Questions I feared asking while in Seminary

“Why doesn’t McDonald’s sell hotdogs?”

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“At a movie theater, which arm rest is yours?”

“Why are there no B batteries?”

“When does it stop being partly cloudy and start being partly sunny?

“If you are bald, what hair color do they put on your driver’s license?
“If bread is square, why is lunch meat round?

“If money does not grow on trees, then why do banks have branches?”

“Why are the little Styrofoam pieces called peanuts?

            The men in Hugh’s Sunday School class bellowed as one of the members scanned through a website with humorous questions.[1] 

            Harry pondered why the men in his class didn’t ask questions about the materials he was covering. Before Hugh could arrive at an answer, one of this student’s spoke.

            “Hugh, my friend, Harry, and I started discussing the authorship of Mark.  Harry does not believe that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. He says no evidence exists proving Mark wrote the Gospel with his name. Why do some believe John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and others question the idea?”

            Without time to answer those questions, another member fired a question, “Hugh, I read the entire Gospel of Mark three times this week. I scanned through the Gospel two additional times trying to locate where John Mark identified himself as the author. I couldn’t find one sentence, or even one phrase to suggest who the author was. Why is that, Hugh?”

            “And Hugh,” a third student interrupted, “Why is Mark associated with Peter?”

John Mark Image:         

            Hugh sighed a prayer of thanksgiving, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you for these questions and for leading me to focus on these background issues earlier in the week.”

            “You are right. No author says, ‘I wrote this gospel.’  The answer comes from ancient literature.  The title for the Gospel of Mark appeared first in the beginning of the second century. This allows the gospels to be identified easier.  The title indicates someone named “Mark” wrote the gospel.  This piece of evidence brings more credence since it is early and universally accepted.”

            “Hugh, I read there are some ancient literature that suggests Mark wrote the gospel. Can you elaborate on the possibility at all?”

            “Yes, the strongest and possibly the most controversial source is Papias. Papias served as Bishop of Hierapolis. Some believe he was martyred about the same time as Polycarp. He invested much time gathering background about the early church.

Papias picture:

            William Barclay claims no one ever questioned his integrity, although Eusebius questions his intelligence. Barclay explains that Eusebius’ evaluation may be dependent upon the Papias support of millenarian views and his dislike for that view aided Eusebius’ need to disparage Papias.[2] The actual work of Papias is lost and our source is Eusebius’ quotations.”

      “Listen to Papias’ statement about his research methods.”

      For, unlike the many, I did not take pleasure in those who have so very much to say, but in those who teach the truth; nor in those who related foreign commandments, but in those who record such as were given from the Lord to the faith, and are derived from the truth itself. And again, whenever I met a person, who had been a follower of the elders, I would inquire about the discourses of the elders – what was said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord’s       disciples, and what Aristion and John the elder say. For I did not think that I would get so much profit from the contents of books as from the utterances of a living and abiding voice.[3]

            While we cannot be exactly certain about everything Papias meant, it seems clear that he interviewed as many of the associates of Jesus’ disciples.  His use of ‘elders’ seems to equate to our term, church fathers. In Papias case this implies those who had some direct contact with Jesus.  This provides for us trustworthy information.   

            In addition to utilizing reliable witnesses, Papias appears to shield Mark from not being a ‘disciple’ of Jesus and that Mark’s work failed to meet a chronological order of the life of Jesus. Listen to Papias’ statement about Mark’s relationship with Peter by quoting from John the elder:

The elder said this too: Mark who was (or, who became) Peter’s interpreter wrote down accurately, though not in order (or, without orderliness) all that he remembered of what Christ had said or done. He did not hear the Lord, nor was he a follower of his; but at a later date, as I have said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to meet the needs of his hearers (or, who gave his teaching in chreia form), but not as if he were giving a systematic      compilation of the Lord’s oracles.

Mark therefore made no mistake, but he wrote down some things as he remembered them, for he had one purpose in mind, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to falsify anything in it. (Click to Tweet) [4]

            “Men, the important point of Papias’ words shows us that between 120-130 A.D. at least one early church father indicated that someone named Mark was the author and he had been associated with Peter.

            Some modern critics question the validity of Papias statement. They explain that Papias created the notion of a Mark as the author who was connected to Peter because of problems with Gnosticism.  One scholar settles the critics thesis this way,

      It is doubtful, however, that Papias could have gained much by ascribing a Gospel to such an obscure person as Mark. The association of Mark with Peter is well attested independently in 1 Peter 5:13. That Papias was the early church’s only source of information about the Gospel is hard to believe, and that Papias was the only source for the title attached to all manuscripts is impossible to believe. Therefore the testimony of Papias remains a significant factor in the discussion of authorship.[5]

            The remainder of the external church evidence unanimously supports the authorship of the Gospel by Mark. Only Augustine failed to connect Mark with Peter.

Augustine’s Self Portrait

            Men, we cannot prove Mark’s authorship of the Gospel, one way or another. Yet, we must acknowledge there is a possibility that Mark wrote the Gospel. Even if one rejects Papias’ statements, we can agree that Mark may have been the author. Even this cannot be disproved or proved. Considering the evidence, Mark writing the Gospel bearing his name appears to be feasible and the most probable position.

            Our time is over for this week. I look forward to our meeting next week. Let’s pray.

What question(s) would you like to ask Hugh related to the authorship of Mark in you were in his class? Feel free to leave a reply.

               [1] accessed 5/27/2019 on Google.

