Showing posts with label Mark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yahweh's Chosen Servant: Matt. 12:15-21 (section D3)

Continuing where I left off in this series of Matthew's Gospel, we come now to the final section in the center of the larger narrative structure. This section (Matt. 12:15-21, section D3) reads as follows:
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
 my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
 I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, 
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
 until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the nations will hope."
As mentioned in an earlier post, chapters 11-12 form one unit, and that unit centers on the theme of rest for the people of God. In chapters 1-4 we learn about the beginnings, birth, and exodus of the Son of God, but at the same time we learn that Jesus is really fulfilling the beginnings, birth, and exodus of Israel, God's "firstborn son". In chapters 5-7, after passing through the waters of baptism and entering into the wilderness, we find Jesus, as a new and greater Moses, ascending a mountain to give the people of Israel the Law. Afterward, in chapters 8-9, Jesus descends from the mountain to heal the people of Israel as many times as Israel fell in the wilderness (i.e. ten times; cf. Num. 14:22), and in Mosaic fashion we find Israel wandering in that wilderness like "sheep without a shepherd" (9:36; cf. Num. 27:17), whose burdens are carried by a greater Joshua. After that, in chapter 10, we find Jesus, the greater Joshua, commissioning and resting His authority upon 12 apostles, instructing and sending them into the land in preparation for future conquest. Finally, having reached chapters 11-12, Jesus and his disciples travel into the land, pronouncing woe after woe for the inhabitants who hate God, but also promising rest for those who put their trust in Him. It is in the very center of all this that we see the rise of Israel's Servant-King, Jesus.

When we looked at the rest of chapters 11-12 in detail, I pointed out that Jesus travels on the day of rest --the Sabbath-- to the synagogue of the Pharisees who are hostile to the gospel of His kingdom. After being harassed outside their synagogue, we then looked at His entrance into their synagogue, and there we found the Pharisees conspiring to destroy Him because He healed a man on the Sabbath, which was contrary to the traditions that held them in power. After that we arrive to the narrative before us. We arrive at a point when Jesus, aware of his enemies' plot to destroy Him, withdraws from their synagogue. It is at this point when we learn that "many followed Him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make them known." It seems that in context the "many" who followed Jesus came from the synagogue of the Pharisees. In other words, when faced with a choice to follow Jesus (who bears the burdens of Israel) or the Pharisees (who lay heavy burdens on them, Matt. 23:4), many Jews openly choose Jesus over the Pharisees. Like Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue (Matt. 9:18-26; Mk. 5:22; Lk. 8:41), the people within the synagogue of the Pharisees are beginning to recognize that Jesus' yoke is easy, his burden is light, and he's even willing to carry it along with them, whereas the Pharisees weren't willing to carry Israel's burdens at all (Matt. 23:4).

In chapters 11-12 we also find Jesus as a greater David, protecting the borders of Israel and providing rest for those who are perishing from the harassment of God's enemies. But during this time of rest we find out for the first time in Matthew's Gospel that the established rulers of Israel don't want the rest Jesus has to offer; instead they seek to put Him to rest, to harass, trap, and cause Him to perish. However, like we find in the rise of the Davidic kingdom, opposition to the King doesn't keep the gospel of the kingdom from advancing. That is because Yahweh sent His Son into the world to inherit the world as a kingdom for Himself. He was sent to die for the world so that a new world --a new Israel united to Him-- would resurrect with Him. Yahweh's purpose in sending His Son was to save the world, not to destroy it, and by saving it the increase of His kingdom, power, and glory on earth shall have no end. In this section of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus even receives a taste of what it will be like for the future nations to hope in Him. Even when Jesus withdraws from the synagogue of His enemies, whom we now knows are conspiring to destroy Him (Matt. 12:14), an exodus of many more disciples follows in His train. Instead of opposition from the world diminishing His Kingdom, His enemies bring Him even more attention and popularity.

After this Sabbath exodus Jesus does something else, only this time what he does is not entirely unheard of. This time He orders His new disciples not to make Him known, just as He did earlier with the two blind men who followed Jesus from Jairus' house (Matt. 9:30-31). But why do this? Why not tell all of Israel that their King has come, and that the increase of His kingdom shall have no end? (After all, Jesus is King whether the rulers of the land like Him or not.) 

The answer to this has something to do with Matthew's reference to Isaiah 42:1-4, and the fact that, as the King, He is on a mission to bring justice and victory to the nations. Because it would be in His name that the nations of the world would hope, He did not come to contend his regal authority. Instead He came to assert His regal authority by modeling what truly Godly authority looks like. He came as the King to save the perishing sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:24), but He didn't come quarreling and making all kinds of commotion in the streets, as Isaiah says. He came to model faithful and compassionate service to the house of Israel (Matt. 9:36). For those Israelites who might have expected His voice to be heard in the streets like they did with John the Baptist, the message of Isaiah as quoted describes the character of His ministry well. He didn't come, bearing the burdens of Israel, healing withered hearts and hands as a form of self-aggrandizement. He came to take Israel's illnesses and diseases and carry them upon Himself because the people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, no longer being able to bear the weight of the burden placed upon them by the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 8:17; 9:36).

