Contemporary Portrayals of Jesus: Part 1

What do you know about Jesus? Who was he? A good man? A prophet? Who is he to you? A controversial figure? A Saviour?

I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, and Charles Quarles, curtesy of Chris at B&H Academic.

In Chapter 3, “Jesus and the Relationship Between the Gospels,” the authors discuss some Contemporary Challenges to the New Testament Portrayal of Jesus. If you read the newspaper, watch the news, or, God forbid, the tabloids, you’ve most likely seen an array of Jesus figures, many of which become part of our urban legends that we imagine when we (or the populace around us) think about Jesus.

But it’s not only public opinion, fancy novels, and conspiracy theorists that give a false shape to the picture of Jesus, but many New Testament scholars partake in fanciful imagery. Kostenberger (who I’ll refer to as the main author) and the gang give us eight examples of different pictures of Jesus, two of which actually follow what the New Testament says.

1. The Traveling Cynic Philosopher


F. G. Downing, B. Mack, and J. D. Crossan

The Proposed Jesus:

  • Preached and practiced a radical egalitarianism
    • His preaching abolished all social hierarchies and distinctions
  • The kingdom of God has no human broker
    • A relationship with God requires no human mediator
    • All have direct and equal access to God
  • Jesus’ death did not accomplish atonement for sin.
  • Jesus was tragically crucified because he threatened to destroy the temple,
    • the seat of Jewish hierarchical authority
  • Jesus’ agenda was not spiritual, but social
  • His parables and teachings taught more about human equality than about sin, judgment, forgiveness, or his own identity.


However, Crossan dismissed much of the material found in the canonical Gospels, which he viewed as subpar to noncanonical sources. However, “his favourite sources are either late revisions of material from the canonical Gospels, speculations about Jesus from second-century Christians, or even outright forgeries” (118).

2. The Charismatic Faith Healer


M. Borg and G. Vermes

The Proposed Jesus:

  • Had visionary-mystical experiences of God
  • Functioned as a channel of God’s power for others
    • This ‘god’ was more of an impersonal force than a personal deity
  • Jesus had ‘’too much compassion’’ for others to demand moral purity (118)

Kostenberger quotes Borg as saying,

“God does not refer to a supernatural being ‘out there.’… God refers to the sacred at the center of existence, the holy mystery that is all around us and within us. God is the non-material ground and source and presence in which… ‘we live and move and have our being.’”

Vermes depicted Jesus as

  • A Galilean holy man
  • He performed miracles
  • He operated outside the proper channels of normal religious authority
  • Jesus healed the sick and conquered the forces of evil in individuals


Vermes emphasized similarities between Jesus and Hanina ben Dosa and Honi the Circle Drawer, two holy men described in the Talmuds. However, mistakenly emphasized the similarities and ignored important differences. Any and all supernatural activity from Jesus is denied.

3. The Apocalyptic Prophet


E. P. Sanders and M. Casy

Sander’s Proposed Jesus:

‘’…[A]n apocalyptic prophet who expected the climax of human history during his lifetime or shortly after his death’’ (119)

  • He prepared for God’s judgment by offering unconditional forgiveness not requiring repentance
  • Jesus’ miracles were simply cures of
    • psychosomatic illnesses
    • intentional deceptions
    • sometimes mysterious manipulations of natural causes
  • He did not experience any serious conflict with the Pharisees

Casey’s Proposed Jesus:

  • Believing the climax would occur within his lifetime, Jesus urged the lost sheep of Israel to prepare for the final judgment by repenting of their sins
  • He experienced serious conflict with the Pharisees who tried to impose strict purity regulations on Galilean Jews
  • He foresaw his own death which procured atonement for Israel, not as a messianic figure, but more like the Maccabean martyrs


Sanders and Casey rightly place Jesus within a first century context, but they minimize much of the Gospel’s data. They saw Jesus as being so similar to his Jewish contemporaries that they, like the proponents of the views we’ve seen so far, don’t adequately explain why Jesus was crucified.

4. The Social Reformer


G. Theissen, R. A. Horsley, R. D. Kaylor

The Proposed Jesus (and His Followers):

  • Renounced possessions and family ties
  • Embraced homelessness
  • Founded a peace party seeking to do away with violent revolts popular among Jewish movements
  • Encouraged non-retaliation
  • Was convinced the end was near
  • When the kingdom of Godwas established,
    • the poor would become wealthy
    • the weak, strong
    • the least, the greatest


These scholars overlook the spiritual dimension of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. Jesus viewed himself as the Messiah, and was not concerned with a radical social or political change over.

Next Time

Not to overflow your brain-cup, I’ll end here. Next time we’ll look at the last four views and some concluding thoughts:

5. The Feminist Jesus
6. The Sage
7. A Marginal Jew
8. The Risen Messiah

The OT in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Last time we looked at an example of the OT in Mark’s telling of Jesus cleansing the Temple and his implied spoken judgment of the Temple leaders (you can read it here). This example came from Richard Hays’ new book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Hays gives us two examples from the Gospel of Mark:

  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple and Curses the Fig Tree (Mark 11:15-19)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12)

The Synoptics and Thomas

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is seen in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 12:1-12; Mt 21:33-46; Lk 20:9-19). Interestingly enough, when set side by side with the Gospel of Thomas, the pseudo-Gospel is lacking many of the OT allusions seen in the Synoptics.

The Gospel of Thomas 65-66

(65) He said, “There was a good man who owned a vineyard. He leased it to tenant farmers so that they might work it and he might collect the produce from them. He sent his servant so that the tenants might give him the produce of the vineyard. They seized his servant and beat him, all but killing him. The servant went back and told his master. The master said, ‘Perhaps he did not recognize them.’ He sent another servant. The tenants beat this one as well. Then the owner sent his son and said, ‘Perhaps they will show respect to my son.’ Because the tenants knew that it was he who was the heir to the vineyard, they seized him and killed him. Let him who has ears hear.”

(66) Jesus said, “Show me the stone which the builders have rejected. That one is the cornerstone.”

It would be good to compare this version with one (or all) of the versions seen in the Synoptic Gospels, but for our purposes here I’ll compare it to Mark’s version.

Mark 12:1-12

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower [Isa 5:2], and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son [Gen 22:2; Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1].

Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him [Gen 37:20], and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’? [Ps 118.22-23]”

And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

The pseudo-gospel lacks OT allusions such as:

  • the planting and preparation of the vineyard, recalling Isaiah’s song of the vineyard (Isa 5:1-7)
  • the reference to the vineyard owner’s son as being a “beloved son” (recalling Gen 22:2; Ps 2:7; cf. Isa 42:1)
  • the tenants’ declaration “Come, let us kill him” (a verbatim citation of Joseph’s brothers in the LXX, Gen 37.20)
  • the concluding citation of Ps 118:22-23 which declares that the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone

In Context

While some scholars think Thomas’ version is more historically accurate, it actually takes the parable out of it’s Jewish historical setting, tearing it from the cultural and religious setting in which Jesus lived. Our canonical readings want us not to recognize only the allusion to Isaiah 5.2, but to read further ahead to what comes next in v7:

Isaiah 5.7

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

In the beginning of the parable the reader can already see that this is a word of augment to Israel’s leadership. They have failed to yield good fruit to the Lord, the rightful owner. Instead they have stolen the fruit for themselves.

Identifying Jesus as the “beloved son” (Mk 12:6; Lk 20:13) links him both to Isaac (the beloved son who was called upon to be sacrificed by his father Abraham) and to the Davidic king (the beloved son whose kingly ruled is proclaimed in Ps 2.7-9). The death of Christ is not the result of a tragic misuse of power and violence, a poor soul who was given the wrong lot. His death will have saving significance for Israel, and for the whole world.

Ps 118.22-23

That Jesus’ death with have saving significance is confirmed by the use of Ps 118.22-23, which looks forward to the resurrection of God’s saving act:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

Joseph was put into the pit due to the raucous jealousy of his brothers. Yet he was rescued from that same pit and eventually exalted to a position of power, just under the Pharaoh. In this position Joseph was ultimately able to save his people from an untimely death.

Is There Meaning to be Found?

In contrast to the Synoptics, the Gospel of Thomas gives us a colorless, dull version left open to be read however the reader may choose. “Thomas” makes it into a gnostic message, detaching the reader from the “evil of the world.” Yet the ultimate true meaning is lost to the reader.

The Evangelists [the Gospel writers] don’t want us to avoid pain. They want to know that Jesus went through the pain, the suffering, and the judgment for us. And he did it to save us from this world. Who is the “authentic caretaker and heir of Israel’s traditions”? Jesus is. Who has the authority to read and interpret Scripture? Is it the scribes and the Pharisees? No, it’s Jesus.

“The parable thereby places the story of Jesus within the unfolding story of Israel and presents his death as the climax of a pattern of unfaithfulness and judgment familiar to any reader of Israel’s prophetic literature. The pattern is as old as the story of Joseph’s resentful brothers” (p 12).

Significance in Mark

Jesus tells a parable to the religious establishment of Jerusalem to point out to them who he is and how evil they are. Even in telling them that he is the beloved son, the Kingly Davidic king who will rule, we see their evil hearts. Rather than bowing down to worship him, they leave him only to come back and test him in effort to trap him in his words. They are like Joseph’s brothers who hate hearing that he will rule over them. They think the landowner isn’t paying attention, yet when he looks (Isa 5.7), instead of finding justice and righteousness, he finds bloodshed. And now, the blood of his own Son, however, it is shed for his own people.

The builders have rejected this stone, yet he will be come the chief cornerstone. The work God does in resurrecting Christ will be marvelous before the eyes of all. He will be the beautiful King set high above all thrones, rulers, and principalities, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

Significance for Us

Again, reading the Bible is reading the tip of an iceberg. The Gospel writers carefully show how Jesus lives out the life that Israel was supposed to live, one of love, justice, and righteousness. Yet, because they didn’t live this way, he comes down to live it for us, to die a wrongful death, yet in doing so saves the lives of those, even the religious establishment, who believe.

Jesus words have deep meaning packed into them. They are spoken to bring images to mind and a profound meaning to who he is.Reading and understanding this deepens our understanding of the Bible as a whole, and ought to give us a greater love for our Lord, the King. The King who loves. The King who died. The King who lives and reigns.

The OT in Mark’s Cleansing of the Temple

I was given the chance to read Richard Hays’ new book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. I found it a very compelling look at how the Gospels teach us how read the OT, and how the OT shows us how to read those very same Gospels. Christ is pre-figured in the OT, and he lives out Israel’s history as the Second Adam, the perfect man. Hays gives us two examples from the Gospel of Mark (the first seen in this post, the second in the next):

  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple and Curses the Fig Tree (Mark 11:15-19)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12)

Christ’s Prophetic Action in the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.


In the first 10 verses the long-awaited Son of David makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people cry, “Hosanna!” yet when he enters the temple, none of the religious leaders greet this King. In v11, Jesus looks around, leaves, and goes to Bethany.

In vv 1214 Jesus curses a fig tree because it had produced no fruit. We will see in vv 20-21 that the tree has withered away. This sandwich tells a great deal about the purpose of Jesus’ cleansing in vv 15-19.

A House of Prayer

In Mk 11.17, Mark fuses OT texts from Isaiah and Jeremiah.

And he was teaching them and saying to them,
“Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

The first quotation comes from Isaiah 56:7, which belongs to Isaiah’s vision of a restored Jerusalem to whom God’s deliverance has been revealed (56:1). One special feature of this redemption is that both Jews and Gentiles will come to Mount Zion to worship God.

Isaiah 56.7-8

these [foreigners] I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

“I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

In scatting this portion of Scripture, Jesus indicts the temple authorities for allowing the Temple to be turned into a market, turning the court of the Gentiles (which shouldn’t have been there in the first place) to be too cluttered and busy to be a house of prayer. Jesus is clearing the Temple for all people, even Gentiles, to be able to worship God.

As a contrast, instead of composing God’s house into one of prayer, they have made His house “a den of robbers.” This brings thoughts of Jer 7:1-8:3. In this passage, “God instructs Jeremiah to ‘stand in the gate of the Lord’s house’ and deliver a scathing denunciation and prophecy of destruction” (p 8).

A Den of Robbers

Jeremiah 7:3-4, 9-11a

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’…

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?

Jeremiah’s oracle ends with a declaration that the Lord has every intention to destroy the very temple (7:13-15) they put their arrogant confidence in. No doubt, when Jesus storms into the Temple, overturning tables and chairs in the process, his words would invoke the understanding of Jeremiah’s wider context, his criticism and his prophecy of a future temple destroyed (later prophesied in Mk 13:1-2).

Jesus’ actions both inside and outside of the Temple were demonstrations of it’s future end. His cursing the fig tree frames his cleansing of the Temple. It is a live-action parable of the coming judgment on the Temple. What was supposed to bring forth fruit can only provide empty, withered branches. This scene echoes Jeremiah 8:13

When I would gather them, declares the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”

“Just as Jeremiah had spoken of Israel as unfruitful, withered fig tree, Jesus performs a symbolic tree-withering act that prefigures the fate of Israel – or, at least, of the Temple. Just as Jeremiah condemned the prophets and priests who spoke false deceptive words of peace and comfort while practicing injustice and idolatry, so Jesus takes up the mantle of Jeremiah to condemn the Temple establishment once again” (p 9-10).

