rexhowe

I am a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and the pastor of West Lisbon Church in Newark, IL. Wordpress design and site building is a hobby that I enjoy!

Homepage: https://rexhowe.wordpress.com

Signs of Life Episode 3: Elevator

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Signs of Life Episode 2: New Needs New

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Signs of Life Episode 1: Road Work

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Up to Six

Up to Six: A Poem
Up to six
To get our fix
Sometimes you
Sometimes me
Shaking off sleep
Taking that leap
Into the day
Into the fray
“God’s kingdom come
His will be done”
We offer in prayer
Gasping at that hair
Depression creeps
Loneliness peaks
Faith awakens
Hope beckons
Drinking at the well
Joy begins to swell
Brew is ready
Strong and heady
Smelling, walking
Searching, looking
A vessel worthy
Alas, all dirty
A silent meme
Turns a teeming stream
Activity bustles
Everyone hustles
Into the fray
Into the day
Better get that fix
Up to six

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The Battle Cry of the Reformation and the Surrender of Greek and Hebrew

A timely word for theological students from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace:

Daniel B. Wallace

One of the great ironies and unnecessary casualties of the Protestant Reformation is shaping up in America today. The battle cry of the Reformation was ad fontes—“back to the sources!”—which meant going behind Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and reading the original Greek New Testament. This was coined by Erasmus, the man responsible for publishing the first Greek New Testament in 1516. He was a Roman Catholic priest who was swimming against the current of much of 16th century Catholic scholarship. It was especially the Protestants who latched onto Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. During his lifetime, over 300,000 copies were sold! A few years after his death, the Council of Trent banned many of his writings.

The Reformers also went beyond the Vulgate and translated the Bible into modern languages.

Reformation

Now, half a millennium after Luther nailed his theses to the door of the great Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, theological seminaries…

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Identifying the πνεῦμα in John 4:23–24

In preparation for Sunday’s sermon, I encountered difficulty translating and interpreting the term πνεῦμα in John 4:23–24:

“ἀλλ᾿ ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν, ὅτε οἱ ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ πατρὶ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ· καὶ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ τοιούτους ζητεῖ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτόν. πνεῦμα ὁ θεός, καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτὸν ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ δεῖ προσκυνεῖν” (John 4:23-24 GNT28-T). https://accordance.bible/link/read/GNT28-T#John_4:23

Regarding the first and the third usages, Leon Morris concludes that the term references the human spirit, that is, the inner being (The Gospel According to John, 270–71). Andreas Köstenberger seems confused in his attempt to interpret the term. He jostles back and forth between the Holy Spirit and the inner person (“the heart”). He understands the syntax of ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ to function epexegetically, “in spirit, that is, in truth.” For this reason, he sees an allusion to the Spirit of truth revealed later in John’s Gospel, but Köstenberger feels that such a clear reference to the Holy Spirit may have been “too advanced” for the Samaritan woman (John in the BECNT, 156–57).

BDAG concurs with Morris, identifying πνεύματι as “the source and seat of insight, feeling, and will . . . the representative part of the inner life . . . The pure, inner worship of God that has nothing to do with holy times, places, appurtenances, or ceremonies.”

The human Spirit or the Holy Spirit? With these two contradictory interpretations in mind, I decided to investigate primary sources for interpretive insights. Specifically, I wanted to discover whether the early Christian use of nomina sacra may shed any light on what the early scribes thought about the term. Here are my findings thus far:

  • πνι, πνα, πνι in P66, P75, 01, 032S, 13, 33, 1424
  • πνι, Πνα, πνι in 02, 04
  • No NS for πνεῦμα or πμεύματι in 03
  • πνι, πνεῦμα, πνι in 05

In the first pattern, the scribes made ready use of the NS for πνεῦμα; however, I am not well enough read on the range of meaning for this particular NS to know if usage = Holy Spirit every time. The second pattern includes Codices Alexandrinus (02) and Ephraemi Rescriptus (04) and the distinct capital pi at the beginning of verse 24.

The scribe of Vaticanus (and therefore, the scribe of P75 too) may have provided some interpretative insight, as it is thought to share a heritage with P75 (see The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, by Ehrman & Holmes, 19, n. 52). If it is true that these two mss are related, then why did one scribe continue or create the NS for πνεῦμα (i.e., P75) and the other scribe continued the absence of the NS or discontinued the NS for πνεῦμα? On the one hand, we may have a case of scribal interpretative decision, and on the other hand, we may have a scribe who abstained from such scribal interpretation.

I find the pattern of 05 most interesting! The NS is specifically (strategically?) used for the first and third, but not used for πνεῦμα ὅ θς in 4:24. Perhaps, it is possible to say that the scribe understood the Holy Spirit to be the referent of each use of πνι, but not at the beginning of 4:24.

