Month: November, 2013

Apostle Peter 16: Jesus, the Hope of Healing (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Mark 5:21-43


Apostle Peter 16: Jesus, the Hope of Healing (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Mark 5:21-43


A Modern Twist

Contacts.  That is what a match-maker had in the past that parents do not have. When parents begin their pre-selection process, they do not know all the people they ought to know. In the past, they relied heavily on the match-maker. In today’s world, marriage should begin with the children’s own world of social contacts, the contacts of the parents, and the internet.

The internet brings together people you or your parents do not know.  Using a website to look for potentials is good.  But the website is only a tool.  The self-representation on the profiles is a start, and you don’t really know if it is a correct representation. In addition, there may be things you ought to know but do not.  They may be deliberately hidden from you, or it may be something small that is not covered in the profile questionnaire, but important to you nonetheless.

Parents and children ought to work together in looking for prospective life-partners. It deepens the relationship between the parents and the children.  The parents become personally invested to see their children succeed in their marriage.  In addition, the parents ought to contact the prospect’s parents and get their input.  This produces two invested families!

In our day, we think of the love that trumps parental objections.  There may be a place for that, but marriages are much better placed for success when both families stand with the couple! Can you imagine the network and support you get in a marriage where your parents and your in-laws are friends and work behind the scene to bless you?

Social stratification has become a taboo subject in finding life-partners.  The reality is that such social groupings, if not stratification, make a difference in a marriage. Parents who are in the Christian faith will recognize that the absolute highest priority they will place in pre-selecting a life-partner for their children is the faith of the prospect.  Most Christians today rightly accept the premise that it is critically important for them to find a Christian spouse. To this I add my affirmation – and observation. Finding a Christian spouse is a social grouping.

“Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3). Can you imagine husband and wife each playing their own religious music and trying to drown the other person out? Or within the Christian faith, can you imagine a woman praying in tongues by her bed and your husband standing behind her trying to cast out the demon he thinks she has?

On the non-faith aspects of selection, there may be a romantic love that trumps all.  But it is extremely stressful for a couple if the wife has to move from a mansion to a rented room. Rented rooms make great love nests for the couple perfectly comfortable in one.  But when financial necessity drives one party into a highly uncomfortable situation, the romance that drives the marriage will soon run dry. Parental pre-selection tends to avoid this other great stress factors in a marriage.

There are surely other factors, but I like to suggest to you that when we get help from our parents in pre-selecting our spouses, we are getting a good thing.  Realistically, not all parents know what to do, or would choose to bless their children in this way.  Where can you find help if your parents are not an option? (Btw, your likely best man / bridesmaid are NOT the best people to help you.  They are more likely to keep the good find!) 

An alternative is your spiritual mentor. You need a mentor who knows you well, someone with whom you can be honest about your preferences, and someone who can straighten you out if you are not thinking straight. Most of all, you want someone who loves you and will spare no effort in setting you up for a wonderful Christian marriage.

An arranged marriage is not marriage to a stranger, but getting help in the pre-selection process.

Arranged marriages are good for singles of most ages, but it becomes less helpful the more mature we become.  Next, we will look at the situation when you, as a man does not need someone to help you pre-select, and someone has already caught your eye. What do you do? Or if you are a woman and you like to see if someone you know will take the friendship to the next level. What can you do about it?

Peter Eng

Arranged Marriages eh?

What an arranged marriage is not

Arranged marriage is not one where two people are forced to marry against their will. That is a perversion of an arranged marriage, and we cannot hold a perversion up as a model to refute. Arranged marriages against the choice of the individual are wrong. That is the context in which we can say arranged marriages are unchristian because God has given all humans the right to choose – even if our choice is wrong or evil. Free choice is a foundational assumption in the Bible. When God does not force us to obey him, how can parents force grown-up children to obey them?

