Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bradley Jersak - "A More Christlike God"

The Need for a More Christlike God: An Interview with Brad Jersak


by Peter Enns
April 29, 2015

Today’s post is an interview with Brad Jersak, author of A More Christlike God, which came out last week.

The book, with a foreword by Brian Zahnd, is about how replacing whatever image of God we have with a more Christlike image of God is central to the Gospel being truly good news. ​Brad Jersak (PhD) serves on faculty at Westminster Theological Centre (UK), where he teaches New Testament and Patristics. He is also senior editor of CWR Magazine

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your spiritual journey

I grew up in the Canadian Evangelical scene and sensed a lifelong call to ministry from a very early age. In the course of pursuing theological training, I met and married Eden. After seminary, I eventually pastored in two congregations (one Mennonite, one Renewal focused) for twenty years (1988-2008).

In 2003, I began writing books (10 now) and doing seminars, especially on the topic of ‘listening prayer.’ In 2008, I left pastoring and completed a PhD in theology (Bangor, Wales). I am now on faculty at Westminster Theological Centre (UK) teaching New Testament and Patristics and am senior editor of CWR Magazine (Pasadena). Over the last 12 years, my journey progressively led me toward and finally into the Eastern Orthodox Church, where I was ordained ‘Reader’ in 2013.

So, in a sentence or two, can you tell us what your book is about?

In the church and the world, toxic images of God abound—retributive notions of God that look nothing like what Jesus revealed in his life or teachings. A More Christlike God portrays God as exactly like Christ crucified: self-giving, radically forgiving, compassionate love.

Why did you write this book? What’s your big vision?

I want to share the good news that if God is perfect love revealed perfectly through Christ, then the gospel is more beautiful than we ever imagined. People who find that God is actually Christlike might be freed to love him again.

So many people, from Christian to Muslim to Atheist, believe in soul-damaging images of God. They either live in fear and bondage within that abusive belief system; act as its agents who perpetuate the abuse, or reject faith altogether because of their distorted conceptions of God no longer work. This book is especially for Christians who are ready to consider the Christlike God, especially post-Evangelicals who already instinctively know something is “off” and want confirmation that their faith has not been in vain.

Can you give us an overview the book? What should we expect to find?

Part I is called What is God like? Competing images of Will and Love. When we ask, ‘What is God like?’ we soon discover many toxic and un-Christlike images of God, even among Christians. These images range from the almighty God of raw will to the good God who reigns by love and consent. The New Testament claim is that the perfect image of the invisible God is revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Part II is The Cruciform God where I state that the God revealed through Christ is seen most clearly at the Cross. A ‘cruciform’ God, by nature, consents to the afflictions caused through natural law and human freedom. But he also participates in and transforms our suffering world as self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love.

Finally, Part III is Unwrathing God. Since Christ reveals God as cruciform, the biblical notion of ‘wrath’ shifts from any active violence in God to a metaphor for God ‘giving us over’ (consenting to) the intrinsic, tragic consequences of our own defiance. It establishes the Cross, not as a place where God demands wrath as appeasement, but renounces wrath in favor of forgiveness. This plays out in a more beautiful gospel, where God never turns from or against sinners, but is relentless in his mercy, demonstrated on the Cross.

Can you give us 3 compelling quotes that really capture what the book is about?

“We believe Jesus has shown us the face and heart of God through the fullness of his life on earth: revealed through eyewitness accounts of his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We regard this life as the decisive revelation and act of God in time and space. That’s still a faith statement, but for Christians, it is our starting point. To look at Jesus—especially on the Cross, says 1 John—is to behold the clearest depiction of the God who is love (1 John 4:8). I’ve come to believe that Jesus alone is perfect theology” (9).

When I personally turned my gaze to the God who is completely Christlike, I was confronted with how un-Christlike the ‘church- God’ or even the ‘Bible-God’ can be. Setting Jesus as the standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment. Even significant swaths of biblical literature don’t line up well with the Christ of the Gospels. Claiming that God is revealed perfectly in Jesus triggers tough questions about the God I once conceived and preached” (13).