When the Pharisees opposed Jesus, attempting to trap and destroy Him, Jesus also doesn't fight back the way we might expect Him to. Instead we find a humble Servant who is willing to lay down His life for His sheep. We find a gentle Servant who won't even break a bruised reed in His way (Matt. 11:29). Even at the point when the Pharisees fan the flame of controversy in their synagogue, Jesus makes no attempt to quench that flame either. Instead we find Jesus withdrawing from there, letting the fires which they started continue to smolder. This is because Jesus knows what the Father has in store for Him. He knows the great commission which His heavenly Father has sent Him to perform. Yahweh's Spirit is upon Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations --the justice of reconciling the world to God-- until He brings justice to victory; and in His name the nations will hope. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Misconceptions of Mosaic Law

In his book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, James Jordan comments on the misconception that the Mosaic laws were so tough, so demanding, and so stringent that nobody could ever keep them. He writes:
  Why do people think the Mosaic law was hard to keep? In general, it is because they do not know what the law really commanded, and because they have the Mosaic law confused with the rabbinical traditions of Judaism. The rabbinical traditions were  a "heavy yoke" (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Acts 15:10; Matthew 23:4). Jesus called the people back to the Mosaic law, making it his own, and in doing so said that He was offering an "easy yoke" (Matthew 5:20-48; 11:29-30). We should, then, briefly look at the Mosaic law. 
  What about all those sacrifices, you may ask? There were the Burnt, Meal, Peace, Thank, Votive, Sin, Reparation, "Heave," and "Wave" Offerings, for starters. Some used salt, and some did not. Some used oil, and some did not. Some required a lamb; others, oxen; others, birds. Leavened bread  was used with some, unleavened with others. Some parts of the animal were burned up, others given to the priests, and others were eaten by laymen. These things differed for each sacrifice. It was an awful lot of detail to master. The Israelite citizen, however, never offered any sacrifices himself. Only the priests were allowed to do the sacrifices, and they did them every day. They soon became familiar with all these details. 
  Compare the details of the complicated sacrificial system with the details of auto repair, and it suddenly becomes clear just how simple the priests's job was. How many different kinds of cars are there? Add on the fact that they change from year to year. Now consider all the different parts and aspects that can go wrong. Next time you take your car in, look at all the volumes of "Chilton" auto repair manuals that your mechanic keeps on hand, and compare their size and detail with the book of Leviticus. If your mechanic can learn to fix cars, and enjoy it, obviously the priests of Israel had no trouble managing the sacrificial system.
  What about the sabbath? Wasn't that a burden? No, it was a time of rest. But weren't they forbidden to cook on the sabbath? No, they kept the sabbath as a feast. But weren't they forbidden recreation on the sabbath? No, the Bible nowhere says this. Well then, what did they do? They went to church to worship God (Leviticus 23:3), and relaxed the rest of the day. The sabbath was not an "impossible burden."
  What about all those cleansing rules in Leviticus 11-15? Well, in the first place, becoming unclean only meant one thing: You were not permitted to go into the forecourt of the Tabernacle and bring a sacrifice. Since most forms of uncleanness only lasted a day or a week, it was no real burden to be unclean. Second, if you were seriously unclean, you could make other people unclean for a few hours (until sundown) if you touched them; but again, that was only a matter of concern if the other person were on his way to offer a sacrifice. At the most, being unclean was an inconvenience. Of course, if you were unclean for months on end, and could not attend festivals, it became a more serious matter.
  The laws of uncleanness were not hard to keep. You were to wash out a pot if a lizard fell into it and died. We would do the same today. You were not supposed to marry your sister, aunt, or child. Few of us would be tempted to. You were not supposed to eat dog-burgers or salted roast roaches. Most of us wouldn't either. That is because these are our customs, and we don't find them burdensome. If we were used to eating dog meat, as some cultures do, then the restriction would be temporarily burdensome until we got used to it. The Jews were not to eat pork either, but that was not hard for them. They were no more tempted to eat pork than we are to eat roaches. 
  So, the Mosaic law was not horribly complicated or impossible to keep. Of course, in the New Covenant we are not under the Mosaic law. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ replaces all the sacrifices of Moses. Christ has cleansed the world once and for all in His Resurrection, and so the laws of uncleanness no longer apply to us. That is, they no longer apply as laws. In terms of their symbolism, they still provide wisdom.1

1.  James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999], pp. 199-201

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing the Withered Hand: Matthew 12:9-14 (Section D2)

[Jesus] went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse him. He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Matthew 12:9-14)

