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I taught several weeks ago about the kingdom of God and used Mark’s characterization of the kingdom as an example. In continuation of the theme of my last blog post, I wanted to provide a short discussion on the nuances of Luke’s characterization of the coming kingdom of God in his gospel. I have two topics I want to address in this post. First, what does the kingdom of God look like in Luke and how does Jesus’s mission fit into it? Second, what does life in the kingdom of God look like and what kind of people are in it?

What Kind of Kingdom is the Kingdom of God?

We should understand that when Jesus and others refer to the “kingdom” of God, they do not refer to a chronologically- or geographically-bound entity. Kingdom refers to wherever God carries out his will against opposing powers and for his people. Whether he casts out demons, rebukes the Pharisees, heals diseases, or forgives sin, Jesus is bringing all things under subjection to God’s rule. For Luke, God’s rule on earth means salvation has come for the marginalized people of society.

Luke and Role-Reversal

God’s rule is counter-cultural. The Messiah did not come to be considered among the elite. He did not come to raise an army agains the Romans. He came to lift up the humble and to bring low the proud. We can see this role-reversal theme from the beginning of the gospel:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (1:50-53)

The proud and rulers are humbled, but the humble are lifted up. The hungry are fed, but the rich are sent away with nothing. God’s salvation reaches out to society’s lowlifes and includes them. The kingdom of God has different boundary markers than the kingdoms which rule this world.

Luke carries this theme throughout the gospel. The Jewish people at that time focused on renouncing idols and keeping themselves clean from anything that could defile them. They kept the Sabbath in a strict fashion. They studied the Law. They fasted and prayed. Are they not Abraham’s children? Are they not entitled to the kingdom of God? John the Baptist answers this question: “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones!” (3:8). They do not have the birthright to the kingdom. Their actions demonstrate that they are not truly Abraham’s children. In fact, they are children of snakes (3:7) because they do not act consistently with repentance.

Jesus also answers this question through his actions. He heals people and casts out evil spirits. He saves a leprous man – healing him and restoring him to society. He demonstrates his authority to heal by completely restoring, physically and spiritually, a paralyzed man. He calls a tax collector as a disciple and eats with sinners. The kingdom of God is made up of people whom society has regarded as outside the bounds of God’s community.

Salvation as Jubilee

Luke characterizes the kingdom of God as a kingdom of release. Jesus’s first act after coming home from the wilderness was to proclaim the fulfillment of the Isaianic Jubilee. He conflates two passages from Isaiah (61:1-2 and 58:6) and leaves out the clause about God’s judgement. Both modifications emphasize the role of “release” in Jesus’s own mission:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind [Is 61:1],
to set the oppressed free [Is 58:6],
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [Is 61:2] (Lk. 4:18-19)

This “release” is both spiritually and physically oriented. Jesus heals physical ailments and forgives sins. This “release” is for all kinds of people, and often, the lowest rungs of society are the ones who benefit from the message. They are released from bondage of sin and societal marginalization. The lowly are the ones who experience the blessing of the Lord. The only way to attain this “release” is by entering the kingdom of God through repentance and faith.

One prime example of improper grasping of the kingdom of God comes in the following verses of the same passage. Jesus’s direct audience reject Jesus’s message. They identify Jesus as Joseph’s son (instead of God’s son). They say, “Jesus will bring these blessings into effect especially for us since he is a local boy.” They misappropriate Jesus’s message for themselves by laying claim to Jesus’s heritage. No one owns the kingdom by right; it must be entered by repentance (24:46-47). Only the humble can obtain entry. Thus, the poor, already brought low by society, are in prime position for entry.

Who Needs the Kingdom of God?

Jesus says: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (5:31-32). If Jesus’s ministry is oriented around society’s outcasts, do the rich need a savior? Luke answers that question with a resounding “Yes.” Recall Jesus’s interaction with the rich ruler (18:18-29). He came to Jesus to ask how he may enter God’s kingdom. He claimed obeyed every law of God from his childhood. Jesus, however, identifies his need. The ruler was dependent on his wealth and status in society. Jesus calls him to renounce his dependence on his wealth, but the ruler is unwilling to do so. The lowly and marginalized recognize their need for a savior because they lack everything society values. The rich possess those things (one might say are possessed by those things) and have trouble leaving them behind.

He further illustrates this principle in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man enjoys life now while Lazarus suffers. When they die, the Rich Man ends up in torment and Lazarus is comforted. This role reversal occurs because the Rich Man valued his possessions and current comfort and despised the message of Moses and the Prophets (the same Moses and Prophets that testify about Jesus [see 24:25-27]).

