We made it. I hope you enjoy the NT! I CERTAINLY did and that is just after the first day! Enjoy!
Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Four hundred years after the last Old Testament book was written, the story of the New Testament begins to unfold, around 6 BC.
Questions & Observations
O. The New Testament writings start about 400 years after the Old Testament. This time period is referred to as the intertestamental period. Google it to learn about the political forces. The thing I read about and found most interesting in Ch. 4 of The True Story of the Whole World (a book Rob recommended to help me see the narrative at work in Scripture) is that the Israelites had separated into four main identity groups: 1) The Zealots separated themselves from pagan practices and used military action to show their faith in trying to defend Judaism (obviously not Biblical of course!), 2) the Essenes’ tactic was to withdraw from the primary culture altogether, and they lived in various locations outside of Jerusalem, including in caves near the Dead Sea. Their withdrawal from society had to do with what they perceived as an impure ruler (Herod) who served Rome, and a corrupted priesthood that was in cahoots with him. The Essenes do not play a role in the NT story, as they would have no place in mainline Jewish society. But the Dead Sea Scrolls that we have found were a collection of their Scriptures and writings. 3) The Sadducees became the primary members of the priesthood of this era, and were one group of Jewish leaders, who argued that they should work with their Roman overlords (such as Herod) in order to maintain the Temple worship and keep the peace. They were the “conservative” party of their day: they had the least open interpretation of the Torah (only the first five books of the OT were valid to them), and so they denied what they saw as “radical” doctrines such as resurrection. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and many of the other priests involved in Jesus trial were Sadducees. 4) The other major Jewish political party of this day was the Pharisees. These are generally who the Gospels mean when they speak of religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They were powerful men, who felt that if the people could be properly purified and follow the Law (as previous generations had failed to do), then God would send His Messiah into the world, and the Messiah would free the people from the Roman rule, violently if necessary. As such, this level of desire for spiritual perfection made them very legalistic, which is part of the reason that these leaders and Jesus often were in conflict.
Q. There is information about what happened in the 400 years of intertestamental period, but the Christian Bible does not include it because they do not believe it was inspired by God?
A. As we have mentioned, early Christians would have been familiar with the writings of the Apocrypha (the writings you refer to), but neither Christians nor Jews considered them to say anything new about God, so they never had the same status as the other writings of the OT.
Q. Rob, do you have a good source for readers who want to look up a nutshell summary about the gospel authors and their relationship to Jesus?
A. Alas, I can’t. I will work on one, and if there’s a short day, I will include it then.
Q. (Luke 1:3): And, on to the NT! We are talking about the four Gospels here. Gospel means the “good news” that the Messiah is born, right? And the men who wrote the gospels were followers of Jesus and God inspired them to write an account of Jesus’s life on earth? And who is Theophilos in v. 3? Given the strong Roman culture, writing these accounts must have been inspired, because what other reason would they have for writing about Jewish stories.
A. Hum, ok, several questions there. The Good News that is referred to is not the birth of Christ, but rather His death and Resurrection. It honestly may be hard to tell from the way our readings are set up, but each of the four Gospels spends considerable time in the Passion story from Palm Sunday to Easter. Two of the Gospels (Mark and John), don’t tell of Jesus’ birth story AT ALL!
As to the writers: ok, fine, I’ll include some stuff here. (Hehe, just kidding) Matthew is traditionally seen as one of the 12 Disciples (you can see his call story in Matthew 9, he is also called Levi), and he writes to primarily a Jewish audience — you will see more references to the OT in Matthew than any other Gospel. Mark is traditionally seen as a companion of the Apostle Peter, and is referred to as John-Mark in the Book of Acts. He is one of the 70 Disciples, a group of followers referred to in Luke 10. Mark is viewed by most scholars to be the oldest Gospel (for reasons too complex to go into here), and he uses a central theme of what some call the “Secret Messiah”: Jesus’ repeated command for people to NOT tell others of His identity until after His resurrection. Luke is a name referred to in the Book of Acts as well, as a companion of Paul. He is traditionally known as a physician, and it appears from his writings (he is also credited with writing the Book of Acts) that a wealthy patron named Theophilos hired him to seek out information on the truth of the Gospel message by interviewing eyewitnesses. For example, from this reading, it appears that he interviewed Jesus’ mother, Mary, for this is the only place where the Gospels recount her story. Luke’s Gospel is the outsiders’ Gospel: it contains stories of Jesus’ interactions with women, Gentiles, and others outside of the Jewish mainstream, so it was probably written for a Gentile audience. The writer of John is traditionally seen as another of the Apostles, along with his brother James, and one of the followers in Jesus’ inner circle with his brother and Peter. John writes to tell the spiritual story of the Good News: he does not tell his story in necessarily the same order as the other three gospels (called the Synoptics), but rather tells his story around major themes such as light and darkness, and the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. John is also held to be the writer of the NT letters of 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation.