Continuing where we left off in this ongoing series of Matthew's gospel, we arrive at the famous story of the man with a "withered hand." This story is found in the other two synoptic gospels as well (Mark 3 & Luke 6). Unfortunately, many commentators have taught this story in a manner very similar to their misunderstandings of the previous one. It has been taught as though Jesus is really concerned about "exceptions" to God's Law under the new covenant, exceptions such as acts of mercy. As a result, the Pharisaical misunderstandings of God's Law become the focal points of this entire story, when really, this section is less of a commentary on "exceptions" and misunderstandings of God's Law and more of a commentary on misunderstandings of the Lawgiver. Such was precisely the point of the previous story, and Matthew continues that thought here as well.

Matthew even makes it obvious that he is continuing where he last left off. He says that Jesus "went on from there and entered their synagogue." We might now want to ask, 'From where is "there" and whose synagogue is "theirs"?' 

In the previous story, Jesus is walking with his disciples on the Sabbath day, among whom were certain Pharisees. Those Pharisees upbraided Jesus for permitting his disciples to do what the traditions of 1st century Judaism had determined as unlawful. It is from that scene of traveling with Pharisees which Matthew now adds onto, only this time Jesus enters their synagogue on the Sabbath day. 

Even though Luke clearly says that this second account occurs on a separate Sabbath day other than the previous Sabbath confrontation (Luke 6:6), Matthew sandwiches the two stories together in order to give his readers the impression that all of these events of chapters eleven and twelves revolve around the same day of Sabbath rest. Here, on this Sabbath day and in the synagogue of the same contentious Pharisees, we read that "a man was there with a withered hand" (ESV). Actually the Greek text is much more startling than that. After entering "their synagogue," instead of focusing upon the confrontation with the Pharisees, Matthew interrupts a seemingly smooth transition into a conversation with the Pharisees by an abrupt and somewhat odd description of a man with a damaged hand. The Greek text literally exclaims: "And behold! A man having a dried-up hand!" The ESV tries to smooth out this startlingly literal translation, but in doing so they lose the original dramatic affect which Matthew intended his readers to notice. And by noticing this exclamation, many among Matthew's Jewish audience would have picked up the significance of these events.

There are quite a few interesting connections with this man's particular disability. For starters, according to 1st century Judaism, such disabilities as a "withered-hand" (cheira xeran) were considered curses from the hand of God. The historical significance of this belief comes to light in the history of Israel's kings. In I Kings 13:1-6 we learn about Jeroboam and his first attempt to take the kingdom of Israel away from David's descendants and seize it for himself, and that story also involves a man with a "withered hand" (cheira xeran). In that story, Yahweh tells Solomon that the kingdom will be torn from his "hand" and given to another (I Kings 11:12, 31, 34-5). We then learn shortly thereafter that Jeroboam is that man. But in order to tear power away from the Davidic line of kings, Jeroboam attempts to divide the allegiance of the people by erecting a sacrificial altar far away from Jerusalem, in Shechem, the place where Israel first renewed their covenant with Yahweh after conquering the promised land. But after Jeroboam erects his idolatrous altar in Shechem, a "man of God" prophesies against his idolatrous grasp of power, and when Jeroboam attempts to seize the man of God, his hand withers (I Kings 13:4). Jeroboam's "hand" (cheira) on the kingdom, which Yahweh took away from Solomon, withered (xeran) as soon as he attempted to stretch out his hand against the man of God, to destroy him. In the end, Jeroboam was at least wise enough to plead to the man of God for healing, and the man of God in turn pleaded to Yahweh for healing; and Jeroboam's withered hand was restored.

It was because of striking accounts like that, that other statements of God pertaining to "withered" body parts were viewed as part of God's covenant curse. For example, in Zechariah 11:15-17, Yahweh describes the leadership of Israel as "foolish shepherds" who don't care about those being destroyed, or about healing the maimed, or nourishing others; instead they devour the Lord's sheep (11:15-16). Then, in the following verse, Yahweh pronounces this covenant curse upon Israel's leaders: 
Woe to my worthless shepherd who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
Let his arm be entirely withered (xeran), and his right eye utterly blinded!
In Matthew's story above, Israel's leaders aren't too much different from King Jeroboam or even the leaders of Israel described in Zechariah's prophecy. They are foolish shepherds who don't care about Yahweh's sheep. In their attempt to stretch out their arms against the people of God, Yahweh pronounces a curse upon their hands. But in Matthew's account, Jesus doesn't strike out against the Pharisees by withering their hands. Instead he strikes out against the Pharisees by healing the withered hand of a man. By healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus is pronouncing himself to be the wise shepherd of Israel, while leaving them to be the foolish ones.