“For our own sakes, we might take a break from trying to convince ourselves that Jesus was and is God and to spend this twenty-first century meditating on the truth that God is like JesusExactly like Jesus. When the veil that obscured God was torn in two, what did it reveal? A Suffering Servant who hangs on the Cross (Zech. 12:10)! Thus, every human conception we previously associated with ‘God’ is uprooted, root and branch!” (22)

If you had to name them, what 1-2 parts of the book are you particularly excited about?

I am enthusiastic about introducing and explaining the language of ‘cruciform’ (cross-shaped) and ‘kenotic’ (self-giving) so that any thoughtful person can ‘get it’ quite easily.

I also work hard to explain ‘wrath’ in biblical context as a metaphor for the intrinsic consequences of sin rather than active violent intervention. Clarifying the language we use for God is important because the words themselves become images that either reveal or distort our perception of who he is.

I am even more excited about chapter 14, our description of ‘The Beautiful Gospel,’ which is an adaptation of a presentation called ‘The Gospel in Chairs’ (originally composed by Fr. Anthony Karbo). It demonstrates how God does not turn from anyone until they turn to him, but rather, is always for us and always toward us, as seen over and over through the life of Christ … supremely on the Cross. A growing network of friends has been trying to popularize the presentation in many settings (including prisons, S. African townships, university classrooms) with incredible responses. As people’s image of God becomes Christlike, the gospel once again is heard as good news.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Foundations for a Radical Christianity, Part 1 - Change

Over the past four years of writing Relevancy22 I have from time-to-time summarized past explorations so that new readers might get a glimpse of what I have been working on within the broader concept of a postmodern global Christianity. I will do this again today utilizing past articles and topics found on the sidebars of this site as the seed beds for formulation.

This website was developed to be contemporary with current events regardless of historical events occurring within those current events. As such, older articles should be as helpful as newer ones, especially since I try not to cover the same ground twice once its been established. If it was written well once than there should be no need to duplicate the topic discussed. Moreover, as I have had time, I try to re-read the past articles I've written to edit out any mis-statements or oversights I may have committed or to make reference to newer articles I have since worked through and created.

What began my investigation into postmodern Christianity was a result of a "crisis of faith" which might more aptly be described as a "gross personal disruption." One demanding from my conservative evangelical context a broader sense of theology and reform that might expand a lively faith heritage towards the kind of societal currency which could be contemporary with the cultural norms I was sensing amongst today's younger generations. Especially if it was to move forward with the postmodern trends, thoughts, and theologies I was observing. I knew I did not wish to remain where I was spiritually, and felt a deep, passionate, burden from the Lord to educate both myself and any who would read with me, of a classic Christian orthodoxy that must become both postmodern and Jesus-centric in all its many forms starting from the very text of the bible itself to a faith that could be lived out within a postmodern context.

I also knew that my Christian family and friends could not travel this same disruptive road with me. It was not their burden. Nor did they wish to upend whole lifetimes committed to specific cultural viewpoints of theology and mission. Viewpoints which I was the more willing to disrupt against the platitudes and enfeebled mysticisms I was questioning and then made all the worse by the voices in my head condemning me with Scriptural verses of judgment and apostasy for my undertaking.

Personally, I found this to be a very difficult period of my life on every level of my being. But curiously, I never felt forsaken or abandoned by God. No, rather a deep burden of the Holy Spirit pervaded over me as if the very hand of God had descended to particularly guide me in my journey of displacement. Not unlike the prophets of old who also once were moved against oppressive energies, human wills, and unrelenting dark regimes along their faith journeys.

What I needed to do was to read and develop resources that I found helpful against the deep darkness that gripped me for the better part of a year. As such, my journey has been discussed as plainly as I can explain it. Moreover, it has been both a long journey (since university years) and a relatively short journey (these past four years in digital dialogue). I write to share a new kind of postmodern Christianity which has given to my faith heritage a bigger God, a more sure word of Scripture, and the divine life of the Spirit measured by the abundant grace of our Lord Jesus.

