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?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Imagine for a moment....

While Jesus is living and teaching among the Jews, everyone in that region becomes aware of his teaching, and his claims of deity as the Son of God and promised "Anointed One". But during the period of three days after Jesus' death, rumors spread about his death. Every faithful Jew, hoping for the consolation of Israel and the coming of the Kingdom of heaven, is somewhat disappointed that their promised Messiah is dead.

Shortly thereafter, some disappointed Jews are traveling on a road about seven miles outside Jerusalem, and there they encounter a stranger; and they have a conversation with him about their doubts in this promised Messiah, Jesus. After a while, the stranger decides to assert his opinion about the present circumstances and all of their doubts, saying "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Anointed One should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" This intrigued them very much, and so they invited the stranger to sit down and share a meal with them to talk more. The stranger thought them to be very considerate, so they all found a place to eat and discuss the Scriptures together.

Not too long after discussing these and other important issues concerning the consolation of Israel, a startling circumstance occurred. After everything important had been being said, the stranger broke some bread -- literally -- and vanished. But that's not all! Not only did the stranger vanish; their eyes were then opened to understand who he was and what he was teaching them about the relationship between the God, Israel, and the world which Jesus saved. And so, as anyone as excited as them would do, the men who witnessed this amazing revelation rushed back to Jerusalem that night to tell Jesus' disciples their story and all they had learned.

Much to everyone's surprise that evening, while the eleven disciples were learning what happened earlier in that day, Jesus appears before all of them, even the men before whom he vanished, and startles them. His words were not many, but what was spoken was received well because it was to the point. And one of the most important things Jesus said to them that night was this:
These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled

Imagine further, that shortly after Christ's resurrection, one of Jesus' disciples who was well educated and highly literate (and probably very organized and detail oriented because he was a tax collector around Palestine for many years) was also commissioned to write a story about Jesus to his brethren in Palestine; and the purpose of that story was to declare that everything written about Jesus in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled, just as Jesus had told them before.

And so, seeing the immense importance of this commission, and his qualifications for accomplishing his task, he compiles all of his notes. He then sets out to learn from many other eye-witnesses some further testimonies of what Jesus did. Before long, he realizes that he is confronted with a huge dilemma: If he were to write a story about all the things that Jesus did, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. And so he prays about his task at hand and he seeks wise counsel from the other apostles and elders. Their advise for him was to narrow the focus of his epistle in a way which is clearly intended for his brethren in Israel (as commissioned) and clearly not addressed to everyone in the world, as though every single thing Jesus said in context had to be addressing people on continents not yet discipled and knew nothing about Israel's expectations; but rather, they advised, because his commission was to minister to the lost sheep of the House of Israel within the promised land, he should tell the story of Jesus' life to them in a way which they will vividly understand, in a way which is first and foremost relevant to them and their history, not to gentiles ten-thousand miles away.  And so he though about their advise for a long time and eventually went home to pray and think about ways to implement their wise insights.

It didn't take long after prayer before he received the revelation he longed for. He recalled that the whole history of Israel was more than just a story about a chosen people in need of a Savior. They were a type of firstborn son, whose genealogy begins with a call out of Egypt into God's rest. They were a royal priesthood, a holy nation who received the revelation from their Heavenly Father at Mount Sinai, who wandered in a wilderness for forty years before entering the inheritance He had promised them as His "son". They were a people who crossed the river Jordan and eventually conquered the land which God promised for them, only to learn the hard way, as years went by, that their own foolishness and spiritual harlotry displeased their Father and earned their disinheritance for a time. But their Father was indeed merciful, especially as they pleaded to Him for wisdom. He gave them wisdom and He gave them a King after His own heart to rule over them. But that didn't last forever either. Only after three kings sat on the throne of Israel, the kingdom was divided and their inheritance was seeing a steady decline as well. Eventually Judah, the land of God's dwelling place in their midst, and the House of Israel would reach a definitive end, being transported into Babylonian captivity. The story of God's House in Jerusalem being destroyed and His people going into captivity was the point of Israel's death.