Significance in Mark

In this we see the full significance of Jesus’ action in the Temple. He’s not simply denouncing their greedy business practices, that rather than being a witness to the Gentiles they’re stealing their money. But the leaders in charge of God’s chosen people, those who were to be holy as God was holy, had wholly and completely pushed God out of the life, mind, and actions and are living just like the world they are to be separate from.

Rather than worshiping God, and rather than being a light to others to worship God, they are as unjust as the faulty leaders who they read about daily in their own Scriptures.

The Lord would gather them, but what would he receive in return? Empty, dead, rotten, branches, which as a result will be burned. Just as before, the leaders still have not been doing their job. In fact, we will see just what they were doing in the next post on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Significance for Us

Reading the Gospels (and all of the Bible) is reading the tip of an iceberg. There is much meaning packed into what they say. This post may be a bit long, but it shows a bit of just how much goes into two phrases that come from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t use his words lightly, but what he says has an intended, important meaning. It is important to read Jesus words and see what they mean in the immediate context, but also in the way they allude to the OT. The statements are not taken out of context, but have a meaning to them. Reading and understanding this deepens our understanding of the Bible as a whole, and ought to give us a greater love for our Lord, that He desires holiness because he has graciously saved us from sin and death that we might no longer live for ourselves but for Him…who died and was raised (2 Cor 5.15).

Questions on Mark 13

Jesus, Temple, Son of Man

In an unsuspecting turn of events, I’m posting on a book I’m not reviewing. For some, you might be thinking the twist is that I’m writing anything at all (or maybe that’s just what I feel like). Christmas time has come and gone, and one book that has remained was Robert Stein’s Jesus, the Temple, and the Coming Son of Man, a Commentary on Mark 13.

Stein’s goal is “to understand what the author of Mark sought to teach his readers by the Jesus traditions that he chose to include in this chapter [Mark 13], his arrangement of these traditions and his editorial work in the recording of this material” (p 45). Essentially, why did Mark place this chapter here, what does it teach Mark’s audience, and what does it teach us.

Mark 13 is the Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24. As with anything in the Bible, especially the Olivet Discourse, there are difficulties for those of us today who seek to find the meaning of the original text. In Mark 13.4, the disciples ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Some of the questions the reader faces are [p 18]:

  • In 13.6 did Jesus mean that false teachers would come claiming to be him (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ) or the Jewish messiah longed for by non-Christian Jews?
  • Was the prophecy of 13.10 fulfilled already in apostolic times (cf. Paul’s statements in Rom 16.26 and Col 1.6, 23 that the gospel had become known “to all nations”), or does it still await its fulfillment?
  • What does Jesus mean by the “abomination of desolation” in 13.14. and does his/its appearance involve the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 or the future coming of the Son of Man?
  • Is the language of 13.24-27 to be understood literally or figuratively? Is Jesus using this imagery in the same manner as the Old Testament prophets (cf. Is 13.9-11; Jer 4.23-28; Ezek 32.5-8; etc) – that is, metaphorically?
  • Does Jesus teach in 13.24 that his return as the Son of Man would occur immediately after the fall of Jerusalem in 13.14-23?
  • What does Jesus mean by “this generation” in 13.30, and was he wrong in his prediction?
  • How do Jesus’ other sayings on this subject, such as Mk 8.34-38 and Mt 25.1-46, and the additional comments we find in parallel accounts (Mt 24.1-51 and Lk 21.5-36) help us understand Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13?

Yet, what we can ascertain at least is this [p 33]:

  • The temple and the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed in the lifetime of the disciples.
  • Wars, natural disasters, false prophets and messianic pretenders would arise, but these were neither signs nor immediate precursors of the temple’s destruction but part of the natural order of things.
  • The followers of Jesus would face persecution and, either through or despite this, spread the gospel to all nations.
  • In their persecution the Holy spirit would be with them and aid them in their defense.
  • An “abomination of desolation” would precede Jerusalem’s destruction, and the believing community should take this as a sign to the flee the city immediately.
  • The Son of Man would come fro heaven and gather his elect from throughout the world.
  • No one knows the time of his return but God alone, and as a result believers should live a life prepared fro his arrival.

The exegetical basis for Stein’s conclusions can be found in chapters three to seven in his book. I used Stein’s commentary when I co-taught through Mark last spring, but I’m really looking forward to see what other insights Stein brings in this commentary. Hopefully there’s some new stuff in there. From what I’ve seen so far though, it’s pretty easy to read with no redaction criticism to be found.

Who Took Verse 4 Out of My Bible?


Thanks to Lexham Press, I was able to read Michael Heiser’s I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible on Logos. While teaching at a Bible College, Heiser was challenged not to bore his students with the Bible. Truly understanding the Bible means digging into it, not simply reading it. While reading it is certainly important, studying it on your own time brings more understanding, growth, maturity to your life. One thing is for certain, according to Heiser, “If it’s weird, it’s important.” I would conclude that ‘weird’ is a broad term, meaning that if the Bible says anything that is outside of your Christianity 101 knowledge, it’s weird, thus, important.

John 5.1-9

Take, for instance, the story of the blind, paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda. It’s a story your likely to be familiar with but there’s something you may not have noticed before (depending on your translation).

1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”  

If you don’t notice anything too out of the ordinary, count the verses from the beginning and see what you can find. Odds are you’ll quickly realize that verse 4 is missing! Heresy!? Should we now throw away our NIV and ESV Bibles (and our NSRV, CEV, NLT, and NET versions)?

No, no. It’s not heresy.

The translations mentioned above simply don’t put verse 4 in the Bibles. NASB and NCV place the verse inside brackets, and KJV and NKJV treat the verse normally right along with the rest. In case your version doesn’t have the verse, the omitted words read: “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted” (John 5.4, NASB).

So Why is John 5.4 in Some Bibles and Not in Others?

There is a disagreement between manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. I’m not going to get into anything technical here, and neither does Heiser, so don’t stop reading now. The omitted verse of John 5.4 is not found in the earliest and most accurate manuscripts of John’s gospel. Textual critics (scholars who make a careers of comparing manuscripts, and, yes, there are conservative ones too), “have discovered that in roughly two dozen manuscripts scribes put asterisk marks at the verse to warn the next scribe who would copy the manuscript that the verse was likely not original” (p 136). Most likely it was added by a scribe for whatever reason and then left in the text, though marked as unoriginal.

So What’s the Significance?

