You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The 'Divine Passive'

I’m working on a paper for my New Testament exegesis class, even though I am on summer break. Once again, I’ve taken an extension for one of my classes to work on a paper (sigh).  I’m enjoying it, but I have a plate full of things to get done. The paper is about the ‘divine passives’ and how they should be recognized in the book of Mark. It’s actually a very interesting idea and makes connections between biblical studies and the way languages work. 

A ‘divine passive’ is a use of the passive voice that does not express an agent. If I say, ‘the ball was hit,’ that’s a use of the passive voice with no agent expressed. Who, exactly, hit the ball? I can add ‘by me’ and the mystery is solved. But sometimes in language agency is either obvious or even annoying. If in the context of my conversation I am already talking about being ‘at bat’ and then use the passive voice for hitting the ball: ‘I was at bat and the ball was hit’ adding ‘by me’ is awkward. Expressing agency is not only redundant, but boring and unnecessary. Sometimes in the New Testament, the unexpressed agent of the passive voice is divine, i.e. God.
Mark 2:5 says: ‘And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The word for forgiveness is in the passive voice. Who is the agent that actually does the forgiving? Jesus is the speaker, but doesn’t God grant forgiveness of sin? Is this an implicit claim of deity? These are interesting questions, and the lexicon (fancy word for dictionary) helps in this instance, but doesn’t help with all divine passives. More important is the context of the passage. In Mark 2:6-7 you see the response of the scribes: “But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?"

At this point in my study, I think one of the strongest indications of a passive voice for divine agency is when the passive usage ‘trespasses’ on areas known to be controlled by God alone. The indication is not really based only on word meaning, nor is it based only on grammar, but it is also based on the ‘discourse,’ the things happening in the context. But remember, not every use of the passive is divine! Our understanding of any passage of scripture must rely on the word meanings, the grammar and the larger context of the passage.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Need for Faithfulness

What do we mean by "faithfulness"? It is not a word that I use regularly. Mostly it is in the contexts of ministry, "he/she is a faithful servant of Christ," or in marriage, "they are faithful to each other." Perhaps today we use words like "diligent" or "loyal" to express faithfulness.

I have been doing a lot of thinking on faithfulness in regards to the life of Abraham. Specifically Genesis 16, where Abe and Sarai opt for "plan B" in regards to fulfilling God's promises. At this point in the story, God has already approached Abraham and made promises to him (Gen 12:1-3), and He has already committed Himself in covenant to Abraham (Gen 15). But the narrative in Genesis 16 takes place 10 years after these promises! That means that every day that Sarai was not pregnant was another day of hope being dashed. Imagine waking up each morning, wondering if today is the day that God is going to be faithful to His word, only to find out as you lay your head on the pillow at night that another day has gone; another day of seeing God not fulfill His promise. Not only would the waiting be agonizing, but also the pressure of knowing that your body is quickly losing any chance of being able to accomplish God's promise. God had promised them a multitude of descendants (among other things), and yet Sarai was barren. Now she is 75. It is easy for me to sympathize with Sarai's "plan B". She opts for a culturally acceptable alternative: she provides Abraham with another wife in order for him to bear children through her. Unfortunately, this is not what God's initial promises entailed, and "plan B" brings problems and only superficial solutions. To finish the biblical narrative, we see that 14 years later God again visits Abe and Sarai to tell them that next year they are going to have a son. This puts Abe's age at 100 and Sarai's at 90 when Isaac is born. They waited 25 years for God to work!

I find this incredibly challenging to my own faith and faithfulness in that faith. My faith cannot rest on feelings, circumstances or probabilities. It must rest on the sure promises and character of the Lord found in Scripture. And even though Abraham's faith started in a moment in time (Gen 15:6 "Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness."), he still had to daily be full of faith in God's promises for the next 25 years. So faithfulness is trusting in God's character and word (despite hurdles, feelings, circumstances, etc), every moment of the day.

Faithfulness starts with a "one-time event", but its success is measured over the long term.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The excitement continues!!!

Greetings all,
metachoi.com continues to generate interest and Michael and I are pleased to announce an online, intermediate Greek discussion group. We intend to meet Sunday evenings from 8:30-9:30 to begin discussing the book of Mark. Discussion will be in English, but the content will focus on the Greek text of Mark. The group requires an invite and all are welcome, please email me if you are interested in joining and I will put you on the inclusion list. The group will use WizIQ as an online meeting place, and will require registration with WizIQ. I have been a member for over a week and no annoying emails. The software broadcasts audio, video and has a shared whiteboard. There is no charge to join the discussion. 

Greek noun into

This is a pencast sample to promote our upcoming Greek class. This is the kind of thing we will feature as a supplement to regular class time, which happens live. If you are interested in the course, please take a look at metachoi.com.
Greek noun intro

Friday, May 13, 2011

Coming in 'Dirty' and Going out Clean

With the spring semester over, I have more control over my schedule. Up around seven thirty with a stimulating breakfast of oatmeal. I’ve been chowing on the instant lately, because it’s faster. Out to the office by eight thirty or so, check email and facebook (of course) and handle any issues that require attention. The actual academic workday kicks off with Hebrew and then Greek. I’m reading 1 Samuel in the Old Testament and Mark in the New. Something in Mark caught my attention the other day: Mark 7:14-23. I was drawn to the wordplay in the original language between the prepositions ‘out’ and ‘in.’ 

Jesus gathered a crowd and dropped some wisdom on them. The things that you eat do not defile you. Um, wait a minute. The Jewish law pretty specifically lists the allowable and forbidden food items. Noshing on a ham sandwich? Nope! Pork is forbidden (Deut. 14:8). So what’s the point? While Mark does indicate that this changes the dietary laws, the more important point is the basic idea of defilement. Things that become poop are not the problem. Defiling actions from a wicked heart are. 

When modern people think about evil, they often think of wickedness as a force outside them and Christians are not an exception. The ‘devil made me do it’ is a commonplace, something we believe and never really challenge. External evil is a minor problem compared to the evil within. Mark 7:21 says ‘from within, out of the evil hearts of men the evil thoughts come out’ (my translation). Christians will do well to rely on God for the restraint of evil desire.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dropping the Bomb

I love teaching. In a perfect world, I would have a job that actually paid some of the bills and provided opportunities to teach. Well… sometimes you have to make your own opportunity. So I dropped an email to my partner, who instantly got enthusiastic about the idea (he loves teaching, too) and we started a website offering online courses in biblical languages. ((BOOM)) There’s more there, and more coming. But now we need some students. If you are interested, come over to www.metachoi.com and take a look. Send us an email about favorite courses from the past or topics you would like to see addressed. Not for you? That’s fine, but please tell a friend!!