And so, what would a contemporary Christian theology look like? One that might be described as Emergent, or postmodern, or progressive, or lately, as a Radical Christianity (which term I like a lot as described in a recent past post). A Christian faith that might be "for the rest of us" unpersuaded by its classic dissident forms focusing on a Utopian view of heaven and hell, sin and righteousness, while ignoring human rights and oppression, human reforms for societal justness and care-take, or good earth management and restoration.

We need a Christian theology that has a lower view of God - of a God who was the more willing to live with us on this earth for a brief moment of time rather than reside in the eternal richness of a kingdom too far away for us to glimpse. A God who was the more willing to minister to the dispossessed, unwanted, unprivileged remnants of society rather than looking to the halls of kingships and religious institutions for personal satisfaction. We need a theology that sees the small and not the great. That implores the haves to consider the have-nots. That seeks an earthy gospel of the here-and-now rather than a gospel of death forever seeking the faraway glories of eternal Beulah lands.

This, for me, is what a postmodern Christianity should be about. Its messy, dirty, guttural. It is less heavenly minded than focused on the present tense of living. Of bringing in God's kingdom by willing hands and hearts praying for restitution to one another rather than fleeing from society's present demands and academic difficulties. That is discontent with the greed and banal apathies observed in our human institutions towards our brothers and sisters suffering from sin and evil. Who flee to evangelic lands promising freedom only to find a distorted reality that doesn't quite measure up to the visions they once had held of God and His reign.

But then, in the midst of our personal crisis and discouragement, comes interference from human agencies promising to dispel all theological questions and desires for a more earthly hope of God. Bearing gospels couched in fear and distrust. Or a pertinent theme or a way of thinking about the Bible that would save us from doing the hard work of upsetting those more classical theologies borne on yesteryear's Greek and Medieval thought to present day witticisms. Spreading false messages by false prophets who would remove the shaping that might come by diligent postmodern, theological thinkers, who see more promise of health and healing to the societies of man than through the doubt and disruption caused by their more formalistic breathren bearing literary device and obstruction.

Let us, then, be the church of God which reclaims every institution of man for the fire of resurrection and renewal. Let us be the people of God who roll up our sleeves and chose a passion to become passionate about. Who seek a justice that would rebirth ourselves into the lives of those we've separated from and are desperate for help. Let us be the cups and vessels of the Lord who replenish the body and re-invigorate the soul of mankind. Who measure patience with kindness. Thoughtfulness with generosity. Courage with bolder undertakings than we knew were possible. Let us become the new Kingdom of God upon this earth. Let us be life-givers, compassionate strangers, and aliens no longer to an alien world we've once feared and fled by older, more foreign gospels unworthy of Christ Jesus.


R.E. Slater
April 28, 2015
edited April 29, 2015

* * * * * * * * *

source used: Wikipedia

Although the term "postmodern" is hotly debated as to its variety of meanings, as used here at Relevancy22 it refers to a Christian theology which has its roots in post-Hegelian, post-Heideggerian continental philosophy, developed from the 1960s to the present.

Postmodernism is a reaction (or redaction) to the secular modernism of the 20th century since the 1960s. Moreover, it is not static (no philosophy ever is) but is transitioning in form in the 21st century by a process of syncretization towards a type of post-postmodernism, or metamodernism. Especially as it is found in the clash between modern and postmodern developments within global technological societies.

1 - As pertaining to Christian theology, postmodernism is used in attempting to communicate post-Christian forms of post-structural, philosophical, and theological thought relating to contemporary events and developments displayed in a global world becoming tightly knit in language, thought, cultures, economies, and technological communications. Each culture clashing with another foreign culture, then adjusting itself to clash yet again like waves upon the sea onto the rocky shores of bastioned fortresses.