The model for an arranged marriage is for the parents to look out for one or more suitable life partners, inquire about the prospects discreetly, and present them to their children for their comment. Properly speaking, an arranged marriage is no more than pre-selection by our parents. The grown children still make the final decision.

Universal truth about marriages

Let’s get one thing clear about marriage. Marriage is not a Christian institution. A marriage is a marriage even when husband and wife are not Christians. The Christian faith recognizes all marriages, be they secular or of other religions.

Let’s say there is a married couple of another faith, and one of them becomes a Christian.  What happens to the marriage? Nothing! We are told clearly that if a person has become a believer, he must never use his faith as a reason to divorce his spouse. (1 Cor 7:12-13 says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”) This tells us clearly that the Christian faith recognizes all marriages regardless of the faith of the couple at the point of marriage.

There are aspects of a marriage that places a marriage on a good footing, and many of these are common to all marriages. It’s like when you are a student, a working adult or an athlete. There are universal truths about these stations in life that give you success regardless of your faith. But there are indeed certain things about being a Christian that makes a Christian marriage different, but there are universal aspects of marriage common to all marriages.

We cannot limit our life to the distinctly Christians aspect and ignore the universal aspects. A Christian athlete has to train like any other athlete if he hopes to achieve; an effective employee has success regardless of his faith; a socially skilled person gets along with people better; etc. Similarly, there are dynamics in selecting a spouse that set you up for a successful marriage. And the people best suited for figuring this out are our parents. This is a guideline that is true for most people – but it is not absolute.

There are parents who may be completely inept in helping their children in this way. But most parents know their children, learn from their own mistakes and love their children more than life itself. They are desperately eager for their children to be happy in marriage, and will not compromise in looking for a good spouse for their children.  That is the type of parents we want to be looking out for their children.

The question must then arise, “In that case, why don’t the parents just counsel their children rather than preselect for them?” The answer is simple. We say we want the spouse that makes us happy but we are terrible in making right choices when the time arrives. The reality is that men are more captivated by a woman’s beauty than almost any other consideration. As for women, well, I’ll have to let the women speak for themselves about what is attractive but should not be determinative. When left to alone, we gravitate to our baser – or secondary – considerations. 

We have before us the example of Samson. He sees a Philistine woman he likes and insists his parents make the arrangements. “Get her for me, she looks good to me” (Judges 14:3, NLT). This is the beginning of the end for Samson.

The selection of a spouse is complex. There are many dynamics that we cannot go into for this short discussion. The main important point is that parents are well placed to recommend spouses for their grown children. They love their children, want them to marry well, and they bring to the matter a wealth of experience more relevant to the young man or woman than anybody else. They know their children’s nature and nurture, probably better than the children themselves. Should we write-off arranged marriages or should we seriously consider this in our life?


Apostle Peter 15: Clash of 2 Kingdoms (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Mark 3:22-27
                         Mark 5:1-20


Apostle Peter 15: Clash of 2 Kingdoms (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Mark 3:22-27
                         Mark 5:1-20


Arranged Marriages? Ewww!

I never seriously thought about arranged marriages as a way for people to find their life-partners until after moving to the USA. To be sure, America is not a match-making country.  But it was in America that I heard a preacher castigating arranged marriages as something unchristian.  I had never really thought much about the subject but I instantly knew this preacher was talking nonsense.

The Bible does not advocate arranged marriages, but it is certainly depicted in a good light. The most significant is the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac needs the help of his father Abraham and their servant Eliezer to find him a wife (Gen 24:1-4); and Rebekah agrees to the marriage without fuss (Gen 24:57-58). They have one of the best marriages in the Bible.

Not all marriages are arranged in the Bible.  There are romance marriages as well. We have no statistics to determine which was the norm, but it is more likely that arranged marriages were more common.

But we do not need to peer through thousands of years to look at arranged marriages. Indian Christians tend to have arranged marriages to this day, regardless of whether they live in India, Singapore or America. And they have the lowest divorce rates! And it was the Indian Christian arranged marriages that cause me to rethink.

