blog archives

Blog Archive for 1/25/04 - 1/31/04

Rave: Soulful Silence
Posted at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, 2004

In yesterday's post I ranted about noises that drive me crazy. Though I'd never imitate Ronald Duffy by dumping a cup of water on a crying baby in a plane, I can feel Mr. Duffy's pain. And when a ringing cell phone interrupts my worship, I realize just how much my outer and inner world is polluted by noise.

Noise. It's everywhere. In my local Tully's Coffee the Muzak purrs, the espresso grinder whirls, brewing timers chirp, and cell phones sing incessantly. Even when I'm far out in the High Sierra wilderness I'm haunted by the distant roar of high flying jet planes.

But relentless noise isn't only "out there," but also "in here." My own soul echoes with the din of my crazy life. I hear the nagging cries of my to do list, the multitude of voices demanding my attention, and the shouts of my own fears. With so much racket both "out there" and "in here," how will I ever be able to hear the "still, small voice" of God, who often speaks with the "sound of a gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:12, NLT)?

Perhaps the gathering of God's people for worship will provide a moment of quiet for my soul, at least when cell phones aren't ringing. Perhaps, but perhaps not. So much of our worship today is loud, joyfully loud, gloriously loud, even appropriately loud. Bands blast and organs bellow. This is all well and good. After all, we're supposed to make a joyful noise to the Lord (Psalm 100:1), to shout and clap to God "with loud songs of joy" (Psalm 47:1, NRSV).

But have we forgotten another dimension of biblical worship, the dimension of quiet reverence and silent waiting upon God? The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk exhorts us, "The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!" (Hab 2:20). And the Psalmist adds, "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation" (Ps 62:1). Could it be that at least a few moments of our corporate gatherings should be intentionally quiet? By filling every square inch of worship with noise - even joyful noise - are we obscuring the voice of God and depriving our souls of the silence they so desperately need?

When we consider the majesty of God, there will be times when we'll break forth in joyful, boisterous, earsplitting praise. But there ought to be other times as well, times when we hear and obey God's invitation in Psalm 46: "Be silent, and know that I am God!" (v. 10, NLT).

Even in the midst of celebrative worship, even on Super Bowl Sunday, may the Lord grant you a few moments of soulful silence, a few moments to be silent and know that he is God!

In my book After "I Believe": Experiencing Authentic Christian Living, I have more to say about the role of silence in Christian discipleship and worship. See especially Chapter 6: "Intimate Fellowship and Spiritual Guidance."

For more information on this book, click here.


Report: Gibson's Letter to Foxman
Posted at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Los Angeles Times reports today that Mel Gibson has sent a letter to Abraham Foxman, "pleasing for a détente." Foxman, a leader of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, had seen Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ and had issued a number of negative statements about the film and Gibson, its director. Foxman had written to Gibson, asking that a post-script be added to the movie which, among other things, would ask that the Jews not be blamed for the death of Christ.

Gibson's response, which was not printed in full in the Times, asked Foxman to join Gibson in "setting an example for all of our brethren; that the truest path to follow, the only path, is that of respect and, most importantly, that of love for each other despite our differences." Gibson added: ""It is my sincerest of regrets that events conspired for us to just miss each other when we both recently happened to be in Orlando." Finally, he wrote, ""I do not take your concerns lightly."

Though these quotations have been taken out of context, they appear to be a step in the right direction. Gibson seems to be reaching out to Foxman with genuine love and concern. And he seems to have rejected the temptation to return Foxman's ire with a similar emotion.

Kudos to Gibson for this effort, which, I might add, is consistent with the very meaning of the cross of Christ, which Gibson has endeavored to portray in his film. How good it would be if Gibson and Foxman, and other Christian and Jewish leaders, would use the release of The Passion movie as an occasion to foster honest dialogue and deeper mutual understanding.


Rant: Noises that Drive Me Crazy
Posted at 11:10 p.m. on Friday, January 30, 2004

It's been a heavy blogging week. Time of a bit of fun.

Have you ever been on a plane, sitting only a few feet away from a crying baby who refuses to be comforted? At first you feel bothered, then angry, then frantic. If the crying persists, you're well on your way to stark raving mad. You start looking at the emergency exits with longing, wondering about your odds of surviving a jump from 30,000 feet.

