Jesus, the Ghetto Baby
Luke 4.16-19, JUBILEE, God’s Mission in Jesus
Luke 6.20-26, Jubilee to the Rich, Jubilee for the Lowly
Luke 10.25-37, Parable of the Good “Muslim” … Or when our Enemy is More Righteous than Ourselves
Luke 12.13-21, Rich Fool Misses Jubilee
Luke 18.18-30, What Must I do to be Saved? Embrace Jubilee!
Luke 19.1-10, Embracing Salvation the Jesus Way
Romans 12.9-21, The Poor, as a group, Constitute God’s Elect (David Lipscomb), Compete to See Who Can Honor them Most!
1 Corinthians 11.17-34, God’s Table Honors the Poor
Gal 2.7-10, Remembering the Poor, Exactly What I want to do
Ephesians 2.11-22, The Cross Destroys Nationalism and Racism by Making us One
1 Timothy 6.17-19, Command the Rich
James 2.1-13, Has Not God Chosen the Poor?
James 5.1-6, God Cares about Payday
1 Peter 1.1; 2.11-25, Aliens Stick Out like a Sore Thumb and Just Might be Treated Like Jesus
1 Peter 4.12-19, The Real Mark of a “Christian”
1 Peter 5.5-11, Suffering, the Global Fellowship of Believers
Revelation 18, Its the Economy Stupid, Or God Strikes Back by Bringing Down the Empire Because of Money

I think the kingdom of God just might break thru the dark landscape. A landscape where God’s people often have a difficult time identifying themselves primarily as the advanced guard of God’s new creation rather than as German, Russian, White, Black, Indian or “American.” These texts all function in and shape the ministry of Jesus himself. They need to shape and mold us.

Jesus is Lord of all.  He Lord of all of you and me or none of you and me. Caesar, by any name, is a pompous parody of the genuine King.

Suggested Resources

Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting

Michael Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church in the Story of God

Maria Harris, Proclaim Jubilee: A Spirituality for the 21st Century

John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding

John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission

Christopher J. H. Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord: The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament

Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

It is not ‘about’ me, but it does ‘include’ me.

American Christianity is highly individualistic. Some analysts have even argued that the typical western Christian thinks almost totally in terms of his or her personal relationship with God. Sin is thus also conceived in highly individualistic terms. Since sin is so conceived, salvation is also imaged in individualistic terms.

American Christianity has also drunk deeply from the well of Neo-Platonism. Neo-Platonism down grades the “physical” or “material” world as irrelevant, and likely even dangerous, to any understanding of “spirituality” and “salvation.”

When these two, individualism and Neo-Platonism, are brought together there is a profound shift in the meaning of Christianity.

What we mean by the individual today was a foreign concept to the ancients. Indeed it is in most non-Western settings even now. Sin in the Bible is much bigger than little ole me. I certainly do sin but sin is not reduced to my infractions. Likewise, salvation in the Bible is much, much, bigger than me. It includes Me but It is not about me. It is not simply “me and God,” rather it is “you, creation, me and God.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is literally cosmic in its scope because Sin is cosmic in its scope. The Gospel is good news to every thing – seen and unseen – in heaven and earth – that God through Christ Jesus created.

It is interesting that the first time the “doctrine of Justification by faith” is mentioned in the New Testament, the controversy was not about how an individual gets to live with God in eternity (rather than going to hell). The controversy was over Jews and Gentiles – racial divisions – could sit at the same table and eat. It is what some might call social, the groups of Jews and Gentiles.

Today what preachers would dismiss as a “social problem,” or even a “political problem,” the apostle Paul said was the heart of the Gospel itself. The Gospel did not simply change my personal relationship with God but changed our relationship to one another.

The table in Galatians 2 is almost certainly not a booth at McDonald’s but communion itself – the shared meal of the family of God – which was an actual full blown meal in the first century. Peter is condemned because his social interaction with a Gentile was not according to the “truth of the Gospel.”