In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus says that just because a person avoids evil things happening to them, doesn’t mean that they are in any less danger of hell. No one can escape the coming judgement who does not cling to Jesus. Everyone needs to enter the kingdom of God through repentance. Jesus does not limit his community to any boundary marker that society sets up for itself. Jesus breaks those societal rules and reorients society around himself. Thus for Luke (and for Jesus) the Kingdom of God is for anyone regardless of social class who renounces everything that God does not value and places their trust in Jesus. The poor do not gain entry because they are poor, and the rich are not barred entry because they are rich. Everyone who enters the kingdom enters by faith in Jesus.

Rule of the Kingdom

Jesus did not found a social club or a Facebook group where people could gather an commiserate over the wrongs of society and their pitiful state at the lowest level of society. He established a community of women and men who had been released from the bondage of sin, disease, and oppression. In laying out laws for living in God’s kingdom, Jesus continues the theme of role reversal: Love your enemies, lend freely without expecting anything, and perform acts of love toward everyone (6:27-36). They are not to set up artificial boundary markers. They are a community that is marked by God’s mercy and hold to God’s truth. They who are under the rule of God experience true life and live as humanity was supposed to live: oriented around loving God and people.

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When we hear stories about Jesus preached and taught, the telling of the story is usually centered around the historical event with an emphasis on the theological significance of that event. I can think of no major theological issue in teaching on “Jesus’s baptism,” “Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000,” or “Jesus’s crucifixion” as historical happenings, nor can I imagine any major problem in drawing from different Gospel accounts to paint a more accurate picture of “what actually happened.” Might I suggest, however, that we may be losing something when we do isolate these events from their context?

We have four Gospels, not one. While four (or fewer) accounts of the same events help corroborate a story, we were not given four gospels merely because we needed the veracity of each testimony confirmed by several witnesses. Each Gospel brings a nuance to Jesus’s life and mission that is unique. Four Gospels prevent us from flattening Jesus into what we think he should be even though it is popular today to do just that. By isolating the event from text and/or supplementing the account with details from another Gospel we override the nuance author was bringing to the text – almost like we are letting one voice speak over the top of another.

Perhaps we can illustrate this best by talking about how each of the Synoptics (sorry John!), which share a lot of the same language and stories about Jesus, talk about the healing of the paralytic.

Mark: Yahweh’s Kingdom Unstoppable (Mark 2:1-12)

Mark’s version is probably the most well-known. Mark presents Jesus as Yahweh finally coming to restore his people and establish his kingdom on earth. What that looks like is totally different from Jewish expectations at that time. Jesus begins his mission by teaching, calling disciples, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Except for all the healings and exorcisms, nothing “out of the ordinary” happens until he heals a leper by touching him. Jesus risks becoming ritually unclean in order to cleanse the leper, but the leper’s uncleaness doesn’t sully Jesus. Jesus’s cleaness overcomes the leper’s uncleaness and heals him. At that point, Yahweh’s coming kingdom takes on more dimension. Neither demons nor sickness nor perpetual uncleaness are outside the bounds of Jesus’s mission of restoration. The healing of the paralytic comes next. Mark sets the scene by emphasizing how full the house was more than the other Gospels. The fullness of the house serves to show the depth of the five friends’ faith. They believe Jesus and stop at nothing to get their friend to him. Mark’s placement of the story is strategic as well since he uses the story to add another dimension to the type of kingdom Jesus is bringing to earth. Jesus heals the man by forgiving his sins. Jesus’s actions raises an important question: How does this man think he can do what only God can do? To the scribes, Jesus is denying God’s oneness. Jesus, however, affirms his ability to forgive sins by  healing the man. One commentator calls this “hard evidence” of Jesus’s ability to forgive. From Mark’s perspective, this story demonstrates that forgiveness is not just a heavenly thing: “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sin.” Forgiveness – as has the kingdom – has come to earth.

Matthew: Jesus’s Authority Demonstrated (Matt 9:1-8)

Matthew takes the same story, compresses it, and places it in a series of stories about Jesus’s authority. First, Jesus and his disciples are traveling in a boat when a storm comes. The disciples, afraid for their lives, summon Jesus to ask for help and declare that they are about to die. Jesus rebukes the disciples. Then he rebukes the storm. The storm is pacified, and the disciples are left wondering at the type of man that Jesus is: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Answer: the type of man who you should put your faith in. Next, Jesus goes to the country of the Gadarenes where he encounters two demon-possessed men (by the way, Mark and Luke place this story some time after the healing of the paralytic). These demons convince Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs. After Jesus  permits their request, the pigs rush out of their pen, fall into the water, and drown. Due to Jesus’s actions, the men are calm and sane – all is right. Not even the most powerful of demons can stop Jesus. The people of the town, however, beg Jesus and his disciples to leave the region.  Are these people responding appropriately to Jesus? Finally, we come to our story. As mentioned before, it’s a compressed version of what we see in Mark and Luke. There’s no mention of the crowds or even the house. The friends bring the paralytic to Jesus, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. The scribes question Jesus, Jesus responds to scribes and demonstrates his authority over sin and sickness by healing the man. The people respond with great wonder that God would give such authority to men. By arranging the stories the way he does, Matthew shows that Jesus has supreme authority over everything on earth. What kind of response is appropriate when we face a man with that kind of authority? We must put our faith in him and be disciples.