O. (John 1:1-5): This is gushing with simple words that encompass the beauty of God. And some, like v. 3, reinforce the OT regarding creation. These words really do sound like they are directly from God, not from a man. If you have had a “God moment” (they are amazing and I strive for more and more of them), like God just puts a bright idea into your head or the right words just roll off your tongue but could in no way be from your brain, then you can understand how these words would come directly from God with Matthew as the voice to carry it. And, “Word.” If you think about that word and when people say, “I GIVE you my WORD,” they mean I am sharing it with you for our mutual benefit AND that it is the truth. So, that would literally mean that God is handing us truth with His Word, the Bible. And, LIGHT. Just think about that word. Not only does it mean wisdom, glory, like those who have it will shine to others. But, for me, it also means how I can feel when I allow God to be present in me. I feel light. That lightness feels so amazing! Looking at v. 4, I see that LIFE is another big small word. I don’t think this means living and breathing here, I think LIFE means a reason for living. LIFE, LIGHT, WORD. And, I love v. 5. If you carry the light with you, darkness can never take over! I am putting that one in my memory verse bank!!!!
Q. (John 1:15): John the Baptist is telling everyone that the Savior is coming, but that he has been around for a long time, which we know that the Bible says he has always been with God, right?
A. John is a normal person, but called by God for a special purpose, just as all the Prophets were. The message John is preaching is that God has always been with the world, but has now come INTO the world as a man.
Q. (1:18): The “unique one, who is himself God” is referring to Jesus?
A. Yes. Jesus is the Word that the writer refers to.
Q. Is there anything you want to say about the ancestral lines?
A. One interesting note is there is variation at two different places between the two lines: who Joseph’s father is (Joseph being Jesus’ adopted father) and what son of David that line comes from. In Matthew’s line, Jesus comes via David’s son Solomon, the two greatest kings in Israel’s history, and the whole list is of many of the great kings we studied. Luke’s list is different: he has Jesus come from David’s son Nathan (not the same as the prophet who convicted David of his sin), and he lists a different father for Joseph. How do we reconcile these two? In my mind, Matthew is tracing the line to Joseph, and Luke is tracing the line to Mary, who was ALSO a member of David’s household in the tribe of Judah. So while Luke refers to Joseph’s father in his line, what he most likely means is Joseph’s father-in-law, Mary’s father. This is a unique way to explain how God could fulfill His promise to restore the throne to David’s family for all eternity, while at the same time promising that a son from Solomon’s line would NEVER again serve as king. Jesus was born from David’s line, but via a brother of Solomon, Nathan, and adopted into Solomon’s line via His earthly father Joseph. That makes Jesus the only person who could ever have both of those titles (son of David via Solomon’s line, and rule as Eternal King despite God’s promise that no son of Solomon would do so). This is the type of stuff that is just amazing to me, and the ways that God reveals incredible truth in His prophecies: via God’s careful planning, David’s throne, via Solomon, is restored to its former greatness despite what God swore would never again happen.
Q. (Luke 1:5): OK, Herod was Roman, Greek, what?
A. Herod the Great was the Judean (not Jewish) king of the Roman province of Judea, which included Jerusalem. So he was from the area, but was not authentically Jewish, which is why truly devout Jews never accepted his rule.
Q. (1:15): Here it says that John the Baptist was to abstain from alcohol, that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. I know many Christians stay away from alcohol totally. Does God speak out against alcohol? Also, will there be a good spot to get into the Holy Spirit later?
A. We will save the Spirit for Pentecost in Acts 2, so that will probably be a few weeks away or more. John is called in the spirit of the Nazirite, like the Judge Samson. Numbers 6 provides a number of stipulations for being a Nazirite, and one of them is not consuming alcohol. So it was not that God was incapable of working through people who drink alcohol, but rather that was John’s CALLING. As to a more general rule on alcohol, we need look no further than Jesus to see God’s stance on alcohol. Jesus was a Jewish man who kept Torah, and this involved participating in events in which wine was consumed (notably Passover), so it’s clear that he had no particular objection to its consumption. In an era before basic sanitation, wine was much safer to drink than water, because the alcohol killed microbes. Wine also had less alcohol content than today. What the NT speaks out against is drunkenness: the intentional consumption of too much wine or whatever. But outside of that and particular callings, the Bible does not come down as hard on alcohol as you might think.