Archive for September, 2012

Was Jesus Married?

September 21, 2012

Rev.  Adam Hamilton is a colleague of mine and a respected preacher and Biblical scholar. He recently wrote the article copied below about an ancient text that allegedly refers to Jesus as having been married to Mary Magdalene. I commend his article to you as excellent food for thought on this report:*

Okay, let’s talk about the announcement this week of a fragment of a papyrus (an ancient scrap of paper) where Jesus mentions his wife. The timing of this announcement I felt was perfect, given last week in my sermon I walked you through the formation of the New Testament and how books either did or did not make it into the New Testament. We learned last week that the gospels in our New Testament draw upon the earliest strata of information about Jesus and date to the first century. The materials the gospel writers drew from date back to the earliest decades of the Christian faith and to eyewitness accounts. By the end of the first century and beginning of the second century these gospels are quoted by the early church fathers.

This week Harvard professor Karen King announced at a conference in Rome the text of a papyrus from the 300’s in which Jesus mentions Mary (presumably Magdalene) as his wife. There has since been some questions raised as to whether the fragment is authentic, but let’s assume it is. The fragment comes from the 300’s, 200+ years after the gospels were written. It is said that it could be a Coptic translation of an earlier Greek document. Perhaps but we have no evidence of this.

What we do know is that in the second, third and fourth centuries there were a host of “gospels” and other works that were written purporting to have information about Jesus or the apostles. They contain interesting and often fanciful stories about Jesus as a boy, or esoteric sayings placed on the lips of Jesus as a man – sayings that supported the particular leanings of this or that group.

Here are the questions I would ask about the idea of Jesus being married to Mary: If Jesus were married to Mary Magdalene, why would none of the gospels, nor any of the earliest witnesses not mention this? Mary is clearly an important person in the gospels, and she is a follower of Jesus. She is the first witness to the resurrection. She may even have loved Jesus. But there was no shame in being married in the first century. Had Jesus been married Christian theology would have developed around that idea. But neither the gospels nor the earliest documents of the Christian faith, or the letters of Paul, mention this; the early church fathers don’t mention it either. So, none of the documents we have from the earliest period of the Christian church make reference to this idea. But a fragment from a document from the 300’s, not quoted by any of the church leaders from the first three centuries of the Christian faith, is found with Jesus mentioning his wife. This would not lead me to believe this was a reliable piece of information.

Last week we noted that the criteria by which documents made it into the New Testament were apostolicity, catholicity and consistency with the gospel. Apostolicity meant that a document was written by an apostle or somehow having access to or associated with the preaching of the apostles. Catholicity meant that the document was accepted, used by and found helpful to a majority of churches across the ancient world. Consistency related to whether the message was consistent with the earliest strata of documents the church had – the letters of Paul and the four gospels. This document appears to bear none of these marks.

So, it is interesting and fun to read these documents to see how the gospel began to be reshaped and the ideas that were added to it in the centuries after the time of Jesus, but such finds don’t lead me to question the accounts we have found in the gospels of the New Testament. By the way, there is an online library of both the earliest Christian documents, the writings of the church fathers and these documents that were rejected by the church. It is fascinating to read them.”

*Reprinted from Rev. Adam Hamilton’s weekly e-blast to his congregation at Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in Leawood, Kansas. (www.cor.org).

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News from the ILI Summit

September 17, 2012

I am now flying back after a teaching mission to the Netherlands and Kenya. I have been a part of the International Leadership Institute’s work in connecting pastors and church leaders across the globe to leadership training. We completed a Leadership Summit for ILI alumni in East Africa. I taught the alumni on two topics: Building Teams for Kingdom Ministry; and Conflict Management. I also spoke three times in worship services while in Africa. I always learn more from these pastors on the front lines than I can take to them. They a[appreciate so much when Americans come to them to teach and share practical tools for ministry.

The alumni at the Kenya ILI training were from 8 countries in East Africa – places of poverty and developing areas. And some of them were from places where persecution is a regular occurrence. Their stories of faithfulness among overwhelming challenges inspire me to be more faithful and determined to serve the Lord sacrificially. One of the pastors I taught is from the south part of Kenya where two tribes are presently in conflict. Churches are being burned, innocent people killed and homes burned. This pastor has seen 75% of his congregation flee to safe areas. Yet at the end of the conference he returned to his home area committed to serve and preach Christ among threats and hardships.

Two of the Kenyan delegates will soon be married. She is the director of a home for orphans and he will be planting a church for unreached people. I spoke to a delegate from Ethiopia that said he is presently caught up in a major conflict within his church. My workshop gave him practical teaching to lead them through the divisions with a plan and renewed hope. We knelt and prayed together for the people involved and I asked the Lord to protect him and his wife from criticism and suffering.

I was especially encouraged that many of the delegates were young adults. They are very visionary and see the church as the place where they can work together to bring hope and healing to their nations. I prayed with three young adults who long to go to seminary and are now working to save for classes and hoping for scholarship assistance. For most of these pastors, ILI training is the only training they will ever receive. When we present them a certificate of completion for the course, they are thrilled. For a majority of them, it is the first certificate they have ever received since primary school.

My thanks to my church for praying for me and allowing me to take this time to teach and encourage our sisters and brothers in Europe and Africa. They asked me to thank you and for you to continue to pray for them as they grow churches and ministries. I also thank my sponsors beyond Sugar Hill and my family for supporting this mission. This has been good for my soul and I return with renewed zeal and vision for the work of the kingdom here in the states and with renewed hope for the future of the Methodist movement. Our churches and pastors in Africa are leading the way to a new future where the people called Methodists are reaching the lost and bringing hope to hurting and broken people.

Windmills and the Wind of the Spirit

September 10, 2012

I am now in Holland with Rev Wes Griffin, the president of the International Leadership Institute. We came here to build bridges between campus ministry groups, parachurch leaders and the Jesus.net movement; and introduce them to the Christian to the Core curriculum. One of the local pastors took us yesterday to visit the windmills in the Kinderdyke region east of Rotterdam. These windmills are amazing. For over 300 years, the Dutch have used windmills and wind powered pumps to harness energy and push back the sea thus increasing their territory and safety.

These Christian leaders are now moving together in the power of the Holy Spirit’s refreshing and powerful wind to reach out and engage a new generation with the power and promise of the Good News of following Jesus Christ. It is encouraging to hear their stories of how they are using modern media and social networking to gain the attention and interest of young people across this region. People are hungry for truth and to understand God. They do not see the church as offering much in the way of relevant answers. Yet they are drawn to these networks that offer a multi-media approach to offering them hope, tools to explore their faith and answers that speak to their struggles. They respond to teaching that is question driven where the seeker is offered space to learn for themselves and from believers and mentors that meet them where they are in their journey.

Tomorrow we fly to Kenya to teach in an ILI Summit. We expect over 100 pastors from East Africa. These pastors serve in churches of all sizes and deal daily with the overwhelming pressures of poverty, persecution, hunger and disease. Pray for us as we seek to equip them, encourage them and their churches and learn from these brothers and sisters on the cutting edge of the church’s rapid growth in Africa. May the warm and powerful winds of the Holy Spirit blow upon all of us across these three continents.

Come Holy Spirit, our hearts inspire!! Amen.