New Testament Introduction - Lesson 2
The Importance of Context (Part 2/2)
Dr. Witherington continues the discussion on the importance of using context in interpretation and walks through the different types of context.
The Importance of Context (Part 2/2)
The Importance of Context (part 2)
4. Spiritual world
a. Jesus refers to Satan as, “the ruler of this world”
b. Jesus was both human and divine
c. Be like Jesus
a. Jesus came to meet our needs
c. Story of Joanna
E. Literary context (Genre)
1. Ancient vs. modern biographies
a. Gender, geography and generation determined your identity at birth
b. How you died revealed your character
c. No physical description of Jesus in the gospels
d. Not as concerned with precise chronology
When reading the Bible, there is a danger of reading our own ideas into the text and assuming they are there. A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.
Dr. Witherington continues the discussion on the importance of using context in interpretation and walks through the different types of context.
Matthew, Mark and John are like ancient biographies. Luke-Acts is more like an ancient historical monograph.
The terms “Son of Man” and “kingdom of God” appear often in Matthew and Mark. The kingdom of God is the divine saving activity of God breaking into human history.
Luke uses Mark as a primary source. He organizes his material geographically “to” Jerusalem, while Acts is organized “from” Jerusalem. Luke emphasizes apologetics to make his case that Christianity should be considered a legal religion in the Roman Empire. The divinity of Jesus is more vividly portrayed in the gospel of John than in the synoptics.
There was great animosity between the Jews and Samaritans that went back hundreds of years. In telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was not only challenging stereotypes but shaming a man who thought he was a righteous Jew. It’s unacceptable to use your orthodoxy as a tool to justify your prejudices against other kinds of people.
Jesus teaches that there is not always a direct correlation between sickness and sin. The religious officials often thought that Jesus did not measure up to what they thought a prophet should be. All of Jesus’ miracles are acts of compassion, not primarily to prove that he is the messiah.
Salvation according to the gnostics is a self-help program for those with inside knowledge. The gnostic gospels were never on any of the canon lists of the early church. The church recognized the canon, they didn’t form the canon. God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith each day.
Apocalyptic literature arises when justice is deferred. It develops the ideas of the “other world” and the “afterlife.” God is being worshipped for what he is about to do to transform the world into his kingdom. Dispensational theology supports the teaching of a rapture.
A genuine prophecy was intended to be understood and it was spoken in known languages. Apocalyptic literature was often written during periods of exile. Worship is not about giving people what they want, it’s about giving God what he desires and requires. True worship requires that we are in the Spirit and give our whole selves to God.
In times of exile, people didn’t see God carrying out justice in their lifetime so they thought it must happen later by God raising them from the dead. Your behavior in this life affects the eternal outcome. When we die, our spirit goes to be with God, our body decays and eventually God gives us a heavenly body that will be everlasting like our spirit.
Parable comes from a word meaning figurative or metaphorical speech of any kind. They are analogies and part of wisdom literature. Jesus purposefully spoke in public in figurative ways to challenge people to think about the ideas he was presenting. He gives us insights into God’s character and the relationship between him and God the Father.
Parables are intended to tease your mind into active thought about God. You can tell the character of a person by what they do when they think nobody is watching. The parables have both justice and mercy, righteousness and compassion.
The first missionary journey started in Antioch. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark worked together. Paul shames his detractors by boasting about things that most people thought were shameful. Paul’s letters were written as conversations in context, not as theological tracts.
In the Old Testament, “hesed” refers to the love God promised to give to the people to whom he betrothed himself (i.e., Jews). The paradigm of “agape” is God in Christ. On the cross, Christ gave with no thought of return. Paul’s letters were meant to be read in a public discourse setting as an act of worship. An effective rhetorical presentation appeals to both the mind and the emotions of people.
Understanding the structure of rhetoric can help you understand scripture better and preach more effectively.
When Jesus came to earth, he accepted a slave’s position and willingly suffered a slave’s death. Jesus “emptied himself” by giving up his divine prerogatives. Jesus assumes the role of “Lord” (God) at resurrection and thereafter. Christ doesn’t reflect God’s glory, he radiates it.
This course is will help you begin to weave yourself through the maze of NT studies. During the course we will be exploring several major subject areas: 1) the history of the period in which the NT was written; 2) the social and cultural milieu in which early Christians lived; 3) the practice of the scholarly study of the NT (source, form, redaction, genre, rhetorical criticism et al.); 4) questions of introduction about the books of the NT (authorship, date, audience, structure, purpose); 5) the practice of exegesis and hermeneutics.