But according to the everlasting Covenant of God, and His enduring mercies every day, the Father provided a resurrection for his "son", Israel. Israel's resurrection came within the greater Egypt, the land of Babylon, after the influence of Daniel but before the great decree of Cyrus, king of Persia, who eventually ruled over the land of Babylon. Cyrus, the Lord's anointed, recognized that the Lord who raised up Israel under his reign and given them life once again, had given him the responsibility to send them out into the world and rebuild His House. And so, Cyrus gave Israel this great commission:
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up!

Then it clicked in Matthew's mind: he should tell the story of Jesus-as-Israel; then the people of Israel would understand that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one-of-a-kind Son of God that fulfilled everything written about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Not Ever

"...He hath said, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'"
(Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:8)

God hath not promised
Skies always blue
Flower-strewn pathways
All our life through
God hath not promised 
Sun without rain
Joy without sorrow
Peace without pain

But God hath promised 
Strength for the day
Rest for the labor
Light for the way
Grace for the trials
Help from above
Unfailing sympathy
Undying love

                      -- Annie Johnson Flint
                    "What God Has Promised"

Saturday, September 1, 2012

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that sleekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
                                             -- George Matheson, 1882
                                            “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thankful for many versions

From time to time I like to look at the variety of Bible translations in my library, and every once in a while, when I pick up a really old English version, I remember how much more thankful I should be to have a variety of modern Bible translations. In order to illustrate what I mean, I have posted a sampling of the exact english type-set used for John chapter one, verses one through five, from five different English Bible versions.

Which version do you prefer to study?

In the bigynnyng was the word, and the word was at God, and God was the word. This was in the bigynnyng at God. Alle thingis weren maad bi hym, and withouten hym was maad no thing, that think that was maad. In hym was lijf, and the lijf was the liyt of men; and the liyt schyneth in derknessis, and derknessis comprehendiden not it.
Joon (1:1-5)
John Wycliffe Version, New Testament, 1388

In the begynnynge was that worde, and that worde was with god; and god was thatt word. The same was in the begynnynge wyth god. All thynges were made by it, and without it, was made noo thinge, that made was. In it was life. And lyfe was the light of men, And the light shyneth in darkens, and darcknes comprehended it not.
The Gospell off Sancte Jhon (1:1-5)
Tyndale Version, New Testament, 1526

1.  In the beginning was the Worde, and the Worde was with God and that Worde was   God.
2.  The fame was in the beginning w God.
3.  All things were made by it, & without it was made nothing that was made.
4.  In it was life, and the life was the light of men.
5.  And the light fhineth in y darkenes, & the darkenes comprehended it not.
The Holy Gospel of Iefus Chrift, according to Iohn  1:1-5
Geneva Version, First Edition, First Printing, 1560

1.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2.  The same was in the beginning with God.
3.  All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.
4.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5.  And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not.
According to John 1:1-5
American Standard Version, 1901

1.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2.  He was in the beginning with God.
3.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5
English Standard Version, 2010

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alpha & Omega

The formulation of what follows is not original to myself at all, but rather is taken and rearranged from various sources among Peter Leithart's works, but most especially his scholarly article, Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew's Gospel.

Matthew begins his gospel with these words (in English): "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." In Greek, the phrase is "[The] biblos geneseos of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." The phrase biblos geneseos literally means "book of beginnings," even though by the time Matthew was writing his gospel, the word geneseos had evolved into a reference to genealogy and not so much a literal "beginning."

More important than the fact that words can evolve in their meaning over time, is the recognition that these opening words are an overt quotation from the common bible used by Jews in the first century: the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures into more common, but nevertheless reverently styled, Greek text. This means that Matthew began his gospel with words that biblically literate Jews would recognize immediately. In the Septuagint (commonly abbreviated among scholars as the LXX), the book of Genesis records the biblos geneseos of heaven and earth (Gen. 2:4) and of the first man, Adam (Gen. 5:1).

