Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts - Lesson 6

Social Background (Part 2)

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 6
Watching Now
Social Background (Part 2)


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: Gospel and Acts


Social Background (Part 2)

Lesson Transcript


As we think further about the combination of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds that we have surveyed thus far, an interesting question for modern discussion and application is where we find the closest contemporary equivalents to all of these various religious options. I mean, I funny first century world. In fact, of all the study guide questions at the end of chapters one and two and Jesus in the Gospels, this is really the only one that cannot be answered simply by careful reading or rereading of our text. And there are no defined sets of the right answers, but some examples which students might carefully ponder if we think of the Greco-Roman world. Of course there are myths and legends, secular and religious, around the world to this day, giving credence to varying degrees by various people and people. There may be little formal emperor worship apart from enforced health rules like North Korea. But there certainly are plenty of parts of the world where people, including religious people, perhaps even including Christians, put too much stock in God's will being enacted through government rather than seeing his church as the primary locus of demonstrating a counter-cultural ethic to a fallen world Gnosticism scientists counterparts, to varying degrees and different aspects of the so-called New Age, which is anything but new, but a an amalgamation of ancient ideas, some of them from ancient paganism or mother Earth or goddess worship of various kinds. Mysteries and magic, perhaps find some of their closest contemporary parallels and so-called occult practices. And of course, we have a plethora of philosophies and world views not strictly limited to the secular realm today, just as the Greco-Roman world did in the first century. Parallels to the far Jewish leadership sects in some ways may prove even more intriguing.


Liberation theology on the left wing and violence in the name of the religious right at the other end of the spectrum may prove partial. Counterpart to the ancient zealots have seen and be reflected in modern day monastic groups or other small sects and utopian organizations that believe the only hope left for humanity is to join together, apart from the rest of the world, and obey God rightly of fresh practices. Those who have made their compromise with the political powers, even when God's laws are broken, can of course be found in almost every culture. And we have already commented on some of the parallels between the more conservative wing of intellectualism and ancient Pharisees and those born out of the very proper and well intentioned desire to apply the Bible to every aspect of contemporary life. But in so doing, risking the threat of legalism, or at least of covenantal nomadism or nationalism or ethnocentrism of some kind, seeing themselves implicitly or explicitly, and the nation or cultures or the nomination or brand of Christianity that they represent as the best and truest, if not at times, even the only proper and true way. Needless to say, if one studies all of these different options and then goes on to explore the ways in which Christianity was able variously to appeal to each. And no one can learn much about evangelism and outreach and impacting our modern cultures as well. Understanding the different Jewish groups in particular also helps us to make sense of common in the Gospels, which the average reader perhaps typically simply passes over. Consider, if you will, the string of episodes found in the Synoptic Gospel. We may look at them and mark versions beginning in Mark Chapter 11, in which Jesus is teaching in the temple.


The last week of his life, He has cleared the temple and created a scene, not a spectacle in Mark 1115 and following so that when he returns again to the temple beginning in verse 27, not surprisingly, his authority to behave in such a way is question. But notice the individuals who raised the question in mark 1127. He priests, the teachers of the law or rights and elders came to him. The three groups who would have been most in power at the temple authorities and probably dominated, though not exclusively so by the Sadducees, those who were preoccupied with the political. Already in Chapter 1213. The next group that comes are some of the Pharisees and Peruvians, supporters of the various parents trying to trap Jesus with a question about taxes. But here he's trying to purify the nation of Israel and teach better obedience to the law. Would have resented having to pay taxes to Rome and have preferred Jesus to resist such taxation by the Herodium supporters of the political status quo would have endorsed taxation. Jesus is in a Catch 22 situation, except that his famous and clever response of giving the Caesar what is Caesar's and the God what is God gets himself fast. Then another group of Francis's return asking questions about the resurrection, mocking it because there is no clear, unambiguous test in the teaching of Moses in the first five books about the resurrection and doctrine could be proven or instead sees only from the five so far. This accounts as well for Jesus otherwise enigmatic appeal to attacks. How does the SA Exodus three six in March 1226 in order to demonstrate resurrection in 1228? Another lawyer or scribe comes asking naturally questions about his greatest commandment. And when Jesus turns tables and asks questions of the crowds and of his interrogators is not surprisingly, he writes the expert interpreters of the law to whom he asks the question about how they can minimize the nature of the Messiah to be a merely human descendants of David.


