The Top 5 Historical Forerunners of Donald Trump

First, we’ve had one president who’s become a reality TV star—Barack Obama, and now we have a reality TV star who wants to become president—Donald Trump. Trump has shocked all observers with his upending of the Republican establishment and his success despite the frequent, politically incorrect and ludicrous gaffs he makes on and off the camera. But, is the Trump phenomenon really so unprecedented? A wealthy real estate mogul and egomaniac, vying for elected office? Has this really never been done before?

Here are 5 historical precedents for the Trump candidacy throughout world history.

5. Aaron Burr (1756-1836)

Like Trump, Aaron Burr was an ambitious New York politician who fought bitter duels with his political rivals, notably Alexander Hamilton. Of course, while Trump only seriously wounded the career and ego of Marco Rubio by mocking his small hands, Burr actually put a bullet into Hamilton who had mocked his character and integrity in New York’s heated political scene.

FATE: After mortally wounding Alexander Hamilton, Burr fled into Louisiana in hopes of turning 40,000 acres he leased from the Spanish into a feudal kingdom with himself as its ruler. When this failed, he lived out the rest of his days in relative peace and obscurity in New York, albeit with considerable debts and one of the worst reputations in American history. While we cannot know as of yet how Trump will exit the political stage if he loses, it is entirely possible he will turn the Trump property empire into its own private state and perhaps even try to secede from the rest of America. It could happen.


4. Croesus, King of Lydia (595-546 BC)

 Lydia was a small state in western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) that became immensely wealthy since it stood at the confluence of trade routes across Europe, Egypt, the Aegean, the Black Sea, and the Near East. Lydia’s King Croesus grew so rich his name has since become a byword for fabulous wealth. To be “as rich as Croesus” was to have possession of an inestimable fortune. Croesus’ wealth provides 1 parallel with Donald J. Trump, in that Trump’s own name has practically become synonymous with great wealth and opulence (remember, he announced his candidacy riding on a solid gold escalator. That’s a far cry from the log cabin William Henry Harrison did all his campaigning from.).

FATE: The sad, ironic demise of King Croesus of Lydia does not necessarily provide a parallel yet for the candidacy of Donald Trump. Croesus consulted the Oracle at Delphi to see if he should attack Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, and expel him from Asia Minor. The oracle told him that in such a battle, Croesus would destroy a great empire and, emboldened by the oracle, immediately attacked Cyrus the Great’s forces. When Croesus went home for the winter, Cyrus the Great followed him, defeated his forces, and captured him at the moment Croesus realized the “great empire that would fall” would be his own.

So, what’s the parallel? Trump is pitting his global real estate empire against the formidable political empire the Clintons have built since . . . well, they read Machiavelli? Their time at Yale? In the battle between Clinton & Trump, who knows whose empire will fall? With the stakes growing ever higher and the debate more bitter and acrimonious, the political and even financial fortunes of Trump and Hilary are riding on their success this November. If Trump wins, Hilary could be in prison, and if Hilary wins, Trump is going to have answer a lot of questions about his taxes . . .

A Greek vase, bearing the image of King Croesus on his funeral pyre.

3. Qin Shi Huangdi (247-220 BC)

Given the number of promises Donald Trump has made about building a massive wall to divide the United States and Mexico, the next forerunner on our list is none other than Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Emperor of China and the first major builder of China’s Great Wall. Qin Shi Huangdi united all of the city-states of China and ended the chaotic violence of the Warring States period, in which various Chinese states vied for military and political dominance over the Yellow and Yang-tze river valleys. When Qin Shi Huangdi conquered  all of China, he set about joining the various smaller, scattered defenses on China’s northern frontiers into a massive WALL to protect against the hostile tribes of the steppes. With later additions and improvements, these fortifications would eventually become China’s Great Wall (see this link for a TED talk on the Great Wall of China). Certainly, Trump has a lot to learn from an Emperor who initiated a Wall so great it would one day be seen from space.

FATE: Qin Shi Huangdi died ingesting mercury pills, which the Emperor had hoped would make him immortal. Thankfully, Trump has many other ways of making himself immortal aside from drinking mercury, such as his name living on in numerous hotels across the world and in the hearts of his loyal followers. So, to be on the safe side, he should only copy Qin Shi Huangdi when it comes to the wall-building, not the whole pursuit of immortality thing.


2. Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC)

The Roman Republic grew radically destabilized following its success in the Punic Wars from 264 to 146 BC. Soldiers fighting in these wars were unable to maintain their farms and, when those farmsteads turned to rot, Rome’s senatorial elite bought them at a fraction of their potential value, and then settled thousands of slaves captured in the wars with Carthage and Macedon (another imperial rival that ate Rome’s imperial dust) on those farms. Roman commanders like Marius had made matters worse by outfitting, at public expense, many of those poor, downtrodden soldiers clogging the streets of Rome and creating an army all of a sudden loyal to a commander rather than to the Roman Republic itself.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla hoped to maintain the Senate’s firm control over the affairs of the Republic against populist military leaders like Marius, who seemingly wanted to overturn all the elements of Rome’s republican constitution to further their own selfish ambition. So, when Sulla gained enough power as a skillful general in his own right, he marched on Rome, declared himself dictator, and then published a proscription list of all the people in Rome whom it would now be legal to kill. The list was comprised of Sulla’s political enemies and members of a rival faction known as the populares.

