Essays for King Jesus

Authored By

  • Vince Beiler
Published On
Friday, September 3rd, 2021
1. Introduction 

We are all familiar with family heirlooms. An object, usually of significant sentimental value, is handed down from one generation to the next. The Bible is a little like that heirloom. Successive generations of scribes wrote down the words of the Bible, copying what former scribes had written. We have long since lost those first copies but, thanks to all the intermediate copies, we can have and hold a Bible today. 

It is easy to think that transmitting the biblical text is a relatively simple matter. This is probably because (a) we have never tried copying a document long hand and (b) we are accustomed to printed Bible editions with clear, consistent lettering. In truth, copying a Bible is very hard work and it is worth learning something of the transmission process so that we can be grateful to those who have made our (now) easy-to-read editions possible. In what follows I will describe significant parts of the transmission process for the Old Testament—the part of the Bible written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The process for the transmission of the New Testament is somewhat different, and is best treated separately. 

2. The Old Testament: Now One, Formerly Many 

The Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament, known to Hebrew speaking people by the acronym Tanak (T=Pentateuch/Torah; n=Prophets/Nevi’im; k=Writings/Ketuvim), was composed over the space of about 1000 years (somewhere after the time of Moses to somewhere after the time of Ezra). This means that what we now refer to as the Old Testament was for many years not a single entity, but a collection of separate works. Later written Bible books were not added immediately to the previously written books into some sort of giant ring binder, but were kept separate.  

Authored By

  • Kyle Stoltzfus
Published On
Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Many have offered characterizations of Anabaptism. What, at its core, is it? My suggestion is that certain kinds of historians, limiting themselves to the more or less horizontal confines of human history, are not as attuned to the spiritual realities assumed by early Anabaptists. I suggest that, in addition to historical characterization, the New Testament language of principalities and powers provides us with a valuable way to understand both early Anabaptists and what they have to do with us. 

A hurried characterization 

Harold Bender’s classic work, the Anabaptist Vision, highlights discipleship, voluntary church, and an ethic of love and nonresistance as central to the essence of Anabaptism. John Horsch and Franklin Littell suggest that Anabaptism is, at its core, a restitution of New Testament Christianity. Robert Friedman argues that it is existential and without theological form. Abraham Friesen suggests that it is humanistic in the spirit of Erasmus. William McGrath argues that Anabaptism is Protestantism plus nonconformity and nonresistance, Coggins that it is what is true in both Catholicism and Protestantism, and Klaassen and Lederach that it is neither Catholicism nor Protestantism, but a third way. The characterizations go on. 

My goal in identifying these characterizations is not to disparage them. It’s a hard thing to characterize anything historical. This is a hazard which historians assume and one I assume by characterizing their characterizations! My goal, in this hasty sketch, is to highlight a theological dimension of Anabaptism which I feel is frequently underdeveloped. My suggestion is that attentiveness to the continuity spanning these characterizations, namely Jesus Christ’s victory over the principalities and powers, is what closes the gap between the times historians excavate and the times distinctly our own.  

  • chain with sunbeam

Authored By

  • Marlin Sommers
Published On
Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

“Slaves, submit to your earthly masters.”

The injunction jars us.  We know the evils of slavery. We wonder why the early church did not loudly and roundly condemn slavery. Why do the New Testament letters instead tell Christians how to live within the context of slavery? This raises large questions which I hope sometime to discuss at more length. What I want to do in this essay, though, is explore what we learn about our own work from the various slavery passages in the New Testament.

Slavery is a bad thing. The New Testament gives advice for dealing with slavery, but it does not call the arrangement good. Slavery may be more or less brutal. The material conditions of slaves vary. But there is one constant about slavery: the slave’s labors and living arrangements are under the control of the master.  Another person holds the (legal) right to say where one goes and what one does. This level of control should not be held by another human. 

Even while reassuring slaves that they can serve God as “a freedman of the Lord,” Paul warns not to “become slaves of men,” because Jesus has bought us with a price. And even when he tells slaves not to “be concerned about” their condition, he adds the parenthetical, “But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.” (1 Corinthians 7:21-23). The only fitting master is God. Paul is continuing an Old Testament theme. Israel was not to allow their fellow Israelites to be sold as slaves because they were God’s servants, whom he rescued from slavery in Egypt (Leviticus 25:39-55).

My point is not to make slavery look less bad, but to see what these texts teach us about our own work, whatever our economic situation.

New Testament advice to slaves reminds us that, whatever our economic situation,