Paul’s whole interpretation of the Gospel can be found conveniently in Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 8. I encourage you to read these texts repeatedly. English is often our enemy because we typically understand the word “you” that occurs in the texts through our individualism. That is Paul is talking about me. But the terms are not singular rather they are plurals. So when we come to that “you” we need to read “all yall” (as they say in Alabama). That is the text is about us, the group. The texts are communal and corporate.

In Ephesians 2 we have the cosmic, corporate nature of the Gospel message on full display. It includes me but is not “about” me. So Paul says,

For he [King Jesus] is OUR peace; in his flesh he has made BOTH GROUPS [Jews/Gentiles like in Galatians 2] into ONE and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between US … that he might create ONE NEW HUMAN RACE out of the two, thus making PEACE, and reconcile both GROUPS to God in the ONE BODY … (2.14-18)”

See all of chapter 2 … every “you” is plural.”

Here we see clearly as the noonday Sun why Paul calls the Gospel the “message of reconciliation.” God is healing the whole of creation. I am part of creation!

Salvation heals the divisions that have vandalized God’s creation and ripped human to human relationships to shreds. God’s salvation has not and does not erase the diversity of creation. Through Christ, God has taken Sin away that uses diversity as grounds for division. Or as Paul says, Christ has killed the “hostility” between us, he did not kill Jewness and Gentileness. In the church, the beachhead of God’s new creation, “the wisdom of God in its RICH VARIETY might be made known” (Eph 3.10).

Diversity is “holified” by the blood of Jesus, just as it was when it was created by Jesus.

That it is not about me but includes me, explains why the Greatest Command is to Love God and Love Neighbors. John further reduces the Great Command to Love Neighbor and declares that we lie when we claim to love God while not loving his image in the diverse people around us.

This is why worship throughout the Bible is communal. And in that worship “I” am told to “consider the poor” (Ps 41). This is why Paul castigates the Corinthians. He even states baldly that, regardless of what they think, they are not taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11.20). Paul is not up in arms because the Corinthians are not having private visions on the suffering of Jesus playing in their minds. Paul is upset because of how they are eating. As in Antioch, the table has become a place that emphasizes division rather than oneness. They are shaming the poor.

It is not about me and God; it is about us and God. Salvation healed us, not just me. As Israel could not offer a sacrifice “alone” so Christians eat celebrating our fellowship in diversity. The table is the vision of what salvation looks like.

So if we understand the breathtaking scope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it changes how we relate to everything. But especially matters where division drives humans from humans. This is why dealing with racism as a matter that is bigger than me is most certainly a matter of the Gospel itself. Explicitly so.

Salvation changes the world, indeed the whole cosmos. It isn’t just about me, but it includes me. Are we inline with the Gospel?

Shalom

My Father was a Homeless Aramean

A Confession of Saving Grace

Ancient Israelites did not possess personal Bible’s nor, for that matter, did ancient Christians. They remembered (they were instructed) the “story” that mattered through worship. Israel’s worship calendar took the average Israelite through the Gospel of God’s Saving Grace every year. In the festivals, the story is told (=remembered).

For example, during “first fruits” (=Pentecost) the worshiper would come to the Lord with a basket of the fruit of the land. The basket of food was given to the priest. Then God’s people offered a “confession.” And then they gathered for a feast with all priests, the slaves and the aliens, in the Presence of the Lord. Worship suddenly redefined the social world, a new world was created.

Then you, together, with the Levites and the aliens among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house” (Deuteronomy 26.11. Notice that v.12 continues to list the powerless).

The confession God’s people offered is found in Deuteronomy 26.5-10 (vv 1-10). This is one of the most important statements of biblical faith. It is even incorporated into the Passover as well.

So the Israelite would say, “confess,” the narrative of God’s Mighty Acts. It may be sort of like the Old Testament version of what Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15.1-4. The creed of God’s acts.

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor;
he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien,
few in number,
and there he became a great nation,
mighty and populous.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us,
we cried to the LORD,
the God of our ancestors;
the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction,
our toil, and our oppression.
The LORD brought us out of Egypt
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,
with a terrifying display of power,
and with signs and wonders;
and he brought us into this place and gave us this land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
(Deuteronomy 26.5-9, NRSV. The text from v.1 to v.15 ought to be meditated upon).

