“You might as well argue with the wind.”

Something about early American preaching that may have things to say about the Mormon pulpit and pew.

The discussion of the balance between the rational and the intuitive (in Mormonism we might say, reason vs. revelation, or the “mantle” vs. the “intellect”) is not a new one. Roughly 300 years ago New England pulpits rang with polemics, preacher against preacher, over things like itinerancy, extemporaneous sermons, lay testimony and emotional conversion experiences. Each might be seen as either the work of the Devil or the work of God. Clerical conferences, used to a few quiet conversations over theological points, were torn asunder by bitter conflicts between extremes. The enlightened vs. the pious.
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Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation

I’ve got a book in the editing process at Greg Kofford Books [it’s about D&C 132]. With luck, it may appear this December or possibly February 2017. Here’s a bit of the preface (excuse typos, it’s in progress):

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Making Your Calling and Election Sure, II. Mormonism and Intelligent Design: A Historical Meander.

A recent article in the New Era made me think about the Latter-day Saint version of the science-religion interface in the Joseph Smith period. And how that may have influenced the LDS thought tradition in the twentieth century.

The intellectual world of Joseph Smith’s

Joseph Smith repeated the traditions and to some degree the  science of his day. Just ask him why people got sick in Nauvoo. It was the smell man!

Joseph Smith repeated the traditions and to some degree the science of his day. Just ask him why people got sick in Nauvoo. It was the smell man!

era was marked by a near uniform belief in intelligent design. The Enlightenment of Locke, Newton and the so-called Founding Fathers of America was marked by a deep belief in the rational design of the Universe, Christian or not. Critics of Christianity, or American non-believers in general usually still passed muster as Deists. If the latter didn’t go for the Genesis account, they still saw the universe as the creation of a God, however impersonal and remote, lacing together a syste that ran of its own accord, no intervention required.[1]
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General Priesthood Session. Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Learning from Alma and Amulek. #ldsconf

Alma the younger was a talented man by Mormon’s lights, a talent that followed the Pauline Path: he “actively opposed his father and sought to destroy the Church . . . he experienced great success.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency


Like Paul, Alma’s life changed course with a heavenly vision.

President Uchtdorf:

When Alma emerged from this experience, he was a changed man. From that moment on, he devoted his life to undoing the damage he had caused. He is a powerful example of repentance, forgiveness and enduring faithfulness . . . Every citizen of the Nephite nation must have known Alma’s story. The Twitters, Instagrams, and Facebooks of his day would have been filled with images and stories about him. He probably appeared regularly on the cover of the Zarahemla Weekly and was the subject of editorials and network specials. In short, he was perhaps the most well-known celebrity of his day.

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Scripture and Mormonism: A Brief Look at Some Useful Ideas.

I want to point out some good reads in scriptural understanding here, and I’ll focus on the Bible since it’s the primary book of scripture on which other Mormon scripture comments, quotes, or critiques.

Probably the most familiar books in the Bible for Latter-day Saints are Genesis and the New Testament Gospels. Genesis is part of the Pentateuch or the first five book of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The current state of scholarship in the Pentateuch consists of three main approaches.
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When Your Calling and Election is Sure (I): The Jerusalem Bishopric

In 1841, Lutherans and Anglicans decided that there were enough Protestants in the region of Jerusalem that they should be served by a formal church functionary. The region of service was to include Syria, “Iraq,” (the term at the time was “Chaldea”) Egypt, and Ethiopia. As you can imagine, such a scheme was bound to leave controversy and discomfort in its wake. And your imagination would be correct if it did that.
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One Hundred Seventy-Two Years Ago.

A Cultural, Political, and Religious Being.
A Few Scattered Random and Unschooled Thoughts.

Joseph Smith Jr (hereafter, JS) was in many ways a product of the Age of Jackson. Honor bound, captured by the flame of military pomp, the high ground of moral individualism over against the bureaucratic state, and a revolutionary and constitutional mythos. JS saw Old Hickory as a reminder of the power of individualism that (in legend) animated Washington, Jefferson, and the then current national feeling that America was divinely established and a portent of Millennial events to come. Jackson’s experience with the South Carolina Nullifiers helped prompt a revelation on future wars. JS was removed from many Democratic positions, however. He never supported the abolitionist movement, but he did offer that slavery was an economic issue, one that should be resolved by compensation and deportation. Neither Northern nor Southern Democrats could be in sympathy. Jackson had polarized the public, prophetically, JS did the same.
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The Joseph Smith Papers Project Releases Volume 4 in the Documents Series

Two of the General Editors[1] of The Joseph Smith Papers Project team were kind enough to invite us to the official release of the fourth entry in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey were there to talk about the production of the volume (Godfrey was also lead editor for Documents 4) future plans for the papers series and of course, volume 4.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans (Council of 50 minutes? September 15 or so). Yeah, my questions always puzzle him.