The problem with the story isn’t the angel. The Bible has plenty of stories with angels. The problem is the superstition surrounding angels (just like how, today, many are superstitious of black cats. Yet it doesn’t matter the color of the cat. Black cats, white cats, speckled cats, they all taste the same).

The idea that an angel stirred the waters at a given time during the year was one such superstition. John 5:7 mentions the stirring of the water but does not mention the angel. It’s likely that John knew of the belief about the waters of Bethesda but chose to leave it out for a specific reason. Perhaps he does not wish to endorse that an angel was stirring the water. By excluding the popular belief about the angel, John focuses his readers on the healer who was indeed present—Jesus” (p 137).

What Can We Learn?

Not stopping with the facts, Heiser moves to give practical application, even on such a trivial matter as this.

  1. We ought to train ourselves to read the Bible closely. If we can miss something so clear as a verse number, what else might we be missing?
  2. It pays to compare Bible versions. Why does the NKJV say this when ESV says that? How does the NLT and NIV differ on a particular verse? Why do we have The Message at all? By looking at the wording of another translation we will often see something we’ve missed in a text we’ve read 100 times.
  3. Our preaching and teaching should have a secure footing in the text. “God moved people to spend their lives transmitting the biblical text; the least we can do is pay close attention” (p 137).

No matter what you think about textual criticism, Christians can and do disagree on this issue. We may disagree with the method, but we should not attack the character of those with whom we disagree with. We all want to know the original wording of the Bible, and issues like these should be discussed with grace, respect, and love.

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

This week I taught chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians. In light of verse 21 (along with 4.14, 16-18, 5.1-10, 17; Isa. 52.13-53.12), I find this hymn fitting.

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

By: Berlin

Jesus Christ, my sure defense
And my Savior, now is living!
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope here given
Though the night of death be fraught
Still with many an anxious thought.

Jesus, my redeemer, lives;
Likewise I to life shall waken.
He will bring me where he is;
Shall my courage then be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the head
Rise and leave his members dead?

No, I am too closely bound
By my hope to Christ forever;
Faith’s strong hand the rock has found,
Grasped it, and will leave it never;
Even death now cannot part
From its Lord the trusting heart.

I am flesh and must return
To the dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern
That from death I will awaken
With my Savior to abide
In his glory, at his side.

Then these eyes my Lord will know,
My redeemer and my brother;
In his love my soul will glow
I myself and not another!
Then the weakness I feel here
Will forever disappear.

Then take comfort and rejoice,
For his members Christ will cherish
Fear not, they will hear his voice;
Dying, they will never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.

Oh, then, draw away your hearts
From all pleasures base and hollow.
Strive to share what he imparts
While you here his footsteps follow.
As you now still wait to rise,
Fix your hearts beyond the skies.


Hymn # 266 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Johann Cruger
Tune: Jesus, Meine Zuversicht
1st Published in: 1653

A Good Law?

Sumerian Prayer

This semester I’ve been reading through Daniel Block’s How I Love Your Torah, O Lord: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy. His first chapter “The Grace of Torah” really caught my eye. Block interprets “the Torah of YHWH” as the book of Deuteronomy, and this book is a guide to help us live in light of the Torah, Deuteronomy.

For many of us, when we think of the studying Torah, the Law, or Deuteronomy, our first inclination isn’t to think “FUN!” It’s usually instead, “Great…..another snoozefest of hearing about laws we don’t need to keep.” What is there to enjoy about a list of Do’s-and-Don’t’s? Why can’t we simply be free? We’re under grace now. What are we doing trying to put this yoke of bondage back onto us?

What Mean These Laws?

In Deut. 6.20, Moses asks his listeners an important question. “When your sons ask you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the covenant stipulations and the ordinances and the laws that YHWH our God has commanded you?’…” (Block’s translation). the idea behind this question is one posed for every day life: your children will ask questions about what God has done. How will you answer them?

Moses’ First Answer

“Moses stated that knowledge of the will of God is the supreme privilege of the covenant people of God” (pg. 5, author’s emphasis).

  1. In Deut 4.1-8, Moses tells the people that what he says (prescribed by YHWH) is “normative and canonical by definition (vv1-2)” (pg. 6).
  2. Obedience to the Torah was the key to life (vv3-4).
  3. “Knowledge of the Torah was the highest privilege imaginable” (pg. 8) [vv5-8].
    • Deut 4.6-7 doesn’t say, “You must keep the commandments and do them, for that is your duty and obligation in the sight of the people who, when they hear all these ordinances, will say, ‘Surely this unfortunate nation is a sorrowful and burdened people’” (pg. 8).

Sumerian Prayer

Now what I really want to get at with this post: To understand the significance of the Torah to God’s people, a nation of kings and priests (Ex 19.6), we have to look at what the surrounding nations in that culture were experiencing in their religious contexts. To show how significant the Torah was, I’ll relay a Sumerian prayer from the second millennium (2000-1000 BC).

This prayer is repetitious, but it gets to the point of how confused other people and cultures were in their vague and ambiguous religions.

“May the fury of my lord’s heart by quieted toward me.
May the god who is not known be quieted toward me;
May the goddess who is not known be quieted toward me.
May the god whom I know or do not know be quieted toward me;
May the goddess whom I know or do not know be quieted toward me.
May the heart of my god be quieted toward me;
May the heart of my goddess be quieted toward me.
May the god [who has become angry with me] be quieted toward me;
May the goddess [who has become angry with me] be quieted toward me;
[Lines 11-18 cannot be restored with certainty.]
In ignorance I have eaten that forbidden of my god;
In ignorance I have set foot on that prohibited by my goddess.
O Lord, my transgressions are many; great are my sins.
O my god, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins.
O my goddess, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins.
O god, whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins;
O goddess, whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins.
The transgression that I have committed, indeed I do not know;
The sin that I have done, indeed I do not know.
The forbidden thing that I have eaten, indeed I do not know;
The prohibited (place) on which I have set foot, indeed I do not know.
The lord in the anger of his heart looked at me;
The god in the rage of his heart confronted me;
When the goddess was angry with me, she made me become ill.
The god whom I know or do not know has oppressed me;
The goddess whom I know or do not know has places suffering upon me.
Although I am constantly looking for help, no one takes me by the hand;
When I weep they do not come to my side.
I utter laments, but no one hears me;
I am troubled;
I am overwhelmed;
I cannot see.
O my god, merciful one, I address to you the prayer.
“Ever incline to me”;
I kiss the feet of my goddess;
I crawl before you.
[Lines 41-49 are mostly broken and cannot be restored with certainty.]
How long, O my goddess, whom I know or do not know, before your hostile heart will be quieted?
Man is dumb; he knows nothing;
Mankind, everyone that exists – what does he know?
Whether he is committing sin or doing good, he does not even know.
O my lord, do not cast your servant down;
He is plunged into the waters of a swamp; take him by the hand.
The sin I have done, turn into goodness;
The transgression that I have committed let the wind carry away;
My many misdeeds strip off like a garment.
Oh my god, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my transgressions;
O my goddess, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my transgressions;
O god whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my transgressions;
O goddess whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my transgressions.
Remove my transgressions (and) I will sing your praise.
May your heart, like the heart of a real mother, be quieted toward me;
Like a real mother (and) a real father may it be quieted toward me” (pg.8-10).

