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"Jesus said to them, 'My wife'" highlighted.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” highlighted.

I had previously written about the so-called Jesus’ Wife fragment that was brought to the public’s attention in 2012 by Karen King of Harvard Divinity School (here, here, and here). It was greeted by a lot of controversy regarding its authenticity, with the evidence leaning heavy in the direction of forgery. We had been waiting for tests to be performed on the papyrus and ink for well over a year to see if they also pointed in the direction of forgery. Those results finally came out in April 2014. It turns out that the materials are old (~8th century A.D.), but not nearly as old as King initially suggested and the paleographic evidence indicated (4-5th century A.D.).

Despite the ~300 year difference between estimated age and actual age of the papyrus, this seemed to be a vindication for King against those who argued that it is a modern forgery.  But is it?  Couldn’t it be a modern forgery using ancient materials?  After all, no forger buys his paper at the local Wal-Mart!  We would expect a forger to use an old papyrus for his forgery, so an analysis of the materials alone is not sufficient to tell us whether this is a forgery (it can confirm forgery, but not preclude it).  The analysis of the contents (vocabulary, grammar, writing style, etc.) is equally important, if not more important than the material composition itself for evaluating authenticity.

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The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” – Mark 1:1

…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20:31

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” – Acts 8:35

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3

This is my first post, and I’m so glad to join Jason here. He graciously introduced me, like forever ago, but here I am just now. Very sorry for the delay, much going on personally, like a new job. So, nevertheless, here it finally be, my inaugural post on this auspicious blog amongst esteemed colleagues. But seriously, I hold Jason in the highest regard, a great friend, and a deep thinker and good writer, many thanks to him! I’ve got other posts on deck, but I wanted to start with this, so that you know what I care about most deeply.

I’m listening to the great book by the Nobel prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. This is a fascinating book with many takeaways on human behavior, learning, thinking, and the way the mind works. There is good reason for professionals of every kind to read it. There are lessons and nuggets for marketing, economics, leadership, teaching, and studying. Anyone engaged in leading, communicating or influencing might find it not only interesting, but helpful. The useful observations come about a page a minute, and have the effect of immediately sounding like common sense once you hear them explained, and yet you wouldn’t have come to the conclusions on your own.

Here’s one: haloing. Haloing is a term to describe the way in which human judgment is influenced by the sequence in which words, images, or experiences are presented, particularly the greater influence of those which are first.  For instance, if I describe to you a person that I know but you’ve never met with these words: good guy, hard worker, outgoing, sports crazy, but some anger issues. You will believe I’m describing a generally good person with redeemable qualities but with a few problems just like you. But let’s switch the order: some anger issues, sports crazy, outgoing, hard worker, but a good guy. Same descriptive words, with merely a reversed sequence, and you would react with a differing judgment. The first words “halo” what follows.

Here’s another one: anchoring. Anchoring is a term to describe the way in which the first bit of data given influences answers to a question. For instance, if persons are asked a question such as, “did Mahatma Gandhi die before or after age 9?”, their answers are pulled toward the given information, in this case, age 9. If the given age is changed, then the grouping of the answers shifts toward it. The given piece of data provides a fixed point to the mind and influences the answers the mind responds with. Similar to haloing, anchoring points to the cognitive bias humans make towards the first pieces of information which are presented. So, the general truth about the power of first impressions.

What’s this all got to do with Jesus?  Simple.  I believe that we Christians vastly underestimate the ease with which we, the Church, may overshadow Jesus of Nazareth and His Gospel. I suggest to you that a sermon, a song, or a service, even one chock full of orthodox content and Bible verses, can swing easily wide of the Gospel center. And it is common to do so.

In particular, I’m thinking of these things: the way in which a song can sound and feel good but ultimately be about us and not Christ; the manner in which a sermon’s opening illustration can dominate; the overwhelming effect of style over substance; the importance of excellence and relevance of presentation as a virtue today; the lure of spontaneous exhortation in preaching; and the given themes repeated in exhortations and sermons week by week. We could go on.

Haloing and anchoring and similar patterns of human judgment are not things you can overcome with tricks or techniques, no, they are things you must take into account. We all tend to reason in these and other similar ways. In the moment as we hear and listen and experience, our minds are directed in these similar paths, and over time, we are slowly shaped and formed not only by what we hear, but how we hear it, by the repetition, the sequence, and the tone.

This general truth about human judgment and reasoning is exactly why, I think, Paul was so unflinchingly focused upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. I think it is also a good reason why God inspired not one, but four Gospel accounts of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. And to think, we still struggle to get the point.

There are practical things we can do. We can make sure that we stay centered on the text when we preach and teach. We can try to preach biblical topics in proportion to their representation in Scripture: death and resurrection get mentioned always, the grace of God constantly, life in the Spirit often, the millenium sometimes, and the rapture, like never. We could take our sermon or lesson notes before each Sunday and put a Sharpie to good use and mark out every side note, soap box, rant, illustration, quote, poem, or story which otherwise does not highlight, exalt, or point to Jesus as worthy, awesome, and completely satisfying. We could decide to talk about Jesus and the meaning of His life and death and resurrection more by volume by a hundred-to-one of anything else we talk about.

Yes, we need to take this Gospel truth and sing it, explain it, illustrate it, and expound it, but we need to constantly be centered, and this takes regular recalibration. The only way I know to do this is to, as much as possible, not only halo and anchor, but surround and submerge what we do with the person and work of Jesus: start with Jesus, fill it up with Jesus, and end with Jesus. Easier said than done, but strive, we must. Pointing always to Jesus.

So, that’s my big thought of the day. What’s your response? What are ways in which we can keep Jesus, in the worship and work of the Church, front and center?

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