But there is still more to this story. Notice carefully what Jesus implies in the answer he gives the Pharisees. They ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The Pharisees were hoping he would affirm their suspicions by answering publicly, so that they could accuse him afterward (Matt. 12:10).  But Jesus doesn't respond by affirming that healing per se is lawful to do on the Sabbath. Instead he responds by affirming what is good to do on the Sabbath. "Which one of you who has a sheep," Jesus responds, "if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

By responding this way, Jesus is comparing the Pharisees to the foolish shepherds of Zechariah's prophecy. And by healing the withered hand of the man in their synagogue, Jesus also claimed to have the authority of Yahweh which the man of God appealed to when he restored Jeroboam. In other words, Jesus was claiming to be the Good Shepherd of Israel and the ruler who cares about those being destroyed, the one who heals the maimed and nourishes the sheep of Israel unto greater health. 

But regardless of Jesus' ability to heal miraculously as Yahweh does, we learn from Matthew's account that "the Pharisees went out and conspired against [Jesus], how to destroy him."

The irony of this closing statement is great. Earlier in Matthew's gospel we learned that Jesus commissioned his twelve apostles to go to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel, and to proclaim a soon-coming salvation for those who would follow him, but a soon-coming judgment upon those who would refuse. Also, in Matthew 15:24, Jesus will affirm again that he too has been sent, by his Father, but only to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel. Yet the word for "lost" (apollymi) is the same Greek word used to describe the Pharisees seeking to "destroy" (apollymiJesus. Jesus is sent by his Father to the "lost" or "perishing" sheep of the house of Israel, but the shepherds of Israel are conspiring to "lose" him, causing him to perish. Jesus even sends out twelves apostles to represent him as they go to the "lost" sheep of Israel, but the rulers of Israel don't like the one whom the apostles represent. And so they try to destroy the Good Shepherd. 

According to Jesus' own argument, these Pharisees also recognize the value of a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath. But the irony is that they are blind to the evil of their own thoughts--thoughts which conspire to throw the Good Shepherd into a pit of their own on the Sabbath. In this sense, Jesus is like Joseph and the Pharisees are like Joseph's brothers, conspiring to thrown their brother into the pit because their Father gave him the glorious robe of authority. In another sense Jesus is like "the man of God" and the Pharisees are like Jeroboam, attempting to seize the man of God in order to continue sacrificing in their own idolatrous temple (Herod's Temple). And last of all, in relation to the prophecy of Zechariah, Jesus is like Zechariah, called to be "the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep traders" and sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14). But unlike Zechariah, Jesus would not only be the shepherd of the flock; Jesus would also become as one of the sheep doomed to be slaughtered. But in doing so--by suffering under the hand of the evil sheep traders--the rest of Yahweh's flock is spared, and the curse of withering is pronounced upon Yahweh's worthless shepherds instead. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Miserable Comforters, Infinite Fullness

We can see in affliction that the world is not what it seems, not what it promises, and not what we expected and flattered ourselves with. Whatever a man makes his riches, whether friend, wealth, or earthly interests, they cannot deliver out of the hands of death and judgment (Prov. 11:4). The soul finds by experience the unsuitableness and dissatisfaction in all these things. There is no comparison between an invisible soul and visible comforts; an immortal soul and perishing contentments; a spiritual being and an earthly portion. The air we breathe will as soon fill a hungry belly as creature-comforts will satisfy the spirit. In the hour of trial the soul says, 'Miserable comforters you all are, you physicians of no value' (Mark 5:26). Ah, but there is infinite fullness in Jesus Christ. He is suited to all the needs of poor undone sinners. No king was anointed with such power; no prophet with such wisdom; no priest with such grace, for God gave him the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and of his fullness we receive grace for grace. ...He infinitely transcends all the beauty and glory of the world. He is our King to govern; our Prophet to teach; our Priest to save. 
-- Thomas Case, Select Works, A Treatise of Afflictions 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vaughn Ohlman, the "practical theonomist"

Vaughn Ohlman, the "practical theonomist" and reformed baptist who has written a couple self-published books which are popular among the formalistic, baptistic crowd of "reformed" Christianity, says that he holds to "the Grammatico-historical method of interpretation," and that he believes "every text of Scripture must be interpreted with an understanding of both the language that was used, and the context/culture/historical setting in which it was given."1 Immediately following that assertion, he declares that:
All Scriptures are sufficiently plain that there are no facts of history or linguistics which are so obscure, or lost in time, that Christians living today, with revelation of the Spirit and diligent searching of all of Scripture, cannot understand what God would say to them through that text.2