Angels and demons, now we may talk a lot about angels and demons but in the world of early Judaism that Jesus lived in those were living palpable realities of day-to-day life, not just special occasions. In this confrontation one of our problems, as I said, in reading ancient text is anachronisms. Where did this close encounter of the worst kind with the nefarious one happen? In the wilderness or desert, that’s right. What wilderness meant was not a forest but the chalk wilderness of Judea or near the Dead Sea. What happened there? For forty days he’s tempted 3 times, he resists the temptations, he’s really hungry and he’s ministered to after the forty days. This is a description of a visionary experience. Jesus was a visionary person and he walked around saying things like, “I saw Satan fall like lighting from the sky” and the disciples were all going, “You know, I didn’t see that”. That’s why I like to call them the duh disciples because they don’t get it. Jesus has a revelation and they’re kind of going, “Did you hear that Vern? Really, I don’t know about that”. Jesus was a visionary person. He had a vision at his baptism that the sky cracked and he saw something like a dove descending from Heaven, he heard a voice from Heaven just like John of Patmos said he heard a voice from Heaven when he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This is a typical first century description of a visionary experience. Yes, Jesus was really in the wilderness and yes, he was really fasting and yes he was really having a tussle with a demonic being. But it’s a visionary experience. He’s not really jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem he’s in the wilderness. He’s not really standing on top of Mount Hermon and seeing the whole world, he’s in the wilderness, that’s where he is he’s in the wilderness and he has a vision of Satan, his plan, Satan has a nefarious plan for Jesus’ life and Jesus is resisting it. Now what you should notice about this is that it has all the earmarks of a visionary experience. Satan is not a physical human being, he’s a spiritual being. He can appear in many guises, he appears says Paul as an angel of what? Light. Real but you see what we assume is reality is not what first century people saw as reality. When we hear the word vision we think subjective experience may be caused by too much pizza. When an ancient person thought about a vision he thought about a revelation that came from outside of himself to him from some supernatural being. You with me now, you see the difference? Not the weird imaginings of the subconscious of the human mind, no, a revelation from outside of yourself to you.
Jesus had a vision in the wilderness and this is what he heard and what he saw and it was just as real as any encounter with a human being. It just wasn’t the same kind of encounter. Now here’s what’s so interesting about this story. Who is called the ruler of this world in the New Testament? Who does Jesus call the ruler of this world? Satan. He says the ruler of this world is what? Judged but he still calls him what? The ruler of this world, so did Satan have on offer all the kingdoms of this world if he wanted to give them to Jesus? Would that have been logical to Jesus in that kind of setting? This is a real temptation, let’s take the shortcut, let’s bypass the cross, let’s get to the finish line before we even start running. He’s not even begun his ministry. Now there’s something else interesting about this isn’t there. He doesn’t say, if you are a human being then let me help you. What does he say? He says, “If you are the divine Son of God then turn stones into bread”. Now I’ve known people who could turn bread into stones but I’ve never yet met somebody who could turn stones into bread. This is not a temptation for an ordinary mortal. These are temptations that only the divine Son of God could have. Think about this for a minute. This is a powerful, powerful story but it only makes sense in its original context. If you are the divine Son of God throw yourself off the pinnacle of the Temple, a thousand angels will come and bear you up and everybody will go wow I’ve never seen anything like that before. If I throw myself off the pinnacle of the Temple at the Wailing Wall you know what’s going to happen? A heavy bit of gravity that’s what’s going to happen. I’m not the Son of God, Jesus was. These are temptations tailor made to the divine Son of God to make him become the wrong kind of Son of God. The Son of God who uses his power aggressively for non Godly purposes. If you are the Son of God then just one time, just once, bow down and worship me. Then you’ll already have the kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our lord and of his Christ, shortcut. Not at the New Heaven and New Earth – now, Jesus. You don’t have to pray that Kingdom come we can get to the finish line now. That’s a big temptation. Wouldn’t it be nice to get to the finish line without all the suffering and mess in between, especially without the cross. You shall not put God to the test says Jesus. You see the temptation for Jesus was to so use his divine power that he obliterated his humanity and could not be the example for us to follow. Here’s the real temptation, the temptation was for him to so act in such a divine manner that he obliterated the other half of who he was. One of the problems for conservative Christians is when they think about Jesus they tend to think of him as a sort of 90% divine and 10% human. This is a problem as the church fathers always said; Jesus is 100% divine and 100% human. Now how do you get those two things together? New Testament writers understood it; it involved divine condescension, and divine self limitation. When Jesus became incarnate in the womb of Mary he took on all limitations of time and space and knowledge and power willingly to be fully human. The one human limitation that he did not take on was sin. He was like us in every regard says the author of Hebrews save without sin. Limitations of time and knowledge and power, the Omnis, he put the Omnis on hold. When he was in Nazareth he was not in Judea. When Lazarus died in Bethany he was somewhere else. See his life was not a charade; his life was a real human life without sin. And it was meant to tell us that sin was never intended to be an inherent part of the human life. You didn’t have to sin to be human so the story of the temptation is all about. Jesus is Adam gone right, the Son of Man who is also the Son of God. We were Adam gone wrong and Jesus came to fix that. When you begin to look at the story of Jesus through the eye of what you know about apocalyptic visions and the way people thought about the humanity and divinity of Jesus in that culture it begins to make sense. What would people have understood Jesus to mean if he went around and said to everybody, “Hi folks, I’m God”. Well they would not have understood that to mean that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity. Really Jesus would have understood that to mean that he was Yahweh only he wasn’t Yahweh; he prayed to Yahweh, he called him Abba. So how does that person in that culture convey his divinity as well as his humanity in that monotheistic setting? Well he had to do it differently, he accepted limitations of time, of space and knowledge and power. In Mark 13:32 Jesus says this, about this second coming he says of that day or hour no one knows, not even the Angels in Heaven, not even the Son only the Father. He wasn’t fooling. There were some things he did not know when he was a human being because he accepted limitations of time and space and knowledge and power. This is what Paul says in Philippians 2 though being equal with God he did not consider having equality with God something to take advantage of but instead did what? He stripped himself; he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant among human beings. Talk about powerless, a slave among human being. Jesus said I did not come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many. He came to be fully human in order that he might truly die in order that he might redeem human beings. Without giving up his divinity he just limited himself. His great temptation was to push the God button.