               [2]William Barclay, Introduction to the First Three Gospels: A revised Edition of The First Three Gospels, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), 119.



               [5]James A. Brooks, Mark in The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 26.


Feed Your Soul With the Word of God – Bible Studies

My wife, Veda, and I are thrilled to have submissions included in this collection. We encourage you to be obtain this set of Bible Studies.

This compilation is “a Banquet of Thirty Short Bible Studies By Twenty-Six Contributing Authors.”

Each study is complete with Scripture, application for today, a prayer, and questions. Use this book for personal study or group discussion.

The scheduled release date is Thursday, June 20. The books will release on Amazon that day, and that evening at 7:30 p.m., we will have a Facebook party (including a live video and giveaways) to celebrate the book’s release. We hope you can come! 

My Bible Study focuses on my trip to teach at a Pastor’s School in Novgorod, Russia in 2002. Remember what happened on September 11, 2001? Those fiery pictures of the plane piercing the walls of the Trade Towers replayed in my mind. The struggle to find peace alluded me. (Click to Tweet)

Front Cover of the Feed Your Soul with the Word of God, Collection 1
The 26 Contributing Authors

Click the link to discover more details:

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

            “Did John Mark actually amputate his thumb?” chased all the other thoughts out of Hugh’s mind.

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            At work Hugh captured himself pondering on what such a statement might mean.” Later, sitting in his recliner trying to watch a movie with his wife and children, Hugh’s couldn’t focus on anything except, “Did John Mark cut his thumb off?” “If Mark did amputate his thumb, what was Mark’s intention and when did he cut the thumb off?” “How did Mark cut it off? Did Mark do it alone or did he obtain help amputating this thumb?”

            Hugh wondered where did that idea originate?  Who initially said John Mark willfully removed his thumb? When was this idea even considered and why would someone consider such an idea?  Hugh knew he needed answers to this dilemma. He desired to explain that idea to Pastor John when they met on Thursday.

            Hugh discovered a few references to John Mark and his missing thumb or short fingers.

            First was a comment by Hippolytus in his Refutation of Heresies 7.28. Hippolytus described the origin of Marcionism. He asserted that Empedocles suggested the heresy. In his refutation of Marcion’s heresy, he simply states that Mark possessed a maimed finger.

            Hugh asked himself, “I wonder what Hippolytus’ adjective in Greek, kolobodaktulos, might mean?”

           Hippolytus’ use of the word, kolobadaktulos is so casual that his readers must have been familiar with its intended meaning.  Kolobos suggests something that is maimed or stunted. Daktulos refers to a finger. 

            Hugh decided to look at these words in a Greek/English lexicon or dictionary.

His quietly voiced his thoughts aloud, “The only place where this kolobos is used in the New Testament is in Luke 11:20 where Jesus professes that he drives out demons with the daktolos theou (the finger of God).  The verbal form of kolobos is kolobow and is used in Mark 13:20 and Matthew 24:22 where Jesus says that God will ‘shorten or maim” the time of the tribulation.”

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            Hugh thought to himself, “This suggests that Hippolytus knew Mark had fingers that were naturally short or maimed or malformed in some manner. Perhaps Mark experienced an injury or accident that mutilated his hand?”

            As Hugh continued his research he discovered some scholars feel this term, kolobodaktulos, describes Mark’s gospel.  Hugh wrote on his note pad as he pondered what this statement might imply, “Since the style of the gospel is unpolished and rough, the term more readily applies to the gospel. And if the Gospel lost its original ending, then the gospel could be correctly described as mutilated.”

            Hugh’s search led him to read the notes about the Codex Toletanus, a 10th century Vulgate manuscript. He penned the note, “The Codex Toletanus . . .signifies that Mark’s fingers were undersized when compared to the rest of his body. Thus, kolobodaktulos could be simply a physical description.”

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            Hugh highlighted that the Codex Toletanus supported the theory stated in the Anti-Marcionite Prologue as well:  the Codex manuscript made this assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. 

            Hugh found one other reference to Mark’s thumb quite interesting. He read from the Monarchian Prologue, “Furthermore, he (Mark) is said to have amputated his thumb after faith in Jesus so that he might be seen as unfit for the priesthood.” 

            Hugh pondered, “Since Mark was probably a Levite, seeing his uncle Barnabas, was a Levite, there is good chance that Mark would have to serve in the temple. After coming to faith, Mark lopped off his thumb in some manner so that he would not be fit to serve.”

           Hugh did a quick check of the Old Testament laws related to the priestly service. Leviticus 21:15-23 clearly delineates the physical mutilation of a man makes him unworthy to serve as priest.

            Hugh discovered Psalm 137 where it mentions the impossibility of singing a new song in a strange land. Interesting enough, Hugh found a reference to a rabbinic commentary on Psalm 137 on the internet. He read, “The Levites who had been transported to Babylon deliberately bit off their thumbs with their teeth, so that they would never again be able to play the harp, and thus accompany the singing of the Lord’s songs, as it was the duty of the Levites to do.”[1]

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            Hugh continued reading, “Ammonius, a monk, deliberately severed his left ear with the sole intention of making himself unfit to serve as a priest.”


When Hugh discovered the next explanation, he thought, “I wonder what Pastor John will think of this final idea related to Mark’s thumb? Tregelles, the English textual critic, suggested the word kolobodaktulos refers to soldiers who purpose injured themselves to be eliminated from a special service – a method of deserting military duty. For Tragelles the word implies someone who sought the coward’s way out of duty. He imposes this idea on John Mark when he left Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Thus, the term became a term or nickname which Mark could not escape.”

