Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

August 6, 2006

Here is an excerpt from a book I have on my booksh…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 6:14 pm

Here is an excerpt from
a book I have on my bookshelf. Before copying this excerpt, here is the text the author refers to: “Mark 1:14-15 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Here, in blue, are the paragraphs I want to bring to your attention. I will be leaving some of it out and adding bracketed words in black for the purpose of making things flow a bit and to make it easier to understand without having the whole book in front of you:

Jesus’ opening challenge as reported in the gospels was that people should “repent and believe”. This is a classic example of a phrase whose meaning has changed over the years. If I were to go out on the street in my local town and declare that people should “repent and believe”, what they would hear would be a summons to give up their private sins (one suspects that in our culture sexual misbehavior and alcohol or drug abuse would come quickly to mind) and to get “religion”. But that is by no means exactly what the phrase “repent and believe” meant in first century Galilee.

How are we to unlearn our meaning for such a phrase and hear it through first century ears? It helps if we can find another author using it around the same place and time as Jesus. Consider, for example, the Jewish aristocrat and historian, Josephus, who was born a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion and who was sent in A.D 66 as a young army commander to sort out some rebel movements in Galilee. His task was to persuade the hot-headed Galileans to stop their mad rush into revolt against Rome and to trust him and [other diplomats that they could be doing wiser things with their energies]. So, when he confronted the rebel leader, he told him to give up his own agenda and trust him, Josephus, instead. And the word he uses are [sic] remarkably familiar to readers of the gospels: He told the brigand leader to “repent and believe in me”.

-Skipping ahead a bit-

Even if we end up suggesting that Jesus meant more than Josephus did – that there were indeed religious and theological dimensions to his invitation – we cannot suppose that he meant less. He was telling his hearers to give up their agendas and trust him for his way of being Israel, his way of bringing the kingdom, his kingdom-agenda. In particular, he was urging them, as Josephus had, to abandon their crazy dreams of nationalist revolution.

Thus endeth the reading of the commentator on Mark 1:14-15.

While some of you might know who wrote the above excerpts, I am not going to divulge the author’s name, at least not now. My questions are these: 1) what do you think of that hermeneutical method? 2) what do you think of the conclusions drawn by one who used that method? 3) what did Jesus mean in Mark 1:14-15? I will give you 45 minutes and at that time a proctor will come around and collect your papers. (Welcome to seminary!)



  1. How can you trust if you don’t first believe? Isn’t repenting from our sins the same as giving up our own agendas?

    Comment by thin air — August 6, 2006 @ 9:03 pm

  2. i won’t answer all your questions but I recognize the language of your theologian. As for the method, it says (along with manyother practictioners) that the beginning of any meaning for a current reading generation must begin with the meaning for the text’s immediate hearers. I firmly believe that and also that it is hard work to discover that first meaning.

    Comment by Sister — August 7, 2006 @ 1:44 am

  3. I like the anti-postmodernistic vibe of the hermeneutic (certainly that must be a sentence never before used!). A postmodern approach, denying a single concrete ‘true’ textual meaning, would say that ‘repent and believe’ means as many different things as we can possibly construe it to mean — and the more we can color the speaker with the taint of intolerance or will to power, the better.

    This hermeneutic assumes that the speaker had a specific concrete intent to what he said, and the speaker would be dissatisfied if future generations took a different meaning, whether out of ignorance or perversity.

    Way up yonder, I put ‘true’ in quotes because there’s true, and there’s true. There’s what did the speaker truly intend to say, and there’s is what the speaker intended to say actually true. Postmodernism would seek to deny the first one, thus effectively denying that the second question can even be asked, let alone answered.

    Comment by son1http://ruberad.wordpress.com — August 7, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

  4. …aside from the fact that my grammar may invalidate the ability to ask those questions, but hopefully you know what I mean!

    Comment by son1http://ruberad.wordpress.com — August 7, 2006 @ 6:28 pm

  5. It’s sounds like Mark records the Words of Christ to “Repent and be Baptised.” This sounds like the same prodding we see from the likes of Paul the Apostle. How about hearing another man’s method of the same passage?

    μετανοεῖτε: The Greek verb may very well represent the Hebrew verb and the recurrent OT prophetic challenge to Israel to “turn”– turn back to God from past wayward ways; the Greek suggests a transformation of one’s mind or mind-set into a new one. This seems very much like what Paul exhorts believers to do when in Phil. 2:5 he exhorts believers, τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ᾿Ιησοῦ or when in Rom 12:2 he exhorts believers, μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός .

    Comment by Anonymous — August 8, 2006 @ 7:08 pm

  6. It’s not postmodern to determine the initial meaning first and then not contradict that in present-day application. It’s perfectly “modern,” as shown by How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth!

    Comment by Sister — August 8, 2006 @ 10:58 pm

  7. I think a fuller response is in the offing in the form of another post. But for now, I see little in the way of engaging the hermeneutic itself. Mr. Anonymous seems dissatisfied with the mystery author but doesn’t really say why.

    Sister wants to get at what the words heard 2000 years ago meant (thus ruling out the possibility that we hearers aren’t hearing the right thing) just like the mystery author but has no opinion on how he has gone about it.

    Son1 is glad the mystery author’s hermeneutic admits to the existence of some identifiable meaning in lieu of the post-modern craziness (I’ll nail my jelly to a tree. I don’t care if you use your jelly to paint the tree).

    Not much on the results of mystery author’s conclusions.

    I promise I will get back to it and come clean on my thoughts along with identifying who wrote the piece. (Not that I don’t think most of you know who wrote it)

    Comment by Bruce S — August 9, 2006 @ 5:08 am

  8. Jelly? I’m not sure if your parenthesis represents a position of yours, or summary of mine. I certainly am unhappy that there are morons out there painting trees with jelly, when they should be nailing it (perhaps after freezing?).

    So maybe I only answered 1). My answer to 2) is that the mystery author is not correct in asserting that “In particular, he was urging them, as Josephus had, to abandon their crazy dreams of nationalist revolution.” The key words are “In particular”. In particular, Jesus was not addressing wannabe revolutionaries, but everyday joe-on-the-street residents of Galilee. Some of whom might have been, but certainly not all of whom were revolutionaries.

    As for 3), I’m willing to ride with the mystery writer as far as “He was telling his hearers to give up their agendas and trust him”, but “for his way of being Israel, his way of bringing the kingdom, his kingdom-agenda” shows the mystery author Yuri-Gellering the spoon of Mk 1:15 into a political statement, and at that point, I have to exit the train.

    I would ask, if the mystery author wants to read a political message into the passage, why doesn’t he bother relating anything to the political action of John’s arrest? Is that event in the passage as merely a time-marker, or is it supposed to inflect the meaning of Jesus’ message?

    Comment by son1http://ruberad.wordpress.com — August 10, 2006 @ 2:23 pm

  9. His way of being Israel was to fulfill the purposes of God for Israel and so provide salvation and make the world right and right with God again. That may sound political to you, and it does have a political component but just because that’s not the usual language we hear from the pulpit about Jesus’ purpose doesn’t mean that it can be reduced to the political. It can be a very helpful way to think about Jesus’ ministry.

    Comment by Aunt Barbara — August 10, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

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