Documents 4 covers the period from April 1834 to September 1835. Major events in Joseph Smith’s life and for the Church included Zion’s Camp, the successful printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations as the Doctrine and Covenants, and the establishment of new church administration bodies, the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy, the financial preparation for, and construction of, the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the Book of Abraham. Documents 4 contains critical foundational documents relating to all these events.

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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Grow up, Superboy

Way back in the deeps of time, I was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal. It was the end of summer, and the weedy bank was playing hide and seek with some bright afternoon sunlight trying its best to filter through the leaves of an old elm tree.

When I say “end of summer,” I mean school was about to start—five more days of freedom. The thing is, I was stuck in a crevice of time. My friends, the kids I had found a place with, were all a bit younger. Those kids were still in elementary (primary) school, whereas I was starting middle school (in fact, junior high school). A trick of birthdays and school deadlines put me in the way of a buzzsaw that would inevitably cut my friendships asunder. Not only that, the grade school had a different start date than my new fief of educational thralldom. They were already suited up in the new jeans and stiff-keep-your-shirt-tucked-in button up the center first day of school clothing prisons.
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Christopher Waddell: Sometimes it’s just hard to think about Jesus #ldsconf

Bishop Waddell tells us that we must not expect our faith to protect us from sorrow. But peace of mind can be present during the storms of life. The key is to keep our focus on the Christ.
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President Uchtdorf: Charity and Pride–Love Across Boundaries #ldsconf

President Uchtdorf’s address in the general priesthood meeting follows a pattern he introduced some years ago: it addresses both men and women and families of all sorts.

“. . . the same principles apply for our dear sisters.”

“These principles of saving relationships apply to all of us, regardless of whether we are married, divorced, widowed, or single. We all can be saviors of strong families.”
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Elder Donald Hallstrom: All are Children of God. #ldsconf

“In real life, we face actual, no imagined hardships.” Elder Hallstrom noted that there is real pain in life, physical, mental, spiritual pain. There are heartbreaks, when circumstances are different from what we anticipate. Social and personal injustice and it can be disorienting. There can be times of questioning, when doctrine or history is beyond our understanding at present.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XXII. Crucifixion part 3. Luke and John. Finale.

Part 21, here. You can read the whole series here.

Crucifixion 3. Luke and John. Last post!

After the story of the repentant robber, we read that it’s the 6th hour and the darkness comes until the 9th hour. Like Matthew, Luke only speaks of the 6th and 9th hours and doesn’t mention the third hour. Luke talks of the sun being eclipsed and it’s not clear whether he means some kind of solar eclipse or simply that the sunlight is obscured in some way. The word he uses is the one that would be used in the case of the moon passing in front of the sun, but that is impossible for that time of year. Now Luke speaks of the “curtain of the temple” being torn. He moves this event to a point where Jesus is still alive. This revokes the point of Mark’s narrative. No judgement is implied this way, and Luke has a soothing vision of what happens after Jesus’ death.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XXI. Crucifixion part 2.

Part 22, here.
Part 20, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Crucifixion 2.

Matthew follows Mark for the most part, but he makes some changes. “they came to a place called Golgatha which means the place of a skull and they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall.” Mark had myrrh in the wine, a flavoring, but gall is bitter, unpleasant. There is another Psalm here, Psalm 69:21. (KJV)

They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

This is a parallelism and it’s two sides of the same coin as usual, saying the same thing twice. Once again, the writer at the time did not treat it as parallelism he saw it as two different acts. Mark is perhaps thinking of the Psalm in his narrative where at the beginning he has the wine with myrrh, and at the end, the vinegar or sour wine. Matthew is more pedagogical: at the beginning it’s gall, at the end it’s vinegar. He’s more precise in his adherence to the Psalm. The parallelism becomes two separate acts and we’ve seen this kind of misapprehension of parallelism before.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XX. Crucifixion part 1. Mark and God’s Compassion on the Downtrodden.