            Hugh thought to himself, “Tragelles’ theory seems to fall short when Mark managed to redeem himself to Paul and others in the Christian community.  

            Hugh told his wife, “I am ready to meet with Pastor John tomorrow. I have some great information for us to discuss related to John Mark’s thumb.”  

As Hugh pondered, “How many times have I deliberately maimed or injured myself, not physically, but emotionally or spiritually, so that I couldn’t serve God?” (Click to Link)

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Do you feel that John Mark purposely amputated his thumb in order to avoid serving as a priest or do you believe it is more a nickname for him as Tragelles suggests? Do you have other ideas? Let me know. Is it thumbs up or thumbs down?

               [1]William Barclay, Introduction to the First Three Gospels: A Revised Edition of the First Three Gospels, (Philadephia: Westminster Press, 1975), 118.   

The End of a Legend – Mark!

Hugh squirmed in his car seat waiting on Pastor John to arrive at Dave’s Pancake House.

Hugh spotted Pastor John as he gently glided his 1957 canary yellow Chevy, loaded with chrome trim and chrome wheels, into a curbed parking spot.

“What a beauty,” Hugh thought.

“This is such a beautiful morning, Hugh, I felt compelled to drive my old car,” Pastor John said with a broad smile.  

“Woo Wee! She is a something to lay one’s eyes upon, Pastor John.”  Hugh replied as he shook Pastor John’s hand.

The two strolled into the restaurant where the waitress led them to a booth. She penned their drink orders of 2 coffees and 2 waters as they glanced over the menus. 

Upon her return, Hugh ordered a Western Omelet with tomatoes, onions, cheese, and bell peppers along with hash brown potatoes, and gravy and biscuits.  Pastor John selected 3 pancakes, 2 eggs over easy and wheat toast with butter and grape jelly.

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Hugh responded, “Pastor, I ran across several very fascinating legends about John Mark. Let me see if I can tell one of them before our meal arrives.  I found one legend often makes the disciples who were not one of the twelve, members of the seventy whom Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1).   Epiphanius claims in his work, Against Heresies ( that John Mark was one of the seventy sent out, but when Jesus’ kingdom did not turn out the way Mark thought it should, he was one of those who turned back (John 6:66).”

“Pastor, it seems to me that Epiphanius is wrong on one account. Wouldn’t John Mark have been too young to go with the other disciples as recorded in Luke 10:1?”

“Hugh, I think you are on to something here. He would be extremely young.  But that behavior would be consistent with what we see of John Mark in the early part of the First Missionary Journey when he returned to Jerusalem.  What else did you learn about John Mark?” asked Pastor John just as their food arrived.

Pastor John interrupted their conversation to ask the waitress, “Pat, we are going to be praying and asking God to bless our food. Is there anything we can pray for you?” 

Pat’s eyes grew wet and she managed to blurt out, “Pray for my granddaughter. Her husband and my granddaughter are having marriage issues. I can see the young children are hurting over it all.”

“Pat, if you would like, stand here while we pray.” Pastor John asked Hugh to pray for Pat, for their food and anything else he might desire. 

Hugh petitioned God to bless the food and to bless Pat’s granddaughter, her husband, and their children. Pat stepped away, expressing thankfulness for the prayers. He thanked the Lord for their time to meet. Hugh expressed sincere thanks for a mentor like Pastor John.  He shared gratitude that these meetings had stimulated his desire to study the Word and the joy he had regained in teaching the class the church and the Lord had provided for him.  Pat thanked the men and left them to their conversation.

“Pastor John,” said Hugh, “I found there are three legends about John Mark that are somewhat connected.”

Hugh continued, “First, Theodosis, called the Archdeacon, wrote about 525 A.D., and stated that Mark’s mother, Mary, allowed her house to serve as the location of the Last Supper. We know from Acts 12:17 her house served as the center of the church in Jerusalem and this idea seems probable.”

“Second, both Mark and Luke connect the events leading to the Lord’s Supper to the disciples who Jesus instructed to go into the city and find a man carrying a water pitcher.  They were to follow this man to the house where the room had been prepared (Mark 14:13, Luke 22:10).”

“Pastor John, I think this must have been prearranged by Jesus. I read that men did not normally carry water pots since that was considered the duty of a woman.  Such a man would certainly bring attention to himself.”

“Added to that, Alexander, a sixth century Cypriot author, attested in a eulogy at St. Barnabas’ church to the fact that the man with the pitcher was John Mark. If this is so, then it may be John Mark was the man with the pitcher.”

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“Hugh, you have worked hard this week! What is the third factor? You mentioned there were three connected legends surrounding John Mark.”

“Pastor John, I can hardly contain myself. You see, Mark 14:15 has an intriguing statement and I quote, ‘And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.’”

“Now, Pastor, that seems rather insignificant on the surface, but it has been suggested that the Garden of Gethsemane actually belong to Mark’s parents. Thus, they granted Jesus permission to use the Garden as a meeting place with his disciples. John Mark may have been unnoticed at the Last Supper, and then, he followed Jesus and his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. This seems to be the most possible of all the legends we have discussed so far.”

“Hugh,” interrupted Pastor John, “that would mean that John Mark painted a small portrait of himself into his gospel. Isn’t that an interesting thought?”

“But, Hugh, how do we connect this with John Mark who left early in the first journey with Paul and Barnabas. We know this caused a rift between Paul and Barnabas. How can Mark later become profitable for a ministry to Paul in 2 Timothy?”