Chinese Christians look to the west for Christian leadership, and the cultural packing is undeniable.  Arranged marriages are not the norm in the west.  We Christians look at the often terrible marriages of our parents, or grand-parents, and we easily find the reason for their failures and the solution all at once. And what a sweet solution! The problem is that they have arranged marriages!

This, we say, is why they quarrel and do not love each other.  That is why the man who has the means, takes on many wives.  That is why the women who feel betrayed escape to the celibacy offered by Buddhism when their husbands leave them for a young thing. There is so much pain in the Chinese marriage customs that our rejection of arranged marriages is no more than a desire to find a better model.

When we embrace Christianity, we unconsciously adopt western thinking as Christian (bride wearing white, wedding ring, ceremony in church, etc.)  The west did not have arranged marriages, so we reject it. The traditional western “courtship” model (when the boy goes to the girl’s home to bring her out) never caught on. In Singapore, we Christian singles just do our own dating thing (like the west), try not to get into trouble while doing our own thing, and when we think we have done enough of our dating, we tell our parents. They really have no choice but to approve. It’s almost like we are telling our parents, “I’m going to marry him/her so please approve so things will be good at the wedding.”

Those in the Christian faith and outside of it are quite similar in the family dynamics of finding a life-partner.  Parents are there just to give the rubber stamp. Parents do not arrange marriages.

We who are Christian parents today have no model of parental involvement in a Christian way, and we don’t know how to provide one.  Our children are now in their marriageable age.  We have not taught them how to look for a spouse, because we ourselves just stumbled into it.  And to compound matters, some of us struggle with the shame of failed marriages; or at the least, failures within our marriages. Who are we to tell our children what to do?

Young people today ask the same questions we asked when we were young. “How do I choose a life-partner? What do I do on a date? How do we keep from going too far? What if I marry the wrong person?” Our response? “I wish I know! If I know the answer to these questions, I will not make all these mistakes!” We have no answer in our own life and we have no answer to theirs.  In fact, the greater likelihood is that while they ask these questions, they don’t ask us!

Whatever the answer to these questions, Christians rarely think of arranged marriages as a possible solution. We are just programmed to reject it out of hand. Yet, today, we do have arranged marriages. Marriages arranged by software. Perhaps it is time to revisit arranged marriages.

[continue next week]

Apostle Peter 14: The Lesser Child (Part 2)

Bible Reference: Galatians 2:11-14
                         2 Peter 3:14-16


Apostle Peter 14: The Lesser Child (Part 1)

Bible Reference: Galatians 2:11-14
                         2 Peter 3:14-16


The Apostle Peter

By Peter Eng

Apostle Peter – Part 1


Peter was probably the oldest of Jesus’ disciples. This led to a consistent portrait of Peter as an old man. In some instances, as a very old man. The artists seem to forget that he was young once!


When Jesus began his ministry, Jesus was about 32/3 years old. It is likely that Peter was not much older (if indeed he was older) than Jesus. At the time when Jesus walked the earth, we should expect Peter to be no older than his mid-thirties.


The representation of Peter in “The Passion of the Christ” is closer to the age of Peter at that time. It may still be a little too old, but that depends on how quickly an individual ages.

When Peter first met Jesus, he was living in Bethsaida. Not long after, he moved to Capernaum.

Peter was married. We do not have the name of his wife in the Bible. We also do not know if they had children. One possible reason for this silence is to protect them during this time when persecution, or the threat of persecution, was ever present.

Peter’s ministry started with the Jews, but it very quickly included Gentiles. He was originally based in Jerusalem, but eventually went to Rome where he served a significant length of time.

While in Rome, he bore witness for Jesus. Mark was this companion assistant and he recorded Peter’s account of Jesus. This eventually became the Gospel according to Mark. Mark’s Gospel is really Peter’s portrait of Jesus Christ. But in it, we also find Peter’s portrait of himself. It is a humble representation of his own foibles and Jesus’ greatness.

