Gospel of Mark

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What is the significance of Jesus cursing the fig tree?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Our discussion will focus on the Gospel of Mark (11:12-14 and 20-26) rather than the briefer parallel version in Matthew (21:18-22), which most experts think was written down later. Mark records the following:

Jesus was traveling with his disciples to Jerusalem, where he was to “cleanse” the temple by driving out devious money-changers and sellers of birds for sacrifice. He was hungry and spotted a fig tree. Seen from the distance, it showed leaves, but close up there was no fruit. Jesus declared that no-one would ever again eat fruit from this tree. Returning from the temple the next day the disciples saw that the tree had withered down to its roots. (Matthew puts the “cursing” after the “cleansing” and says the tree withered immediately.)

Scholarly British Bishop N.T. Wright says this narrative “looks most peculiar,” and it’s “one of the most difficult in the Gospels” in the view of D.E. Nineham at the University of London. That’s because, as Hugh Anderson of the University of Edinburgh observed, the cursing of the fig tree was Jesus’ only reported miracle of “destruction” rather than restoration, so at first glance it seems “out of character” if not “irrational.”

Interpreters see significance in Mark’s literary “sandwich” with the temple assault enclosed within two halves of the fig tree account. It’s important to realize that the fig tree is a symbol for the Israelite nation in many Old Testament passages, an apt poetic device due to this fruit’s importance for the regional diet.

Jesus was not angry over his hunger, and certainly not angry at a tree.

Rather, scholars tell us, he was filling the role of a Jewish prophet like many before him.

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Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?

Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?

CASSANDRA’S QUESTION:

I’m just shocked by the information I just received about the N.I.V. Bible, that many verses of the Scriptures have been removed. So I’m searching for a reliable version of the Bible to study from. Any suggestions?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Guy reassures Cassandra, who’s been reading the Bible for 21 years, that well-qualified translators produced the many modern English editions on the market, and that includes her New International Version. Inevitably, translators will make different word choices and most of these variations are unimportant. But she’s correct that the N.I.V. and most other recent Bible editions omit certain verses that are familiar from the revered “King James Version” authorized by the British monarchy 404 years ago. The following discussion assumes Cassandra is concerned mainly about the New Testament, not the Old Testament.

Why we get the specific wordings in today’s Bibles involves a specialty known as “textual criticism,” which analyzes all available materials to render the Scriptures as closely as possible to the original writings. The Religion Guy relies especially upon “The Text of the New Testament” by the late Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary. Cassandra should know that Metzger (1914-2007) was not only a top expert in these technicalities but a judicious one and known for strong faith in the Bible’s reliability and authority.

Metzger noted that only one manuscript survived of the first six books of the “Annals” by Tacitus, an important history of the Roman Empire, and it was copied nine centuries after the original writing. By contrast, far closer to the 1st Century originals we have some 50 ancient manuscripts of the entire New Testament and 5,000 or so partial texts and fragments. The earliest is the celebrated P52 papyrus with verses from John’s Gospel, that was written in early or mid-2nd Century Egypt.

Such rich resources greatly authenticate the New Testament.

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