My father was a wandering Aramean …” (NIV)

What a stunning confession of the grace of God we encounter here. Yahweh’s graciousness is stressed and Jacob’s (=Israel) vulnerability are the core of the Israelite confession of faith. The confession binds the ancient past to the present worshipper. Israel went into Egypt long ago but it is “we” who are afflicted, enslaved, oppressed and delivered.

Worship conflates the distance of time and space and brings God’s mighty act of grace for the aliens in Egypt to the very moment “we” stand before God with thankful hearts to share God’s grace with slaves and aliens.

Israel’s worship magnifies God’s grace by testifying to Yahweh’s decision to side with the “least of these.” Israel’s obedience is never mentioned. What is mentioned is Israel’s desperate situation. Yahweh quite literally delivered Israel from the “kingdom of death” and brought us into the “kingdom of life.”

Who Are “We”?

The first line says quite a bit. In a terse statement our sense of privilege is annihilated. We are what our ancestor was. What kind of Aramean was he/we?

I have studied this text many times and its significance has only grown. Today, I was startled, yet again, by what I did not know. So what kind of an Aramean is Jacob/Israel?

Migrant/Nomad

At the very least, Jacob was a nomadic migrant. Israel followed in his footsteps by wandering around in the Wilderness learning that life does not come from the stability that we humans manufacture for ourselves. Rather Israel was thrust into a nomadic life for forty years in the Sinai desert to learn that they are dependent upon the hesed of Yahweh to care for our daily needs.

Remember the long way the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8.2-3)

We, of course, recognize these words from Jesus’s testing the Wilderness (Mt 4.4 citing Dt 8.3). Jesus, like his ancestor became a wandering Aramean having no place to lay his head (Mt 8.20). But long before Jesus, Israel’s worship calendar took Israelites back to the wilderness during the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles. Yet again the stress is on remembering Yahweh’s care and reminding us of who we really are. We are a wandering people, a migrant people … a “wandering Aramean was our ancestor.

Biblical worship reminds us of our identity by stressing the vulnerability we remember about ourselves.

‘abad

But the confession of our ancestors says more than we are mere wanderers. I was reading in a different translation today and was stopped dead in my tracks. I pulled down my Hebrew Bible and low and behold.

The term ‘abad‘ translated as “wandering” in most Protestant Bibles occurs 185 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is translated “wandering” a whopping total of one single time (1x) in the NIV, KJV, etc, right here in Deuteronomy 26.5.

This sent me to examine a myriad of other occurrences of the term. What other ideas lie hidden away in this term that are lost to us because of the power of tradition in translation?

The root has two basic meanings:

  1. perishing/dying/destroyed
  2. become lost

The word stresses the fragility of life or circumstances.

Sometimes the term refers to something that has been destroyed, or to possessions or even hope that has been lost. So a donkey or a cloak can become ‘abad.

“you shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey or garment; and you shall do the same for anything your neighbor loses” (Deut 22.3; 1 Sam 9.3,20).

The Psalmist says, “I have gone astray like a sheep” (119.176).

The idea of perishing/destroyed is in many texts. “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (Num 33.52).

My ancestor was an ‘abad!

Fugitive

The term “wandering” in English hardly captures what the ancient Israelite is commanded to confess and remember. It will be recalled the only place, out of 185x, where our term is so translated.

Israelites are told to remember the lack of status of their heritage, the lack of power to take care of themselves. This magnifies the grace of Yahweh. So here are some translations that tell us what kind of ancestor we have.

1) “An AILING Aramean was my father” (Peter Craigie’s Commentary)
2) “My father was an Aramite REFUGEE” (First Testament: A New Translation)
3) “An Aramean Astray my Ancestor” (Schocken Bible)
4) “My father was a HOMELESS Aramean” (NEB/REB)
5) “My father was a FUGITIVE Aramean” (Tanakh)
6) “My father was a STARVING Aramean” (Common English Bible)
7) “a NOMAD Aramean was my father” (The Bible: An American Translation)

The force of Deuteronomy 26.5 is compelling. Israelites were a family of nobodies living off the “handouts” of Yahweh. The force of this confession is to curb arrogant self-reliance, foster humility, and constantly keep in our face that we exist by the generosity of Another (read the whole of 26.1-11). This confession is so important that it is also incorporated into the Passover liturgy.

