Jenkins, Gnosticism and the Jewish Wars

Philip Jenkins offers some very interesting thoughts about the emergence of anti-Jewish Gnosticism and the Judean revolts of 1st and 2nd century: The Gnostics and the Interwar Crisis.

That 70-130 period, then, marks not only a crisis within Judaism itself, but among movements that had grown up within the Jewish framework. We might usefully describe this era, in fact, as an interwar period, one that lived with the after-effects of one disaster while grimly awaiting the near-inevitable second phase. Anti-Judaism became more common, as did critical attitudes towards Jewish claims to exclusivism. Thinkers were struggling to build a Jewish-derived world-view without the necessity to accept the exclusive God of the Hebrew Bible, with his burdensome Law. Gnosticism is much more than anti-Judaism, but without that element, it is impossible to sustain.

Satan and his Minions in Mark

In Mark’s gospel, Satan is the head of a demonic army that causes suffering for human beings and who attempts to prevent Jesus from accomplishing his mission to save the world.

Satan himself makes only one direct appearance in the gospel. He tests or tempts Jesus in the wilderness [1:13] and then disappears from the scene. Nevertheless, Satan’s minions are everywhere.

Continue reading Satan and his Minions in Mark

Temptation in the Anti-Garden

The brief temptation narrative in Mark 1:12-13 recalls the Garden of Eden.

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Instead of a garden, there is a wilderness, a desert, the land of dust and thorns into which Adam and his descendants were driven (ἐκβάλλω in the LXX). The beasts (θηρίον) are there, as they were in the garden. In the present wilderness, however, the beasts  are more of a threat than the garden companions envisioned in Genesis 2:18-19 (θηρίον in the LXX).

Temptation occurs in both the garden and the wilderness. The tempter, now, is no mere serpent but Satan himself. If Adam could not stand against the serpent in the lush and peaceful garden, how can Jesus possibly hope to stand in the anti-garden, where everything in the environment weighs against human flourishing.

Despite the desert, the beasts and the temptations of Satan himself, the new Adam is driven (ἐκβάλλω) by the Spirit and defended by angels. He carries the battle with Satan out of the desert wilderness into towns and villages of Galilee.

Condon: What Would Jesus Do for Lent?

Sarah Condon at Mockingbird asks, What Would Jesus Do (for Lent)?

What Jesus did in the desert and what we attempt to do at Lent are almost wholly unrelated.

I would argue that Lent is not about us giving something up. In fact, it is not about our actions at all. Lent is a moment when we watch Jesus from afar. We are on the other side of the desert, watching him deny himself, bearing witness to his teachings and miracles, observing the disciples failing to stay awake, knowing that the agony of the cross is close at hand. Lent is not sad because we can’t eat carbs. Lent is sad because we are forced to watch the slow, deliberate movement of our Savior from his ministry to his cross. And it reminds us of our sin and our powerlessness over it.

We were not in the desert for 40 days fending off the devil and all manner of temptation. Jesus was. For us.

Read the whole thing.

The Power of the Sacraments in God’s Word Alone

In Puritan Sacramentalism, Peter Leithart wrote that a simple liturgy can reflect a higher view of the sacraments than a liturgy filled with what he describes as preparatory rites or ancillary rituals.

Even the more liturgical Protestant traditions stripped away rites that the Reformers considered ancillary and unnecessary, if not distracting. . . . In some branches of Protestantism, liturgical reform reflected a preference for simplicity per se. But something else was going on, . . . It’s often thought that “high liturgy” and “high sacramentality” go together. . . . From where I stand, though, they appear to be opposed. . . . The low-church Reformers (all of them, by my definition) stripped away preparatory rites because they believed that the power of sacraments rests on God’s word, and that alone. . . . Sacraments are sacraments because God designates them to be such, but he doesn’t override the features of things when he designates them to be used as rites in the church. Water is a suitable vehicle for baptism because of the way God made water. As creatures, bread and wine are designed for a Eucharistic feast. The rites of preparation in high liturgies suggest that the materials of the liturgy aren’t sacramental enough just by being the materials they are. They have to be elevated from nature to super-nature before they become liturgically useful. For low-church Protestantism, the world is sufficiently charged with the grandeur of God to begin with. They were chosen for holy use because of their common use.

In Serving the Table of the Lord, I suggested that we keep the main thing the main thing.

. . . too many signs crowd out the one central sign. Vestments, smells, bells, parading, kneeling, standing, bowing, crossing, kissing objects, veils for the elements folded just so – some of this is fine, but too much is too much. . . . overlaying the main actions of the Eucharist with multiple layers of rather arbitrary signs and symbols obscures what should be central in all of this. The best thing about the liturgical structure that we’ve adopted is that it clearly lifts up the mighty acts of God from creation to redemption, coming to a head in Christ’s death and resurrection and culminating in Christ’s coming at the end of the age. Christ’s body given to his people in the bread we share; his blood given in the cup: these are the central signs of our Eucharistic life.


A Christian pastor in Caesar's army