Friday, December 21, 2012

The Bullied Child and the Other Cheek

Does “turn the other cheek” (Mt 5:39) apply to a child under eleven year old who is being bullied? My response to this real-life question from friends is “No”, “Yes”, and “No.” Here’s why:
First, on a societal/cultural level, the US is a nation that glorifies response to oppression. (Disclaimer: I’m a Canadian. We are famous for apologizing when we are bumped or our toes are stepped on.) The theme of the underdog who ultimately triumphs dominates in the media. Americans value and teach standing up for your rights and stopping bullying in its tracks. The law of Moses makes it clear that while the response to injury must be restrained (“eye for eye” does not mean one must take an eye, but rather that one cannot escalate to “eye plus tooth for eye”) the expectation is that one will defend oneself against the attacker or the invader, especially in time of war. Resistance to one’s government, just or unjust, remains a disputed issue within the Christian community, with some arguing that it is never permitted, and others stating that the believer is obligated to stand for righteousness and against injustice, whatever the source. With that cultural and biblical background, it must be wrong to say to a child, “Sure: let yourself be bullied!” The answer to our question should surely be a “No!”
But what if this child has accepted Christ and understands that this journey with him involves being counter-cultural? An eleven year old can comprehend what it means to turn the other cheek. As a theologian who has been a children’s pastor, as the father of four children, and as an observer of many more, I know that children can understand such concepts, grapple with them, and attempt to live them out in real life. We are told to “bless those who persecute you” (Rom 12:14), which is at odds with what our culture values. Evil CAN be overcome by good (Rom 12:21), even if that isn’t done by Hollywood. So then, the answer for a child who has chosen to follow Christ must be a “Yes, do turn the other cheek,” right?
The age of a child is significant. In Jewish understanding, children become responsible for their own actions at age twelve and this is celebrated with a bar/bat mitzvah. Before that time responsibility for their actions rested with their parents. In one way, the bar or bat mitzvah was a party for the parents even if the kids got the gifts!
So where does the responsibility for the bullying lie? Jesus warns strongly against mistreatment of children, especially when an adult is mistreating a child (Matt 18:1-10; 19:14).
What if this is one child mistreating another child of similar age? Some of the Old Testament rules regarding treatment and responsibility for livestock are useful. An ox that gores and kills a human is to be killed itself, and the owner punished by not benefitting from its meat. However, if the owner knew that the ox had a “habit of goring” and did not prevent its doing so, both the ox and the owner were to be killed (Exod 21:28-29). The rules for livestock are not all negative, punitive, and restrictive: the ox treading out the grain was not to be muzzled, in order that it could enjoy some of that grain (Deut 25:4).  As Paul observes, these regulations were not given only for the livestock but also or even more so for us (1 Cor 9:9-10). Beyond that, instructions target the owner of the ox since the ox can’t read.
How does this apply to the case of the bullied eleven year old? Societal authorities (teachers, parents, care-givers, etc.) bear the responsibility of curbing bullying, both in stopping the individual incidents and in being aware of situations where there is a “habit of goring. We live in a broken world and bullying is one of the results.
The child could choose to respond in a Christ-like way, turning the other cheek. This would indeed to a marvelous testimony of good conquering evil, of the cross breaking the grip of sin. An argument can also be made that responding and fighting back is justifiable and ultimately it is the conscience of the child that must dictate the correct response (Rom 14).
The adults in the situation have a much greater and more serious responsibility. Those who have the power and obligation to stop the bully must do so.
Your comments?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

So, what did happen to Judas?

A question was asked in one of classes recently about the apparent disparity between two of the accounts of the death of Judas. Mt 27:5 indicates that he hanged himself, while Acts 1:18 says that he fell headlong, his body burst open, and his intestines spilled out.

The New American Commentary states:

The picture is that of a fall so severe as to open his body cavity and cause his inner organs (splanchna) to spill out. In consequence of this gory death the field became known by Jerusalem locals as Akeldama. For his non-Semitic readers, Luke translated the Aramaic word—“that is, Field of Blood.” Matthew gave a fuller account of Judas’s death. Despite significant differences in detail, the main emphases are the same in the two accounts—the purchase of a field with Judas’s blood money, the grisly death of the betrayer, the naming of the field “Field of Blood.

The Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament says:

The enigmatic πρηνὴς γενόμενος (literally “having become prone”; AV, ASV, and RSV “falling headlong,” NEB “fell forward on the ground”) is interpreted variously in the early versions.
(1) The Latin versions attempt to harmonize the account in Acts with the statement in Matthew that Judas “went out and hanged himself” (Mt 27:5). The Old Latin version current in North Africa, according to a quotation by Augustine in his contra Felicem, i.4, seems to have read collum sibi alligavit et deiectus in faciem diruptus est medius, et effusa sunt omnia viscera eius (“he bound himself around the neck and, having fallen on his face, burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out”). On the basis of this sole patristic witness Blass introduced καὶ κατέδησεν αὐτοῦ τὸν τράχηλον into his edition of the Roman form of the Acts, and Clark inserted the line καὶ τὸν τράχηλον κατέδησεν αὐτοῦ into his stichometric edition of Acts. Jerome, who may have known this rendering, reads in the Vulgate suspensus crepuit medius et diffusa sunt omnia viscera eius (“being hanged, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out”).
(2) A different tradition is represented in the Armenian version and the Old Gregorian version; these describe Judas’s end thus: “Being swollen up he burst asunder and all his bowels gushed out.” What the Greek may have been from which this rendering was made is problematical. Papias, who according to tradition was a disciple of the apostle John, described Judas’s death with the word πρησθείς (from Epic πρήθεινto swell out by blowing).

