Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mondays with Mark, Part VII [6.1-56]

These are supposed to be summaries. But they’re not. I can not.

Mark

Last time we saw Jesus show His authority over the elements of creation: nature, demons, illness, and death. Even in the impossible the King has all authority. He encourages those who fear to have faith. But as we turn to Mark 6, we see what happens when faith is overrun by fear and doubt. Acceptance turns into rejection, a clear motif in this chapter (and continuing from the previous!).

A   1-6, There’s No Place Like Home

Jesus and His disciples return home, and when the Sabbath rolls around Jesus teaches in the synagogue. As usual, people are astounded at his wisdom and the mighty works performed by His hands. Yet they don’t attribute His mighty deeds to demonic forces, nor to Yahweh Himself. In fact, they don’t really know what to do with Jesus. They know Him. They think they know Him. By calling Him the Son of Mary, they might be insinuating that His birth was illegitimate. Jesus’ family misunderstood His ministry (3.21), and now His whole town does likewise.

A prophet isn’t even accepted into His own town, yet Jesus isn’t just a prophet. He’s the Son of God! But while the people are astonished at what Jesus can do, He marvels at their lack of belief. He can only perform a few miracles because of it, probably meaning not many came to Him believing for healing.

Jesus has been rejected by the Pharisees and Herodians (3.6), His family (3.21), the scribes (3.22), the Gentile city of Gerasa (5.17), the mourners in Jairus’ house (5.40), and now by His own townspeople. This theme will only increase as the chapter goes on.

B   7-13, Send Them Away

Jesus’ commands to His disciples to go out and expand the ministry of Jesus occurs in-between a tale of two rejected prophets. Their provisions are minimal: sent off in pairs for protection and/or to provide a dual-witness (Dt. 19.15), a staff for walking and protection, and can stay in houses for protection. They are to travel light and simple, but not experience much hardship.

In v11 Jesus instructs them on how to respond to rejection which, if any city does not receive them, they are to shake the dust off rom their feet upon exiting the city. Interestingly enough, We never see Jesus go back home after this point (at least in Mark). Like John (and Jesus), they proclaim that people should repent. Like Jesus, they cast out demons and heal the sick (though, unlike Jesus, they anoint them with oil). The similarity with John brings us to the next pericope dealing with the John the Baptist’s rejection.

A’   14-29, Off With Your Head

John the Baptist confronts Herod about his adultery with Herodias (the wife of Herod’s brother). Probably by the request of Herodias, Herod throws John in prison. Herod finds John to be righteous and holy (6.20) and does not want to harm him. Though he is perplexed, Herod enjoys hearing John. One commentator said, “Herod loved to be upset by John.”

But the deceptive wife of a king still wants that prophet dead (a la Jezebel [1 Kings 18.4, 13; 19.1-2]?). A party is thrown, her daughter dances, the men enjoy it, a promise is made, and a promise has to be kept because Herod is surrounded by political officials. The seed was sown, but Herod was too busy reveling in the pleasures and cares of this world (4.18-19).

It’s sad that Herod actually loses less face by beheading a prophet of God than he would be breaking an improper oath. The head of John the Baptist is brought on a platter, during the celebration, to Herodias. If John the Baptist’s handing over (1.14) led to this, what might Jesus’ handing over (3.19) lead to (9.12-13)?

B’   30, The Return Home

Here is effective storytelling. Mark adds the rejection of John the Baptist in-between the disciples’ missionary journey to provide the sense of a time lapse. But we also see the double-sidedness of the Gospel. John the Baptist sacrificed himself for his message, while the disciples return with a successful missionary message.

Was John’s ministry a failure? A tragedy? A defeat? No, because while John is martyred, we now have 12 new disciples who will be leading the charge.

31-44, The Hunger Games

The plan was to rest. But the crowds changed their plans. And they were hungry. And they were just sheep without a shepherd. But we know what they didn’t: Jesus is the Good Shepherd whose motivation is love. He doesn’t disperse the flock but provides for their needs and has them sit down on green grass (Ps. 23.2?). Despite their doubt (6.37), the disciples play an active role in participating in Jesus’ miracle. Jesus feeds 5,000 people (and that’s just the men!). He feeds more than Elijah ever fed, and He is a greater Moses for He didn’t ask for manna or quail from the Father, but He performed the miracle by His own volition (still following the will of His Father, of course).

Is there a rejection here? Not explicitly, but the disciples do have reservations about Jesus’ ability to perform miracles.

45-52, There’s No Place Like Home

This is the second of three boat scenes Mark gives gives us (first: 4.35-41; third: 8.14-21). In the evening (6-9pm) Jesus has His disciples get into a boat to go to the other side, and then goes up to the mountain to pray. He deliberately waits the entire night to go help them at the fourth watch (3-6am). The disciples spend the night fighting waves; Jesus spends it praying.