Now me, I don’t have a God button, there are times I wished I did. When I was sitting outside of Columbus for an hour and half grinding away at one inch an hour I wished I could push a button and be instantly here but I couldn’t do that. Jesus’ temptation was to push the God button but he didn’t do that. Look at the Garden of Gethsemane what does he pray? If it be possible let this cup pass from me nevertheless thy will be done. What’s his temptation? To bypass the cross. He can go right on to glory why not. Beam me up Scotty now. What’s the ultimate evidence that he would be truly human and not only truly human but make a sacrifice that’s an atonement for sin, he had to die. T’was much that we were made like God long before said John Dunn but that God should be made like us much more. Once you begin to study these stories in their original context they really come alive and you begin to realize the cost of what it cost Jesus to limit himself as the Son of God to be fully Son of Man and to be our example. Take up your cross and follow me. Now when I was in Sunday School growing up my Sunday School teacher was always saying, “Be like Jesus, be like Jesus” and there was this little impish voice in the back of my head that said yeah right, I can so not be like Jesus. Jesus has a God button. But then one day I learned Jesus willing gave up the right to push the God button so that I could be like him. Look again at that temptation story how does he resist the temptation of the Devil? By citing the Word of God and relying on the Spirit of God, the same two resources every one of us has. Let me say that again, how did he resist temptation? By relying on the Spirit of God in his life which he had already received into his life and relying on the World of God, the same two resources we have to resist temptation so that he could be our exemplar that we should follow. This is why Paul in I Cor. 10 says no temptation has overcome you Corinthians that isn’t common to humanity such that with the temptation God can do what? Provide an adequate means of escape. Hello! You have the Holy Spirit in your life, you have the Word of God in your life and guess what that Holy Spirit that is in you is not a quart low. It’s not Holy Spirit light, less filling. It’s the same Holy Spirit that was in the life of Jesus. It’s the same Holy Spirit by which Jesus performed his miracles. That’s how he did the miracles he says so, if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons. He does not say if I by my divine nature cast out demons. He says if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons and so when we get to the Book of Acts do Peter and John and the other disciples, the apostles and the epistles perform miracles like Jesus did? Yes. And did Jesus say and you can perform even greater miracles than I did? Yes he says that too. Why is it then, dear friends, that our natural default is I can’t be like Jesus in these ways. What’s that all about? Jesus said if you have even the faith that microscopically small you can say to this mountain be cast into the sea and it’s moving. What we have to do, by an act of creative imagination, is enter into the world of Jesus such that the text comes alive and we imbibe the text and we become what we admire and it transforms us so that when people see us they glimpse Jesus. We don’t just point to Jesus we are the incense of Christ, we are the talisman of Christ, we are Christ-o-fers, Christ bearers that’s what we are, take up your cross and follow me says Jesus. When we go back to this culture what we see is that Jesus redefines honor and redefines shame. He tells us that God is the only one that doesn’t run out of resources. He tells us that there is something greater than payback, it’s grace. He tells us that patriarchy was a result of the fall not God’s original plan for humanity. Let’s talk about that last one for a minute. Did you notice that when Jesus finally wants to talk about marriage he goes back to the creation story? He talks about the original couple becoming one flesh, remember that? He’s quoting Genesis. When you go back to that story like Jesus did and talk about the original creation, order design of God, when you get to the punishment for the sin listen what the curse was on Eve. The curse on Adam was labor pains in the field. The curse on Eve was labor pains in the babies, but that’s not all. Notice what the other part of the curse says, your desire will be for your husband and he will lord it over you. This is the result of the fall. This is the original creation order design. In the creation order design Eve was the crown of creation, the completed human kind. After God made Eve he said I can’t improve on that we’re done here, I’m resting now. The order of creation is an ascending order of creation. The greatest of creation was human kind and Eve was the last of these. The original design of God was complimentary—each is indispensable to the other.
As Paul says neither is man independent of woman nor woman independent of man but all are one in Christ Jesus. The creation order of design was reaffirmed in Christ for men and women but the fall created this system, your desire will be for your husband and he will lord it over you. The other interesting thing about the creation story that Jesus cites when he’s reconstructing and deconstructing first century cultural values is he says a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Now this is just the opposite of patriarchy. In patriarchy who leaves home? It’s the wife. She becomes Mrs. Husband—that’s not what Genesis says and it’s not what Jesus reiterates. He says the husband will leave his family and cleave to his wife and begin a new family. It’s different from what we have. What we see as the first century cultural values, and these are only a few of them, each one of them in some way Jesus is deconstructing. To me the thing that stands out the most about all of this is where is truth in all of this? Have you noticed that? I’ve hardly mentioned truth in these first century values. What was the value placed on truth? In most ancient cultures you only owed the truth to your own inner circle. You didn’t owe the truth to strangers. You only owed honor amongst thieves, amongst your circle. See Jesus came to change that as well. It’s not an accident in this culture that he does not come and say, “I am the unlimited good”, what does he say? “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father but by me. Now this is changing the priorities and values of the culture. Suddenly truth becomes paramount. What happens in a culture that is based on truth? Not ours. We’re suffering from truth decay all over the place. What happens to a culture that is based on truth? All of a sudden lies are banished; dishonesty on taxes or anything else is not OK. If truth is the highest value in your hierarchy because Jesus says I am the truth, if that’s top of the hierarchy truth is more important than life and death. Truth is more important than honor and shame. I’d rather be shamed for the truth then live. I’d rather die for the truth then live. Jesus is rewinding our minds and rethreading our heads that’s what he’s doing. In terms of the priorities of first century person he was radically reorienting them. For when the Son has set you free, by the truth, you are free indeed not to live a lie anymore. Not even to live a lie through yourself talk. You know about self talk, well it’s alright New Year’s resolution last week, oh well. Yeah I promised but you know. I’m not asking you if you’re as good as your own word I’m asking are you as good as the Word and that Word is truth. See the only way you get beyond sin is being a truth teller. Repentance is based on honesty about yourself and truth about yourself. The problem with cheap grace is that it doesn’t lead to repentance. If you don’t think grace cost God a lot look at the cross. If you think it was easy for God to forgive sin look at the cross. If you think there didn’t have to be a day of reckoning for sin look at the cross. God didn’t give up his holiness and his justice and his righteousness just to be Mr. nice guy. The place that the righteousness and justice and compassion and love of God kiss is in the cross. Then you see the whole character of God, God’s love is a holy love not love without holiness and not holiness, thank goodness, without love.