“Pastor, it seems to me that the rift must have been healed between that first division and Paul’s last days.  Perhaps the issue is solved if we listen to what Eusebius, an Alexandrian, believer says.”

“Eusebius claimed that John Mark carried Christianity to Alexandria, Egypt between these years. Jerome supports this notion in his work, On Famous Men (8):

So, taking the gospel which he himself had composed, Mark went to Egypt, and, first preaching Christ at Alexandria, he formed a church so admirable in doctrine and continuance of living, that he constrained all followers of Christ to his example.”

“Pastor John,” explained Hugh, “Epiphanius in his Against Heresies, 51.6, augments this information saying that Peter sent Mark to Alexandria as his substitute when Peter could not make the trip himself.”

“And Nicephorus Callistus added to the legend in the fourteenth century in his Ecclesiastical History (2.43). He describes Mark’s martyrdom.”

“Mark was martyred on the festival of Serapis. A mob burst through the doors of the church as Mark preached. They tied his feet with ropes and dragged him through the streets to the place called Bucellus. They threw Mark into prison. On the next day, they pulled Mark through the streets until his flesh was ripped from his body and his blood poured onto the ground. Mark died.” (click to Tweet)

Martyrdom of St. Mark (detail) by Giovanni Bellini and Vittore Belliniano – Accademia – Venice 2016.jpg Photo found at:

“The legend continues with some of the people burning Mark’s dead body. Some of the Christians managed to rescue his ashes and some bones. They buried these near the church where Marl had preached. Later legend describe how the bones and ashes were moved to Venice to the church which bears his name.”

“Pastor John, what do you think of this tradition about John Mark being in Egypt?”

“Good question, Hugh.”

“From what I have read, none of the major Alexandrian fathers mention Mark being in Alexandria. I mean, neither Origin or Clement of Alexandria talk about Mark. Wouldn’t that be unusual for such an important figure to be completely overlooked by both men?”

“And without going into much detail, tradition connects Mark with Rome around A.D. 62 when Nero was in his eight year or ruling. Yet, Eusebius in his History (2:24) explains that Annianus succeeded Mark the evangelist in leading the church at Alexandria. This would be in A.D. 62. The two situations cannot be adequately explained.”

“Hugh, do you see the clock? We best pay and leave. I look forward to our study next week, when we cover more tradition related to John Mark by the early church fathers.”

“Brother John, do you think Mark may have amputated one of his thumbs?”

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“Now that is interesting, Hugh! Let’s pick that up next week!”

Are you finding this format helpful in learning the background of the author of Mark’s Gospel?  Let me know. Thank you and God bless!

Pearly Gates or Pearl Gates — Guest Blogger: Dr. Bill Helton

Dr. Bill Helton

Pearly Gates or Pearl Gates

         I can vividly recall the circumstances surrounding my maternal grandmother’s death more than forty years ago. My mother was a God fearing woman, as was her mother, my Granny Woods. My grandmother entered the hospital due to a sore on her foot stemming from diabetes. No one knew that within two days she would die. The night before her death, we visited her in the hospital and she told my mother of a vision she had of heaven. The Lord Jesus welcomed her and she entered through a gate that was an archway consisting of pearls.

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        Once inside, she saw a beautiful place prepared for her. When she died the next day, my mother was convinced the vision was from God. My mother also believed that the gates of heaven were arches made of pearls. There was no chance of convincing my mother that each gate was not an arch made of pearls. However, there was a slight problem with my mother’s interpretation. The Book of Revelation says, “21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl.” (Revelation 21:21a, NASB95)

Heaven’s Gate as a Single Pearl – photo found at:

The power of family influences, as well as other cultural influences and experiences, can have a significant impact on our understanding of the Bible. No matter how powerful and personal the source of our understanding might be, the Word of God must stand over and be a judge of our understanding.          

         This article will deal with several facets of one of the interpretation issues I find difficult for students to grasp, that being their personal context. Often in sermons and Bible studies, we hear mention of historical, cultural, and literary context. However, one of the most important, yet overlooked, contexts of Bible study is the reader’s personal context. It consists of all of our acquired preunderstandings and experiences.

         What are we talking about when we talk about preunderstanding? According to Grasping God’s Word, preunderstanding refers “to all of our preconceived notions and understandings that we bring to the text, which have been formulated, both consciously and subconsciously, before we actually study the text in detail.”[1]

While our ideas and notions are sometimes accurate and helpful, many times, they are inaccurate, hinder us in our study, and ultimately lead to wrong conclusions. All aspects of our culture and our experiences can be major factors in shaping our preunderstandings.

They include things learned; within the family unit, heard in hymns, other Christian music, pop songs, jokes, and nonbiblical literature. They also include what we have learned in Sunday school, church services, Bible studies, and our personal Bible reading.

Duvall and Hays sum up the content and influences of American culture this way, “it is comprised of Big Macs, Barbie dolls, Tiger Woods, and Lady Gaga all mixed in with George Washington, Babe Ruth, the Mississippi River, Wal-Mart, and Facebook.” [2] Whether we invite them in or not, our culture and experiences are constantly creeping into our study of the Bible.

         Another danger related to preunderstanding is that of familiarity. If we are overly familiar with the passage, we tend not to be as serious with our study. As we revisit a passage we have studied in-depth, it is tempting to think that we know everything there is to know about that passage. When we approach the biblical text with this kind of preunderstanding, we tend to skip over serious study assuming we already have all the answers.

