new testament how to use this book

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NEW TESTAMENT: HOW TO USE THIS BOOK Much of the following will be familiar to you if you have already read the "How to use Barron's Book Notes" section on this disk. We have included this information individually here because there are many unique things you should be aware of when using Barron's Book Notes for the New Testament. The New Testament is read by millions of Christians in churches and homes every day in the belief that it contains the word of God. Moreover, it is studied by historians seeking to understand the society and ideas of the ancient world. But the New Testament is also a book filled with fascinating characters, dramatic incidents, and speeches and letters of great beauty and intensity--in other words, it is a great work of literature. You have to know how to approach literature in order to get the most out of it. This Barron's Book Notes volume is designed to help you read and understand the New Testament. Begin with this guide's section on the New Testament and Its Times. As you read, try to form a clear picture of the religious ideas that lie behind the New Testament and the society that produced it. This background should make it easier for you to understand the life and teaching of Jesus, and the beliefs of the early Christians about what Jesus meant for them. Then go over the rest of the introductory materials--such as sections on personalities, themes, and literary forms. Underline, or write down in your notebook, particular things to look for, such as crucial personalities and events, important religious teachings and moral ideas, and repeated literary devices. Now you're ready to start reading the New Testament itself. You may want to put this Barron's Book Notes volume aside until you've completed the assigned reading. Or you may want to alternate, consulting the Book Notes analysis of each section as soon as you've finished reading the corresponding part of the original. As you read the New Testament, it's wise to underline passages of special importance, and to write key words in the margin. (Of course, you should only mark up an inexpensive copy of the New Testament that you own, not a family heirloom, and certainly not a Bible that belongs to a library or another person.) Reread crucial passages you don't understand. Don't just take this guide's analysis for granted-- read the text carefully and think it through. Once you've finished the assigned sections, you may want to review them right away, so you can clarify your ideas about what the text means. You may want to leaf through the assigned readings concentrating on the passages you underlined. This is also a good time to reread the Book Notes introductory material. When it's time to prepare for a test or to write a paper, you'll already have formed ideas about the New Testament. You'll be able to go back through it, refreshing your memory as to the words and events described, so that you can support your opinions with evidence drawn from the text itself. Patterns will emerge, and ideas will fall into place. Give yourself a dry run with one of the sample tests in the guide. These tests present both multiple-choice and essay questions. An accompanying section gives answers to the multiple-choice questions as well as suggestions for writing the essays. If you have to choose a term-paper topic, you may select one from the list of suggestions in the book. This guide also provides you with a reading list, to help you when you start doing research for a term paper, and a selection of stimulating or provocative passages from commentators, to spark your thinking before you write. The Bible has been translated into English many times and in many different styles. At the suggestion of the editors of this Barron's Book Notes series, the King James Version is used in this volume. It's the most widely circulated English translation, and its phrases have entered our language more than those of any other. In many editions of the King James Version, you'll find some words printed in italics. These are words that lack an exact equivalent in the original, but are supplied by the translators because of differences between Greek and English grammar and idioms. You can read more about the different versions of the New Testament in the section on Translations. NEW TESTAMENT: THE NEW TESTAMENT AND ITS TIMES Thousands of years ago, great centers of population, political power, art, and technology were located in the river valleys of the Middle East--the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and the valley of the Nile in Egypt. Between these centers lay the less thickly settled, less prosperous land of Palestine, which from perhaps the thirteenth century B.C. was the home of the people of Israel. Around 1000 B.C. Israel was a strong kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. After Solomon the nation was weakened by division into a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah. Non-Israelite peoples of the ancient Middle East worshiped many gods, who represented powers of nature like the sun, the storm, and the fertility of the soil or aspects of human existence like motherhood, wisdom, and sexual love. The Israelites worshiped one God, whom they conceived as creator of all things. They believed that God had made a covenant (a solemn agreement) with Abraham, promising to give Palestine to Abraham's descendants. They believed that the twelve Israelite tribes, descended from Abraham, had later become slaves in Egypt and that God had freed them under the leadership of Moses and had given them possession of Palestine under the leadership of Joshua. The Israelites believed that God had made a covenant with their ancestors in the days of Moses, saying "I... will be your God, and ye shall be my people" (Leviticus 26:12). They believed He had given them a law that required them to worship Him with sacrifices of animals and foods, such as wheat, and that regulated many aspects of their behavior. This law included the Ten Commandments. It also required the Israelites to circumcise their male children and to refrain from eating certain foods. From the tenth century B.C. the sacrifices were carried out chiefly in a Temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem. The religion of the ancient Israelites was threatened when they worshiped other gods or broke the law in other ways. From time to time, people known as prophets felt moved by God to deliver messages calling the Israelites to return to the purity of their faith. Over a period of centuries, books were written containing the law, the historical traditions of Israel, the messages of the prophets, and also the poetry and wisdom of the Israelites. These books form the Jewish Scriptures, or Old Testament. You can find out more about them in the volume on the Old Testament in this Book Notes series. NEW TESTAMENT: EXILE AND RETURN Before the Old Testament books had reached their final form, disaster struck the Israelites. In 722 B.C. the northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire. In 586 B.C. the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonian Empire, and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Many Israelites were carried into captivity in Mesopotamia. The people from Judah kept their identity and their religion in exile. In 539 B.C. the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persian Empire, and the Persians allowed the people of Judah to return to Palestine, The modern name for the people--the Jews--is derived from the name Judah. The return didn't take place all at once, and it was never complete, but those who returned eventually rebuilt the Temple, and their religious practices were restored under the leadership of Ezra. Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, was now used mostly for Scripture study and for other religious purposes. The daily language of the Jews was generally Aramaic, which was widely spoken in the Middle East. Although the Jews worshiped God with animal sacrifices in the second Temple in Jerusalem, they also had special meetinghouses (now called synagogues), where they studied the law and prayed. In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great, the young King of Macedonia (now in northern Greece), conquered Palestine. He went on to conquer the whole Persian Empire. Though Alexander soon died, the Middle East remained in the hands of Greek-speaking rulers. They built new cities and settled many Greeks in the area. Greek art and literature, the Greek love of athletics, and the worship of the Greek gods were also brought into the Middle East. In Palestine, the spread of Greek culture was opposed by many religious Jews, who weren't prepared to give up their own culture and religion. The Jews revolted, and reestablished an independent state in the second century B.C., but it didn't last long. In 65 B.C. the Romans conquered Palestine. NEW TESTAMENT: THE JEWS UNDER ROMAN RULE The Jews of the Roman Empire were in a complex social, religious, and political situation. Many lived in Palestine, but many others lived in towns all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean lands. Although Aramaic remained the principal language of Palestinian Jews, many Jews--especially outside Palestine--spoke Greek, the common language of the Middle East under Roman rule. Translations of the Old Testament into Aramaic and Greek circulated among those who knew little Hebrew. The Jewish religion had also changed since the days of the Israelite monarchy. Parties had arisen, which differed on important points of belief and practice. Members of the Pharisee party stressed the study and observance of the law, both the written law of the Scriptures and a body of traditional law that was handed down orally. They believed in the existence of angels and spirits and in the doctrine of resurrection--the belief God would eventually reunite the souls of the dead with their bodies. The Sadducee party, led by the priests who presided over the sacrifices in the Temple, accepted only the written Scriptures and denied resurrection and the existence of angels and spirits. The Sadducees apparently were fewer, wealthier, and more inclined to accept Roman rule than the Pharisees. A third party, the Essenes, is thought to have produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered starting in 1947. The scrolls were the library of a Jewish community that lived at Qumran in the desert east of Jerusalem and practiced strict religious observance and self- denial. The members of the community believed that the Temple worship and the practices of other Jews had become corrupted, and they expected a great war through which God would restore the religious practices they believed proper. Lastly there were Jews who adopted Greek language and culture while trying to remain faithful to their own religious tradition. Most Jews didn't belong to any of these groups. They revered the Temple, attended meeting-houses, and observed the law as best they could. By and large, they seem to have distrusted the aristocratic Sadducees and to have admired the strict religious observance of the Pharisees. The vast majority were very poor, and had to spend most of their time working for a living. A small upper class controlled most of the wealth. Ordinary farmers and craftsmen were able to put food on the table and clothes on their backs by working hard, but a crop failure or a political disturbance could wipe them out. Medicine was primitive, and painful and disabling illnesses were common. Opportunities for education, recreation, or a secure old age scarcely existed. Palestine was also the home of many Gentiles (non-Jews). There were Roman soldiers, Greek settlers, and indigenous Middle Eastern people, some of whom had adopted Greek ways. There were also Samaritans, a group centered in Samaria, a district north of Jerusalem. The Samaritans had the same law as the Jews, but they sacrificed on Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. Apparently descended from the people of the old northern Kingdom, the Samaritans claimed to be the real heirs of ancient Israel. The Jews believed that relations with members of these groups might make them unclean in the eyes of God (disqualified from participating in worship), and there was much tension between groups. The Roman government was an oppressive military dictatorship and taxed its subjects heavily. The Romans didn't always rule directly. From 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. Herod the Great reigned as king of the Jews under Roman overlordship. Descended from an Edomite family recently converted to Judaism, the talented and cruel Herod rebuilt the Temple. But he was an admirer of Greek civilization, too, and a faithful ally of Rome. In A.D. 6, Rome took direct control of Judea, the area around Jerusalem, although it continued to rule other parts of Palestine--such as Galilee, in the north--through members of Herod's family. The political situation changed rapidly, but one thing was certain: the Romans, who held the power, had little respect for the Jewish religion and tolerated it only grudgingly. The Jews believed that God had freed them from foreign domination before--from slavery in Egypt and from exile in Mesopotamia. Many Jews believed that God would liberate them again. This hope centered around a figure called the Messiah (meaning anointed--Israelite kings and priests had been anointed with oil as a sign of their sacred functions). Now Jews believed that God would send a Messiah to free them from the oppression and insecurity in which they lived. Some thought the Messiah would be a supernatural being who would re- create society and establish justice. Others expected a military leader who would defeat the Romans with God's help. Like the Pharisee belief in the resurrection of the dead and the Essene belief in a final struggle between good and evil, the belief in the coming of the Messiah was based on the idea that the existing order of things would come to a sudden end. Beliefs of this kind concerning an end of the world are called eschatology (from the Greek eschatos, meaning last). In fact, the Jews did revolt against Roman rule. In A.D. 66 a group called the Zealots began a national uprising. They resisted Rome successfully for a time, but in 70 a Roman army captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, Pharisaism became the dominant force within Judaism, and the synagogue became the chief Jewish religious institution. Meanwhile, however, other events had taken place among the Jews of Palestine-- events that were to change the world. NEW TESTAMENT: ORIGINS OF CHRISTIANITY Jesus was born in Palestine about 6 B.C. (placing his birth at A.D. 1 is based on an inaccurate 6th-century reckoning). He spent his youth in Nazareth in Galilee. When he was grown, he began to preach and teach about what he called the Kingdom of God. Sometimes his teaching about the Kingdom had an eschatological side--the Kingdom would come soon--and sometimes it stressed the Kingdom as already here. Like the prophets of earlier times, he called for a renewal of faith in God, and he criticized the beliefs and practices of many religious leaders, including the Pharisees and Sadducees. His deep confidence in God made a powerful impression on his listeners, and a small group of followers gathered around him. About A.D. 30 he and his followers visited Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover. When he entered the city, his followers and other Jews hailed him as the Messiah. The Temple authorities and the Roman officials took alarm. Jesus was arrested and quickly put to death. You might have expected Jesus' followers to go back to Galilee and never be heard from again. Instead, they had an electrifying experience. They believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, that he had sent his Spirit into them to increase their faith and understanding, and that he wanted them to carry his message to the ends of the earth. Under the leadership of Peter and James, they preached that Jesus was the Messiah--that the Messiah was not a political or military leader, but a suffering servant of God. From the Greek Christos (which, like Messiah, means anointed), the new faith came to be called Christianity. Jesus had spoken of God as his Father; the Christians preached that Jesus was the Son of God, and that his followers could join with him as children of God. They expected the glorious, eschatological return of Jesus at an early date, to put an end to sin and sorrow. Some Jews accepted Christianity, but many did not. It wasn't long before Paul, a Jew who became a Christian about A.D. 35, carried the message of Jesus to large numbers of Gentiles in different parts of the Roman Empire. For a time, there was controversy between those who thought Christianity was only for Jews (and Gentiles who became Jews) and those like Paul who thought it was equally for Gentiles. Paul's views prevailed. During the century after the death of Jesus, the success of Christian preaching among Gentiles, together with the disasters that befell the Jewish people as a result of their unsuccessful revolt against Rome, led to a clear separation between Christianity and Judaism. At the same time, Paul and other Christians writing in Greek, produced a number of texts expressing their answers to questions about who Jesus was and how Christians were related to him. Those texts Christians came to see as particularly valuable--the ones they thought written under the guidance of the Spirit--were later gathered to form the New Testament. NEW TESTAMENT: DEVELOPMENT OF THE CANON Several kinds of books make up the New Testament. The following brief outline will help you find your way: I. The Gospels. Gospel means good news. The Gospels are accounts of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A. Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Synoptic means taking a common view; these three Gospels have much material in common and are organized similarly. (See the following table.) B. John. This Gospel is organized differently than the Synoptics and contains material not found in them. II. Acts of the Apostles. This book is an account of the early Christian church. III. The Epistles. These are letters of early Christians. A. Pauline Epistles (attributed to Paul). Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews. (Authorship of Hebrews, Ephesians, and some of the other Epistles is uncertain.) B. Catholic Epistles (Catholic means universal; these letters are traditionally considered to be addressed to Christians in general.) James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Jude. IV. Revelation. This apocalypse, or book of visions, presents in symbolic form the future of Christianity and the world. These 27 books weren't written in the order in which they now appear in the New Testament. One of the goals of New Testament scholars has been to ascertain when each book was actually written. NEW TESTAMENT: COMPARISON OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS The locations of parallel passages in the synoptic Gospels are shown here. You'll note that some incidents appear in one or two Gospels, but not in all three. MATTHEW MARK LUKE Genealogy of Jesus 1:1-17 3:23-38 Annunciation to Mary 1:26-38 Joseph's Dream 1:18-21 Birth of Jesus 2:1 2:1-7 John the Baptist's Preaching 3:1-12 1:2-8 3:1-18 Baptism of Jesus 3:13-17 1:9-11 3:21-22 Temptation of Jesus 4:1-11 1:12-13 4:1-13 Sermon on the Mount 5:1-7:29 Sermon on the Plain 6:17-49 Call of the 12 Apostles 10:1-4 3:13-19 6:12-16 The Sower * 13:1-23 4:2-20 8:4-15 John the Baptist Beheaded 14:1-12 6:14-29 9:7-9 Peter's Confession 16:13-20 8:27-30 9:18-21 Transfiguration of Jesus 17:1-8 9:2-8 9:28-36 The Good Samaritan * 10:29-37 The Lost Sheep * 18:10-14 15:1-7 The Prodigal Son * 15:11-32 The Rich Man and Lazarus * 16:19-31 The Laborers in the Vineyard * 20:1-16 Entry into Jerusalem 21:1-11 11:1-11 19:28-40 Cleansing of the Temple 21:12-17 11:15-19 19:45-48 The Wicked Husbandmen * 21:33-46 12:1-9 20:9-19 The Greatest Commandment 22:35-40 12:28-34 10:25-28 Little Apocalypse 24:1-44 13:1-37 21:5-36 Last Supper 26:17-29 14:12-25 22:7-23 Agony in the Garden 26:36-46 14:32-42 22:39-46 Jesus before the High Priest 26:57-68 14:53-65 22:54,66-71 Peter's Denial 26:69-75 14:66-72 22:55-62 Jesus before Pilate 27:1-2, 15:1-5 23:1-5 11-14 Jesus before Herod 23:6-12 Crucifixion of Jesus 27:32-56 15:21-41 23:26-49 Resurrection of Jesus 28:1-10 16:1-9 24:1-12 * parable NEW TESTAMENT: THE WRITING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT The first New Testament books written were the authentic Epistles (see Authenticity, Canonicity, and Inspiration, below) of Paul, probably starting with 1 Thessalonians at the beginning of the 50s. In the mid-50s Paul wrote his great Epistles--Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans--and then or a little later Philippians and Philemon. If Paul wrote it, Colossians also originated around the mid-50s. If the Epistle of James is authentic, it may have been written as early as the 50s, but many scholars think it was written late in the first century (perhaps incorporating older material). If 1 Peter is authentic, it must have been written by the early 60s, but some scholars think it was written at the end of the first century. Some time shortly before or after 70, the Gospel of Mark was written, possibly by John Mark. It's likely that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written in the 80s, using Mark as a source. Matthew may include traditions that came from the apostle Matthew, but few scholars think that, in its present form, it was actually written by him. On the other hand, Luke could have written the Gospel that bears his name. In any case, the author of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Another book many scholars think may have been written in the 80s is Hebrews (though a case can be made for the 60s). Its author is unknown. Many scholars think Ephesians was written late in the first century, perhaps as an introduction to a collection of Paul's Epistles. Probably 2 Thessalonians was also written late in the century, by an imitator of Paul. The Book of Revelation was probably written in the early 90s, though it may include some older material. The Johannine literature--the Gospel of John and the Epistles 1, 2, and 3 John--was probably written about the turn of the century. The Gospel may well be based on traditions that originated with the apostle John, and all four books may have been produced in a community he founded. Many scholars think the Epistle of Jude was also written about the turn of the century. The Epistles 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were written, in the judgment of many scholars, by an imitator of Paul early in the second century. 2 Peter was probably written in the first half of the second century. NEW TESTAMENT: FORMATION OF THE CANON By the time the last New Testament books had been written--or very soon afterward--other works had also been written by Christians. These include the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (1 Clement), the manual of church teaching known as the Didache, the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, and the Gospel of Thomas. The early Christians used the Hebrew Scriptures (in Greek translation) as their Bible. But they believed that the Spirit of God was active in the church, and that many pronouncements made orally or in writing by Christians contained messages inspired by the Spirit. No consensus existed, early in the second century, as to which Christian writings enjoyed that authority. In 139 or 140 a Christian from Asia Minor came to Rome. His name was Marcion. He was serious and devout, and particularly devoted to the teachings of Paul. The conclusions that Marcion drew from his studies, however, brought him into conflict with the church authorities. Marcion believed that the Jewish God, the Creator and Lawgiver, was totally different from the forgiving and saving God revealed by Jesus. Marcion taught that Christians shouldn't use the Hebrew Scriptures. In their place, he gathered together a new body of sacred books: the Gospel of Luke and ten Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians [which he called Laodiceans], Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). He revised these books, removing as later interpolations the passages that suggested continuity with the Old Testament. Marcion was expelled from the Roman church in 144, but he gained many followers and his movement flourished for centuries. Probably in response to Marcion, Christian church leaders began to put the New Testament together. It's likely that they would have done something like this sooner or later, for virtually every religion has its sacred books. But the decision to recognize all four Gospels, and to add the other Epistles, may have been directed against Marcion and his followers. And the decision to recognize this body of Christian writings as the "New" Testament and to join it with the "Old" Testament may well have been a response to Marcion's rejection of the Hebrew Scriptures. The oldest non- Marcionist Christian list of Scriptural works we possess is the so- called Muratorian Canon, apparently written in Rome in the 170s. (Canon means rule or standard, and can refer to the body of writings accepted as authoritative by a religious group.) During the second and third centuries, there were disagreements about the acceptance of Hebrews (because of doubts that it was written by Paul), James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. The Book of Revelation was also controversial. But the canon gradually became fixed. NEW TESTAMENT: TEXT TRANSMISSION Before the invention of printing, books had to be copied by hand. Copyists introduced differences, either by making errors or by trying to correct what they thought to be errors in the manuscripts from which they were working. As a result, any two copies of the same work are likely to differ slightly and scholars must compare manuscripts to try to recover the original text. Many sources help modern scholars determine what the original New Testament authors wrote. These include: 1. Papyri, which were written on papyrus (an ancient writing material made from a marsh plant). More than 70 papyri containing parts of the Greek New Testament, written between the second century and the eighth, are known. 2. Uncial manuscripts, which were written, usually on vellum (made from animal skins) in large, unconnected letters. About 300 uncial manuscripts of all or part of the Greek New Testament, written between the fourth and tenth centuries, are known. Some are famous, such as the fourth century Codex Vaticanus, the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus (a codex is a group of ancient manuscript pages sewn in book form rather than put in scroll form). 3. Minuscule manuscripts, which were written in a smaller, more free- flowing script than uncial manuscripts. Nearly 3000 minuscule manuscripts of all or part of the Greek New Testament, written between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, are known. 4. Lectionaries, which are books of readings from the New Testament for use in public worship. More than 1800 medieval manuscripts of Greek lectionaries are known. 5. Versions, which are early translations of the Greek New Testament into other languages, notably Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, and Ethiopic. Versions can be used to reconstruct the Greek text used by the translators in ancient times. 6. Quotations in ancient writers. Early Christian writers often quoted the New Testament, and their quotations reveal the kind of texts they used. NEW TESTAMENT: NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLARSHIP Ancient and medieval Christian scholars looked to the New Testament for answers to questions about belief, worship, and church organization. Many of these writers were very learned, and they studied the New Testament closely. Often they seem to have been more interested in moral edification or current controversy than in understanding what the New Testament authors had meant in their own time and cultural context. They also lacked the wealth of manuscript material available to modern scholars. They used what manuscripts they had, and when they found two manuscripts that differed they reconciled them as best they could. The invention of printing in the fifteenth century created the possibility of wider circulation of the New Testament, but also the need for editing the text. The first printed Greek New Testament to appear was edited by the humanist scholar Erasmus (1466?-1536) and published at Basel, Switzerland, in 1516. Another Greek edition had been printed in 1514 in Spain, but it wasn't released until 1520. The text of Erasmus went through many editions, and corrections were made as new manuscripts came to light. In the seventeenth century, an edition of Erasmus' text was dubbed the textus receptus--the text received by all--and the name is used for this whole series of New Testament editions. NEW TESTAMENT: TEXTUAL CRITICISM The textus receptus was based on few manuscripts, and those were not the best. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, scholars examined more and more manuscripts and started to work out the rules of textual criticism--the scientific study of differences between manuscripts to discover which best represents the original author's work. The nineteenth century saw the greatest progress in textual criticism. Scholars like Constantine von Tischendorf (1815-1874), B. F. Westcott (1825-1901), and F. J. A. Hort (1828-1892) made tremendous strides in gathering and comparing New Testament manuscripts. The work has continued, and new readings of individual passages are proposed from time to time, but the edition of Westcott and Hort, published in 1881, has remained for more than a century the most influential text of the Greek New Testament. NEW TESTAMENT: HIGHER CRITICISM In the eighteenth century, scholars began to go beyond the problems of textual criticism, and to ask questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible. Thinkers of the eighteenth century were less inclined than their predecessors to believe in miracles, or in the supernatural in general. An attempt to reconstruct a so-called historical Jesus--a Jesus without miracles--began with Hermann Reimarus (1694-1768). In the nineteenth century this higher criticism developed rapidly. It was popularized by the Life of Jesus of the French historian Ernest Renan (1823-1892), an attractive presentation of Jesus' life and teachings purged of supernatural elements. Telling criticism of this school of thought came, early in the twentieth century, from Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) in his Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer argued that the higher critics had been unfaithful to history, that first century people had believed strongly in the supernatural, and that eschatology in particular was central to the beliefs of the first Christians. NEW TESTAMENT: FORM CRITICISM Scholars in the first half of the twentieth century, led by Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) and Martin Dibelius (1883-1947), began to take a new look at the circumstances in which the New Testament was written. They broke the text into units (pericopes) classified according to literary form. They then tried to discover the place of the original units in the life of the early church, to discover the processes by which early Christian tradition evolved before the Gospels were written. Distinguishing between sayings of Jesus and the narratives in which the sayings appear, they argued that many of the sayings weren't originally uttered in the circumstances reported in the Gospels. Bultmann, in particular, tried to "demythologize" Jesus--to identify the myths he believed had grown up around the figure of Jesus in the minds of Christians during the decades before the Gospels were written. Although some of the conclusions of form criticism remain controversial, it has made a great contribution to our understanding of the traditions that influenced the writing of the New Testament, and the circumstances in which these traditions took shape in the Christian community. NEW TESTAMENT: REDACTION CRITICISM Since World War II, scholars have tried to build on the achievements of the form critics by looking at the way the texts of the New Testament books took shape. (Redaction means editing.) The form critics stressed the task of distinguishing between units within the text. The redaction critics have examined how these units were put together by New Testament authors, and the changes critics believed the authors made in the materials they were using. They shifted some attention back from community tradition to individual authors, and from sources to the texts we now possess. NEW TESTAMENT: AUTHENTICITY, CANONICITY, AND INSPIRATION The work of modern New Testament scholars has often shocked and offended conservative Christians. It may help you keep the controversies in perspective if you distinguish clearly among three concepts. NEW TESTAMENT: AUTHENTICITY A book (or part of a book) of the New Testament is considered authentic by scholars if they judge that the book was written by the author to whom it's attributed. Questions of authenticity are debated on the basis of the vocabulary and style of a text, its ideas, its relationship to other texts, and the state of development of the church it reflects. Most scholars consider Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians authentic letters of Paul, for example, while most scholars deny that Hebrews is an authentic work of Paul. NEW TESTAMENT: CANONICITY The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are all canonical-- included in Scripture. No differences exist between the New Testament canons of Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox Christians. Thus, for example, Hebrews is a canonical book, whether it is authentic or not. In contrast, there are differences among Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews about the Old Testament canon. NEW TESTAMENT: INSPIRATION An inspired book is believed to contain divine revelation. The question whether a book represents the Word of God is a matter of religious faith. A person, for example, who denies that there is a God Who reveals Himself to human beings can accept Galatians as an authentic work of Paul, and can recognize that it is in the New Testament canon, but will not believe that it is inspired. Inspiration is understood by different people in different ways. Some Christians believe that inspiration guarantees that every word in the Bible is literally true and free from any kind of error. Others believe that inspiration guarantees the truth of the religious teachings conveyed in Scripture, without ruling out the possibility that the writers made mistakes or simplifications on other matters, or even that they embodied certain teachings in myths. Finally, there are some who think that people--not books--can be inspired, and that the New Testament records genuine experiences that people had of God, but records them in a way that has no special guarantee of accuracy. NEW TESTAMENT: THEMES The following are major themes of the New Testament. 