Why does Jesus wait so long? His purpose is to walk past them (6.48), but His own disciples fail to recognize Him (6.52). They have eyes, but do not see (8.18). Jesus intends to pass by before them to assure and lead them (Ex. 33.15-23, 19 ). But in fact, His own disciples think He’s a ghost (which is ironic, considering Greco-Romans didn’t believe ghosts could walk on water).

“Mark presents the disciples’ insistence on believing the absurd emphasizing their failure to believe in Jesus. Jesus identifies himself, the disciples are astonished, they lack understanding, and the reason is because their hearts were hardened (6:51–52). The disciples clearly want Jesus to be something that he is not, to the point that they are willing to believe the absurd when Jesus approaches them as something much grander than they had imagined. Gods and divine men walk on water; ghosts do not” (pg. 14, Jason Combs, A Ghost on the Water? Understanding an Absurdity in Mark 6:49–50).

The disciples have misconstrued Jesus’ messiahship.

53-56, Healing the Sick

In the end, despite the rejection, the misunderstanding, the confusion, the crowds still come to Jesus. The recognize Him and run around their region to bring all the sick to Him, if only to touch the fringe of His garment. These crowds don’t fully understand who He is, but they know He can perform miracles.

One day Jesus will be given a final rejection, but it will not be because the crowds wished it on Him. It will be something much more sinister. A sinister group that Jesus has already dealt with in Mark will go head-to-head with them again in the very beginning of chapter 7.

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Review: Recovering Redemption

Recovering Redemption Matt Chandler

This book is an easy, 12-step program on how to change your life. Our lives need improvement. But despite all of the messes we make, we can’t seem to fix much. It seems that when we take 2 steps forward, we end up taking 7 steps back. The good news is: this book is easy to read. The bad news: that is the only ‘easy’ part to this 12-step/12 chapter book. The better news: you can’t change you, but God can.

The authors (Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer) have served in leadership positions at The Village Church for over seven years. They’re old enough to know and have talked to enough people to know that change can’t happen on our own strength. At least, not for very long. So they wrote a book in twelve parts to give us a story of the Gospel and how it makes an impact in our lives to change us from the inside-out, and not from the outside-in. It’s not meditating for 5 hours a day that creates a change in us. It’s not praying at seven daily intervals that creates a change in us. It’s believing in the King who is stronger than us, the One who cares for us and died to save us.

Chandler and Snetzer form this book to have a flow (they even tell us this on page 162). It’s not a mere mash up of concepts. The story of our redemptive-history starts with the fall, and this first chapter is awfully depressing. There’s nothing emotionally wrenching in this chapter, but it’s the truth that, despite man’s best efforts, everything is falling apart. And we know it. And we know we can’t do anything about it. [2] We try to fix ourselves in different ways, but we fail every time. [3] But God….saved us and by Christ’s death we might are the righteousness of God. [4] Our godly grief leads us to repentance and to the one who saved us, [5] for we are made new and have been brought into a new family.

[6] We begin to put sin to death, [7] and confess our struggles so that, as a family, we can help build each other up into Christ. [8] God wants us to overcome our fears so that we can trust in Him more than in ourselves, [9] and by trusting Him we’ll pull up the roots of sin and let Him work knowing He loves us. Seeing the damage of sin, we [10] seek to reconcile with others, [11] confront them (in love) to the sin that so hinders them, [12] and seek to know the Lord more for He is our source of true joy. We were created to serve Him.

The Chocolate Milk

The book really started to pick up at the second half. The authors bring us through the gospel to see that the change that happens in us is not due to our own strength, but that of the strength and hope we receive from Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, and from the Holy Spirit and how He leads us to Christ. The afflictions and annoyances that we experience now “will seem silly to [us] 20,000 years from now” (pg. 141). They point us to God’s sovereignty and how He works through circumstances in life to mold us and shape us into the image of Christ.

There is no silver bullet. It takes time, and it hurts. But it makes us stronger. We grow and mature. We see how wicked sin is. God’s work should lead us to fix relationships with those in our spiritual family, but will lead us to confront each other of our sins and hopefully, to grow and respond in love. Because “love never ends” (1 Cor. 13.8a)

I have yet to listen to Chandler’s sermons on Recovering Redemption (and I’m sure they’re superb), but this book does a good job in pointing us to the Gospel, and why we should press on. There will be old roots that we hold on to (though we wish they were gone), and they remind us that we’re human. Just as we have received forgiveness from God, so we should be willing to forgive those who sin against us (Mt. 6.12, 14).

Is it hard? Yes. Chandler and Snetzer never say that life isn’t hard. They never say we need to simply “get over it.” We will be offended, we will get hurt by those who are close to us. But we aren’t left on our own. Christ is our example. He came and served. He died. He forgave. He freed us from sin so that we can serve, die to ourselves, love, and forgive.

The Spoiled Milk

The authors have a writing style that presents itself as if they are talking right to you. This can be handy, and for most of the book it is, leading most to have an easy-going time when reading this book. However, the style goes overboard by repeatedly showing up throughout the book.

