Jesus Misquoting Scripture . . . On Purpose?

How well did Jesus actually know his Bible?

This isn’t a common question posed by Christians, but it is one that the end of Mark 2 forces upon the reader. In Mark 2:25-26, Jesus re-tells a biblical story as part of a confrontation with the Pharisees. However, his version of the story is riddled with . . . mistakes?

Jesus’ biblical reference comes in response to the questioning of the Pharisees concerning his disciples’ activity of picking grain on the Sabbath. He returns their question (“Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”) with another question, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

Jesus seems to be referencing a tale found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. The problem is that Samuel’s version of this story is significantly different from Jesus’ version. In Samuel’s narrative, David was by himself. There is no mention of hunger. David does not enter the house of God. The priest was Ahimelech, not Abiathar.

Most Christian interpreters try to smooth over the differences between the versions of the story presented in 1 Samuel and Mark 2. These efforts are, in my evaluation, usually unsatisfying. But there is another, perhaps more creative, interpretive possibility.

What if Jesus misremembers this tale on purpose? What if his misquotation is an ironic jab at the Pharisees?

This is the conclusion that theologian William Placher reaches:
“Is this all a joke? A mistake? By Jesus? By Mark? Mark so rarely misremembers texts that I doubt he is doing so here. I infer, then, that the point of his reply is to show that these Pharisees, eager to burden the common people with the details of the Law, are actually so ignorant of Scripture that they do not notice one misquotation after another. Such matters have not altogether changed, and those who quote a particular biblical passage as a means of condemnation often turn out not to know its context or relation to other biblical texts.” (William Placher, Mark: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, 51)

My experience does confirm that those who use religion or religious clobber-texts to condemn other people usually are not very familiar with the sacred texts they hold so dear. This reading is further supported if Placher is right and Mark rarely “misremembers texts.” Why doesn’t Mark (or a later scribe) spot and correct Jesus’ mistake? Why do Matthew and Luke carry over these mistakes (Matthew 12 and Luke 6)?
Perhaps they caught the irony in Jesus’ response.

What do you think? 
Are you convinced by Placher’s interpretation?
If not, how do you reconcile the two texts and Jesus’ apparent mistake/ignorance?

Cyril of Alexandria’s “Canon within the Canon” – What is yours?

Cyril of Alexandria was the church father who argued tirelessly for an orthodox Christology which could genuinely call Mary the Theotokos. He struggled against Nestorius, who allegedly attempted to inappropriately distinguish between the actions and experiences of the divine Son of God and the human Jesus. Against this teaching, Cyril fought to the death to preserve the unity of the divine and human in the Incarnation. For Cyril, the perfect union of God and Man in the Incarnation was the heart of soteriology – the truth of how God has saved humanity.

When one reads Cyril they find that he has a collection of “pet texts” that he references often in order to explain key passages of Scripture or to defend certain doctrines. For Cyril, his “go-to” texts consisted of John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:14-17, and (as I argued in my thesis) Romans 5:14. It’s not hard to see why – all of these verses emphasize the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God and its salvific implications. Thus, no matter what text or doctrine Cyril is dealing with, a quick and steady reference to these texts helps put the issue in his overall theological context. As an example, see my post on Cyril’s theological reading of Luke 10:23-24.  

I wonder if this practice, of developing a “canon within the canon” of sorts, is a helpful example for Christians wishing to faithfully interpret Scripture and understand key doctrines. In fact, I would suggest that most Christians already (perhaps subconsciously) interpret Scripture and various theologies in this fashion.

I know that I have a few “go-to texts” that I immediately think of when pondering exegetical or theological issues: John 1:14-18, Hebrews 1:1-4, Galatians 1:3-4, and Philippians 3:20-21. Those who know me can easily see why/how these texts work in my thinking: I consistently emphasize Jesus as the clearest and fullest picture of God (John 1:14-18 and Hebrews 1:1-4), I also have a fairly apocalyptic eschatology (Galatians 1:3-4), and I think Christians should focus more on the future resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:20-21). Thus, one of my first questions when thinking through an exegetical or theological issue is often: “How does this fit with an understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus as the perfect revelation of God’s character and will?”

I’m interested in whether you have some “pet texts,” what they say about your theology, and whether you think that this practice is ultimately helpful or harmful. So:

 Do you have “key texts” which function for you as a “canon-within-a-canon”? 
What do you they say about your theology?
What dangers are there to employing such an approach to exegesis/theology?