But here is where it gets interesting. He then goes out of his way to make clear that he rejects the "redemptive historical" interpretation of Scripture insofar as it rejects, as a methodology, examples within the historical narratives of Scripture to be considered normative for applying Christian ethics  today. This is what he must strictly adhere to in order for his books on "biblical" marriage (here and here) which reject dating and courting altogether, as well as his requirement of "headcoverings" for women (here) and absolute patriarchal authority (here) to seem convincing among "biblically" sensitive Christians today. Ohlman says he finds that aspect of redemptive-historical method which does not presume upon all historical examples of Scripture as being normative for Christians ethics, contradict our understanding of the issues raised in II Tim 3:16-17, the linguistic nature of many of the texts themselves, the way these texts are treated in the NT, and the way most commentators and preachers have treated those texts and examples throughout history.3

Ummm... the redemptive historical method contradicts the "linguistic nature of the texts themselves"? Is he serious? Can he be so narrow minded as to miss what is obvious from the text of Scripture itself? When a christian chooses not to presume that the various examples of behavior found throughout the historical narratives of Scripture are normative for Christian ethics in every generation, that is not at all the same thing as denying the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures (II Tim 3:16-17), nor does that lack of presumption inhibit the Scriptures in their entirety from being "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Tim 3:16). Ohlman is not simply mistaken in this regard. He is wrong as well.

Secondarily, the way in which these "texts are treated" by the New Testament  authors affirms and confirms the solid foundation of redemptive historical interpretation, and that the historical narratives per se cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christians ethics in all generations, but must be interpreted in light of their own redemptive-historical context. For example, God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins in the garden. And in Deuteronomy 22:11-12, God says, "You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together." Should we therefore disregard the narrative of redemption or the historical context of those passages and conclude that Christians ought to clothe themselves with animal skins only, and to avoid wearing clothing which use plant fibers (as linen does, as apposed to wool which is made of animal hair). Should we also conclude that it is immoral for Christians to wear clothing made of synthetic fibers? After all, God clearly clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins, not polyester

Consider another example. The Law of God says: "You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself." Later on the New Covenant we find Jesus wearing tassels on his garments (Matt. 9:20; 14:36; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43, 44). Should we therefore conclude that all Christians at all times wear tassels on their garments too? Vaughn Ohlman's hermeneutic necessarily accepts these historical examples as normative for Christian ethics today. But don't misunderstand my main point: Vaughn Ohlman may not accept it himself. How can that be? Well, that can only be if his hermeneutic is arbitrary at this point. And if it's arbitrary, it's inconsistent too.

Last of all, Ohlman asserts that his interpretation is "the way most commentators and preachers have treated those texts and examples throughout history." That is simply not true. But even more embarrassing is the fact that he doesn't mention any commentators or preachers, let alone "most" of them, who support this narrow-minded claim of his. All one would have to do is take a cursory glance through the Nicene and Ante-Nicene church fathers, and the popular protestant reformers like Calvin, Luther, Bullinger, Zwingle, Knox, Baxter, Bunyan, Henderson, Rutherford, Owen, Turretin, etc.. in order to realize how bogus this claim of Ohlman's is. Such claims of his are a mask to cover up his bogus scholarship. "Most" commentators and "preachers" throughout history did not treat the various and widespread historical narratives of Scripture as standing examples of law which are normative for Christian ethics at all times. Ohlman needs to step down from his hermeneutical high horse to see what reality is like.

Sadly, Ohlman recommends Greg Bahsnen's books on theonomy ("By This Standard," "Theonomy In Christian Ethics," and "No Other Standard") on his blog. I say sadly because Dr. Greg Bahnsen spends an exhaustive amount of time demonstrating that this aspect of redemptive-historical hermeneutics, which Ohlman rejects, is fundamental to a consistent theonomic interpretation of Christian ethics contained within the Bible, and that Ohlman's rejection of such historic principles are an embarrassment to the "theonomic" community.

2.  Ibid. 
3.  Ibid.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Matthew's List of the Twelve

And [Jesus] called to himself twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these:
First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector
James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4)

There are a number of interesting features concerning Matthew's list of "The Twelve." If we limit ourselves to Matthew's narrative alone, we only learn a handful of relevant facts which aid our understanding of the discourse which follows:

1)  Jesus called twelve existing disciples to himself, and he did so for a purpose which was more special than their previous position as "disciples." He called them to himself to "give them authority." He called them to himself to delegate authority to them, not to empty himself of authority or to transfer his own authority to others. 

2)  These "twelve" were men. I know this chides with the spirit of our age and it's acceptance/tolerance of "biblical feminism," but it's a matter of historical fact. Jesus chose twelve males to represent him, not twelve females. Make of that what you will. I'm merely stating what was most obviously Jesus' desire for those who represent him before others. He could have chosen a woman. He could have chosen twelve women. Instead, he chose no women whatsoever.

3)  These "twelve" men were given authority by Jesus to do the things He had been doing previously, namely casting unclean spirits out of people to heal various diseases and burdens which caused suffering. 