For example,  in Chapter 11 “Feel the Heartburn”,  the authors talk about confronting sin and then give two warnings on the threat of ignoring a brother’s sin. One warning is when we are filled with bitterness, instead of wanting to help a brother or sister, we more or less “hate their guts” and want to ignore them. “A second indicator of unhealthy conflict avoidance is when our knee-jerk reaction to relational difficulty is to run away from the problem, becoming what we might describe as a ‘flighter’ – which is probably not a real word, but we think it gets the message across” (pg. 179; emphasis mine).

While flighter isn’t actually in the dictionary, do I really need to be given this information? Is it pertinent to the point? It’s one thing to hear it in a sermon (which even then, I could do without it), but I don’t see the need for it here. While there are other examples all over the book, it’s not really a major issue, but it is cumbersome to have to read through this style in an effort to make the book more readable. In fact, I think the excess oftentimes hinders the point (again, never in a major way).

Recommended?

Chandler is a good speaker and author, and I enjoyed this book by him and Snetzer. They wrote this book for the layperson, and it can easily be read by the layperson. This book is no silver-bullet, but hopefully those who read this book will be encouraged enough to put these words into practice, to read their Bibles, to see the graciousness of God, and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Books (May 1, 2014)

[Special thanks to India and Jim at B&H Publishing for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: Decision Making and the Will of God

Decision Making and the Will of God; Garry Friesen
Fleeces. Impressions. That still, small voice. The Bible talks about God’s will, but it doesn’t seem to give us as much information as we would like. How does God lead us? What does the book of Acts tell us about His leading today? What does the rest of the Bible tell us? If we’re led by the Holy Spirit, why does it seem so difficult to know what to do? Garry Friesen, ThM, ThD, a member of the Bible faculty at Multnomah Bible College, has expanded this twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Decision Making and the Will of God to make it more readable and understandable to a broad audience. 

The topic of God’s will is one that has no lack of coverage. In fact, this is the third book on this subject that I’ve reviewed (my reviews of books by Waltke and DeYoung can be found here). Yet despite many an authors’ interest, understanding God’s will is still highly misunderstood. It’s an important issue not only because of the heightened lack of understanding, but because its understanding affects the way we live. Friesen says, “For we don’t look at the world through the glasses of the Bible itself, but rather our understanding (or interpretation) of the Bible. And if we misread one part or another, our ‘prescription’ will be out of kilter and our vision will be blurred” (pg. 258).

Overview

There are four parts to this book. Friesen starts off his book presenting the traditional view in a fictional story about a college student named Ted and his marital discussion with Pastor Bill Thompson. He goes through a discussion of Ted’s love for a girl named Annette Miller. The problem is that they both love the Lord, both feel called to vocational ministry, yet don’t know what the Lord’s will is. Should they marry? Each other? If so, where would they go? Stay in the states or go to Africa? They want to be obedient to God’s will, but they don’t want to unintentionally disobey and take the wrong path.

We are then given an 8-page outline of the Traditional View (those who want to read a bigger overview of the traditional view can read Friesen’s whole 50+ page overview on his website http://www.gfriesen.net). Throughout the Bible we see God’s sovereign will (His determinative plan of history), His moral will (how humanity ought to believe and live), and His individual will (“God’s ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely designed for each person” [pg. 28] that we can follow under God’s guidance). The last will is one which Friesen calls “the dot” that, if missed, puts us in God’s permissible will. (Friesen also disagrees with the individual will in the sense of finding exactly what God has for us to, every action and decision we make).

Part 2 is a critique of the traditional view. Part 3 is an explanation of the wisdom view. Part 4 is an application of the wisdom view (to the BIG life questions such as marriage, vocation, calling, and education).

The Chocolate Milk

Where to begin? How can I summarize a 500+ page book in a few hundred words? Besides telling you to read this book, I can’t. Regardless, Friesen points out that impressions are only impressions, and the problem is subjectivity. If you saw a car smash-up derby, which witness would you believe more, the one who saw the wreck and “can tell the speed of the car” or the one who drove behind the car and saw his speedometer was below 25 mph? One set of eyes can “tell” (subjectively), while the other can prove (objectively) by fact.

But what about the Holy Spirit’s leading? Frieson’s got that covered too. It’s called God’s moral will, and he proves it my reading the context of a number of Scriptures.

How is following God’s moral will for our lives is concrete guidance? “…God is more concerned about who we are than what we do; He focuses more on our character than our conduct. We want to know what God wants us to do; God wants us to know Him” (pg. 285). We are to be holy for God is holy, and the “law is what love would do” (pg. 119). Our moral duty is to love.

We are to live by wisdom. The Bible provides wisdom to us. The Holy Spirit gives it to us through studying our Bibles, by living in and seeing the world through our Christian worldview, by sanctified common sense, by consulting counselors, etc. We know that God orchestrates history to work all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. All things will end with God, and we can trust that He is keeping us in His consideration. We are to follow His moral law, not pray we hit the ‘dot’ and live and perform the exact actions God wants us to.