Matthew and Luke used Peter’s (Mark’s) account as their framework. John did not. So John’s representation of Peter is much kinder than Peter’s representation of himself.

Two things stand out in the early church. The individual who did wrong is most likely the one who made it public. The other Christians represented the failure more kindly than the person who failed.

This stands in contrast to the thinking of the world, which has also crept into the church. The wrong-doer denies fault or minimizes it, and third-parties, including Christians, can be vicious in their attacking the brother who has fallen.

Apostle Peter – Part 2

Bethsaida, about 2 km from the shore

Peter’s first hometown was Bethsaida (John 1:44; 12:21) before he moved to Capernaum (Matthew 8:5, 14). There is both historical and spiritual significance in this.

There is dispute on the location of Bethsaida [Aramaic: House of Fishing]. The traditional site of Bethsaida (Julias) was under the jurisdiction of and raised by Philip the Tetrarch. The chief problem with this site is that it is about 2 km from the shore of Galilee and it does not make a good fishing village. Some have suggested Peter’s Bethsaida is a location yet not discovered, or not yet identified among the excavated sites, but one that is much closer to Capernaum where Peter eventually moved. There have been some suggestions, but none is confirmed. So for now, we will work with Bethsaida Julias as the site of Peter’s first home (that we know of). John is the one who recounts this detail. And John and James were fishing partners with Peter and Andrew. As far as John was concerned, Peter and Andrew were the guys from Bethsaida. This suggests the move was fairly recent. In any case, it suggests they were adults when they moved.

We do not know why Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum. If they had lived in Bethsaida Julias, it is unlikely that they were fishermen there as the coast was 2 km away. Of course it is possible that they were fishermen and were tired of making a daily commute and decided to move closer to the shore.

I like to suggest that when Peter and Andrew moved to Capernaum, it was somewhat tied to their entering into the fishing business with John and James, with their father Zebedee. Perhaps Peter and Andrew relocated to be closer to their business partners who had a better location than their own. Perhaps they moved first and found James and John later.

At some point after they were business partners, Jesus called them to be his disciples. We do not know the interval, but when we factor in Peter and Andrew’s move from Bethsaida and their fishing partnership, it could have happened not long before Jesus called them to follow him.

Peter and Andrew, James and John could view the call to discipleship two ways. One is to argue that they have a newly formed and good business going on. God couldn’t possibly want them to put that on hold, or on the backburner to follow Jesus. The other way is to say that even though their aim was to build a business, and they came together for that purpose, God had a higher plan for them. He was redirecting them to follow Jesus and put their fishing business on the backburner — they should follow Jesus and just wait and see what would happen to their business.

Bethsaida - The Fisherman House

We know they decided to follow Jesus. Their cost was to become absentee business owners rather than owner-operators. They had to let go of their business operations. That too, was risk. That too was a step of faith. Especially for Peter and Andrew. They moved from Bethsaida to Capernaum for a reason, and it wasn’t Jesus. They had to make significant adjustments to follow Jesus.

Apostle Peter – The Fisherman

Peter and Andrew were brothers. James and John were also brothers. They were in the fishing business. That is to say they were fishermen who owned fishing boats, not fishermen who were employed to catch fish. In that sense, they were entrepreneurs or business owners.

We don’t know how many boats they owned, but there is a hint of it in John 21. After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter wanted to go fishing. It was night and about the right time to fish. When Peter was following Jesus, it is likely they employed others to fish for them. Alternatively, they could have leased out their boats to other fishermen. In either case, Peter should have a vacant and fully equipped boat that he could just take and go fishing. This suggests to us that he had at least one standby boat.

In this event, we learn there were seven disciples. They went fishing with Peter. This suggests to us the size of the fishing boats. Some fishing boats could take only two people. But this could accommodate at least seven people.