4)  These "twelve" are not simply "disciples"; they are now "apostles." As apostles, these men have been chosen as new rulers for and representatives of the people of Israel on behalf of Jesus, the King of Israel. They have been selected and called to represent the twelve tribes of Israel on behalf of Jesus and to "spy" out the land for giants and enemies of Yahweh, and to bring healing and restoration to those in want and need.

5)  The "first" of these twelve apostles is Simon, whose nickname was "Rocky." In Greek, the name "Peter" literally means "a Stone," along with its adjectival meaning of "Rocky" or "Stoney." Simon is always mentioned first on the lists of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:16ff., Luke 6:14ff., Acts 1:13ff.) most likely because he was considered a leader among all twelve. This doesn't mean that he was the leader -- the one and only sovereign arbiter over all twelve (or even the Christian churches). But it does clearly infer that Peter was known to be a leader among the twelve. In other words, this "Rocky" apostle had characteristics of one who functions as a leader. This shouldn't surprise us if we are familiar with the gospel narratives. All throughout the gospels, Peter is vividly portrayed as the most inquisitive and outspoken disciple, as well as the most ambitious one, the most confident one, and the one who takes the initiative most often before anyone else. Even with all of Peter's legitimate weaknesses -- weaknesses of spiritual blindness and vulnerability, doubt and skepticism, impetuous speech and zeal -- the Lord used them all to eventually shape him into a strong, mature leader of the faith. We should never forget that we often attribute faithlessness to Peter because of common misunderstandings. Even at times when Peter seems to be lacking the most faith among Jesus' apostles -- times like when he attempted to walk on water and he sank -- he is actually manifesting the characteristics of a leader. Remember, even though Peter attempted to walk on water, and sank, he was the only apostle with enough faith to get out of the boat and try!

6)  Next we learn that some of the apostles are brothers. Simon's (Peter's) brother is Andrew. The apostle John's brother is James. Matthew was "the tax collector" mentioned earlier in chapter nine. Another Simon is listed, and his nickname is given too. He is "the Zealot," or "the zealous one" (not to be confused with the first century anti-Roman terrorist group called "the Zealots").

7)  And last of all, we learn a couple things about Judas Iscariot. The first thing we learn is that Judas was the one who "betrayed" Jesus. Of course, this statement takes two things for granted: first, this Judas would eventually betray Jesus, and that, secondarily, until this man's name pops up again (and the next  time will be in chapter 26), we are supposed to keep his betrayal in the back of our minds.  We are supposed to be considering his ministry among the twelve with suspicion without having to diminish the powerful work of God through him. If the ultimate betrayer of Jesus can cast out demons and heal the sick in the name of Jesus, does that not give us the right to be suspicious about those who claim the same power and authority for themselves today? 

Also, we learn one more thing peculiar to this Judas Iscariot. This Judas is the only one of the twelve which always has his hometown annexed to his name. His "last name" (so to speak) is not Iscariot. Iscariot is simply the way our Bibles translate his surname (i.e. the name which indicates his birthplace and location among the twelve tribes of Israel). Iscariot literally means "a man of Kerioth," which is a town located in the southern portion of Judea about ten miles south of Hebron. In other words, this Judas who betrayed Jesus was from Judea. This has multiple implications for Matthew's Palestinian-Jewish audience. First, this gives the strong impression that this Judas remained intimately connected with his family roots in the land of Judea, it's capital city being Jerusalem. It also might mean that Judas was the only Judean Jew among the twelve. After all, no other apostle is ever listed with his hometown annexed to his name in order to distinguish him from the others. The other gospels also give the strong impression that the other eleven apostles are from the land of Galilee, not Judea.

Ultimately, what this list of "the Twelve Apostles" confirms is that Israel was in need of new rulers and new shepherds to lead them safely into greener pastures; but not some rogue rulers. Israel clearly needed Jesus, but Jesus was becoming burdened with too much responsibility to handle it all himself, and so he delegated rulers to represent him as they went throughout the twelve tribes of Israel to "cast out unclean spirits, healing every disease and every affliction."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday Night: The Night of the Lord's Supper

In his book, Christ on Earth: The Gospel Narratives as History, Dr. Jakob Van Bruggen has provided an excellent biblical and historical explanation of the night in which Jesus instituted his Supper.1 His conclusion is that on the night in which the Lord instituted his Supper, the Jews removed all leavened bread from their homes and served the first evening meal of the lamb, and that was the night of Maundy Thursday