What It Means To Be “Fishers of Men” (Mark 1:17)

In Mark 1:17 Jesus tells Simon & Andrew: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” But what exactly does this title, “fishers of men,” mean?

The “common-sense” reading of the text suggests that it simply implies that Jesus’ followers will come to have same mission that Jesus has (calling people to follow him). Indeed, this is how the text is normally read and preached. As those who follow Christ, we are called to be “fishers of men” and continue to extend the invitation of following Christ to those around us. However, at least two alternate or supplemental readings are possible:

1) The “Martyr” Reading

If you take the metaphor of fishing seriously, perhaps there is a note of implied suffering involved in the call to be “fishers of men.” Fishing is a somewhat violent activity which involves the hooking of an animal and, usually, it’s eventual death. Already in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, John has been arrested by the authorities, Jesus has been tempted in the desert by Satan, and Simon/Andrew/James/John have abandoned their financial and social security in order to follow Jesus. It won’t be long until Jesus reveals that the call to follow him is ultimately a call to martyrdom – a call to pick up one’s cross and die. Is Jesus playing on the metaphor of fishing and suggesting that the mission the disciples are called to join is one of bidding people to a life of temptation, suffering, and death? William Placher concludes: “Is such a connotation (of suffering) intentional? It is hard to tell. Those who are ‘caught’ in discipleship of Jesus will come to great joy, but only, we will learn, on the other side of suffering.” (Placher, Mark, 37).

2) The “Judgement” Reading

It’s possible, if not likely, that Jesus is drawing this title from Old Testament prophetic images of God “fishing” his people. Perhaps Jesus draws this title from Jeremiah 16:16, Amos 4:2, or Ezekiel 29:4. In these texts, “fishing men” is seen as a euphemism for God’s judgement on his people – the rich and powerful who have abandoned his call to obedience. If Jesus is intentionally drawing on these prophetic traditions, then perhaps he is inviting Simon/Andrew/James/John to “join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.” (Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 132). To follow Jesus, in this reading, is thus to become part of a people who by their very existence cast judgement on those living in disobedience to God’s true desires. It is to live a life of radical generosity and enemy-love which necessarily clashes with the world and its rulers.

What do you think?
How do you read the call to be “fishers of men”?
What do you think about these alternative/supplemental readings?


Post-Modern Biblical Interpretation and Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’

As I am working on my thesis, I’ve been reading through some articles and chapters on theological interpretation and today I’ve been mulling over an article by AKM Adam on Post-Modern Biblical Interpretation. It’s an excellent article if you are interested in getting a summary review of the differences between modern and post-modern approaches to interpretation. I thought it was particularly relevant in light of the move Noah which has caused a bit of an uproar in terms of its “accuracy” and the freedom taken by Aranofsky in his story-telling.

In discussing the freedom of post-modern interpreters, AKM Adam writes:

“…post-modern interpreters may productively disregard the modern norms that restrict interpretation to discursive genres. Although such interpretations might not readily be judged by strictly modern criteria, reviewers could draw on the critical wisdom relative to the genre in question to supply what is lacking in the modern repertoire. A film adaptation of the Davidic monarchy would not be answerable simply to the customary questions relative to historicity, anachronism, verisimilitude, and scholarly integrity but would also be answerable for the quality of lighting, staging, direction, acting, and soundtrack.A modern critic might wince at the thought that exquisite casting and a compelling soundtrack could redeem a filmed interpretation that fell shot of a perfectly accurate historical interpretation, but a post-modern critic could articulate a judgment that took account of more dimensions than only the historical foundations.

– AKM Adam on Post-Modern Biblical Interpretation*

Personally, I really enjoyed Aronofsky’s Noah. And the more I think about the story Aranofsky told, the more I love his re-telling of Noah. I can look past its so-called “inaccuracies” because it succeeds in telling a good, thought-provoking, and relevant story. I don’t need a film to stick to the biblical script… I have the scriptures for that and I don’t expect a movie–which is about entertainment, art, as well as a message–to serve the same role as the Bible.

I think the best description of the film I have heard (by multiple tweeters and bloggers) is that it is a modern day parable which uses the story of Noah as it’s framework, a sort of outline or jumping off point. Michelle has written a great post here at Cataclysmic that I highly recommend on Noah and the Violence that Haunts Us All.  Peter Enns also has a good, spoiler-free review at his blog.