2 - Furthermore, postmodern Christianity (as used here at Relevancy22) is not a liberal form of Christianity but may utilized liberal thought, discoveries, and arguments, especially in the contemporary formation of a postmodern theology. And especially in the evangelical sense of understanding all theology as founded upon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the second Person of the divine Godhead. To write of a postmodern evangelicalism is less an literary oxymoron and all-the-more-possible than once thought.

3 - Most especially postmodern Christianity wishes to communicate with contemporary global societies in the missional sense of the  Christian faith as it relates to the postmodern world in its theologies, doctrines, dogmas, and religious practices. This is done by updating classic Christianity from older modernistic philosophical / societal forms into a contemporary context for the postmodern world. Hence, a postmodern Christian theology will feel-and-sound differently from a Colonial American theology once thought to be the sum total of a Westernized Christianity.

4 - Nor is postmodern Christianity strictly Kierkegaardian existentialism but a synthesized form of 20th Century existentialism borrowing from Tillich's existential philosophic analytic tradition as well as from past neo-orthodox theologians such as Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. Especially as Reformational theology  was perceived in enlightened / modernistic terms until experiencing the horrors of a world-wide economic depression and World Wars I and II. At which point "Theology came into Crisis."  No longer could Christianity pretend a form of government and outlook to the deconstructions occurring at the holocausts of millions, and later, to the many civil wars roiling through the world in the wake of colonial displacement of rule and law. It marked both an end and a beginning for many.

5 - Nor is postmodern (Radical) Christianity a form of John Millbank's espoused Radical Orthodoxy that is preferred by neo-Calvinistic (strong sovereignty) groups leaning towards some kind of neo-Platonic Christianity divorced from the contemporary sciences and consequently couched within a mystical thought construing perception with reality (sin, evil, natural disasters). However, postmodern Christianity does evidence similar sympathies with Radical Orthodoxy in that each system works within the philosophical frameworks of postmodernism and continental philosophy.

Moreover, to theologically displace Calvinism requires a re-focusing on its opposite Reformational  twin - that of Arminianism - as found in many Protestant denominations today (Wesleyanism, Baptists, Charismatic faiths). This is also the reason the topic of Arminianism has been discussed ad nauseum here at Relevancy22 to solidify the differences between a Radical (Arminian) Theology to that of a Radical (Calvinistic) Orthodoxy. Each is radical in their own separate ways but each bears a vast philosophical / theological gulf from the other as postmodernistic views. Even as each tries to re-interpret Christian orthodoxy in an uplifted sense from 20th century secular modernism.

6 - Moreover, a postmodern Christian interpretation can be found in the anthropological hermeneutic of philosopher Paul Ricoeur who utilized the Continental tradition of existential and phenomenological thought to develop a narrative interpretation of literature and legacies such as the kind found within the Bible. Too, Alfred Whitehead's Process Theology ("God is as much in process to His experience as we are") may be applicable here as it relates to "in-time" interpretations of human thought and elucidation of being along with contemporary discussions of Open Theology ('the future is as open for us as it is for God"). These are the "earthy views" of theology I referred to in my concluding remarks to the article above.

R.E. Slater
April 28, 2015

* * * * * * * * *

Process Theology

source: Wikipedia

Process Theology is a type of theology developed from Alfred North Whitehead's (1861–1947) process philosophy, most notably by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and John B. Cobb (b. 1925). Process theology and process philosophy are collectively referred to as "process thought." (Process theology is unrelated to the Process Church.)

For both Whitehead and Hartshorne, it is an essential attribute of God to affect and be affected by temporal processes, contrary to the forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible).

Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal (will never die), immutable (in the sense that God is unchangingly good), and impassible (in the sense that God's eternal aspect is unaffected by actuality), but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.

Although process theologians all share certain similarities (particularly a stress on becoming over being and on relationality), there continue to be ongoing debates within the field on the nature of God, the relationship of God and the world, and immortality.