Because the entire argument within his book is quite extensive, and the subject so controversial, I will only quote a brief portion of his thoughts, trusting that others are already aware of the alleged "chronology contradiction" or "problem" within all four gospels. Van Bruggen writes:
  After the Wednesday of the final discourses comes the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matt. 26:17). This is when the Passover lamb is sacrificed (Mark 14:2; Luke 22:7). The days of Unleavened Bread are counted from 15 to 21 Nisan (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 3.10.5 Sec. 249), the seven days during which the Passover offerings are sacrificed in the Temple (Num. 28:16-25). Sometimes, however, 14 Nisan is also included. This is a day of preparation during which people remove all leavened bread from their homes and serve the lamb at the evening meal. In that case there are eight days of Unleavened Bread (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.1 Sec. 317). The first three evangelists (i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke) clearly follow the latter approach when they write about the dawn of the Thursday on which the Passover must be slaughtered (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). In other words, they consider this Thursday the fourteenth day of Nisan.  
  The terminology used in connection with the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread is complicated. The fourteenth day of Nisan is the day of preparation: all leavened bread is removed from the houses, the lambs are slaughtered, and during the evening the Passover meal is eaten. Because of this evening meal, 14 Nisan is sometimes called the Passover Feast (Lev. 23:5; Josephus, Jewish War 6.9.3 Sec. 423; Antiquities 2.14.6 Sec. 313). 
  The fifteenth of Nisan is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast lasts seven days, during which large sacrifices are brought into the temple (Lev. 23:6; Num. 28:17-25; cfJosephus, Antiquities 3.10.5 Sec. 249; 9.13.3 Sec. 271; 11.4.8 Sec. 110). The fifteenth day of Nisan is then counted as the first day (16 Nisan is the second day, see Josephus, Antiquities 3.10.5 Sec. 250). The fifteenth of Nisan is actually the day of Israel's liberation (Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.2 Sec. 318). The Jews also refer to the feast of Unleavened Bread (15-21 Nisan) as Passover (cf. Luke 22:1; Josephus, Jewish War 2.1.3 Sec. 10; Antiquities 10.4.5 Sec. 70; 14.2.1 Sec. 21; 17.9.3 Sec. 213; 18.2.2 Sec. 29; 20.5.3 Sec. 106). 
  Because the leavened bread is removed on 14 Nisan, the day is referred to as "the Day of Unleavened Bread" (Josephus, Jewish War 5.3.1 Sec. 99). If this day (14 Nisan) is counted with the feast (15-21 Nisan), one can also speak of a "period of unleavened bread" for eight days (Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.1 Sec. 317; cf. Mark 14:12; Luke 22:1).2

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Christ on Earth: The Gospel Narratives as History [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1998] pp. 212-219
2.  Ibid. p. 212-213.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Acceptance of Enmity

In Jakob Van Bruggen's insightful book, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel as Message, he paints a picture of Jesus as one who accepted the "path of rejection" which forced itself upon him, a choice which Van Bruggen calls "the acceptance of enmity." His insights are especially relevant in light of this week being the traditional Passion Week (or "Holy Week"). 

Van Bruggen writes:
    The actual acceptance of this enmity can be seen in the peculiar way in which Jesus travels through Palestine. His journeys can be viewed as evasive movements that lead in the direction of the leaders who are waiting to kill him.  
    On the one hand he often evades his enemies. When the Pharisees begin to keep a closer eye on him because of the many people who begin to follow him, he retreats to Galilee (John 4:1-2, 43-44). Later, on several occasions in Galilee, he escapes the growing hostility (Luke 4:28-30; Matt. 12:14-16), and once he even goes across the northern border to the neighboring country for a time (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-37); the result is that his opponents often have to travel to remote regions to search for him. When the plans to kill him assume an increasingly more definite shape, he goes to the Feast of Tabernacles, not with the crowds but more or less incognito (John 7:10-14). And during the final months he retreats once more from Judea to the mountains of Transjordan and later to mountains of Judea (John 10:40-42; 11:54).   
    On the other hand, despite all sorts of evasions he always comes back into the public eye and always moves again toward his enemies. He postpones the escalation of the confrontation, but he does not make himself inaccessible. On the contrary, in the end he enters Jerusalem amidst cheering crowds, can be found daily in the temple (which for him is as dangerous as a robbers' den), and finally surrenders himself to the servants of the Sanhedrin.
    Typical of Jesus' behavior is the way he once reacted to the threat that Herod Antipas wanted to kill him. He was in Perea, the tetrarch's territory. Jesus left a few days later, but not to escape death. His goal was Jerusalem--because that was the proper place for a prophet to be killed (Luke 13:31-35).
    This combination of withdrawal and head-on encounters with the enemy indicates that Jesus does not avoid the consequences of hostility but insists on following the path to arrest and death according to his own time frame. He also hints more than once at having his own schedule, and speaks of "his hour" or "his time" which is yet to come (John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1).
    ...A comparison can certainly be made between the attitude people often assume toward prophets and righteous people, and their attitude toward Jesus.  Jesus' own position, however, is different from that of the defenseless prophets and the powerless righteous. We see this in the fact that he does not eagerly await God's punishment of his enemies or revenge for what has been done to him by those who reject him. On the contrary, he declares that he has come for their salvation, and on the cross he prays for forgiveness for those who execute him (Luke 9:52-56; 23:24). Thus he accepts his suffering, not as a powerless individual who trusts that God will do right by him or her, but as the Ruler who thinks it necessary to allow himself to be bound and killed.1

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel Narratives as Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1999] pp. 157-158

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How well do you know the Gospels?