Father knows best? Yes, but what father tells his children exactly what to do in every instance, even when they are all grown up and should be able to make choices for themselves? “I know a man who at age seventy still lives with his mother, asks her permission before going out, and turns over his money to her each week…. I know other adults who continue to act like children because of smothering parents who never learned to let go. They defy a basic principle of nature: the goal of parenthood is to produce healthy adults, not dependent children” (quoting Philip Yancey, pg. 276).

Friesen never says we are independent of God in the wisdom view, but we realize His place as sovereign King in our lives and history. We continue to pray and trust in Him. When something doesn’t go our way, it doesn’t automatically mean we didn’t have enough faith, or didn’t listen close enough to His voice. He simply has another plan, and instead of whining, we had better get on board like mature adults. Life doesn’t change for us just because we don’t like it. The Father is conforming us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Spoiled Milk

No issues here.

Recommended?

This is certainly recommended. Since I’ve read both Bruce Waltke’s Finding the Will of God; A Pagan Notion? and Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something, I had a bad ‘impression’ that this would be a big book (528 pages, 423 without the Appendixes, Scripture References, and Bibliography) that I would take a long time to read and wouldn’t tell me much more than I already knew. Much to my enjoyment, I was wrong! This large book took much just under a week to read, and that was without reading hours upon hours a day. This was a pretty quick read, though it does help that I already agreed with most of Friesen’s view. And I agree with him much more after reading his book. (He points out that Waltke’s book is good, but focuses too much on our desires which, though God is changing them, are still liable to being led by our sinful flesh).

This would be a good book for those on either side of the discussion to read. Whether you agree, disagree, or are unsure, Friesen encourages you to search the scriptures to decide for yourself. All Christians will have differing opinions on something, yet we are commanded to love one another. Friesen gives allowance to the fallibility of his position, and say it will strengthen the position of the traditional view.

Yet if you are one who struggles with the traditional view, I would encourage you to grab a hold of this book, read it, search the Scriptures, and be relieved. be mature. Be responsible. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10.16).

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to Margaret at WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: Mark (S&HBC)

Mark [S&HC]

The Smyth & Helwys Commentary series seeks to bridge the gap between the insights of biblical scholar and the needs of students of God’s written word. It’s a series that seeks readability and balance, one that can be read without long, technical discussions yet can still dig into the rich resources that biblical scholarship has provided.

Attention is paid to the cultural context of the passage by looking at history, geography, ancient literature, the literature of the church fathers, politics, sociology, and more. This all brings the Bible into a more 3-dimensional view. We’re simply reading stories written in a vacuum, but the story of what God was doing through the life of Jesus in our physical and historical world. This commentary is to prep you to study Mark on your own “with greater interest and insight” [pg. 1].

Culpepper gives us Mark’s Leading Themes with the intent of opening our eyes to 5 major themes early on (Jesus’ Identity as the Son of God, the Testing of God’s Son, the Testing of Jesus’ Disciples, the Temple Not Made With Hands, the Hope of the Kingdom). This section is fantastic in it’s scope and in it’s connections.

Outline

  1. Introduction [1:1-13]
  2. The Authority of Jesus Revealed [1:14–3:6]
  3. The Authority of Jesus Rejected [3:7–6:6a]
  4. Gathering a New Community [6:6b–8:30]
  5. The Journey to Jerusalem: The Way of the Cross [8:31–10:52]
  6. The Judgment on Jerusalem [11:1–13:37]
  7. The Passion and the Resurrection [14:1–16:8]

Every chapter starts with an Introduction to the chapter. Then there’s a Commentary on each divided section. There are sidebars with varying degrees of information. Examples are:
   •   Riots during Passover
   •   The Martyrdom of James
   •   Jesus’ Brothers and Sisters
   •   The Son of Man
   •   The Messianic Son of Man

Each chapter ends with a Connections section that brings Mark’s first century meaning to our culture today: “We are to live in confidence that the seed will bear good fruit (4.1-21), and it will germinate and grow to huge proportions that people from all nations will reside in God’s kingdom. The supernatural is seen in the most natural of processes” [a brief paraphrase from chapter 4].  Connections was often helpful for bringing the text to our modern world to help with discipleship and building up the Church body in ways Mark intended.

The Chocolate Milk

Culpepper does well in looking back and forth at surrounding texts/phrases/themes Mark uses to paint a picture of Jesus’ surroundings, treatment of others, and their dealings with Him. It’s in the simple details (such as the following example) that can give you a grander scope of what Mark is doing and is trying to portray.

In speaking to the young rich ruler (Mk. 10.17-31), the rich man couldn’t let go of his possessions to follow Jesus. “Jesus had said, ‘If your hand causes you to stumble, cut if off’ (9:43), but this man would not give up his possessions” [pg. 388]. Despite God’s statement, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (9.7), the rich man, though having agreed to have kept all of the law, refused God’s command. The rich man suffered from the “impediment of ‘cares of the world and the lure of riches’ (4:19) that choke the seed sown among the thorns” [pg. 334].