So what’s the parallel? Well, certainly Trump is inheriting a United States that is radically destabilized as a result of our success (and many other factors, to be sure) in defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, and then defeating Soviet Russia in the Cold War. As we have seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is very difficult to be the world’s lone superpower. More pertinent to our topic is Sulla’s proscription list, a long list of enemies of whom it was then permissible to go, kill them, and take their property. Now, Trump is unscripted, unpolished, and unpresidential, but he really does not seem to be like Sulla or anywhere near as dangerous. But, Donald Trump certainly has a long list of government agencies he intends to close down, including the Department of Education, the EPA, and the Department of Energy, as well as a long list of Obama’s political appointees Trump intends to fire once he takes office. Once he takes office, you can be that the assets of any number of government agencies or superfluous government personnel will ridden out of D.C. on a rail. 

FATE: Sulla, confident his reforms had saved the Roman Republic, added the cognomen Felix (Latin, happy) and retired to an estate near the Bay of Naples to write his memoirs.  After what I can only imagine will be 4 long, happy presidential terms, I am sure Donald Trump will retire to Florida with the same self-satisfied look of contentment as did Sulla (see below). 


1. Marcus Crassius (115-53 BC)

Given that Donald Trump is one of the wealthiest figures to run for President of the United States, the strongest parallel from world history comes from the moneyman of the First Triumvirate, Marcus Crassus. Crassus made some of his fortune buying, at a discount, the property of those killed in Sulla’s purges, as well as slave trafficking, silver mining, and real estate buys that eventually landed Crassus a fortune upwards of 8 billion in today’s terms (although these figures are notoriously hard to calculate. As of 50 BC, Pliny estimates his fortune at around 200 million sesterces, a silver coin worth about a quarter-of-a-day’s wage). As a member of the First Triumvirate, he financed Julius Caesar’s campaigns in exchange for Caesar, once elected, would pass legislation that helped Crassus increase his personal fortune and his political ambition. 

FATE: Emulating Caesar and Pompey’s military successes, Marcus Crassus led a Roman legion against the formidable Parthian Empire. When Crassus was defeated at the Battle of Carrhae, he was taken prisoner before their king Orodes II and, in the coolest death in world history, had molten gold poured down his throat as an ironic way of condemning him for his insatiable greed. If this sounds familiar, it is because George R.R. Martin transplanted Crassus’ death into  A Game of Thrones. So, what can we learn from the fate of Marcus Crassus that will help us understand Donald Trump any better? Only that Donald Trump had better learn foreign policy and world history fast if he is going to deal any better with powers in the Middle East, which today includes Iran, ISIS, Turkey, Syria, and, by extension, Russia, than did Marcus Crassus.



After taking a look at the long list of figures who have become fabulously wealthy either before, after, or during their career in politics, the historical precedents for a successful Donald Trump presidency look fairly slim. The figures above grew wildly overconfident as a result of their wealth and power and, in giving wider and wider scope to their ambition, made decisions that led to their untimely and tragic deaths. Moreover, it is a simple truism that immense wealth and success breed the kind of overconfidence that leads to hubris. One need not have read this article to know how bombastic and prideful Trump often is and, as of last summer, Trump has admitted he never sought God’s forgiveness for his sins, even going as far to state that “hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness.” Lord willing, Donald Trump would really and truly humble himself and ask for God’s guidance as his campaign moves closer to election day, lest he make similar decisions as his historical forerunners that yield the same results.


Book Review: “Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman

Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Tarrytown, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1972. 190. Available on Amazon

The Master Plan of Evangelism: Summary

From the outset of The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman states his reason for writing to explain the “controlling principles governing the movements of the Master in the hope that our labours might be conformed to a similar pattern” (Coleman 1972, 12). Coleman does not propose a novel methodology for evangelism (a new “master plan”), but rather expounds upon the plan of the Master, Jesus, and His methodology to redeem a people for Himself (Coleman 1972, 15). Coleman outlines “eight guiding principles of the Master’s plan,” each step being used alongside the others, that Jesus Himself followed as He poured the contents of God’s plan of salvation into His disciples (Coleman 1972, 19). Through such means, Jesus ensured that the gospel proclamation would go forth through His apostles. As such, Coleman defines these steps as the selection of men willing to follow Christ, living alongside them and pouring gospel truth into them, and then delegating ministerial responsibilities to them. Coleman applies principles from Jesus’ public ministry to contemporary church life in order to make genuine disciples and further the kingdom of Christ to the ends of the earth.