My Father was a starving Aramean

A Nation of Aliens

The very identity of God’s people is enmeshed with the precarious existence of aliens. We are refugees. We are ailing. We are homeless. We are starving. We are nomads. We are fugitives. We survive because Yahweh gives us grace.

Using slightly different terminology, but same idea, the Bible repeatedly stresses that God’s people are aliens. We are not aliens to God’s good creation. We are aliens to the power structures of this fallen age, the Egypt’s, the Assyria’s, the Babylon’s, the Roman’s, the German’s, and even the American.

And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers …” (Hebrews 11.13-16)

Beloved, I urge you, as aliens and exiles …” (1 Peter 2.11-12)

As John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine write in Kingdom Come about the radical nature of baptism.

“This new life entails seeing the world from the perspective of the new creation. Baptism entails the inauguration of a new humanity, one that is no longer defined by race, gender, nationality, or political orientation (Gal 3:27-28). This means we are no longer defined by the ideologies of the present age. To put it another way, baptism explains why disciples do not make the best Americans, Germans or Ethiopians.” (Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, p. 40)

God’s people know who they are. Our status as graced fugitive/homeless/starving/refugees facilitates empathy in God’s people for others. This is why Yahweh told Israel they were to “know the heart of an alien.”

Do not oppress an alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23.9)

Our Father was a refugee. We are a nation of refugees. We become Pharaoh’s when we forget what all of God’s people confess:

“My father was an Aramite REFUGEE

Surely this text certainly speaks to God’s people today.

The text, once more, blows me away!

Technical Support

‘abad,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. William A. VanGemeren, vol 1, pp. 223-225.

Mark W. Hamilton, Jesus, King of Strangers

John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding

Of all the forms of negro hate in this world, save me from the one which clothes itself with the name of loving Jesus.” (Frederick Douglass)

Edward J. Robinson

I met Edward J. Robinson through Don Meredith, the inimitable librarian at Harding School of Theology back in the late 1990s. I was working on a thesis and kept running across a figure, S. R. Cassius, in obscure journals in the Cave of Mirofilm. I started to collect his writings. That was when Meredith told me of Robinson who was working on a dissertation on Cassius at Mississippi State University. We would meet several times after. Robinson would go on to publish To Save My Race from Abuse: The Life of Samuel Robert Cassius (University of Alabama Press 2007). Since finishing his work on Cassius, Robinson has single handedly defined the historiography of African American Churches of Christ through a series of books and articles. His books include Show Us How You Do It: Marshall Keeble and the Rise of the Black Churches of Christ, 1914-1968; The Fight is On in Texas: A History of African American Churches of Christ in the Lone Star State, 1865-2000; To Lift Up My Race: The Essential Writings of Samuel Robert Cassius (editor); and I Was Under a Heavy Burden: The Life of Annie C. Tuggle.

Hard Fighting Soldiers

Hard Fighting Soldiers is a labor of love and a gift of grace to Churches of Christ.

The works of previous historians like Robert Hooper and Richard Hughes have included chapters, almost as an addendum, on black Churches of Christ. But Edward Robinson’s latest work is the first full length scholarly history of the African American Churches of Christ. Hard Fighting Soldiers: A History of African American Churches of Christ (University of Tennessee Press, 2019) is brisk, concise, and contextual.

Hard Fighting Soldiers has twelve chapters along with a short prologue and epilogue. The chapters take us from roots in slavery in 1816 to the presidency of Barack Obama. There are chapters on significant women, hymnody, and the quest for the “magic of education” that open whole windows to worlds that are often unknown among predominantly white Churches of Christ. Most white disciples in Churches of Christ will recognize the name of Marshall Keeble. But Robinson shows our family tree is both richer and far more complex than Keeble. We interact with the conflicted and convoluted views on slavery by Alexander Campbell (there is no discussion of people like Pardee Butler, Ovid Butler, Jonas Hartzel, etc). We are introduced to Levi Kennedy Sr, S. W. Womack, G. P. Bowser, J. S. Winston, R. N. Hogan, Fred D. Gray, Annie C. Tuggle, Thelma Holt, and a host of other hard fighting soldiers.

