The Kilgrave Conundrum: Netflix, Presup, & the Gospel

kilgraveA Brief Intro, and Some Perplexing Questions

Netflix’s newest Marvel comics addition, Jessica Jones, is one of many action shows that can be gleaned for illustrations of just thoroughly ingrained the law of God is in man’s mind. The show, following the comic, centers around a superheroine turned P.I. named Jessica Jones. Having been the mind-control victim of a villain named Kilgrave, Jones experiences PTSD flashbacks that make normal life difficult for her. As a result of this, she self-medicates with alcohol, which only further complicates her attempts at living a normal life.

I mention these things about her life because as the show progresses the viewer begins to understand that Jones is not just a renegade alcoholic P.I., but a woman who once cared about life, her own as well as others’. It is only due to her traumatic experiences with Kilgrave that she has become the train-wreck that the viewer is presented with in the first episode. And this is significant because it underlines just how terrifying Kilgrave is mean to come across as to the viewer. And he is quite terrifying. Kilgrave’s power to control the minds/wills of others makes any concerted effort to kill or imprison him nearly impossible.

Ironically, however, even though he can control their minds, Kilgrave does not want to be caught by the authorities. This inconsistency is partly accounted for by the fact that Kilgrave is not, of course, omnipotent. Yet the explanation as to why Kilgrave’s desire to not get brought to justice only leads to leads to the bigger question: Why would someone with such a formidable superpower be worried about being hunted down and brought to justice? Why does he feel the need to operate in secrecy?

Answering the Kilgrave Conundrum

As with most comics, Jessica Jones presents the viewer with a world in which there are persons who must decide how to use their superhuman powers. Kilgrave has chosen to be a villain, whereas Jones has chosen to use her superhuman strength for the greater good. The narrative is simple to follow, and I think this is why we fail to see the glaring inconsistency I mentioned above. Given that Kilgrave is virtually unstoppable, why is there any fear of getting caught/brought to justice? Given that Kilgrave is virtually unstoppable, why does he operate in secrecy at all?

As mentioned above, Kilgrave is not omnipotent. However, there is more to it than that. You see, the villains’ desire to operate in secrecy, to present himself as just another “one of us” (i.e. normal, ethically mediocre humans [I speak according to the comics, now ;)]), only makes sense if there is a judgment which will bring an end to his reign of terror. The judgment may not come from Jones, but it will come from some other authority.

This may seem like a minor point, but consider what it implies. Firstly, evil is not omnipotent. Villains will not eventually become the ones running the show (no pun intended), but will be pursued by the judgment that they rightly deserve. Kilgrave will get what he deserves; he is at the mercy of the omnipotent good. Secondly, evil is parasitic on the good. Kilgrave’s operating in secrecy tells us that he can only function as a villain if he pretends to be good, to be normal, to not be what he really is: a rapist, murderer, kidnapper, and deceiver. “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”[1]

Kilgrave’s desire to operate in secrecy, to not get caught, in other words, reflects the fear that resides in the minds of fallen men. Hence, while he may appear to be without any semblance of a conscience, his fear of being found out and brought to justice shows us that he is primarily consumed with ethical issues, knowing that he will be brought to judgment and rendered what he is due for his crimes. This is why “[Kilgrave] flees when no one pursues.”[2] This explains why Kilgrave who “does wicked things hates the light…does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”[3]

Kilgrave Refutes Manichean Dualism

What can be further gleaned from the Kilgrave Conundrum is the fact that good and evil are not equal and opposite powers in the universe. Though the normal, non-superhuman characters in comics and their made for T.V. counterparts are often presented as caught between equal and opposite forces of power which will determine the fate of humanity, more often than not they openly work alongside the superhero. Sure, some non-superhumans do so out of self-interest, knowing that they will thereby preserve their own lives. But this simply reinforces what I have been demonstrating all along: The wicked know that they will be judged, that evil is ultimately futile, and that they will not get away with their wickedness.

The Work of the Law is Written on the Hearts of All Men

Ultimately, why do Jones and Kilgrave, as well as their non-superhuman friends and enemies seek to fight the evil or flee from the judgment of the good? Because, as Paul declares in Romans 2:14-16:

For when [superheros, villains, and non-superhumans], who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

It is not, of course, the fictional characters who experience these pangs of conscience, but ourselves. The comics merely cause us to reflect upon the fact that morality is absolute, good is omnipotent and coming to judge us, and that we can never outrun the good – i.e. the Triune Maker of heaven and earth.

This is important to note, for Jones’ effort to absolve herself of the guilt of her past sins is as futile as Kilgrave’s desire to outrun the judgment that is fast on his heels. We side with Jones because we know that the good should prevail. However, we also do so because we, like her, desire to justify ourselves, to excuse our sins, to make up for the wrong we’ve done.