I'm afraid Ronald Duffy went over the edge this week. The thirty-five-year-old American was flying to Brazil to meet his girlfriend, when he found himself trapped only feet away from a squalling baby. Duffy didn't jump from the plane, however. After the crying continued, this poor soul decided to remedy the situation. He asked a flight attendant for a cup of water, which he promptly poured all over the crying infant. See what I mean? Stark raving mad!

At first the passengers seated around Duffy almost killed him. Then, arriving in Brazil, he was promptly arrested, to the cheers of his fellow flyers. "I think I overreacted a little," Duffy explained to a Brazilian newspaper. No kidding!

Though I'd never condone the dousing of crying babies with water, I can understand Duffy's frustration. Nothing drives me crazy like the endless howling of an infant with whom I'm trapped for hours. Well, except perhaps for the ringing of cell phones in church.

I can't tell you how many times I've been preaching up a storm when I hear the haunting sounds of the Nokia cell phone ditty. It happens occasionally on Sunday morning, but especially during special midweek services. Once during a memorial service cell phones went off six different times. Enough racket to raise the dead. Well, not really.

My church now prints a prominent plea at the head of our worship bulletin: "Please silence your pagers and cell phones for the duration of the service." This has made matters better, but not perfect. I wonder if the time is coming when our standard call to worship will be something like this: "The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him. And that means turning off your cell phones and pagers . . . now! Amen!"

If this doesn't work, maybe I'll hire Ronald Duffy to prowl the aisles of our sanctuary, cup of cold water in hand, ready to baptize anyone whose phone interrupts our worship. This might motivate folks to silence their noisemakers. But, whatever I do, I won't let Duffy go anywhere near the church nursery.

If you go to church this weekend, do me a favor: Turn off your phone!


Reflection: Was Jesus Married? Part 9
Series: Questions and Answers About Jesus, Part 9
Posted at 8:40 p.m. on Thursday, January 29, 2004

Finally we come to the end of this mini-series that answers the question: "Was Jesus married?" You may well wonder why I have belabored the point, analyzing both the biblical and the non-biblical evidence in such detail. Couldn't the fictional marriage of Jesus have been dismissed in a few summary observations?

Yes, it could have been. But this wouldn't be helpful to you when your friend, having just read Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code , is sure that the non-canonical gospels are really full of evidence about Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene. Given the sustained popularity of The Da Vinci Code, the issue of Jesus' marriage to Mary is a live one, and it will continue to be for quite a long time. Many people, both Christians and non-believers, have been led to believe that Jesus was probably married to Mary, and that there is lots of non-canonical evidence for this marriage. They take Dan Brown's historical fiction as gospel-truth, so to speak.

Moreover, I have spent time going over the non-canonical material in detail because most Christians are unfamiliar with these texts. So when somebody says, "The other gospels really show that Jesus was married," most believers don't know how to respond. Now you have seen the evidence, and you know how to respond. You can say, "Well, have you ever studied what the non-canonical gospels actually say about Jesus and Mary?" To which the answer is almost always "No." To which answer you can add, "Well, I've actually looked at this evidence, and there is nothing there." In fact Mary appears rarely in the non-canonical gospels, and when she does appear, it's as a close disciple of Jesus and sometimes as one who reveals special knowledge that Jesus revealed first to her. That's it.

Another reason I have taken time on this issue is that most proponents of the marriage of Jesus thesis have an agenda. They are trying to strip Jesus of his uniqueness, and especially his deity. They want a Jesus who was a mere human being, one with spiritual insight, but otherwise ordinary. The supposed marriage of Jesus is taken by many to be proof that he really wasn't God in the flesh, but just a man.

Along with Christians throughout the ages, I believe that Jesus was fully God and fully human. To be sure I can't fully comprehend or explain this mystery, but I believe it nevertheless. My faith in the unique nature of Jesus doesn't demand that he was single, ironically enough. Jesus could have married and maintained his sinless, human-divine nature. But the fact is that he didn't do this. We can speculate about the reasons. I imagine that Jesus realized his unique calling was incompatible with marriage and family life. But I don't know this for a fact.

And I do care about facts. Yes, I'm aware of the postmodern critique of knowledge and truth. And I'm aware of my own inadequacy when it comes to discerning truth and falsehood. (I've written about these very things in my book, Dare to Be True.) But Christianity isn't a figment of the imagination. It's not wishful thinking. It's based upon what God has done in history, most of all through Jesus Christ. Thus we should make every effort to find out what really happened. We should look at the best evidence we have when we make our historical judgments. Wild theories that depend on unreliable evidence produced centuries after an event might make for entertaining fiction, but they aren't the stuff of genuine faith.