This man had a keen sense of sin. He had an awareness of ultimate accountability. He expresses greater enlightenment than most in the west today. Yet Block tells us there were three insurmountable problems:

  1. He didn’t know which god he had offended.
  2. He didn’t know what the offense was.
  3. He didn’t know what it would take to satisfy the god or gods.

But unlike the other nations, YHWH revealed Himself to His people on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19. He showed His mighty deeds through plaguing Egypt ten times, by leading His people through the split Red Sea, by demolishing the gods of Egypt along with the greatest army on earth, and by providing the grumbling people with water, manna, and quail. Now He provides them with His law so that they know Who is in charge (Ex. 20.2-3, 4-17), what is required of them, and what do do when sin occurs (Lev. 1-7).

YHWH hears his people when they cry (Ex. 3.7) and when they call (Deut. 4.7).

Moses’ Second Answer

To keep this brief, “Obedience to the will of God is the supreme delight of the covenant people of God…The primary motive for an Israelite’s life was not a system of rules but the knowledge of the salvation YHWH wrought on their behalf by His mighty power and grace” (pg. 11).

They were to obey in faith, awaiting the fateful day when the Seed of the woman, the Messiah, would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3.15) and deliver the sinful world back to (or into) the orderly, good creation it was supposed to be (Rom. 8.20-23).

Honor Culture in the Gospels

So, as promised and in much “quicker (?)” time than my Introducing the Apocrypha posts [1 and 2], here is the second part of my Honor and Shame series. 

David deSilva’s The Hope of Glory takes a glance at how the New Testament authors sought to change the behaviors and social interactions of honor-sensitive people. What is an honor-sensitive person? It’s someone who wanted to have honor for themselves and for their community. They wanted to have a good name for themselves and for their family and local community. 

The “Head” of Honor Culture

When someone was the head of the home, a tribe, or a group of people, they were the honorable authority. They carried the responsibility for caring for the group, and they were to be honored. 

Along with that, even the physical head was honored. Kings wore crowns on it, and priests were anointed with oil on it. It was a physical representation of honor granted to the recipient. On the other hand, dishonor was brought through slapping (Mt. 5:39), striking (Mk 15:19), and beheading (Mk 6:25-29). 

The Sanhedrin slaps, strikes, and spits on Jesus’ face (Mt. 26:65-68). The Roman soldiers give Him a mock “crowning”, mock prostration, and more strikes to the face (Mt. 27:27-31). 

Another dishonor, a huge dishonor, was crucifixion. “Corporeal punishment, such as flagellation or crucifixion, is an act of degradation imposed upon the body, a token of the lack of esteem in which criminals, who are so punished, are held.” (p. 13). 

Yet, though this is the most dishonorable of acts, the Gospels promote the innocence, justice, and courage of Jesus all throughout. Jesus’ opponents are the most dishonorable, being presented as envious (Mk 15:10), plotting to kill Jesus by trickery and deception (Mk 14:1, 10-11), and bearing false witness in court in order to deem Him guilty (Mk. 14:56-59). 

However, Jesus was not a character of a misfortunate circumstance. The passion predictions (16:21-23; 17:9-12, 22-23; 20:17-19) show that His trial, torture, and death were not a surprise.  His death was intentional. More than that, it was noble. In fact, it was “voluntarily accepted and enacted for the benefit of others” (p. 46). 

From as early as Matthew 1:21, we see that it was Jesus’ purpose to save His people from sin. Jesus said He came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28), and His blood is of the new covenant which will be shed for the remission of sins (Mt. 26:27-28).

The betrayal of Judas and the envious plottings of the Jewish leaders came as no surprise to Jesus. He knew how His life would end, He knew it’s how it should end, and He knew it was meant for others. 

Matthew records signs at both the beginning of Jesus’ life and at the end, signs which enhance the honor and significance of His death. Yet of all the signs, God gives the final and ultimate  “response” to the “challenge” of Jesus’ enemies (Mt. 27:43; Mk 15:31-32) through the resurrection. And it was through the resurrection that God gave Jesus the name above every name (Phil. 2:9). 

Jesus came to set things straight from society’s skewed views of honor. What they saw as great was not, and what was not was. Jesus came to turn that around (Mt. 20:24-28) in serving one another. Matthew heavily emphasizes forgiveness. It is underscored in the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9-15), the parable of the forgiven and ungrateful servant (Mt. 18:23-35), and in the afore-mentioned “slap across the face” instance where, instead of slapping back, one turns the other cheek.  

When someone slaps you across the face as a “challenge-response,” why should you forgive them? That’s not the “response” that would advocate honor in this honor-hungry society. But it is the response that Jesus calls us to make. The response that flies in the face of society’s expectations. Jesus, the same King who forgave us an enormous debt (Mt. 18:24-27) and expects us to forgive others of their minuscule debts (Mt. 18:28). The same King who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). The same King who endured the torture, the shame, the mocking, and crucifixion for the joy that was set before Him (Heb 12:2) to sit at the right hand of the Father. 

He calls us to forgive, to go against society’s shaming tactics, and to love our neighbor, for when we arrive at the end of the race, when we’ve made it through all of the trials and difficulties that life chucks at us, we will hear, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 Jn. 3:2). 

Introducing the Apocrypha, Pt. II

I figured it was about time I would close my Introducing the Apocrypha post with its sequel. My first post was on the history of the Apocryphal writings and how they developed and affected Jewish readers in the NT times. Now I will work to show how aware the NT authors were of the Apocryphal books. [If you’re wondering why I’m writing posts about Apocryphal writings, then you should at least read the beginning of Pt. I].


First off, the NT never cites the Apocrypha as Scripture. When quoting OT Scripture, there’s usually some formula like “as it is written,” “as the Spirit says,” “as the Scripture says,” or simply the word “for.” The NT authors never treat the Apocrypha like they do the Hebrew canon (the Old Testament).