When you get back into the text you realize that Jesus didn’t come to conform to our expectations, Jesus didn’t even come to meet our expectations, he came to meet our needs. And the problem is half the time we don’t know what we need and what we think we need we don’t need. One of the problems in the church today is needs based preaching. Preaching to the felt needs of the congregation, I’ve got news for you. A lot of those felt needs are not good or godly. It’s not the job of the preacher to preach to the needs of the congregation, it’s his job to preach the word of God and those needs, real needs, will be met. It’s so important to understand the difference. Audience based preaching is not Word of God centered preaching. Yes, the word of God needs to be a word on target but guess what; the Word of God is already a word on target. It’s the living Word of God. It will exegesis before you ever interpret it if you’ll just let it happen. Apply the whole of the text to yourself, apply the whole of yourself to the text as you are interpreting it it will interpret you and when it interprets you it’s very often not pleasant—Ben you sorry so and so you know you let those students down, you snookered them, you didn’t give them your best. What was that you told me about giving them your best? I don’t think so. You know it’s important that when you contextually study the Word of God that you don’t just study in the abstract. Some people when I start talking about studying the Bible in its original context they think oh that’s boring all that history stuff all those begats—it’s boring, dry as dust. No, friend, this is the living Word of God. What’s boring and dry as dust is us until we are revivified by the living Word of God. It has been said about boredom that boredom is the state of mind of those who lack imagination. The Word of God wouldn’t want us to be that way. Now, we’re going to stop this is the second part of something I want you to understand about the first century context of God’s Word, what questions do you have about first century cultural values.
[Question by student could not be heard]. What I’m saying is that God set up the original creation word that the completion of all creation was the creation of woman from man, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. That was the crown of creation so in the new creation when Jesus talks about marriage he’s saying that it is restoring the original creation order of design of how men and women were intended to relate to each other at the beginning and before the sin. Before sin ruled the way we relate to each other and bent our wills and our desires and everything else. He’s saying that the kingdom is coming and new occasions to teach new duties so we’re not making allowances any more for sin. God’s grace is greater than our scope of our sin. Remember when he’s having this argument with his fellow Jews and they say, “Well, why did Moses allow them to divorce”? And Jesus’ answer is profound, he says, “Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your hearts” but in the original situation it was not so. He’s trying to take us beyond exception clauses and taking into account our fallowness. He’s trying to say that in the Kingdom of God we’re going to try to do a better job of mirroring the original creation order intent, that’s what he’s saying really. And what’s interesting to me about that is the way Paul spins that out in places like I Cor 11 and I Cor 7. In I Cor 7 he says something so radical for the first century that most men would have taken him out and horsewhipped him. Not only does he say the wife’s body belongs to the husband he turns around and says just the opposite of that as well. And he says that the husband’s body belongs to the wife. Now not any Greco Roman ethicist would have affirmed that in the first century AD. A man’s body belongs to himself and he will do with it what he sees as honorable. Paul is saying that there is this inter-dependency of husband and wife such as the wife belongs to the husband and the husband belongs to the wife and it is exclusive monogamy on both sides of the occasion. Now that’s something radical and new. We might take it for granted in the evangelical Christianity but it was radical and new in the world of Jesus and the world of Paul. He’s taking away male privilege, this is why the disciples in Matt 19 when Jesus says no divorce they say well if that’s the way it is between a man and a woman a man just better not marry said the disciples. And he said well there’s another alternative, you can be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom and they’re going, “Yikes.” One life, one wife, or eunuch could. Here are your options baby and the disciples are going shazam, this is radical. And Paul understood that. He’s saying that by the grace of God and the light of the coming of the Kingdom we’re going to live a different way. We’re not just going to live with concessions to sin anymore. We’re not going to make those concessions anymore; we’re going to try to live according to first principles, both the creation and the new creation.
