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A timely word for theological students from Dr. 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.
Now, half a millennium after Luther nailed his theses to the door of the great Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, theological seminaries…
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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).
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] …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.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.
Bonhoeffer was always thinking about thinking. He meant to see things through to the bottom, to bring as much clarity as possible. The influence of his father, the scientist, is unmistakable. But the difference between his thinking now and in the future was that now, despite his being a theologian and pastor, he didn’t mention God’s role in the process or God’s will. Still, what he said here in his diary curiously and clearly presaged the famously difficult decision he would make in 1939, trying to determine whether he should remain safely in America or sail back to the terrible Terra Incognita of his homeland. In both cases, he sensed that there was a right decision, but that ultimately it wasn’t his. Later on he would say it explicitly: that he had been “grasped” by God; that God was leading him, and sometimes where he preferred not to go [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 70].
The Irrelevance of the Gospel: A Quote from John Dickson in his TGC article “The Myths of Progress and Relevance”
The true relevance of the gospel is found in its studied irrelevance to any particular culture, whether ancient Corinthians or modern New Yorker. We do not need another message that affirms what we already think in all our foibles and cultural particularities. We surely need one that is free to challenge, rebuke, frighten, and enlighten us, as well as comfort and affirm us when appropriate. That message is the gospel. It is precisely because the gospel was not crafted to endorse ancient Athenians or modern Americans that it is wonderfully relevant to both.
While continuing some wonderful reading this morning, I was seized by a thought. The significance of “faith” cannot be ignored as one reads through Romans 4:1-5:5. An appropriate question for interpretation in such a faith-rich text is “What is faith?” My own personal study has led me to believe that faith in the OT and NT is best described by the word “loyalty.” Such a description best prepares the Christian to interpret and understand the relationship between faith & works.
I am also reading volume one of Iain H. Murphy’s biography on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. As a youth living in the Welsh city of Llangeitho, Lloyd- Jones recalls the churches in town to have large congregations and strong tradition but void of the glory of God.
This caused me to pause and consider the Church in my day and in my contexts. Consider with me. Does the current generation “need” doubt as part of their seeking God in faith? That is, is it becoming more and more necessary to cause a congregation(s) to question itself with a message – say – on how the glory departed from Israel in Ezekiel’s day because the people’s loyalty turned from YHWH to other gods and other things? Are we living in a day when our local churches need provoked about the genuineness of their loyalty to God in Jesus Christ? I think the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”
Do you ever feel like a failure? Of late, such feelings have been magnified in my inner man. I have been painfully aware of past, present and potentially future failures. Making matters worse, I have been reading through 1 Samuel—just finished today—and Saul’s life is one with which I wish I was not able to identify . . . but today, I am. I told a couple of my best friends the other day that Saul seems to always act out of fear—particularly fear of failure (with references to his role over the people of God)—instead of relying on YHWH. Just today, I read the culmination of his continuous fear and failure. YHWH would not make himself known to Saul in any way, so he turns to a conjurer of spirits,
And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor” (1 Samuel . . . pause—my baby girl just threw up on me—okay . . . 28:6–7).
We know the rest of the story (if you don’t, read the rest of 1 Samuel). Saul continuously acted out of fear, and it eventually led to YHWH removing him and putting another in his place (wow vomited on and pooped on in one blog post—that’s my girl).
As a man desirous to be useful to God in his mission, this is perhaps my worst fear—to fail God and become unemployable in his work. As strolled down the panorama of my brief life, fear and failure are strung throughout. I wept when I did not make the Junior High basketball team two years in a row; I wept when I did not make the varsity basketball team; I didn’t finish a B.S. in Chemistry (this admittedly is complicated); and now much bigger things are at stake; will I be a faithful husband? Will I be a faithful father? Will I finish seminary? Will I stop learning? Will I get my doctorate? Will I be a faithful and employable pastor and teacher? Oh man. I think about these things a lot.
When I find myself in the midst of a struggle, I generally turn to Jesus’ life, and I always find an example of faithfulness in the midst of struggle. His faithfulness unto death is the strength for the believer to participate in Romans 12:12. However, sometimes I need an example of someone who has blown it big time to encourage me in the grace and mercy of God. Saul is not what I would call an encouraging example. It’s like the dude was predisposed to blowing regardless of the grace and mercy given to him (I realize that’s a theologically loaded statement).
So, I found this word—ἥττημα. It is used in the New Testament twice and in the Old Testament once. The OT example . . . not encouraging . . . basically, YHWH is a warrior who will bring defeat to the young men of Assyria—not a pleasant notion if you ask me. The two NT references are a bit more encouraging to those of us who know we are naught but failures desperate for God’s grace, mercy and strength. First, Romans 11:12,
Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Paul speaks of the failure of Israel with regard their role in God’s mission as that which resulted in riches for the world. Further, their failure does not appear to be final, rather a restoration is promised to the failing people of Israel. Second, 1 Corinthians 6:7,
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
The Corinthians were failing to live out the fullness of the Christian brotherhood. They were not able to handle their disagreements with their own community, and instead, they took their arguments to the judges of the world. While they were failing in the Christian life (and not only in this way!), the apostle still reminded them that,
you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).
If adulterous Israel and immoral Corinth can be employed by God for his mission, then perhaps there is hope for all of us. May God remind us of the Spirit given to the Christian so that we may be faithful like the Lord Jesus and remember his kindness when we are not.
Check out this video:
I am enrolled in an exegesis course on Mark at DTS this semester. We just finished introductory matters and are about to head into the text – I am pumped! One of the course requirements is to read one commentary (from a predetermined list set by Dr. Wallace) of our choice. I have chosen to climb the great depths of Joel Marcus’ 2 volume commentary on the Gospel in the Anchor Bible Series.
Toward the end of his nearly 100 page introduction, Marcus has a section entitled, ‘The Place of Mark in Christian Life and Thought’. I found one statement quite simple but quite profound. The following is under the subsection ‘Mark in the History of Religions’:
“Mark’s particular way of interpreting these writings, moreover, follows in the footsteps of Old Testament exegesis of Jewish writers. The God whose advent the Markan Jesus announces, to whom he calls his hearers to turn in penitence and faith, the God whom he trusts to raise him from the dead (an un-Hellenistic concept), is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. 12:26), and not of the philosophers.”
This comment follows a note that Mark only quotes from the Old Testament, which seems to me a quite profound statement in light of the buzzing conversations regarding Mark’s employment of popular rhetoric (Marcus goes against this recent trend – at least according to his introduction).