Speaking in tongues is one of the strangest behaviours that is regularly practiced in modern Christianity. Is it the initial evidence of a believer’s salvation? A futile charade? A demonic manifestation? A tool for missionary work? All these views and more can be found in the official and unofficial doctrines taught by various churches. For better or worse, tongues and other gifts practiced by charismatics have radically reshaped the religious landscape over the last century. Both defenders and detractors cite the Bible to support their views of the nature and purpose of tongues without coming to agreement. The most extreme views on either side are held by Protestants, while Catholics tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Not surprisingly, the debate is often driven by theological agenda rather than a sober analysis of the Bible or — Heaven forbid — the considerable scientific literature on tongue-speaking. Continue reading “Biblical Tongues and Modern Glossolalia: From Pentecost to Pentecostalism”
Only lately have I really begun to appreciate how much literary allusion there is in the New Testament. The books of the Christian canon were not written in a vacuum — its authors were literate, educated Greek speakers who drew heavily upon other writings from both the Jewish and Greek cultural spheres. My unfamiliarity with most ancient Greek literature has made me uncomfortably aware of how much context I am missing when I read the New Testament. As I explore the sources that influenced early Christian writing, I plan on blogging about them here. Today, I begin with Epimenides. Continue reading “Lying Cretans and Unknown Gods: Allusions to Epimenides in the New Testament”
The high priest, the Sanhedrin, and the Roman administration play an important part of Jesus’ trial and execution in the Gospels. Jesus’ trial thus provides the somewhat rare opportunity for known figures from history to be mentioned. There are some oddities when it comes to the key role of the Jerusalem high priest, however. Let’s take a look at who is cast in this role in the four Gospels as well as Acts. Continue reading “Some Observations on High Priests in the Gospels and Acts”
One of the most notorious arch-heretics of early Christianity was an enigmatic figure known as Simon Magus (Simon the Magician) or Simon of Samaria. In case you’re not familiar with him, here’s a brief run-down on what various texts say about him: Continue reading “Paul the Apostle, Simon Magus, and a Curious Gospel”
Anyone who has been to Sunday school is familiar with the stories of the Wilderness wanderings — how the Israelites were made to spend forty years wandering in the parched desert between Egypt and Palestine after their escape from Pharaoh, forbidden to enter the lush and bountiful lands of Canaan. In one often-told story found in Exodus 16, the Israelites find themselves going hungry and yearning for their days in Egypt when they could eat their fill of meat and bread. God hears their complaints and promises the Israelites he will provide them their fill of meat in the evening and bread in the morning. Sure enough, from that point on, the camp is overrun with quail every evening, and in the morning, the dew deposits flaky “bread” — manna — for the people to gather and eat. Exodus 16:35 reads:
The sons of Israel ate manna for forty years, up to the time they reached inhabited country: they ate manna up to the time they reached the frontier of the land of Canaan. (JB)
In an alternate version of the story found in Numbers 11, we read that the Israelites are given just manna at first, but that they soon tire of it, and complain that they want some meat. That really rustles God’s jimmies, so he decides that not only will they get their meat, he’ll make them eat it till they get sick of it. And so it happens, that a stiff wind blows in so much quail (“from the sea”), the ground around the camp is covered with them two cubits deep! (It’s just like “The Trouble with Tribbles”, but set in Bible times.) And then, for good measure, God strikes the Israelites with a plague while they are still eating the quail, killing a whole bunch of them. (Why don’t I remember that part from Sunday school?)
Of course, the people needed water too. In Exodus 17, immediately following the quail-and-manna story, we find the Israelites in the Wilderness of Sin without any water. (However, they do have livestock. Why didn’t they eat that while they were complaining about having no meat? But I digress…) God commands Moses to strike a rock, and when he does, it produces a spring of water. Incidentally, this account is etiological in purpose, as it is used to explain how a place called Massah or Meribah¹ got its name.