In conclusion, if the use of NS for the term πνεῦμα always implies the Holy Spirit, then the majority of mss, which I searched, conclude that we are to worship the Father in Spirit (not spirit) and truth. Codex Vaticanus alone is the aberration from the pattern. However, before this conclusion can be too firm, I need to understand the full range of use in these mss of the NS for the term πνεῦμα. For example, is the NS used when there is no doubt that the human spirit is the referent?

Until further research is completed . . . thanks for reading!

*UPDATED 06.25.2018: It appears I made an error in the initial posting of this article. I had the GA numbers of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus mixed up! Forgive me! It is corrected above.

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The Historical Development of Lent

Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.

To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).

Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.

Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.

I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.

When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.

Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.

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Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest

Mary Magdalene

As Holy Week begins, I completed some reading this morning in the Gospel of John. I focused on the empty tomb pericope that features Mary Magdalene so prominently. “Magdalene” most likely ties this Mary to the town of Magdala, which was a “strongly Hellenized site . . . five kilometers northeast of Tiberias” (R. Riesner, 37–38, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Performing a search revealed that there are twelve explicit references in the New Testament to Mary Magdalene:

Gospel of Matthew (NET)

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee . . .  (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb) (Matthew 27:56, 61).

Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1).

Gospel of Mark (NET)

There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40).

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed (Mark 15:47).

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).

Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons (Mark 16:9).

Gospel of Luke (NET)

. . . and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out . . . (Luke 8:2).

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10).

Gospel of John (NET)

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance (John 20:1).

Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her (John 20:18).

Another Woman

At times, people have confused Mary Magdalene with other women in the Gospels. In Luke 7, an unnamed woman enter’s a house where Jesus is located and anoints Jesus’ feet. In the pericope adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), Jesus forgives the sin of an unnamed woman caught in adultery.

However, Mark and Luke both inform us of Mary Magdalene’s connection to Jesus—he set her free from the possession of seven demons. She subsequently followed Jesus, even being one of the few present at his crucifixion and an eyewitness to his resurrection.

The Gospel of Philip

You can find out more about the history of the 1945 Nag Hammadi discovery and The Gospel of Philip here and especially here. Suffice it to say that these “other Gospels” (1) are not written by those whose names are attached to them, making them pseudepigrapha, (2) originate from the second century or later, and (3) were not received by the catholic (i.e., universal) church community not only because of their strange, sometimes unorthodox, and sometimes contra-apostolic depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, but also because of their divergent perspectives on the Old Testament, creation, and anthropology. However, I would like to focus on its references to Mary Magdalene. The first mention of this Mary in The Gospel of Philip is found in context with two other Marys:

Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion.

The writing again refers to Mary Magdala as Jesus’ companion here,

Wisdom, who is called barren, is the mother of the angels.

The companion of the [savior] is Mary of Magdala. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth].

The other [disciples] [64]…said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”

The savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? If a blind person and one who can see are both in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, one who can see will see the light, and the blind person will stay in darkness.”

[The brackets] typically identify places in the manuscript where the text is unknown due to some kind of injury.

From this, people have surmised from these sayings that Mary Magdalene was no mere disciple of Jesus, but that she was his wife.

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest

In 2012 in Rome, Harvard University’s Dr. Karen L. King revealed a shocking document—a fourth century papyrus fragment—claiming the matrimony of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. With Dr. King’s credentials and backing, the fragment’s reveal sent shockwaves through academia and found its way into the public square as well. The Coptic text and a transcription is available through Harvard University.

Since then, the investigative reporting of Ariel Saber of The Atlantic has exposed the full origin story of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment. The title “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife” is followed by the subtitle,

A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.

Saber’s work uncovered that the fragment is most likely a very recent forgery. Dr. Karen L. King agreed publicly following Saber’s published work. If you’re up for going further down the rabbit hole, you can find more related material via Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here and more recently here. Peter Gurry also commented on the matter in 2016 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

The Real Mary Magdalene Please Rise

While the story of this forged fragment made for great entertainment, perhaps a positive result may surface. Maybe we’ll allow the real Mary Magdalene to surface once again. Mary’s legacy has been clouded publicly ever since Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

Some have wondered why Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that the apostles have no problem making mention of women who play a prominent role in the spread of the gospel—Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Lydia, Damaris, and a number of other women who are described as devout. One thought is that Mary Magdalene passed away shortly after the resurrection. This can’t be proven. We are never told anything about her age or her death.