Culpepper gives good attention to the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12.1-12). It’s a glimpse into Jesus’ self-understanding, and has a long history of interpretation and authenticity debates. He reconstructs the story with Luke and Matthew and looks at whether the parable is an allegory or not. He gives a well-warranted overview of the socioeconomic setting of the first century, and then elaborates on the Gospel’s story itself. Following this, he casts a keen eye on 1 Enoch and the eschatological hope that many held to become like angels in the next life (12.18-27).

The Spoiled Milk

One complaint I have about the commentary format itself was the lack of verse indicators. Each chapter had sectional subheadings to inform you on the topic and section in study (The Lesson of the Leaven and the Loaves, 8:14-21). However, since I had the PDF [CD] version it was a bit of a challenge to skim through the page to find a particular verse. For example, while the BECNT series would say 8:14-16, 8:17-20, 8:21, in this series sometimes a search became a hunt when trying to look for information on one particular verse.

Many commentaries I read didn’t give too much of a satisfactory answer to the large feedings of Jesus. One example from Culpepper show that he finds themes of the exodus wanderings and feedings in the feeding of the 4,000 [Mk. 8.1-9] (rightly so, I believe), yet I couldn’t quite grasp how the bread and fish being secondary roles to the Eucharist and how Jesus “gave thanks” (eucharistΣsas; 1 Cor. 11.24; Lk. 22.19) for the bread pointed to the Eucharist. Later (8.13) says, The eucharistic overtones are further strengthened if the reference to the boat is a symbolic allusion to the church…” [pg. 260].  However, if there is a connection to the Eucharist, I was disappointed at the lack of reasoning to what this would mean for Mark’s readers (especially with how the boat would represent the church).

And as with many commentaries, there was information I didn’t know what to do with. For example, in 10.24, Jesus refers to the disciples as children, following after the section where Jesus blesses the children (10.13-16). But aside from its placement, how the word is used in John’s writing, and how the word is translated from Greek to English here, there’s not much else of a connection.

Is Jesus saying the disciples are like the children He blessed? They’ve been arguing about prominence for three chapters now, so I don’t think that’s it. This is but a minor quibble that happens here and there, but usually not for very long.

Recommended?

Overall, this is a great commentary, especially if you’re not on a budget. It is one of the more pricy commentaries I’ve seen, perhaps the most. Yet Culpepper is an established scholar who has the ability to say a lot with little and without getting wordy. This is a much needed gift in many commentaries today.

The negative examples above are minor. Though there were times where the side information was just that (“information”), and I didn’t know what to do with it, the breadth of helpful cultural information they often gave really placed Mark’s 21st century readers into the ownership of first century eyes, something we don’t have on our own. The pictures, illustrations, maps, accompanying CD (which I think is a really good idea), and sidebars are all appreciated in helping see in Mark’s gospel what he wanted us to see in it: Jesus.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Smyth & Helwys Publishing (August 1, 2007)

[Special thanks to Smyth & Helwis Books for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus

Introduction to the Parables of Jesus

An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus is an expanded version of Robert Stein’s chapter on Jesus’ teachings of Parables in The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings (although I believe AIttPoJ came first). What are parables and why did Jesus use them? How were they interpreted? How are they supposed to be interpreted, especially when we live 2,000 years away from the culture and writing? Why couldn’t Jesus simply give the plain facts?

Robert Stein taught at Bethel Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He wrote this book to help stabilize the church’s understanding on the Gospel parables.

Outline

1. What Is a Parable? 
2. Why the Parables? 
3. Whence the Parables? 
4. How the Parables Were Interpreted
5. How the Parables Are Interpreted
6. Interpreting the Parables Today
7. The Kingdom of God as a Present Reality
8. The Kingdom of God as a Demand – The Call to Decision
9. The God of the Parables
10. The Final Judgment

Overview

What is a parable? Is it “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”? Stein believes this is only partly true. Yet actually defining a parable is much harder than one might think. “[A] parabolḗ is an illustration, a comparison, or an analogy, usually in story form, using common events of everyday life to reveal a moral or a spiritual truth” [pg. 16]. Seeking to find the meaning of a parable, Stein looks for where parabolḗ is found in the Septuagint to discover the Hebrew word is mashal [mashal -› parabolḗ -› parable] which can refer to a proverb, satire, a taunt, a riddle, a story, or an allegory.

In the New testament a parable can be in the form of a proverb, metaphor, similitude, story parable, example parable, or an allegory. Parables represent a large portion of Jesus’ teachings. “What is clear is that we possess approximately fifty sayings or stories which by any biblical understanding of the term must be called ‘parables'” [pg. 26].

Within this section Stein gives examples of each kind of parable (in the OT and NT), and also lists every parable described as a ‘parable’, where it is clearly a parable, and where it is possible it is a parable.

Stein shows the need for context in the why and where the parables were used. Jesus used parables to conceal His teachings from those outside (Mk. 4.10-12). If His own disciples didn’t understand His messiahship (Mk. 8.32), how much more would the Jewish leaders and Rome misunderstand His Messiahship? Why couldn’t Jesus give the plain facts? “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.”