Construed in a wide sense, process theology might be understood to refer to all forms of theology that, for the metaphysical foundation of existence,

look to creative activity rather than passive matter, and to
evolutionary becoming rather than changeless enduring.

Such an interpretation would include, for example, the theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or theology influenced by Georg Hegel. Nevertheless, the term is generally understood as referring to the Whitehead/Hartshorne school.

* * * * * * * * *

Continental Philosophy

vs. Analytic Thought

source: Wikipedia

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe.[1][2] This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.[3]

It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term "continental philosophy", like "analytic philosophy", lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views. Simon Glendinning has suggested that the term was originally more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers.[4] Nonetheless, Michael E. Rosen has ventured to identify common themes that typically characterize continental philosophy:[5]

  • First, continental philosophers generally reject the view that the natural sciences are the only or most accurate way of understanding natural phenomena. This contrasts with many analytic philosophers who consider their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. [But this would not mean that it is anti-intellectual - re slater]. Continental philosophers often argue that science depends upon a "pre-theoretical substrate of experience" (a version of Kantian conditions of possible experience or the phenomenological "lifeworld") and that scientific methods are inadequate to fully understand such conditions of intelligibility.[6]
  • Second, continental philosophy usually considers these conditions of possible experience as variable: determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Thus continental philosophy tends toward historicism. Where analytic philosophy tends to treat philosophy in terms of discrete problems, capable of being analyzed apart from their historical origins (much as scientists consider the history of science inessential to scientific inquiry), continental philosophy typically suggests that "philosophical argument cannot be divorced from the textual and contextual conditions of its historical emergence".[7]
  • Third, continental philosophy typically holds that human agency can change these conditions of possible experience: "if human experience is a contingent creation, then it can be recreated in other ways".[8] Thus continental philosophers tend to take a strong interest in the unity of theory and practice, and often see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation. This tendency is very clear in the Marxist tradition ("philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it"), but is also central in existentialism and post-structuralism.
  • A final characteristic trait of continental philosophy is an emphasis on metaphilosophy. In the wake of the development and success of the natural sciences, continental philosophers have often sought to redefine the method and nature of philosophy.[9] In some cases (such as German idealism or phenomenology), this manifests as a renovation of the traditional view that philosophy is the first, foundational, a priori science. In other cases (such as hermeneutics, critical theory, or structuralism), it is held that philosophy investigates a domain that is irreducibly cultural or practical. And some continental philosophers (such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the later Heidegger, or Derrida) doubt whether any conception of philosophy can coherently achieve its stated goals.

Ultimately, the foregoing themes derive from a broadly Kantian thesis that knowledge, experience, and reality are bound and shaped by conditions best understood through philosophical reflection rather than exclusively empirical inquiry.[10]

Who Was Mary Magdalene? The Wife of Jesus? A Whore? How Did Mary's Reputation Evolve?


Was Mary Magdalene Wife of Jesus?
Was Mary Magdalene a Prostitute?
How did her reputation evolve “From Saint to Sinner?”

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute?
Was Mary Magdalene wife of Jesus?
Her being a repentant whore was not part of the biblical text.

November 16, 2014

Read Birger A. Pearson’s article “From Saint to Sinner” as it originally appeared in Bible Review,
Spring 2005. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in October 2011.—Ed.

As Pearson notes, there’s no substantial evidence to either of these theories. As for her being named in the New Testament, none of the Gospels hints of her as being Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus. Three Gospels name her only as a witness of his crucifixion and/or burial. All four Gospels place her at the scene of Jesus’ resurrection (though Luke does not list her as a witness). Only in the Gospel according to Luke is there even the slightest implication that she might have had a past life that could raise eyebrows and the question: Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute? Luke 8 names her among other female followers and financial supporters and says that she had been released from the power of seven demons:

Luke 8 (ESV) 1 Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming
and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,
2 and  also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary,
called  Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of
Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for
them[a] out of their means.