We are told three things about this Mary that should stick with any of us who depend on the glorious salvation of Jesus. First, this Mary was set free by Jesus from the darkest kind of spiritual oppression. She was demon-possessed. Sevenfold. We learn from this Mary that Jesus is strong enough to break the bondage of the darkest sources of spiritual slavery.

Second, we find Mary following Jesus to a place where very few of his disciples dared to follow—the cross. I am truly amazed at this. Matthew, Mark, and John testify that Mary Magdalene joined a few other women at the crucifixion. Keep in mind that the other women seem to have been related to Jesus. Mary Magdalene was not. It appears that John the apostle was the only member of the twelve who dared identify himself with the Christ of the cross. While Jesus would continue his fellowship with the other ten disciples after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was “ahead of the curve” when it came to denying oneself, counting the cost, and following Jesus wherever he went.

Lastly, Mark tells us that this Mary is the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Again, how amazing. Scholars have told us over and over again, that this element of the resurrection narrative—Mary, a woman, as the first eyewitness—is a criteria of the authenticity for the Gospels’ narratives. No first century author who wanted to be convincing and who wanted their movement to catch on would propose that there first eyewitness to the most important element of their story was . . . a woman. This would have been embarrassing, as indicated by the apostles’ reaction to the testimony of the women (Luke 24:10–11). The Gospel writers were clearly concerned with what really happened, with  communicating a historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, they wrote to evangelize and to make more disciples, but they were not doing so by being irresponsible or deceptive about what really happened. Additionally, I can’t help but also think that Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is a reward for her faithfulness to follow to the cross. After appearing to Mary, Jesus sent her to report to the disciples (John 20:17–18), and she proclaimed to them, “I have seen the Lord!” making her the first evangelist of the resurrection era.

This Holy Week, let’s lay to rest the Jesus-wife myth that has clouded Mary’s legacy and “resurrect” the real Mary Magdalene and her already impressive resume—a delivered, devoted, eyewitness, evangelist of Jesus Christ. Happy Holy Week.

 

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Rogue One, Miracle Clusters, and Faith

Rogue One was incredibly entertaining. It gave life to my childhood imaginations regarding the opening scene of Episode 4. 

How did Princess Leia get those Death Star plans?

Now we know.

The profound silence and absence of Jedis drew the spectator in a surprising way. It was up to the ordinary, not the extraordinary. No clusters of miracles to be found. No Jedi mind tricks; no Luke, no Obi-wan. In fact, a Jedi temple is obliterated. Perhaps, the most significant mission in the entire saga placed in the hands of some ordinary Stardust.

Yet, despite the absence of any good and noble wielder of the Force, the ordinary rebels still believed in it. Interesting. No miracles. No Jedis. But faith remained. Hope remained. 

In the story of the Bible, we are wrong if we think miracles are common. Throughout the centuries of development of the story, miracles cluster, and they are rather rare. They take place at specific progressions in God’s story, where both word and act unite in special revelation from heaven. However, there are long periods, centuries even, of silence from God. 

During the silent eras, ordinary faith becomes a most remarkable and powerful thing. It’s not that God is dead or that he has always been silent. His voice and his actions come in waves, in clusters, and they reveal him. He does not speak on command, but when he must, he does. He does not act on command, but when he wills, he does. 

A friend and professor recently said,

We don’t discover God; he discloses himself. We don’t uncover data; he unveils truth. We don’t climb to him; he comes to us.

So how does one live in a “silent” era? Ordinary faith in what has been spoken and has been accomplished. Ordinary hope in what is to come.

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Mayor Rawlings Addresses Dallas Faith Community in Conference Call

I received an email this morning from Ms. Amanda Sanchez, who works in the Office of the Mayor of the City of Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings. The message was sent to numerous faith community leaders in North Texas, inviting them to participate in a conference call with the Mayor that took place today at 2:00pm CDT. I took notes, and I am publishing a summary of the briefing here for your information and convenience.

The Mayor opened the call expressing his gratitude for our time, and he acknowledged that the City’s experience with Ebola in recent days has felt like a “roller coaster” — things get worse, things get better, things get worse, things get better. He believes that things will end well, and he exhorted us to “be honest with each other,” which became a consistent theme in the conference call. The Mayor felt that this conference call was necessary because there is a felt shift in the psyche of our city from last week to this week regarding its fear associated with Ebola. Last week, our community was cautious; this week, the Mayor feels our community is afraid.

He asked us to recall West Nile Virus scare that happened upon North Texas not long ago. He reminded us about the West Nile outbreak that swept through Dallas County in 2012. According to D Magazine,

In total, there were 397 reported cases in Dallas County, and 20 people died.

My words, not the Mayor’s — I had forgotten about West Nile already, and if you think about it, mosquitos are way more sneaky than vomiting, bleeding, diarrhea-ing, even sneezing humans. Just a thought.