Genesis 2:4 (ESV) reads:
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Genesis 5:1 (ESV) reads:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.

The Septuagint (LXX) translation of both these passages includes the phrase biblos geneseos, making the point that when God created the heavens and the earth, He recorded it as a "book of beginnings" of the heavens and the earth. Likewise, with the LXX translation of Gen. 5:1, the "book of beginnings" of Adam and his descendants are recorded for us. And so, when Matthew begins his gospel, he wants to make clear to his audience that there is a new beginning at hand, beginning with the biblos geneseos of Jesus the Christ, the anointed one.

But Matthew not only begins his gospel with a very clear echo from the Old Testament; he also ends his gospel with similar literary indicators familiar to Jews in the first century. It is unfortunate that our modern bibles end the section of the "Old Testament" with the book of Malachi. In the first century, that was not the only option available. It is true that the LXX did end with Malachi, which is what modern english bibles use for the order of the canon. But in the first century, Palestinian Jews also had a Hebrew canon, which ended with the book of II Chronicles and the "great commission" of Cyrus, the Persian monarch, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and YHWH's temple (Ezra 6:3-9; II Chron. 36:22-23). And so, it was common knowledge among 1st century Jews that, technically, the last words of II Chronicles were the last words of the "Old Testament" scriptures.

The last words of the Old Testament, in II Chronicles 36:22-23 (ESV), say this:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up!'"
The last words of Matthew's gospel, in 28:18-20 (ESV), say this:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Leithart makes some important observations regarding this unique ending to the Hebrew canon and Matthew's gospel. He points out that there are three common elements between those two endings:

  1. There is a statement by YHWY's "anointed one" regarding universal authority (see II Chron 44:28; 45:1)
  2. There is a statement regarding the source of his authority
  3. There is a commission to "Go!" and build God's House/Make disciples of all nations
I would like to add a fourth element in common among the two passages: the promised presence of the Lord to be with his people.

All of this typology is important because it connects the beginning of Matthew's gospel with the book of beginnings in Genesis and the final "Great Commission" of Jesus the Christ (the "anointed one") with the "great commission" of the Lord's "anointed" in the end of Malachi, the last book of the Bible. 

Certainly this structure of Matthew's gospel was no accident.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Genesis 10: Relevant antiquarian data

In his book, Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew Narrative, Jerome T. Walsh makes an interesting observation concerning the genealogies of Genesis 10, and how they correspond chiastically to the names of Noah's three sons in the first verse:

10:1 -- "These are the generations of Noah's sons"
A.  Shem
B.  Ham
C.  and Japheth
       --  "Children were born to them after the flood"
C'.  The children of Japheth... (10:2-5)
B'.  The children of Ham... (10:6-20)
A'.  The children of Shem... (10:21-31)
        --  "These are the families of Noah's sons, by their generations, in their nations; from these the nations were                            dispersed in the earth after the flood."

Walsh then elaborates on the purpose of this literary structure:
[This] sets the parameters for subsequent elaboration, namely all the nations of the world, since all are descended from Noah. By naming Shem first the text assures Israelite readers (who are descended from Shem) that what follows is not irrelevant antiquarian data but is germane to themselves; it then expands the readers' focus from their own people outward to a distant universal horizon. Finally the text narrows the focus to nearer nations and, eventually, to the line of Eber, the eponymous1 ancestor of the Hebrews, and therefore of the readers themselves.2

1.  Eponymous refers to naming some thing after a person. In this case, the title of "Hebrew" people is named after Eber, their ancestor among Shem's descendants. The term "Hebrew" (ibrim) shares the same root as Eber (eber).
2.  Jerome T. Walsh, Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew Narrative [The Liturgical Press; Collegeville, MN; 2001] p. 76