In order to get the most out of our study, we must allow the Holy Spirit to give us a fresh view of the text and help us dig deeper if there are things in the passage we have not yet discovered. The more familiar you become with the Bible, the greater this danger becomes.

         I will mention one final danger. Coming to the text with a predetermined theological viewpoint, “that is, we start into a text with a specific slant we are looking for, and we use the text merely to search for details that fit with our agenda. Anything that does not fit in with the meaning we are looking for we simply skip or ignore.”[3]

A good clear understanding of theological issues is important and is often very helpful in understanding the meaning of a text. However, even theologians and theological viewpoints stand under, not over, the authority of God’s word. (click to Tweet)

This is a deliberate action where we “stand over”[4] a text in judgment of that text rather than seeking to understand the God given meaning of the text. A good clear understanding of theological issues is important and is often very helpful in understanding the meaning of a text.

         I think it is safe to say that Christians do not intentionally misread the Bible. It seems almost automatic for us to transport the biblical text, written thousands of years ago, into our own modern culture. Duvall and Hays call this tendency to transport the biblical text into our cultural world “interpretational reflex.”[5]

The major danger of interpretational reflex is that it often establishes a set of parameters from our culture that makes it impossible to grasp the text in its original cultural context. For example, we often ask or hear the question, “What would Jesus do?” Unfortunately, when we answer that question, we often limit our answer to the context of our own culture. In other words, we answer the question in terms of what the heroes of our culture would do or what the norms of our culture demand we do in any given situation.

Granted, total objectivity in interpretation is impossible. However, as followers of Jesus Christ we are not striving for a completely neutral and objective viewpoint. Ideally, our goal is to hear what God has to say to us through a given biblical text.

Thus, it is imperative that we approach the text through faith and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Duvall and Hays point out, “This type of objectivity has to do with preventing our preunderstanding, our culture, our familiarity, or our laziness from obscuring the meaning that God has intended for us in the text.”[6]

Read, read, read and study, study, study but never assume your personal context is not affecting your understanding of Scripture.

Personal Biography Dr. Bill Helton

Dr. Bill Helton – Professor of Homeletics and Bible

Retired pastor, Professor of Homiletics and Bible at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville Kentucky. Dr. Bill Helton lives in northern Bell County Kentucky along the Cumberland River with his wife of more than forty years Brenda who is a retired staff member from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College.

He preaches, serves as interim pastor, leads Bible studies, and serves as the resident Logos Bible Software Trainer for the his College. His doctorate is in the area of Church Growth.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 139.

[2] Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 141.

[3] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 140.

[4] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 462.

[5] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 92.

[6] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 146.


Should Quitters Receive a Second Opportunity?

Pastor John arrived first at Briar Haven Bar BQ.  He filled his lungs with the sweet aroma of the smoked Bar BQ.  “I love that smell, he said to himself,” as he followed the waiter to his table. Picking up the menu, he glanced at the options: ribs, pulled pork, hot links, and beef brisket.  “Mmmmm, I can’t wait.”

Hugh arrived and slid into his seat across from Pastor John. “Hello, Pastor John.  What looks good today?”

“I’m liking the 3-meat plate myself: pulled pork, sliced brisket, and hot links. And a big glass of iced tea,” said Pastor John as the waiter arrived at the table to take their orders.

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“That sounds good to me as well,” replied Hugh.

The waiter wrote their orders on his pad and went to place it in the kitchen.

“Hugh, I hope we can complete all that the New Testament tells us about John Mark, today. We have covered a lot of information already. Remember we discussed that we have two major sources of information that tells about John Mark: The New Testament and Legendary materials,” explained Pastor John.

“I do. We discussed how Mark was his Hebrew name and John was his Greek name. I liked how his mother’s home served as the main hub for the early church in Jerusalem.  Of course, wasn’t it interesting to discover the close a relationship that Mark and Peter had?” piped in Hugh.

“Exactly, Hugh,” said Pastor John.  “And remember last week how we discovered Mark was a helper, a huperetes, for Paul and Barnabas?” “What did you pick up about John Mark this week?”

“Oh, Pastor. I have been so excited to cover this material since we ended our discussion last week. Mark left on the 1st missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas, but for some reason Mark’s life took a serious turn. Mark crossed Cyprus with the two missionaries. And, you know, Barnabas originated from Cyprus.  The trio boarded a ship to cross over to Perga of Pamphylia.” 

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“Yes, and it was at Perga that Paul began his suffering with what some think was his thorn in the flesh, which may have been malarial fever.  The region of Pamphylia was known for this disease.  They elected to pass through this lowland and took a steep mountain pass which took them to the central table land at Pisidian Antioch.  It was at Perga that John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas,” explained Pastor John.

“Pastor, I read of several reasons why John Mark may have left them at Perga. Some scholars posit that John Mark knew robbers and bandits hid along this narrow road. They think he feared for his safety. Others explain that John Mark’s sense of loyalty to Judaism colored his decision since he was not confident about the mission to the Gentiles and whether it would please God.”

“And Pastor John, one of the most interesting theories is that John Mark left the group because his cousin, Barnabas, had been demoted while Paul was promoted as the leader of the group. Barnabas served as the leader when the entourage left Antioch. The reason for this position is that Barnabas was always named first (Acts 13:2, 7).

After they arrived in Perga, Paul’s name appeared first among the two men. So, Mark may have been offended when Paul took over the leadership. I found Matthew Henry’s reasoning interesting. Henry says that Mark, ‘either did not like the work, or wanted to go home to see his mother.’” “We don’t know why Mark went home, but he did.” Hugh quipped.    