[Question by student could not be heard] That’s an excellent question and most of these values they accepted and modeled with the exception that they understood that God’s sacred text, His Word, was the truth and that the truth had to be the arbiter of and the critique of all of these other values. So they accepted that, they just didn’t approach it in as radical fashion that Jesus did. I’ll give you an example, early Jews believed that it would was the obligation of every able bodied man and woman to get married. Why? Because Genesis commanded thou shalt be fruitful and multiple. It was not an option it was a commandment, it was like almost the first commandment. Right? Be fruitful and multiple. No. 1 on the hit parade, right? Jesus says it’s a blessed option. This was radical and new, he says you can either be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom or you can be married, join together by God. Now you have two options. You know who this gives the most freedom to? Women because before they had only one option, be a wife and bake the babies. Right? Not anymore. You know why Mary Magdalene and these other women were lining up to follow Jesus? Because he said it’s OK to be single for the sake of the kingdom. Because it gave a whole new opportunity for ministry roles they could not have taken before and did not take in Judaism by in large. There’s a rare prophetess, we’ve got Deborah, we’ve got the sister of Moses, there are a few people, Miriam. What’s interesting to me all of those women that surrounded Jesus were Mary, Mary, Mary and Mary. But actually their name was Miriam, Miriam, Miriam and Miriam. The Aramaic name is Miryam and it’s named after Moses’ sister who had a ministry role. Isn’t that interesting, Jesus was surrounded by women named for somebody who performed a ministry in the Old Testament. Now that’s really interesting. So we have these women following Jesus and there is a reason why they were last at the cross and first at the tomb and first to see the risen Jesus. They had sold out for him. They had left home for him. They had left husbands for him. Just like Peter said the men did. The most amazing thing to me about the end of that story is that if you’re going to make up a world religion in the first century AD, when that whole world is profoundly a man’s world, you don’t make up the idea that the chief witnesses to the virginal conception, the death of Jesus, the empty tomb and the resurrection, the first witness to the resurrection are women, you just don’t make up that idea. These stores are too improbably not to be true, the must be true because they make women primary witness to the chief tenants of the Christian faith. So what we’ve got both in the events and in the way Jesus treated women is a whole new approach to women. And Paul lived that out, he’s got female coworkers, he’s got women he calls deaconesses, he’s got women who he calls prophetess, this is not a problem for Paul, he’s not having a problem with that. What he does do and what Jesus does do is that he starts with people where they are. If you’re going to deconstruct patriarchy you have to start somewhere. People are already in this system so if you’re inside the system how do you change the system? You change if from inside out. You change it by instituting new principles, that’s how you change it. And that’s what he was doing within his community of disciples, we’re going to model what the change looks like. So when he says to the men, you know you’ve got two options boys, marriage and celibacy and singleness. Go for it. Take your pick. Well, the neat thing about that is celibacy and singleness. When you get to Paul in I Cor 7 what does he say? I wish more of you were like me, which is just to say unmarried. Now he was previously married, he was a Pharisee, this means he got married at 12-14 but he was converted late, relatively late in life, he was in his late 20’s or early 30’s when he was converted. No he was probably shunned. What happens when you go over to the dark side of a new religion if you’re a Pharisee is that you don’t exist anymore with that family. It’s the same thing that happens with Amish, you get shunned. So he’s separated, not allowed to be part of that family anymore and he probably did not remarry.
[Question by student, cannot be heard] It has nothing to do with his connection with the Father it has to do with the recognition of the city of Rome of him. He doesn’t get that by inheritance he gets that by the Roman government deciding that he is a Roman citizen just as his parents were Roman citizens. It’s not something that’s part of the hope chest passed on to him by his parents. It’s some that is a recognition that comes from Rome.
[Question by student could not be heard] You know that’s a wonderful question and my answer to that is this is what the New Testament is if we’ll just listen to it. What it is is not a full blue print. God reveals enough about the future to give us hope and direction but not so much that we don’t have to walk by faith. So what he gives us are glimpses of how the Kingdom is how to look and where we’re going. So the question is are we going to live on the basis of what we know the future is going to be like or are we going to live on the basis of what we knew the past was like. Jesus came proclaiming that the eschatological Kingdom of God is breaking into history now and we’re going to start mirroring those final Kingdom values now. This is why he says things very different from the Old Testament. He says things like love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile with somebody who impresses you to do a job. This is not what Moses said. [Student] Yes, absolutely they’re trying to do that but not according to the teaching of Jesus. They are doing it on the basis of the prophecies of Isaiah, which by the way, [Student could not hear].
Clarence Jordan started such a community in Georgia in the 60’s and it was a pretty radical place to start in south Georgia let me tell you. You’ve got men and women treated as equal and raising crops and preaching the Gospel and working for civil rights and all kinds of things. It was a pretty radical place. It caused a lot of mayhem when he wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel. Have you ever read the Cotton Patch Gospel? You ought to read it, it’s pretty amazing stuff. When Jesus went down to Birmingham the white folks shunned him but he set down at a table with the Afro-Americans and they had some good ole BBQ and chittlings and things were fine. And Pharisees amongst the white folks were scandalized by Jesus doing this therefore, it kind of goes like that. Very unliteral translation of the story of Jesus indigenized for American culture. But very affective in its day, very affective in its day because it was critiquing some of the very same things Jesus was critiquing the hypocrisies in his own culture. Hypocrite—the word comes from hoop-ok-ree-tace' the Greek word which means play actor, it means someone who is an actor in a play. We have taken the word literally into English but the basic meaning is somebody who appears to be something that they aren’t, acts as if they are someone they are not that’s a hoop-ok-ree-tace'.