The Gospel

This is why fictional scenarios like the ones depicted in Jessica Jones are helpful in underscoring just how indelibly impressed upon man’s heart the Law God is, but are powerless to provide a remedy for our guilt. Salvation must come from outside of ourselves. We can never outrun the God who is awaiting (either to save or to destroy in judgment), for as David states in Ps 139:7-12:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

And we can never right our wrongs by doing good works, for as the Scripture says:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.[4]


…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.[5]

What Jessica Jones, and all comics and ethically oriented works of literature, do not present to their readers/viewers is the one true way of forgiveness for one’s sins and peace with the Judge of all the earth who is relentlessly holy. This we only receive in the Good News (Gospel) that the Son of God died in the place of sinners, taking their guilt and punishment upon himself, so that we renegades may no longer have God as our Judge but as our Father. And the assurance of our sins having been dealt with, as well as the assurance of our reconciliation having been procured by the death of the Son of God is his resurrection from the dead.

In the place of sinners, Christ was held guilty.

In the place of fugitive sinners, Christ submitted himself to God’s righteous and holy wrath.

All those who trust in him, as the sacrifice for their sins, whose acceptance before God was proven by a literal resurrection from literal death, will be granted forgiveness, righteousness, and reconciliation to the God whose judgment and righteousness is attested to even in our entertainment.

Soli Deo Gloria.


[1] 2nd Cor 11:14.

[2] Prov 28:1a.

[3] John 3:20.

[4] Rom 3:20.

[5] Gal 2:16.

Studies in Mark (Pt. 8)


Today, I preached on Mark 2:18-22. Until I the audio edited and uploaded to my church wehebsite, I’ve decided to post a portion of the sermon below. Here’s the download link for the PDF version of the whole sermon.

Mark 2:18-22:

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

Introductory Remarks

Following our Lord’s defense and explanation of why he ate with sinners and tax-collectors, immediately following upon his explanation and defense, in fact, Mark tells us that he is questioned for another reason: Namely, the fact that he does not fast. The question, Matthew tells us, was presented by the disciples of John, but, as many commentators note, they were very likely being manipulated by the Pharisees and their disciples. The Pharisees first want to know why our Lord ate with sinners; now the disciples of John want to know why our Lord didn’t fast with sinners. And the hearts of the unbelieving are exposed here as being unsatisfied with any act of our Lord.

Whereas the prior question of why our Lord ate with sinners suggested that the problem was not with eating but the company with which our Lord ate, it now has shifted to be that he was eating at all. This is the nature of unbelief, it is like a table with uneven legs: As one excuse for unbelief is pressed down upon, another excuse rises with it, expressing itself as a concern with some other issue. The unbeliever will say: “The Scriptures have been translated and retranslated so many times that we can’t know what they mean, and I can’t, therefore, believe them.” And as the well-meaning Christian corrects the unbeliever’s attack, exposing its logical, historical, and Scriptural errors, the unbeliever is readying himself to reply with another excuse, immediately blurting out: “But how do you know you have the right Bible books? There’s no way to know that….” and so on and so on and so on.

Now, the disciples of John may have honestly desired to know why our Lord’s disciples did not fast. However, we know that the Pharisees did not have honest intentions. And so when we read this passage, as we go over its details and listen to God’s teaching for us in this text, let us keep this in mind. Their questions arose from a hatred of the God in whom they claimed to believe. Did they care that Christ dined with sinners? Only if they could claim his actions were sinful and warranted their lack of faith in him. Did they care that Christ’s disciples did not fast? Only if they could claim the disciples’ actions warranted not believing in Christ.

If the Pharisees were the cause of this question raised by the disciples of John, and given their wicked insinuations just a few verses earlier it seems to be unquestionably the case they were behind this question as well, then their intention was to appear to be on the side of John’s disciples, as it were, and thereby insinuate that Jesus was not behaving in a righteous manner. They sought, in other words, to pretend to be in theological and moral union with John’s disciples only in order to drive a wedge between them and Christ.

But our Lord addresses the question put forward by the disciples of John, carefully explaining to them that he was the One of whom John the Baptist preached, the One of whom the whole canon of Scripture testified, the Bridegroom of Israel in the flesh coming to purchase his bride with his own blood. Let us now consider the salient lessons contained in this text.

Soli Deo Gloria


Was Tertullian an Irrationalist?

AyersRobert H. Ayers’  book Language, Logic, and Reason in the Church Fathers: A Study of Tertullian, Augustine, and Aquinas has helped me understand and appreciate how philosophy can be used, ministerially, in defense of the faith. I’ve learned much about  the men studied by Ayers’ work than I had previously knew. Among the info I gathered, I was surprised to learn that Tertullian was not an advocate of irrationalist apologetics. Rather, Tertullian’s famous quip – “I believe because it is absurd” – conformed to known and practiced logical and rhetorical norms of Tertullian’s day. His quip, in other words, was actually a logically sound response to critics of the Christian faith, albeit clothed in sharp rhetorical garb.