While they might not quote the Apocrypha, there does seem to be paraphrases and allusions to it, (though, because of the nature of paraphrase and allusion, one can’t fully prove the NT author is drawing from the Apocrypha itself). 

1. Jesus and Ben Sira

Ben Sira was a Jewish sage in Jerusalem, and his work was well known to first- and second-century rabbis. It would seem that those ministering in Palestine would have some familiarity with Ben Sira’s works.

In Matthew 6:12, 14-15, Jesus emphasis in the Lord’s prayer that our forgiving other people’s sins goes hand-in-hand with God forgiving us of our sins. Ben Sira said it like this,

“Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done”
and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
Does anyone harbor anger against another,
and expect healing from the Lord?
If one has no mercy toward another like himself,
can he then seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sir. 28:2-4)

Now does this mean Jesus plagiarized?
Negative, Ghost Rider. It helps to show that some of Jesus’ highest ideals were not in opposition to the Jewish wise guys, but instead were in line with their own beliefs. Jesus wasn’t saying anything out of the ordinary. They wouldn’t start to oppose Jesus for His words, for they believed the very same thing.

2. James and Ben Sira

James, the brother of Jesus, was stationed in Jerusalem for most of his ministry. He also appears to be familiar with Ben Sira. James’ epistle resembles the wisdom collection of an OT book more than any of the other NT books. It’s said by some to be the Ecclesiastes of the NT. “[T]he author no doubt enjoyed a broad acquaintance with Jewish wisdom tradition” (p. 24).

The impossibility for God to tempt human beings to sin, as James says in chapter 1 of his letter, again alludes to Ben Sira’s writings.

James 1:13-14

“No one, when tempted, should say, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and He himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.”

Ben Sira

“Do not say, ‘It was the Lord’s doing that I fell away’:
for he does not do what he hates.
Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray’;
for he has no need of the sinful.” (Sir. 15:11-12; cf. 15:20)

For both sets of people, how do we solve the problem on how temptation exists in world ruled by a God who is righteous and omnipotent? “By distancing God as the cause or source of any evil and placing the responsibility squarely on the individual person” (p. 24).

Again, James’ readers would probably be familiar (more than we are) with this way of thinking and that the idea of a un-tempting God can also be found in Ben Sira’s writings.

Why would this be anything special? 

Again, James isn’t the first person to come up with the idea of the God who does not tempt. The problem of evil and temptation has been an issue for millennia (just read Judg. 11:29-40; 2 Kings 6:26-29; Job 24; Ps. 10; 42-43; Jer. 12:1-4; Hab. 1:1-4. It’s everywhere!), and James is not the first person to deal with it. He is not spouting something new, some novel idea to get God off the hook. Ben Sira’s writings are made some 200-300 years before James wrote his letter. The people could look back and agree that God is not the one who tempts. But what James does add is the target of blame: yourself. If it is not God to blame, then who is? Simply look in the mirror.

3. Paul and the Wisdom of Solomon

Paul was familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon, for both speak on the impossibility of the creature condemning the Creator, the pot condemning the potter [Rom. 9:19-24; cf. Wis. 12:12; 15:7], and both view the body as an earthly tent which weighs down the body [2 Cor. 5:1, 4; cf. Wis. 9:15].

4. Hebrews and the Wisdom of Solomon

The author of Hebrews knew of the Maccabean martyrs who chose execution over transgression the Torah during the Hellenization crisis of 167-164 B.C. It’s possible Hebrews 11:35 (those who “were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection”) would allude to the stories in 2 Macc. 7;9 and 4 Macc. 9:13-18.

400 Years

Why study the Apocrypha? Or why even read it? Is it important for our salvation? No. But, for history’s sake, for understanding how we got from Point A to Point C, it helps to know Point B. It’s important to know what was in the library of the NT writers, what they had received from their culture, and what helped shape their ideas.

It is in the biblical canon? No, and I’m not saying it should be. Sure, the biblical authors allude to the Apocryphal writings. Paul even quotes a Cretan prophet in Titus 1:12 along with some Greek poets in Acts 17:28. Jude even quotes the Book of Enoch in his letter (v14-15), though he quotes it as if it came from Enoch himself. [In fact, it is entirely possible that Enoch did speak these words resulting in his quote was handed down by tradition, until it was eventually recorded into the Book of Enoch. But that’s an entirely different point.]

The Apocrypha gives us more history and information on Judaism than the Greek poets and prophets mentioned by Paul. The writings were formative for early Christian theology, a heritage shared by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. Even early authors who questioned the status of the writings as Scripture per se, such as Origen and Jerome, used the texts in their exposition of the books of the New Testament and in their clarification of Christology, soteriology, and the life of faith.

Missing the (roughly) 400 years in between the Old and the New Testaments leaves a lot of history to be desired. 400 year ago at this date in history (1614), we were 160 years from fighting the Revolutionary War (1775). Jamestown, Virginia was the first established permanent English colony on the American mainland (1606). Galileo had just spotted Jupiter’s moons through his telescope (1610). In 4 years the Thirty Years War would begin (1618-48). In 6 years the Pilgrims would land at Plymouth Rock (1620). Maryland (1632) and Pennsylvania (1682) would be founded. The Taj Mahal was completed (1643). James II led the first steps to freedom of religion in England (1685).

And look at where we are now. 400 years is a long time. What if there were no writings in those 400 years? Future generations would have no link between the culture and times of 1614 and that of 2014. Looking only at the United States, they would know nothing of the other 43 presidents, winning the American Revolution, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the ratification of the Constitution, the Gold Rush, U.S. Civil War, slavery, slavery abolished, WWI, Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Civil Rights Act, a time before radio and television, the moon landing, the Great Depression, the economic boom of the 1990s, the rise of the internet, presidential assassinations, school shootings, September 11 World Trade Center attacks, the rise of post-modernism, etc, etc, so on and so forth.

Will the Apocryphal writings fill us with all of the tiny details we should know about how the world works? Nah. Will we ever know everything about those 400 years? Nah. Will we ever know everything about our past 400 years? Nah. What counts is knowing the Word of God. And if the Apocryphal writings help us to know His Word more, to piece things together a little better, to know how the biblical authors may have thought, then good.

Challenge-Response in an Honor Society in Matthew’s Gospel

I’m reading through David deSilva’s The Hope of Glory right now which looks at how the New Testament authors sought to shape the behaviors and social interactions of honor-sensitive people. What is an honor-sensitive person? How did the New Testament writings help early Christians on gaining honor and self-respect before God and withstand the outside society’s pressure to return to their pagan roots?

I can’t answer these right now, but there were a few insights I thought were notable.