I used the word contextual above to describe Hard Fighting Soldiers. Contextual is the strength of this work. Robinson’s concise history is placed squarely within its north American context. Actually, the context can probably be narrowed even more, north American southern context. The African American Churches of Christ, like the white ones, are a creation of the land that was once the old Confederacy.

That context gave it (and us) birth, that context, shaped its growth and development, and that context ultimately shaped it as an independent religious body. Yes, the context is, within space and time, north America but the content of that context is the issue of race: slavery, Jim Crow, racism. It is impossible to tell the story of the emergence of African American Churches of Christ apart from racism.

Robinson takes us through the “racial thought of white churches of Christ” (ch. 4). It was this thought that framed all interaction with black disciples from the beginning (and many would say still does). Robinson shows how men like S. R. Cassius and G. P. Bowser fought hard against that context and were thus either ignored or marginalized and tried to be controlled by white power. But there were men like Marshall Keeble who took a different approach and tried to work within the system and was “rewarded” so to speak. In my opinion, this is why most white disciples know Keeble but frequently have no idea who Bowser is and never ever heard of Cassius.
But we should know who Ethel Carr is. Carr, six years old, desegregated the all white Buena Vista Elementary School in Nashville three years before Ruby Bridges in New Orleans. We should know Patricia Jenkins, who braved the “Freedom Rides” through Alabama.

Puzzles

There are a few puzzles to me about Hard Fighting Soldiers. While discussing Cassius’s response to the vile film The Birth of a Nation. Cassius is the only leader in the Churches of Christ, white or black, to publicly say anything about this grotesque apology for the KKK and racism. But Robinson does not inform the reader that SRC wrote an entire book in reply called The Third Birth of a Nation. He does not cite it either. Yet he has a section on “S. R. Cassius’s Fight against The Birth of a Nation.

Robinson refers to the Nashville Christian Institute several times through the narrative though no section is dedicated to it. The “Magic of Education” focuses upon Bowser’s work and legacy. The closing of the Nashville Christian Institute in 1967 is mentioned as the “grab of the century,” but if a person does not already know what that is they will not learn of that tragic miscarriage of justice in Nashville.

Not everything can be put into a book. And these are not necessarily criticisms but just puzzles to me.

Conclusion

Hard Fighting Soldiers is required reading for anyone wanting to understand our black sisters and brothers. It is also essential reading for understanding our own white fellowship.

There is great irony in the fact that while decrying worldliness, the dangers of the cultural church, and the like both white and black Churches of Christ have been extremely located, extremely worldly, extremely cultural all the while denying such vociferously. We, both white and black Churches of Christ, have a genuine, actual, faith shaping history that come from its American context that is greatly removed from Scripture.

Black Churches of Christ provide a brilliant critique for white Churches of Christ when it comes to our enmeshment in our racist Confederate heartland. But at the same time the two fellowships shared a common cultural hermeneutic that fostered neo-gnostic dichotomies between “physical” and “spiritual” enabling us to outright ignore (or justify) injustice and racism. Or when it was addressed such was thought of as political rather than biblical theology. Marshall Keeble was a product of both his southern American culture and his Stone-Campbell culture that taught him how to read the Bible or which parts were the real Bible.

Ed Robinson is to be thanked for his passion for telling us the story of black Churches of Christ. He has produced a compelling volume that sheds considerable light on not only where we are but how we got here.

You can purchase Hard Fighting Soldiers by following the link. I make no money for this btw.

P.S.

We still have a long way to go.

Harding University’s 5,541 member student body is 5.34% African American (how many of these are athletes).

Abilene Christian University’s 5,145 member student body is 12% African American.

Lipscomb University’s 4,620 member student includes 467 African American students.

Pepperdine University’s student body is 6.82%.


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.