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“Hugh, you know, like many of us, when we are hurt or disappointed by others who we have much respect or have put our faith in, Paul felt hurt.  Paul struggled to forgive John Mark and it took some time.  The first missionary journey came to a completion. When it was time to consider the second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas split over John Mark. Barnabas sought to give Mark a second opportunity.  Paul refused. The two missionaries and friends went their own ways in the service of God. Barnabas took Mark and shipped out to Cyprus. Paul selected Silas and went back inland in Asia Minor (Acts 15: 38-42).  The Bible doesn’t tell us if Barnabas and Paul ever worked together or not,” said Pastor John.

“I think Paul learned to give Mark a second opportunity too. Mark managed to demonstrate he was capable of being a valuable partner in the work of Christ. It seems we ought to offer people second chances when it comes to the service of Christ,” Hugh said.  “I pray my Sunday School class will give me a second chance.” 

“That is correct, Pastor John. But you know Mark isn’t heard of for several years. But in the meantime, something has happened to Paul and John Mark.  2 Timothy 4:11 records that Paul sent for John Mark to come to him in prison.  Paul said that he had found Mark to be profitable to him as a servant or minister.  The Greek word used here is, diakonia, which refers to someone who is a useful assistant or personal helper,” (click to tweet) explained Hugh as he took a deep breath.

Pastor John replied, “Hugh, I am hearing good things coming from your class and the Sunday School director said your class numbers are back up. I think the Lord has given you a second chance and the class has too.” 

“Thank you for those encouraging words. Those touch me deep,” said Hugh with a small tear in his eye.

“Hugh,” said Pastor John, ‘it is hard to imagine this, but our time has flown by this noon hour. I have an appointment shortly and will need to leave. Next week let’s focus on some of the legendary materials that give us other information about the author of our Gospel called Mark. Will that be acceptable to you?”

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“Pastor John, I have been studying ahead already. I encountered some interesting stories about John Mark. One story claims that John Mark had a history of starting something and then quitting. I can’t wait until we talk about that story,” chimed in Hugh.

“Thanks again, Pastor for your time and help,” said Hugh as he gave Pastor John a hug. 

“Your welcome, Hugh. Our time is something I no look forward to as well,” whispered Pastor John with water gathering in the corner of his eye.

If you find this approach to detailing the historical context of the author of Mark, please let me know.  Also, if you find the blog helpful and interesting, please repost it or tweet the tweetable quote.  Thank you and God bless.

Did Luke Insult John Mark by calling him a huperetes?

Hugh Mortimer and Pastor John agreed to meet for lunch this week at Martha’s Diner. The smell of hamburgers frying filled Hugh’s sinus’ as soon as he entered the Diner.  Martha’s Diner was known for its burgers. The diner had cooked hamburgers since 1937.  The diner’s décor was 1950’s style.  The cozy atmosphere would make a comfortable place to meet with Pastor John.

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After the waitress escorted Hugh to a table, seeing Pastor John enter the diner, he waved for Pastor John to join him.  “Good afternoon, Pastor John,” said Hugh.  “Good afternoon, Hugh, isn’t that a delicious aroma?” Pastor John replied as he took a deep breath.  “It most certainly is!” exclaimed Hugh. “I am so hungry, I could eat a horse.” 

“Have you decided what you would like to have?” asked Pastor John.  “I have,” said Hugh.  So, Hugh picked up the phone in the booth and placed his order. He handed the phone to Pastor John who did the same. “Where else in town can you place your order over a phone?” asked Hugh.  Pastor John said, ‘There is no other place in town that uses the phone to place an order like Martha’s Diner. That is one of the reasons it is such a great experience to come and eat here.” 

“Hugh,” said Pastor John, “Did you learn anything else about John Mark this week?”

“I discovered that John Mark came on the scene when there was a famine in Israel. That is about A.D. 45-46. It seems that a prophet named, Agabus, prophesied this severe famine. The Christians at Antioch gathered an offering to send to their fellow Christians in Jerusalem. They sent Saul, later known as Paul, and Barnabas with their love gifts (Acts 11: 27-30). When the gift had been delivered, the two brought John Mark back to Antioch with them (Acts 12:25).”

“Isn’t that fascinating, Hugh?” questioned Pastor John.  “It is!” said Hugh. “And John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10).  Barnabas, who spoke up for Saul (Paul) because he saw the potential in him, also identified the possibilities in John Mark.”

“And Pastor John,” said Hugh, “John Mark went on a great adventure with his cousin, Barnabas, and Saul.  The church of Antioch commissioned Saul, Barnabas, and John Mark to go on mission in Asia Minor among the Gentiles.  John Mark went with them as a helper or assistant (Acts 13:1-5).”

Their hamburgers and fries arrived. Each man became silent while they poured catsup on their  plates for the French fries and spread mayonnaise on their cheeseburgers. Both men began to eat. “Mmmm!” both men said at the same time.

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“Very good, Hugh! I am impressed with the amount of detail you gleaned this week,” Pastor John responded.  “I had hoped we would touch upon this area of John Mark’s life because I did a word study related to the word, ‘helper’ used in Acts 13:5 to describe John Mark.”

“The Greek word is, huperetes and the Greek text reads, “They had John huperetes.” This Greek word, huperetes” is a interesting word. One meaning relates that it is not that they had John Mark as helper, but John Mark huperetes. Many interpreters and interpretations use it in the sense of ‘helper’ or ‘assistant.’  The Authorized Version interprets it, “They had John to their minister.” The Revised Standard, “They had John to assist them.” The New English Bible translates it, “They had John as their assistant.” The New American Standard Version (1995 edition) has, “They also had John as their helper.” The ESV puts it as, “They had John to assist them.”