Ayers explains this in the following long, but informative and profitable, quotation.

…it has been claimed by some that Tertullian’s thought is anti-philosophical and anti-rational. This claim should not go unchallenged…instead of being irrational, Tertullian in fact demonstrates a rather amazing capacity for semantical and logical analyses in his defense of the Christian faith against heretics and persecutors. This is not surprising since the educational system in the Carthage of his day made available relatively sophisticated analytical and rhetorical tools of discourse. And it is obvious from his writings that Tertullian was highly educated in the several disciplines of the schools including those of rhetoric, logic, and philosophy.


It appears that the reason why Tertullian often is misrepresented as anti-philosophical and anti-rational finds its base in the two famous state-ments which are generally mentioned whenever there is a reference to Tertullian. Both of them often are treated in isolation from the context in which they appear and one of them is often misquoted as “I believe it because it is absurd.” These two statements as traditionally translated from the Latin are:  “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem” and  “And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.”

It is a widespread practice to call the second quotation Tertullian’s paradox. In some cases it is labelled an “outrageous” or “grinding” paradox. For example, Henry Chadwick. claims that Tertullian insisted on “an absolute and radical discontinuity between Christianity and philosophy”, that Christianity’s supernatural character would be destroyed if it were reduced to “sweet reasonableness”, and that the “ultimate Christian confession is the grinding paradox ‘I believe it because it is absurd’.” Then in a parenthetical statement Chadwick says, “We must not, of course, take too literally Tertullian’s shrill rhetoric, but it is clear that his notorious utterance is a milestone along a path in Christian thought which leads through Sir Thomas Browne to Kierk.egaard and his modern disciples”.

Another striking example is to be found in the claims made about Tertullian’s thought by the philosopher Bernard Williams. Williams views the second quotation above as Tertullian’s acceptance of an instransigent and outrageous paradoxical conclusion and says of it, “I think that we should take Tertullian’s paradox seriously; not as just a rhetorical expression of his objections to a particular doctrine, but as a striking formulation of something which I shall suggest is essential to Christian belief.”

Admittedly the two examples presented here are somewhat extreme. Yet even those who because they are impressed with Tertullian’s brilliant use of rhetorical forms and with the rational force of most of his arguments view the statement as one which is not to be taken literally but as a striking way of making a point or as having a structural function as an exclamatory stop to an argument consciously developed along the lines of traditional rhetorical topics, nevertheless generally regard the statement as a paradox.

Certainly, prima facie it appears to be a paradox.

Is it possible, however, that it only seems so because all along it has been subjected to eisegesis rather than exegesis, and that Tertullian never intended and in fact did not here produce a paradox? If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, could it not be the case also, in light of this and other considerations, that Tertullian viewed reason and certain types and/or aspects of philosophy as the servants of faith rather than its antagonists, and that there is not, as is sometimes claimed, a basic inconsistency in his theological thought? An attempt will be made here to answer these questions in the affirmative.


Recent studies have demonstrated convincingly that Tertullian structured his treatises in terms of the conventional patterns which constituted the basic rhetorical forms of oratory, and that he used these forms in a creative way through skillfully adapting form to content. On this basis it is concluded that his knowledge of rhetoric was so deeply ingrained that the rhetorical forms furnished not merely a matter of stylistic adornment but rather “provided categories and distinctions which affected the structure of his thought.”


…James Moffat, has suggested that a different estimate of Tertullian might be gained through a comparison of Tertullian’s famous statement with a passage in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. The context of this passage is a discussion of the topics useful in forensic debate.

Aristotle recommends that attention be given to such items as definitions of terms, the logical divisions of a subject, the proper syllogism for sound argument, inductive proofs including considerations of time and place, previous decisions on analogous situations, motives people have for doing or avoiding the action in question, etc.

In this context Aristotle refers to a further type of argument in the following words:

Another line of argument refers to things which are supposed to happen and yet seem incredible; We may argue that people could not have believed them, if they had not been true or nearly true: even that they are the more likely to be true because they are incredible. For the things which men believe are either facts or probabilities: if, therefore, a thing that is believed is improbable or even incredible, it must be true,-since it is certainly not believed because it is at all probable or credible.

As Moffat points out the assumption in this argument is that all objects of human belief are either facts or probabilities. If a statement cannot be classified under the category of probabilities, then it must represent an actual fact. To quote from Moffat, “We are· invited to believe that if some statement is wildly improbable, it is more improbable still that anyone should have invented it; in other words, that it would never have been made unless there had been some evidence for it, and consequently that such evidence must be strong.”