Theologians in later centuries consciously tried to downplay her role as an influential follower of Jesus. She became identified with the “sinful woman” in Luke 7 whom Jesus forgives as she anoints his feet, as well as the woman “taken in adultery” whom Jesus saved from stoning. In the sixth century Pope Gregory preached of her being a model penitent.

Only the Western church has said that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The Eastern church has always honored her as an apostle, noting her as the “apostle to the apostles,” based on the account of the Gospel of John which has Jesus calling her by name and telling her to give the news of his resurrection to the other disciples.

As Birger A. Pearson sets forth in “From Saint to Sinner” below, a noncanonical Gospel of Mary enhances her role to a greater proportion. Her ongoing role in the early church is subject to speculation, but she is indeed getting more respect in theological circles, not for being Mary Magdalene wife of Jesus nor for being Mary Magdalene a prostitute but for being a faithful follower of her Rabboni—her teacher.

The recent discovery of a Coptic papyrus fragment reignited the discussion on Jesus’ marriage.

Jesus washes the feet of his apostles

A sinful woman (not Mary Magdalene) washes the feet of Jesus with her hair

From Saint to Sinner
by Birger A. Pearson

Dan Brown, William Phipps, Martin Scorsese—when looking for a lover or wife for Jesus, they all chose Mary Magdalene. It’s not surprising. Mary Magdalene has long been recognized as one of the New Testament’s more alluring women. Most people think of her as a prostitute who repented after encountering Jesus. In contemporary British artist Chris Gollon’s painting of The Pre-penitent Magdalene (at right), Mary appears as a defiant femme fatal adorned with jewelry and make-up.

Yet, the New Testament says no such thing. Rather, in three of the four canonical Gospels, Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name only in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus. She is a witness to his crucifixion (Matthew 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41; John 19:25) and burial (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47).1 She is one of the first (the first, according to John) to arrive at the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–10). And she is one of the first (again, the first, according to John) to witness the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9; John 20:14–18).

Only the Gospel of Luke names Mary Magdalene in connection with Jesus’ daily life and public ministry. There, Mary is listed as someone who followed Jesus as he went from village to village, bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. “And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1–3).

To learn more about Biblical women with slighted traditions, take a look at the Bible History Daily
feature Scandalous Women in the Bible, which includes articles on Jezebel and Lilith.

The epithet “Magdalene,” used in all the Gospels, indicates that Mary came from the mercantile town of Migdal (Taricheae) on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.2 She must have been a woman of some means, if Luke’s account can be trusted, for she helped provide Jesus and the twelve with material support. She had also experienced Jesus’ healing power, presumably involving an exorcism of some sort.3 It should be noted, though, that the author of the Gospel of Luke has a tendency to diminish Mary Magdalene’s role, in comparison with her treatment in the other three canonical Gospels. For example, Luke is alone among the canonical Gospels in claiming that the risen Lord appeared exclusively to Peter (Luke 24:34; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5). No appearance to Mary is recorded in Luke.4 Accordingly, his reference to seven demons may be tendentious.5

So how did Mary become a repentant whore in Christian legend?

Critical scholarship has provided the answer to this question: It happened as a conscious attempt on the part of later interpreters of the Gospels to diminish her.a They did this by identifying her with other women mentioned in the Gospels, most notably the unnamed sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment and whose sins he forgives (Luke 7:36–50) and the unnamed woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11).6This conflation of texts was given sanction in the sixth century by Pope Gregory the Great (540–604) in a famous homily in which he holds Mary up as a model of penitence. Pope Gregory positively identified the unnamed anointer and adulteress as Mary, and suggested that the ointment used on Jesus’ feet was once used to scent Mary’s body. The seven demons Jesus cast out of Mary were, according to Gregory, the seven cardinal sins, which include lust. But, wrote Gregory, when Mary threw herself at Jesus’ feet, “she turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance.”7

Thus was invented the original hooker with a heart of gold.