Perhaps the most amazing facts concerning the relationship of Mary Magdalene and Jesus are those that emerge from the pages of Scripture, and which, oddly enough, are supported in much of the non-canonical literature as well. Mary was a close follower of Jesus, who accompanied him on his journeys, helped to support him financially, learned from him, remained faithful to him even in his darkest hour when his male disciples fell away, was the first to see him after the resurrection, and was the first person in history to announce to others the good news that Jesus is risen. Jesus' intentional inclusion of Mary, in a day when Jewish teachers almost never had female disciples or taught women, is a striking symbol of the inclusiveness of the kingdom of God. Most women under God's reign will still fill traditional roles of wife and mother, though single women have new freedom and power to serve God in their singleness (1 Corinthians 7). But women will not be defined primarily by their roles in the family, but by their relationship to Jesus as his disciple.

When he was visited by his natural family as he was preaching, Jesus once asked: "Who are my mother and brothers?" Then, looking at his disciples, he answered the question: "Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:33-35). Ironically, therefore, Jesus is more inclusive and counter-cultural than those who would tie Mary Magdalene's significance primarily to her filling the traditional role of wife. Though much in Scripture undergirds the importance of natural family, the relationship that matters most of all is our relationship with Jesus Christ as his disciple. We disciples are, together, the true and only bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33).

Reflection: Was Jesus Married? Part 8
Series: Questions and Answers About Jesus, Part 8
Posted at 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 28, 3004

So far I've examined six non-canonical gospels that mention Mary. Though giving her a prized relationship with Jesus and an honored role as a Gnostic revealer, none of these gospels suggests that Jesus and Mary were husband and wife.

The Gospel of Philip

Finally we come to the Gospel of Philip, the last of the extra-biblical gospels to mention Mary Magdalene, and the one that excites proponents of her marriage to Jesus more than any other ancient document.

The Gospel of Philip is one of the latest of the non-canonical gospels, written well into the third century. Thus, for reasons of dating alone, we should not treat it as a reliable historical source for what really happened with Jesus. It tells us plenty about third-century Gnosticism, but little about Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel of Philip is not a gospel in any ordinary sense, but rather a collection of theological observations written from a Gnostic point of view. Some but not all of these observations mention Jesus. Two passages refer to Mary Magdalene, who plays a tiny role in this gospel.

The first of these reads, "There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion" (section 59, translation by Wesley W. Isenberg). Much has been insinuated about the word companion, which, in the Greek original is koinonos. (We have this text only in Coptic translation, but the Coptic borrows koinonos from Greek.) Contrary to the wishful thinking of some, this word doesn't mean spouse or sexual consort. It means "partner," as when Paul refers to himself as Philemon's koinonos in the New Testament (Philemon 1:17). The Gospel of Philip does not use the standard vocabulary for "wife" when speaking of Mary and her relationship to Jesus.

The second passage in the Gospel of Philip that concerns Mary is the most suggestive: "And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They 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?' When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. Then the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness" (sections 63-63).

Even if we suppose that this passage, which shows up only here, in a document written two centuries after the biblical gospels, conveys historically accurate information, the passage itself disproves Jesus' marriage to Mary. Surely if Jesus had been married to Mary then his special affection for her wouldn't have been an offense to the disciples. And surely Jesus could have satisfied the disciples' question by explaining that Mary was his wife. But he doesn't do this. Instead he explains his special affection for Mary by pointing to her ability to see the light, that is, to have knowledge. Nothing in this passage suggests that Jesus and Mary were married, even if we read it literally. But, given what is said elsewhere in the Gospel of Philip about kissing (sections 58-59), it's possible that this passage isn't even meant to be taken literally. Perhaps the text means that Jesus revealed truth to Mary, using the metaphor of the kiss. This reading would then be consistent with what we have seen elsewhere in the Gnostic gospels.

That's it. That's the best non-canonical evidence for the marriage of Jesus and Mary: a passage which, even if taken at face value as a historically accurate account, which is highly unlikely, actually contradicts the hypothetical marriage. The only way to find this marriage in the non-canonical gospels is to interject it there yourself. The texts simply do not support this theory that Jesus and Mary were married.

In my next and final post in the "Was Jesus Married?" series, I'll summarize my findings and suggest some implications.