*I got this article from my adviser and don’t know which dictionary it came out of but I will update this post with that info and page number once I find out.

Frauen Fridays — Mercy Amba Oduyoye

Welcome to Cataclysmic’s first Frauen Friday!  Frauen Fridays will be sure to make you smile… ba dum bump!!  (I think I need to come up with a fun graphic for Frauen Fridays, no?) Each week, I will be doing a short(er… maybe?) post on a woman from the Christian academy and/or church who works in (or has been influential to) theology, biblical studies, or biblical languages.  The goal of this series is to become more aware of the amazing women that have and continue to shape the Christian faith.

A couple of semesters ago I took a hermeneutics class and chose to write my term paper on African Womanist Hermeneutics.  I chose this topic for several reasons, the obvious one being that it was about women reading the Bible. That’s kind of a no-brainer when it comes to things I’m interested in! 🙂  I had also recently returned from a two-week teaching trip to Limuru, Kenya, and was really interested in learning more about how African women were doing theology.  Most of all, I knew I would learn something new from women that live in a different part of the world and have different experiences than I have had in my own life.  I certainly only scratched the surface of the matter, but what I read and learned has had a lasting impact on the way I approach the Bible.

As I set out to find out more about this field of study, I was quickly introduced to the work of Mercy Amba Oduyoye.

Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye [born in 1934] is a Ghanaian Methodist. She has formal education in pedagogy and theology. She studied theology at the University of Ghana, Legon, and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. She has served as visiting faculty in theological institutions in other African countries, Canada, Europe and the United States of America. She served as staff to the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches, culminating in seven years as the WCC Deputy General Secretary. She has also been president of the World Student Christian Federation and president of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. It was her initiative that brought into being The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in 1989. She established the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana, where she currently serves as as director. She is well known for her publications, especially on African women’s theology.(1)

Oduyoye is one of the primary voices in African Womanist Hermeneutics and Theology and is founder of The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.  The group was started to encourage and promote the involvement of women in African theology and Biblical interpretation, with a focus on the issues of patriarchy, sexism, and gender, and is made up of women from various countries across the continent with groups present in more than thirteen countries.(2) For The Circle, the involvement of women in shaping theology and in shaping culture is critical.

“Since the Bible depicts other peoples’ cultures, and we know from African culture that not everything in culture is liberating, we come to the Bible with the same cautious approach we have to culture… Any interpretation of the Bible is unacceptable if it does harm to women, the vulnerable and the voiceless.

Oduyoye in Introducing African Women’s Theology (2001), p.12

African womanist hermeneutics is largely about African women finding their place in God’s story; it’s doing theology in their own words and from their own experiences.  Drawing from other hermeneutical traditions, African womanist hermeneutics is a response to external circumstances, a wrestling with the biblical texts, and an earnest attempt at walking hand-in-hand with God.

Without too much straining of the gospel, one discovers Jesus as a man who related to women as human beings, to be respected and to be trusted. He accepted their friendship and service and hospitality. He rendered them service, teaching them, healing them, waking up their dead, saving them from exploitation and victimization. He himself undertook much that was seen as women’s roles and attitudes. A compassionate and caring one who anticipated people’s needs. Jesus was a mother par excellence. Therefore, when we meet certain women as regularly among his followers from Galilee to Golgotha and the tomb, we see a real example of solidarity among caring people.

Oduyoye in “Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion,” (2008), p.83

Oduyoye captures the heart of African womanist hermeneutics as the desire for women to “want to join in the search for the truth about human life and how to live it; we [African women] want to decide for ourselves, for our day and situation, what constitutes a liberating and liberative life.”(3)

To get to know more about Oduyoye and African Womanist Hermeneutics and Theology, check out:

Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa (1986)
Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (1995)
Introducing African Women’s Theology (2001)
Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa (2004)

Oduyoye has also written more than 80 articles so if you have access to a database be sure to check out:

“The Story of a Circle.” The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 53.1 (January 2001): 97-100.
“Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion.” The Ecumenical Review 60, no. 1-2 (2008): 82-89.

[Oduyoye discussing Princeton Theological Seminary’s digital library in 2013]


1. Bio is from Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion,” The Ecumenical Review 60, no. 1-2 (2008): 82-89.

2. “History of the Circle,” The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, (accessed November 11, 2012).

3. Mercy Amaba Oduyoye, Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2004), 100.