Only two — 2 — people have been infected with Ebola, since Mr. Duncan’s diagnosis and care here in Dallas.

The Mayor commented on the “community contacts” and “health care contacts.” Regarding the former, 48 people have been self-isolated. One family remains in controlled isolation. An additional individual who had been in controlled isolation recently finished the 21-day “incubation period,” and this person is healthy. On Monday, October 20th, the family in controlled in isolation and those who have been self-isolated will also finish the 21-day “incubation period.” None have shown any symptoms associated with Ebola.

Regarding the “health care contacts,” the Mayor acknowledged that we were naive to think that the hospital was the “safer place.” My commentary here—it seems that the focus had to be heavily placed on the “community contacts” at first, and initially, some assumptions were made about the safety of the hospital; however, the insufficiencies that did exist have been remedied. The Mayor complimented the health care workers who served Mr Duncan, calling them brave, courageous, of whom we are proud, and for whom we are thankful. 75 total health care workers were in some way involved in Mr. Duncan’s care — some in the lab work, some in the room wherein Mr. Duncan was treated. All of these people have been in communication with the proper authorities. They have been assigned a document asking them to avoid travel on all means of public transportation as well as to avoid public places, such as grocery stores, places of worship, etc. All of them are visited twice daily, so that there body temperature can be examined. They have all been invited to come to Presbyterian Hospital should they desire assistance in their self isolation. I can’t remember if the Mayor said one dozen or two dozen have taken advantage of this offer. Further, the Mayor added that violation of compliance with the travel and public restrictions would lead to a more controlled environment for their isolation.

Mayor Rawlings reviewed that the two health care workers who became infected with Ebola — Ms. Pham and Ms. Vinson — have been moved to biomedical facilities in Maryland and Georgia, so that Texas Presbyterian could both better manage those in continued and various degrees of isolation and be ready to receive any new case that may arise. He assured us that there is cooperation at the City, County, State, CDC, and Federal level, commentating that he had spoken with the White House earlier today. The President gave his support for Federal Aid as needed. In his assurance, he was not trying to say that we are “out of the woods” yet. This next week is critical, and honestly, we should expect to see another case or two; however, he and those working with him do not envision a widespread epidemic due to the precautions that have been taken.

After briefing us on the state of the situation, Mayor Rawlings then appealed to us as faith leaders in the City of Dallas. He made four salient points. First, he exhorted us to “confront fear with the facts.” This has been the constant message from all of those dealing with the media and public. No one is keeping anything from anyone, and he commented that the coming weeks will reveal this to be true. He asked us to encourage our congregations to depend on the facts, evidence, and reason, not on our emotions. Second, he challenged faith leaders and our communities regarding ostracizing those who may have had contact with Mr. Duncan and ostracizing those communities in which these folks have their residence. Judge Jenkins has received numerous reports about ostracism. He advised that we can support these individuals, families AND practice good, public safety. It isn’t an either/or. He asked us to consider some of the realities, for example, the Duncan family is facing: Where will they live? Many apartments are saying, “We do not want the ‘Ebola people’ here.” Mayor Rawlings said, “Our city is better than that.” We must practice compassion as well as intelligence.

He closed with a challenge and commendation to faith leaders, saying that we “know the words that uplift and heal.” He asked us to share these things with our congregants and to direct them to the City’s website for further information.

Following Mayor Rawlings’ address, Dr. John T. Carlo addressed us on the conference call. He reminded us of the facts about Ebola’s spread. It is not contagious in someone not showing symptoms. It is not airborne. In order to infect, a bodily fluid has to travel from a symptomatic person to an “opening” on another person. Research has been gathered by professionals who have treated Ebola both here and in West Africa. Dr. Carlo dismissed the need to “shut down” schools and/or decontaminate based upon the available research and evidence.

A brief Q & A time proceeded. Question #1: How do we support city officials and health care workers? Mayor Rawlings suggested that we raise up these individuals, especially the health care workers, as heroines and heroes. They are brave. Question #2: What is the one message we should deliver from “the pulpit” this weekend? God willing, we will come through this, and we will have gained much wisdom that we will be able to use and share with others both here and around the world. The Mayor then shared that the President of Liberia called him and personally apologized and shared feelings of personal responsibility. The Mayor expressed again his concern about ostracism toward “community contacts,” “health care contacts,” and even those in our City who are of West African descent.

In conclusion, I think we have to heed the Mayor’s call not to ostracize, nor should we avoid exercising care and wisdom. I think the gospel calls us to this. Remember, it’s sin, not Ebola, that is our BIGGEST problem. My thanks to the Mayor and city officials who took the time to address these things with us.

 

 

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