OK, we need to move on we’ve looked at two contexts, we want now to begin to look in our last 45 minutes we want to look at yet one more context and that context has to do with genre so I’m going to see if I can’t beam up for us some PowerPoints real quick here. Before I get to that I want to tell you an amazing story. Here’s a story that will preach, I want to tell you the story of Joanna. Joanna is mentioned first in the scriptures in Luke 8:1-3. Here is what is said about her, Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, really it’s Miryam from Migdol a fishing village from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward estate manager Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them[a] out of their resources. Now that’s an interesting remark. Now what do we know about Joanna and Jesus? First of all she’s a traveling disciple of Jesus. If you follow the Gospel of Luke you will find her also in the Passion narrative, she’s going up to Jerusalem with Jesus during the last week of his life, she’s there at the cross, she’s there at the empty tomb, she’s one of the women that sees the risen Jesus. The second thing we know about Joanna is that she’s a patroness, that’s what Luke 8:3 says, she’s a sponsor, she’s a person who has resources and provides for the traveling band of merry men and merry women marching through Galilee together proclaiming the Kingdom out of their own resources. We learn the most important thing when we hear that she is the wife of Herod Antipas’ estate manager or steward, Chuza. Now you know that may seem to be an innocuous fact until you realize the following. Were Jesus and Herod Antipas on good terms with one another? What did Jesus call Herod Antipas? That old fox and what you need to know about the Herod’s is that they were half Idumaean they were not full blooded Jews. What’s an Idumaean? It’s an Edomite. How well did the Israelites and the Edomites get along? Not so much if you know your Old Testament history. Esau and Jacob all of that sort of stuff. Well Herod Antipas was considered by most Jews a not very legitimate ruler of Galilee and Jesus himself called him that fox. The wife of Herod’s estate manager is running around Galilee with Jesus. Now can you imagine the conversation between Herod Antipas and Chuza, “Chuza, you gotta choose, you can’t control your woman, she’s running all over the place with this other prophet, some kind of relative of John the Baptist whom I just chopped the head off, if you can’t control this woman you’ve got to choose. You either want to be my estate manager or you want to have her as your wife. You choose”, I can hear the conversation now. You see because the behavior of the wife would be shaming Chuza in the eyes of Herod Antipas over and over again. “Where’s your wife why isn’t she fixing breakfast?” “I think she’s in Nazareth today, there’s going to be a sermon in the synagogue there” “What is wrong with you man? Can’t you get your wife in line?” I can see the conversation now. Or as the Australians would say, “Joanna went walk about.” She chose to be a disciple of Jesus and that was going to be number one in her life not honoring her husband. She went with Jesus and the 12 in Galilee, she was there at Golgotha and beyond.
When you look at the Luke account of the Easter story she is one of the women that went to the empty tomb, she one of the ones who saw the angels, she one of the ones who saw the risen Lord, you know one of the things I love most about the John 20 Easter story is Mary Magdalene’s at the tomb and she sees two angels, that shows a certain amount of spiritual sensitivity. When Peter and the beloved disciple get to the tomb they don’t see nothing. They just see a wrapped up grave cloth. They go home scratching their heads going, “What happened to him”? It’s interesting the contrast between the way the women react to this event and the way the men do. She saw the risen Lord and she testified to these things, even more to the point she hung around in Jerusalem and was present in the Upper Room with the mother of Jesus, Mary, at Pentecost, Acts 1:14. Now I’m going to turn the page to Rom 16:7, Paul in the late 50’s is greeting some of his compatriots, coworkers and fellow Jews. I want you to hear carefully what Rom 16:7 says, it says this, 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia,[c] my kinsmen or relatives[d] who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Now that’s a mouth full, we need to deconstruct, we need to exegeses each of those phrases. First of all let’s start with the last one, they were in Christ before I was. What do we know about Paul’s conversion? Paul’s conversion happens within 2 or 3 years of the death of Jesus on Damascus Road. You do the chronological thing in Acts you get to the conclusion that Paul was converted no later than 34-35AD if Jesus died in 30. If Andronicus and Junia were Christians before Paul they were Christians before there was a Gentile mission. Are you getting the picture here? Where would they have to have been to have been in Christ before me, that would be Jerusalem. This is where the movement starts right? You getting the picture so far? OK. Secondly they are Jews only these two names are not Jewish names, these are Latin names. Andronicus is a nickname, it’s not a proper name, it means the manly man. It’s actually a nickname for a slave; you wouldn’t call a Patrician Roman Andronicus. This is the name of somebody who was a former slave. This is when the master of the house said, “Call the man, I need a man to move that log” that would be Andronicus. Here’s where I tell you that the name Junia is the Latin equivalent of the name Joanna. Now here’s where translation gets really squirrelly. If you look at the inscriptional evidence and the use of names, Latin names, we have hundreds, thousands of examples of the female name Junia. We have no examples of a male named Junias but some translators so freaked out with the notion that there might be a female apostle that they rendered this in English Andronicus and Junias even though the two pairs before this example, and the pair after this, are husband and wife, Priscilla and Aquila for example, are you with me now? There’s no example of the name Junias in antiquity. There just isn’t. This is a husband and wife power couple, they are apostles. They were in Christ before him and they are my kinsmen says Paul. That probably just means my fellow Jews but it might even mean my cousins who are part Jews, OK. Now notice what else is said in verse 7 which is pretty darn striking, not only are they my kinsmen they were in prison with me. Now how did they get into poking with Paul? They were his coworkers. They were doing mission work. They were doing public preaching and teaching. They were helping like Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila and others did. That’s how they got in jail, for being a public nuisance. They didn’t get in jail for weaving tents in somebody’s house; they didn’t get in jail for mailing Paul’s letters for him. They got in jail for being a public nuisance just as Paul did. Propagators of a superstition—Christianity. A)they were my kinsmen, B)they were in prison with me, C)they are notable, noteworthy, prominent amongst the apostles. Now the question then becomes what does Paul mean by apostles? Well if you study the way he uses the word elsewhere in his large corpus of letters, an apostle is A)somebody