We won't take time to illustrate applications of all of the Greco-Roman. We won't take the time to illustrate all of the Greco-Roman options. But there is one graphic and entertaining passage in the early Christian writer Suhana Khan, who describes the initiation of the high priestess into the Greek mystery of our religion that worshiped the goddess type belly. Party credentials. Right? As you know, a church is dead and the high priest plunges deep underground to be sanctified. He wears a curious headband fastened, Celeste, for the occasion around his temples, fixes his hair with a fall, holds up his robes, is still at the bell from Saudi, a town near Rome. Over his head, they lay a quaint platform, crisscross thick so that the word is open, not solid. Then they cut or bore through the floor and make holes in the wood with an olive, several points filled as pleasantly perforated with small openings, a large bowl with grim, shaggy features and garlands of flowers around his neck, or untangling his harness is hard to spot. The victim's hair is shimmering with gold, and the sheen of the gold leaf lends color to his hair. The animal destined for sacrifice is at the appointed place. It has the greatest fear, and with it pierces breast. A gaping wound discharges its stream of blood still hot and words a steaming flutter on the lattice of the great blow flowing copiously. Then the shower drops through the numerous paths offered by the thousand cracks raining the ghastly view priest in the pit below catches the drops, puts his head underneath each one, fill the stain, filled his clothes, and all his bodyguards soaked in corruption. Yes, and he lays his head back. But his piece in the stream sets his ears underneath its lips and nose in the way This is very eyes in the drop does not spare his mouth.


What's his tongue? So he drains deep the dark blood with every pore. And the blood is exhausted to drag away the carcass, now growing stiff from the structure of plants. Then the high priest emerges a grim spectacle. He displays his dripping head, his congealed beard, his sopping ornaments, his clothes inebriated. He bears all the stains of this bleeding, right, Silky with the glory of the atoning victim's just offered. Everyone stands to one side, welcomes them, honors him just because he has been buried in a decent path and washed with the blood of the dead. So obviously pretentious is in favor of this ritual, but it does raise the very interesting question Why would it be attractive to anyone? And here is very return to the point that we made in our second lecture about the mystery of religions being one of the rare places in the Mediterranean world that offered for a time, at least during the gathering of the cult and a complete equality in the eyes of the gods and one another across all of the many humanly Iraqis, very rigid stratification of ancient society. Intriguingly, it was that equality offered by Christianity as well, which made it attractive to many in the first century Mediterranean world, which made it a two tiered system as another mystery itself, not to mention its own various rites of initiation, often done privately, most notably the Lord's Supper, and therefore susceptible to all kinds of slanderous misrepresentation among the unwary outside. Finally, let us turn to four sample stats from some of the Jewish sources. The non-canonical Jewish sources already describe both to give us a feel for the ethos and details of some of these corpora of rhetoric here, but also to help students begin to think about just a handful of the many varied ways that understanding such literature could be relevant for interpreting the New Testament and more specifically, the Gospels and acts.


The first example comes from the vagina and appears in the third division. Matthew The Track Page 16, Section nine, Subsection ten The School of Sam. I say a man may not divorce his wife unless he was found in Chastity in her forties, written because he had found in her indecency in any thing. And the school officials say he may just divorce her even if he spoiled a dish for him. Or it is written because he has found in her indecency. In anything Rabbi Hager says, even if he's found another fairer than she was written. And it shall be, as you find. No favor in his eyes. Not that on the biblical references here are to Deuteronomy 24. The debate is between the two leading Pharisees school, Sammy and Hildale, two rabbis contemporary of Jesus, but perhaps about 20 years older than him. Hillel, known in general, not always for being more liberal and Sami for being more conservative, and certainly does not take much to see the relevance of this debate or the question posed to Jesus in Matthew 19 one parallels about the issue of divorce. Or consider a second text. This one from the Dead Sea Scrolls. From the commentary on a basset hound to commenting on the backs of one side, which reads the halls of nations and see Marvel in these funny or high conflict in your days. But you will not believe it when social commentary then goes on to interpret this concern. Those who were unfaithful together with the liar in the day did not listen to the words received by the teacher of righteousness from the mouth of God concerns the unfaithful of the New Covenant, and that they have not believed in the covenant of God and have profaned His holy name.