Surely, the similarity between this argument form or “topic” recommended by Aristotle and Tertullian’s, “It is straightforwardly credible because it is improper; it is certain because impossible”, is striking.

…in the judgment of this writer there is strong circumstantial evidence in support of the claim that, however briefly stated, Tertullian consciously is using an Aristotelian argument form.


Defending the Sacrament against the claim that it is incredible for mere dipping in water to result in the attainment of eternity, Tertullian says, “But it is the more to be believed if the wonderfulness be the reason why it is not believed”.

In light of this evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that in his famous passage Tertullian was using a familiar Aristotelian argument form instead of uttering an “outrageous” or “grinding” paradox. Therefore, the following paraphrase which does not seem to do violence either to language or overall context might well communicate what Tertullian meant by his famous passage:

The Son of God died. It is straightforwardly credible because it is improper, senseless, or improbable. That is, it is not the sort of statement that anyone would invent. He was buried and rose again. It is certain because it is impossible. That is, it is impossible in terms of those things which men imagine as possible.


Christ is the Bridegroom; therefore, Jesus is Yahweh

Lamb JesusA Profound Mystery

In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul the apostle teaches that the union between Adam and Eve, and men and their wives in general, analogically mirrors the union of Christ and his church. The implications of Paul’s paralleling of the marital union and the Christian’s union with Christ are indeed profound, for the Hebrew word for “holding fast” (i.e. union) that is first mentioned in Genesis 2:24 is repeated in several places in the Old Testament when describing the unique relationship of love and service Israel was to have to Yahweh alone. A few verses using the same Hebrew word (דָּבַק, dä·vak’) are demonstrative of this phenomenon.

You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.[1]

…if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.[2]

You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.[3]

…choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.[4]

…be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of theLord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.[5]

By paralleling the marital union of a man and a woman to the church’s union with Christ, Paul is tying together the marriage union, the union of Israel and Yahweh, and Christ and the Church. He is, in other words, identifying Christ as bridegroom of the Church, even as Yahweh identified himself as the bridegroom of Israel,[6] thereby identifying Jesus Christ as the unique object of service, devotion, love, worship, and obedience of all of the elect constituting the church universal.

Hence, Paul speaks of the profound mystery involved in saying that Adam and Eve prefigure Christ and the church. Mystics have often misused this text in Ephesians to legitimize their heretical notions of ontological union with God (i.e. divinization). Their misreading of the text becomes plain to see when the relationship between Adam and Eve – which is one of cleaving or clinging orholding fast to one another only – is shown to have echoes in the Old Testament in God’s dealing with his people Israel. It is also made clear by the word mystery as it stands in direct relation to the two becoming one flesh. Yahweh commanded his people to cling to him alone, even as Eve was tocling to Adam alone. However, God and Israel would not become one flesh. Rather, God becameone flesh with his people when he “became flesh.”[7] As the Holy Spirit teaches in Hebrews 2:14-15:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Paul identifies this as the great mystery (μέγας, μυστήριον) of God being manifest “in the flesh” in 1st Timothy 3:16, using the same Greek terms in 1st Timothy as he uses in Ephesians 5:32.[8]

The profound mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 5, then, is the incarnation of Yahweh, to whom his people are to cling, and who not only shares in our flesh but will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”[9] As John states in his first epistle:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.[10]

Adam and Eve’s clinging to one another is an analogy of how Israel was to cling to Yahweh, and their becoming one flesh is a foreshadowing of the incarnation of our Lord, as well as the redemption and transformation of our bodies.

Christ is God

Thus, the Bridegroom metaphor that Christ uses of himself is a direct self-identification as Yahweh the Bridegroom of Israel. The Church’s monogamous relationship to Christ, as it were, only further serves to solidify this interpretation, as the relationship is one of clinging/absolute fidelity of worship, adoration, allegiance, praise, and so forth. Paul’s identification of Christ as the Last Adam, the Great Bridegroom to whom the Church will be presented at the eschaton, additionally, is an explicit identification of Christ Jesus as Yahweh having partaken of human flesh and, as the firstfruits of the resurrection, calling his elect to believe, be redeemed, and be raised to life eternal with an incorruptible body of flesh and bones that shares in his resurrected human body’s attributes.

Soli. Deo. Gloria.


[1] Deut 10:20.

[2] Deut 11:22-23.

[3] Deut 13:4.

[4] Deut 30:19b-20.

[5] Jos 22:5.

[6] This is done implicitly in the verses mentioned above which command Israel to cling to Yahweh. However, it is also stated explicitly throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 3:1-18; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2; 3:1-5).

[7] See John 1:14.

[8] viz., μέγα and μυστήριον.

[9] Phil 3:21.

[10] 1st John 3:2.