The Rev. Dr. Mark Allan Powell, the author of Gather’s four-part Bible study on “The kingdom of heaven,” has responded to questions about session 4. Thank you for sharing your concerns and questions.
Leader guide note: There is an error in the “how to shorten this study” section at the end of Session one leader guide in Gather’s January/February 2022 issue. You can download a corrected PDF of the leader guide here.
The kingdom of God: What does it mean for God to be in charge?
by the Rev. Mark Allan Powell
New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell looks at a widely used biblical image and invites us into a discussion of what it might mean for Lutheran women today. The phrase “kingdom of God” and similar expressions turn up repeatedly in sayings of Jesus, so understanding what that expression means helps us to make sense of numerous parables and popular Bible passages (including the Lord’s Prayer). There may be some surprises: the phrase refers to an activity, not a location—and it has nothing to do with God being a “king,” at least so far as that image suggests a (usually male) tyrant who gives orders and dominates the lives of his subjects. Powell is author of the world’s best-selling New Testament textbook and editor of the Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary.
- Beautiful feet: Announcing the reign of God – The prophet Isaiah said, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of one who announces, “Your God reigns!” No one has ever fit the description better than Jesus, who talked more about the reign of God than he did about anything else. We will ask, what would it mean for God to be in charge of our lives? And why would that be good news?
- Mysteries of the kingdom: Parables, banquets and children – This month we will consider “kingdom parables” and ask how the kingdom of God is like a net or a treasure or a pearl or whatever. We will also look at an “acted parable” in which Jesus dramatizes the “kingdom” as a banquet where honored guests include misfits and outcasts. And then we will discover (or recall) who we should regard as the greatest in the kingdom and the most important members of any church.
- Eternal life in the Gospel of John – In the fourth Gospel Jesus uses the expression “eternal life” to talk about what he calls the “kingdom of God” in the other Gospels. The phrase does not just refer to life that is eternally long, but also (indeed, especially) to life that is eternally deep—life that is endless in value and meaning. We will look at some popular passages, including John 3:16 and the story of Jesus and the woman at the well to discover how our lives can be marked by love and purpose.
- Looking to the future: Life forever with God – Most of the time that Jesus talks about the kingdom of God or eternal life, he is referring to something we experience here and now—not later in heaven. But sometimes, he does talk about that future life and in this final session we will learn as much as we can about “the glory that awaits us.” What will it be like to be perfect people in a perfect world, living forever with God and one another?
We are excited at St. Luke Albuquerque – Dr. Mark Allen Powell’s bible studies have always been great.
We are looking forward to this study at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Spearfish SD!
Our Wednesday Wondering group is looking for a new Bible study and are excited to try this one!
We are excited to learn more about God’s kingdom in the coming months at Ascension in Savannah, GA. However, the information provided on page 25 for shorter meeting times is not for session one, but for session two. Can you please provide the suggested shorter meeting outline for session one?
Hi, Kiersten. We’ve posted a corrected PDF of the leader guide above. Apologies for the error!
Is there a video for the March study? The February one was great!
Yes, there will be a March video. You’ll be able to find it under the “Resources” tab as soon as we have it!
I am wondering if you have the title for the summer studies 2022?
Please get the magazine out more timely. We meet next Tuesday and haven’t the magazine. Help! Lynda Poage
Would like to have the March video by March 1 as our group meets early in the month. Is that possible
The physical and intellectual descriptions of tax collectors shared in the video for session 2 was new information. Are there references available for this bible study to look at the information on tax collectors and also the information shared on Mary Magdelene. Thank you
Hi, Janet! I’ve reached out to Dr. Powell about your question. 🙂
On Mary Magdalene:
The information in the article accords with traditional scholarship and the official teachings of the church, despite the popularity of contrary ideas. Almost any good Bible encyclopedia will provide more information: the Anchor Bible Dictionary is lengthy and reliable; the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary (which I edited) is briefer but probably sufficient.
In sum: the Bible tells us very little about Mary Magdalene, save that Jesus healed her from some disease or disorder (by casting demons out of her) and that, along with two other wealthy women and a number of unnamed persons, she served as a patron for his ministry (see Luke 8:1-3). It is often thought that this implies she was a wealthy business woman herself, or perhaps a wealthy widow. She receives special notice for being present at the empty tomb on Easter (John 20:11-18). Her age is never given but she is often associated with women who would have been around the age of Jesus’s mother, so perhaps we should imagine her as being that age as well.
The notion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute first surfaced in the Middle Ages (before the printing press was invented) when many pastors and teachers had to rely on memory—they invariably attached the name “Mary Magdalene” to just about every unnamed woman in the Gospels—the woman with hemorrhages in Matthew 9; the woman who anoints Jesus in Mark 14; the prostitute who weeps at his feet in Luke 7; the woman taken in adultery in John 8—they all got identified as Mary Magdalene by pastors with faulty memories. Somehow, the idea of Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute caught on at a popular level, though the church has always repudiated the idea and tried to correct it.
Needless to say, there is nothing in the Bible (or any other ancient work—contra Da Vinci Code) that connects her romantically with Jesus. I once made a comment at an academic conference that has since been quoted many times: “Apparently, Mary Magdalene helped to finance Jesus’s ministry and we can probably assume that then, as now, people who paid bills expected periodic reports on how the work was going. Thus, we should defer from sexist speculation that this woman was Jesus’s girlfriend; more likely, she was his boss.” I was (sort-of) joking.
Yes, this is fairly new information, that has not “trickled down” to the general public yet. Much of the data is found in doctoral dissertations and yet-to-be published manuscripts. I did publish one article on the topic in 2015: Mark Allan Powell, “Jesus and the Pathetic Wicked: Re-Visiting Sanders’ View of Jesus’ Friendship with Sinners,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 13/2-3 (2015): 188-208. It contains numerous footnotes to academic sources. Two of the most important (and accessible) are these:
1) Louise Schottroff and Wolfgang Stegemann, Jesus and the Hope of the Poor, trans. M. O’Connell (Maryknoll, N. Y.: Orbis, 1986),especially pages 8-12.
2) Stephen J. Patterson, The God of Jesus. The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998), especially pages 64-68.
Thank you Rev. Powell for this wonderful study. We laughed, we shared, we reminisced, and we learned so much from your words. My late husband was an ELCA Lutheran pastor. I remember him being excited whenever you would be speaking at a gathering. And he was right – you have the gift of explaining and sharing. Blessings.
We have thoroughly enjoyed The Kingdom of God series. The content is so interesting and the format so helpful. The suggestions for shorter meetings is terrific. Because the lessons contain so much information and presented so that we understand it, we spend oodles of time discussing the lesson and therefore don’t get all the way through it. I really like the recap of previous lessons at the beginning of the session. This reinforces the previous lessons and prepares us for the next one.
This author is terrific.
I’m looking for an article you published on divorce and remarriage. My Pastor recommended I read it, and neither of us can find it. I know this is not the forum to ask; however, I cannot find any other way to contact you. I would greatly appreciate any help from you.
Hi Ginny! Thanks for asking! I’m going to have to do a little research and get back to you on that, by DM to your email, OK? Thanks!