About two years ago, I had the privilege of teaching the book of Hebrews to a fine group of Christians from the Milwaukee area, but after that study was complete, we needed to start something new. At that time I wasn't sure what book to teach next, particularly because I still had much to learn about the people in our small group. I wasn't quite sure which other books of the Bible were too theologically "heavy" for the group. I definitely wanted to offer something less heavy than Hebrews. And so my wife came up with the great idea of having a Bible trivia night to mellow things out a bit and provide room for discussing what book of the Bible we all wanted to study next. And as an extra bonus, the winner of the Bible trivia would get a prize! (The gift was a card to Half-price Books, the perfect gift idea for our small group because we all like to read books. And that was the idea of our great friend, Jenny Provost. Thank you Jenny!)

A bunch of people were interested in studying the gospels, and so I decided to narrow our trivia & discussion to the Gospels, and other general information relating to them. It was a very fun night, a night which I'll never forget, because I got to learn the perspectives of each and every person in our small group and just how much they learned (and didn't learn) from their Pastors or teachers in Sunday School.

Below are the 40 trivia questions I asked that night. (Fun fact: 40 is a biblical number for "testing".)

How well do you know the gospels? 
The person with the most correct answers wins.

  1. Which of the following is not a synoptic gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?
  2. How many "gospel" books are there and who wrote the longest one?
  3. How many books of the New Testament were written by Gentile (non-Jewish) authors?
  4. Which gospel emphasizes Christ as a "king" the most, both in it's frequent use of that word, and in its literary structure?
  5. Which gospel frequently says that the words or actions of Jesus have taken place "to fulfill" the Scriptures?
  6. In which gospel does Jesus speak of "the days of vengeance"; and what city was Jesus preaching in when he spoke of those soon-coming "days"?
  7. Which author of the gospel mentions the last words of Jesus on the cross as saying, "It is finished."?
  8. Which gospel focuses the geographical scope of Jesus's life and ministry within Jerusalem?
  9. Which gospel does not mention the institution of the Lord's supper (i.e. "This is my body," "take, eat,...", "This is my blood of the covenant...", etc...)?
  10. Which gospel does not mention Jesus' Olivet Discourse?
  11. Which synoptic gospel does not mention the Lord's Prayer at all?
  12. Which gospel frequently emphasizes the "knowledge" of God and the way in which his readers "know" that Jesus' words are true?
  13. What is the only gospel that does not mention the veil of the temple being "torn apart" during the crucifixion of Jesus?
  14. What is the only gospel that mentions the graves of dead people opening and many dead bodies rising out of their graves?
  15. Which synoptic gospel contains more references and illustrations of the Holy Spirit's work than the other two synoptic gospels combined?
  16. What is the only gospel that records the words of the thief who was crucified with Christ?
  17. In which gospel are "the times of the Gentiles" mentioned by Jesus?
  18. When did "the times of the Gentiles" begin in history (i.e. what era of biblical history)?
  19. In which gospel do we find four, and only four, consecutive beatitudes?
  20. Which of the synoptic gospels gives us no information about Jesus' birth or his early childhood?
  21. Which author mentions Peter in his gospel more than any other disciple?
  22. Which author wrote his gospel with what scholars consider to be "elegant" and "proper" Greek?
  23. Which author wrote his gospel in the most grammatically poor and "common" style of Greek?
  24. Which author incorporates both Aramaic and Latin phrases in his (Greek) gospel?
  25. Which author incorporates the most Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) styles and phrases in his (Greek) gospel?
  26. Which gospel-author had the surname of Levi?
  27. Which gospel-author was the nephew of Barnabas?
  28. Which gospel is structured around five main discourses (i.e. topical speeches)?
  29. What is the repeated phrase that author (just mentioned) uses to indicate that his gospel is structured around five main discourses?
  30. Which gospel author emphasizes the "power" and actions of Jesus rather than his discourses (i.e. which author shows Jesus doing a lot of things, instead of saying a lot of things)?
  31. Which gospel mentions the "Kingdom of Heaven" the most (instead of "Kingdom of God")?
  32. What are the first words of Jesus recorded in the gospels?
  33. What is the first miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospels?
  34. What is the second miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospels?
  35. Which gospel contains the most quotations from the Old Testament (i.e. Genesis through Malachi)?
  36. Which gospel was written first, and why?
  37. Which gospel was written last, and why?
  38. To whom was John's gospel written: Palestinian Jews, Hellenistic Jews of the Dispersion, Gentiles, or all of the above?
  39. To whom was Matthew's gospel written?
  40. To whom was Luke's gospel written?