The Master Plan of Evangelism: Strengths

The strengths of The Master Plan derive from an evangelistic model founded on the example of Jesus and amply supported with Scripture to support the principles gleaned from Jesus’ public ministry. Rather than inventing anything new or incorporating sale pitches into evangelism, Coleman uses Jesus’ ministry as the model for discipleship and skillfully gleams principles for use in contemporary churches. Taking the Master’s plan as the model for evangelism, the goal is to make disciples—not shallow converts. Moreover, Coleman edited his treatise with exceptional skill and hardly an unnecessary word appears in The Master Plan. Lastly, Coleman acknowledges the difficulty of the work ahead and constantly urges his reader to accept the challenge if genuine disciples are to be made. These strengths, from Jesus’ model of discipleship, the goal of genuine disciple making, and the brevity and force of Coleman’s prose make The Master Plan a worthwhile evangelistic model to implement in churches.

The Master Plan of Evangelism: Weaknesses

While Coleman’s treatise provides an excellent model for discipleship, The Master Plan provides almost no resources for contacting unbelievers or bringing them into the church. Rather, Coleman seems to assume that the church possesses an untapped manpower pool that pastors, to their detriment, do not utilize for evangelism. Subsequently, Coleman’s model does not fit with many contemporary views of evangelism whereby Christians intentionally seek out unbelievers. Moreover, Coleman closes each chapter urging his reader to imitate the example of Christ in training disciples, but such exhortations can appear very moralistic (Coleman 1972, 811; 117). Moreover, with this in mind and without careful application of the gospel, Coleman’s model could ultimately define evangelism as activities that happen within the church or in time spent with the pastor, rather than in missional living. While Coleman’s treatise provided excellent points on discipleship within the church, The Master Plan provides few techniques on engaging the culture in a manner analogous to Jesus’ public ministry.

The Benefits of Writing in Iambic Pentameter


In freshman year English, my teacher Mr. Johnson assigned a paper on Oedipus Rex that, including its introduction, 2 body paragraphs, and conclusion, could be no longer than 500 words. And, we could not use the verb to be in any of its forms, including “is,” “are,” “am, “be,” and “was.” Undaunted, I deemed him a fool, and considered an assignment of a mere 500 words to pose no significant challenge.

To my chagrin, I found it easy to write a 1,000 4-paragraph essay, even 800 words, but 500 proved impossible! How could I get across everything I wanted to say in so short a space, and include quotes! And to not use the linguistic crutch I had leaned on for years, the verb “to be” on top of it all. O, the humanity!

Mr. Johnson, in his brilliance, recognized that students do not innately possess the ability to edit their thoughts once they pen them to paper. Rather, students (myself included) consider the assignment completed once they type their last word and rarely, if ever, go back to edit what we have written. So, writing appears haphazard and unconnected, like an archipelago of thought where the paragraphs join together somewhere deep in the mind of the author. So why do I bring up this example, aside from providing a subtle apology to my High School English teacher, since he knew what he was doing after all?

Iambic Pentameter

Mr. Johnson’s writing requirements forced me to learn the habits of editing, of combing through a text after I had written and (gasp!) delete things I had written, since I realized they were no longer necessary. Writing everything I wanted to say in under 500 words proved no easy feat, especially if I wanted to say everything I needed to on that topic. Then, excising the verb “to be” helped me remove unnecessary words and replace them with strong active verbs.

I have found that the same habits of careful editing are encouraged that much more so by writing, every so often, in iambic pentameter, the meter of Shakespeare’s plays and of English epic poetry. Iambic pentameter is a poetic meter that is comprised of 5 metrical “feet,” or units of poetry. Then, within each metrical foot there are two syllables, one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed syllable). So there you have it: an iamb is a type of metrical foot that has one unstressed and one stressed syllable, and there are 5 of them in such a line of poetry (hence, penta, meaning 5).

Poetry in iambic pentameter derives from the natural rhythm and flow of the English language, even from the natural rhythms of our bodies. If you place your hand over your heart, you can feel your heart beating in the same unstressed, stressed pattern as a line of Shakespearean verse (da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM).

Value of Writing in Iambic Pentameter

To write in iambic pentameter requires carefully crafting your words so that they not only convey your intended meaning, but that they fit within the well-defined structure of a line of poetry. The line has to scan, meaning that someone can read your lines and indicate the stressed and unstressed syllables in their appropriate places. Your poetry has to have the bounce and rhythm of a line worthy of Shakespeare, Spenser, or Milton, while a meaningful thought must be described within a space of 10 syllables. Certainly, no easy feat.

But, the benefits are immense as the structure of iambic pentameter forces you to scour your dictionary in search of better and better words. “Falling” would not fit the line as well as I would like, but what about “plummeting,” “crashing,” “plunging,” or “hurling”? Do I need to par this line further, so that it comes in under 10 syllables, or can I break off my thought in a meaningful way and send it hurtling into the next line? The structure forces me to edit until it is perfect, and I know it is (largely) perfect when my thought corresponds to that structure.

In crafting essays, I often find constrained by the incredible freedom I have. A short story or a novel may have an overarching structure, but little real organization at the level of paragraphs and sentences. With so much freedom, I am not entirely sure the right word to choose and why it is a better choice than others, aside from connotative meanings that this word has and the way the word sounds when read aloud. But how can I really be sure of that?