Interestingly, the legend of Mary the penitent whore is found only in the Western church; in the Eastern church she is honored for what she was, a witness to the resurrection. Another Gregory, Gregory of Antioch (also sixth century), in one of his homilies, has Jesus say to the women at the tomb: “Proclaim to my disciples the mysteries which you have seen. Become the first teacher of the teachers. Peter, who has denied me, must learn that I can also choose women as apostles.”8

Mary’s historical role as an apostle is clearly tied to her experience of an appearance of the risen Christ. As noted above, in the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb, where she is the first to see the risen Jesus. He tells her to tell his “brethren” that he is ascending to God the Father. She then goes to the disciples and tells them what she has seen and heard (John 20:1, 11–19).9 Later that same day Jesus appears to the disciples gathered behind closed doors. He thus confirms in person the message Mary had given them. In contrast to Luke’s picture of Mary, in John she emerges as an “apostle to the apostles.”10

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The positive role played by Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of John was considerably enhanced in Christian circles that honored her memory. The Gospel of Mary, quoted in the accompanying article, is the product of one such early Christian community. In her recent book The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, Jane Schaberg presents the following nine-point “profile” of Mary:

(1) Mary is prominent among the followers of Jesus; (2) she exists as a character, as a memory, in a textual world of androcentric language and patriarchal ideology; (3) she speaks boldly; (4) she plays a leadership role vis-à-vis the male disciples; (5) she is a visionary; (6) she is praised for her superior understanding; (7) she is identified as the intimate companion of Jesus; (8) she is opposed by or in open conflict with one or more of the male disciples; (9) she is defended by Jesus.11

All nine characteristics are prominent in the Gospel of Mary, although many of these nine points are found in other noncanonical texts.

But does this portrait of Mary Magdalene as an early Church leader reflect historical reality? Perhaps. One scholar has suggested that Mary may even be mentioned along with a few other female leaders whom Paul sends greetings to in Romans 16:6, where he writes: “Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you.”12 But this must remain speculative. It is true that we have no reason to suspect Mary was a prostitute or lover or wife of Jesus. But it is also true that if she was an apostle to the apostles, the evidence for her role has successfully been suppressed—at least until now. As a result of the recent work of a number of scholars, Mary Magdalene’s apostolic role in early Christianity is getting a new hearing.

That, in my view, is more important than viewing her as Jesus’ wife.

“From Saint to Sinner” by Birger A. Pearson originally appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Bible Review.

Birger A. Pearson is professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the Coptic gospels and has written hundreds of articles and books on Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi codices. Since 1968, he has been involved in Claremont University’s Coptic Gnostic Library project.


1 Luke 23:55 refers to “the women who had come with him from Galilee” without naming any of them.

2 On that town, see esp. Jane Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament (New York: Continuum, 2002), pp. 47–64.

3 Reference to seven demons may mean that she was totally possessed. On the seven demons see Esther de Boer, Mary Magdalene: Beyond the Myth (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997), pp. 48–55.

4 See esp. Ann Graham Brock, Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 19–40.

5 In a secondary ending to the Gospel of Mark, it is said that Jesus “appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9). The secondary ending is probably dependent upon the Gospel of Luke. As the best manuscripts attest, the earliest versions of Mark end at 16:8.

6 Mel Gibson makes that identification in his movie, The Passion of the Christ. On the tendentious conflation of traditions, see esp. Schaberg, Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, pp. 65–77, 82.

7 Quoted in Schaberg, Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, p. 82.

8 Quoted in de Boer, Mary Magdalene, p. 12.

9 Vv. 2–10 are probably a later interpolation into a more original account and interrupt the flow of the narrative.

10 On this term see Brock, Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle, p. 1. Brock’s book is a valuable discussion of the apostolate in early Christianity and Mary’s role in it.

11 Schaberg, Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, p. 129.

12 de Boer, Mary Magdalene, pp. 59–60.

a See Jane Schaberg, “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” Bible Review, October 1992.