Challenge-Reposte (Response)

One common form of gaining honor in Mediterranean culture was to offer a challenge to another person of equal social status. If the one challenged fails to respond effectively, they would lose honor, whereas the instigator would gain honor (p. 10).

We see a smaller variation of this in sarcasm and comebacks. The one who can “come back” with a remark is seen as quicker and wittier (though, perhaps, not always more honorable).

We see these challenge-responses occur often between Jesus and the Pharisees, especially in Matthew’s gospel “(cf… 9:1-8; 11:2-6; 12:1-8; 15:1-20; 16:1-4; 19:3-9; 21:15-17; 22:15-22, 23-33, 34-40, 41-46)” (p. 48). 

“A sizable amount of Matthew’s gospel portray’s Jesus and various representatives of Judaism (especially the Pharisees and the scribes) as competing for honor and the results of honor, influence and authority as interpreters of God’s law. Jesus’ repeated victory in these contests contributes to establishing his greater authority to teach the ways of God as the superior interpreter of Torah in particular and Scripture more broadly” (p. 48).

Then with His final challenge-response victory in Matthew 22, He has silences his opponents, astounding the crowd (Mt. 22:33), and segues into His scathing censure of the Pharisees in chapter 23.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t seek to gain honor in this way to boost His self-esteem. What He says in Matthew 23 is for the benefit of the people. The Pharisees are hypocrites who “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (23:4).  They love lifting up other rabbis so that they themselves will be lifted up in honor. But Jesus flips their pride in 23:11-12,“But He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles will be exalted.”

“Matthew’s gospel, therefore, affirms the teaching of Jesus as the way to fulfill Torah so as to receive God’s approval….The audiences are also supported in their commitment to discipleship and assisted in deflecting any pressure put upon them by non-Christian Jews by Jesus’ censure of the Pharisees, which is given considerable weight not only by Jesus’ victory over them in public challenges…but also by God’s explicit affirmation of Jesus as the spokesperson of God’s values” (p. 50).

In reading Matthew’s gospel believers would be strengthened to remain committed to Christ, for He is the one who is the true honorable guide to conduct (and eternal life), rather than to return to the “ways of their ancestors” by giving into pressure from the rival Jewish groups, those censured as dishonorable for their ignorance of God’s law.

I may post a few more insights like this one. If so, the next one will be on how the “head” and “face” of a person is seen as honorable, and we’ll look at slaps across the face (Mt. 5:39), Jesus’s crucifixion, His courage through it, and forgiveness. That is, if I can fit all of that into one post.

Knowing God’s Will Apart From the Law

Right now I’m reading Brian Rosner’s Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God, where Rosner argues that “Paul undertakes a polemical re-evaluation of the Law of Moses…” whereby he repudiates it as law-covenant (law as covenant), replaces it with other things (faith in Christ), and re-appropriates it as prophecy (pointing to the gospel) and as wisdom (for Christian living).

Right now I’m in chapter 3 called “Not ‘walking according to the law'” where Rosner shows what Paul doesn’t say about believing Christians and the Law compared to what is normally said about Jews under the Law of Moses. I found the section on God’s will very intriguing. In Romans 2:18 Paul says, “and [you, Jews] know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.”

There is a connection between the will of God and the Law of Moses as found in the Psalms:

I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.
+++++++++++++(Ps. 40:8)

 Yet when Paul speaks of God’s will to Christian believers through his letters, he never says they know God’s will through the Law.

References to God’s immutable (eternal, sovereign) will appear in seven of Paul’s letters (Rom. 1:10 and 15:32; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1) which deal with Paul’s own plans, his apostleship, and the plan of salvation all under God’s sovereign will.

There’s another aspect of God’s will which Paul refers to: God’s moral will. Back in Romans 2:18 we see the Jews were to “approve what is excellent” referring to God’s moral will. Through the Law the Jews were to learn how to live a life pleasing to God. If Christians are not under the Law, how are we to know how to live a life pleasing to God?

Paul gives seven passages on God’s moral will to his Christian readers.

1-2). Believers know God’s will through other means (though no clues as to where to ‘find’ this will)

  • Ephesians 6:6,“not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,”
  • Colossians 4:12,“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

3-4). Two passages give clearer understanding to a specific aspect of God’s will. 

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3,“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18,“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It seems the Thessalonians would know God’ will through His appointed messenger, the apostle Paul.

5-6). Two passages create a bridge between wisdom and knowing the will of God.

  • Ephesians 5:17,“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
  • Colossians 1:9,“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

7). Finally, we come to the seventh passage on how to be able to discern/know God’s will.

  • Romans 12:2,“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:1-2 follows a long theological exposition in chapters 1-11, but for Paul to switch over to ethics is hardly surprising. “Here’s the Gospel, now what do we do with it?” For after showing 11 chapters worth of God’s mercy, total dedication to God is what is required of the believer. Paul calls for both reasonable worship and for renewed minds (contrast that to what he says in Romans 1 on false and foolish worship [vv21-23] and corrupt minds [vv28ff]). Romans 12:1 also recalls what believers are to do with their bodies in Rom. 6:13 and 19.

If the Jews know God’s will (sovereign and moral) through the Law, how do Christians who aren’t under the Law know God’s will for their lives? They know/find God’s will in apostolic instruction, wisdom, and in response to the Gospel, believing in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation and living a totally dedicated life that is pleasing to Him.

Paul and the Law

Paul and the Law is the 31st book in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series (found here). It can be found on IVP UK and Amazon.

My review here.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

What really is this “partnership in the Gospel”?

Basics For Believers, Philippians

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;”
 – Philippians 1:3-6

What does fellowship (or partnership, as some translations have it) in the Gospel look like? What’s the difference between a friendship and a partnership? Is it like a Limited Liability Partnership (you’re regretting that I went to school for business) where each person is liable over their own misconduct and responsibilities? “You do your own thing, I’ll do mine?

If that’s a partnership, then what is fellowship? If I hang out with the unsaved, it’s friendship. If I spend time with other Christians, then it’s fellowship? Bring over some cake and it’s fellowship. Forget the cake and it’s only hanging out?

In D. A. Carson’s Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, he shows that in the first century, the word “partnership” had a business connotation to it:

If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26). The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision” (Kindle Locations 104-108).

What is of most importance? The central vision we have to Christ which calls forth and demands our commitment. 

“So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ ‘partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God” (Kindle Locations 110-115).

And this leads into what Paul says in v6, “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul could see the difference in their lives. He saw real fruit from their faith. He saw an actual, genuine faith that didn’t sit back with fire insurance in-hand, but got up and did something. Because God is preserving them, they will persevere.

