Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts - Lesson 5

Social Background (Part 1)

One of the major influences in the social structure in Israel during the first century was the relationship and interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Various Jewish groups had differing views on how they should interact among themselves and with Gentiles. (Dr. Blomberg did not provide us with the PowerPoint slides for this lecture.)

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts
Lesson 5
Watching Now
Social Background (Part 1)


Part 3

III. Social Backgrounds

A. Combined Jewish and Gentile Cultures

B. Understanding Different Jewish Groups

C. Initiation of the High Priest

D. Sample Text From Jewish Sources

  • Overview of the influences of the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires on the Jewish nation. 

  • A summary of the Jewish political and religious rulers and movements, and the tensions that arose between the Jews and the occupying Roman authorities.

  • Ancient philosophies and religious movements had a significant influence on peoples' beliefs and behavior in the first century. The influence of Rome and Greece was evident throughout the world. 

  • Religious groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and teachings of contemporary Judaism about the Messiah affected Jesus' teaching and ministry.


  • One of the major influences in the social structure in Israel during the first century was the relationship and interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Various Jewish groups had differing views on how they should interact among themselves and with Gentiles. (Dr. Blomberg did not provide us with the PowerPoint slides for this lecture.)

  • One of the major influences in the social structure in Israel during the first century was the relationship and interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Various Jewish groups had differing views on how they should interact among themselves and with Gentiles. (Dr. Blomberg did not provide us with the PowerPoint slides for this lecture.)

  • The Gospels are historically reliable documents. Some of the main arguments and pieces of evidence pointing to the historical reliability of the Gospels are given in this lecture.

  • Form criticism, or form history examines how tradition has changed and how it has stayed the same. 

  • The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke have so many similarities that they are referred to as the "Synoptic Gospels." There is also material in each of these Gospels that make it distinctive from the other two.

  • It can be helpful to examine, from a literary perspective, the passages that record the encounters that Jesus had with Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman.

  • In order to understand the message of the Gospel of Mark, it is helpful to understand who the author is, the approximate date it was written, the audience to whom it was written, and the major themes of the book. The content of the book can be divided into the first 8 chapters that focus on the life and ministry of Jesus and the last 8 chapters that focus on His death and resurrection.

  • In order to understand the message of the Gospel of Matthew, it is helpful to understand who the author is, the approximate date it was written, the audience to whom it was written, and the possible sources on which Matthew relied when he was writing. Matthew begins by recording genealogy of Jesus and some of the events surrounding his infancy. Jesus' public ministry began with HIs baptism by John the Baptist, temptation in the wilderness and calling of the disciples. His preaching included the Sermon on the Mount and parables which Matthew grouped together in the Gospel.

  • Examining the outline and structure of the Gospel of Luke reveals the main points and the focus of Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts. Luke and Matthew have some similarities as well as some elements that are distinctive.

  • Much of the material of the Gospel of John is unique, compared to the other 3 Gospel accounts. Some of John's account alternates between recording a sign that Jesus performs with a discourse about a certain subject. Chapter 12 to the end of the Gospel covers the final days of Jesus' life on earth.

  • Some scholars belief that historical evidence supports the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, some think the historical evidence supports the inauthenticity of the Gospel accounts, and some think that the historical evidence is irrelevant. The different conclusions are due mainly to different presuppositions. It is possible to propose a probable time line of Jesus' life.

  • The Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth and early years of life show how He accurately fulfilled specific OT prophecies made hundreds of years earlier, and how His life was intertwined with that of John the Baptist. The beginning of John's Gospel is a testimony to Jesus' nature as being both fully God and fully human.

  • Locations in present day Israel that are related to Jesus' infancy and the beginning of His public ministry.

  • John the Baptist began his ministry before Jesus's public ministry. For a while their public ministries overlapped, then Jesus conducted the remainder of His public ministry without John the Baptist on the scene.

  • Turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana was one of the first miracles Jesus performed in His public ministry. He also had conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and healed the nobleman's son.

  • The Sermon on the Mount is one of the main passages showing how Jesus defines the "Kingdom of God." He also calls the disciples, redefines the family, performs healings and exorcisms, and uses parables and pronouncements to teach about who God is and how He relates to humans.

  • Images of locations in present day Israel related to Jesus' early Galilean ministry.

  • The Sermon on the Mount shows how the teachings of the Kingdom of God relate to the OT Law. It also includes additional NT teachings and a model prayer.

  • Pictures of places in present day Israel related to Jesus' early Galilean ministry.

  • Understanding parables as a literary form helps us interpret them accurately. Jesus performed miracles in various contexts for specific purposes.

  • Locations in present day Israel related to parables Jesus said and places He performed miracles.

  • Jesus' ministry in Galilee took place in locations like Nazareth, Cana, the Sea of Galilee and other nearby towns and areas. As Jesus was departing from Galilee, he performed miracles and taught at specific places along the way.

  • One of the themes in John chapters 5-11 is how Jesus fulfills the Jewish festivals. He also uses metaphors, saying that he is the, “bread of life,” “light of the world,” “gate for the sheep” and others.