Jesus concealed His parables with stories set in Galilee, in Israel, in the first century. Because we are so far removed in time, geography, and occupation (many of us don’t deal with agriculture as an occupation), a study of the parables is immensely important to us.

The Chocolate Milk

Chapters 4-6

Stein shows how the parables were, are, and should be interpreted. Although seeing six similar (and somewhat different) allegorical interpretations given to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Chapter 4 was good for seeing just how long the allegorical interpretation had effected the church. So many parables (and OT stories) were interpreted allegorically with no basis behind them. And it wasn’t really until 1888 (aside from Calvin, and sort of Luther) that there was a breakthrough in a better parabolic interpretation:

1. Seek for one main point
2. Seek for what Jesus meant in the original setting
3. Seek to understand how the [gospel’s author] interpreted the parable in his setting of life
4. Seek to understand what God is teaching us today through this parable [which should flow from having sought the answer to the first three propositions]

Chapter 7-10

Stein gets into the meat of the book: looking at the parables themselves! Among these chapters are discussion on how Jesus showed the Kingdom was a present reality in His day (which would not be fully consummated until His second coming), the pervasive mustard seed and the spreading leaven, parables showing the need for an immediate decision, the God of the parables is a loving, gracious God who seeks out sinners, yet in the end will bring a judgment to all those who reject Him.

In these chapters a parable is pulled out as an example, and Stein looks at the historical setting, the main point, the interpretation by the gospel’s author, and then gives a smaller examples of a few more parables.

The Spoiled Milk

As usual, my one complaint with Stein is this: his over-use of textual criticism in his writings. I understand it in a commentary, but in a book like this there’s much more of a struggle to read through it. Many (myself included) aren’t too concerned with the “numerous non-Lukan grammatical and vocabulary traits” [pg. 117] that a parable may or may not have. I want to know how to read and understand this parable, not how some take it to be inauthentic, why they do, and why they’re wrong.

Some people don’t think Mt. 20.16 was original to the parables pre-Matthean tradition. I’ve never been too worried about the pre-Matthean condition of parables. Stein believes the authors of the NT letters and gospels to be inspired and I do too. My concern isn’t with the authenticity of sentences based on ore-gospel traditions, but on the form that I have in my Bible now. These discussions can often take up time, space, and in the end lead back to what I originally thought. Some people might find it interesting, but I don’t, especially not for an introductory book on the parables.

Recommended?

Definitely. This book is from 1981, and it has a wealth of information in it. I’d certainly want to read an updated version of this book 33 years later! But until then, this book will have to suffice (and how it does). I have heard it said that one should teach for 30 years before teaching on the parables.

While I agree the parables can be difficult and are more than “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”, at least if you read this book you won’t have to wait 30 years to teach on them. This book won’t tell you everything you need to know about parables, but it does lay an important foundation on how to read parables and how not to read them. Stein’s book (and Stein himself) would be good to have in any teacher and students library.

Lagniappe

++++Paperback: 184 pages
++++Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1st edition (Jan 1, 1981)

[Special thanks to WJK Press for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teaching

Method and Message of Jesus' Teaching

A few weeks ago I reviewed Robert Stein’s commentary on Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. It is fantastic, and so when I received that book I knew I would have to get more books authored by Stein. One of those books is The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings; Revised Edition. This book isn’t a “tell-all” of everything Jesus did and sad, but it does introduce us into His world and way of thinking. This isn’t so much a book of cultural exploration as it is the ‘how’ (method) and ‘what’ (message) of Jesus’ teaching.

OUTLINE

I am very thankful for Stein’s work on the Gospels, particularly the Synoptics. The outline for the book is:
1. Jesus the Teacher
2. The Form of Jesus’ Teaching
3. The Parables of Jesus
4. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Kingdom of God
5. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Fatherhood of God
6. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Ethics of the Kingdom
7. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: Christology

The Chocolate Milk/Overview

Chapters 1-2

Stein looks at the emphasis on teaching the Gospel writers give Jesus. “Teacher” is used to denote Jesus 45 times, and “Rabbi” 14 times. Jesus proclaimed the divine law, gathered disciples, debated the scribes, answered questions and made propositions with authority, and supported His teaching with Scripture. What makes Jesus’ teaching so engaging (aside from the Holy Spirit) was ‘how’ Jesus taught which leads us to chapter 2.

Jesus employed overstatements (exaggeration), hyperbole, puns, similes, metaphors, proverbs, riddles, paradoxes, a fortiori arguments, irony, the use of questions, poetry, and parabolic/figurative actions (and probably more). This is an important chapter by showing that we don’t want to take everything Jesus says literally “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire….‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9.43, 48).

Jesus isn’t telling the people (and us) to actually cut their hands off, but instead “the need to remove from their lives anything that might cause them to sin. There is no sin in life worth perishing over. Better to repent of that sin, even if it is as painful as tearing out and eye or cutting off a hand, and as a result enter into the kingdom of God than to cherish that sin and be thrown into hell” [pg. 9].