Paul isn’t sitting back, basking in the nostalgia of the television programs they attached together, the sports games they played, or the barbecue’s their families shared together (though those are all fine things in and of themselves). His focus was on how God was moving in their lives, changing them to be more more like His Son: servants.

So what do our conversations look like? How do we speak to one another? In what manner do we speak about others when they aren’t around us? Are we really living out what we say we believe? Do we care about each other’s growth in our relationship with Christ? Does every conversation have to be about church? No, but we should want to advance the gospel, not just to the unsaved, but in our own lives and in the lives of others as well.

Do we merely hang out because we get along? “I’ll put up with you for an hour just to make Jesus happy.” Are we really partnered together in the Gospel, or is our church just another social gathering?


Introducing the Apocrypha

I’m becoming more interested in learning about the Intertestamental times (the times between the Old and New Testaments), so the other day I picked up David deSilva’s Introducing the Apocrypha the other day in the library and read the introduction. I found it [actually] pretty interesting. I grew up not reading, owning, not knowing much about the Apocryphal books. I’ve posted some insights that I found and thought I would share with you.
As a side note, I don’t accept the Apocrypha as Biblical canon (genuine), and neither does deSilva. However, they are Jewish writings within the period of the Old and the New Testaments that help us understand the history of the times and how that had a major hand in shaping the beliefs and ideologies that flowed into the New Testament times.

The Value of Studying the Apocrypha

The first reason deSilva gives as motivation for studying the Apocrypha is the contribution they make to a “fuller, more reliable picture of the Judaism” of 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. “…[T]hey are invaluable as a means of approaching a closer understanding of the Judaism within which Jesus carried out [H]is ministry and within which the early church grew….”  They reveal and go deeper into the issues that Jews in Israel and abroad were struggling with during this period of turmoil.
“1 and 2 Maccabees provide critical information regarding the historical developments of this period, particularly the Hellenization crisis and the Maccabean Revolt, both of which left indelible marks on Jewish consciousness and ideology.”
These books also tell us the high esteem given to the Torah and the motivation for the strict observance of its laws. There was continuous pressure on the Jews to “lighten up” on the Torah beliefs, bypass the old ways of the Torah, and grab a hold of the reins of new flood of this new Greek culture (Hellenism).
This makes sense when we look at how the Jews treated Paul’s message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (or how Paul treated the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he was still called Saul the Pharisee!) Paul looked more like a Hellenizing apostate than the one who was proclaiming the glories of the Messiah and the Messianic age.

Insight into How Certain Ideas Developed into the New Testament

1. The idea that the Messiah would come as a military conqueror came to its full expression during the Hasmonean period (the rule of Israel by the family and descendants of Judas Maccabeus). This helps to understand the common misunderstanding of Jesus’ ministry by His followers, would-be followers, and opponents. Most were waiting for Him to take over Rome and set up His kingdom, but, much to their dismay, that wouldn’t happen according to [their] plan.
2. We see “[t]he notion of substitutionary atonement, assurance about the individual’s afterlife (whether resurrection of the body or the soul’s immortality), speculations about angels and demons, and the personification about Wisdom (which provided the early church with language to speak of the Son’s relationship with the Father and [H]is reincarnate history)” were more developed during this inner period.

Next Time

I’m leaving today for an Outreach to Kings Lynn, UK until the 11th, so I don’t know when “next time” will be, but my next post on this topic will at least be when I return. A few of the things we will be doing in Kings Lynn will be helping with community outreaches, youth, and high school Christian clubs. Any prayers would be greatly appreciated. It will be a great time to see the Proffits and to get to serve with them this week.

So in my follow up, I’ll give the second reason deSilva gives for reading the Apocrypha which will show some of the familiarity the New Testament writers (and Jesus) had with the writings of the Apocrypha. To read ahead, you can Read Matt. 6:12, 14-15; Matt. 11:28-30; Lk. 12:33; and Jam 1:13-14.

[All quotes taken from p. 20 of “Introducing the Apocrypha”].

The Structure of Deuteronomy’s Law Code?

Is the book of Deuteronomy just a mishmash of history (chs. 1-4), events (journey into the land, chs. 5-11), and law codes (chs. 12-25)? Seemingly endless amounts of random-specific situations that could never all seem to happen to a single person in their lifetime. Is there a rhyme or reason to these passages?

In Millar’s book Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy, he goes through the book of Deuteronomy and shows how the people then (and us today) are to find ethics on how to live in the book. It’s not the kind that says, “Obey this and God will accept you” but “because of what God has done for you, do this.” 

In Deut. 5 Moses repeats the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) to the new generation in Moab and tells them the greatest commandment (6:5), how they are a chosen people, and that it is because of their status in His eyes and because of His blessings to them that they should remember Him. To remind them of their weak, feeble morality Moses retells of their rebellions, how he was made angry and had to make a new set of tablets, and that despite their hard hearts the Lord loves them, has chosen them, and will reward their love and obedience. In 11:32 Moses says, “And you shall be careful to observe all the statutes and judgments which I set before you today” and is connected to 12:1 by Moses telling them what the statutes and judgments are: These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.”

Then we run into an onslaught of strange laws that seem to have no bearing on the text, much less our own life. Apparently these laws meant something to the people then, but is there any modus operandi to the author’s reason for writing Deuteronomy in such a way?

Well, in fact, yes. In fact, it’s not that Moses sat there and started to write whatever laws came into his head, (a.k.a. “Hey, this sounds like a good one!”), but it’s possible that the structure of the laws from Deut. 12-25 follows the Ten Commandments giving in Deut. 5.

This is not a perfect understanding; there are still problems with this scheme. The Decalogue is never actually quoted in chapters 12-25, and the connections are not always clear. However, reading Deuteronomy in this light helps to better understand it as being written with an actual purpose, style, and reason.

  • #1-2 Right Worship (12:1-28)
  • #3 False Oaths (13:1-14:27)
  • #4 Sabbath (15:1-18; 16:1-17)
  • #5 Authority (16:18-20; 17:2-20; 18:1-22)
  • #6 Homicide (19:1-13, 20; 21:1-9, 22-23; 22:8)
  • #7 Adultery and Illicit Mixtures (22:9-11; 22:13-23:1; 23:3-15, 18-19)
  • #8 Theft and Property Violations (23:20-26; 24:7)
  • #9 Fair Treatment of Fellows (24:8-25:4)
  • #10a Coveting Neighbor’s Wife (25:5-12)
  • #10b Coveting Neighbor’s Property (25:13-16)

This is not a perfect understanding; there are still problems with this scheme. The Decalogue is never actually quoted in chapters 12-25, and the connections are not always clear. However, reading these chapters in this light does give structure to the reading of Deuteronomy, which, with this book, is much appreciated.