Luke: The Kingdom and Great Role Reversal (5:17-26)

Luke’s story looks very similar to Mark’s telling with a few exceptions. In the beginning, Luke prepares the reader for the coming conflict between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees:  “He was teaching one day, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting (they had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem). The power of the Lord was with him to heal.” Jesus and the religious leaders were about to clash over a healing.  We also know that the Lord was with Jesus, that is to say, what is about to happen to the paralytic falls in the purview of Jesus’s mission: to set captives free (4:17-21).  Jesus’s interaction with the paralytic demonstrates the orientation of Jesus’s ministry toward the lowly and marginalized, and forgiveness is a vital part of that ministry. While the Pharisees express outrage at Jesus’s actions, Jesus addresses the need in front of him. Jesus restores the man in front of him completely. He silences his opposition not with the power of a sword but the power of a healing. Jesus did not come to make war with the Romans or slaughter his human opposition. He came to restore his people spirit and body.

Summary

In all three gospels, the story of the paralytic gives dimension to Jesus’s ministry. In all three, Jesus confirms his authority and, arguably, his divinity. Yet, the three gospels use the story differently in their own presentations of who Jesus is. If we isolate the story or supplement the details from another gospel, we risk distorting that presentation. The story is a part of a tapestry. We can appreciate the design by itself, but let us not try to remove design from the fabric it’s woven into. Instead, let’s take a step back and appreciate how the design contributes to the beauty of the whole piece.

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New Textbooks

Next semester, which starts in a couple of weeks, I will be taking Intermediate Greek Exegesis and Old Testament Textual Criticism. I am excited about both classes. I really like the challenge. Here are a couple of the textbooks that I’m excited about:

spring_14_textbooks

In Greek, I will be reading Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the New Testament. I’ve already finished Dan Wallace’s introduction, and he knows how to generate excitement for this 400 page book in just a couple of paragraphs. Wallace says

It almost goes without saying that not all grammarians or linguists will agree on every one of Runge’s points. Yet even on those issues over which one might disagree, there is much food for thought here. I have learned a great deal from this volume and will continue to do so for many years. To students of the New Testament, I say, “The time has come. Tolle lege!

I am looking forward to reading this book.

I will also be reading Brotzman’s introduction to Old Testament Textual Criticism. Brotzman’s work was published around the same time as Tov’s work on textual criticism. Watke says in his foreword to the book:

Tov’s and Brotzman’s work compliment each other. Brotzman takes the time to present the contribution of the ancient versions, Tov deliberately slights them. Tov devotes an entire chapter to textual criticism and literary criticism, especially in the light of five (not three) recensions attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but Brotzman in his discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls does not elaborate on this contribution to our understanding of the development of the Old Testament.

I have read Tov’s work (although I might have to find time to refresh myself), so now I have the opportunity to read Brotzman.

Finally, I will be using Muraoka (the long book on the left) for my reading of the LXX and Hebrew texts. This “Greek ~ Hebrew/Aramaic Two-Way Index to the Septuagint” identifies the Greek words used to translate the Hebrew and the Hebrew words from which the Greek words are translated. Muraoka says:

This set of information is important all the same for better understanding of the Septuagint, its translation techniques, the Septuagint translators’ ways of relating to the Hebrew/Aramaic words and phrases in their original text.

I am looking forward to familiarizing myself with these works and growing much deeper in my knowledge and love of the Bible.

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As I was listening to my pastor preach a sermon on Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1, I was struck by the wonderful mercy that our Savior had toward the untouchables of his time. Take a look at some of these Markan allusions to the Old Testament Law:

Leviticus 13:45-46:

 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Mark 1:40-42:

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

Leviticus 15:25-27

 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity.And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.

Mark 5:25-34

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years,and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”  And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Leviticus 22:1

Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people. – The law is for the priests, but it implies that anyone can be unclean for the dead.

Mark 5:35-42:

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”But overhearingwhat they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age),

What a wonderful thing that Jesus is not tarnished by our uncleaness. He shows us mercy and grace and powerfully heals us of our sin sickness.

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