However, in writing iambic pentameter, when you have found a word that both conveys your intended meaning and fits the meter, you know that you do not look any further. The structure supports you in your word choice and sends you searching for the perfect word that fits the structure of your poem already.

The practice of writing poetry was, well practiced so long because it helps the reader concise their thoughts into a single line of smooth, rhythmic, and grammatically-correct lines that rise and fall with the rhythms of the human heart. The benefits of a Classic education, updated for the students of the 21st century.

Here is the opening soliloquy from a play I wrote on the Battle of Hampton Roads (The Virginia, available on Amazon), to give an idea of the process I am describing:

O, for a stage as wide as the ocean

To hold the waves beneath our heroes’ prows!

Tonight, like Choruses o’ancient plays,

I’m here to welcome you and introduce

The mighty objects on our stage: iron

Clad ships, the first the world had seen, whose duel

Upon the Bay of Hampton Roads we aim

To recreate upon these wooden planks!

The Virginia, the Monitor, their crew

And captains fore’er changed the way the world

Conducts its wars and rules its waves, so much

In vain do we attempt to bind Neptune

Upon our meager stage, when only Heav’n

May surround the ocean and curb its swells.

The pains to stage our play are worth the cost

If we may honor those who fought that day

The fearsome Battle o’ Hampton Roads,

Imagining the weight our stage must bear,

Under men, timber, iron, and the sea,

Do forgive our poet’s folly in daring to

Compose this noble scene, with no effects

Except your mind to make into our siege.

Now work your thoughts into a moonlight bay

As we open the curtains of our play

And steel your hearts for what we have in store,

All the arms and grandeur of our Civil War.


Latin Loan Words and Phrases in the Gospel of Mark


The early church attributed the gospel of Mark to Peter’s “secretary,” Mark, who transcribed Peter’s words as Peter preached in Rome. While the church fathers provide ample support for this claim, Mark’s Roman origins have been supplanted of a Syrian-Palestinian provenance due to Mark’s themes and settings. Because Mark’s subject matter better addresses a pastoral community like Syria or Galilee, it must have been written in countryside north of Judea. Students of the New Testament face the choice to accept the testimony of the early church concerning Mark’s background, or embrace the hermeneutical methods of modern scholarship that often contradict the biblical text.

So, if one jettisons the external evidence concerning Mark’s origins and relies on internal evidence alone, could a semantic study of Mark identify a location in which the author of Mark composed his work, whether Rome or Syria? Could the author, hereafter identified as Mark, have utilized vocabulary that betrays a city or region of origin? This paper will investigate the origin and setting of Mark’s gospel by analyzing certain Latin loanwords or Latinisms that appear in Mark’s text, which have often been used to support a Roman provenance. In order to address these issues, this paper will look at the arguments for Roman and Syrian provenance, investigate the appearance of Latinisms in their context, compare these passages, when possible, with the Greek terminology found in Matthew and Luke, and identify possible influence Mark’s Latinisms may have had on later Latin translations such as the Vetus Latina manuscripts and the Vulgate.

By examining the Latin loanwords found in Mark across the other gospels and Latin translations of the NT, this paper hopes to identify a region of origin between Syria-Palestine and Rome for Mark. For instance, if Latin loanwords appear in Matthew and Luke as much as in Mark, then it is possible Mark composed his gospel in regions outside of Italy, but if these Latinisms display a familiarity with Latin, then perhaps Mark did compose his gospel in Rome. While it is beyond the scope of human historical or exegetical endeavors to discover the mind of an author beyond what authors themselves recorded (cf. John 20:30-31; 1 Tim 3:14-15), this paper hopes to understand better the appearance of Latinisms in relation to the region and country of origin for Mark. By studying the appearance of Latinisms in Mark, parallel passages in other gospels, and translations of Mark in the Vetus Latina, this paper hopes to demonstrate that Mark possessed an intimacy with Latin that he could only have obtained in Rome. As a result, this paper hopes to prove that these Latin loanwords support the city of Rome as the place of origin for Mark, which satisfies the criteria demanded by modern scholarship. 

Roman and Galilean Authorship

The church historian Eusebius preserves a number of quotations concerning the life and ministry of Mark, the companion of Paul, Peter, and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41; 1 Pet 5:12-14), who “wrote down accurately . . . as much as [Peter] remembered of the words and deeds of the Lord.” Eusebius records that Mark had been persuaded by Peter’s Roman audience to “leave them in writing a summary of the instruction they had received by word of mouth,” which was published with Peter’s approval. Mark includes numerous passing but vivid details from the life of Jesus omitted in Matthew and Luke, such as the “green grass” at the feeding of the 5,000 (6:39; cf. 4:38). These observations supports the evidence accumulated by the early church that Mark composed his gospel based off of Peter’s speeches, a process that, according to tradition, occurred in Rome.