1. JESUS AS THE CHRIST Central to the New Testament is the theme that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. For centuries, Jews had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Under the rule of Greeks and Romans, most Jews expected that the Messiah would be a king sent by God to free them from foreign domination and reestablish an independent Jewish state. Other Jews interpreted the idea of the Messiah in more supernatural terms, and saw his coming as an event that would overthrow the evil in the world and establish the reign of goodness. A few modern historians have suggested that Jesus may in fact have had political ambitions. In the New Testament, however, the Christ is depicted as a purely religious figure. He announces the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God, a condition of perfect peace and supernatural joy. Sometimes this is spoken of as coming in the future, sometimes as already present. Jesus' parables, especially, suggest that the life of the Kingdom has begun, but is developing gradually, and is not yet fully realized. 2. NATURE OF THE CHRIST When the New Testament was written, Christians were wrestling with many problems about the nature of the Christ. Was Jesus a man to whom God gave the unique role of the Christ when God raised Jesus from the dead? Did Jesus become the Christ at the time of his baptism? Was he the Christ from the time of his conception and birth? Was he a divine being--the Word of God--who existed before the creation of the world, and who was born as a man in order to lead the human race into a new relationship with God? You'll find support for each of these positions in the New Testament. 3. THE GOOD NEWS OF SALVATION The New Testament writers saw the human race, before the coming of Jesus, as trapped in a miserable cycle of sin and death. The Epistles of Paul, and other parts of the New Testament, develop the theme that Jesus, by his death and resurrection, saved his followers from sin and opened the door to everlasting life. His death is described as a sacrifice that wiped out human guilt. This is known as the Redemption. As a consequence of the sacrificial death by which he redeems the human race, Jesus becomes the Lord, or ruler, of the world. 4. MORAL TEACHINGS Jesus is depicted in the Gospels as a moral teacher. He preaches purity of heart, sincerity, humility, and detachment from worldly cares. Sometimes he teaches that his followers should give up all their possessions, and offer no resistance to evildoers. For centuries, Christians have debated whether this advice is to be taken literally. Above all he stresses the importance of love for God and love for one's neighbor. After the time of Jesus, the leaders of the early Christian community give detailed advice on many moral questions in their Epistles. 5. THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY By the time the New Testament was written, Christian churches existed in Palestine and in many other parts of the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles and many of the Epistles describe aspects of the early history of Christianity. As the product of the faith of Christian communities, the Gospels emphasize those things in the life and sayings of Jesus that Christians found relevant to the worship, conduct, and organization of their churches. 6. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM Sometimes the New Testament authors stress the belief that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. Although it may seem strange today, they thought that all Jews, to be faithful to their tradition, should become Christians. Sometimes they stress the opposition between the Law, the Jewish law contained in the Old Testament, and the Gospel, the new dispensation begun by the Christ. And sometimes their writings describe or reflect controversies between Jesus, or his followers, and various Jewish groups such as the Pharisees. 7. THE END OF THE WORLD The first Christians believed that Jesus would soon return and that the world as they knew it would come to an end. This theme, known as eschatology, is important in many parts of the New Testament. It appears in several of Paul's Epistles, and in the Gospels. The Book of Revelation, written a couple of generations after the time of Jesus, reaffirms the belief that the world will come to an end. Eschatological beliefs include the belief in the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the Day of Judgment. Keep these main themes in mind as you read. You'll notice that New Testament authors handle these themes in somewhat different ways. Each treats his materials from his own viewpoint. These differences have given rise to controversies among New Testament interpreters. The authors of Matthew and Luke, for example, consider the miraculous birth of Jesus--his mother's virginity, appearances of angels, and so forth--as a significant part of his role as the Christ, while the authors of Mark and John give no details about his birth. Again, the synoptic Gospels set Jesus' preaching career in northern Palestine, and seem to confine it to a single year, while the author of John reports several journeys between Galilee and Jerusalem, and seems to assign three years to Jesus' ministry. Again, the author of John tells the story of the Last Supper at more length than the synoptic authors, but he doesn't mention the Eucharist there, though it is important in all three of the synoptic accounts. Again, according to Matthew the risen Jesus appears to his apostles in Galilee, according to Luke in Jerusalem, and according to John in both places. Again, the question of whether the Jewish law was binding on Christians was highly controversial in the first century. Paul emphatically denies it, while the author of Matthew occasionally depicts Jesus as commanding obedience to the law. Again, Paul's whole discussion of salvation is based on the idea that Christians are saved by faith, not works, while the author of James insists that faith without works is of no value. Finally, Paul and the author of 1 Peter say the power of the Roman Empire comes from God, and advise Christians to uphold it, while the author of Revelation considers the government diabolical and prays for its speedy downfall. NEW TESTAMENT: PERSONALITIES The following are personalities of the New Testament. NEW TESTAMENT: JESUS Jesus is one of the most familiar persons in the history of the Western world. Traditional Christian churches confess him as "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." Millions accept him as Lord, as Christ, as Savior. In most Western lands it's hard to spend a day without hearing Jesus quoted, or seeing a picture or statue of him. He died nearly two thousand years ago, and yet today there are hundreds of thousands of people--lonely, hungry, sick, despised, imprisoned, dying--who believe that he is their only friend. Most of what is known or believed about Jesus comes from the New Testament. The four Gospels are filled with his words: he speaks of God as his Father, calls on people to love one another, announces the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Gospels also contain many vivid incidents, in which we see Jesus eating with friends, answering the questions of strangers, confronted by enemies. His personality, as presented in the Gospels, encompasses many opposites. He is strong and gentle, forthright and compassionate, traditional and revolutionary. Many persons who do not accord Jesus religious veneration nevertheless give him their deepest admiration. Although he is so familiar, there's a lot we don't know about Jesus. The Gospels depict his preaching career, which lasted just a few years, and his death. Two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke, begin with stories of his birth and childhood, but scholars doubt the historical reliability of these "infancy narratives." Of his formative years, we know practically nothing. What, then, do we know about him? Jesus was probably born about 6 B.C. He grew up in the town of Nazareth in Galilee, in northern Palestine, and spent most of his life in otherwise obscure villages. He was a carpenter by trade. His everyday language was almost certainly Aramaic. Probably he knew Hebrew as well, for his literary education consisted of the study of the Hebrew Scriptures, which he quoted frequently. When he was about thirty years old, he was baptized. He became a preacher and healer, and followers gathered around him. People called him Rabbi or Rabboni (John 3:2, 20:16), meaning teacher. Crowds called him "Jesus the prophet of Nazareth" (Matthew 21:11). And one of his closest followers called him "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). About A.D. 30, he was crucified at Jerusalem, and soon afterward his followers announced that he had risen from the dead. NEW TESTAMENT: MARY AND JOSEPH The virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned several times in the Gospels. She's especially prominent in the story of Jesus' birth in Luke. In John it is at her request that Jesus performs his first miracle, at the marriage at Cana. She appears at the Crucifixion, and she is with the apostles afterward. Readers of the New Testament are often surprised to find relatively little about her there, in view of her importance in later Christian devotion. Certainly the veneration of Mary as the Mother of God has played a distinctive part in the history of Western thought and feeling. In medieval times the figure of Mary introduced a special maternal tenderness into the religious conceptions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians. In Western art, the figure of Mary is almost as familiar as that of Jesus himself. Joseph, a carpenter, was the husband of Mary and the father or foster father of Jesus. He plays an important part in the birth story of Jesus in Matthew. The Gospel writers give him no role in Jesus' adult life and presumably thought he had died by then. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN THE BAPTIST John the Baptist is depicted in the Gospels as a Jewish prophet, who lived a life of self-denial in the deserts of Judea, preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, urged people to turn away from their sins, and baptized them in the Jordan River to signify such a turning away (repentance). John's mother Elisabeth is described as a cousin of Mary (Luke 1:36). Jesus' ministry begins with his baptism by John, and his first preaching echoes John's preaching of the Kingdom. NEW TESTAMENT: JESUS' BROTHERS AND SISTERS According to Mark 6:3, Jesus had at least four brothers: James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, as well as sisters whose number and names are unspecified. At one point during Jesus' ministry, his brothers didn't believe in him (John 7:5). Nevertheless, at least one of the brothers played an important part in early Christianity, for Paul describes James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, as "the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:19). Some readers think the brothers and sisters of Jesus were children of Mary and Joseph. Others, especially Catholics committed to the belief that Mary remained a virgin all her life, have denied this. They've suggested that the brothers and sisters were children of Joseph by an earlier marriage, or that they were Jesus' cousins. NEW TESTAMENT: THE TWELVE APOSTLES Jesus chose twelve men as the inner circle among his followers, and they're called the twelve apostles, from the Greek apostolos, meaning one who is sent, a messenger. The twelve are listed in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13. The four lists are very similar, although they're not in exactly the same order, and a few of the names differ. The twelve apostles are Simon, known as Peter or Cephas; Andrew, his brother; James, son of Zebedee; John, his brother; Philip; Bartholomew (or Nathanael); Matthew (or Levi); Thomas; James, son of Alpheus; Simon the Zealot (or the Canaanite); Jude (or Lebbeus, or Thaddeus), brother of James; and Judas Iscariot. The fact that two of the apostles are named Simon, two James, and two Jude or Judas, isn't really surprising, in view of the great popularity of these names among Jews at the time (James is an English form of the name Jacob). Peter appears in the Gospels as the leader of the twelve, and he also plays a big part in the Acts of the Apostles. He's really the only one of the twelve who emerges as a full-fledged personality in the New Testament. Peter, James, and John seem to make up an inner circle within the inner circle. If, as many scholars believe, John is the beloved disciple spoken of in the Gospel of John, he enjoyed the particular friendship of Jesus. The apostles seem to have exercised a collective leadership over the church for a time after the Crucifixion, but in the New Testament they are (with the exception of Peter) quickly overshadowed by the personality of Paul. NEW TESTAMENT: PAUL Paul was the most dynamic figure in the history of Christianity during the generation after the Crucifixion. He was born, perhaps about A.D. 10, into a Jewish family at Tarsus, in what is now southeastern Turkey. His original name was Saul. Since he inherited the privileged status of Roman citizenship, his family evidently didn't belong to the lowest classes of society. On the other hand, Paul wasn't wealthy. He earned his living as a tent-maker (Acts 18:3) . During his early life, Paul was a devout Jew. He belonged to the Pharisee party, which observed the Jewish law strictly. Not long after the Crucifixion of Jesus, Paul was in Jerusalem, pursuing his religious studies. His first contacts with Christianity were hostile. He joined with the crowd that killed Stephen, and he became an active persecutor of Christians. While he was on the way to Damascus, sent to arrest Christians there, he was suddenly converted to Christianity--an event that was seen as a miracle. Paul became a zealous preacher of the new faith, working among Jews and Gentiles in the Greek-speaking cities of his own home region of Asia Minor and on the mainland of Greece. Because of his particular success among Gentiles, he became known as the Apostle of the Gentiles. Paul believed that Christians didn't have to observe the Jewish law, and he defended this position in controversy with Jewish Christians. Over the long run, Paul more than anyone else was responsible for making Christianity a universal religion. In the New Testament, Paul's life is depicted in the Acts of the Apostles, although that account breaks off before his death. According to tradition he died as a martyr in Rome in the 60s. His letters to various churches, notably Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, make up an important part of the New Testament. In them, he discusses many crucial religious concepts, and also reveals his own personality--his lively mind, his personal sensitivity, and his burning religious zeal. NEW TESTAMENT: FRIENDS OF JESUS Apart from the apostles, the Gospels speak of a number of important friends of Jesus. Mary Magdalene has unique importance, as the principal witness to the Resurrection. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, two sisters and a brother who lived at Bethany near Jerusalem, were also close friends of Jesus. NEW TESTAMENT: ASSOCIATES OF THE APOSTLES Many first-century Christians are mentioned in the New Testament. The twelve apostles were assisted by seven deacons, of whom Stephen and Philip were the most prominent. Stephen is remembered as the first Christian martyr. Paul's important associates included Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, John Mark, and Luke. The last two are traditionally considered the authors of the second and third Gospels. Paul knew a married couple named Priscilla and Aquila well. Another important early Christian preacher was Apollos, about whom we'd like to know more. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN OF PATMOS The author of the Book of Revelation, a Christian called John who reports that he had a series of visions on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea off what is now the west coast of Turkey, is one of the most unusual personalities of the New Testament. He probably wrote toward the end of the first century. We know virtually nothing of his external life, but he tells us a great deal about his internal experiences. NEW TESTAMENT: LITERARY FORMS, STYLES, TECHNIQUES The New Testament contains three different kinds of books. NEW TESTAMENT: HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are accounts of events. The word gospel comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning good news. It translates the Greek evangelion. Originally, in the 30s and 40s and 50s of the first century, the good news proclaimed by the Christian church wasn't conveyed in written form. It was the oral preaching of the salvation that Christians believed God offered to humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The accounts of Jesus written in the second half of the first century came to be called Gospels, because the main purpose of the authors in telling the story was again to spread this good news. The authors of the Gospels gathered the traditions that circulated in the Christian community a generation or two after Jesus' time. They wrote from hindsight--from the perspective of their belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior, the risen Lord. There's every reason to think that, if they made mistakes in setting down the historical record, it was despite their best efforts to understand and transmit the truth. The Acts of the Apostles, though it deals with events after Jesus' lifetime, has the same character as the Gospels. In a real sense, Acts is an attempt to tell the story of the life of the risen Jesus in his church. Within these historical accounts, you'll find two main kinds of material: narrative material and sayings material. Narrative material, such as miracle stories and the story of Jesus' Passion (his arrest, trial, and crucifixion), tells about actions. Sayings material is of several types. It includes teaching sermons of Jesus, notably the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It includes parables, which are brief stories that Jesus told in the course of teaching. In a parable, to help listeners understand a concept, it is presented by being likened to something seen in everyday life. Thus, for example, in the parable of the seed that grows by itself (Mark 4:26-29) Jesus says the Kingdom of God is "as if" a man planted seed, and then left it alone. The plant grows by itself, "he knoweth not how," but when the time comes he harvests it. The story illustrates the mysterious way Jesus saw the growth of the Kingdom of God in the world--not by people's deliberate efforts, but seemingly of its own accord. Another kind of sayings material is the "I am" speeches in the Gospel of John, where Jesus says "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11), "I am the true vine" (John 15:1). These sayings are metaphors intended to reveal various aspects of Jesus' role. (A metaphor speaks of something as if it were a second thing to suggest shared qualities, as when we say "my mother is an angel" or "John is a pig".) Acts has many speeches, too, most of which are proclamation speeches, representing the form the preaching of the good news took before the writing of the Gospels. NEW TESTAMENT: LETTERS Epistle means letter, and most New Testament Epistles are written in letter form. This form usually includes several parts: 1. The address, for example "Paul... Unto the churches of Galatia... Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:1-3). The address includes the names of the sender and the recipients, and a greeting. 2. The thanksgiving, for example "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:4). 3. The letter body, which often begins with a discussion of religious doctrine and ends with practical advice. 4. Concluding greetings, which can be as long as Romans 16:3-16, 21- 23, which includes greetings to two dozen named individuals, and from eight named individuals, or as short as 2 Corinthians 13:13, which says "All the saints salute you." 5. Final blessing, for example "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen" (Philippians 4:23). NEW TESTAMENT: VISION LITERATURE The third kind of book in the New Testament is vision literature, writing that purports to be an account of supernatural visions the author says he has had. The only example is the Book of Revelation. NEW TESTAMENT: TRANSLATIONS No other book has been translated as often as the New Testament. By 1980 it had been translated into some 745 languages. Bible translation has played an important part in the cultural history of the world. Some languages had never been written until missionaries devised linguistic systems so the Bible could be translated. Many languages have had their vocabulary enriched through Bible translation. Some Bible translations have been literary monuments in their own right. The Latin Vulgate translation, produced at the end of the fourth century by Jerome, became the standard Bible of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. The Vulgate translation was used for the first printed Bible (the Gutenberg Bible of 1456), and it was the official Roman Catholic version until modern times. The German translation by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), of which the New Testament appeared in 1522, has had a tremendous influence on the German language. The translation of parts of the Bible into English began already in Anglo-Saxon times (before 1066), and followers of the religious reformer John Wycliffe (1324-1384) produced a complete English Bible in the fourteenth century. These medieval translations were made from Jerome's Vulgate. The Protestant Reformation gave new urgency to translation projects. William Tyndale (about 1494-1536), an English supporter of the Reformation, printed the first New Testament translated into English from the original Greek in 1526. A series of versions, often revisions of Tyndale, appeared in the sixteenth century. In 1604, James 1 of England ordered a new translation of the Bible, to be used in the public worship of the Church of England. The translation, based largely on Tyndale, was published in 1611. It is often called the Authorized Version, but in the United States it's commonly known as the King James Version. It soon became the most widely used English Bible among Protestants. Meanwhile, English-speaking Roman Catholics used the translation of the Vulgate New Testament by Gregory Martin (about 1540-82), published in Rheims, France, in 1582. These two versions held the field, in English-speaking lands, for centuries. Since World War II, many distinguished new translations have appeared. The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament was published in 1946. It's a thorough revision of the King James Version. The Jerusalem Bible, with excellent textual notes, appeared under Roman Catholic auspices in Great Britain in 1966. Also in 1966, the New Testament in Today's English Version (Good News Bible), a very readable version, was published by American Protestants. British Protestant scholars produced the New English Bible in 1970, and American Catholic scholars published the New American Bible the same year. The New Testament in the New International Version, translated by conservative Protestant scholars from many English- speaking countries, appeared in 1973. Does it seem strange to you that new translations should keep appearing? It's a testimony to the intense interest people continue to have in the Bible. There are two reasons why it's good--even necessary--for new translations to appear. The first is the fact that language changes. The King James Version, published in Shakespeare's time, contains many words that have changed their meaning, and many features of its style seem strange to modern readers. Secondly, the Greek text from which translators work is continually being improved. The King James translators used the old textus receptus. Nineteenth and twentieth century scholars have been able to examine hundreds of ancient and medieval manuscripts that weren't available to scholars in 1611, and today's translators have a Greek text of the New Testament that's closer to the words written by the original authors. Translations of the New Testament often differ drastically in style and tone, and there can be minor variations in content. A good way of seeing the differences is to compare versions of the same passage. Here are seven translations of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:1-2. KING JAMES VERSION Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. REVISED STANDARD VERSION Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. JERUSALEM BIBLE Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. TODAY'S ENGLISH VERSION Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others. NEW ENGLISH BIBLE Pass no judgement, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you. NEW AMERICAN BIBLE If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgment. Your verdict on others will be the verdict passed on you. The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Notice that some of these versions render the passage in one sentence, some in two, and one in three. Notice, too, the flexibility of the translators in choosing the active or passive voice in their efforts to make the passage as clear as possible. One version even moves the part about not being judged out of the passive, though this requires the introduction of God--who is not named here in the Greek original--and thus changes the point of the passage. NEW TESTAMENT: INFLUENCE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT In the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire--essentially, the lands that surround the Mediterranean Sea. During the next thousand years the Catholic form of Christianity spread across northern Europe, its Orthodox form to Russia, its Monophysite form to Ethiopia, and its Nestorian form to Central Asia and India. With the age of discovery, starting at the end of the fifteenth century, a new cycle of expansion began. Christians from Europe settled in North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. Missionaries converted many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Philippines, and Christianity became widespread in many parts of black Africa. By the mid-1980s, more than one billion people were Christians. It's not surprising, then, that the New Testament has become the most widely disseminated book on earth. The New Testament's greatest influence has, of course, been in the area of religion. Christian churches have tried to structure their organizational forms according to the patterns they found in the New Testament. Organized Christianity's emphasis on baptism, on the celebration of the Eucharist, and on the preaching of the gospel clearly goes back to the New Testament. Above all, the inner experience of faith and the inner confidence in redemption and the forgiveness of sin in Jesus, which have helped hundreds of millions of Christians to face the troubles and disillusionments of life, derive either from their personal reading of the New Testament or from having the New Testament preached to them. In the arts, the New Testament has also had tremendous influence. If museums, churches, and homes throughout the world were emptied overnight of all pictures and statues of the Crucifixion, of the Madonna and Child, and of hundreds of other New Testament themes, much of the world's artistic heritage would disappear. By the same token, if we didn't have the oratorios, hymns, and liturgical music inspired by the New Testament, our stock of great compositions would shrink considerably. Our literature refers often to the New Testament. When authors speak of the salt of the earth, our daily bread, a thorn in the flesh, the good fight, faith without works, casting pearls before swine, hiding our light under a bushel, a good Samaritan, or a doubting Thomas, they're quoting the New Testament, whether knowingly or not. In the realm of ethics, the influence of the New Testament has been twofold. On the one hand the noble moral standard recommended by Jesus--love your neighbor as yourself--has been the ideal of millions. If you look around the world, and see people cheating their neighbors and bombing their neighbors, you may be struck by the extent to which the standard has remained only an ideal. A cynic might say that, in this respect, the New Testament has been the least influential book ever written. But there have been many attempts--in modern times, for example, by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), the non-Christian Indian political leader Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), the American social reformer Dorothy Day (1897-1980), and the American civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)--to put this ideal into practice. On the other hand, the moral advice given in the New Testament, especially the Epistles--warnings against anger, drunkenness, insubordination, sexual immorality, and the like--has played a large part in the formation of Western ideas about the vices and the virtues. It has influenced legislation at times, and it has often been invoked in the moral education of the young. Sometimes, ironically, in the minds of some individuals, this moral teaching has even overshadowed the message of salvation and forgiveness that's central to the New Testament itself. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-OVERVIEW According to tradition, the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew, but the author tells us nothing directly about himself. He used the Gospel of Mark as a source. He also used other material, including a large number of sayings of Jesus that also appear in the Gospel of Luke. Many scholars think the similarities between Matthew and Luke can best be explained by their authors' use of a common source, a collection of sayings of Jesus that is now lost. They call this collection Q, from the German Quelle, meaning source. Most scholars agree that, in its present form, Matthew was written in the last quarter of the first century, perhaps in the 80s. The relationship between Christianity and Judaism is an important theme of this Gospel. The author is thoroughly familiar with the Jewish tradition, and he often tries to show that events in the life of Jesus fulfill Old Testament prophecies. His point is that Jesus is the Messiah long expected by the Jews, and that the work of Jesus completes and perfects God's plan that had been at work in the days of Abraham, Moses, and David. Jesus announces the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven (called, in Mark and Luke, the Kingdom of God). But Matthew was written at a time when Christianity had become distinct from Judaism, and the community for which it was written probably included many Gentiles. Thus the author also emphasizes that when Jesus comes and announces the Kingdom he is rejected by many Jews and accepted by many Gentiles. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-ORIGINS OF THE CHRIST (1:1-2:23) The Gospel begins with a genealogy tracing family descent from Abraham to David to "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." The title Christ (Greek Christos, meaning anointed) is the equivalent of Messiah. The genealogy links Jesus to the Old Testament. Before they have lived together, Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant. He thinks of divorcing her, but an angel tells him in a dream that the child to whom Mary will give birth is "of the Holy Ghost," and says the child should be named Jesus, "for he shall save his people from their sins." Jesus is a Greek form of the Hebrew Yehoshua, or Joshua, meaning Yahweh (God) is salvation or Yahweh saves. The Gospel says the birth of Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 7:14): "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (1:23). In the Hebrew, the passage says a young woman would become pregnant, but Greek translations available when Matthew was written use a word meaning virgin. NOTE: THE VIRGIN BIRTH The Gospel says that Mary was "with child of the Holy Ghost." In the Gospels, God's power is often called the Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, or Spirit of God. What this passage means is that Jesus was conceived, not by the normal sexual union of man and woman, but by a miracle. Most Christians have accepted the virgin birth as literally true. Others, especially in recent times, have argued that it is a myth intended to emphasize the idea that Jesus has a uniquely important meaning in the relationship between God and the human race. Jesus is born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the days of Herod the Great, who ruled Palestine under Roman overlordship from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. The conventional date for the birth of Jesus, on which our calendar is based, wasn't calculated until the sixth century and is almost certainly a few years too late. Right after Jesus is born, wise men from the east come to Jerusalem asking to see the newborn King of the Jews. You're probably familiar with the wise men as the three kings, who play a big part in the folklore of the Christmas season. In fact, the Gospel does not describe them as kings, nor does it say how many they are. In any case, they are certainly Gentiles, and their visit implies recognition of Jesus by Gentiles from the very beginning. Herod, however, having learned about Jesus from the wise men, is troubled, evidently fearing a Messiah will be a challenge to his political authority. He has all the children of Bethlehem who are two years old and younger put to death--the "massacre of the innocents." But Joseph, warned by an angel in a dream, flees with Jesus and Mary to Egypt. After Herod's death, Jesus and his family return to Palestine and settle in Nazareth in Galilee. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-JESUS BEGINS HIS MINISTRY (3:1-4:25) Years have passed, and Jesus is now grown. But before he reenters the story, John the Baptist is introduced. John preaches in the Judean desert. Crowds of people go to him, and he baptizes them in the Jordan River. John predicts that one who is greater than he will come after him, one who will baptize "with the Holy Ghost, and with fire"--the Messiah. NOTE: JOHN THE BAPTIST John the Baptist is a prophetic figure. His costume (3:4) recalls that of the Old Testament prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Scholars have pointed out similarities between John's beliefs and practices and those of the Jewish community at Qumran, which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered beginning in the late 1940s). Both John and that community were sternly moralistic and believed fervently in the coming of the Messiah. Both practiced rituals involving bathing in water. And Qumran was in the Judean desert not far from the area where John worked. John must have known about the Qumran community, but there's no evidence that he was a member of it. Jesus comes to John and is baptized. When he comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends on him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven--presumably the voice of God--says "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." After his baptism, Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Notice that the devil tests the words of the heavenly voice saying "If thou be the son of God," and that Jesus resists the devil successfully without satisfying his curiosity. The three things Jesus is tempted to do all represent ways of using miraculous power for one's own benefit: to obtain food, to ward off danger, and to rule the earth. (The English poet John Milton [1608-1674] used the temptation story as the basis for his epic poem Paradise Regained.) Then Jesus returns to Galilee and begins preaching "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (4:17). This prophetic message, which is the same as John the Baptist's (3:2), sounds like a warning. The emphasis here on repentance (turning away from sin) suggests that the coming of the Kingdom is to be feared because it will bring God's judgment. The Kingdom, however, is a many-sided theme. You'll see other aspects of it developed later in this Gospel. Jesus calls his first followers, four fishermen who give up their former lives and follow him. He teaches in synagogues and heals the sick, and great crowds come to him. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-SERMON ON THE MOUNT (5:1-7:29) Jesus goes "up into a mountain" and preaches. He begins the sermon with the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.... Blessed are the merciful.... Blessed are the pure in heart.... Blessed are the peacemakers.... Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake.... Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Blessed means happy, fortunate, enviable. We don't normally think of people who are mourning, persecuted, and reviled as fortunate. But Jesus announces that the Kingdom belongs to the virtuous, especially those who are despised because their virtue is incompatible with worldly values. At 5:17 Jesus begins to discuss the law of Moses, which is found in the first five books of the Old Testament. In the time of Jesus, the law was especially revered by the scribes (copyists and interpreters of the Jewish Scriptures) and the Pharisees (members of a party within Judaism that strictly observed, not only the written law, but also a body of traditional rules that had not yet been written down). Jesus declares "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven." How can righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Jesus explains what he means by contrasting the demands of the law with his own view of righteousness. Where the law forbids killing and adultery (Exodus 20:13-14; Deuteronomy 5:17-18), Jesus teaches that anger and lust are wrong, shifting the focus of morality from outward actions to inward motives. Where the law enjoins retribution and requires love of one's neighbor (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 19:18), Jesus teaches that one should "resist not evil," and love even one's enemies. Finally, he says "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (5:48). Does Jesus really expect his listeners to attain perfection like God's? Christians have interpreted this saying in different ways. Some have thought that all are required to conform to Jesus' demands. Others have held that only certain Christians are called to perfection. Still others have believed Jesus means that, since nobody is perfect, nobody can enter the Kingdom by his own efforts, for example by obeying the commandments of the Old Testament. NOTE: SETTING OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT In the Old Testament (Exodus 19 and 20) God gave the law to Moses on a mountain top. Here, where Jesus contrasts the morality of the Kingdom of Heaven with the Mosaic commandments, the setting recalls that of the giving of the law. In fact, Chapters 1 to 7 present a series of parallels between the life of Jesus and the life of Moses and the ancient Israelites. The massacre of the innocents and the escape of Jesus parallels the story of the infancy of Moses (Exodus 1 and 2), in which the Pharaoh ordered all male Hebrew babies put to death, but Moses escaped. The quotation at 2:15 "Out of Egypt have I called my son" (Hosea 11:1) recalls the Exodus. And the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, in which Jesus' answers to the devil are all quotations from Deuteronomy, parallels the testing of the Israelites in the desert. The author of Matthew sees Jesus' life as the recapitulation of the experience of Israel, and he sees the Sermon on the Mount as corresponding to the Mosaic law. In Chapter 6, Jesus says religious acts such as prayer, giving to the poor, and fasting should be performed sincerely, rather than for the sake of looking good in other people's eyes. The section on prayer includes the Lord's Prayer (6:9-13), which is said by millions of Christians. Notice that Jesus teaches his followers to pray "Thy kingdom come." At 4:17 the announcement of the Kingdom sounds like a warning. Here, the coming of the Kingdom is seen as something to be prayed for, something very desirable. Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount by talking about the need for single-mindedness, teaching the Golden Rule (7:12), and describing the two ways--the way (of goodness) that leads to life and the way (of wickedness) that leads to destruction. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-MINISTRY OF JESUS IN GALILEE AND THE NORTH (8:1-18:35) In this middle part of the Gospel, Jesus performs miracles, teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, comes into conflict with some Jewish groups, and is recognized by his followers as the Christ. The action is set in Galilee and in neighboring areas, including Tyre and Sidon to the northwest and Caesarea Philippi to the northeast. You'll find many miracle stories here and in other Gospels--mostly miracles of healing. Although Jesus refers to his miracles as signs that he is the Christ (11:4-6, 20-24), he doesn't seem to think that miracles are of central importance to his ministry. He doesn't go looking for sick people to cure. They come to him. And when he performs miracles, he often tries to avoid publicity. He heals a leper and says "tell no man" (8:4). He restores sight to two blind men and says "See that no man know it" (9:30). Two miracle stories develop the theme of Jesus' relationship to the Gentiles. Although his mission is to the Jews, he is deeply moved by the faith of two Gentiles: a centurion (a soldier in the Roman army) and a Canaanite woman. He predicts that many believing Gentiles will enter the Kingdom. Jesus often presents his teaching about the Kingdom in the form of parables. A parable is a rhetorical device that teaches indirectly, through a story about ordinary life. Jesus uses familiar things to bring ideas to life in the minds of his listeners. At 13:3-8, he compares the preaching of the Kingdom to the sowing of seed by a farmer. Just as some of the seed is wasted by being eaten by birds or falling on bad ground, so some to whom the Kingdom is preached will fail to respond. But, as some seed falls on good ground and grows into a plentiful harvest, so some will take the preaching to heart and be transformed by it. You'll find parables scattered through the synoptic Gospels. Some of Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom is more direct. When, for example, he says "the kingdom of God is come unto you" (12:28), he describes the Kingdom as a present reality. He says that his own coming already brings the Kingdom. Although this idea follows logically from the idea that Jesus is the Christ, it is revolutionary in its suggestion that the Kingdom doesn't necessarily involve any big, obvious change in the affairs of the world. The activities of Jesus bring him into conflict with certain groups of devout Jews. Scribes criticize him for telling a man that his sins are forgiven. Followers of John the Baptist are perplexed because Jesus' followers don't practice fasting. Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with publicans (men who collected taxes for the Roman government) and sinners. They accuse him of letting his followers violate the Sabbath and the laws of religious cleanliness. Some even suggest that he casts out devils by the power of the devil. Jesus responds vigorously to these criticisms, describing his opponents as hypocrites who honor God with their lips, but not in their hearts. As a result of these controversies, Pharisees begin to consider how they can destroy Jesus (12:14). At 16:15 Jesus asks his followers "whom say ye that I am?" Simon replies, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This recognition of Jesus as the Messiah is confirmed by Jesus as having been revealed by God. Then Jesus changes Simon's name (as Old Testament figures had changed their names; see Genesis 17:5): "thou art Peter [Petros, meaning rock], and upon this rock I will build my church" (16:18). NOTE: "THOU ART PETER" Roman Catholic teaching holds that in this passage, Jesus gives Peter authority to govern the Christian church-- that with these words he establishes Peter as the first pope. Other Christians interpret the passage as a more general bestowal of authority on the apostles through Peter as their representative, or as a statement that faith in Jesus as the Christ, which Peter had just shown, is the "rock" on which the Christian church is to be built. Jesus teaches his followers that he must go to Jerusalem, be put to death, and rise from the grave. When Peter objects, Jesus rebukes him severely: "Get thee behind me, Satan" (16:23). Do you get the feeling that there's a parallel here to the temptation of Jesus in chapter 4? Peter wants a Christ who doesn't have to suffer. Jesus tells him that such a way is not "of God," but "of men." But then Jesus predicts that after his suffering will come his Parousia, or Second Coming: "the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels" (16:27). Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a mountain top. They see his face "shine as the sun" (17:2), and they see Moses and Elias (Elijah) with him. As at the baptism of Jesus, a heavenly voice is heard, saying "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (17:5). This incident, known as the Transfiguration, has several significant aspects. The appearance of Jesus in glory seems to be an anticipation of his Second Coming. The appearance of Moses and Elias reflects the idea that Jesus is the culmination of the Old Testament. And the message of the heavenly voice extends to his followers the announcement that Jesus is the Son of God (which at his baptism was, arguably, revealed only to himself). The message is a confirmation of Peter's confession. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (19:1-20:34) Jesus travels from Galilee to Jerusalem, teaching and healing as he goes. When Peter says "we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" (19:27), Jesus promises great rewards: everyone who has given up family and property for Jesus' sake "shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (19:29). Does this seem to you to encourage a "what's in it for me?" attitude? In a swift change of mood, the author immediately follows this saying with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16), which is found only in Matthew. Jesus tells the story of the owner of a vineyard who hires some workers early in the morning, some at the third hour (between 8 and 9 A.M.), some at the sixth (between 11 A.M. and noon), some at the ninth (between 2 and 3 P.M.), and some at the eleventh hour (between 4 and 5 P.M.). When the day is done, he pays the same wage to those who worked just for an hour as to those who worked all day. Is this unfair? The owner says "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" (20:15). Jesus says the Kingdom is like that. Here, then, in contrast to the talk of rewards that comes just before, Jesus emphasizes God's generosity to all who enter the Kingdom, and seems to downplay the idea of special rewards for those who have worked longer or harder. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-MINISTRY OF JESUS IN JERUSALEM (21:1-25:46) Jesus rides into Jerusalem. He's hailed by crowds as "the prophet of Nazareth" and as "Son of David." NOTE: According to Matthew, Jesus rides on an ass and a colt (21:2,7) in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy "thy King cometh... riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zechariah 9:9). Of course, nobody can ride on two animals at once. In the other Gospels, there's just one animal (Mark 11:2,7; Luke 19:30,35; John 12:14). The author of Matthew has taken the Zechariah passage literally, when it's really a repetition of synonyms characteristic of Old Testament style. This provides an interesting insight into the author's attempt to as closely as possible conform his materials to Old Testament prophecy. Jesus goes to the Temple, throws out the people who buy and sell there, and overthrows the tables of the money changers. He heals blind and lame people in the Temple, and is acclaimed there again as "Son of David" (21:15). The chief priests and scribes are displeased. Pharisees and Sadducees ask Jesus some delicate theological and legal questions, but he shows himself a skillful debater. In the process, he engages in some important teaching, notably the identification of the two most important commandments of the law: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (22:37,39; citing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). Chiefly, though, he denounces the scribes and Pharisees. He teaches that "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (23:2-3). NOTE: Are you surprised that Jesus tells his followers to observe the rules of the Pharisees? Some scholars believe that this saying goes against everything else we know about Jesus' attitude toward the Pharisaic interpretation of the law, and suggest that the sentiments must come from the author of Matthew or from his sources rather than from Jesus himself. Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees as "hypocrites," saying they observe many trivial details while neglecting "judgment, mercy and faith," which are "the weightier matters of the law" (23:23). In the so-called Little Apocalypse, Jesus predicts future events. This is the most extensive expression in Matthew of eschatological beliefs (beliefs concerning the end of the world). Jesus says there'll be "wars and rumors of wars.... famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes" (24:6-7). He says Christians will be persecuted and "the love of many shall wax cold" (24:12). He says "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" will "stand in the holy place" (24:15). NOTE: Some scholars think this idea may have been influenced by the plan of the Roman Emperor Caligula to set up a statue of himself in the Temple around A.D. 40. If Caligula had gone through with it, Jews and Christians would have regarded the statue as an "abomination of desolation," a desecration of the Temple (see Daniel 11:31 and 12:11, which probably refers to the government-imposed worship of the pagan god Zeus in the Temple around 167 B.C.). Jesus says "there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets" (24:24). Finally, the Parousia--the Second Coming--will take place: "they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (24:30). Jesus illustrates the eschatological dimension of the Kingdom with the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, and the parable of the talents. The point of these is the importance of being prepared, "for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (25:13). He concludes with a memorable description of the Last Judgment, which is found only in Matthew. Jesus says when the Son of Man comes, he'll divide the "sheep from the goats" (25:32). One group he will invite into the Kingdom, saying that he was hungry and they fed him, thirsty and they gave him drink, a stranger and they took him in, naked and they clothed him, sick and they visited him, in prison and they came to him. To the other group he says he was hungry and they gave him no food, and so forth. He consigns them to everlasting fire. Both groups ask when this happened. They haven't seen him hungry, naked, and sick! But he says "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (25:40). This identification of Jesus with those who suffer is clearly a call to action. It also sets the tone for the next part of the Gospel, in which Jesus himself suffers. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-THE PASSION (26:1-27:66) The chief priests, scribes, and elders decide to kill Jesus, but they're afraid of the crowds who are gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover festival--the people who have been acclaiming Jesus. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, offers to hand Jesus over to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus and the apostles "eat the passover" (26:17), the festival meal celebrated by observant Jews in memory of their ancestors' deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:14-21, 42-47). The meal, which commemorates God's redemption, is transformed by Jesus when he takes bread and wine and says "this is my body," and "this is my blood" (26:26, 28), an act repeated to this day by Christians in the ceremony of the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper. (The final meal of Jesus with his apostles, the Last Supper, has been a popular subject for artists. The most famous depiction is the mural by the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci [1452-1519] in Milan.) After the supper, Jesus and the apostles go to the Mount of Olives. On the way, Jesus tells the apostles that they will all fall away. Peter objects, but Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before cockcrow. At Gethsemane, Jesus prays that he may avoid the suffering he foresees, but resigns himself to the will of God. At this moment of spiritual crisis Peter, James, and John fall asleep. Judas arrives with men from the chief priests. When he shows them who Jesus is by kissing him, they arrest Jesus. Presumably, the principal function of Judas is to reveal where Jesus can be captured outside the city, where the Passover crowds won't be able to interfere. In any case, Jesus puts up no resistance, and his followers flee. Jesus is questioned by the high priest and the council. He's asked whether he is "the Christ, the Son of God" (26:63). He replies "Thou hast said," and adds that in the future the Son of man will be seen "sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (26:64). Matthew's "Thou hast said" is altered from Mark's simpler "I am" (Mark 14:62). Is it an affirmation, or is it equivocal? The high priest and the council take it as an affirmation, and judge that Jesus' claim to be the Christ is a blasphemy deserving death. Meanwhile, Peter has followed Jesus to the high priest's palace. When the servants accuse Peter of having been with Jesus, he denies it three times. When the cock crows, he remembers Jesus' prediction and weeps bitterly. In the morning Jesus is sent to Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, the chief Roman official there. Pilate asks Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews, and he says "Thou sayest" (27:11). Warned by his wife, who has had a dream about Jesus, Pilate tries to avoid executing him, but he is pressed by the chief priests and elders and by a crowd under their influence. He orders Jesus to be crucified. NOTE: THE KING OF THE JEWS Although it seems that the high priest and Pilate question Jesus about totally different issues--is he the Christ? is he a king?--in fact, they are two sides of the same issue. In Jesus' time, the Messiah or Christ was seen by most people as one who would be sent by God for the political liberation of the Jewish people. The claim to be the Christ, therefore, would be understood by many as both a religious and a political claim. In accordance with their respective functions, the Jewish council considers the question of blasphemy (speech offensive to God) and Pilate considers the question of rebellion. The Roman Empire, like some other powerful states, was a horribly brutal affair. Slaves who committed crimes and rebellious provincials were executed by crucifixion. After being severely beaten, the prisoner was fastened with nails or ropes to a wooden stake, which often had a crossbar. After hours, often days, he died of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, exposure, and the effects of the beating. Crucifixion is specifically a Roman method of execution. Jewish teaching did not regard crucifixion as a legitimate method of execution. Jesus is crucified outside Jerusalem, at a place called Golgotha, which means place of a skull (27:33). In accordance with Roman custom, a placard is set up over his head, telling his offense: "This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (27:37). Although the apostles have deserted him, "many women... which followed Jesus from Galilee" watch from a distance (27:55-56). (The Crucifixion of Jesus has probably been represented in painting and sculpture, and in mass- produced art objects, more often than any other single theme. The great challenge is to depict the spiritual dignity of Jesus despite his terrible suffering. Among the greatest painters of the Crucifixion have been the German Matthias Grunewald [1480?-1528], whose Isenheim Altarpiece is now at Colmar in France, and the Spaniard Francisco de Zurbaran [1598-about 1664].) Jesus dies in the afternoon, and in the evening Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, buries him "in his own new tomb" (27:60) . The tomb is sealed and guarded. NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW-THE RESURRECTION (28:1-20) The account of Jesus' Resurrection is shorter and simpler in Matthew than in Luke or John. Mary Magdalene and another Mary go to the tomb at dawn on Sunday. An angel announces to them that Jesus is risen from the dead. On their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus meets them and says "go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me" (28:10). The eleven remaining apostles go to Galilee and meet the risen Jesus, who tells them: "Go... and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (28:19). The command to teach all nations signifies the opening of the mission to the Gentiles. The baptismal formula anticipates the later Trinitarian doctrine of three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-OVERVIEW Although the Gospel of Mark appears second in order in the New Testament, almost all scholars today agree that is was the first of the four Gospels to be written. The author is traditionally identified with the John Mark who was the nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and a companion of Paul (Acts 12:25, 15:37-40; Philemon 24) and of Peter (1 Peter 5:13). In writing his Gospel, Mark is said to have used traditions received from Peter. Many modern scholars think this Gospel was probably written soon after the death of Peter in A.D. 64 or 65, so Peter's followers could preserve the things Peter had told them about Jesus. There is disagreement about whether it was written shortly before, or shortly after, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70. The Gospel of Mark presents a brief, relatively straightforward account of the career of Jesus. It seems less influenced by interpretation than the other three Gospels, but don't forget that it was written a generation after the Crucifixion, so the Christian community had had plenty of time to think over the meaning of Jesus. This Gospel was written in colloquial Greek. It was apparently designed to instruct ordinary Christian readers or hearers, mostly of Gentile background, about Jesus. Mark doesn't share Matthew's special interest in Jewish tradition, Luke's in historical writing, or John's in sophisticated theology. An important theme that runs through Mark is the failure of everyone- -the crowds, the Jewish authorities, and even his family and his own followers--to comprehend that Jesus is the Christ. The so-called Messianic secret of Jesus' true identity is understood only after he dies (15:39). NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-BAPTISM OF JESUS (1:1-13) The Gospel begins rather abruptly with the preaching of John the Baptist, a Jewish ascetic who calls for repentance (turning away from sin) and baptizes people in the Jordan River, apparently as a sign of repentance. When Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee and is baptized by John, Jesus sees the heavens open and hears a voice say "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (1:11). Mark says nothing about the earlier life or religious activities of Jesus. Many readers think Jesus first becomes fully aware that he is the Son of God at the time of his baptism. NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-MINISTRY OF JESUS IN GALILEE (1:14-9:50) After John the Baptist is arrested, Jesus returns to Galilee and preaches "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (1:15). He calls his first followers, teaches, and performs miracles. He chooses twelve of his followers to accompany him, preach, and heal. This part of the Gospel is set in Galilee and nearby areas in and around northern Palestine. Unlike other Gospel writers, the author of Mark focuses more on Jesus' deeds than on his words. Nevertheless, some teaching material is included. Chapter 4 includes the parables of the sower, the seed that grows by itself, and the mustard seed. The parable of the seed that grows by itself (4:26-29), found only in Mark, stresses the idea that the kingdom comes independent of human effort, when the time is ripe. You'll probably be struck by the extent to which the Gospel of Mark emphasizes the role of Jesus as a miracle worker. In particular, this Gospel often depicts him as casting out demons. In the time of Jesus, it was widely believed that evil spirits could take control of a person. Someone considered possessed in the first century would today be regarded as suffering from mental illness or a nervous disorder. Why does the author of Mark put so much stress on miracles? One explanation is, simply, that many of the stories circulating about Jesus were miracle stories, and that the Gospel author believed the stories were true. But it has often been suggested that the miracles have a deeper meaning. Some readers think the miracles are proofs that Jesus is the Christ, although in fact Jesus refuses to perform miracles when asked for a sign (8:11-12). The miracles have been explained as fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy (see Isaiah 35:4- 6, 26:19). They have been interpreted as symbolic acts, for example the healing of the blind as symbolizing the overcoming of spiritual blindness, the raising of the dead as symbolizing the overcoming of spiritual death, the healing of Gentiles as showing that the mission of Jesus is to Gentiles as well as Jews. They have also been seen as acts by which the Kingdom of God is established in place of rule by demons, disease, and death. There's no reason why more than one of these ideas shouldn't have been in the author's mind. A peculiar feature of the encounters between Jesus and the demons concerns the question of who Jesus is. The author of Mark begins by describing his book as "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). The heavenly voice confirms this at the baptism. But afterwards, it is the demons who know who Jesus is. Presumably, as spirits, they know more than human beings. They call Jesus "Holy One of God" (1:24), "Son of God" (3:11), and "Son of the most high God" (5:7)--but Jesus, in the first two instances, tells them to keep silent. Do you find this puzzling? Although the author of the Gospel certainly regards Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, he depicts Jesus as preferring to call himself "Son of man." A notable instance comes at 8:29-31. Jesus asks his followers "whom say ye that I am?" Peter answers "Thou art the Christ." Jesus says that they should "tell no man," and then teaches "that the Son of man must suffer many things... and be killed, and after three days rise again." He doesn't deny that he's the Christ, but he tries to turn his followers' attention in a different direction. NOTE: CHRIST--SON OF GOD--SON OF MAN Christ, meaning anointed, is a Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah. For the Jews of the time of Jesus, the title had political as well as religious implications. Many expected the Messiah to free the Jews from Roman rule and set up an earthly kingdom. Since Jesus doesn't intend to do this, he downplays the use of the title. Son of God (and related expressions) is used in the Old Testament in a variety of senses. It can refer to angels (Genesis 6:2, Job 1:6, Daniel 3:25), or to Israel (Exodus 4:22, Jeremiah 31:9, Hosea 11:1). It can also refer to David the King, or to his royal descendants (2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 89:26-27). David and the other kings were anointed, and the Christ was expected to be a descendant of David. Therefore, Son of God can be a title of the Christ. Son of man means literally man. In this sense, it is often used in Ezekiel. Daniel 7:13-14 records a vision in which "one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days [God].... And there was given him... an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away...." In Daniel, the Son of man represents "the saints of the most High" (Daniel 7:18) who suffer persecution (Daniel 7:25) before being vindicated by God. Thus, Jesus can use the title Son of man to describe himself as a human being, as a future supernatural ruler who will be sent by God (at 8:38 he foretells a time when "the Son of man... cometh in the glory of his Father"), and as one who "must suffer many things" in the more immediate future. During the Galilean ministry, Jesus becomes involved in a number of controversies. His claim to forgive sins offends scribes. His eating with publicans (tax collectors) and sinners offends scribes and Pharisees. The fact that he doesn't have his followers fast disturbs both Pharisees and followers of John the Baptist. His letting his followers pick grain on the Sabbath offends Pharisees. When Jesus breaks Sabbath regulations by healing a man on the Sabbath, Pharisees begin to consider (with Herodians--not a religious group, but apparently political supporters of the Herod dynasty) "how they might destroy him" (3:6). The controversies resume at 7:1-23, when Jesus denounces the Pharisees and accuses them of substituting the traditions of men for the commandments of God. When Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great and ruler of Galilee from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39) hears about Jesus, he thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. This gives the author of Mark an opportunity to tell the story of John's death as a flashback (6:17- 29). John had denounced Herod's incestuous marriage to his sister-in- law and niece Herodias, and had therefore been arrested. When the daughter of Herodias danced for Herod on his birthday, he promised to give her any gift she chose. At her mother's suggestion, the girl asked for the head of John the Baptist, and Herod reluctantly complied and had John beheaded. (The German composer Richard Strauss [1864-1949] based his opera Salome on this story.) NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (10:1-52) Jesus and his followers travel to Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus has an interesting encounter (10:17-22) with a wealthy man who says "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Jesus objects to the word good, saying "there is none good but one, that is, God." He reminds the man of the traditional commandments, and the man replies that he has always observed them. Then Jesus says, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor..." The man goes away sad, because he is rich. This is a strange story. Jesus doesn't tell other people that they must give away everything they own. Perhaps the key to understanding the story is that the man asks "what shall I do?" He's looking for some particular good thing he must do. Jesus reminds him that only God is good. In his explanation to his followers (10:23-27), Jesus says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," but when they ask "Who then can be saved?" Jesus says "With men it is impossible, but.. . with God all things are possible." Do you think he means it is impossible for man to do anything in order to inherit eternal life, but that it is given as a gift by God? NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-MINISTRY OF JESUS IN JERUSALEM (11:1-13:37) Jesus rides into Jerusalem, while crowds acclaim him. His role as the Christ is no longer a secret. The first thing Jesus does is visit the Temple. The next day, he returns and overthrows the tables of the money changers and merchants in the Temple courtyard. Unlike a modern church or synagogue, a major function of the Temple was as a place of animal sacrifice. Animals were sold to be sacrificed. Because Temple dues were payable only in Tyrian coinage, money changers were there to change other kinds of coins into the required kind. Jesus is offended by the marketplace atmosphere. Jesus engages in a good deal of teaching in Jerusalem. The parable of the wicked husbandmen (12:1-9) is directed specifically against the religious authorities. A man (God) plants a vineyard (Israel) and lets it to husbandmen (Israel's leaders, in context probably the chief priests). He sends them a series of messengers (the prophets), who are killed. Finally the vineyard owner sends his son (Jesus), who is killed also. So the owner destroys the husbandmen and gives the vineyard to others (the Christians, or more precisely the people of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus). Pharisees and Herodians try to make Jesus compromise himself by asking him whether it's lawful for Jews to pay taxes to the Roman government. He adroitly replies "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (12:17). Sadducees ask Jesus a question intended to suggest that the resurrection of the dead would create absurdities. Jesus disposes of their question quickly, and teaches that the relationship human beings have with God does not come to an end when they die. In a friendlier exchange (12:28-34), a scribe asks Jesus which commandment is the first (in importance). Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:5, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength," as the greatest commandment, and Leviticus 19:18, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," as the second. The scribe agrees, and Jesus says he is not far from the Kingdom. Jesus discusses the question whether the Christ is Son of David. He suggests this is not so, arguing that David (Psalm 110:1) described the Christ as his lord, his superior. Jesus' repudiation of the title Son of David underlines his rejection of political intentions. Then, in the Little Apocalypse, Jesus teaches about the end of the world. He predicts there will be false Christs, wars, earthquakes and famines, persecutions, and divisions within families. He predicts the mysterious "abomination of desolation" will be seen "standing where it ought not" (13:14). After these things, a cosmic catastrophe will take place, "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect...." (13:26-27). Jesus seems to expect all this will happen soon: "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done" (13:30). Does this eschatological teaching seem strange to you? Millions of Christians tend to regard it as a piece of first-century psychology, of little importance to their faith today. Millions, on the other hand, have been fascinated by the ideas of the end of the world, the appearance of the Antichrist (identified with the "abomination of desolation"), and the Second Coming. It's clear that eschatology was important to the author of the Gospel of Mark, and that he believed it was important to Jesus. NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-THE PASSION (14:1-15:47) Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, agrees to betray Jesus to the chief priests for money. Jesus eats the Passover meal--the Last Supper--with the twelve. He blesses bread and says "this is my body, " and he gives thanks over the cup of wine and says "This is my blood" (14:22-24). NOTE: THIS IS MY BODY The final meal of Jesus with his followers has been reenacted ever since by Christian communities in the ceremony of the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. In the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican traditions, it is the central act of worship. Many Christian churches teach that the words of Jesus should be taken literally--that Jesus makes his own body and blood really present in, or under the appearance of, the bread and wine. Other Christians interpret the Eucharist as a symbol. In any case, the practice signifies the intimate relationship between Christians and Jesus, their dependence on him (as on food) for life. Don't forget that the Last Supper takes place at Passover, when Jews celebrate their redemption from slavery in Egypt. All devout Jews, sitting down to "eat the passover" (14:12), would have been prayerfully remembering God's great redemptive acts. After the meal, Jesus and his followers go to the Mount of Olives, to Gethsemane. Jesus prays, "Abba, Father,... take away this cup from me: nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt" (14:36). He is frightened by the prospect of his death, but is prepared to accept it as part of God's plan. Judas, arriving with armed men provided by the chief priests, points out Jesus with a kiss, and Jesus is arrested. Jesus is tried by the high priest and his council. The high priest asks, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" (14:61) and Jesus says, "I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (14:62). As at the time of Peter's confession, Jesus tries to redirect attention from the title of Christ to that of Son of man--but this time it is the eschatological coming of the Son of man that he predicts. He no longer needs to predict the suffering of the Son of man, for it has begun. Jesus is then condemned by the council for blasphemy. The next morning they deliver him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea. Pilate, interested in the political aspect of the case, asks Jesus whether he claims to be the King of the Jews (15:2). Pilate learns nothing, and orders Jesus to be scourged and then crucified. Jesus is nailed to the cross, with the accusation against him written on a placard: "The King of the Jews" (15:26). At the end, he feels forsaken by God. A Roman centurion, present at Jesus' death, says, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (15:39). Afterwards, Jesus is buried by Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent Jew, in a tomb cut out of rock, and a stone is rolled in front of its door. NEW TESTAMENT: MARK-THE RESURRECTION (16:1-20) Three of the women who have been followers of Jesus go to the tomb Sunday morning to anoint his body with spices. They find the stone rolled aside. An angel tells them Jesus is risen and that they should tell Peter and the others Jesus will appear to them in Galilee. In 16:9-20 there is a summary of appearances by the risen Jesus. He appears to Mary Magdalene, to two of his followers, and to the eleven--the twelve without Judas. He tells them to "preach the gospel to every creature" (16:15), and afterwards he is taken up into heaven. NOTE: ENDING OF MARK There's a textual problem about the ending of Mark. Some ancient manuscripts and versions end with 16:8. Others include 16:9-20. One ancient version substitutes a short passage after 16:8, a passage translated in the notes to the Revised Standard Version: "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation." Still other manuscripts and versions give this short passage followed by 16:9-20. Most scholars think the work of the original author of Mark ends at 16:8, either because he deliberately ended there or because his original ending is lost. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- OVERVIEW The Gospel of Luke is the first part of a two-part work. The second part is the Acts of the Apostles. In the Gospel the author tells the story of Jesus; in Acts, the story of the early Christians. Traditionally the author is identified with the physician Luke who was a companion of Paul (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24). Some scholars doubt the identification, because they believe that the picture of Paul in Acts is inconsistent with what we know about him from his own Epistles. Experts say the Greek style of Luke and Acts is better than that of Matthew, Mark, or John--better, in fact, than any other Greek in the New Testament except that of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Greek was probably the author's first language. He was quite possibly a Gentile, and he probably wrote for a Gentile Christian audience. Most modern scholars think this Gospel was written in the 70s or 80s of the first century, perhaps between 80 and 85. The author apparently used Mark as one of his sources, as well as a now-lost collection of sayings of Jesus known as Q. Some scholars think the author wrote a first draft of his Gospel (Proto-Luke), and later expanded it to produce the Gospel we now have. Upholders of this theory think the material from Mark was added at the time of the revision. A number of features distinguish Luke from the other Gospels. The author is interested in setting the career of Jesus into the context of the history of the Roman Empire. Thus he places the birth of Jesus in the reign of Augustus (2:1) and the beginning of John the Baptist's preaching in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (3:1-2). The author displays more interest than other Gospel writers in persons to whom his society showed little respect, especially women and the poor. Material found only in Luke includes some of the most striking New Testament passages on the value of compassion and human kindness, for example the parables of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- PROLOGUE (1:1-4) The Gospel is addressed to a certain Theophilus. Since he is called by the complimentary title "most excellent" (1:3), some readers have guessed that he may have been a high Roman official. The author says he will write about things many have written about before, based on accounts handed down from eyewitnesses. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- BIRTH OF JESUS AND JOHN THE BAPTIST, (1:5-2:52) The angel Gabriel appears to the priest Zacharias in the Temple, and tells him his wife Elisabeth will bear him a son who will be called John and who will "be filled with the Holy Ghost" and turn "many of the children of Israel... to the Lord their God" (1:15-16). Because Zacharias hesitates to believe the message, he is struck dumb. Nevertheless, Elisabeth becomes pregnant. Six months later, the angel appears in Nazareth to the virgin Mary, who is "espoused" (we would probably say betrothed) to Joseph, a descendant of King David, and tells her she will have a son, and will call him Jesus. When Mary asks how she will conceive, the angel says it will happen by the power of God, and that Jesus "shall be called the Son of God" (1:35). Mary accepts the angel's word and goes to visit Elisabeth, who is related to her. After Elisabeth gives birth, her son is named John, and Zacharias' speech is restored. The Roman Emperor Augustus orders "all the world should be taxed," and apparently requires people to register for tax purposes in their ancestral towns. Accordingly, Joseph takes Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, about five miles south of Jerusalem. There she gives birth to Jesus and lays him in a manger (a feeding trough in a stable), because there is no room in the inn. Shepherds, watching over their sheep in the night, see an angel who announces the birth of "a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (2:11), and they go and see Jesus. Notice the emphasis here on poverty and hardship. Jesus is born in austere circumstances, and his first visitors are poor working people. Later, the child Jesus is taken to the Temple in Jerusalem, where he is hailed by two pious Jews, Simeon and Anna. Simeon declares that Jesus is to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (2:32). NOTE: The taxation census takes place when Cyrenius is governor of Syria (2:2). Cyrenius, or more correctly Quirinius, was a Roman legate of Syria who held a census of Judea in A.D. 6-7. Many scholars consider this date too late for the birth of Jesus, especially in view of the chronological references to Herod (1:5) and Tiberius (3:1). The infancy narrative of the first two chapters summarizes many of this Gospel's theological themes. The emphasis on the Temple, the references to the messianic hopes of Israel, and the miraculous birth announcements--which parallel those of Ishmael (Genesis 16), Isaac (Genesis 17, 18), and Samson (Judges 13)--place the births of Jesus and John in the context of Jewish tradition. Give particular attention to the four poems that appear in this part of the Gospel. They are known by their opening words in Latin: the Magnificat (1:46- 54), the Benedictus (1:68-79), the Gloria in excelsis (2:14), and the Nunc dimittis (2:29-32). The language of the Magnificat is based on the Psalms and on the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It emphasizes God's special relationship with poor and "unimportant" people. NOTE: INFLUENCE OF THE INFANCY NARRATIVE No part of the Bible has provided more materials used in Christian worship than Luke 1, 2. The Gloria in excelsis forms part of the Roman Catholic Mass. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the Roman Catholic Divine Office, the Benedictus appears in the morning service and the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in the evening service. The Hail Mary, until recently one of the most popular Catholic prayers, is based on the words spoken to Mary by the angel (1:28) and by Elisabeth (1:42). (The infancy narrative of Luke has also been a favorite source of themes in Western art. There are hundreds of paintings of the Annunciation to Mary, many by the greatest masters. Paintings of Jesus and Mary in the stable also take their inspiration from Luke.) The births of Jesus and John the Baptist are presented in parallel form. The Gospel writers are aware that both men were preaching in Palestine about A.D. 30, that John was preaching first, and that the beginnings of Jesus' ministry lay in John's. The authors don't try to draw attention away from John, but they emphasize that John was the forerunner of Jesus. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- BAPTISM OF JESUS (3:1-4:13) John the Baptist begins preaching in the fifteenth year of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Upholders of the Proto-Luke theory have suggested that this chronological notice was originally the beginning of the Gospel, and that the author added the first two chapters later. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius was A.D. 28-29. John preaches repentance. When asked what should be done, he says, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise" (3:11). He tells tax collectors to exact no more than what is due, and he tells soldiers, "Do violence to no man" (3:14)--advice seemingly inconsistent with their profession. People wonder whether John is the Christ, but he predicts one mightier than himself is to come. Jesus, then "about thirty years of age" (3:23), is among the people John baptizes. When Jesus is baptized a heavenly voice says, "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased" (3:22). At 3:23-38 there is a genealogy of Jesus quite different from the one at Matthew 1:2-16. Efforts have been made for centuries to reconcile the two genealogies, but none has been very convincing. Note that this genealogy traces Jesus' descent from Adam, the common human ancestor, emphasizing the universality of Jesus' mission. The genealogy is followed by an account of the temptation of Jesus that is quite similar to the account at Matthew 4:1-11. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- MINISTRY OF JESUS IN GALILEE (4:14-9:50) In Luke, the Galilean ministry begins with a dramatic incident. Jesus goes to the synagogue in Nazareth on the sabbath and reads a text from the prophets (Isaiah 61:1-2): "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted...." (4:18). Then he says "This day is this Scripture fulfilled...." (4:21). His declaration produces great confusion. Jesus expects the people want a sign, but he declines to give one. Instead, he cites Old Testament stories in which the prophets Elijah and Elisha perform miracles, not for Jews, but for Gentiles. Here, Luke is looking toward the extension of Christianity to Gentiles. The infuriated people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off the top of a hill, but he escapes. Jesus performs miracles of healing and gathers followers. He chooses the twelve apostles (6:13-16). He arouses the hostility of scribes and Pharisees over such issues as healing on the sabbath, eating with tax collectors and sinners, and forgiving sins. At 6:17-49, Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Plain. It corresponds to the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5:1-7:27, but is much shorter. A good deal of the material found in the Sermon on the Mount appears in Luke in different contexts. Evidently the two authors have arranged their material differently. Like the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain begins with Beatitudes. Compare Luke 6:20-23 with Matthew 5:3-10. You'll be struck by the difference of tone. Where Luke says "Blessed be ye poor," Matthew says "Blessed are the poor in spirit"; where Luke says "Blessed are ye that hunger now," Matthew says "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." The two versions use many of the same words, but Luke's Beatitudes are concerned with concrete social and economic conditions, while Matthew's are concerned with spiritual and moral matters. Another significant difference is that in Luke, though not in Matthew, the Beatitudes are paralleled by a corresponding series of "Woes:" "woe unto you that are rich!... woe unto you that are full!" (6:24-25), and so forth. Jesus' reported hostility to the rich has disturbed many readers. Some think he means what he says--that it's wrong to be rich--while others suggest that he means it's wrong for the rich to use their wealth for bad purposes. Jesus travels through northern Palestine accompanied by the twelve (the apostles) and by a group of women whom he had healed. In first- century society, Jewish and Gentile, it was generally thought that men and women should relate to each other only through marriage and family ties. Jesus breaks with convention very dramatically by including women among his close friends. Many conventional people were probably as shocked by Jesus' traveling companions as they were by his teachings. Near the end of the account of the Galilean ministry, Jesus asks his followers "whom say ye that I am?" Peter answers "The Christ of God" (9:20). Then, in a pattern familiar from the other synoptic Gospels, Jesus commands his followers to tell no one, and teaches them about the suffering and death of the Son of man. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (9:51-19:27) Much of the material that appears only in Luke is found in this long account of Jesus' final trip from Galilee to Jerusalem. Four teaching incidents stand out in particular. When a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to be saved, Jesus asks him what the Law says. The lawyer replies, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself" (10:27) . Jesus says he is right, he should do just that! Notice the remarkable differences between the way this Gospel presents the identification of the two greatest commandments and the way it is presented in Matthew (22:35-40) and Mark (12:28-31). Here, instead of answering the man directly, Jesus asks a question of his own and draws the answer from his questioner. Then the lawyer asks who his "neighbor" is. Jesus replies with the parable of the good Samaritan (10:30-35). Notice the striking realism of Jesus' story, and all the detail he puts into a few sentences. Notice, too, the special regard for the outsider and the downtrodden that is so characteristic of Luke. The priest and the Levite are members of the Jewish religious elite, while the Samaritan belongs to a group considered "heretics" and "half-breeds." Jesus concludes the parable with another question: Which man proved to be a neighbor to the robbers' victim? NOTE: This parable implicitly criticizes the Law. The priest and the Levite may lack compassion, but they may also be prevented from helping the thieves' victim by their observance of the Law. The man lying by the roadside was "half dead." If he looked like a corpse, a priest or a Levite would have been afraid to touch him because contact with dead bodies made a person unclean, according to the Law (Numbers 19:11). At 11:2-4, Jesus teaches his followers the Lord's Prayer, not only in a different context but also in a different form from the Lord's Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13. Moreover, there's a textual problem here. The King James Version follows those Greek manuscripts of Luke that coincide most with Matthew. Modern scholars, using better manuscripts, prefer a different reading of the text. In the New American Bible, for example, the form of the Lord's Prayer given in Luke reads: "Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins for we too forgive all who do us wrong; and subject us not to the trial." The form that appears in Matthew has become standard in Christian worship, but some writers think that the shorter form in Luke may be closer to the words Jesus originally spoke. When Pharisees and scribes reproach Jesus for eating with sinners, he tells them the parable of the prodigal son (15:11-32). This parable depicts sin and forgiveness very dramatically. How would you feel if you were the father of a foolish son who adopted a disreputable manner of life and later came home full of regrets? Would you call for the robe and the ring, and kill the fatted calf? How would you feel if you were the older brother, who has always behaved in a thoroughly respectable way, seeing his father make such a fuss over the brother who had gone astray? In this parable, Jesus makes vividly real the idea that "joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (15:7). Does Jesus think the "ninety and nine" really exist? (Bartolome Murillo [1617-1682] illustrated this parable with his painting The Return of the Prodigal, now in Washington, D.C.) Finally, at 16:19-31, Jesus teaches another striking parable, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Here, as in the Magnificat and Beatitudes, love for the poor is paralleled by hostility to the rich. The rich man receives all good things in this life, then goes to hell; the poor man suffers in this world, but afterward he is received into Abraham's bosom. Notice the irony of the ending: "neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (16:31). The author of Luke depicts Jesus as looking ahead to his own resurrection. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- MINISTRY OF JESUS IN JERUSALEM (19:28-21:38) When Jesus enters the holy city he weeps, and predicts a time when Jerusalem's enemies "shall cast a trench about" the city (19:43). Later, he says the city will be "compassed with armies" (21:20). Scholars think these passages refer to the Roman siege of Jerusalem that ended with the fall of the city in A.D. 70. Some think these passages could have originated only after the event, but others point out that sieges of cities were a familiar part of ancient warfare. NOTE: Compare the "Little Apocalypse" passages of Mark (13:1-37), Matthew (24:1-44), and Luke (21:5-36). The reference to the siege is the most distinctive feature of the version appearing in Luke. In Matthew and Mark a profanation of the Temple is apparently one of the signs that will precede the coming of the Son of man. In Luke, the emphasis is on a military disaster at Jerusalem. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- THE PASSION (22:1-23:56) In Matthew and Mark, the reasons for Judas' betrayal of Jesus aren't explained, apart from the fact that he receives money. In Luke, Satan enters into Judas (22:3), a theme found also in John (13:2, 27) . This detail helps to set the Passion in the context of a struggle between good and evil. Jesus eats the Last Supper with the apostles, and he gives them the eucharistic bread and cup. Afterwards, he tells them "that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors..." (22:37). The quotation is from Isaiah 53:12, one of the "suffering servant" passages which, whatever meaning may have been intended by the original author, had a great influence on the Christian concept of a suffering Christ. This passage is the only place in the Gospels where Jesus explicitly identifies himself as the "suffering servant." The prayer of Jesus at the Mount of Olives and his arrest are told here in much the same terms as in the other synoptic Gospels. The author of Luke adds a dramatic touch to the story of Peter's denials. After Peter denies Jesus the third time, and the cock crows, Luke says "the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter" (22:61). Then Peter remembers that Jesus had foretold the denials, and he weeps. In the morning, Jesus is questioned by the Jewish council of chief priests, scribes, and elders, then by Pontius Pilate, and then by Herod Antipas (the ruler who killed John the Baptist). The account in Luke emphasizes the role of the Jewish leaders in the decision to have Jesus executed, and deemphasizes Pilate's responsibility. When the councillors hand Jesus over to Pilate, they accuse him of "forbidding to give tribute to Caesar" (23:2), of claiming to be a king, and of stirring up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem. After hesitating and trying to reason with them, Pilate sentences Jesus to die. Luke offers some details about the Crucifixion found nowhere else. In all four Gospels, Jesus is crucified with two other men. According to Matthew and Mark, these others are thieves, and they revile Jesus (Matthew 27:38, 44; Mark 15:27, 32). In Luke alone we read the story of the good thief. One of the criminals who is being crucified with Jesus mocks him. The other criminal tells him to stop and asks Jesus, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (23:42). Jesus answers, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (23:43). This brief exchange is, in Luke, the final instance of Jesus' compassion for sufferers and sinners. Salvation, it appears, is to be had for the asking. When Jesus is dying, instead of the desolate cry reported in Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34), he calls out, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (23:46). NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE- THE RESURRECTION (24:1-53) The last section of the Gospel is divided into three parts. First, the women go to the tomb, find it empty, and are told by two angels that Jesus is risen. Second, two of Jesus' followers meet Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but they don't recognize him. They tell him they're perplexed about everything that has happened, and he shows them from Scripture (presumably the Old Testament prophets) that the Christ should suffer before being glorified. When they are eating together, "he took bread, and blessed it, and brake [broke], and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight" (24:30-31). Readers have found this story beautiful, and also puzzling. Why don't the two people recognize Jesus? What are we supposed to think is the nature of their experience? The recognition of Jesus in the breaking of bread, in any case, has been taken as a reference to the Eucharist. Finally, Jesus appears to the apostles in Jerusalem, and tells them he is risen from the dead. To show that he has a real body, he eats a piece of broiled fish and some honey. Then he tells them, "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations" (24:47). He leads them out of Jerusalem to Bethany, blesses them, and is taken into heaven. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN-OVERVIEW Most scholars agree that John was written later than the other Gospels, around A.D. 100. Tradition ascribes it to the apostle John, son of Zebedee, and identifies him with the "disciple whom Jesus loved" referred to in the Gospel. The Gospel itself says that it owes its authority to that disciple's testimony (21:24). Many modern scholars think the Gospel does represent a preaching and teaching tradition probably going back to the apostle John, but that it was written, and perhaps rewritten, by his followers. The three Epistles of John were written either by the same person who wrote the Gospel or by someone writing in the same tradition. Certainly the language of 1 John closely resembles that of the Gospel. The fourth Gospel is organized differently from the synoptics. The synoptics describe Jesus as first teaching in Galilee, then making a journey to Jerusalem at the end of his life. John reports several journeys between Galilee and Jerusalem. Many miracle stories and parables found in the synoptics don't appear in John, nor does the Lord's Prayer or the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. On the other hand, many familiar stories about Jesus, such as the meeting with the Samaritan woman, the forgiving of the woman taken in adultery, and the raising of Lazarus, appear only in John. In the discourses reported in this Gospel, Jesus describes himself in powerful metaphors. He calls himself the "good shepherd," the "bread of life," the "true vine," the "resurrection and the life," the "light of the world." A central concern of this Gospel is who and what Jesus is. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN- PROLOGUE (1:1-18) While Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus, and Matthew and Luke with the events surrounding his birth, John begins before the creation of the world. The very first words of the Gospel echo the opening of the book of Genesis, in the Old TestaMENT: JOHN- "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made" (1:1-3). "Word" here translates the Greek logos, which means word, thought, or reason. The idea that God, in creating the world and in dealing with the human race, acts through an intermediary is hinted at in the Old Testament (Proverbs 8:22-31, Wisdom 7:24-27, 9:9-10). There, this being is called Wisdom. In John the logos, or Word, is a divine being (1:1), which created all things (1:3), and "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (1:9). NOTE: LOGOS IN NON-CHRISTIAN LITERATURE The use of the Greek word logos for a divine Word or Reason isn't unique to the New Testament. Philo (about 20 B.C.--A.D. 50), a Jewish writer of Alexandria in Egypt, who tried to show that the teachings of the Old Testament were consistent with Greek philosophy, uses the word logos. So do the pagan religious books known as the Hermetica, which were written in Greek, probably in the first three centuries of the Christian era. In both cases, the logos is seen as being intermediate between God and the world. What is distinctively Christian about the concept of the logos in John is the statement that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (1:14). The Word is in fact identified with Jesus. Many scholars think the prologue of John is a rewritten version of a hymn, and some think the original hymn was of non-Christian origin. Be that as it may, the crucial point here is the belief that the Word became a particular human being, Jesus. Why does the author of John begin with such a heavy dose of theology? Clearly, he's trying to explain what it means to say that Jesus is the Son of God. The idea that the man who lived and died in Palestine is also a divine being who participated in the creation of the universe lies behind the later formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which identifies Jesus as God the Son. Many scholars explain the prologue of John further, by looking at the ideas it denies. In the early centuries of Christianity there was a religious movement known as Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, meaning knowledge). Gnosticism included many different schools of thought, but in general Gnostics believed the material universe was an evil place, created by an evil spirit, and that human beings were trapped in it. Jesus, according to Christian Gnostics, was a good spirit who came to liberate human beings from their imprisonment in the universe. Because they thought of matter as evil, many Gnostics thought Jesus didn't have a real body, but that his body was a phantom. The prologue to John stresses two points seemingly intended to deny Gnostic beliefs. The first is that the Word created all things: if there is evil in the world, it doesn't come from an evil creator. The second is that the Word became flesh: Jesus didn't just seem to be a man, but had a real human body. Fully developed Gnostic doctrine is known to us from literature written after New Testament times, but Gnostic ideas were probably in circulation when the Gospel of John was written. The prologue may be an attempt to explain Jesus in a way that rules out Gnostic ideas. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN- MINISTRY OF JESUS (1:19-12:50) The account of Jesus' ministry in John seems to illustrate the words of the prologue: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (1:11). Jesus performs miracles and makes some very striking speeches. Everything he says and does reveals that he is the Christ, but most people fail to understand, and Jesus runs into more and more opposition. NOTE: THE BOOK OF SIGNS The section from 1:19 to 12:50 is sometimes called the Book of Signs because of the prominence it gives to seven signs, or miracles, Jesus performs. These are the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (2:1-11), the cure of the nobleman's son (4:46-54), the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda (5:2-9), the feeding of five thousand people (6:5- 14), the walking on the Sea of Galilee (6:16-21), the cure of the man who was blind from birth (9:1-12), and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). Some scholars have tried to deduce from the miracles a sevenfold pattern in the structure of this part of the Gospel, but others are unconvinced. In any case, Jesus' speeches and conversations will show you better than anything else how the author of John wants his readers to understand Jesus. The account opens at 1:19 with John the Baptist's testimony. The Baptist plays an important part in this Gospel. He bears witness to the identity of Jesus, saying "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (1:29), and it is he who sees the Spirit descending on Jesus. NOTE: THE LAMB OF GOD The image of Jesus as the Lamb, found here, and at 1 Peter 1:19, and often in the book of Revelation, suggests the idea that Jesus is a sacrificial offering. At John 19:36 Jesus is identified with the paschal lamb, which was eaten at the Passover festival. Some scholars have thought that, because the Aramaic word for lamb also means young man or servant, the expression may also be intended to suggest Servant of God. Like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:7, Jesus "is brought as a lamb to the slaughter." (In art Jesus is often depicted symbolically as a lamb, notably in the painting The Adoration of the Lamb by the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck [1385?-1441], which is the central panel of the great Ghent Altarpiece.) Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding in Cana, a village in Galilee about nine miles from Nazareth. After his mother tells him the wine has run out, he turns washing water into good wine. The change represents a transformation of what is common and cheap into what is precious and desirable. Then Jesus goes to Jerusalem for Passover. He drives the sellers of oxen, sheep, and doves and the money changers from the Temple. This passage has confused readers, because it comes at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, while the synoptics place the cleansing of the Temple among the events of Jesus' last days. Some readers have thought the Gospels refer to two different episodes, but most scholars think they've just arranged their material differently. Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee, comes to see Jesus. Jesus tells him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (3:3). The saying perplexes Nicodemus, and Jesus explains that a person must "be born of water and of the Spirit" (3:5). The idea of a second birth is found elsewhere in the New Testament (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:3, 23). It carries with it implications both of baptism ("of water") and of the birth of faith in the heart ("of the Spirit"). Here, Jesus stresses the importance of faith, explaining that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.... He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already" (3:16, 18). This passage illustrates John's "realized eschatology"--that is, the belief that judgment is not something that happens at the end of the world, but rather here and now, in people's own response to Jesus. This "realized eschatology" is found side by side in John with a more conventional "futuristic eschatology"--a view that places judgment at the end of the world and stresses the reward and punishment of good and evil actions (for example at 5:28-29). On his way back to Galilee, Jesus passes through Samaria, and meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. He asks her for a drink of water, though Jews would normally "have no dealings with the Samaritans" (4:9). Jesus uses the occasion to offer a striking symbol of spiritual life: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst" (4:13-14). After some talk about the religious differences between Samaritans and Jews, the woman says she knows "that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ," and Jesus replies "I that speak unto thee am he" (4:25-26). The woman tells her neighbors, and many of them believe in Jesus. Notice that the first person in this Gospel to whom Jesus actually says he's the Christ is a woman, a Samaritan, and a person whose marital arrangements (4:16-19) don't meet conventional moral standards. She's also the first person to preach Jesus to non-Jews! At 5:16 the theme of conflict between Jesus and "the Jews" is introduced: "therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him." The reasons given are Jesus' violation of sabbath rules, and his claim that God is his Father. The theme appears several times again, notably in chapter 8 and in the account of the end of Jesus' life. NOTE: "THE JEWS" IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN Some readers have felt that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic. Yet the Gospel shows Jesus regularly celebrating the Jewish religious festivals, and even depicts him as saying "salvation is of the Jews" (4:22). Many scholars think that the passages in which "the Jews" appear as adversaries of Jesus refer in fact to the Jewish religious authorities (the chief priests, and especially the Pharisees). When this Gospel was written, the Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed, the Pharisees were the only remaining Jewish authorities, and the split between Christianity and Judaism was becoming final. The references to expulsion from synagogues at 9:22, 12:42, and 16:2 suggest that John may well have been written at a time when the expulsion of Jewish Christians from synagogues was a major issue. After miraculously feeding five thousand people near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus speaks in images of food: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger" (6:35). As he had spoken of two waters, he now speaks of two foods: "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die" (6:49-50; on manna, the miraculous food of Israel in the desert, see Exodus 16:14- 35). The reference to bread from heaven seems primarily a reference to Jesus' satisfying spiritual hunger, but there may also be an allusion to the Eucharist here. In any case, Jesus swiftly moves on to a clearer reference to the Eucharist: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life" (6:54). Some people who had followed Jesus are perplexed by this speech and desert him. Jesus asks the twelve apostles whether they, too, will leave him. It's in this context that the Gospel of John places Peter's confession "thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God" (6:69). Jesus has become controversial. Even some of his own relatives, at this time, don't believe in him (7:5). Scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus a woman who has been caught committing adultery, and ask him whether she should be put to death by stoning, as the Jewish law provides. Jesus replies, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (8:7). The accusers leave, one by one, and Jesus advises the woman to "go, and sin no more" (8:11). Some scholars think that the story is set at a time when the Romans have forbidden Jewish courts to impose the death penalty, so Jesus faces the dilemma of breaking Roman law by advising punishment or Jewish law by advising clemency. Maybe they're right, but there's a lot more to the story than that. Jesus gets himself out of a potentially difficult situation, but he saves the woman's life. And he teaches the lesson that all are in need of mercy. NOTE: TEXTUAL PROBLEM OF THE STORY OF THE WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY You should be aware that this passage (7:53-8:11) is placed here in some manuscripts, at the end of John in others, and after Luke 21:38 in others. Still other manuscripts omit it. It looks as if the story of the woman taken in adultery wasn't originally part of the Gospel of John. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not a genuine ancient story about Jesus. When Jesus says "I am the light of the world," Pharisees reply that he bears witness to himself, and lies (8:12-13). Jesus asserts that his witness is true, saying "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man" (8:15) and he claims that two witnesses testify for him-- himself and his Father. The controversy continues with heated language on both sides. Jesus accuses his opponents of being children of the devil and they accuse him of being possessed by a devil. When "the Jews" ask "Art thou greater than our father Abraham. ..?" (8:53), Jesus replies "Before Abraham was, I am" (8:58). This claim recalls the exalted view of Jesus expressed in the prologue. Jesus then contrasts true and false religious leadership. "I am the good shepherd," he declares (10:11). He says of the shepherd that "the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out" (10:3). The good shepherd is even ready to die to protect his sheep from wolves. He contrasts the good shepherd with the "hireling... whose own the sheep are not" (10:12), who deserts the sheep in time of danger. In yet another confrontation, "the Jews" ask him whether he is the Christ. He says they don't believe in him because they aren't his sheep (10:26). When he says "I and my Father are one" (10:30), they want to stone him for blasphemy, but he escapes. Jesus goes to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, two sisters and a brother who are close friends of his. Lazarus is dead. Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, and Martha replies that she knows he will rise on the last day. Jesus says "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (11:25). He goes to the tomb where Lazarus is buried and restores him to life. The raising of Lazarus points toward the death and resurrection of Jesus in two different ways. On the one hand, Lazarus' resurrection anticipates Jesus' own resurrection. On the other, Bethany is very near Jerusalem, and "the chief priests and the Pharisees" (11:47) learn about the miracle and consider what they should do. Some of them are afraid that the popularity of Jesus may lead to a disastrous confrontation between the Romans and the Jews. Caiaphas, the high priest, remarks "that it is expedient... that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (11:50). The author of the Gospel, while maintaining that the words of Caiaphas are spoken in the course of conspiratorial discussion against Jesus, nevertheless finds in them a prophecy that Jesus will die for the nation, and not for the Jewish nation alone, but to "gather together in one" all "the children of God" (11:52). Six days before Passover, Jesus returns to Bethany. Mary anoints his feet with a precious ointment, and Jesus says that this prefigures his burial, for similar ointments were used in embalming. The next day Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed by crowds of people as "King of Israel" (12:13). NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN- THE LAST SUPPER: JESUS' FAREWELL DISCOURSE (13:1-17:26) John's account of the Last Supper is quite different from that in the synoptics. Here, there is no mention of the Eucharist. Instead, Jesus gives his final teachings to his followers. He begins with a symbolic action, washing their feet. He explains that this is a lesson in humility. Jesus foretells his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. The story seems to move on two different tracks. On the one hand, the Gospel says clearly that the devil enters into Judas (13:2, 27). On the other, Jesus himself says to Judas "That thou doest, do quickly" (13:27). Jesus willingly accepts death, but why are the two themes--the devil's initiative and Jesus' own initiative--so closely tied together here? Do you think it suggests Jesus' ability to use even great evil to advance the fulfillment of God's plan? NOTE: THE BELOVED DISCIPLE The episode of Jesus' prediction of his betrayal introduces the disciple "whom Jesus loved," who is "leaning on Jesus' bosom" (13:23). The Beloved Disciple appears again, standing by the cross at the Crucifixion (19:26), visiting Jesus' tomb with Peter on Easter (20:2-8), and again at Jesus' resurrection appearance in Galilee (21:7, 20). He is probably also referred to at 18:15-16. The Gospel says that its text is based on the Beloved Disciple's testimony (21:24). Who was this man, evidently Jesus' intimate friend at the end of his life? The traditional answer is John, the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. A few scholars have suggested that Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple, because the Gospel stresses the fact that Lazarus was a beloved friend of Jesus (11:3, 5, 11, 36). Others have suggested John Mark, to whom the authorship of the Gospel of Mark is traditionally assigned. Most readers, however, have regarded the traditional identification of the Beloved Disciple with John, son of Zebedee, as the most probable. "A new commandment I give unto you," Jesus declares, "That ye love one another" (13:34). The value of Christian love is strongly emphasized in the Gospel of John--although the stress is on Christians loving each other, whereas in the synoptics it's more generally on loving one's neighbor (Luke 10:25-37) and even one's enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). When Jesus tells Peter "Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterward" (13:36), Peter announces that he is willing to die for Jesus--and Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows. Imagine Peter's dismay when he hears this! Jesus immediately says "Let not your heart be troubled" (14:1). He says that he is going to prepare a place, with his Father, for his followers. When Thomas asks "how can we know the way?" Jesus declares, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (14:5-6). Then Philip says "show us the Father, and it sufficeth us" (14:8). After all this time--on the last night of his life--Jesus is still faced with skeptical ideas among the members of his inner circle of followers! "Have I been so long time with you," he asks, "and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (14:9). He doesn't say that he is the Father. Instead, he's repeating something he said earlier: "he that seeth me seeth him that sent me" (12:45). Both passages recall the words of the prologue: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (1:18). In other words, it is through Jesus that God is known. The incomprehension displayed by Peter, Thomas, and Philip shows that they're not well prepared to get along without Jesus' guidance. Accordingly, Jesus promises that the Father will send "another Comforter" to them, who will remain with them forever (14:16). This Comforter "is the Holy Ghost... he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (14:26). "I am the vine," Jesus says, "ye are the branches" (15:5). The significance of this image lies in the fact that branches are not only joined to the main vine, but also derive their life from it. If the branches are cut off, they wither and die. Jesus develops this theme of unity further in the prayer with which he concludes his discourse: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (17:20-21). Earlier, Jesus says "I and my Father are one" (10:30) . Here he prays that his followers, too, will participate in the unity that he and his Father share. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN- THE PASSION (18:1-19:42) After the Last Supper, Jesus and his followers go to the garden. He is arrested there by officers of the chief priests, led there by Judas. Notice that here there's no mention of the "agony in the garden." Where the synoptic tradition has Jesus pray "Father... take away this cup from me" (Mark 14:36), John has him say "the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (18:11). John's account of the Passion stresses the inner peace and minimizes the anguish of Jesus as he voluntarily surrenders his life. Jesus is brought to the high priest and questioned, but he refuses to discuss his teachings on the ground that they are already public knowledge. Jesus is then brought to Pontius Pilate, the Roman official in charge of Judea. Pilate asks Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews, and Jesus replies "My kingdom is not of this world" (18:36). When Pilate declares "I find no fault in him" (19:4), the chief priests and officers shout "Crucify him, crucify him" (19:6). "The Jews" say that Jesus has incurred the death penalty because he claims to be the Son of God. Pilate questions Jesus again, but he learns nothing further. Then "the Jews" cry "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar" (19:12). When Pilate asks "Shall I crucify your King?" the chief priests reply "We have no king but Caesar" (19:15). Pilate orders that Jesus be crucified. Both Pilate and the Jewish authorities are made to look pretty bad in this account. The Roman Empire of the first century was a brutal dictatorship. Fear was one of the strongest motives among the leaders of the day. John's account stresses fear of the Romans as the main reason why the Jewish authorities ask for Jesus' death (11:48), and fear of the emperor as the main reason why Pilate agrees to have him killed. NOTE: There's also a deeper criticism of the chief priests implied in their saying "We have no king but Caesar." It's clearly their duty to keep in mind the strong affirmation of the Jewish faith that "the Lord is King for ever and ever" (Psalm 10:16). John's account of the trial of Jesus thus portrays the chief priests as so subservient to foreign rule that they are unfaithful to the principles of Judaism. Jesus is crucified. His mother, his mother's sister, and Mary Magdalene stand by the cross with the beloved disciple. Jesus entrusts his mother to the care of the beloved disciple. Then he says "It is finished" and dies (19:30). Here, as in the garden, John's account stresses the serenity of Jesus. A soldier pierces the side of Jesus with a spear, and blood and water flow out. Traditionally, the blood and water have been seen as symbols of the Eucharist and baptism, respectively. Jesus' bones, however, are not broken--a symbol used to liken Jesus to the paschal lamb (19:36; see Exodus 12:46). Afterwards, Jesus is buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two leading Jews who are among Jesus' sympathizers. NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN- THE RESURRECTION (20:1-21:25) Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it open. She runs and tells Peter and the beloved disciple that Jesus' body has been stolen. Peter and the disciple run to the tomb and find it empty. Jesus then appears to Mary Magdalene. She doesn't recognize him until he addresses her by name: "Mary." Then she hails him as her master. Jesus says "go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (20:17). She delivers the message. Notice the strong identification between Jesus and his followers in this short speech. Not only does he call them brethren, but he emphasizes that his Father is their Father. NOTE: Since women weren't considered competent witnesses in Jewish law, the importance the early Christians assigned to women as the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus--here and in all three synoptic Gospels--represents a startling break with tradition. On the evening of the same day, Jesus appears to his followers. He breathes on them, saying "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (20:22), and authorizes them to remit sins. Thomas, one of the twelve, is absent at the time. When the others tell him they've seen Jesus, Thomas says that unless he puts his finger into the holes made in Jesus' hands by the nails he will not believe (20:25). After eight days, Jesus appears again. This time, Thomas is there, and Jesus says "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands" (20:27), but Thomas hails him as "My Lord and my God" (20:28). This dramatic story gave us the expression "doubting Thomas." An early form of the Gospel may have ended at 20:31, but the text we have adds chapter 21 as an epilogue. The epilogue deals largely with Jesus' relationships with Peter and the beloved disciple. Jesus appears to a group of his followers on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (or Sea of Galilee). The beloved disciple recognizes him first. After they eat some bread and fish, Jesus asks Peter "lovest thou me more than these?" Peter says he does, and Jesus says "Feed my lambs" (21:15). The dialogue is repeated three times. By telling Peter to act as a shepherd, Jesus is evidently giving him leadership in the Christian community. Jesus predicts Peter's martyrdom. When Peter asks what will happen to the beloved disciple, Jesus says "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (21:22). The author says this gave rise to a belief that the disciple wouldn't die. He points out that Jesus didn't actually say that--perhaps because the beloved disciple had in fact died by the time John was written. He asserts, "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things" (21:24). NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-OVERVIEW Acts of the Apostles was written by the author of the Gospel of Luke and forms with Luke a two-part work. Like Luke, Acts is addressed to an otherwise unknown person called Theophilus (1:1). It was probably written soon after Luke, perhaps in the 80s of the first century. As Luke tells the story of the proclamation of the "good news" of salvation by Jesus during his earthly career, beginning in Galilee and culminating in Jerusalem, Acts tells the story of the spread of the "good news" from Jerusalem to other parts of the ancient Mediterranean world, culminating in Rome. Acts is the first history of the Christian church, covering the period from about A.D. 30 to about 60. As you read about particular individuals such as Peter, Stephen, Philip, and especially Paul, don't lose sight of the fact that Acts is the story of the growth of a community. The central theme of the book is the activity of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus begins his ministry by declaring "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me" (Luke 4:18). In Acts, the apostles begin their ministry when the Spirit descends upon them. As others become Christians, they too receive the Spirit. Because the principal way the early church won converts was by preaching, speeches make up a large part of Acts. This also reflects the practice of ancient Greek and Roman historians of presenting the key ideas of leading figures in the form of speeches. These speeches, normally composed by the historian, often include material going back to the people to whom they're attributed, since the purpose is to reflect those people's views faithfully. A fascinating feature of Acts is the broad, lively picture of first- century life that it paints. The action shifts from Roman law courts to Jewish synagogues, from market places to jails, from meeting places of the early Christians to Mediterranean trading vessels. The characters include Christian preachers, Jewish priests, high Roman officials, magicians, idol makers, and all sorts of ordinary working people. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-BEGINNINGS OF THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM (1:1-5:42) After Jesus is taken up into heaven, the apostles gather in prayer in Jerusalem, together with the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, and with Jesus' mother and brothers. Matthias is chosen by lot to fill the place vacated by Judas Iscariot. On the day of Pentecost (Hebrew Shavuot, a festival fifty days after Passover that originally celebrated the wheat harvest and later commemorated the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai), the apostles receive the Holy Spirit. They hear "a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind," see "cloven tongues like as of fire" resting on each of them, and are "all filled with the Holy Ghost" (2:2-4). Jerusalem is filled with Jews from many lands, who have come for the festival. When the apostles speak, each pilgrim hears his own language--the miracle of Pentecost. But some, who don't participate in the miracle, think the apostles are drunk. Peter explains to them that the Holy Spirit has descended on the apostles in fulfillment of a prophecy (Joel 2:28-32). He preaches, "Jesus of Nazareth,... ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.... This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.... let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.... Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (2:22, 23, 32, 36, 38). Large numbers of people believe and are baptized. NOTE: THE KERYGMA The chief work of the apostles in Acts is the proclamation of salvation from God in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the invitation to accept that salvation in baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. This proclamation, or preaching, is known by the Greek word kerygma. You'll find it repeated again and again in the speeches of Acts. Most scholars agree that these speeches represent the original preaching of the Christian community, going back to a time before the Gospels were written. The classical expression of the kerygma is in this first speech of Peter. The members of the fledgling church join together in prayer, and in the celebration of the Eucharist ("breaking of bread," 2:42). They have all possessions in common, selling their belongings and distributing to each according to his need (2:44-45). When Ananias and Saphira sell their land, but try to deceive the apostles by pretending that their partial donation is the whole payment they received, they're miraculously struck dead in punishment. The preaching by Peter and the other apostles brings them into conflict with the Jewish authorities. Twice they're arrested and released. It's interesting that in Acts the Jewish leaders who are depicted as most hostile to Christian preaching are the Sadducees. The Pharisees, who receive many harsh words from Jesus in the Gospels, are here shown in a more favorable light. The outstanding Pharisee leader Gamaliel urges the Jewish council to tolerate the Christians: "let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it" (5:38-39). NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-GROWTH OF THE CHURCH IN PALESTINE; CONVERSION OF PAUL (6:1-12:24) The expansion of the Christian community results in tension between two groups within it, the "Grecians" (usually called Hellenists) and the "Hebrews." Most scholars think these were two groups of Jewish Christians, the Hellenists those whose ordinary language was Greek and the Hebrews those whose ordinary language was Aramaic. The Hellenists believe that their widows don't receive a fair share in the distribution of common goods. To deal with such community problems--and so that the apostles won't have to "leave the word of God, and serve tables" (6:2)--seven men are chosen by the congregation. These are the first seven deacons. All have Greek names. Stephen, one of the seven, becomes known for his preaching and miracles. When he's questioned by the high priest and the council, Stephen delivers a long summary of Old Testament history and stresses the resistance of the people to God's plan. He concludes "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One [Jesus]; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it" (7:52-53). Finally, he has a vision of the glory of God, and of Jesus at God's right hand. His listeners hustle him out of town and stone him to death. Stephen is considered the first Christian martyr. A persecution of Christians breaks out in Jerusalem, and everybody except the apostles leaves for other parts of Judea and Samaria. Notable among those who leave is the deacon Philip, who converts and baptizes many in Samaria. One of the Samaritan converts is a magician named Simon. Peter and John go to Samaria and lay hands on the converts, so that they receive the Holy Spirit. When Simon offers them money, hoping to buy the power of conferring the Spirit, Peter denounces him. NOTE: Simon's attempt to buy the power of laying-on of hands to confer the Holy Spirit has given a word to the language. "Simony" means giving Acts of the Apostles money in exchange for holy things, and in particular for church offices. Afterwards, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch, who is treasurer to the Ethiopian queen (Candace is thought to be a title of the queen or queen mother of the ancient state of Meroe on the Nile in what is now Sudan). The Ethiopian is studying a "suffering servant" passage from Isaiah 53:7-8, and is perplexed. Philip explains to him that the passage refers to Jesus. The eunuch declares "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (8:37) and is baptized. A young man named Saul, who looked after the coats of the people who stoned Stephen (7:58, 22:20), is one of the leaders of the persecution in Jerusalem (8:3). After the dispersal of the Christians, he sets out for Damascus to arrest Christians there. On the way, he sees a bright light, falls to the ground, and hears the voice of Jesus saying "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (9:4). He is led, blind, to Damascus. There his sight is restored by a Christian called Ananias. He is baptized, and begins preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. The Jews of Damascus, feeling betrayed, plot against him, but he escapes. NOTE: CONVERSION OF PAUL Acts describes the conversion of Saul (Paul) as a sudden event. Some readers consider the suddenness to be as much a sign of the miraculous as the light, the voice, and the temporary blindness. Others see in Saul's activity as a persecutor an indication that this deeply religious young man had already become obsessed with Christianity, and may have been struggling against his fascination for the new faith. Meanwhile, Peter comes to grips with the problem (already raised by Philip's baptism of the Ethiopian) of the reception of Gentiles into the Christian fold, and the allied problem of the authority of the Jewish law. At the coastal city of Joppa he has a vision of all kinds of animals and birds and hears a voice saying "kill, and eat." Peter says "I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean"-- in other words, foods forbidden by the law--but the voice says "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (10:13-15). He is called to see Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed at Caesarea. Thanks to his vision, he goes even though Jews aren't supposed to associate with "unclean" Gentiles. He preaches a typical kerygmatic speech to Cornelius and his household, and the Holy Spirit comes upon his listeners. Peter has them baptized. When Peter returns to Jerusalem, Jewish Christians there criticize him for his action. He explains that the Holy Spirit intervened, and his critics are appeased, concluding "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (11:18). Persecution intensifies in Jerusalem. James the apostle, the brother of John, is put to death on orders from King Herod Agrippa I (12:2). Peter is arrested, but released from prison by an angel. He goes to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. The first Christians usually worshiped in private homes, often the homes of women. At the same time, Barnabas preaches at Antioch with Paul, and Antioch becomes a major Christian center. Indeed, "the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (11:26). NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-PAUL'S FIRST JOURNEY; THE COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM (12:25-15:35) Barnabas and Paul go on a missionary journey from Antioch to Cyprus and Asia Minor (now Turkey). At the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia (not Antioch, the capital of Syria), Paul teaches "that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled... unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus... through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (13:32-33, 38-39). Many Jews are converted. When, a week later, many Gentiles are converted, the Jews of Pisidian Antioch resent the sharing of Christianity with Gentiles, and Paul and Barnabas are driven out of town. They go on to preach in other towns, and when they return to Antioch in Syria they report to the Christians there about their experiences, notably that God "had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (14:27). However, "certain men which came down from Judea" teach that "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (15:1). In hopes of resolving this controversy, Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles. The meeting, often called the Council of Jerusalem, probably took place about A.D. 49 or 50. Peter reports his preaching to Gentiles, and their reception of the Holy Spirit (the episode of Cornelius and his household of 10:34-48). Then Paul and Barnabas tell about their work among the Gentiles in Asia Minor. Finally James, the brother of Jesus, leader of the Jerusalem church, proposes a compromise, which is adopted. The decision of the council, sent to the Gentile Christians of Antioch, is: "we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you... saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law.... [but] it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication" (15:24, 28-29). NOTE: DECISION OF THE COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM The crucial element of the decision is the agreement that Gentile Christians need not follow all the rules of Jewish law, notably circumcision. The retention of some Jewish food laws, such as the prohibition of blood (Leviticus 17:12), apparently intended to diminish friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians, seems rather incongruous. Paul's account of the meeting (Galatians 2:1-10) stresses that circumcision wasn't required of Gentiles; that the mission to the Gentiles was entrusted to himself and the mission to the Jews to Peter, James, and John; and that he and Barnabas promised to send help to the poor in Jerusalem. If the events recorded in Galatians 2:11-16 took place after the council, it evidently didn't produce as much harmony as Acts suggests. Galatians 2:12 also seems to show that James was the leader of the "circumcision" party. Paul apparently regarded the Jerusalem decisions about food as matters of expediency, rather than of moral obligation (Romans 14:2-3; 1 Corinthians 10:23-32). NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-PAUL'S SECOND JOURNEY (15:36-18:21) Paul again travels through Asia Minor, visiting several areas where he had preached before. He's accompanied this time by Silas. At Lystra, he meets a Christian named Timothy, who joins his party. Timothy's father is a Gentile, his mother a Jew. Paul circumcises Timothy. Is this inconsistent? Paul has just won his case against the party that demands circumcision. But that controversy dealt with the circumcision of Gentiles. Since Timothy is the son of a Jewish woman, he's considered Jewish, and not exempt from circumcision under the agreement reached at Jerusalem. Paul has a vision, calling him to cross over to Europe to Macedonia (now northern Greece)--and, the author says, "immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia" (16:10). NOTE: THE "WE" PASSAGES In Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16 the author writes in the first person plural, rather than the third person. Some scholars think these "we" passages indicate that the author of Luke-Acts was a companion of Paul (as was Luke, traditionally identified as the author). Others think the author used as a source a travel record by one of Paul's companions, and here transcribed original wording. Still others think that the first person forms are a literary device intended to give immediacy to the account. Paul preaches in a number of towns in Macedonia. In most places he follows his usual procedure of preaching chiefly to Jewish congregations and to Gentiles already sympathetic to Judaism. At Philippi he and Silas are arrested, and convert their jailer. They are released when they reveal that they're Roman citizens. In the first century, Roman citizenship was still an unusual privilege for most inhabitants of the Roman Empire outside Italy. In Athens, Paul preaches on the Areopagus, or hill of Mars. Here, addressing a pagan audience, Paul presents his message in an unusual way. In Acts most preaching stresses Old Testament history and prophecy--both meaningless to pagan Greeks. Instead, Paul takes his theme from an altar he has seen in Athens dedicated "to the Unknown God" (17:23). He says that he will explain to the Athenians the God whom they have worshiped without knowing. "God," he declares, "that made the world and all things therein... dwelleth not in temples made with hands... he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth... that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (17:24-28). He quotes Aratus, a pagan poet of the third century B.C.: "For we are also his offspring" (17:28). All goes well until Paul mentions the resurrection of Jesus, but this idea is so alien to pagan Greek thought that some mock him, though others are converted. Paul lives for nearly two years in Corinth, first with a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla, and later with a Gentile called Justus. As a result of his preaching, the Jewish community of Corinth take Paul to the court of Gallio, the Roman governor of Achaia, or Greece. Gallio dismisses the charges on the grounds that they deal with religious controversies within the Jewish community. After a time, Paul returns to Antioch in Syria. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-PAUL'S THIRD JOURNEY (18:23-21:16) Paul crosses Asia Minor again, this time stopping at Ephesus. The Alexandrian Jew Apollos, "instructed in the way of the Lord"-- Christianity--but "knowing only the baptism of John" the Baptist (18:25), has been working there. Aquila and Priscilla have explained "the way" to him better, and he has gone to Greece. Paul asks some believers at Ephesus (followers of Apollos?) whether they've received the Holy Ghost, and they say "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (19:2). They've only received "the baptism of repentance" (19:4) of John. Paul baptizes them in Jesus' name and lays hands on them, and they receive the Spirit. At Ephesus, a major center of paganism, the Christian converts burn their books on the magical arts. The value of the books destroyed amounts to 50,000 pieces of silver (19:19). The powerhouse of pagan Ephesus was the temple of Diana, or Artemis, one of the traditional seven wonders of the world, and there was evidently a brisk trade in silver shrines for Diana. The silversmith Demetrius warns his fellow craftsmen that "Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands" (19:26). The silversmiths are afraid that Paul's work will put both them and their goddess out of business. Shouting "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (19:28), they riot against Paul, and soon afterwards he leaves the city. After a short visit to Macedonia and Greece, Paul passes through Asia Minor again on his way east. A curious episode takes place at Troas. We think of Paul as a spellbinding orator, but even the best speaker sometimes fails to keep the attention of everyone in his audience. At Troas, during Paul's speech, a young man called Eutychus falls asleep and is killed when he slips from his perch in a third-story window. Paul brings him back to life. At Miletus Paul meets with the elders of the Christian church at Ephesus. He summarizes his ministry in Asia Minor, "testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (20:21). Interestingly, he points out that he hasn't accepted money for himself, but supported himself by his own labor (20:33-34); he was a tentmaker by trade (18:3). After praying with them, he sails for Palestine. NEW TESTAMENT: LUKE-PAUL'S IMPRISONMENT AND JOURNEY TO ROME (21:17- 28:31) James tells Paul that there are thousands of Jewish Christians who think he's been teaching Jews as well as Gentiles not to observe the Jewish law, and advises him to take part in a ceremony in the Temple to show them they're wrong. When Paul does this, however, a riot against him breaks out in the Temple. Roman soldiers intervene and arrest Paul. Paul addresses the crowd, explaining that he was raised as a religious Jew, and studied "at the feet of Gamaliel" (22:3; see 5:34-39). Paul tells how he had once persecuted the Christians, and how he had been converted. But when he says that Jesus told him in a vision "I will send thee... unto the Gentiles" (22:21), the disturbance resumes. A Roman officer orders Paul scourged, but is stopped when he discovers that Paul is a Roman citizen. The next day Paul appears before the Jewish high priest and his council. Paul, seeing that the council is divided between Pharisees and Sadducees, declares "I am a Pharisee...: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (23:6), and the meeting breaks up in dissension between Pharisees and Sadducees. NOTE: Paul had been a Pharisee before his conversion and, on some of the issues about which Pharisees and Sadducees differed (notably the resurrection of the dead), he still agreed with the Pharisee position. Therefore he chooses to raise this point, which is guaranteed to throw the council into confusion. When a plot to kill Paul is discovered, he's sent under guard to Felix, the Roman governor, at Caesarea. The high priest comes down from Jerusalem for the hearing but, after speeches by the high priest's lawyer and by Paul, Felix postpones his decision. In fact Felix keeps Paul under house arrest at Caesarea, hoping that Paul will pay a bribe for his release. After two years, Felix is succeeded as governor by Porcius Festus. Festus holds another hearing and asks Paul whether he's willing to stand trial in Jerusalem. Paul replies "I appeal unto Caesar" (25:11). As a Roman citizen, he wants to be tried in the Emperor's court in Rome ("Caesar," like "Augustus" in 25:21, is used as a title; the reigning Emperor was Nero). King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice come to Caesarea and Festus arranges a meeting between them and Paul. Paul tells the royal pair about his Pharisee background, his persecution of Christians, his conversion, and his preaching. Festus thinks Paul is out of his mind, but King Agrippa, though unconvinced, takes him more seriously. The King remarks, "This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar" (26:32). NOTE: THE APPEAL TO CAESAR Festus and King Herod Agrippa presumably know more about the character of Nero and his court than Paul does. According to a reliable tradition, Paul was in fact put to death at Rome during the reign of Nero. Does the author of Acts consider Paul's appeal to Caesar a mistake? Is this one time that Paul's use of the privileges of Roman citizenship, which often got him out of legal difficulties, will turn out disastrously? Common sense says yes--King Agrippa is depicted as a man with common sense. But remember, everything is at a standstill in Caesarea, and it's sensible enough of Paul to want to break the deadlock. What's more important, Paul has had a vision in which Jesus has told him "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (23:11). Thus the author of Acts sees the appeal to Caesar, not merely as a legal maneuver, but as part of God's design. Paul is taken to Rome by sea, first on a coastal ship to Myra in Asia Minor, then on an Alexandrian vessel which is shipwrecked on Melita (modern Malta), then finally on a second Alexandrian ship to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) in Italy, from which Rome is reached by land. The trip well illustrates the hardship and danger of travel in ancient times, and gives the author opportunities to depict Paul's bravery, resourcefulness, and confidence in God. Christians from Rome come out to meet Paul some distance from the city. After his arrival, he preaches as usual to the local Jewish community. Acts ends with the statement that "Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house [at Rome]... preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ" (28:30-31) . Many scholars think the author had completed his plan of telling how the gospel was brought to Rome, and had nothing more to say. Others feel that the ending is so abrupt that some other explanation is called for. Some have thought that Acts was written in the 60s, while Paul was still alive. Others have thought that the author was interrupted, perhaps by death, before he could conclude the story with an account of Paul's martyrdom. NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-OVERVIEW The Epistle to the Romans is Paul's longest and most important work. It has had a tremendous influence on Christian theology. Paul probably wrote it at Corinth, about A.D. 56 or 57. He sent it to the Christian community at Rome at a time when he was leaving Greece to go to Jerusalem. After visiting Jerusalem, he planned to travel to Spain with a stop in Rome on the way. In Jerusalem, however, Paul was arrested (Acts 21). When he finally did go from Jerusalem to Rome, it was as a prisoner. In one sense, the theme of this Epistle is the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians--a problem that Paul was concerned with throughout his career. Paul's treatment of this topic leads him into a discussion of fundamental questions of Christian doctrine. Thus, in a broader sense, the main theme of this Epistle is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Virtually all scholars agree that Romans is an authentic work of Paul. Many think, however, that Paul's original Epistle consists only of Romans 1-15, and that Romans 16 is a different letter of Paul's that was appended to the letter he wrote to the Romans. NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-INTRODUCTION (1:1-17) Paul identifies himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto [set apart for] the gospel" (1:1). He tells the Christians of Rome that he has often wanted to visit them, but so far has been prevented. The gospel that he's ready to preach at Rome is, he says, "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (1:16). He then states his central theme: "The just shall live by faith" (1:17)- -a quotation from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4). NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-GENTILES AND JEWS WITHOUT CHRIST (1:18-3:20) Paul says that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (1:18). First, he considers the Gentiles. Though they were able to know God by seeing His created works, they preferred to worship idols made in the likeness of human beings and animals. Therefore God abandoned them to "the lusts of their own hearts" (1:24). NOTE: PAUL AND GREEK CIVILIZATION Paul was born in the Greek city of Tarsus (Acts 21:39). By the time he wrote Romans, he had traveled widely in Gentile areas, chiefly in the Greek cities of Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. This passage seems to show that, as a Jew, he was particularly shocked by two aspects of ancient Greek civilization: the worship of idols, and the relatively widespread practice of sexual relations between people of the same sex. Both were forbidden by the Jewish law (Exodus 20:4-5; Leviticus 18:22). Then he turns to the Jews. Though they have the Old Testament law, he asks whether they obey it: "thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" (2:23). He says that those who sin, whether they have the law (Jews) or not (Gentiles), are subject to the wrath of God, while those who do the things commanded by the law--again, whether they actually have it or not-- enjoy "glory, honor, and peace" (2:10). Do the Jews, then, have any advantage? Yes, for "unto them were committed the oracles of God" (3:2), that is the Old Testament revelation. Nevertheless, he concludes, "There is none righteous, no, not one" (3:10; an allusion to Psalm 14:1). For Paul, the question of human righteousness without Christ is an academic one: neither Jews nor Gentiles can attain it. NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-SALVATION THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST (3:21-5:21) Having described the miserable condition of humanity without Christ, Paul announces that "now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested," for all believers are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:21, 24). He repeats "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (3:28). Paul then looks back to Abraham, "the father of all them that believe" (4:11; see Genesis 11:26-25:10). Since Abraham lived before the days of Moses, he didn't have the Jewish law. He was indeed circumcised, but Paul points out that, before Abraham was circumcised, he "was strong in faith... And therefore it was imputed [credited] to him for righteousness" (4:20, 22; similarly 4:3). Then Paul contrasts Adam and Christ. He says that "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (5:12). This refers to the sin of Adam. But, he continues "if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many" (5:15). Thus he depicts a twofold foundation of the human race: first in sin, with Adam, and second in grace, with Jesus. NOTE: ORIGINAL SIN The story of the sin of Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race, is told in Genesis 3 where, as punishment, they're expelled from Paradise and must endure the drudgery of work, the pain of childbirth, and--ultimately--death. Clearly, these sources of suffering have been part of the human condition from the beginning, but Genesis doesn't explain how the sin of Adam and Eve affected their descendants. Paul discusses this issue--the question of Original Sin--here, but readers disagree about what he means. Some think he's saying that sin and death are inherited from Adam by all people, others that Adam is the first sinner and the model sinner but it is only because "all have sinned" individually that the world is full of sin. The idea that sin and death were transmitted from Adam to the whole race as a hereditary taint was worked out in detail after Paul's time, most fully by Augustine of Hippo (354-430). The evolution of the doctrine of Original Sin has been largely based on the interpretation of this passage in Romans. (The sin of Adam and Eve is the subject of Paradise Lost by John Milton [1608-1674], which many consider the greatest poem in English. ) You may think Paul's references to sin and death sound negative and gloomy, but don't lose sight of the fact that he's conveying his gospel--his "good news"--here. If the beginning of the human race went wrong, there is now a new beginning in which that wrong is undone. NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-THE NEW LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN (6:1-8:39) Having announced that salvation is not through obedience to the law but by God's grace (benevolent gift), through faith in Christ, Paul answers a possible objection: "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid" (6:15). He argues that those who have died with Christ in baptism have been raised from the dead with Christ to lead a new life. He draws an analogy to slavery, a prevalent institution in his day, saying his readers "were the servants of sin" (6:17). He tells them, "now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness" (6:22). He draws another analogy to marriage. If a woman's husband dies, she is free to remarry. So his Christian readers "are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead" (7:4). If the law is thus contrasted with grace, Paul asks, "Is the law sin? " He replies "God forbid" (7:7)--"the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (7:12). But the human being (Paul here uses himself as an example of what he thinks common to all people) is "carnal, sold under sin" (7:14). Without the law, people would be unconscious of their sinfulness and weakness. But, having the law, it becomes clear to them that they can't live up to its demands. The law, though itself holy, couldn't make people holy, for it couldn't give them the power to fulfill it. But "what the law could not do" God has now done by "sending his own Son" (8:3) to make Christians "sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage [law] again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father" (8:14-15). NOTE: ABBA Abba is an Aramaic word meaning father. It's an intimate word, more like dad than father. Jesus used this word in prayer (Mark 14:36), emphasizing the warmth and closeness of his relationship with God. Paul, evidently recalling Jesus' use of the word, uses it here to stress that, through Jesus, Christians have also become children of God--by "adoption." After saying so much about human weakness and the perils of sin and death, Paul ends this section of the Epistle with a powerful call for confidence in God. God knew his own in advance, destined them in advance "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (8:29), called them, justified them, and glorified them. What reason can there be for fear? For "neither death, nor life, nor angels,... nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8:38-39). NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-THE JEWS IN GOD'S PLAN (9:1- 11:36) Paul discloses his "continual sorrow" about the Jews, his "kinsmen according to the flesh" (9:2, 3). He recalls that in ancient times they became God's people, receiving the law and the promises of God, and that recently (in fulfillment of those promises) Christ was born to them. Yet, when Christ came, many Jews didn't accept him. Does this mean the promises of God have faded, and Israel is no longer His people? Paul says the word of God has not failed, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (9:6). He says the children of God are the descendants of Abraham, not according to the flesh, but according to the promise. (In Genesis 17:5 God had promised Abraham "a father of many nations have I made thee"). Paul argues that this doesn't imply any unfairness on God's part: "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (9:20). Then he quotes two texts from the Old Testament prophets: "I will call them my people, which were not my people" (9:25; Hosea 2:23), which he takes to refer to the Gentile Christians; and "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved" (9:27; Isaiah 10:22), which he takes to refer to the Jewish Christians. He prays for the salvation of Israel, and he says the Jews "have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (10:2). For the Jews seek salvation through obedience to the law rather than through faith in Christ, in which "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek" (10:12). Has God then rejected the Jews? Paul says "God forbid" (11: 1). He points out that he's a Jew himself, of the tribe of Benjamin. He then draws an elaborate analogy to the cultivation of the olive tree, which was propagated by grafting. He likens Israel to an olive tree, and says those Jews who haven't become Christians are like branches of the tree that have been broken off, while the Gentile Christians are like branches from the wild olive that have been grafted onto the cultivated tree. He points out that God can graft the non-Christian Jews back onto the tree again, and he predicts "all Israel shall be saved" (11:26) eventually. NOTE: THE OLIVE TREE The usual method of olive cultivation in Paul's time was to graft branches from cultivated olive trees onto the trunks of wild olive trees to obtain healthy, productive olive trees. That's why Paul's analogy is "contrary to nature" (11:24). NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-ADVICE ON CHRISTIAN LIVING (12:1-15:13) Paul now returns to the theme of the new life of the Christian. He says, "as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office [function]: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (12:4-5), and he urges each person to act according to his own gifts (compare 1 Corinthians 12:27-31). He calls for sincere love, kindness, patience, and perseverance in prayer, and he warns against the spirit of revenge. He urges submission to the government, for "the powers that be are ordained of God" (13:1). In fact, he says Christians should obey the government not only to escape punishment but "for conscience' sake" (13:5). Because the Roman Empire was a pagan state, you may be surprised to find Paul saying this. His sentiments weren't unusual in the early church, though. You'll find the same idea in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Finally, Paul says that "he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law" (13:8), identifying love of one's neighbor as the essence of morality, as Jesus himself had done (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27-28). NOTE: Is Paul contradicting himself? He has argued at length that Christians aren't saved by the law. Here, where he's giving moral advice, he does not say that acting as he advises will give anyone salvation. He's saying only that, having already been saved by grace, this is the way Christians ought to behave. Then Paul turns to a particular question apparently causing trouble in the Roman church. Some Christians were abstaining from the use of meat and wine, while others saw no need for such a rule. Some were observing special days, while others weren't. Paul himself believes "that there is nothing unclean of itself" (14:14), but his primary concern is harmony. He recognizes both parties to this dispute as good Christians, and urges them to stop judging one another and to respect each other's consciences. This is a remarkable endorsement of diversity in religious practices. NEW TESTAMENT: EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS-CONCLUSION (15:14-16:27) Paul concludes the Epistle with some personal words. He calls himself "the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles" (15:16), and says, "from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum [now Yugoslavia and Albania], I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (15:19). He plans to visit Jerusalem, then to travel to Spain by way of Rome. He asks for prayers, and hints at some worries about his reception among "them that do not believe in Judea" (15:31). Acts 21 indicates these worries weren't unfounded. In chapter 16 Paul provides a personal recommendation for a woman named Phoebe, from the church at Cenchreae (one of the port towns of Corinth). He sends friendly greetings to a large number of people, including Priscilla and Aquila. He warns against those who create divisions within the church, and ends the Epistle with a doxologya prayer giving glory to God. NOTE: IS CHAPTER 16 AN ORIGINAL PART OF ROMANS? Many scholars think chapter 16 may be another letter, or part of another letter, of Paul that was added on to the Epistle to the Romans. Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote Romans, and yet he greets so many people in Romans 16 that it sounds as if he's writing to some city where he had lived for quite a while. Those who would separate chapter 16 from the rest of the Epistle suggest Ephesus as its probable destination. Paul had worked there for more than two years, and Priscilla and Aquila lived there. NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-OVERVIEW The First Epistle to the Corinthians provides an extremely valuable look at the internal life of a Christian community in the middle of the first century. Virtually all scholars agree that this Epistle was written by Paul. Many hold that Paul wrote the whole Epistle as we now have it, but some think that it consists of parts of two or even three letters that Paul sent to the Christians of Corinth. If it's one work, it was written from Ephesus (16:8) some time in the mid-50s. NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-FACTIONS IN THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH (1:1- 4:21) The letter is addressed by Paul and Sosthenes to the church at Corinth, an important port city in Greece. Paul has learned that the Corinthian church is divided. People are saying "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas [Peter]; and I of Christ" (1:12). He asks whether Christ is divided, or whether it was Paul who was crucified. "Who then is Paul," he says, "and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed...? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (3:5-6). NOTE: THE "CHRIST" PARTY Scholars disagree about the interpretation of Paul's reference to those who say they are "of Christ." Some believe that the "Christ" party consisted of those Christians who weren't using the name of any particular preacher as a rallying cry, that the "Christ" party was really opposed to factionalism, and that Paul endorses it. Others suggest the "Christ" party was the most divisive group of all--Paul's principal opponents at Corinth-- because they rejected the authority of all human teachers and claimed special knowledge received directly from Christ. Paul isn't very specific about the issues dividing the Corinthian church, although his claim to speak "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (2:13) suggests the factions claimed to possess special wisdom, or religious knowledge. In any case, his main point is clear: "I beseech you... that there be no divisions among you" (1:10). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-MORAL PROBLEMS (5:1-6:20) Paul has heard that one of the Christians of Corinth is living in incest with his stepmother. He urges the Corinthian congregation to have nothing to do with this man--to consign him to Satan, in hopes his soul may thus eventually be saved. This looks like a reference to expulsion from the community. By the same token, Paul has been shocked to hear that Christians are bringing lawsuits against one another. He says Christians, living a new life as the result of their baptism, should settle disputes among themselves rather than in the courts of the pagan Roman government. He concludes this part of the Epistle with a reflection on the demands of this new life. In particular, he condemns sexual immorality, arguing "your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost" (6:19). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-MARRIAGE AND CELIBACY (7:1-7:40) The Corinthians have evidently written to Paul, asking a series of questions about the practical side of the Christian life. Paul first answers a question about marriage. He says that "It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (7:1-2). He is celibate himself, and he recommends celibacy to others because it frees people to "attend upon the Lord without distraction" (7:35), but he admits that "it is better to marry than to burn" (7:9) with lust. While he's on the subject of marriage, Paul urges Christians who are married to non-Christians to remain married to them, in hopes that they may help bring their spouses to salvation. But if the non- Christian spouse insists on breaking up the marriage, Paul says "let him depart" (7:15). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS (8:1-11:1) The pagan gods were worshiped with sacrifices, often of animals. Some of the meat was burned on the altar of the god's temple, but some might be brought home by worshipers and eaten by themselves and their guests, and some might even be offered for sale in the marketplace. The Corinthians have evidently asked Paul whether Christians may eat such food. It was apparently one of the issues dividing them. Paul says "we know that an idol is nothing... and that there is none other God but one" (8:4). Therefore, he tells the Corinthians to eat whatever is sold in the market, or whatever is served when they've been invited to a feast by a pagan, "asking no question" (10:25, 27). The fact that the food may have been offered to an idol can't harm the Christian. NOTE: The position Paul takes here on food offered to idols wasn't typical of early Christian attitudes. The Council of Jerusalem (which Paul had attended!) forbade Christians to eat such food (Acts 15:29). The practice is also vigorously condemned in Revelation 2:14- 15, 20. On the other hand, Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient [advantageous]" (10:23). There are Christians whose consciences are vulnerable and who may be led into sin by seeing their fellow-Christians eating sacrificial offerings. Therefore, Christians shouldn't use all the liberty they possess-- when they know food has been offered to idols, they shouldn't eat it lest "the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died" (8:11). Paul uses himself as an illustration of not using all one's liberty. He says "the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (9:14), by accepting contributions from Christians. But he doesn't avail himself of this right (9:15). Paul worked for his living (Acts 18:3) in the midst of his missionary labors. Indeed, he obeys the Jewish law (though he's not bound by it) when he's among Jews, and disregards it when he's among Gentiles, being "all things to all men" (9:22) for the sake of preaching the gospel. Still, Paul warns strongly against idolatry, relating this to the celebration of the Eucharist: "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils [pagan gods]: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils" (10:21). The seeming inconsistency of the argument in 10:1-22 with the rest of Paul's discussion has led some scholars to suggest it comes originally from a different letter. NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-CONDUCT AT PUBLIC WORSHIP (11:2-34) Paul gives some instructions about the worship meetings held in Corinth. He calls on men to pray with their heads uncovered, and women with their heads covered, saying this is a sign of the subordination of women. Then he criticizes the Corinthians' celebration of the Lord's Supper. Apparently it took place as part of a meal brought from individual homes. Some didn't have enough, while some overindulged. He recounts the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus (11:23-26), in words similar to those in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20). Paul advises the Corinthians to eat at home before coming together for the service. NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-SPIRITUAL GIFTS (12:1-14:40) The Corinthians appear to have asked Paul about spiritual gifts. Among these he lists wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues (12:8-10). The diversity of gifts seems to have given rise to dissension, and Paul reminds his readers, "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (12:13). Echoing the teaching of Romans 12:4-5, he says Christians will possess different gifts, just as the body's organs have different functions. More important than any of these gifts, he declares, is "charity." NOTE: CHARITY (LOVE) The Greeks had three words for love: eros, philos, and agape. Eros usually means sexual love. Philos usually means friendship. Agape, the least common of the three in Greek usage, but the word for love most often used in the New Testament, is the word Paul uses here. It usually means unselfish love. Without charity, Paul says, the gifts of tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and faith--even the gift of giving all one's goods to the poor--are worthless. "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (13:4-7). Other gifts will pass away, but charity will not pass away. This is Paul's most memorable exposition of his teaching, "he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). Turning to the gift apparently causing most division in the Corinthian church--speaking in tongues--Paul warns that it can be overrated. "I thank my God," he says, "I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding... than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue" (14:18-19). He says no more than three people should do it at one meeting, and that what they say should be interpreted. NOTE: SPEAKING IN TONGUES The practice of speaking in tongues (glossolalia) means the utterance of uncomprehensible sounds by Christians who felt themselves inspired by the Spirit. The sounds might be taken as foreign languages, or as unknown languages (the tongues of angels). This experience is referred to also in Acts 2:4, 10:46, and 19:6. It seems that women were doing most of the speaking in tongues at Corinth, perhaps even monopolizing the practice (14:36). Accordingly, Paul says, "Let your women keep silence in the churches" (14:34). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-THE RESURRECTION (15:1-58) Paul has learned some of the Corinthians "say... that there is no resurrection of the dead" (15:12). He strongly defends the teaching "Christ died for our sins" and "rose again the third day" (15:3-4), citing the original witnesses and his own vision of the risen Jesus-- presumably a reference to his conversion experience (Acts 9:3-6). He then echoes the teaching of Romans 5:12-21: "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (15:22). He likens burial of the dead to sowing seed in a field and resurrection to growing grain from the seed, out of the earth. The body, he explains, "is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption... it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (15:42, 44). In the course of his discussion, Paul quotes the Thais of the popular Greek playwright Menander (342-291 B.C.): "evil communications corrupt good manners" (15:33). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 CORINTHIANS-CONCLUSION (16:1-24) Paul reminds his readers about the collection of funds "for the saints" (16:1), the poor of the Jerusalem church. He says he plans to stay in Ephesus for a while, then travel to Corinth by way of Macedonia. He speaks of possible future visits to Corinth by Timothy and Apollos. He says he's glad Stephanas and other Corinthian emissaries have come to him, and sends greetings from Aquila and Priscilla, "with the church that is in their house" (16:19). NEW TESTAMENT: 2 CORINTHIANS-OVERVIEW Virtually all scholars agree that the Second Epistle to the Corinthians is (with the possible exception of 6:14-7:1) authentic work of Paul. Most believe, however, that the Epistle in its existing form contains material from two or more letters of Paul. Certainly chapters 1-9 and chapters 10-13 seem to have been written under different circumstances. By the same token, chapters 8 and 9, though dealing with the same subject, don't seem to have been originally joined together. Scholars have made various attempts to reconstruct the original form of the material in 2 Corinthians. One plausible suggestion is as follows: 1. 10:1-13:14 is a letter, or part of a letter, written by Paul after encountering serious opposition in Corinth, evidently including an attack on his credentials as an apostle. 2. 