Biblical Burns
The Art of the Insult According to Scripture

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Showing posts labelled Mark. View all.
26th February 2016

“Dog” is a term that crops up again and again in both the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately for any cynophilists reading, dogs are not portrayed in a very favourable light. Literal dogs are largely seen as filthy scavengers, usually tasked with consuming the flesh of recently deceased unpleasant people[eg].

This canine derision, however, is on multiple occasions freely extended to humans—occasionally as a poetic expression of self-abasement[eg], but more often as a biting indignity[eg].

Because there are so many excellent usage examples, it would seem meet to briefly discuss a few of my favourites.

Previously on Biblical Burns, Proverbs 26:11!
1 Samuel 17:43

Goliath, hubris personified, is unimpressed when he sees that his challenger is just some shepherd kid. On sighting Dave, he shouts out “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?” After some cursing, the Philistine invites Dave to do his worst: “Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the sky…!”

Say what you like about Goliath—he was generous to the birdlife.

Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27

Jesus’ ministry was nearly entirely amongst his own people. In fact, most Jews expected their Messiah to conquer other nations, not allow them in to His Kingdom. So when a Syrophoenician woman asks Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter, He answers in line with expectations: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The woman continues to beg him for help, but Jesus pushes back insultingly: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!”

Jesus happily loses the argument: “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done.”

Psalm 22:16
“For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers…”

Written by King Dave hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified, the 22nd Psalm is incredibly striking. Not only does Jesus quote it while on the cross—“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)—but the content of the despairing psalm itself bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion:

A Side Note

Interestingly, one notable person flies in the face of the negative view of dogs. In the Bible, where the meaning of names are usually strikingly significant, it is strange to see Caleb, the Israelite spy whose name literally means “dog”, recorded as a hero. In Numbers 13-14, Josh and Caleb are the only two out of twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land who aren’t scared witless by the current inhabitants. Showing great faith in spite of the detractors, Caleb ballsily proclaims “We must go up and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!”

4th July 2015
“Get behind Me, Satan!”
- Jesus
Matthew 16:23
Mark 8:33

Basically equivalent to “Get out of my sight, Satan”, this insult seems pretty tame, until you realise that Jesus isn’t actually addressing Satan here. He’s addressing Peter, His disciple and one of His closest friends. And He calls him Satan. What?

Peter had an up-and-down kind of time following Jesus. In Matthew 16, we see a somewhat bizarre series of events. Jesus has just asked His disciples who the people are saying He is. The answers vary from John the Baptist (back from the dead) to Jeremiah (back from the dead) to Elijah (back from the sort-of-dead[1]).

“But you,” Jesus presses further, “who do you say that I am?”

In what many people regard as an epiphany, Peter pipes up:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

“Correct!” says Jesus (more or less). He then goes on to explain that Peter is going to be the rock on which He builds His church. I imagine Peter was pretty chuffed.

But then Jesus starts telling his disciples what’s about to happen to Him. All that suffering, betrayal, and execution stuff, you know. Naturally, this is not what the disciples want or expect to hear, so Rocky takes Jesus aside and starts telling Him off:

“Nay Jesus, that ain't gonna happen to You. You’re completely wrong.”

Jesus turns to Peter, looks at him, and absolutely shuts him down:

“Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offence to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.”

So in one conversation, Peter goes from the Rock of the Church to the Adversary of God. I’m almost impressed.

(After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter does indeed become an important figure in the early church.)

Fun Facts

Peter’s name was actually Simon. But there are at least eight different Simons mentioned in the New Testament, including another of the twelve disciples, Simon the Zealot. So I guess nicknaming him Peter avoided some confusion.

The name Peter, or “Petros”, basically means “rock” in Greek (it’s the root of “petrify”). He’s also referred to as “Cephas”, which is the Aramaic equivalent.

Interestingly, the “Peter will be the rock on which I build My church” bit is where Catholics get the idea of the Pope. So yeah, according to the Catholic church, Peter was the first Pope.

23rd May 2015
“May no one ever eat your fruit again!”
- Jesus
Mark 11:14 (NLT)

Jesus was in a bad mood on this day. Later this same day He was chasing people out of the temple with a whip, and turning over their tables for buying and selling in the temple complex (at least He had a good reason). First thing in the morning, though, Jesus is heading into town when He spots a fig tree in the distance. Starving hungry, He makes His way over to the tree…


Turns out it’s not even fig season.

Jesus vents His frustration with a botanical curse, and the fig tree promptly withers.

Practical applications of this passage:
  • Upsetting greengrocer’s

11th April 2015
- Jesus
Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 7:5; Matthew 15:5; Matthew 15:7; Matthew 22:18; Matthew 23:13; Matthew 23:14; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:23; Matthew 23:25; Matthew 23:27; Matthew 23:29; Matthew 24:51; Mark 7:6; Luke 6:42; Luke 12:56; Luke 13:15

This is one of Jesus' favourite insults. He often uses it to describe the religious leaders of the day. The word that we usually translate as “hypocrites” is the Greek word hypokritai, which, incidentally, is also the word that was used to refer to actors in the Greek theatre. Not only does this tell us something about what Jesus meant by the slur—these people were pretending to be something they weren't—but it also suggests that Jesus probably, at some stage, went to the theatre.*

While this abrasive term is scattered throughout the gospels, it's mainly concentrated in two clusters:
   In the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5–7), Jesus repeatedly warns people not to be like the hypocrites. Don't pray like the hypocrites, don't fast like the hypocrites, don't give to the poor like the hypocrites… The general gist is not to do good things for the sake of being applauded.

But later, in Matthew 23, Jesus really lets loose. The religious leaders, “the scribes and Pharisees”, have been asking Jesus all kinds of curly questions, trying (unsuccessfully) to trap Him in His words. Eventually, Jesus tires of this and—in front of the whole crowd—embarks on one of the most scathing tirades in the history of vituperation. Seriously, go read it. For the next couple of pages, Jesus begins most of his censures with “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Some of the other ways that Jesus describes the religious leaders in His speech (and some of these may get their own post later on) include “blind fools”, “blind guides”, “whitewashed tombs”, “snakes”, “fit for hell”, and “brood of vipers”. Of course, it's soon after this incident that the recipients of all this praise start plotting to have Jesus arrested…

* For more about this, see Did Jesus Visit the Theater? in Nick Page's book What Happened to the Ark of the Covenant?—and other Bible mysteries.

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