When Jesus was in a storm with his disciples, it is possible that this was a boat belonging to Peter and Andrew, or James and John (Mark 4:36-41). This boat was big enough to have a hold where Jesus could sleep. This boat cannot be an open boat for just two people.

1st century boat found

A first century fishing boat was excavated and it was length 26½ ft x width 7½ ft x height 4½ ft. There seems to be enough space for the description of activities on the boats, but it would be a tight fit. Josephus, the Jewish historian suggested that the boat can hold 15 people. Perhaps our understanding of space requirements today is different from that time.

Is it possible that this excavated boat is still a little small, and there may be bigger boats? For that we wait for future discoveries.

In Luke 5:10, we are told that Peter and Andrew, James and John with their father Zebedee were partners in the fishing business.

We do not have details about this business relationship, but it was a good relationship. They were hanging out together outside of their fishing business.

When they left their nets to follow Jesus, it does not mean they sold off their business. In all likelihood, they kept their business which provided a source of income for them and their families.

Reconstruction of Boat

Mark’s Gospel & Apostle Peter

There is significant early Christian record that Mark’s Gospel was a record of Peter’s preaching in Rome. Early Christian tradition is not to be regarded as the Word of God, or to be totally reliable. But they give us the background to things that the Bible does not talk about.

Mark_4x6 Papias was the Overseer of the church in Hierapolis, and he died as a martyr in Smyrna (AD 155). Many of his writings are no longer extant, but he was cited by Eusebius the church historian (d. circa AD 340) concerning Mark’s Gospel:

The Elder (John) said this also: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein. (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15)

We do not know who the Elder John was. Some believe it was the same person as John the Apostle, or it could be John Mark himself, or some unknown John. But this represents very early tradition.

There was strict journalistic rigor in the first centuries about representation, unlike the liberties some journalists practise today. The recording was not chronological probably because they were Peter’s preaching, which would not be chronological. But when the gospel was written, Mark did place the events in general chronological order.

We are told that Mark’s job was as an interpreter to Peter. It could well be that Peter did not speak Latin and Mark did.

When I preach with an interpreter, I give him a detailed outline so he knows ahead of time what I will be saying. Perhaps Peter did that also. If so, Mark would have the preaching notes of Peter.

The Anti-Marcionite Prologue (AD 160-180) has a surviving fragment that reads:

“… Mark declared, who is called `stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”

This tradition affirms Markan dependence on Peter and places the composition somewhere in Italy.

Irenaeus (c. AD 180) a church father when writing to refute heresies mentioned Mark’s Gospel thus: “And after their [Peter’s and Paul’s] death, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter.” (Contra Haereses 3.1.2).

When we read Mark’s Gospel with this awareness, it is really not difficult to see Peter as the content provider. For e.g. Simon Peter was the first disciple in Mark 1. This is Simon Peter’s point of view.

st-peter-preaching-in-the-presence-of-st-mark (caption)

Peter’s Home, Jesus’ Base

We don’t usually pay attention to place names in the Bible because there is no image in our mind’s eye when these places are mentioned, and we do not move from one place to another as we read the story. If I were to tell you I left Pasir Ris and went to Tampines, those of you who know these places would know it is only one subway stop. But when we read that Jesus left Capernaum and went to Bethsaida, it makes no impression on us because we don’t know these places.

When you read the gospels, you will constantly come across the town called Capernaum. This is because it was Jesus’ home base when he first started his ministry. When Jesus began his ministry, he spent time in Capernaum and Nazareth (his own hometown). But the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus (Luke 4:23ff; Matt 4:13).

Capernaum was the hometown of many of his disciples. From what we know, it was the hometown of Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew, and others.

What escapes some of us is that Jesus was operating from the home of Peter, the leader of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

In Mark’s gospel, you will notice a constant reference to Capernaum. This is because Peter was recounting the things closest to his heart and home.