Perhaps as a result of the united witness of church fathers, the first significant challenge to Mark’s Roman origins does not appear until Willi Marxsen’s study, Mark the Evangelist. Marxsen argues that the Markan text arose in Galilee because of the theological significance of Galilee within the gospel, questioning the “old churchly tradition that allows the Gospel was written in Rome” based on the “isolated pieces” of Mark that highlight the significance of Galilee as its region of origin. The support for the gospel of Mark arising out of Syria or Galilee is based on Mark’s settings, themes such as persecution and apocalypticism, and its agricultural language that, in the opinions of scholars such as Willi Marxsen, Gerd Thiessen, and Richard Rohrbaugh, strongly point to Palestine and Syria as Mark’s region of origin, rather than an urban center like Rome that would have led Mark to focus on Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem.

However, as this paper intends to demonstrate, one cannot simply read back into the worldview and personality of the author by subjecting their work to form criticism. While Mark’s Latinisms cannot identify, beyond a reasonable doubt, Rome as the city of origin for Mark, this paper hopes to provide evidence that Mark’s Latinisms are best explained by a Roman provenance for the gospel.   

The Vetus Latina Manuscripts

Despite its proximity to the epicenter of Roman hyper-pluralism, Rome had a large church (Acts 28:14-16, 30-31) that would eventually need teaching material in Latin, even if Roman Christians understood Koine Greek. As such, Latin-speaking Christians began producing translations of the Greek NT in Latin known as the Vetus Latina, or “Old Latin,” manuscripts. These manuscripts have been categorized by the Vetus Latina Institut, Beuron since the early 20th century, who date these manuscripts from the 4th c. AD onwards, and locate them in geographically scattered areas from North Africa to Syria-Palestine.  These manuscripts reflect readings that predate Jerome’s 4th c. translation of Bible. As such, these texts provide considerable support to the textual integrity of the NT canon and elucidate the manner in which the NT was preserved and spread throughout the Roman world. If Mark composed his gospel in Rome and adopted his Greek text to suit a Latin-speaking audience, then perhaps Mark’s Latinisms are reflected in these Old Latin manuscripts. To ascertain the likelihood of Mark composing his gospel in Rome and the influence it may have had on Old Latin texts, this paper will focus on the codices Vercellensis, Bezae, and, when possible, Palatinus.

The extent of Latinism loanwords in Mark derives largely from economic, financial, and military terminology Mark utilizes in his Greek text. At first glance, the notion of Latin loanwords derived from military parlance is not helpful for our study, because such words would have been forced on Syrian population by Roman legions stationed in the provinces. Mark could have been exposed to such vocabulary in Syria-Palestine without ever having visited Rome, or having edited together elements of Latin, Jewish, and Hellenistic traditions. This paper hopes to determine the likelihood that Mark could have learned this vocabulary in Syria-Palestine, or if he possessed such an intimacy with Latin that writing in Rome best explains Mark’s usage of Latin loanwords.   

Latin Loanwords: Military Language

Such Latin loanwords derived from Roman military language include σπεκουλάτωρ (6:27; executioner), λεγεών (5:9, 15; legion), κεντυρίων (15:39, 44, 45; centurion), πραιτώριον (15:16; praetorium), and φραγελλώσας (15:15; flog). These words referred to Rome’s military garrisoning Judea, so prima facie they may not help determine a region for Mark. For instance, Mark refers to the governor’s headquarters as the πραιτώριον, but so do Matthew and John in their gospels, as πραιτώριον was a common way of referring to the headquarters of high-ranking Roman officials. Other terms like λεγεών would have inspired fear in Judea, even as they inspired patriotic fervor amidst Roman soldiers, but Luke cites λεγεών as the demon’s name (8:30). This particular demon may have introduced himself as λεγεών, and so its usage does not fit our criteria to help establish a region of origin for Mark.

Mark’s usage of φραγελλώσας (15:15), κεντυρίων (15:39, 44, 45; centurion), and σπεκουλάτωρ provides far more interesting uses of Latinisms. The verb φραγελλόω bears a passing similarity to its Roman counterpart, flagellum, used in the Vetus Latina. Luke and John use the word μαστίζω and μαστιγόω, respectively, when describing floggings, while Mark and Matthew use φραγελλόω to describe Jesus’ scourging. To account for this without referring to Markan or Matthean priority, φραγελλόω could have been learned by both writers, as tax collector Matthew may have been heard φραγελλόω more often than μαστίζω, and Mark, possibly, from his time in Rome.

Meanwhile, the widely attested κεντυρίων, a Roman military officer, Mark is the only evangelist to use the word κεντυρίων. Matthew and Luke consistently refer to this office as ἑκατοντάρχης, or literally as a “commander of hundreds” rather than using the Roman term centurion. The Vulgate and codices Bezae and Vercellensis employ centurion not only in their translations of Mark, but also of their renderings of Matthew and Luke. As a result, Mark’s word choice raises the question that if Matthew, Mark and Luke all composed their gospels in the same region, why didn’t Mark use a word seemingly more appropriate like ἑκατοντάρχης? If centurion is the natural word to use for Latin speakers and ἑκατοντάρχης for Hellenized speakers, then it follows that Mark could have written his gospel for a Latin-speaking congregation based on his use of κεντυρίων.  