“Hugh, originally the word huperestes pictured slave who rowed in the lower bank of oars in one of the galleys of the slave propelled ships.  Hence, it indicated that John Mark helped in a humble state. This somewhat limits his work among that done by Saul and Barnabas.” (Click to Tweet)

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It appears he did not help to preach or work in the religious side of the mission. The implication is he oversaw the expedition. Perhaps he took care of the physical and material side of the mission. This proved to be the most common understanding of the term among scholars and interpreters of huperestes.”

Hugh said, “That is so interesting as we think about Mark as the author of this Gospel.”

“Indeed it is, Hugh,” continued Pastor John. “But there is another less accepted understanding of the term. One scholar believes that John Mark performed the office of a chazzan who was a synagogue official. The term is referred to in Luke 4:20. From what I understand the chazzan was an attendant. He alone received wages for his work in the synagogue.”

“This chazzan maintained the buildings, cared for the sacred scrolls by bringing them out and putting them up before and after the services, blowing the silver trumpet three times before the Sabbath came, and often the synagogue teacher for the children. So, while this man did not participate in the sacred worship services, he clearly held the most important position in the synagogue.”

“Hugh, if this is what is meant, then John Mark was with them, the huperetes, the synagogue attendant.  If this is the real picture, then John Mark possessed a close attachment to orthodox Judaism.  Perhaps this explains why he left the journey and returned to Jerusalem. However, Hugh, it has never held a major position among scholars.”

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“Goodness Pastor John,” exclaimed Hugh, “Look at the time. I must return to work. Our time together passes so quickly. But I am learning much about the author of Mark’s Gospel. Thank you. Where and when do you want to meet next week?”

“Hugh, if you don’t care, one of my favorite restaurants is Briar Haven. They cook Bar-B-Q and it is absolutely delicious,” suggested Dr. John.

“That works for me! It is near my work so it will be easier to meet you. See you next week at noon! Can we continue discussing Mark and his background next week? We ended with him leaving the expedition, but that is not the end of his story.”

“And Pastor John, you have helped to renew my excitement for studying God’s Word. I can’t wait until next week!”

“Great! See you next week,” Pastor John said as he paid for his meal and left Martha’s Diner. Hugh followed Pastor John out the door and went back to work.

Please respond, forward, or retweet or comments if you found the blog helpful in your study of John Mark as the author of the gospel bearing his name. Thank you.

To read the article from the Hastings Bible Dictionary on John Mark, go to this website:

A Writer Known by Two Names

Hugh Mortimor arrived early at “Della’s Diner” for his meeting with Pastor John.  Hugh had spent several hours reading and researching information about Mark, the author of Mark’s Gospel.  Hugh glanced over his notes, excited to share with Pastor John what he had discovered.

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The waitress asked, “Would you like something to drink while you wait?”

“Yes, I would like a cup of coffee and a glass of ice water, please.” Hugh replied.

“Coming up!” said the waitress.

About that time, Pastor John slid into his seat. The waitress caught him and asked him his drink order. “Milk and water, please,” Pastor John answered.

“Good morning, Hugh!” Pastor John said as he extended his right hand to Hugh. Shaking hands, the two men smiled at each other.

“Hugh, you look more like I remember you being. You have a smile on your face. You appear to have eaten the proverbial canary. How are things going?”

Pastor John, “Meeting with you is exactly what I needed to get me out of the doldrums.”

“Great news! I am pleased and thankful to our Lord. How were you studies this week?” inquired Pastor John.

“Pastor John, you know I have been excited about this meeting since our last meeting. I regret that we had to miss a couple of weeks, but life got out of control.” Hugh said.

“I can understand that.  I have been busy too.” Pastor John replied.

“So, Pastor John, do you care if I go first and share with you what I learned about Mark, who many believe authored the Gospel of Mark?” queried Hugh.

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“Go ahead. I am excited to hear what you discovered,” answered Pastor John.

Glancing at his notes, Hugh began, “I learned that we have two major sources for the life of John Mark. We have the New Testament, of course. And we have what appears to be a large amount of traditional and legendary material.  Pastor John, I read some of the legendary materials and it was useless as genuine history, but other resources could be helpful.”

“You are right, Hugh.  So, for our discussion right now, let’s focus on the New Testament materials, if that is acceptable to you,” Pastor John replied.

“It is fine with me,” replied Hugh.

“Pastor John, I was amazed that Mark was called by another name from time to time. Did you know he is also called, ‘John Mark’?”

“Hugh, yes, I am aware. You probably read that in Israel during the first century A.D. it was common for men to have two names. The first name which his friends used would be his Hebrew name. The second name would be Greek and was used by business associates in his public life. We have Simon, known as Peter and Thomas, called Didymus. So, John is his Hebrew name and Mark is his Greek name,” explained Pastor John.

John Mark, the Evangelist
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“Isn’t that great to know, Pastor John? I read that in Israel in the time of John Mark that the people did not have surnames. But often, the way to distinguish one man from another was to call him the son of his father. For example, ‘Simon, bar Jonah.’  I read that the Hebrew word for son is ‘bar.’  And you know, Pastor John, we have no idea what John Mark’s father’s name was, but we know his mother’s name is Mary. Acts 12:12 says that Mary was the mother of John Mark. Some think that normally, Mary would be known as Mary, the wife of her husband, that her husband and John Mark’s father had probably deceased,” explained Hugh.