1:1-6:13 and 7:2-8:24 is a subsequent letter of reconciliation, in which Paul refers (2:4) to the previous letter. Some scholars think 2:14-6:13 and 7:2-4 are from one letter and 1:1-2:13 and 7:5- 8:24 are from another. Some, too, regard chapter 8 as a separate unit. 3. 9:1-15 comes from a different letter. 4. 6:14-7:1 is thought by some scholars to be a later addition, not written by Paul. Don't be discouraged by the problem of the arrangement of the material. The most important thing is that 2 Corinthians consists of correspondence of Paul to Corinth dealing chiefly with his concept of Christian ministry. The material or most of it was probably written in Macedonia, in northern Greece, in the mid-50s. NEW TESTAMENT: 2 CORINTHIANS-INTRODUCTION (1:1-11) Paul and Timothy write to the Christians of Corinth and all Achaia (the Roman province--basically southern Greece--of which Corinth was capital). They've recently had trouble in Asia Minor, so as to be "pressed out of measure... insomuch that we despaired even of life" (1:8). This may refer to an imprisonment of Ephesus not recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. NEW TESTAMENT: 2 CORINTHIANS-CHRISTIAN MINISTRY (1:12-7:16) Paul says, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (4:6). He contrasts the ministry "of the new testament" with that of the Jewish law, remarking, "the letter [the law] killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (3:6). When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tables of the law, Paul recalls, his face shone so brightly he had to wear a veil when he spoke to the Israelites (Exodus 34:29-35). If the law was so glorious, the gospel is more glorious still--it is Christ who has done away with the veil and revealed the glory of God! Although Paul affirms, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (3:17), he warns Christians not to abuse their liberty. A new, better way of life is called for, since "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (5:17). This section of the Epistle includes a stern warning against fellowship with unbelievers (6:14- 7:1). NOTE: Many scholars think 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 wasn't written by Paul. In 1 Corinthians 10:27 Paul doesn't object to Christians accepting invitations to feasts with pagans, and in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 he advises Christians with pagan husbands or wives to maintain their marriages if possible. The condemnation of fellowship here seems inconsistent with that advice. NEW TESTAMENT: 2 CORINTHIANS-THE COLLECTION FOR JERUSALEM (8:1-9:15) Paul urges the Corinthians to give generously for the relief of poor Christians in Jerusalem. The churches of Macedonia have given liberally, he emphasizes in chapter 8, and asks the Corinthians to do the same. In chapter 9, which many scholars think was written on a different occasion, Paul says he's been bragging to the Christians of Macedonia about how much the Corinthians have been giving, and asks them not to make a liar out of him. He says, "God loveth a cheerful giver" (9:7). These chapters provide an excellent glimpse of Paul's methods as a fundraiser. NEW TESTAMENT: 2 CORINTHIANS-PAUL CONFRONTS HIS OPPONENTS (10:1- 13:14) Paul warns against "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (11:13). He defends his mission, even at the risk of sounding foolishly boastful. He depicts his life, "in labors more abundant, in stripes [beatings] above measure, in prisons more frequent" (11:23) than his opponents'. He says, as if speaking of someone else, that fourteen years earlier he was "caught up to the third heaven... and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (12:2, 4). But, to prevent him from becoming overly proud, he was given "a thorn in the flesh" (12:7). He asked the Lord three times to take this away, but the Lord answered "My grace is sufficient for thee" (12:9). Paul doesn't identify the infirmity he calls his "thorn in the flesh." One suggested explanation is eye trouble (see Galatians 4:15, 6:11). Paul says he plans to visit Corinth, but he's afraid he may find the church there divided by "strifes, backbitings, whisperings" (12:20). He urges the Corinthians to mend their ways before his arrival. NEW TESTAMENT: GALATIANS-OVERVIEW The Epistle to the Galatians is one of Paul's most important works. If, as is likely, it was written before Romans, it's the oldest surviving statement of his distinctive theological position. You'll be struck by its highly personal, emotional tone. The date of the writing of Galatians is debated among scholars. Some put it in the late 40s of the first century, others in the late 50s. Many scholars, though, think it was written in the early or mid-50s. The Galatians were a Celtic people who lived in north-central Asia Minor. Paul is clearly writing to a group of Christians of predominantly Gentile origin. Besides providing an important discussion of the relation of Christians to the Jewish law, similar to but shorter than in Romans, Galatians includes a valuable account of Paul's early career and his relationship with the church in Jerusalem. It's both earlier and more firsthand than the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, from which it differs in tone and in some details. NEW TESTAMENT: GALATIANS-INTRODUCTION (1:1-10) Paul writes because teachers have appeared who "would pervert the gospel of Christ" (1:7), and who are evidently gaining influence among the Galatians. He says if anyone, even himself, even an angel from heaven, should preach a different gospel from the one the Galatians have already received, "let him be accursed" (1:8). NEW TESTAMENT: GALATIANS-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNT (1:11-2:14) Opponents of Paul in Galatia have evidently been denying his credentials as an apostle, and appealing instead to the authority of the church in Jerusalem. Paul insists that the gospel he preached to the Galatians was received "by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:12) . He tells how once he persecuted Christians, and practiced Judaism zealously. He says when he was converted to Christianity he "conferred not with flesh and blood" (1:16), but went to Arabia (presumably for a period of prayer and meditation), then returned to Damascus. After three years he visited Jerusalem, where he stayed with Peter for fifteen days and also met James, the brother of Jesus, before returning to Syria and Cilicia (the area of Tarsus, Paul's hometown, and of Antioch, apparently his chief base of operations). This trip to Jerusalem seems to be the one spoken of in Acts 9:26-30, although that account gives the impression that it took place immediately after Paul's conversion, rather than three years later. Paul says that, after fourteen years (from his conversion?), he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, and told "them which were of reputation" (2:2) what he was preaching to the Gentiles. The leaders of the Jerusalem church--James, Cephas (Peter), and John-- endorsed his mission to the Gentiles, conceding that Titus, "being a Greek" (2:3), wouldn't have to be circumcised. This appears to be a reference to the so-called Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-29), which took place about A.D. 49 or 50. However, Paul doesn't mention the modified food rules that, according to Acts, were adopted at that meeting. Paul then tells of a visit of Peter to Antioch, Peter ate with the Gentiles there (contrary to Jewish law), until "certain came from James" (2:12). Then he withdrew. This prompted Paul to say to Peter, in public, "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles,... why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? " (2:14). In other words, before the arrival of representatives of James, who seems to have led the party maintaining the practice of the Jewish law, Peter didn't himself follow the law, but after their arrival he acted as if both Jewish and Gentile Christians should follow it. NOTE: On other occasions, Paul said Christians, though they were free from the obligation to obey food rules, might refrain from exercising that freedom to avoid scandalizing other Christians who did believe in such rules (Romans 14:14-21; 1 Corinthians 8:4-13). However, he condemns the attempt to impose the Jewish law on Gentiles. If the incident at Antioch took place after the Council of Jerusalem, the council evidently didn't produce as much harmony as the author of Luke-Acts suggests. NEW TESTAMENT: GALATIANS-JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH (2:15-4:31) Paul teaches that "a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (2:16), and he goes so far as to say that "if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (2:21). He recalls "Abraham [who] believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (3:6). God's promise to Abraham, he says, couldn't be annulled by the giving of the law 430 years later. The law, given by angels, was only in force until the coming of Jesus, the descendant of Abraham to whom God made the promise. Paul says, "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (3:24), and it is no longer needed now that faith is here. Under this new dispensation, "There is neither Jew nor Greek,... bond nor free,... male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (3:28), fellow heirs with him to the promise made to Abraham. As at Romans 8:15, Paul notes that (like Jesus) Christians call God "Abba, Father" (4:6) showing they are no longer servants, but sons. He's distressed because some Galatians "observe days, and months, and times, and years" (4:10)--apparently they "desire again to be in bondage" (4:9); they "desire to be under the law" (4:21). He gives an allegorical interpretation of the story of Abraham's sons Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 16, 17, 21). Ishmael's mother was Hagar, a slave, while Isaac's mother was Abraham's wife Sarah. Paul says Hagar stands for "Jerusalem which now is" (4:25), the covenant of bondage (the law), while Sarah stands for "Jerusalem which is above" (4:26), the promise of freedom (the Christian dispensation). NEW TESTAMENT: GALATIANS-PRACTICAL ADVICE (5:1-6:10) Paul strongly condemns the circumcision of Gentile Christians: "if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing" (5:2). This seems a very harsh statement--of course Paul himself was circumcised- -but he explains that "in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth. .. nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (5:6). He's not really teaching that circumcision is wrong in itself, but rather that its adoption by Gentiles, in the belief that it's useful for their salvation as Christians, contradicts the gospel. As at Romans 13:9, Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus that "all the law is fulfilled in one word... Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (5:14). He warns against various vices, such as adultery, witchcraft, murder, and drunkenness. NEW TESTAMENT: GALATIANS-CONCLUSION (6:11-18) Paul accuses his opponents of pride. As for himself, he says "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (6:14). For Christ is above such questions as circumcision or uncircumcision. NEW TESTAMENT: EPHESIANS-OVERVIEW Ephesians is the first of the so-called Captivity Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon), traditionally believed written by Paul while imprisoned at Rome in the early 60s. Most scholars today, however, doubt this Epistle is an authentic letter of Paul to the Ephesians. First, the letter is very impersonal; we'd expect a very different tone in a letter sent by Paul to Ephesus, where he'd lived a long time. Moreover, the words translated "at Ephesus" (1:1) are missing in many good ancient manuscripts. In addition, the style and ideas of Ephesians differ from those in undoubted works of Paul such as Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. On the other hand, the author of Ephesians certainly made use of Colossians. There are still scholars who think that Ephesians is a late work of Paul, written from Rome in the early 60s, perhaps with the extensive collaboration of one of his associates. More scholars today, however, believe Ephesians was written by a later imitator of Paul, perhaps in the 80s. NEW TESTAMENT: EPHESIANS-THE EPISTLE The letter begins with a prayer praising God, who "hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world" (1:4), and a prayer that the readers may obtain the wisdom to understand the power of God who made Christ the head of the church "which is his body" (1:23) . The author says, "we all... were by nature the children of wrath" (2:3) before becoming Christians, but are now saved by God's grace through faith--not works. He reminds Gentile Christians they were formerly "strangers from the covenants of promise" (2:12) God made in ancient times with Israel, but through the death of Jesus both Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians have been unified into one "household of God" (2:19). Although there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (4:5-6), different Christians have been given different gifts. There are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. All ought to work harmoniously together to build up and perfect the church. The author warns against lying, anger, stealing, fornication, foolish talk, and drunkenness, calling on his readers to "walk as children of light" (5:8). He then discusses social relations. He advises wives to "submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (5:22) and husbands to "love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church" (5:25). He asks children to "obey your parents in the Lord" (6:1) and fathers to "provoke not your children to wrath" (6:4). He says servants (slaves) should "be obedient to... your masters... as unto Christ" (6:5) and masters should "do the same things unto them" (6:9)! He seems to be trying to reconcile the institutions of his society--which were based on the subordination of persons to one another--with the idea of Christian love. This is no easy task. The Epistle concludes with an extended metaphor about the Christian's combat "against the rulers of the darkness of this world" (6:12)--demonic powers. Truth, faith, and salvation are spoken of as if they were pieces of military equipment: "the whole armor of God" (6:13). NEW TESTAMENT: PHILLIPIANS-OVERVIEW The Epistle to the Philippians is accepted by most scholars as authentic work of Paul, but many think it consists of parts of more than one original letter. Although it's not easy to sort out this material, one plausible suggestion is as follows: 1. 4:10-20 is from a letter in which Paul thanks the Philippians for sending him a gift carried to him by a certain Epaphroditus. 2. 1:1-3:1, 4:4-7, and perhaps 4:21-23 are a letter sent back with Epaphroditus, whose return to Philippi had been delayed by illness. 3. 3:2-4:3 and 4:8-9 are from a later letter, written at a time when opponents of Paul's teaching are trying to influence the church at Philippi. Paul refers in Philippians to his imprisonment (1:7, 12-17). It used to be generally thought that the letter was written when he was being held in custody in Rome in the early 60s. Quite a few scholars now believe, however, that it (or at least the first two letters of which they think it consists) was written from Ephesus in the mid- 50s. NEW TESTAMENT: PHILLIPIPANS-THE EPISTLE Philippians is addressed from Paul and Timothy to the church at Philippi in northern Greece, which they had founded (Acts 16:11-40). Paul speaks of being in prison. He seems to be in danger of death but he says "to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21). He thinks it's better to die and be with Christ, but he also feels he should stay alive to continue his work. Paul urges his readers to maintain harmony, mutual love, and humility. He cites the example of the humility of Jesus. In a passage that may be quoted or adapted from an early Christian hymn, he says Jesus, "being in the form of God,... took upon him the form of a servant,... he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death.. .. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,... and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (2:6-11). NOTE: KENOSIS The Greek word kenosis (meaning emptying out) is usually applied to this theological idea of Jesus' humbling himself. Although Paul doesn't explain exactly what he means by "being in the form of God," he seems to be saying that Jesus existed in an exalted state before his birth. This anticipates the view of Jesus presented in John 1. On the other hand, the idea that "God... hath highly exalted him" expresses the early Christian belief that Jesus' lordship is a consequence of his resurrection. Paul attacks teachers who require all Christians to observe the Jewish law, saying "we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit" (3:3). This recalls the idea, already expressed in the Old Testament, that the circumcision most needed is circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6). He urges his readers to "Rejoice in the Lord always" (4:4), and thanks them for a gift (presumably of money) they've sent him. NEW TESTAMENT: COLOSSIANS-OVERVIEW Colossians is traditionally thought to have been written by Paul to the church at Colossae in Asia Minor when he was imprisoned at Rome in the early 60s. Some scholars still hold this view, but others think the Epistle was written by a follower of Paul rather than by Paul himself. Timothy, who's mentioned in the Epistle as coauthor with Paul (1:1), has been suggested as a possible author. It has also been argued that Colossians represents a letter originally written by Paul or one of his close associates, but later revised and expanded by someone else. Some of those who think the Epistle wasn't written by Paul nevertheless assign it to a date as early as the 60s. Others think it was written later in the first century. NEW TESTAMENT: COLOSSIANS-THE EPISTLE The letter begins with thanksgiving to God, "who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (1:13). Notice the emphasis on the idea that the Kingdom is not a hope for the future, but a condition in which Christians already live. The author then speaks of Jesus, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature... all things were created by him, and for him... and he is the head of the body, the church" (1: 14-16, 18). A great deal of doctrine is concentrated into these few verses: the redemption, a view of Christ that appears to differ little in content from John 1:1-3, and the Pauline concept of the church as a body (Romans 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:13) of which Christ is here spoken of as the head. The author warns against teachers who impose regulations about food and drink; special observances of holy days, new moons, and sabbaths; and the worship of angels (2:16, 18). The food rules and the special days look like elements of Jewish practices, while the veneration of angelic powers (perhaps the powers thought to govern the planets) was probably of Gentile origin. The author insists that Christians are no longer "subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not...)" (2:20-21). Christ is superior to whatever angelic "principalities, or powers" (1:16) may exist, and is to be honored rather than they. In terms similar to those in Ephesians 4-6, the author outlines the behavior he expects of Christians: the avoidance of various sins; the maintenance of the mutual obligations of wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters; and continuance in prayer. This passage is shorter and simpler than the corresponding passage in Ephesians, suggesting the author of Ephesians amplified what he found here. The Epistle concludes with various personal remarks. The author is sending Onesimus to the Colossians and he has with him Mark, Luke, and others who send greetings to the Colossians. NOTE: Onesimus is the runaway slave whom Paul speaks of converting and sending back to his master in the Epistle to Philemon. Paul, however, calls Onesimus his son at Philemon 10, while the author of Colossians calls him a beloved brother (4:9). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 AND 2 THESSALONIANS-OVERVIEW Both Epistles are addressed by Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy to the Christian community they founded at Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), now in northern Greece. The Epistles' major purpose is to teach about the end of the world. Paul probably wrote 1 Thessalonians when he was at Corinth (Acts 18:1) about A.D. 51. It's generally considered the first of the Epistles of Paul to have been written, the oldest book of the New Testament, and the first surviving Christian document. 2 Thessalonians closely resembles 1 Thessalonians in ideas and terminology. Some scholars think the second Epistle was written a few months after the first. Many modern scholars, however, think 2 Thessalonians was written late in the first century by an imitator of Paul. 1 THESSALONIANS Paul commends the Christians of Thessalonica for their faith, recalling "how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1:9). The reference to the worship of idols shows he's writing to a predominantly Gentile community. The controversy over whether Christianity was to be a religion only for Jews deeply divided the early church and preoccupied Paul throughout his career. Paul seems to allude to this controversy when he speaks of Jews "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved" (2:16). Paul gives some advice about personal conduct, urging his readers to "abstain from fornication" (4:3), "love one another" (4:9), and "work with your own hands" (4:11). Apparently there were some at Thessalonica who thought becoming Christian meant no longer working for a living. The chief teaching of this Epistle, however, deals with Paul's eschatology, his beliefs about the end of the world. Christians at Thessalonica were evidently concerned about the fate of those who died before the Parousia, or Second Coming of Jesus. Paul tells them not to worry: "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him" (4:14). Paul says the Lord will descend from heaven, the dead will rise, and the living "shall be caught up together with them... to meet the Lord in the air" (4:17), but the time when this will take place is unknown. 2 THESSALONIANS This letter is written for people who have been disturbed by preachers, perhaps even by false letters purporting to be from Paul (2:2), claiming the end of the world is close at hand. The Parousia will not occur in the very near future, the author says, and before then will be "a falling away" of many Christians and the "man of sin. .. the son of perdition" (2:3) will appear. NOTE: MAN OF SIN The Epistle predicts this rather mysterious figure "opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God" (2:4). He resembles the antichrist of 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3 and 2 John 7. If his appearance signals the last days, the fact that he has not yet appeared shows the last days have not yet come. The other major issue raised in 2 Thessalonians is the need to work for a living. The author says there are disorderly people who refuse to work. Perhaps they think there's no longer any reason to go about the usual business of life because the end of the world is so close. The author lays down the rule "that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (3:10). NEW TESTAMENT: 1 AND 2 TIMOTHY; TITUS-OVERVIEW Because of their concern for the life and organization of Christian congregations, these letters are known as the Pastoral Epistles (the Latin pastor means shepherd). They are traditionally attributed to Paul. If in fact he wrote them it would have been toward the end of his life, in the 60s, but many scholars think they were written by someone else, early in the second century. They purport to be addressed to two of Paul's coworkers, and they share some themes with the Epistles generally recognized as written by Paul. 1 TIMOTHY The Epistle warns against erroneous teachings, which appear to include studying "fables and endless genealogies" (1:4), "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats" (4:3). The exact character of the group condemned isn't made clear. When the author speaks of "science falsely so called" (6:20), the Greek word translated "science" in the King James version is gnosis-- conceivably an allusion to early Gnosticism. The reference to rules about food suggests Jewish influence, while the reference to the prohibition of marriage illustrates the extreme austerity and self- denial taught by some groups of early Christians. On the theological side, the most important positive teaching of this Epistle is the statement that "God our Saviour... will have all men to be saved" (2:3-4). The main concern of the Epistle, however, is with church order. The qualities of a good bishop are listed. He should be "blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity" (3:2-4). The qualities of a good deacon are listed in similar terms. NOTE: BISHOPS AND DEACONS 1 Timothy distinguishes between two kinds of Christian ministers. The bishop (Greek episcopos, meaning overseer) is more important than the deacon (Greek diaconos, meaning servant). The origin of deacons, described in Acts 6:1-6, indicates they were chiefly concerned with the charitable side of the church's work. A good deal is said about the conduct of women. In general, they are urged to wear "modest apparel" (2:9) and to "learn in silence with all subjection" (2:11) during worship services. Widows seem to have formed a special group within the Christian congregation when 1 Timothy was written. The author distinguishes those who "are widows indeed" (5:3)--those who have no relatives to care for them. Such women are to be supported by the church. But nobody is to be enrolled among these official widows unless she's at least sixty years old, and enrollment carries with it the obligation to pray "night and day" (5:5) and never to remarry. 2 TIMOTHY This Epistle also warns against some group of Christians who occupy themselves with "foolish and unlearned questions" (2:23). Specifically, two men called Hymeneus and Philetus are criticized for "saying that the resurrection is past already" (2:17-18; Hymeneus is also mentioned at 1 Timothy 1:20). Presumably their teaching reflects an extreme form of what is known as realized eschatology--the belief that, for Christians, the end of the world has already come. Whether Paul wrote 2 Timothy or not, many readers have been moved by the passage depicting the great apostle, on the eve of his death, saying "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith," and anticipating the "crown of righteousness" (4:7-8) he trusts God will soon give him. NEW TESTAMENT: TITUS This short letter repeats the condemnation of "foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law" (3:9) in terms similar to those in the other Pastoral Epistles. Titus is represented as presiding over a church on the island of Crete. An unflattering picture of the Cretan character is presented: "One of themselves... said, The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies [lazy gluttons]" (1:12). The quotation is thought to come from the sixth century B.C. Cretan poet Epimenides of Knossos. The passage, incidentally, has intrigued students of logic for centuries, because, if a Cretan says that Cretans are always liars..., can he be telling the truth? Titus is instructed to "ordain elders in every city" (1:5). The qualifications of these elders are similar to those of bishops and deacons in 1 Timothy. This Epistle teaches the Pauline doctrine that "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he [God] saved us, by the washing of regeneration [baptism], and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (3:5-6). Nevertheless, it adds "that they which have believed in God" should "be careful to maintain good works" (3:8). NEW TESTAMENT: PHILEMON-OVERVIEW The Epistle to Philemon is generally accepted as an authentic work of Paul. Although Timothy is mentioned as coauthor (1), the letter has a very personal tone. It was written from prison either during an imprisonment in Ephesus in the mid-50s or during the imprisonment in Rome at the beginning of the 60s. It's addressed to Philemon, a Christian whom Paul converted (19), who apparently lived at Colossae in Asia Minor, and to the congregation that met in Philemon's house. NEW TESTAMENT: PHILEMON-THE EPISTLE In prison, Paul has met the runaway slave Onesimus and converted him to Christianity. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, his legal owner, strongly urging that Onesimus be received with kindness. Paul doesn't attack the institution of slavery, but he certainly breaks with its spirit when he asks that Onesimus be received as "a brother beloved" (16). Perhaps he's hinting (13, 14) he'd like to have Onesimus freed and sent back to him as a coworker. Onesimus is also mentioned at Colossians 4:9. If Colossians was written by Paul, it may have been sent at the same time as Philemon. NEW TESTAMENT: HEBREWS-OVERVIEW The Epistle to the Hebrews has no salutation, and it sounds more like a sermon than a letter. It has traditionally been grouped with the Epistles of Paul, but it differs from them in its style and in some of its ideas. Even in ancient times there was much speculation about the authorship of Hebrews. Several scholars have suggested it may have been written by Apollos, who is described as "an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). Whoever the author, it contains perhaps the best literary Greek in the New Testament. Some scholars think the Epistle was written late in the first century, perhaps in the 80s, but others prefer a date in the 60s because it doesn't mention the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70. The theme of Hebrews is that Jesus has fulfilled God's plan perfectly by his sacrificial death and that, as eternal high priest, he leads his followers to salvation. The author interprets the Old Testament allegorically, or typologically. What does that mean? A poet may use the word for one thing to represent a different thing. Such metaphor or symbolism is a valuable literary device, but it creates no real relationship between the two things. Users of typology believe God can use one real thing (a type) to prefigure another (an antitype), thus establishing a real relationship between the two. Study of the type can help us to understand the antitype. Specifically, the author of Hebrews believes the Old Testament foreshadowed the New--the events of ancient Jewish history and the ceremonies of the ancient Jewish religion were types of Christian realities. NEW TESTAMENT: HEBREWS-SUPREMACY OF THE SON OF GOD (1:1-2:18) The author begins by contrasting the earlier messages of the prophets with the revelation now delivered by God through His Son, "whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds" (1:2). This very exalted view of the person of Jesus resembles that of John 1:1-3, 10 and Colossians 1:15-16. The author then declares the Son also superior to the angels, God's "ministering spirits" (1:14). Early Christians believed the Jewish law was given through angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). NEW TESTAMENT: HEBREWS-JESUS CHRIST THE HIGH PRIEST (3:1-10:39) The author warns against unbelief (3:12), asserting that "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and... were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,... if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance" (6:4, 6). In support of this call for perseverance, the author contrasts the salvation provided in Jesus with the religion of the Old Testament. The author considers the Old Testament to be part of God's plan, but he says the Jewish law was "a shadow of good things to come" (10:1), not God's final revelation to the human race. Jesus, "the mediator of a better covenant" (8:6), is described as "a great high priest" (4:14), superior to the priests of the Old Testament religion. Jesus' priesthood is foreshadowed by Melchizedek's (5:6, 10; 6:20- 7:21). NOTE: MELCHIZEDEK Melchizedek, King of Salem (probably Jerusalem), is a mysterious figure who appears in Genesis 14:18-20. His name is striking, for Melchizedek is interpreted (correctly or incorrectly) as king of righteousness, and Salem as peace. King and priest, Melchizedek blessed Abraham and accepted tithes from him. Because Genesis says nothing of Melchizedek's ancestors or his death, he has been taken as a symbol of timelessness. Already in the Old Testament there seems to be a suggestion that he represents an everlasting royal priesthood, different from the Aaronic priesthood of the Temple. Thus the Israelite king is told, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4). In the thought of the author of Hebrews, Melchizedek's priesthood is a type of the eternal and royal priesthood of the Christ. The author also contrasts the physical sanctuary of the Old Testament religion with the spiritual sanctuary of Christianity, saying "Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (9:24). By the same token, the sacrifice of Jesus is superior to the animal sacrifices of Old Testament worship, being "neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood" (9:12). Moreover, the animal sacrifices had to be offered again and again, but Jesus "offered one sacrifice for sins for ever" (10:12). NEW TESTAMENT: HEBREWS-CONCLUSION (11:1-13:25) The author again emphasizes the value of faith, holding up as examples the faith of many Old Testament figures, including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them" (11:13), and yet God has "provided some better thing for us" (11:40). He urges patience in tribulations; offers advice about practical matters such as marriage, charity, and hospitality to strangers; and concludes with a prayer that God will make the readers of the Epistle perfect "through the blood of the everlasting covenant" (13:20). NEW TESTAMENT: JAMES-OVERVIEW This Epistle is addressed by "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (1:1). Some scholars identify the author with James, the brother of Jesus, the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, who was put to death in A.D. 62. Others think this Epistle was written toward the end of the first century. "The twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" would normally mean Jews living outside Palestine, but here it seems to refer to the Jewish Christians, living in an alien society, waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus (5:7). Some scholars have suggested this Epistle is a Christian adaptation of an earlier Jewish work. It's probably best thought of as a Christian