On top of this Stein gives us the references to those verses where Jesus employs figurative language. Here Stein shows his immense knowledge of the Scriptures with a wealth of verses from the Synoptics, John, and from the various books remaining.

Chapter 3

Stein covers the definition and use of Jesus’ parables, along with the history of the interpretation of parables from the early church fathers to present-day. Stein shows how much of the parables were (wrongly) interpreted as allegory, and how we are to read and interpret them today:

1. Seek for one main point
2. Seek for what Jesus meant in the original setting
3. Seek to understand how the evangelist [author] interpreted the parable in his setting of life
4. Seek to understand what God is teaching us today through this parable [which should flow from having sought the answer to the first three propositions]

Stein ends the chapter with a look at a few examples of parables, how to read them, what the point is, and what it means for us 2,000 years in the future. This chapter was a condensed version of Stein’s An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus which I will be reviewing shortly.

Chapter 4

Stein moves through Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God while looking at different schools of interpretation on this Kingdom. Is the Kingdom here in full now? How much of it are we still waiting for? Is it merely an ethical correction in our hearts to make us better citizens on earth? Stein presents us four different (general) schools of thought which was helpful to see how some think of the Kingdom and how that wasn’t what Jesus was teaching. Stein takes us through the biblical arguments for Jesus teaching a now-but-not-yet Kingdom. Jesus’ coming changed history, as did His death and resurrection. To a degree the Kingdom came with Jesus, but it has not yet been fully consummated but will be when He returns.

Chapter 6

Stein does the same as Chapter 4 in showing 6 different schools of thought on the ethics of Jesus (Catholic, Utopian, Lutheran, Liberal, Interim ethic, and Existential). Again, these are generalities, but they clearly give a good overall picture of different teachings from life which I’m familiar with. Did Jesus teach an ethic for everyone, but that there is a higher ‘elite’ who can be ‘better’ and have the ‘victorious Christian life’? Or maybe His ethics were so impossible we’re supposed to see that we can’t fulfill the commands and actually reveal our depravity, leading us to call upon the mercy of God and receive His grace?

Yet Jesus ethics extend from a change in the heart, a completely new attitude. His commands are in context of loving the Father with all of your strength, and loving others as yourself. This makes Jesus a unique teacher. Much of his ethics were similar to Jewish sages of His time (similarities can be found in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha), but Jesus wants us to perform acts of love to others, even our enemies. It’s not “don’t do wrong against them”, but “do right to them.” “The ethic of Jesus is an ethic of relationship in which the nucleus is provided by the love commandment” [pg. 111].

The Spoiled Milk

My only real complaint is the amount of time (which isn’t too much) Stein does spend on textual criticism. Stein really knows his stuff! The information that he relays about textual criticism, authenticity, and form is good information. The issue is it doesn’t seem to fit with the purpose of this book which is “to understand better the form and content of Jesus’ teaching” [pg. xiii]. Perhaps it better helps us to understand the “form” in a more academic way, but it didn’t help me know much more about the method of Jesus’ teaching.

The subject of the final chapter was Jesus’ teaching on Christology. Stein explains three titles used by Jesus: Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man. All three were exceptional in their explanation of Jesus’ self-understanding and -designation of Himself. The section on the Son of Man was the longest, but much to my chagrin, it’s length was due to discussions of authenticity and textual criticism.

Recommended?

Yes. You won’t find any liberal interpretations in this book. You will gain a better overall understanding of the teachings of Jesus and a better understanding on many details of what He has said. I’d pretty much back anything by Stein (at least what I’ve read so far) and say that it’s good to go. Fortunately too, this book was written a bit more for the layman with less textual criticism than I’ve seen by him before. (Though I will say that if TC piques your interest, definitely read Stein). But regardless, this book will help define just what Jesus taught and how He went about doing that in a clear and properly biblical way.

Lagniappe

++++Paperback: 220 pages
++++Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; Rev Sub edition (Nov. 1, 1994)

[Special thanks to WJK Press for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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The Gospel According to Mark: Part VI

Mark

Mark 4 shows us a Jesus who speaks in parables. He reveals the Kingdom of God through veiled references that only insiders will understand. Not everyone who hears the word will take heed and produce fruit, but to those who do hear a response will be required of them. The arrival of Jesus has changed history. The kingdom has arrived, and it is coming. Having taught on the Kingdom of God, Mark will show Jesus performing His Kingdom authority over the created realm: nature, demons, sickness, and death.

Fear and Faith

One major theme in Mark is the distinction between Fear and Faith.
Passages on Fear: 4.16-17; 6.26, 50; 7.28; 9.32; 10.32; 11.32; 14.51-52, 66-72; 16.8
Passages on Faith: 4.20; 16.54-55; 14.3, 8, 62; 15.43
Mark 4.35-5.43 is one section where this theme holds an emphasis in each pericope.