Part 21, here.
Part 19, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Crucifixion 1. Mark and God’s compassion on the downtrodden.

Crucifixion was designed as a public event, meant to control by fear. People were meant to be allowed up close and personal to the cross. Of all the people who show up at Jesus’ cross, the most historically certain are the soldiers. Also likely are passersby, it’s entirely plausible that Jesus would be seen by those moving about in normal activity. However, the Psalms are so evidently used as framework, and the pictured audiences so contemptuous, it seems impossible to know whether there are specific memories of events of crucifixion in John and other Gospels. It’s certainly not implausible that members of the Sanhedrin might show up, for various reasons (but the priests are more problematic–it’s Passover eve for John, and lambs must be killed).
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIX. Pilate and John’s Gospel. Some Genuine Chiasmus.

Part 20, here.
Part 18, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Pilate. John’s Gospel.

John’s Gospel gives more detail about Pilate and the trial and it is almost 3 times longer than Mark’s. Pilate is in the praetorium (probably the Herodian Palace), Jesus is inside, the chief priests etc. are outside. John is the Gospel of Eternal Life, and John’s Jesus is Divine before his life (John 1) and his actions throughout consist of encounters with people who are tested as to whether they choose light or darkness. For John, the Jews have chosen darkness. John has a rule regarding those who dither, who can’t decide when presented with the choice between light and dark. They have already chosen darkness, and this is where he places Pilate. In John’s version of the trial, Pilate is constantly moving in and out of the praetorium, he can’t make up his mind.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVIII. Pilate in Matthew and Luke. Herod Again.

Part 19, here.
Part 17, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Pilate. Matthew and Luke.

In Matthew, Pilate’s questions are essentially the same as in Mark. Matthew adds, “so the governor wonders greatly.” It’s a little more drama. But in the Barabbas narrative, Matthew has “while Pilate was seated on the judgement seat.” Only John and Matthew reference the judgement seat. And this is genuine Roman practice. The Tribunali, the Bema, judgement seat, it was a show of formal meaningful procedure. “While he was there his wife sent word to him saying have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” This is early in the morning, recall the cock crow. This is Matthew all over, the Gospel of dreams. Joseph the dream master who echoes the original Joseph the dream master. The Gentiles worship baby Jesus (Magi) while the Jews try to kill him, and Matthew has king of the Jews there too, and now there is this Gentile woman who wants to protect Jesus, has a dream, etc. There is this excellent parallel between beginning and end.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVII. Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death. The Roman Trial.

Part 18, here.
Part 16, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death.

When did Jesus die? The problem here is the differences in the Gospels over the relation of his death to the feast, Passover. They all agree that it happens on a Friday, but for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, that coincides with Passover.

The Jewish day starts in the evening and runs until the following evening. This means that the Last Supper, the Trials of the Sanhedrin and Pilate, crucifixion, and death, all take place on the Passover holiday. Thus, for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the dinner on Thursday night is a Passover meal. For John, it’s different. When the chief priests come to Pilate, they don’t want to go in, because they want to celebrate the feast that begins on Friday (evening). So for John, Passover runs from Friday evening until Saturday evening. In that case, all the actions take place the day before Passover. And the issue is one of timing Jesus ministry. It’s possible to compute which years Passover occurred on Thursday and which on Friday.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVI. Pontius Pilate and the Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Part 17, here.
Part 15, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Pontius Pilate. Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Pilate lived at Caesarea, the Roman capital on the coast, and there are inscriptions with his name there. When he came to Jerusalem, he probably stayed at the Palace of the Herods built about 23BC, it’s a strategic spot, the highest in the city. In the second century BC, the Maccabees were fighting Antiochus Epiphanes. Desperate for help, they wrote letters to Rome. The Romans wrote back with encouragement, they would rather deal with the Jews than the Syrians at that point, but sent no army. Much later, Pompeii invaded Palestine, to fix conflict there. The competing Jewish priest/kings were fighting and killing each other, and Pompeii came in and set things in order, in fact this begins the uncomfortable interplay of international politics and religion in Jerusalem: the Romans start picking the High Priest, and they change them now and then to show who’s in charge.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XV. Matthew and the Fate of Judas. The Theory of Innocent Blood. Zechariah. Ahitophel again.

Part 16, here.
Part 14, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Matthew and the fate of Judas.