  • In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus gives a sermon on forgiveness and humility. 

  • Locations in present day Israel related to Jesus' ministry.

  • Does the Bible teach that we are to marry or that we are not to marry?

  • Passion Week in the life of Jesus includes his anointing in Bethany, triumphal entry into Jerusalem, cleansing of the temple, celebrating Passover, prayer and arrest in Gethsemane, crucifixion and resurrection.

  • Chronological order of the events of the Passion week of the ministry of Jesus.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus are significant both historically and theologically.

  • Narration describing slide photographs of locations of events that took place during Passion Week.

  • Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. He was both fully God and fully man. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and showed compassion to the people who were outcasts in society.

  • Acts was written as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke to record what the Holy Spirit was doing through the lives of followers of Christ in the early church. The gospel spread ethnically from Jews to Gentiles, and geographically from Jerusalem to the rest of the world.

  • Stephen challenged the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's conversion was a key event in the history of the early church.

  • The discussion in the Jerusalem council in Acts chapter 15 was how Jews and gentiles could function together as the body of Christ.

  • Narrative describing pictures relating to places that were significant in the early church.

  • The book of Acts records events that happened during Paul's travels as he preached the gospel and established churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe.

This class studies issues of introduction for the four Gospels and Acts, and, using the English New Testament, provides a harmonistic study of the life of Christ with a focus on his essential teachings, the theology of evangelism, and the planting of the church as recorded in Acts.


Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Gospels and Acts
Social Background (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript 

This is the fifth lecture in the online series of lectures for understanding the Gospels and Acts, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and The Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. 

Dr Blomberg starts off by explaining that the books of the New Testament were not books as we are accustomed to reading, but was page-less, long rolls, known as scrolls. These were made by sheets of a dried weed known as papyrus which were laid out and glued together. Some were made of leather while a few were made of copper. The oldest known portion of the New Testament from perhaps 140 AD known as papyrus 52, also called the John Rylands papyrus, contained portions of John 18:31-33, 37-38 written forty years after the original was first composed. The subject covers Pilate's famous question to Jesus, 'What is truth?' This document is held at the University of Manchester in England. Another such document, from the Bodmer II Papyrus, contains an almost complete copy of John from about AD 200. The Bodmer II Papyrus is one of the oldest well-preserved New Testament manuscripts known to exist. The text was originally written in all Greek capitals with no word spacing nor punctuation and no paragraph breaks. Then there is the Codex Sinaiticus written in the 4th century, one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament. The lower case texts or ‘miniscule’ came about in the 9th century with occasional extra spacing and punctuation marks, as well as sections and divisions which were also beginning to be marked off. 

As we study the Gospels, it is be important to study the maps (located in the back of most Bibles or easily found on the internet), such as those showing the four distinct regents of Israel: the coastal plains with its fertile lands, not far above sea level and known for growing citrus fruits. Toward the east, the second major segment is the large central ridge mountains or hill country with small towns and occasional Roman outposts. A few steps or terraced farms could be seen but otherwise it was a less inhabited and rougher terrain. The third demarcation typographically is the Jordan Valley which includes the Sea of Galilee in the North, and then the Jordan River flowing into the Dead Sea in the south. This Sea is 900 feet below sea level with no outlet. It became filled with salt deposits from the land nearby and therefore no longer contains any fresh water. Neither is there any form of life in the Dead Sea. Finally, there is the Jezreel Valley to the south and west of the Sea of Galilee. This valley was Israel's bread basket where many different crops of grain were grown as well as olive trees and vineyards. 

The appearance of first century Jerusalem included the Temple area, right next to the second quarter where the Antonia fortress was located. The city was walled with various gates leading into it. Then the upper city contained Herod Antipas's Palace and the Essene Quarter with the High Priest's House could be seen. The Lower city was possibly part of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus with the ancient city of David nearby and the Kidron Valley. The Temple and the fortress dominated the skyline. The Antonia Fortress showed the political reality of the Roman occupation. The Temple consisted of the Court of Gentiles on the very outside with the Women's Court just through the Beautiful Gate and then into the Court of Israel and then the Temple itself with the Holy place and Holy of Holies. 

Herod, the Great had many Architectural achievements throughout the land of Israel such as the ampa-theatre by Caesarea Maritima on the Sea of Galilee. Near this, Caesarea Maritima was also built and named in honor of Augustus Caesar with the city becoming the seat of the Roman Prefect and thus eventually the administrative capital. Another one of Herod’s projects was the famous aqueduct to Caesarea. It brought running water to the old city, along a raised aqueduct from the springs of Shummi, 10 km away. This was built and then later expanded by the Romans in 2nd Century. It reaches the town of Jisr al-Zarqa, and then turns eastwards to Mt Carmel. An inscription of Pilate is seen on the Aqueduct showing proof of his reign during the time of Tiberius Caesar. 