Am I quite the same as to be interpreted as concerning those who will be unfaithful at the end of days? They, the men of violence and the breakers of the President will not believe when they hear all that is to happen to the final generation. From the priest in whose heart, God said, understanding that he might interpret all the words of his servants, the prophets, to whom he foretold all that would happen to his people in his land. And as the quotation from Hebrews excuse me, from Habakkuk one six Hey or behold, I rouse the Chaldeans. That bitter and hasty nation pressure interpreted. This concerns the city, the reference to the Highlands, to the West, and often understood to me first in the Romans in the time of their power, interpreted as this concern for team who are and values in war causing many to perish all the world so fall under the dominion of the team and the wicked act that the tax breaks are based on not believe in the lives of God. And the text continues in this fashion, alternating Hebrew scripture with a contemporary version that sees the fulfillment of all of these events in characters and nations sometimes name, sometimes not of. The time of these scenes at the writing of the commentary. Very much akin to many popular processes, handbooks in the modern age that confidently align the teachings of Jesus from passages like this scatological discourse in Matthew 24 and 25, as well as other apocalyptic portions of the Bible with current events. Of course, the Somalians turned out to be wrong, as has every generation of people making such correlations since the end has not yet come, which should inspire quite a bit greater amount of humility in making such correlations.


Consider a third text, this from the Old Testament apocryphal version of the wisdom of Ben Serra, or at some sense also. Yes, it says Chapter 24. Wisdom will praise herself and glory in the midst of her people and the assembly of the most time. She will open her mouth and in the presence of his post, who will glory? I can pass from the mouth of the most high and covered year from this ice melt in high places in my throne. Within a silver cloud alone, I have made the circuit of the balls of heaven and have walked in the depths of the abyss, in the waves of the sea and the whole earth and merry people. A nation. I have gotten a possession among all these. My sort of resting place I find in whose territory I might live. Then the creator of all things gave me a commandment and the one who created me assigned a place for my sense. He said, Make me dwelling in faith, then in Israel. Receive your inheritance from eternity. In the beginning, he created me. And for eternity I shall not cease to exist in the Holy Tabernacle. I ministered before him. And so I was established in Zion, in the beloved city. Likewise, he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my dominion. So I took root in and honored people in the portion of the Lord who is their inheritance. That brings us to the end of verse 12 and then skipping ahead, verse 19 Come to me, you who desire me and eat your fill of my produce for the remembrance of me as sweeter than honey in my inheritance, Sweeter than the honeycomb. Those whom you will hunger for more And those to drink.


We will thirst for more. Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame. And those who work with my help will not soon. All this is the book of the covenant of the most high God. The law, which Moses commanded that the classic example. We talked about it in connection both with Gnosticism and with the Hebrew proverb of wisdom personified as a woman, but in this case as a quantized divine being, the Creator created me in the beginning from eternity in ministry, and he ministered with him in the Holy Haberdashery. He found his resting place with her in Jerusalem, and she invites all those who desire to come and metaphorically eat of her wisdom sweeter than honey and causing even more hunger and desire for more. But all of this in this Jewish document is found through the law of Moses. He is as well likewise personified in ways that make him akin to wisdom. But he will invite Matthew 1127 and following people to come to him and take his yoke and learn of him. And in John Chapter four to take up Living Water in Chapter six to recognize himself as the bread of life. But Brad, that will satisfy leading mail further hunger and life, giving water that will fill, leaving no previous person. And all of this is coming in discipleship to Jesus, not to the laws of Moses. Hall studying the Second Temple Jewish literature, as well as the massive amounts of Greco-Roman literature available there for page setting the high profile and see the patriarchal literature of Second Temple Judaism and cognate studies, along with the huge diversity of Greco-Roman literature of this time period that pays rich dividends or the would be seen as the testament students to avail themselves of opportunities to dip into representative samplings of these various bodies of literature firsthand.


But because of its that size, for the most part, will be dependent on those more detailed commentaries series that regularly cite and explain the most important background checks and themes, as well as more specialized reference work such as InterVarsity presses, Bible background commentaries, which exist for that matter, on both testaments and similar volumes that focus more strictly just on relevant background checks or interpreting specific parts of Scripture, and sometimes worry that because some or all of these texts are not canonical, that somehow they should shy away from them. But that is not what distinguishes Canonical from non-canonical fact. Rather the questions of divine inspiration non-Canonical thanks for the most part contain invaluable historical and cultural information, even if they cannot be trusted to be inherent in the way that Christians have traditionally understood the inspired texts to be.