Moreover, the appearance of σπεκουλάτωρ, the “executioner” of John the Baptist, provides a helpful contrast between Matthew, Luke and the Vetus Latina. In their accounts of the death of John the Baptist, neither Matthew (Matt 14:1-12) nor Luke (9:7-9) references an executioner, much less σπεκουλάτωρ Mark uses in 6:27. Codices Vercellensis and Bezae and the Vulgate, employ speculator in their description of Herod ordering the execution of John the Baptist in place of other common words for an executioner (carnifex, tortor, quaestiōnārius), even though these words may have been better to use than the Latin speculator for their pathological effect on a Roman audience. Speculatores were minor officials in the Roman army that served as scouts or bodyguards whose duties could include executions for their commanders. Mark’s usage, wherein Herod sends palace guards to execute John the Baptist, necessitates σπεκουλάτωρ rather than another Greek word like δήμιος, because the story describes a “member of [his] body-guard” beheading John the Baptist at Herod’s request. Mark’s usage, subsequently, betrays an intimacy with Latin reflected in the Vetus Latina manuscripts that suggest Mark may indeed have spent time in Rome while writing. 

Latin Loanwords: Financial and Commercial Terms

Loanwords derived from Roman commercial language appear in a wide array of Greek and rabbinical sources of 1st c. AD.  These include δηνάριον (6:37; 12:15; 14:5; a coin for a day’s wage), κῆνσον (12:14, tax), and κοδράντης (12:42; a Roman coin of little value). Subsequently, Mark could have absorbed this vocabulary anywhere in the Mediterranean world that Rome’s economic presence was felt. For instance, Mark refers to the commonly used denarius coin, but Matthew (18:28; 20:2, 9, 13; 22:19), Luke (7:41; 10:35; 20:4), and John (6:7; 12:5) consistently use δηνάριον in their gospels, as do codices Vercellensis and Bezae. It seems that authors used δηνάριον as commonly as 1st c. merchants traded with denarii coins and, as a result, Mark’s use of δηνάριον does not help identify a region of origin for his gospel.

The word κῆνσος (Markk 12:14) appears in rabbinical quotations as early as the 1st c. BC and in the gospel of Matthew (17:25; 22:17), so that Mark could have learned the word without having spent time in Rome. Both Matthew and Mark use κῆνσος to refer to a tax levied on the heads of one’s household, but census in Latin refers to a count of all the individuals living in a given region. Mark’s usage indicates a Greek understanding of κῆνσος rather than its Latin meaning, which is reflected in the Vetus Latina manuscripts where translators used tributum in place of census. While Matthew and Mark employed κῆνσος, Latin translators did not feel required to use Markan word choice and chose words better suited for their readers. Unfortunately for our study, κῆνσος suggests a relative lack of familiarity with Latin on behalf of the author.

While δηνάριον and κῆνσος are inconclusive, Mark’s use of κοδράντης (12:42), a transliteration of the Roman coin quadrans, supports Roman origin. In Mark 12:42, Mark provides the parenthetical note that the λεπτὰ of the widow’s offering equaled one κοδράντης: λεπτὰ δύο ὅ ἐστιν κοδράντης. Matthew, as a tax collector, would have known the value of the κοδράντης he refences (5:26), but he does not explain the value of one small coin (λεπτόν) for one whose value his audience recognized. As Mark correlates the λεπτόν to the Roman quadrans, this may suggest he had a Latin-speaking audience in mind whilst writing. If one remembers the oral nature of Mark’s gospel, as the early church records that Peter addressed a congregation in Rome and Mark wrote down his sermons, and provided supplementary details. Herein, Peter identified λεπτόν with the quadrans coin his audience would understand. If the speaker or author intended to address a Syrian speaking audience, he would have compared a λεπτόν to a local Syrian coin, perhaps the Syrian challcous, since “a wide variety of coinages were produced for local or regional use.” Such explanation would be necessary since “circulation between the two regions [of Caesara, in Palestina, and Syria] occurred little, if at all” and thereby may make identifying a κοδράντης more difficult. If, as Marxsen and others maintain, that the internal evidence supports a Syrian-Palestinian provenance for Mark, then its author would have correlated a Greek coin with a Syrian coin instead of a Roman one.


The goal of identifying the region of origin for Mark’s gospel is an endeavor that should be taken with humility, given the limitations of uncovering the mind of an ancient author. While geographical locations referenced in Mark may suggest a Syrian origin, the Latinisms in Mark raise questions as to where Mark could have attained such a familiarity with Latin if not in Rome itself. The idea that Mark used Latinisms because these military and commercial terms spread throughout the Empire explains the appearance of some Latinisms he could have learned in other regions of the Empire, but this phenomenon does not explain all of the Latinisms in Mark. While Mark employed certain Latinisms because of Roman power and prestige, other words like σπεκουλάτωρ, κεντυρίων, and κοδράντης betray an intimacy with Latin that would have been difficult to develop anywhere outside of Rome. With this evidence in mind, the internal evidence of Mark, based on Latin loanwords, provides some support to the testimony of the early church that Mark wrote his work whilst residing in Rome. If Mark wrote his work in a region such as Syria-Palestine, it would be hard to imagine how he possessed a nuanced understanding of certain Latin loanwords found in his text. As a result, the internal evidence of Mark’s provides consistent, albeit inconclusive, support that Mark composed his work whilst living in the very heart of the imperial capital, Rome.