4.35-41; Jesus Calms a Storm

Jesus tells the disciples they will cross ‘over‘ (not under) to the other side. Yet even after His kingdom parables and in seeing His miracles, a great windstorm arises and the disciples grow afraid. Verse 37 tells us of the power of this storm! The waves were breaking and the boat was filling. This storm was too big for even these experienced fishermen. Under the pressure of this tribulation, they grow afraid, similar to the persecuted soil of Mark 4.16-17?

There may be some allusions to Jonah here (Similar: Mk. 4.37, Jonah 1.4; M 4.38, J 1.5; M 4.38, J 1.6, 4, 3.9; Contrast: M 4.39 J 1.16, 10, 15), but we see Jesus as a greater Jonah, one who has faith while those on the ship throw out their faith.

In the OT the sea often symbolized the continued threat from the forces of nature against God. The sea pushes against the boundaries God has set for it [Jb. 38.8-11; Jer. 5.22 (Jesus will reference Jer. 5.21 in Mark 8.17-18)]. Here, Jesus does what only God in the OT did: command authority over the water, over nature itself!

Jesus asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They “were filled with great fear” and asked each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” In the immediate context, Jesus is the one who has power over nature. But we will see Mark go on to answer this question throughout the rest of His gospel.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

5.1-20; Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

Traveling to the country of the Gerasenes, we meet a man with unmatched power. Verses 2-5 tell us about the hopelessness of this situation: he had an unclean spirit, no one could bind him (not even with chains) for he could break them, no one could subdue him, and he cut himself with stones.

Yet the moment he sees Jesus, he runs to Him and begs Him not to torment him. But verse 9 is the clincher: this man has such great power because he is filled with a “legion” of demons. A Roman legion could measure in size up to 6,000 men. Whether this man had 6,000 demons in him, we’ll never know, but the point is that no one could help this man. The man begs that the spirits won’t be sent way, and the spirits beg to be sent to pigs. Yet Jesus sends (even gives permission) to the demons to go into pigs which run off a cliff and die.

Here fear and faith meet: the people of the town see what the King has done for this man, how He has healed him, and they are afraid. They beg Him to depart while the new man begs Jesus to allow him to follow Him. Jesus actually refuses! But for the purpose that this man can proclaim (not hide) what the King had done for this man (4.20). The King’s kingdom will grow like a mustard seed, sprouting and spreading wherever it goes only to one day reach to the ends of the earth (4.31-32). 

“…and everyone marveled.”

A  21-24; Jesus Meets Jairus

Jesus meets a synagogue ruler who shows faith by bowing and implored Jesus to heal his daughter.

B  25-34; Jesus Heals a Woman

On the way Jesus is surrounded by rush hour traffic. There was one woman in a hopeless situation. Verses 25-26 tell us she had a discharge (probably menstrual, leaving her ritually unclean [Lev. 15.19-30] for 12 years) which was so bad that not only did she spend all of the money she had, she not only grew no better, but she became worse. Not to mention the emotional and mental damage of not having contact with people for 12 years (though this would be conjecture, Mark doesn’t explicitly tell us this).

The crowds are packed around Jesus, yet He asks, “Who touched My garments?” And the disciples are so dense that they don’t see the significance of that question. they ask, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” as if Jesus is out of His mind.

Looking around, the woman falls before Jesus in fear and trembling. She tells Him the whole truth, and so does He.
++·   He calls her “Daughter.’” Because of her faith, this woman who was unclean for 12 years is now in the family of God. She is a sister to Jesus [3.34-35].
++·   He commends her faith, “Your faith has made you well”
++·   He tells her to “go in peace”; a peace that is divine, she is a daughter of God
++·   “Be healed of your disease”;  he gives both her and the crowd the assurance that her healing has taken place, and it is permanent.

Jesus shows his authority over the illness that has come from Adam’s sin.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

A’  35-43; Jesus Heals a Daughter

While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, a man from Jairus’ house runs up to the synagogue leader and tells him now to trouble the Teacher any further for his daughter is dead. Jesus overheard and ignored what the man said, but tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe [have faith].”

The mourners in the house mock Jesus [15.29-32], but He puts them out of the house. He speaks to the little girl in her language, and she wakes up. Though she was actually dead, Jesus speaks as if she is only napping (‘sleep’ as a euphemism for death; 1 Cor. 15.6, 18, 51; 1 Thess. 4.13-15). Soon enough Jesus will be vindicated when the mockers see the girl has woken up, just as He will be vindicated before the mockers when God’s approval of Jesus is shown at His resurrection [16.6]. He charges them not to tell anyone about this, but this lamp cannot be hidden under a basket for much longer (4.21-22). 

“Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

Jesus has shown His authority over the elements of creation: nature, demons, illness, and death. Even in the most impossible of situations, whether it be a flooded boat, a strong man who can’t be bound [3.27], an illness that can’t be healed, or death itself, the King has all authority and all must obey. And those who have the choice to follow or fall away, He encourages them to have faith. In the most difficult of trials, have faith because Jesus is the King of kings.

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