Reflection: Was Jesus Married? Part 7
Series: Questions and Answers About Jesus, Part 7
Posted at 11:05 p.m. on Tuesday, January 27, 2004

So far I've examined five of the non-canonical gospels that mention Mary Magdalene: The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Dialogue of the Savior, The Sophia of Jesus Christ, and The Pistis Sophia. Though these gospels portray Mary's growing significance as a special disciple of Jesus and a revealer of divine knowledge, none even hints that Mary was in fact married to Jesus.

We're down to the last two post-biblical gospels that mention Mary Magdalene. The first of these we'll examine today. It goes by the suggestive title: The Gospel of Mary .

The Gospel of Mary

This second-century gospel goes even further than The Pistis Sophia in portraying Mary as a source of secret revelation because of her close relationship to the Savior. At one point Peter asks, "Sister, We know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember--which you know but we do not nor have we heard them" (section 10, translation by George W. MacRae and R. McL. Wilson). So Mary reveals what the Lord made known to her in a vision, the content of which seems like mumbo-jumbo to anyone other than a second-century Gnostic.

In fact several of the disciples were none too impressed by Mary's purported insights into heavenly things. Andrew responded to her revelation by saying "I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas" (section 17). Then Peter asked, "Did he really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" But Levi speaks up for Mary, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us" (section 18).

Ah, at last, here's fuel for the fire of a secret marriage between Mary and Jesus. She is the recipient of his secret revelations and private speeches. The Savior, who is not called Jesus in The Gospel of Mary, even preferred Mary to the other disciples, loving her more than them. Mary's relationship with Jesus has clearly entered a new dimension we have not seen before.

But there is nothing here to suggest that Jesus and Mary were married. Jesus' love for Mary leads him to reveal special truth to her, not to take her as his wife. Nothing in the Gospel of Mary points to a sexual or spousal relationship between Jesus and Mary.


So far we've examined six non-canonical gospels. From these documents, which were written much later than the biblical gospels and are, at any rate, generally unreliable as historical sources, we find no evidence for a marriage between Jesus and Mary. She is seen as one of the core disciples, and even as one who received and delivered special revelation from Jesus. But that's it.

There is one post-biblical gospel left that mentions Mary, the juiciest of all from the perspective of those who support the marriage between her and Jesus. To this last piece of evidence I'll turn in my next post.


Reflection: Was Jesus Married? Part 6
Series: Questions and Answers About Jesus, Part 6
Posted at 8:25 p.m. on Monday, January 26, 2003

After surveying the New Testament evidence for the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, which is nonexistent, I began looking at the non-canonical gospels that mention Mary Magdalene. Here's what we've seen so far:

The Gospel of Thomas: Implies that Mary was included among Jesus' disciples, but nothing more.

The Gospel of Peter: Mary is called "a female disciple of the Lord," with no hint of any other relationship.

The Dialogue of the Savior: Mary is included among the disciples who ask Jesus various questions. She has special knowledge of "the All," which sets her apart from the others, but this is not explained. There is no suggestion of marriage here.

Today we'll examine two other post-biblical gospels.

The Sophia of Jesus Christ

This gospel is a post-resurrection dialogue between the risen Christ and some of his followers, including Mary. It may have been written as early as the middle of the second century A.D. Twice in this gospel Mary asks questions of Christ, such as "Holy Lord, where did your disciples come from, and where are they going, and (what) should they do here?" (section 114, translation by Douglas M. Parrott). Mary is not singled out further, nor is there a suggestion of a marriage to Jesus.

The Pistis Sophia

This Gnostic gospel was written sometime during the third century A.D. It is a revelation of Christ in which Mary plays a prominent role, asking the majority of the questions about all measure of esoteric matters.

Mary is praised in The Pistis Sophia as one "whose heart is more directed to the Kingdom of Heaven than all [her] brothers" (section 17, translated by Carl Schmidt and Violet MacDermott). Jesus says that she is "blessed beyond all women upon the earth, because [she shall be] the pleroma of all Pleromas and the completion of all completions" (section 19). So impressed is Jesus with Mary's spiritual excellence that he promises not to conceal anything from her, but to reveal everything to her "with certainty and openly" (section 25). She is the blessed one who will "inherit the whole Kingdom of the Light" (section 61).

