Biblical studies: October 2004 Archives

Abominations

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[Update 10/24 3:54 pm: I'm removing my clarifications from the original update to this post and working the clarification into the text. See this post for why; there's a slight update to my thinking on this in that post as well.]

This post started as a response to the comments on Wink's Legislating Morality post, so if you haven't read that then you might want to glimpse at it for the context. I intend this to be a self-contained post, however, so that's not absolutely required reading. I predict right now that this post will get me in big trouble.

The issue at hand is what to make of Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman; it is an abomination." In the aforementioned comments thread, William mentioned this as a reason to think we should regard with utmost caution anything called an abomination. Very few things are called such a strong term. Rocky responded that eating shellfish is described by the same term. William replies that God and Peter dealt with the eating of shellfish, while no other abomination in scripture loses that status. I assume that's about Peter's vision sent to him for the purpose of accepting Gentiles into the gathering of new covenant believers, which wasn't really so much about the food as it was about what it symbolized. Jesus did declare all foods clean, however, so the point remains.

Jesus declared them clean, just as he declared clean the man with the skin condition, unclean by the Torah's standards. That must mean that whatever ritual significance they had was only temporary. It could be removed by divine fiat. After all, it was stipulated in the Torah by divine fiat. William is suggesting that when Jesus declares something clean it is clean, even if the Torah said otherwise, meaning the Torah had temporary jurisdiction over that item. Do other things declared unclean by the Torah remain unclean then if Jesus didn't declare them clean? Does it mean those things are inherently evil and not just ritually unclean? I say not necessarily, and one possibility that occurred to me sounds really weird but seems consistent with the entire biblical record, especially once you consider some biblical-theological themes across scripture.

Update: For the whole Mark Tidbits series, see here.

In the last Mark Tidbit, I looked at Jesus' anger at the leper's condition before he healed him (Mark 1:40-45). In this one, I want to look about Jesus' words to the leper after he healed him:

See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them. (Mark 1:44, ESV)

Some readers puzzle about why Jesus didn't want him to talk to anyone. I'll just record my conclusion that he wasn't out there to spread his reputation or to get everyone to see who he was and what he was all about. The fact that he kept going around and speaking to large groups, healing, performing exorcism, etc. shows that he did have a concern for the people, but he didn't seem to be about doing those things for their own sake. He seems to me to have been picking up disciples throughout these towns through a filtering process while caring for people's needs as they came to him. His avoidance of crowds and quick efforst to move on show that the healings and even teachings of crowds didn't seem to be his main purpose but more for the sake of preaching a message for the purpose of gathering that those who responded to it as a large group of disciples. He knew that crowds gathering for purposes other than his main focus at the time would just have distracted from his real purpose. Many people in these crowds had different expectations for him from what he had in mind for this visit but would eventually be fulfilled after his death and in many cases only at his return. His purpose for now was to gather the followers who would form the basis of his new covenant people, and he by demonstrating how different and new what he was doing was, and in effect it's a demonstration of who he is. That required talking to the crowds and performing miracles, but the key focus was on distinguishing himself from anyone else as divine. I'll dwell on that theme in the next post or two. Most of his teaching in the rest of the book once this primary filtering process is over is teaching to the disciples who would form the basis of his gathered people.

I say all that only to set up what I think is a more interesting question. He wasn't about simple popularity but in fact wanted to avoid it, as shown in this case by his command to the guy not to tell anyone (which they guy studiously ignored, leading to large crowds searching for him, forcing Jesus to leave for another town). Yet he insists that the healed man, who has already been declared clean by Jesus, go to the priests for their examination. This was important enough that Jesus saw it as the one exception to his command not to tell anyone. Why?

Update: For the whole series, see here.

Mark 1:40-45 tells of Jesus' healing of a man with a skin condition (scholars are all agreed now that the symptoms of what was traditionally translated as leprosy in the Torah is not what we now call leprosy but a general term for skin conditions). The man comes to him, begs on his knees, and tells Jesus that if he's willing, he can make him clean. There's a textual debate over what happens next. Most translations say that Jesus is filled with compassion and heals him. Most scholars favor the alternate textual reading that Jesus was angry and healed him, and I think they're right. I also think this reveals something about Jesus's character that's worth reflecting on for a little bit, something that reminds me of another powerful display of emotion on Jesus' part in the gospel of John.

Mark Tidbits

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I'm part of a Bible study group working through the gospel of Mark right now, and I've decided that from time to time I'll post a little tidbit from that study. I've already written a discussion on Jesus' preaching to repent and believe, so that's retroactively now the first post in this series. I have three more already planned, and we've only gotten through Mark 2:13 so far in the study, so this may be a regular feature for a while.

Update: As I go, I'll list and link to all the posts in the series. It will eventually get long, so I'm putting the list in the extended entry.

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