Works Cited

Aland, Kurt, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren, eds. The Greek New Testament. Stuttgart: Württemberg Bible Society, 1975.

Andrews, E.A., Charlton T. Lewis, and Charles Short. Harpers’ Latin Dictionary. New York: American Book Company, 1907. 

Bauer, Walter. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by William F. Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Alexander, Neil M., ed. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon

Press, 1995.

Black, David Alan. Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. Gonzalez,

Florida: Energion Publications, 2010.

Butcher, Kevin and Matthew Punting. The Metallurgy of Roman Silver Coinage: From

the Reform of Nero to the Reform of Trajan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 

Decker, Rodney J. Mark 1-8: A Handbook on the Greek Text. Waco: Baylor University

Press, 2014.

———. Mark 9-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text. Waco: Baylor University

Press, 2014.

Donahue, John R. and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark. Collegeville: The

Liturgical Press, 2002.

Eusebius. The History of the Church. Trans. by G.A. Williams. New York: Penguin:


France, R.T. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: Mark. Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 2002.

Glare, P.G.W. Oxford Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1990.

Incigneri. Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Settings and Rhetoric of Mark’s

Gospel. Boston: Brill, 2003.

Jacobs, Melanchton, W. ed. A Standard Bible Dictionary. New York: Funk & Wagnalls,


Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Oxford

University Press. 1996.

Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Marxsen, Willi. Mark the Evangelist: Studies in the Redaction History of the Gospel.

Nasvhille: Abindon Press, 1969.

Radice, Betty. The Letters of the Younger Pliny. London: Penguin, 1963.

Rehkopf, Freidrich. Grammatik der neutestamentlichen Grieschisch. Göttingen:

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990.

Rohrbaugh, Richard L. The Social Location of Mark’s Audience. BTB 13 (1993), 114-27.

Theissen, Gerd. The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic

Tradition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 1991.

Winn, Adam. The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002.


Breaking Bad & “What is Man?”


On these segments I will be looking at a popular television show or movie, identifying a key theme, and then relating that theme to the Christian worldview and the gospel, the message of Christ crucified. In doing this, I hope to demonstrate how elements of popular culture reflect real choices,  real belief systems, and real worldviews of their authors and writers, and so that we can better understand and appreciate the message of Christianity.

“What is Man?”

  “What is man?” What is man like? Is man just an animal that evolved better than the beasts around us? Or, are we just a vat of chemicals? Is there something special about humanity at all, perhaps that we are rational animals or even creatures made in the image of an infinitely powerful God?

Few questions could be more important to any worldview, and how a worldview answers this question will in part determine the other questions that follow. How man should live and the kinds of decisions he can make is very much influenced by your answer concerning who or what man is.

One reason for Breaking Bad’s incredible popularity is its horrifying portrayal of the self-destruction of one ordinary man, Walter White, played by Brian Cranston. After decades of being mistreated by colleagues and enduring the shame of being a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White decides to strike out as a drug dealer and curator of “blue meth” when he finds out he has lung cancer. He initially hopes to earn enough money producing meth to provide for his family after his death, but as the show progresses it is evident Walter White want to make a name for himself as New Mexico’s most fearsome drug lord. He succeeds, wrecking incredible havoc on his family, New Mexico’s drug dealers, and many innocent people along the way. 

Creator Vince Gilligan states in describing the premise of Walter White’s character:

“You’re going to see that underling humanity, even when he’s making the most devious, terrible decisions, and you need someone who has that humanity—deep down, bedrock humanity—so you say, watching this show, ‘All right, I’ll go for this ride.”

  So what is that deep, bedrock humanity Gilligan speaks of? How would Walter White answer the question, “What is Man”? Does Walt, in fact, answer that question? If you can establish Walter White’s answer to this crucial question, would it matter for anything else that’s happened on the show? Would it shed light on why Walter White does the things he does? 


“What is Man?” According to the Bible 

In Genesis 1:26-27, God creates all of mankind, both men and women, in His own image, so that all people, regardless of their birth, gender, socioeconomic status, or otherwise have a unique and inherent dignity to them because we are created in God’s image. The text reads, 

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them (Gen 1:26-27).

We are like the animals, in that we have senses, instincts, and needs, but God also set us above the animals by giving us some of His attributes. As God is creative, loving, and rational, so is mankind, being endowed with attributes and abilities unique to God alone that has, by God’s kindness, raised us up above the level of beasts. 

Given that we were made and didn’t just appear out of the primordial soup means that we are subject to the rules of our Creator. Under such a view, we cannot just do anything that we just feel like is good, because our Creator has certain rights over us, expects us to use gifts like creativity, rationality, and love in a way that reflects His character. If we do not, we may expect to be judged accordingly.

