Mark’s gospel consists mostly of stuff that appears in the other gospels. You can find about 90% of Mark in Matthew, and about half of Mark in Luke, so you’re not going to find a lot of exclusive premium content here. And while most modern scholars think Mark wrote his gospel first, with the other authors drawing on his account as a resource, many early church traditions viewed it as a kind of condensed version of Matthew, due to their similarities. But in today’s chapter, we’ve got an even where Matthew gives the quick-and-dirty rundown, but Mark digs into the details. And the details are so extraordinary, one has to wonder: why did Matthew leave out the most interesting part?
The first two chapters of the Sermon on the Mount are easy enough to summarize. Matthew 5 deals with good and evil, suffering, and forgiveness; Matthew 6 concerns preoccupation with wealth. But how would I sum up chapter 7? I’m tempted to call it “a grab-bag of Jesus’ clever metaphors, sayings, and one-liners.” If there’s a single thread running through them, it’s beyond me to find it. But I can always hand-pick a few verses throughout that got my attention. That’s what we’ve got today, folks.
Habakkuk spoke his piece in the first chapter, and now he’s content to listen: the majority of chapter two is God talking. Does he adequately answer Habakkuk’s concerns? We won’t get to see Habakkuk’s response until chapter three, but in the meantime, we can see for ourselves and make our own assessments.
There’s a saying from the French Revolution: “”Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” It occurred to me: there are periods in history where I think God might actually agree with that statement. For example, consider Hosea’s Israel.
Angels. What are they? Where do they come from? What’s their deal? Today we are going to answer none of these questions, because the first two chapters of Hebrews don’t answer them either, except as they relate to humanity and Jesus Christ. Angels, for the author of Hebrews, are not that important in themselves. But understanding angels can shed some light on other important topics, so we and the author of Hebrews alike shall concern ourselves with them.
The qualifications for overseers and deacons comprise Paul’s primary topic in this chapter. Some versions translate the word for “overseer” as “bishop;” the original Greek word is pretty much a direct analogue for the English “overseer,” so as long as you’ve got an understanding that bishops are supposed to exercise oversight for the churches they serve, I’d consider “bishop” a perfectly acceptable translation. But enough translation notes: have at those qualifications.
Oh no. Today’s chapter is a Controversy Box, and I’m going to have to open it. Not all of what Paul says to Timothy here will prove unpalatable or hard to swallow, of course. Christians will readily accede to his theology on Christ as Mediator, and even the generally religious or spiritual may see some interest or value in it; only an adamant antitheist would take serious issue with it, and while I try to accommodate the skeptics even as I accommodate my own inner skeptic, I don’t expect there are many religion-haters reading Chocolate Book. Paul’s views on political authorities here might be a little more divisive, but even a politically anti-authoritarian liberal-leaning Christian could see the value in praying for their native nation’s leaders, and for peace for all men. Moreover, Paul’s teachings on modesty in this chapter may even appeal to the feminist who’s willing to look closely at what he actually says. But then he gets into female submissiveness, and man, I am not looking forward to cracking open that can of worms.
That said, let’s dig into Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonian church. I’ve found that how I react to different passages in the Bible tells me things about myself, both in general and where I am in my life at that particular reading. What resonates with me, what comforts me? What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me put up my fists inside? What do I have questions about? For me, reading the Bible is often an experience in being forced to get honest with myself before God.
The bulk of this chapter details the proper use of spiritual gifts, and its instructions are relatively uncontroversial. But near the end, just when you think we’re going to get through this one without any major issues, Paul drops this bomb on us: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (14:34-35). Why’d you have to open up that can of worms, Paul? Come on!
Honestly, I could split this chapter into three separate entries. Between gender roles, church divisions, and communion, Paul covers a broad swath of topics here. But if I looked into cultural contexts, Greek language, commentaries and interpretations, church tradition, practical application, and even further angles, I could write multiple entries on each of the topics Paul’s dealing with in this chapter, or in any chapter. And here’s the thing about All the Paul: there is a lot of Paul.