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says the following: 

The account of Judas’ violent end in Acts 1:18 seems to contradict Matthew 27:5, which starkly says he “hanged himself.” One explanation is that Judas’ intestines quickly became swollen and distended after he hanged himself, so he burst open. Another explanation, more probable, is that Judas hanged himself over a cliff and the rope or branch of the tree he was using broke. When he fell to the rocks below, he “burst open.”

While these are plausible and possible understandings, an article published yesterday (view it at, if you're interested) highlights a similar disparity of language in the OT, where some translations have Haman hanged and others have him impaled. The term which is translated as "hanged" in English probably does not actually relate to our western "hanging by the neck until dead". After all, Jesus is spoken of as "hanging ... on a tree" (Acts 5:30), and it's clear that this was not done using a noose.

In the case of Judas, we simply don't know. Clearly, even if "hanging" is used for Christ's crucifixion, Judas could not have crucified himself (or at least, I haven't figured out how he could have done that). It is also unlikely that he impaled himself, although we'd have a much better idea if we knew what the property he bought (and where he died) looked like. If he threw himself off a cliff and was impaled on a tree below, that would account for both descriptions. Alternately, he may indeed have hanged himself with a noose, and remained hanging until natural processes caused his body to burst (or some rather quicker supernaturally caused intervention - cf Acts 12:23).

Maybe not a completely satisfactory answer, but there are a few useful clues, I think...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Work of a Theologian

I had the enormous fun today of discussing Missional Theology in a workshop with Dr. Mel Ming at the Annual Conference of the Northwest Ministry Network. It is a topic I really love.

I first met Mel as a teacher when I was a student at Northwest College. He was famous for his organizational skills even then and was a terrific teacher.

Almost a decade later, after about five years in pastoral ministry, I decided to finish my Masters degree. Near the end of studies as I was doubting my sanity at "leaving the ministry" and a paid position, Mel called to ask me to consider teaching Church History and being the computer department at Northwest .

Thank you, Mel, for taking that risk and hiring me! Today, several decades later, I've gotten to know Mel not only as a teacher but also as an excellent friend. I find myself most emphatically in ministry, doing the work of a theologian: thinking and talking about God.

Here's a link to a discussion on the tasks and tools of the theologian from a class I taught at Cedar Park Church this Spring. I hope you find it useful: I'd appreciate your reactions and comments.

Blessings, and thank you for your interest!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Wonder and Uniqueness of the Wheel

There's a fascinating article on the invention of the wheel, which you can read at

The section that caught my eye is this: that the invention of the wheel-and-axle was "a task so challenging archaeologists say it probably happened only once, in one place".

Hmmm - it seems to me that the complexity of life itself, leave alone that of our human bodies and minds, exceeds the wheel-and-axle by a fair bit. What are the odds, then, of multiple "lower beings" evolving into "higher beings" in close enough physical proximity that they could procreate and reproduce? It's not enough just to have a single lower being evolve: you need to have a Mr and Mrs evolving-lower-being who can meet up and make new higher-being babies...

Wonderful Music for Easter

In our last class session I mentioned music (again!) and we talked about its power in worship and indeed in most aspects of life.

I mentioned two pieces that I particularly love in this season: "God So Loved the World" from Stainer's Crucifixion, and "I Cannot Tell", sung to the tune of Londonderry Air. Here are some YouTube links, if you'd like to check these out for yourself.

King's College choir (Cambridge) with "God So Loved the World" (brings back memories of hearing it in that physically cold but marvelous space in Cambridge) -

Songs of Praise (a regular BBC production) at St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast with "I Cannot Tell" (I still find it difficult to just read the words without tears of gratitude and amazement) -

and to add to the above, my wife reminded me afterwards of a song which we've loved since we heard it: "Beautiful Scandalous Night" -

I hope these bring you joy and a renewed appreciation for God achieved for us. May the reality of Christ's resurrection invigorate your life!

ps - Another great version of "God So Loved the World", with St. Paul's Cathedral choir, can be enjoyed at - I prefer the King's College version because of personal connection - you might like this one yourself...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Music as Indicator of the Times

In our last class session we discussed how music can serve as an indicator of the tenor of the times - a vital clue to the overall attitude of society. I ran into this post which discusses that idea further:

Check it out and let me know what you think.