The Romans were also known for their road construction abilities all over the Empire. Herod built roads such as the one between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Another construction, included a summer palace built at Heriodium, a mountain in the wilderness where he won a battle with the Parthian army in 40 BC. The fortress was 63 meters in diameter and seven stories high with salons, banquet rooms, courtyards and a luxurious bathhouse. The most important ancient site in Jerusalem today is the western or Wailing Wall that surrounded the temple precincts in the time of Jesus. Near to that today is the Dome of the Rock, a holy site of Islam. Jews go to the wall to pray and meditate. Jewish men and women are segregated at the wall as they pray. Israeli orthodox Jews wear the traditional prayer shawl over their heads or shoulders during morning prayers. Within the cracks of the wall, small pieces of paper representing prayer requests are seen. Six times during one particular week, the young Jewish boys celebrate their Bar Mitzvah, reading a scroll. The ceremony and celebration takes place on the 13th birthday when they take on the religious duties and responsibilities of an adult.  Situated in modern western Jerusalem is an older traditional neighborhood called Mash Sharim where ultra-orthodox Jews still practice many of the ancient traditions and oral laws that was added to the written Scriptures of Israel.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was made some time during the winter of 1946/47. Bedouins sold them to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities at approximately one pound per square centimeter. There were various problems concerning the actual search for the scrolls, one of them being the war in Palestine in 1948 which was the same year that news of the Dead Sea Scrolls became known. In regards to their location, there was a shallow depression known as El-buqei'a. This was cut by a river and the place where it comes down through the cliffs is known as Wadi Qumran. There is a plateau at the base of the cliffs and it is here that archaeologists found the remains of the buildings of the Qumran Community. When the ruins were excavated, identical pottery types to the ones found in the caves were discovered. Coins were also found which "correspond with the period the paleographers were assigning the manuscripts". As more and more evidence was unearthed, it became clear that Qumran was, after all, the home of the community which had written the scrolls. 

There were documents written in both Phoenician, Hebrew and Aramaic script, and a small amount in Greek. Included in the find was every book in the Hebrew Bible except Esther, some commentaries, apocryphal works and various other non-Biblical works, many of them previously unknown. There are two Isaiah scrolls, one of which contains all sixty-six chapters of Isaiah dating from 150 BC. This scroll was made of sewn leather strips sewn approximately 24 feet long. There are places where mistakes in the copying had been erased or crossed out with omission noted in the margins. Some points differ from the Masoretic Text of Isaiah, but by and large it is essentially the same. The manuscript is approximately a thousand years older than the oldest manuscript available before 1947 and it isn’t split into three parts like others are. They also gave serious thought to the study of the book of Daniel.

The Qumran text of Daniel is very close to the 10th century CE Masoretic text. Comparisons between the Aramaic in Daniel and the Aramaic of the Genesis Apocryphon show that the language of Daniel is several centuries older. The same with the Psalms, they show an earlier date in Israel's history. Some finds, such as those pieces from the book of Leviticus, which are some of the oldest fragments of Biblical books that are available, agree almost entirely with the Masoretic Text of Leviticus, and support the authority of the MT. The book of Micah can be dated over two hundred years earlier than the birth of Christ which totally refutes claims that it was written after His birth. This find is one of the greatest manuscript discoveries of all time. No work dealing with the Bible, generally, can now be regarded with any seriousness, if it fails to take into account the significance of the Qumran discoveries. Phillip Davies says, "...the story of the scrolls is even now not quite over. Numerous fragments remain to be sorted, identified and published though it is unlikely that they will provide us with any more surprises."

There is also Masada, an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built a palace for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BC. The Siege of Masada by the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish - Roman War ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels and their families hiding there. This could have been as late as AD 73 after the Jewish war of AD 70. The Romans used the slave labor of the conquered Jews to build a ramp up to the fortress. A final site is seen in the Northwestern shore of Galilee, the cliffs of Arbel, also a deep roughed terrain; at the bottom of these cliffs are located many caves, where freedom fighters often held out against Romans, as late as AD 71 and AD 72. 

Another archaeological site included the bath house with cool and hot tubs, exercise room, library and chapel at the city of Scythopolis, part of the ten cities both East and South of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. The other cities of Decapolis (ten) as they were called were Damascus, Opoton, Philadelphia, Raphana, Gadara, Hippondion, Pella, Galasa and Canatha as described in Mark 5:20. It was the old site of Arabeth-Shayon, where Saul's head was taken after he was defeated in battle. 

A part of archaeology and visual artifacts found from the ancient world; Dr Blomberg asks the question of where this information was gathered. In answering this, he comments that the most significant literature sources come from three areas: intertestamental time and second temple Judaism containing the apocryphal books, which the Roman Catholics have canonized; the pseudepigraphy, a must larger collection of intertestamental Jewish works that no religious group has canonized and also the Dead Sea Scrolls and in-addition, the works of Philo. The Jewish historian, Josephus is another source of information, even though he wrote in the later third of the first century. But one must cautiously approach the Encyclopedia Collection of the Rabbinic Literature from roughly AD 200 extending another six or seven centuries beyond. There are some ways of making informed guesses as to which of these traditions go back to the older period. But unless we actually have reference to accustomed practice or teachings in one of the already mentioned sources, a lot of this later information is not pre-Christian. However, Jews have been taught that this goes back to pre-Christian times and thus discussing this information with them can be confusing.