“What is Man” According to Walter White

So now, to the first season of Breaking Bad, where we find Walter agonizing over his first real murder. In the show’s first episode, Walter has tricked two drug dealers into breathing poisonous fumes, but only one of them, Emilio, has died.He has tried, somewhat successfully, to destroy Emilio’s body with hydrofluoric acid, and is cleaning up his gloopy remains in the episode’s first few minutes while the other drug dealer, Krazy-8, is  in Jesse’s basement awaiting Walter’s decision whether or not to murder him and dissolve his body, too.

 Considering that Walter had no other choice and certain death loomed ahead for him, Emilio’s death did not present a complicated moral dilemma for Walter. Murdering someone in cold blood, even if they are a violent drug dealer, is very different from killing someone in self-defense, especially once he finds out he bought furniture from Krazy-8’s dad. While he works out a pretty slick pros and cons list, listing out such as issues as “’Murder is Wrong!’” and “Judeo-Christian principles,” the whole column is outweighed by reality that, if Krazy-8 lives, “he’ll murder your entire family”.


Juxtaposed with Walter and Jesse cleaning up the acid-eaten remains of Emilio is a flashback where Walter speaks with Gretchen Schwartz, an old business partner and apparently an old flame. This scene establishes that Walter has, in many ways, already made his decision years ago.

Here, they are breaking the chemical composition of a human being down into its constituent, chemical parts, and how much of the human body is nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and so on. As they can only account for 99.988042% (or something) of a human being, they have .11958 left over with no other molecules left to account for the difference. Then, as the present day Walter pours a bucket of human sludge down a toilet, Gretchen asks, “There’s got to be more to a man than that!”

Walter then flushes the toilet and the episode returns to Walter’s present day life, and whether or not he should kill Krazy-8. It is not guaranteed that Krazy-8 will murder Walter and his family, but his life is worth nothing in comparison to the lives of Walter’s family.

Seemingly, Walter (and the show’s) strong emphasis on the importance of family settles this issue, but the flashbacks suggest that such a difficult moral choice was settled long ago. Gretchen suggests that the .01% leftover is the human soul, and in the Judeo-Christian idea of the soul, this would be the living breath God poured into Adam when He first made him.

This is a part of humanity that is not susceptible to empirical study in the same way our hearts and our minds are. It is a spirit and not composed of matter, and is distinct and, if humanity does not have it, man may do practically whatever he wants with no consequences looming ahead for him when he dies. Interestingly, Walter immediately shrugs off the possibility that the soul could exist in the body and merely remarks, “this is all chemistry.”

The denial of the soul is a component of the worldview of materialism, which denies all things spiritual and posits that the only things that exist are those we can subject to scientific study. Or that can be flushed down the toilet. When Walter affirms this is only chemistry, as he says in the flashback, he implies that there is no soul that could possibly account for the discrepancy in their calculations.


“What is Man” & Why Does It Matter?

While one might assume this is only a small issue, as the beliefs that a person have couldn’t possibly influence the way they act. Believing that one does not have a soul implies that nothing of you will live on after you die. And, if nothing lives on after you die, then nothing exists for God, whose existence Walter is not really concerned about anyway, to judge mankind and hold men accountable for the actions they committed during their life on earth. That means we could with impunity do whatever we want. 

Thus, Walter’s belief concerning the nature of man and the acknowledgement of a materialistic worldview, starts a long list of “complicated choices” Walter has to make in order to survive. He murders several drug dealers over the course of the show; he urges Jesse, his partner, to murder a very lonely libertarian chemist; and convinces an old man suffering from a stroke to become a suicide bomber in his own nursing home. Walter, moreover, is totally cool with killing a 10-year-old boy who saw him robbing a train. Then, he engineered the murder of 10 police informants, and called a Neo-Nazi gang out to meet him and his brother-in-law and FDA agent, Hank Shrader, in the middle of the desert. Those Neo-Nazis subsequently murdered Walt’s brother-in-law, because Neo-Nazis hate law enforcement officials. Then, Walter dies in a blaze of glory killing those same Neo-Nazis. 

Without God imparting purpose to Walter’s life or holding man accountable for his actions, then the only things that really do matter are success and survival, and any actions are right providing they further those two ends. Without believing in the soul, of man being created in God’s image, and of a part of man that lives on after death, humanity can go wildly off the deep end and as Jesse puts it, “break bad.”Breaking Bad shows its considerable depth as a television show by connecting Walter’s first murder with Walter’s admission that he did not believe in the existence of a soul that could be judged. That would be all too convenient, wouldn’t it?

In Revelation 20, John the evangelist is given a vision of the Final Judgment, taking place before a White Throne while Jesus Christ, the Judge, reads through books that contain all the sins committed by the unrighteous living and dead and holds them accountable for their deeds. While this presents a terrifying prospect, you have two options: bury your head in the sand, hold to a materialistic worldview, and deny on speculative grounds such an event could never happen. Or, look to Jesus Christ and trust in Him and His merits, who, by dying on a cross, endured the prospect of final judgment on our behalf so we did not have to stand in abject terror before the White Throne. On that day, thanks to the merits and infinite of Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in being rescued from an evil world by our kind and merciful Savior, Christ Jesus.