One the three predictions Jesus made was about the betrayal of a disciple, and that it would be better if he had not been born. Matthew tells us what happened to Judas in the aftermath of the kiss in Gethsemane. As the chief priests et al. are taking Jesus off to see Pilate, Matthew interrupts the story to tell how Judas dies (Mt. 27:3-10). The first thing to note is that not only is Peter following the action, Judas is too. Matthew is vague about this, maybe he’s thinking that Judas is outside the palace.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIV. Peter Denies Jesus. Different Stories. The Invisible Disciple.

Part 15, here.
Part 13, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Peter Denies Jesus. The details here differ considerably in the different Gospels. The Invisible Disciple.

When Jesus is taken to the High Priest, Peter follows the group and enters the area where Jesus is. The various Gospels interpret the location of Peter differently. One has Peter in a courtyard, one inside a building, one in a court. He’s sitting with guards, warming himself by a fire. Mark has Jesus upstairs, Peter is below in a courtyard. Matthew says Peter is outdoors. Luke has Jesus go to the house of the High Priest, and Peter seems to go into the same house, where a fire is built. John has Peter interrogated before Jesus’ interview with Annas, then twice after. The Synoptics do things differently as usual. Before Luke’s trial, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Just to recap, in Mark, Peter is in the house but downstairs, in Matthew, Peter is outside, in Luke Peter is in the same room as Jesus. One thing the stories have in common is a maid who asked Peter a question. She says, you were with him [Jesus], Peter says, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIII. Luke and John on the Jewish Trial.

Part 14, here.
Part 12, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Trial. Luke and John.

Luke doesn’t have a trial at night, whereas Mark and Matthew have one at night. All three have Peter’s denials at night however. In Luke the trial is in the morning. Luke does have a Sanhedrin meeting at night, but the High Priest plays no role, and he also has mocking at night. Luke’s sequence is better from a legal standpoint. Luke’s rearrangement of events probably comes from a desire for a better sense of order. Trials at night suggest some kind of secretive hurried kangaroo court atmosphere, Luke doesn’t like that sort of thing.

On the questioning, Luke has “if you are the Christ, tell us.” Luke splits Mark’s question in two. He’s emphasizing the dual role of Jesus: Christ, Son of God. Jesus responds in a strange way: “if I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.” It’s incredibly ambiguous. Maybe this is Luke’s way of saying that Messiah has become a complicated term that means something different to Christians of his era than it did to Jews of Jesus’s time. Then he has Jesus go into the “right hand of the Power” thing.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XII. The Jewish Trial: Sanhedrin and a bunch of interesting questions.

Part 13, here.
Part 11, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Jewish Trial: The Sanhedrin.

Jesus is now alone, that is, his friends are gone. Mark says that they led Jesus to the High Priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. Peter followed at a distance, into the courtyard of the high priest, he sits with the police, warming himself at a fire (remember, it’s Passover-ish). Mark is setting up the two parts of the narrative he’s going to explore: the interaction with Jesus and the High Priest and the interrogation of Peter. These are simultaneous events, not consecutive. For the trial part, Mark says that “the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death.”
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XI. The Arrest and more on Judas.

Part 12, here.
Part 10, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Arrest of Jesus. More on Judas.

The story of the Passion of Christ has its share of pathos, and certainly a portion of that is provided by the betrayal of one of the Twelve, Judas. Mark 14:43 (ESV): “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”[12] Mark has already told of Judas contracting with the scribes and priests to deliver Jesus at a moment when he’s isolated so there won’t be a riot. Riots were not unknown in Judea but they could have fearful consequences since the Romans didn’t like them at all.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus X. Gethsemane part 8. Passion as Parable. Bloody Sweat, or Just a lot of Sweat?

Part 11, here.
Part 9, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane VIII. This is it for Gethsemane. On to the arrest next time.

The Passion is a parable in itself. The kingdom is not coming in power. It comes by having the King become powerless. (Now, John would not like that idea, he has a much different vision of Jesus’ psychology, his position.) This is remarkable because Jesus has demonstrated power previously, conquering death (Lazarus), calming the sea (storm on sea of Tiberius), healed the sick merely by the touch of his clothing. Now he will soon be in the power of “sinners” as Mark says at the end of the Gethsemane story. And Jesus has to live through this, he doesn’t have power to stop it. He’s asked God to stop it, the answer is no. Finally, he comes to a point of utter aloneness on the cross. It’s through this weakness, isolation, impotence, suffering, that the kingdom will finally emerge. The sleeping disciples fulfill the tale at the end of Mark 13. They aren’t ready for the end trial, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak–they aren’t ready, Jesus must do it alone.