who has seen the risen Jesus like he did. You know when he’s really pressed, “Are you an apostle?” Look what he says in I Cor 9:1-2, he says, Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Am I not an apostle? Those two words come out of his mouth back to back why because the criteria for being an apostle according to Paul is among other things you had to have seen the risen Lord. You become an apostle when you’ve seen the risen Lord that’s the chief criteria and you have to have been called and commissioned by him. So now what do we know about Andronicus and Junia from Paul’s point of view? They saw the risen Lord. So how are we to make sense of the rest of this story? Here’s what happened. Chuza, divorced Joanna after she went walk about because he really kind of liked this standard to which he had grown accustomed up there in Tiberias and Galilee as the estate manager of Herod’s multiplying estates. Thereafter, she met some Christian man, probably in Jerusalem, who was of low social status but that didn’t matter in Christ, he was still a man in Christ and that was what he’s called, Andronicus—the man, the Christian man and they got married and after that were Paul’s coworkers. This is the story of a woman who went from being a follower of Jesus in Galilee to Jerusalem, last at the cross, first at the tomb, first to see the risen Jesus there for the Pentecost event, saw the risen Lord and became perhaps the first woman apostle with the male apostles. Now I don’t think there were a lots and dozens and dozens of women apostles but my point is there was no problem with that. It was something different in that culture, it was something different from Judaism but there wasn’t a problem. Paul says they are outstanding amongst the apostles, that is they served well and ethically and honorably. These structures were assumed by Paul to be in process of obsolescence and deconstruction since the Kingdom was coming. Since the Kingdom was coming, the way men and women should relate to each other was on the basis not of the past but of the coming of the Kingdom so that they would model the new man and woman in Christ. This is why Paul, himself, later in Gal 3:28, for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, no male and female; but all are one in Christ Jesus. This is the Magna Charta of human freedom, neither sexual nor social nor ethnic nor gender distinctions define who you are in Christ Jesus nor limit what you can do for God. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it’s a radical Gospel. It changes human lives.
Now I do want to take time and get going on the next context that we need to look at. I want to begin talking to you tonight and we will finish this in the morning about genre criticism. The third context that I want to talk to you about is the literary context. Let’s start just with the word, genre. It’s a French word; it means literary type or kind. When we ask the question what kind of literature is the Gospel there have been a variety of suggestions as to what they might be like. What kind of literature are they? The reason it’s important to know what kind of literature you’re reading is this gives you a avenue of knowing how to read it. It’s one thing for me to get up in the morning and read the cartoons in the paper. I know what kind of literature this is, I’m not going to read it as if it were either a factual news report or even it was an ??? piece on the editorial page. Because why? Because it’s a different kind of literature and it has its own literary conventions. So the first question to ask when we’re working through the New Testament, we’re going to ask this about all the New Testament is what are the Gospels, the New Testament begins with the Gospels. First of all, what are the Gospels? What are they like? What other kind of literature are they like? There’s even one more possibility that has been suggested by New Testament scholars and that is that they are kerugma or preaching. So modern biography, they are like modern historical monographs, or they are like novels, are they like myths, are they like legends. Are they like preaching the kerugma? Or are they like something else. Well let’s start with modern biographies. What are modern biographies like? Modern biographies are, generally speaking, womb to tomb descriptions of somebody’s life. We’re going to tell the story of Winston Churchill from womb to tomb, right? And then access his impact—that’s a modern biography. Or you know, a famous president, John F. Kennedy any number of biographies written. What happens in a modern biography is they tend to be long, if somebody has lived a long time, and exhausting and exhausting and you never get through it all. Modern biographies are very much affected by modern psychology. Who were the two great exponents of modern psychology? Jung and Freud. So the basic assumption of a modern biographer is that, yes or no, early childhood experiences are crucial to understanding a person, especially traumatic early childhood experiences. Well look at the movie Citizen Paine which begins with the word rosebud. If you haven’t seen this movie sell the dog and watch the movie. It is a quintessential American movie which talks about how you’re life is shaped by your early childhood experiences, that’s really the essence of it, Citizen Paine, Orson Wells. It’s a famous, famous movie. Modern biographers assume that they need to tell the story of a person’s birth and his childhood and his upbringing and who was his third grade teacher and what happened when he got his first kiss, etc. etc. Are you with me now? Because they assume that the infancy and the youth periods are crucial to the formation of the character of this person, right. Here’s where I tell you that ancient people didn’t believe that. Ancient people believed that you were born with a personality and then you were stuck with it. They did not believe in a developmental model of personality. They didn’t think that early childhood experiences were particularly important. When an ancient person wrote a biography most of the time he didn’t feel like he had to start with the childhood at all, he would start with the full adult life. Consider the Gospel of Mark. Mark starts when Jesus is how old? He’s an adult. Would this rule out Mark from being a ancient biography? No. Would it rule out Mark from being a modern biography? Sure. But you see the conventions of ancient biographies are not like the conventions of the modern biographies at all. In a lot of different ways. Well here’s something else about modern biographies. Modern biographies involve a lot of psychoanalyzing of the person, by which I mean, a person is psychoanalyzed in the biography. He did this because this who happened when he was this age and etc. There’s a lot of that in modern biographies, even the most objective ones. You may have noticed that the Gospels don’t do a lot of editorializing. The Gospels basically just let Jesus’ words and deeds speak for themselves without a lot of editorial comment. There are a few asides; a few guiding comments here and there but not much. But again that’s not how ancient biographies were written. Ancient biographies believe in a model of indirect portraiture. Let the words and deeds of the person speak for themselves. You don’t need to psychoanalyze this person. That will reveal the character and the personality of the person, the adult words and deeds of the person.