Peter and Andrew were not rich people. They shared a home, which was usually not large. You should not expect anything larger than a two bedroom apartment of today. Andrew was probably not married but Peter was. We do not know how many people lived in this house, but we know Peter’s mother-in-law lived there with him. His father-in-law might be expected to live there if he were alive. Perhaps his own parents also lived there. Perhaps Peter had children and they also lived there. At least 4 adults lived there (Peter, Peter’s wife, mother-in-law, and Andrew), perhaps there were as many as 7 adults. If Peter had children, say 3 of them, with 7 adults, the home could have as many as 10 people (Mark 1:29f).

It is almost certain that the place Jesus used as home base in Capernaum was Peter’s home. It is therefore likely that Jesus lived in the home of Peter and Andrew and the ministry of Jesus operated mainly from Peter’s home.

After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, we notice Peter’s home became the place from which Jesus taught and healed (Mark 1:29-34). When he left and returned “the house he was staying” probably Peter’s home, became packed with people (Mark 2:1-2). So the story of the men who dug a hole through the roof to let in their invalid friend, dug through Peter’s roof (Mark 2:1-5).

We do not know all the details in Peter’s home. Perhaps we can indulge in a little imagination.

Peter’s mother-in-law might have been quite pivotal in how the home was used. She was severely sick with fever and after Jesus healed her, she was so well, she got up and prepared food for Jesus, and his disciples. If she had objected to the intrusion into their life, we get the sense that from that time, she facilitated the use of Peter’s home.

There is an important take-away for us. In Singapore, we are limited in how we can use our homes for religious purposes. But the lesson of Peter was how his home became a vital resource in Jesus’ ministry.

We can imagine Peter telling Jesus, “Come to my home and stay with me. Use my home as the base for your teaching.” Peter did not emphasize his sacrifice but we can see that he was leading the others by example of how he used his resources to promote Jesus’ ministry.

Gaulanitis Capernaum Bethsaida

— Click on map to get clearer picture —

Capernaum, in Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, the Herod who executed John the Baptist. Bethsaida, Peter’s hometown before he moved to Capernaum, was in Gaulinitis, under the jurisdiction of Herod Philip. Antipas had stolen Philip’s wife and you can guess that they are not on friendly terms. When Jesus wanted to get out of the way of Antipas, he would go to Bethsaida which was under Philip’s control.

Peter’s Babylon

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (1 Pe 5:13-14a).

Most scholars believe the Apostle Peter wrote from Rome and John Mark was with him. The term “Babylon” is not real Babylon, but it refers to another city, that is, Rome. Some believe that Simon Peter was writing from a small city called “Babylon” which existed at that time.

It appears to me that it is far more probable that Peter’s Babylon is Rome. We see the mention of Babylon in Revelation 14:8 and 17:5. It is a political code-speak against Rome and not the literal city of Babylon. John explains the Babylon is the city that rules over the kings of the earth (Rev 17:18).

This creative political rhetoric is necessary because Christians were facing increasing pressure as Peter was writing, and by the time John wrote Revelation, that persecution had come in full force. It is not expedient to antagonize the powers that be, yet people needed instruction. It is common for us to find ancient writers using a creative political rhetoric that allows his audience to understand him but causes the censor to dismiss the document as one that might harm the interest of Rome (codified in the Roman laws of treason [leges maiestatis]).

Babylon is synonymous to a city of exile. The Babylonians exiled the Jews in 586 BC. Peter writes to his audience as the Diaspora, the exiles that are scattered about. He sees Rome as the new Babylon and uses Babylon to identify Rome and its role. He turns to the experience of the Jews in exile under Babylon as a reference point for Christians in exile because of Rome.

The phenomenon of calling one city by another name is not new. For instance, Isaiah 1:10, calls Jerusalem “Sodom” and “Gomor-rah.” Two cities are used to refer to one. Isaiah does this to indicate the judgment about to fall on Jerusalem.

It is most probable that the majority opinion is right, that Peter’s Babylon is the city of Rome.

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