“Well done, Hugh! What else did you discover about John Mark that will give us valuable information about his life and background?” asked Pastor John.

“I discovered that John Mark’s mother owned a home with a courtyard. This courtyard had an outer door. She even had a maidservant to open the door (Acts 12:13).  To top that off, Pastor John, her house seemed to serve as the central meeting place for the church in Jerusalem.”

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“Peter returned to Mary’s house after he escaped the prison in Jerusalem with the help of the angel (Acts 12:12).  And I imagine that she had a large room since the church was gathered there for prayer (Acts 12:12).  Pastor John, Mark grew up with the church right in his very house. “

“I can only imagine the things that John Mark witnessed with his eyes and heard with his ears.  Who else would be so knowledgeable to write what may have been the first and earliest Gospel?” said Hugh. (Click to Tweet)

“Hugh, do you think there is a close connection between Peter and Mark?” asked Pastor John.

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“I do! As we just heard, Peter went to John Mark’s house when he escaped prison.  I checked out 1 Peter 5:13 and Peter calls John Mark, my son.” I don’t think that is to be taken literally.  This phrase, “my son,” can refer to a close relationship an older man has with a younger man so that the older man felt the relationship was a close as a father and son. If Mark’s father was dead, this could have even more meaning. Yet, more likely it refers to the idea that Peter brought Mark into the Christian faith. So, like Paul refers to Timothy as “his son” and Titus as ‘his son,” (1 Cor 4:17; 1 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4), then this may be the intended meaning.”

Hugh sat amazed at the information he had gained about the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was already feeling better about how he viewed scripture and especially the Gospel of Mark. He anticipated sharing this information with his Sunday School class in a few weeks.

“Pastor John. Thank you for giving me this time to meet with you. You have already blessed my life and I am excited about studying God’s Word once again. Can we meet again next week?”

“Sure, Hugh. Let’s keep exploring Mark and his life next week.  Check out Acts 13 1-5 especially.”

If you found this style of teaching helpful, leave me a comment. Blessings towards each who reads the blog this week. What things do you know about John Mark’s life that we have not covered yet? 

Quest Blogger: Dr. Randy Presnell, “What Does A Classic Movie and Bible Interpretation Have in Common?”

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“The woman weeping at the 1964 premiere of Mary Poppins? None other than the classic children’s book author P.L. Travers. But these were not tears of joy or gratitude. Travers hated the movie.”[i]

Countless original authors no doubt share P.L. Travers’ sentiments regarding artistic license taken by later interpreters of their work. In many ways, as contemporary Christian exegetes of the Scriptures, we are guilty of doing the same thing. Only thirty years had passed between P.L. Travers’ publishing Mary Poppins and the aforementioned world premier of the film by the same title with a reported devastating damage done to her original intended meaning. So, how in the world can we as preachers, teachers, and students of the Scriptures interpret the original intended meaning of the text written over two millennia earlier?

Any sincere interpreter of the Scriptures would surely agree with Fee and Stuart’s classic hermeneutical principle, “A text cannot mean what it never meant.”[i] So, how can we determine the author’s original intended meaning? Well, to answer that question we must first understand the uniqueness of the biblical text. As you doubtless already know we must take a close look at the genre of literature, the historical context, the author, the original readers, and all of the other principles for good interpretation. But the purpose of this blog today will be to answer the question of the role of the third person of the Godhead in illumining the biblical passage.

First, we are dealing with text written by a man inspired by God to write for a specific purpose (2 Timothy 3:16). Understanding the man is important. However, we must remember that we are attempting to understand a text that is written in a fashion that God the Holy Spirit inspired the human author to write.[ii] So, our doctrine of inspiration plays a key role in our hermeneutical approach. It is imperative then that we allow the Holy Spirit to illumine the text that He inspired for our understanding.

Second, as human beings we are incapable of understanding the things of God without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Whether you are a lay teacher with no formal training in hermeneutics or if you are a formally trained biblical scholar or somewhere in between—you cannot understand the God-breathed Scriptures without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Paul instructed believers in his first Corinthian correspondence that the things of the Holy Spirit must be spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

Therefore, we must approach the text as the divinely inspired Word of God that it is. Proper hermeneutical principles will lead us to the proper interpretation of the text. When we have determined that our interpretation of the text is correct, “the Holy Spirit’s illumination guides us to use what we learned in the real world, first in our own lives and then in the lives of those who hear us preach”.[iii]

In conclusion, we must approach the text as a sinful but saved human being that has humbled one’s self through prayer and repentance to allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach us the original intended meaning of the original Author—the Holy Spirit! (Click to Tweet) We must approach the text with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16)! When we do that, we will not grieve the original Author for our perversion His original intended meaning of Holy Scriptures.


Husband. Father. Granddad. Senior Pastor of FBC, Oneida, TN. Former college administrator and Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministries.

Randy has served as both vocational and bi-vocational pastor to Tennessee and Kentucky churches since 1978. Randy has served on the Advisory Council of Ministers for Carson-Newman College as well as the J. Harold Smith Bible Institute and Pastor Training Center where he also served as an instructor. He has been active in Disaster Relief where he also taught training in evangelism. He served 12 years on the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

[i] Gordan D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, 1993), 26.

[ii] Wayne McDill, 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching, 2nd ed., (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 68.

[iii] Jerry Vines and Adam B. Dooley, Passion in the Pulpit: How to Exegete the Emotion of Scripture, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018), 143.