rethinking of the Jewish wisdom tradition of moral instruction (found in the Old Testament books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Sirach). NEW TESTAMENT: JAMES-THE EPISTLE The author of James develops several important moral themes. He calls for patience in time of temptation. He urges his readers to pray with single-minded faith. He especially recommends prayer as a remedy for sickness and sin (5:14-16). He warns strongly against uncontrolled speech. In phrases reminiscent of the teaching of Jesus reported in the Gospel of Luke, the writer emphasizes God's special love for the poor (1:9; 2:5) and denounces the wickedness of the rich (2:6-7; 5:1-6). The author of James is, in fact, the only New Testament writer who denounces wealth as vigorously as Jesus reportedly did. The writer declares that wealth is acquired by fraud and violence, and spent on wanton pleasure. Finally, he insists on the Christian's duty to take action to relieve the sufferings of the poor. The question of practical Christian action, of works, is the most controversial theme in this Epistle. The author is concerned that the saving power of faith not be misunderstood. He distinguishes between two kinds of faith. One of these is merely the acceptance of certain doctrines as true: "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (2:19). The other is a faith that expresses itself in actions, especially in caring for the poor and miserable. The first faith which merely believes that certain things are so, but doesn't impel the believer to follow through with good works, he calls "dead" (2:26). This leads him to the position "that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (2:24). Do you think the teaching of this Epistle about the relationship between faith and works contradicts the teaching of Paul "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28; see also Galatians 2:16)? NOTE: LUTHER ON THE EPISTLE OF JAMES Martin Luther (1483-1546), the German Protestant reformer, disapproved of this Epistle's teaching on justification by works. Although he acknowledged that James was valuable and contained many excellent passages, Luther said it was "an epistle full of straw" compared with other books of the New Testament because of its emphasis on works. On the other hand, Luther agreed with the author of James that real faith means more than the intellectual acceptance of particular doctrines. Some readers, seeking to resolve the tension between James and Paul, have argued that the works Paul disparages are works done with the idea that people can save themselves by fulfilling God's commands. Despite the importance he assigns to good works, James doesn't say his readers should trust in their own good works to earn salvation. NEW TESTAMENT: 1 PETER-OVERVIEW The opening of 1 Peter says it's a letter from the apostle Peter to the Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1)--various parts of Asia Minor. Scholars disagree, however, about its authorship. Many think Peter, who was reportedly "unlearned and ignorant" (Acts 4:13), couldn't have produced such a well-written Greek Epistle. Others think Peter is the author, but that Silvanus (mentioned in 5:12) helped put Peter's message into finished form. The fact that the author of 1 Peter speaks for "The church that is at Babylon" (5:13) is consistent with Peter's authorship, for here (as in Revelation 17 and 18) Babylon is a symbolic name for Rome. Those who think Peter wrote the Epistle naturally place it before the apostle's death in A.D. 64 or 65. Others tend to assign the writing to the end of the first century or the beginning of the second. NEW TESTAMENT: 1 PETER-THE EPISTLE The author has an exalted idea of the spiritual dignity of Christians. He calls them a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people" (2:9; peculiar here means special, not strange). He says they've been "born again... by the word of God" (1:23). Christians are "redeemed... with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1:18-19). He describes the death of Jesus (2:21-24) in terms which echo the "suffering servant" material of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:4-11). The author's main purpose, though, seems to be to advise Christians on personal conduct. The author urges submission to the government: to "the king" (2:13), that is, the Roman emperor, and to his officials. Such submission "is the will of God" (2:15; compare Romans 13:1-7). To slaves he says "Servants, be subject to your masters" (2:18; compare Ephesians 6:5-7). He urges wives to "be in subjection" to their husbands (3:1; compare Colossians 3:18). Husbands are to live "giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life" (3:7). The elders, the leaders of the Christian community, should "Feed the flock of God... not by constraint... not for filthy lucre... neither as being lords" (5:2-3). Younger Christians should submit to the elders. Above all, the Christian community should be "all of one mind" (3:8) and to "love one another" (1:22). The author of 1 Peter clearly has no interest in trying to reform society. Instead, he counsels detachment from secular concerns. Moreover, he's writing at a time when persecution of Christians, "the fiery trial" (4:12), is a present reality or at least an impending danger. The author is anxious that Christians give the government no pretext--except their religion--for punishing them. NOTE: DESCENT OF JESUS INTO HELL Two passages in this Epistle have given rise to much discussion. One says that Jesus, after his death, "went and preached unto the spirits in prison" (3:19). The other speaks of "the gospel" being "preached also to them that are dead" (4:6). These passages have often been thought to refer to Jesus' descent into hell between his death and resurrection. A belief emerged in the early church that at that time Jesus freed the holy persons of the Old Testament from hell. (In its fully developed form, this idea appears in the Divine Comedy [Inferno, Canto IV] of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri [1265-1321].) Many recent students of 1 Peter interpret the passages differently. They think 3:19 refers to the spirits spoken of in Genesis 6:2, 4, and 4:6 refers to Christians who have died. NEW TESTAMENT: 2 PETER-OVERVIEW This Epistle states that it is written by the apostle Simon Peter (1:1). The author says (1:16-18) he was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36), which was witnessed only by Peter, James, and John. Nevertheless, almost all scholars think 2 Peter is a pseudonymous work, written in the first half of the second century. It is usually considered the last book of the New Testament to have been written. The author uses the Epistle of Jude as a source. He is also apparently familiar with 1 Peter (3:1) and with the Epistles of Paul. NEW TESTAMENT: 2 PETER-THE EPISTLE The author warns against "false teachers" (2:1). He says "they allure through the lusts of the flesh" (2:18). This seems to refer to some dissident Christian sect that combined loose living with what the author regarded as false doctrine. The author writes at a time when many are wondering why the Second Coming is delayed. He declares, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise... but is long-suffering" (3:9)--that is, God is giving people extra time to repent. But, says the author, as the world was once (in the days of Noah) destroyed by water, so it will be destroyed again by fire (3:6, 7, 10, 12). NEW TESTAMENT: 1, 2, AND 3 JOHN-OVERVIEW Like the Gospel of John, these letters are traditionally ascribed to John, son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. The letters are related in ideas and language to the Gospel of John. Some scholars think they were written by the author of the Gospel, others by a different author or by two or three different authors. Probably the letters were written later than the Gospel of John, at the end of the first century or early in the second. 1 John lacks the salutation and conclusion expected in a letter. In 2 and 3 John we find these conventional parts. They are both written by "the elder," 2 John to an "elect lady and her children" (1), and 3 John to a certain Gaius. 1 JOHN The Epistle opens with the statement that the writer proclaims "the Word of life," "which was from the beginning" and which he has "seen and heard" (1:1, 3). This strongly recalls the prologue to the Gospel of John. The Epistle is written at a time of intense controversy: "it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists" (2:18). Who are these antichrists? Some people had evidently left the community for which the Epistle was written (2:19). Very likely they were trying to draw others after them. The author warns against "them that seduce you" (2:26) and against "false prophets" (4:1). NOTE: ANTICHRIST Antichrist is mentioned in the New Testament only at 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3 and 2 John 7. The word seems to mean an adversary of Christianity who leads Christians astray. It's clear from 2:18 that the author expects his readers to have heard of antichrist, and to regard his coming as a sign of the last time. Elsewhere in the New Testament different language is used to express a similar idea: the "man of sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:3), the "beast" (Revelation 13:1, 11), and perhaps the "abomination of desolation" (Mark 13:14; Matthew 24:15). Not Satan, but rather a substitute for or caricature of the Christ, the antichrist seems particularly related to the "false Christs and false prophets" (Mark 13:22) against whom Jesus warned. Probably the most important controversial point raised in the Epistle concerns the coming of the Christ in the flesh: "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come" (4:2-3). The emphasis on Jesus coming in the flesh recalls John 1:14. It suggests that the opponents against whom the author is writing are Christians who denied the real, bodily humanity of Jesus. The author seems to be writing against opponents who also claim to be morally perfect: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1:8). On the other hand, he says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (3:9). Does this strike you as a contradiction? Perhaps the problem is resolved by the author's distinction between "a sin unto death" and "a sin not unto death" (5:16-17)--although he doesn't explain the difference between these two sins. He's quite clear, though, about the obligation of Christians to obey God's commandment, "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another" (3:23). Notice the similarity to John 13:34. What 1 John says about love is probably the most memorable part of the Epistle. The author declares that "God is love" (4:8, 16). Does that strike you as a daring idea? It's not the same as saying "Love is God." 1 John assumes a personal God, but a personal God whose whole being is love. The author condemns those who say they love God, but hate their brothers (4:20-21). Doubtless this is partly directed against those who had separated themselves from the community, but it goes much further. The author argues, in terms reminiscent of the Epistle of James, for the importance of helping the poor: "whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him [the intestines were seen as the organ of the feelings], how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (3:17). NOTE: THE JOHANNINE COMMA There's a textual problem at 1 John 5:7-8. The text of the King James Version reads: "there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth], the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." The words enclosed in brackets aren't part of the original text of 1 John. Known to scholars as the Johannine Comma, the passage originated in Latin manuscripts in Spain or North Africa, perhaps in the fourth century. The passage doesn't appear in any Greek manuscript from before 1400. It's likely that a marginal note about the Trinity, prompted by the statement that "three agree in one," slipped into the text in the course of time. 2 JOHN This Epistle deals with the same controversy that prompted 1 John. The author says, "many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (7). He calls on "the elect lady and her children" (1) (evidently some now unidentifiable Christian community) not to receive anyone who doesn't hold this "doctrine of Christ" into their house (9-10). 3 JOHN This Epistle has virtually no doctrinal content. It recommends giving hospitality to traveling Christians. Since these travelers "for his name's sake... went forth" (7), they are presumably missionaries. NEW TESTAMENT: JUDE-OVERVIEW This short letter says it is written by "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James" (1). This Jude appears to be a brother of James, Jesus' brother (traditionally, the author of the Epistle of James), and has therefore been identified with Jesus' brother Judas (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). He has also been identified with "Judas the brother of James" (Luke 6:16), one of the twelve apostles. However, many scholars think the letter was written at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second. In any case, Jude was written before 2 Peter, which uses it as a source. NEW TESTAMENT: JUDE-THE EPISTLE There is a warning against people "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness" (4), who "walk after their own ungodly lusts" (18). The author is attacking more than just sins of the flesh, though. His reference to those "who separate themselves" (19) shows that some split within the Christian community is at issue. Several early Christian sects engaged in licentious behavior, but there's no way to identify the specific group denounced here. The Epistle cites several Old Testament examples of divine retribution. Peculiar features are the references to the Assumption of Moses (9) and to 1 Enoch (14-15), two Jewish works that didn't become part of the Old Testament Canon. NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-OVERVIEW The Book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse (from the Greek apocalypsis, meaning revelation), is the last book of the New Testament and, in many ways, the most unusual. The eschatological beliefs of the early Christians--their beliefs about the end of the world--are expressed throughout the New Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus teaches about the end of the world in the Little Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). The Epistles also discuss the theme, especially 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The Book of Revelation, however, provides a uniquely elaborate exposition of eschatological beliefs. Revelation is vision literature. It's debated whether the author actually had all the visionary experiences he describes, or whether he's using the visions partly as a literary device. In any case, he sees the world as a vast theater of sin and suffering, which will soon be overturned by the power of God. The writer believes this world will be replaced by a new one, which will be glorious and holy. All this is described in a quick succession of vivid images, which may remind you of the fantasies of science fiction, the hallucinations of mental illness, or the visions induced by certain drugs. The book became part of the New Testament canon, however, because of the religious message conveyed through the imagery. The author says his name is John (1:1). Traditionally he has been identified with the apostle John, but virtually no scholar now accepts that identification. On stylistic grounds it's highly improbable that Revelation was written by the author of the Gospel of John. There's an ancient tradition that Revelation was written late in the reign of Domitian, who was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96. Students of the book have argued for dates ranging from the 60s into the early second century. Many scholars think Revelation may have been written over a period of time. The same author could have written parts of it as early as the 60s and parts in the 90s. In any case, the book is clearly associated with the Christian communities of Asia Minor. The book is described as a revelation given by God to Jesus Christ, and transmitted by him through an angel to John. NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA (1:1- 3:22) John writes to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (now western Turkey): Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos (Pergamum), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. He says he was on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Asia Minor, "for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (1:9)--apparently exiled there by the Roman authorities for Christian preaching--when he had a vision. He saw "one like unto the Son of man" (1:13) with superhuman attributes, who declared "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore" (1:18)--the risen Christ. The figure in the vision tells John to write to the seven churches. The letters to the churches complain of failures to maintain religious zeal. They also complain of some of the religious opinions circulating among the Christians of Asia. A teacher at Pergamos here nicknamed Balaam (a pagan prophet in Numbers 22-24) and a prophet at Thyatira here nicknamed Jezebel (an idolatrous Israelite queen in 1 Kings 16-21) allow their followers to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual irregularities. NOTE: Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, raises no objection in principle to the eating of food sacrificed to idols. The author of Revelation takes a more rigorous position. The letters to the churches refer to trouble between Christians and Jews in Smyrna and Philadelphia, and predict persecution of the church. A certain Antipas (otherwise unknown) is spoken of as having been a "faithful martyr" at Pergamos (2:13). NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-VISION OF GOD; THE SEVEN SEALS (4:1-8:1) John sees a radiant Being seated on a throne in heaven. There are "seven lamps of fire... which are the seven Spirits of God" before the throne, and around it "four beasts full of eyes before and behind" (4:5-6). The beasts are like a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle, respectively. NOTE: The four beasts resemble the four creatures of Ezekiel 1:5-14. They're angelic attendants at the throne of God. In later Christian art, however, they're used as symbols for the authors of the Gospels: the lion for Mark, the calf for Luke, the man for Matthew, and the eagle for John. There are also "four and twenty elders" (4:4) seated around the throne. They perhaps represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The four beasts and the twenty-four elders worship God constantly. God holds a book sealed with seven seals. The book contains mysteries--presumably God's plan for the world. Nobody is worthy to open the book, except one: "in the midst of the throne... stood a Lamb as it had been slain" (5:6), who receives the book from God. The Lamb certainly represents Jesus, who is elsewhere called "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29) and the "lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:19). The four beasts, elders, and many angels sing the praises of God and of the Lamb. NOTE: SEALS In ancient times persons of standing customarily had small carved objects, often made of semiprecious stone, to make distinctive imprints when pressed into clay or wax. Such an object, or its imprint, is called a seal. A seal used on the clay top of a jar holding wine, oil, or grain was a mark of ownership. Used on a lump of wax closing a scroll, the seal authenticated the contents and protected them from prying eyes. The Lamb opens the first four seals, and John sees four horsemen. They ride a white, a red, a black, and a pale horse. These four horsemen represent conquest, bloodshed, famine, and death, respectively. When the Lamb opens the fifth seal, John sees "under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God," crying "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (6:9-10). These are clearly the martyrs. When the Lamb opens the sixth seal, there is an earthquake and catastrophes in the heavens like those spoken of in Mark 13:24-25. Then John sees angels place seals on the foreheads of 144,000 persons, 12,000 servants of God from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sees "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations" (7:9) worshiping before the throne. These are the redeemed Christians, who "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14). When the Lamb opens the seventh seal, there is silence in heaven for half an hour. NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-THE SEVEN TRUMPETS (8:2-11:19) In a new cycle of visions, in some ways recapitulating the seal visions, John sees seven angels blow seven trumpets in succession. Each of the first six trumpet blasts is followed by disasters on earth, some of which seem to recall the Plagues of Egypt in Exodus 7- 12. Many people are killed, but those left alive fail to turn from their sins. An angel tells John of "two witnesses," described as "the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth" (11:3-4). They'll be killed, "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city" (11:8), until they're raised from the dead and ascend to heaven. NOTE: THE TWO WITNESSES Some readers have identified the witnesses with Peter and Paul, representing the missions to the Jews and Gentiles respectively (Galatians 2:7-8). Others identify the witnesses with Moses and Elijah, who were believed to have confirmed that Jesus is the Christ at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3), or with Enoch and Elijah, who were believed to have escaped death (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:1 1) and might therefore return in the last days. When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, the temple of God is seen standing open in heaven. NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-THE WOMAN, THE DRAGON, AND THE BEASTS (12:1-14:20) John sees in heaven "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). The woman is pregnant, and in labor. A seven-headed dragon appears, waiting to eat the woman's child when it is born. The woman bears a male child, who is "to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (12:5), and God takes the boy to his throne. The archangel Michael fights the dragon (identified at 12:9 as the Devil and Satan), who is cast out of heaven with his angels. On earth the dragon continues to persecute the woman, but she flees "into the wilderness, into her place" (12:14), where she's protected. Then the dragon makes war against "the remnant of her seed, which... have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (12:17). NOTE: THE WOMAN CLOTHED WITH THE SUN The woman's son is generally identified with the Christ. Some readers see the woman as a symbol of the church--but the church is scarcely the mother of the Christ. Others think she is Mary, the historical mother of Jesus. The most likely explanation, though, is that she represents Israel, the people who brought forth the Christ. This recalls Micah 4:10, which speaks of the labor pains of the "daughter of Zion." Next John sees a seven-headed beast, who receives power from the dragon. The beast seems to represent the Roman Empire. Some scholars, noting the emphasis here on the beast's "blasphemy" (13:1,5,6) think the beast specifically represents emperor-worship. Although most Romans probably attached no more religious significance to the rites in honor of the emperor than most Americans do to ceremonies like the pledge of allegiance to the flag, many early Christians saw emperor-worship--the veneration of a "divine man"--as an obscene parody of their own veneration of Jesus. A second beast appears, who causes people to worship an image of the first beast. The number of the second beast "is the number of a man, " and it is 666 (13:18). In Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the letters were used to write numbers. The best explanation of this passage is probably that the Hebrew letters making up the words "Nero Caesar" add up in numerical value to 666, and that the second beast is thus Nero, emperor from A.D. 54 to 68, under whose rule Christians were persecuted and Peter and Paul were put to death in Rome. John sees a Lamb on Mount Zion, with 144,000 men who are virgins, "the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb" (14:4). Then he sees three angels. The first has "the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth" (14:6). The second announces the fall of the great city of Babylon. Rome was sometimes called Babylon by early Christians (1 Peter 5:13), because it was the imperial power of their day, and also because the Romans destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 just as the Babylonians had destroyed the first in 586 B.C. The third angel says that those who worship the beast and his image "shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God" (14:10). After the vision of the three angels, John sees one "like unto the Son of man" (14:14; see Matthew 16:27) coming for the Judgment, which is likened to the harvests of grain and grapes. NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-THE SEVEN VIALS OF WRATH; JUDGMENT ON BABYLON (15:1-19:5) In a new series of seven visions, which seems partly to recapitulate the visions of the seven seals and the seven trumpets, John sees seven angels with seven golden vials full of the wrath of God" (15:7) . The angels pour out the contents of the vials, producing terrible disasters for the kingdom of the beast. Devils gather "the kings of the earth... to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" at "a place called... Armageddon" (16:14, 16). NOTE: ARMAGEDDON This place is generally identified with Megiddo in northwestern Palestine. Because of its strategic location, Megiddo was the scene of many battles in Old Testament times. Because the Book of Revelation makes Armageddon the site of the final battle of history, the word has passed into the language in expressions such as "a nuclear Armageddon" to mean a battle that will destroy the world as we know it. When the seventh angel empties his vial, the world is shaken by an earthquake of unprecedented severity, "the great city" (16:19) falls apart, and there is a great hailstorm. Then John sees a woman riding on a seven-headed beast, and "arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls." Her name is written on her forehead: "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth." She is "drunken with the blood of the saints" (17:4-6). Since the woman sits on seven mountains, she evidently represents Rome, the city of seven hills. The seven heads of the beast on which she rides are usually identified with Roman emperors (17:10), although scholars don't agree which heads correspond to which historical emperors. In any case, the judgment against Babylon is--destruction. After listing all the luxury items that would have been available in the markets of first-century Rome, an angel announces that "all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee" (18:14). For most of the population, the Roman Empire was hardly a consumer society, but for the upper classes it was. As the smoke of Babylon rises, the inhabitants of heaven praise God "for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth" (19:2). NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-THE PAROUSIA OR SECOND COMING OF CHRIST (19:6-22:5) An angel tells John to write "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9). Then "The Word of God" (19:13; see John 1:1)--Christ--appears on a white horse, leading a heavenly army to victory over the kings of the earth, and over the beast. Satan is bound in "the bottomless pit" (20:3) and the Christian martyrs reign with Christ for a thousand years. After that, Satan will be set free for a time, before his final downfall. Then John sees the final resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment. He sees "a new heaven and a new earth," and "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" (21:1-2). A few readers think the city is a symbol of the church, but an eschatological interpretation is more probable, for it is a place where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (21:4). The city has no temple, for God and the Lamb are there. It has no sun or moon, for God and the Lamb provide enough light. The "tree of life" is there (22:2), signifying the restoration of Paradise (see Genesis 2:9). The people of the city see God's face, and He "shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (21:4). NEW TESTAMENT: REVELATION-CONCLUSION (22:6-21) Jesus tells John to reveal these things. He says "behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last" (22:12-13; alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). And John himself prays "come, Lord Jesus" (22:20). NEW TESTAMENT: WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? It is possible to quote one of Paul's sayings in support of the contention that the whole of the New Testament is Gospel. He writes in a certain place: "According to my Gospel" [Romans 2:16]. Now we have no written work of Paul which is commonly called a Gospel. But all that he preached and said was the Gospel; and what he preached and said he was also in the habit of writing, and what he wrote was therefore Gospel. But if what Paul wrote was Gospel, it follows that what Peter wrote was also Gospel, and in a word all that was said or written to perpetuate the knowledge of Christ's sojourn on earth, and to prepare for His second coming, or to bring it about as a present reality in the souls which were willing to receive the Word of God as he stood at the door and knocked and sought to come into them. -Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 3rd century NEW TESTAMENT: WHICH BOOKS ARE MOST IMPORTANT? The true kernel and marrow of all the books, those which should rightly be ranked first, are the gospel of John and St. Paul's epistles, especially that to the Romans, together with St. Peter's first epistle. Every Christian would do well to read them first and most often, and, by daily perusal, make them as familiar as his daily bread. You will not find in these books much said about the works and miracles of Christ, but you will find a masterly account of how faith in Christ conquers sin, death, and hell; and gives life, righteousness, and salvation. -Martin Luther, "Preface to the New Testament," 1522 NEW TESTAMENT: CHRISTIAN PACIFISM In the Sermon on the Mount, as well as throughout the whole Gospel, I found everywhere... the same doctrine, "Resist not evil."... We may declare the universal practice of such a rule is very difficult; we may deny that he who follows it will find happiness; we may say with the unbelievers that it is stupid, that Christ was a dreamer... but it is impossible not to admit that Christ expressed in a manner at once clear and precise what He wished to say; that is, that according to His doctrine a man must not resist evil, and, consequently, that whoever adopts His doctrine cannot resist evil. And yet neither believers nor unbelievers will admit this simple and clear interpretation of Christ's words. -Leo Tolstoy, My Religion, 1884 NEW TESTAMENT: JESUS AS REVOLUTIONARY Jesus was not a child of this world. He did not revere the men it called great; he did not accept its customs and social usages as final; his moral conceptions did not run along the grooves marked out by it. He nourished within his soul the ideal of a common life so radically different from the present that it involved a reversal of values, a revolutionary displacement of existing relations. This ideal was not merely a beautiful dream to solace his soul. He lived it out in his own daily life. He urged others to live that way. -Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis, 1907 NEW TESTAMENT: THE ORIGINALITY OF PAUL ...God's grace is not an historical phenomenon. It is not the possession of an historical nation, membership of which guarantees the security of the individual.... Of course, in belonging to Christ he [the Christian] is a member of his body, and is therefore bound to the other members in the unity of the Church. But before God he stands, in the first place at any rate, in utter loneliness, extricated from his natural ties. The fundamental question which is asked of man, 'Are you ready to believe in the word of God's grace?' can only be answered individually. This individualizing of man's relation to God has its roots in the psalms and Wisdom literature, and above all in Jeremiah. But its full implications were never realized until the time of Paul with his radical conception of the grace of God. -Rudolf Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in Its Contemporary Setting, 1949 NEW TESTAMENT: THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE The Scriptures, of course, bear the individual stamp of the times in which they were written and the mental stamp of their human authors; they have quite definite designs and aims which have been partly influenced by the individual situation, both human and religious, of the author, It is in fact not even necessary that the author be aware of his being inspired... divine activity and human activity are... factors which grow in equal proportion. -Karl Rahner, "The Inspiration of the Bible," 1964 NEW TESTAMENT: MYTH AND LEGEND IN THE GOSPELS ...[W]hen the redaction of the Gospels was completed, a vivid narrative form of proclamation, making use of myths, legends, symbols, was absolutely necessary. How are new experiences and particularly new experiences of faith to be communicated if not by storytelling? It is obvious that the biblical Christmas and Easter stories are more comprehensible and easier to remember than any amount of abstract propositions on divine sonship and passing through death to life. -Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, 1974 NEW TESTAMENT: A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE According to all four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is the primary witness for the fundamental data of the early Christian faith: she witnessed the life and death of Jesus, his burial and his resurrection. She was sent to the disciples to proclaim the Easter kerygma. Therefore Bernard of Clairvaux correctly calls her "apostle to the apostles." Christian faith is based upon the witness and proclamation of women. -Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, "Feminist Theology as a Critical Theology of Liberation," 1975 THE END