From The Pistis Sophia we see the growing interest in Mary among Gnostic Christians, who valued knowledge (gnosis in Greek) above all. She has come to be regarded as a source of hidden revelation because of her intimate relationship with Jesus. Nothing in this gospel suggests a marriage between them, however.

Summing Up

So far we've examined five non-canonical gospels. Each of these reaffirms what we saw in the biblical material: that Mary was a close follower of Jesus. Two of these gospels, The Dialogue of the Savior and The Pistis Sophia, suggest that Mary was special among the disciples, not as a spouse of Jesus, but as one who excelled in knowledge. Thus this mythical Mary became a heroine among Gnostic Christians, who prized revealed knowledge as the only means of salvation.

In my next post I'll examine the non-canonical gospel that bears the name The Gospel of Mary. Perhaps this gospel will reveal what the others have not - a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary.


Raves: Examples of Jewish Responses to The Passion that Build Bridges
Posted at 8:55 a.m. on Monday, January 26, 2004

In an earlier post I appealed to both Christians and Jews to exercise caution in talking about Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. My fear was - and still is - that people from both religious traditions will create the very divisions that some seem to fear by speaking about the movie without sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Since writing that piece, I have found three examples of Jewish commentary on The Passion that exemplify the sensitivity I'm talking about, and that help Christians understand the Jewish side of things. I'm grateful to the following writers: Dennis Prager, Michael Medved (USA Today article and American Enterprise article), and Rabbi Daniel Lapin (below Medved's article) for their insightful and courageous comments. (Thanks also to Prof. Zev bar-Lev for making me aware of the Prager article.)

Now if Christians can show as much understanding for Jewish responses to The Passion as these Jews have shown to Christians, we'll be on the right track.


More Thanks !
Posted at 9:38 p.m. on Sunday, January 25, 2004

Thanks for your support of this website. We've now crossed over the 5,000 visit line, in less than five weeks. Continued thanks to all who have referred folks to this site: Hugh Hewitt, Todrakes, Broken Masterpieces, Pastor2Youth, New Covenant, Evangelical Outpost, Damascus Road, and Neophyte Pundit. New thanks to Patriot Paradox, Nuts and Dolts, and Infinite Monkeys (whose not so gentle urging got me to put in permalinks).

Check It Out
Posted at 5:22 p.m. on Sunday, January 25, 2004

Check out Hugh Hewitt's review of The Passion of the Christ. Look for his January 25, 2004 post.

Reflection: What Are You Thinking About?
Posted at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, January 25, 2004

So what's on your mind today? Really! What's on your mind? Better yet, wshat's in your mind? What are you thinking about? Dreaming about? Wondering about? Where is your attention focused? What sorts of input does your mind regularly receive? What are you feeding your inner being?

For many of us, television supplies much of our daily mental intake. When we're not working or studying or seeing to the necessities of life, we're watching the tube. According to recent Nielsen statistics, the average American watches four hours of television a day. In the average American home the TV is on seven hours and forty minutes per day. Like it or not, we Americans are filling our minds with whatever we happen to watch on television.

The facts I've just mentioned are enough to make us nervous, because we all know that at best TV is generally mindless, and at worst it can be downright sordid. Let me lay out a few more frightening statistics:

· By age eighteen, the average American child will have seen 20,000 violent acts on TV, including 16,000 murders.

· In one year, the average American child will watch 20,000 commercials.

· By age sixty-five, the average American adult will have viewed 2,000,000 commercials on television.

· Sixty-four percent of all television programs feature sexual content, [most of it contrary to biblical values], according to a report from the Kaiser Foundation.

· Seventy-one percent of prime time shows include such sexual content, as do eighty-three percent of programs watched by teenagers.

· According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "The average American adolescent will view nearly 14,000 sexual references per year [on television]," yet only one percent of these will deal with "birth control, self-control, abstinence, or risk of pregnancy or STDs."

So have I got you depressed yet? Scared? Angry? Feeling guilty?

Maybe you're feeling rather pleased with yourself at the moment because you're one of the rare ones who hardly ever watches television. But most other media aren't much better than TV. The books we read, the magazines we peruse, the music we listen to - much of this stuff is more or less of the same ilk as television.

So let me ask you once again: What are you putting into your mind? What are you thinking about?

Could you honestly say that you're doing what Scripture commends in Philippians 4:8? This verse reads: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."Go home

This is an excerpt of the sermon I preached on January 25, 2004. For the rest of the sermon, click here.

Go home