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Easter. The Passion of Jesus IX. Gethsemane part 7. Jesus Prays. How do we know? Our Prayers are Infected with Aristotle.

Part 10, here.
Part 8, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 7.

Jesus is coming into God’s presence, and Mark indicates it by saying Jesus falls to the ground. It’s Abrahamic. Luke doesn’t like this drastic picture: he has Jesus kneel—in control of himself always. Luke’s picture of Jesus in his trouble and finally his death is one that models the death of Christians in persecution. You see this in the death of Stephen.
Earlier, Mark reports that Jesus says (three different times) that he must suffer and die. But in prayer he now says, “And going a little further, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me.'” This seems illogical. Why is he praying for the trial to go away, when he’s already predicted that it will come?
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VIII. Gethsemane part 6. Is it twelve or three? Draining the Cross of Meaning.

Part 9, here.
Part 7, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 6.

In Mark, after Jesus comes to Gethsemane, he takes Peter, James, and John with him a little further on, and then he leaves them and goes off by himself. This separation with the three occurs in other spots. Sometimes Andrew is included so you have two sets of brothers and Jesus. Mark 5 has Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead in the presence of Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration has the three with him. In Mark 13, it’s Peter, James, John, and Andrew hearing Jesus teach on the Last Days. These four always appear at the beginning of lists of the disciples. As far as the rest are concerned, during Jesus’ ministry, they are basically invisible.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VII. Gethsemane part 5. Where? And Variety is Spice.

Part 8, here.
Part 6, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 5.

The location of Passion events is not certain. For Gethsemane, it’s obviously related to an olive grove, the name means oil press. It seems to be located near the hillside. Olive trees can live for millennia, but the trees that exist there now, are not those from Jesus’ era. When Titus was crushing the Jews at the end of the war in 70, he cut down all the olive trees around the Mount of Olives (Josephus mentions this specifically), he needed the wood and it removed any cover for fugitives. Present landmarks you might see on a tour of the area are merely guesses. About the only things one can say with some slight assurance is that the spot was near the base of the hill, the trees do much better in that area.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VI. Gethsemane part 4. Luke: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Part 7, here.
Part 5, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 4. Luke + Mark – Matthew in between. John: off the ledger.

Luke doesn’t have anything on the conversation at Kidron, but he puts it in the supper. Luke has a more upbeat narrative, he doesn’t like to speak badly of the legends of the church (his Gospel is partly shaped by Acts). So he tempers a lot of it. The prophecy about Peter is still there, but in Acts he tells how Peter is fearless in preaching, he’s a heroic figure. This is always true of venerated religious people of the past. We always ignore or minimize their faults and failures. We did the same thing in writing about Joseph Smith in the 1850s. He was practically sinless by some lights. Of course he was nothing like that, but it’s natural and that’s Luke. Remember, he’s writing 50-60 years after the fact. Luke can’t help Judas, there’s nothing really that can be done to mitigate that story. But for the other disciples and Peter in particular, he puts in positive statements about their ultimate fate:
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus V. Gethsemane part 3. Predictions, Failure, and Mark.

Part 6, here.
Part 4, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane III.

Last time I ended with the predictions and they are negative. Going back to Mark 14:27, Matthew 26:31, and Zechariah 13:7. Mk reads “And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away (you will all be scandalized, offended); for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ Yet after my resurrection I shall go before you into Galilee.” The last part is the only positive phrase in the whole Markan Passion account (Luke expands on this a lot because he doesn’t care to have Jesus unsure about himself, Luke covers up much of the negative). Matthew has it somewhat differently: all of you will be offended IN ME this night. Offended, or scandalized begins to take on the sense of losing faith. They will be so disturbed that their faith will be completely threatened. In Mark’s audience, he is perhaps looking at a situation in the community where people have failed in some drastic way. Many believe Mark was written in the aftermath of the Nero persecution, when Christians betrayed other Christians to the empire in the threat of martyrdom. It was a time of shock, loss, and depression. Mark’s negative tone, he even has Jesus wavering in his resolve, seems meant to show that the worst kind of failure can be healed by Christ. Take courage he seems to be saying. We are all human, but God can heal us.[7]
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