Now we have two Gospels that have birth narratives. We have exactly one Gospel that has a story about Jesus as a boy, Luke 2:41-52. Remember that one? The wonder kid in the Temple, wowing the Jewish teachers, remember that one? Age 12, Jesus’ bar mitzvah, that story, a very interesting story indeed but it’s the only one we have in all four Gospels about Jesus as a youth. Basically even Matthew and Luke skip right from the infancy of Jesus to what? To his adult life and not just the beginning of his adult life, I mean this is Jesus when he’s about 27. We skip over all the pimply part. Nothing about Jesus as a teenager at all in any of the canonical Gospels. Zip, zero, nada. You know why? Because ancient people did not idolize youth they idolized oldth and the older I get the better I like that. The most revered person in the society that Jesus grew up withwas the man with the horey head, the senior citizen was the most revered member of society because he was believed to have the most experience and knowledge. We worship the Pepsi generation. We idolize and infinity of youth. So we watch and listen to college football games and basketball games and go, “Wow, if I could only jump like that again.” I used to play basketball, I went to Carolina, I used to be able to dunk the basketball. Guess what—when I get on the basketball court now all I feel is a heavy bit of gravity. My mind writes checks my body can’t cash anymore. My mind says go ahead make your day. My body says you are so not doing that. You see the thing is that our culture is fixated on youth and looking young. It’s embarrassing to have gray hair. It’s embarrassing to look old. This was considered an achievement in the world of Jesus. Being old is an accomplishment in a world where most people die before old age. Before modern medicine. You get the picture? It’s a very different world. So no stories about Jesus as the pimply teenager. None. It wasn’t necessary. Here’s something else ancient people believed. They believed that gender, we’re going to hit the 3 g’s here, gender, geography and generation determined your identity at birth. Ancient people believed that gender, geography and generation determined your identity at birth. It was a man’s, man’s, man’s world as that great philosopher James Brown once said. Have you notice the people in the New Testament don’t have last names? I’m trusting that you know that Magdalene was not Mary’s last name. I’m trusting that you know that Christ was not Jesus’ last name. Are you getting the picture? You see cities had honor ratings. Tarsus one of the highest honor ratings of any city in the ancient world. Saul of Tarsus, high honorating, why because he came from Tarsus. Jesus of Nazareth not so much, like Jesus of Chittlin Switch, Ohio. Remember what one of the first potential disciples said when said somebody said to him come meet Jesus of Nazareth, he could be the Messiah. The first words out of that man’s mouth was, can anything good come out of Chittlin Switch, Nazareth doesn’t have an honor rating, it’s off the chart on a rating. If he came from Nazareth he can’t be much. Cities in antiquity had honor rating. Your identity determined by geography, gender and generation. That is, where you came from, what sex you were and who’s your daddy. Not who’s your mommy, who’s your daddy. Big problem if you don’t have a daddy. Big problem in the patriarch culture if you don’t have a daddy. Jesus goes to preach in his hometown synagogue according to Mark 6 and the people in the pews are right royally ticked off. And one of them says, “Is this not the son of Mary”? Now let me tell you with no offense to all the nice ladies that is here present, calling somebody a son of their mother even long after the father is dead was like calling them SO…you know what. It was pejorative, it was not flattering. They suspected something was wrong about Jesus’ origin and if your personality is determined by geography, gender and generation, who’s your daddy, and you don’t have a proper daddy, how could this person possibly be a prophet or Messiah? It’s not possible, he ain’t got a daddy. You see what I’m getting at here. That’s the way this culture worked. Here’s another little fast fact that makes a big difference in that culture. Not only did they believe that how you were born and where you were born and what gender you were born with determined your identity they believed that how you died most revealed your character.
What’s the problem with Jesus’ demise in an honor and shame culture when you die the most hideous and shameful way possible to die, a slave’s death. Now we begin to understand why all four Gospels spent a third of their verbiage on explaining the last week of Jesus’ life and how he got himself crucified and yet still was the Savior of the world. That took a lot of explaining because people believed, in that culture, how you died most revealed your character. If you died on a cross and you’re a Jew who has read Deu what does Deu say about that? Cursed be he who dies upon a tree, he’s cursed by God, he’s not blessed by God. He can’t be the blessed one of God, the anointed one of God the proof of that the thing that scotched that rumor was the death on the cross. Look at the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel. What had changed their minds? Death on a cross. Let me tell you right now if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead there’s no explanation for why Christianity should have ever started. Because that death should have the end to the Jesus movement. A public death, the most shameful death of all. Personality believed to be determined by gender, geography and generation, death most reveals the character. Now we’re beginning to see the real factors and the culture that shaped why the Gospels look like they do. Have you noticed that there is no physical description of Jesus in the Gospels? What’s up with that dog? There’s no physical description of Jesus and yet all of us know what he looks like. We’ve got his picture hanging in the church. He’s been hanging in all kinds of galleries for a long time; we all know pretty well what he looks like. We’d recognize him in a minute, except we wouldn’t. The only story that might give us a hint is the story of Zacchaeus, here’s that the Greek says, and Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed up into a tree to see Jesus for he was short. Wait a minute, what is the antecedent of the phrase he was short. Could it have been Jesus or was it Zacchaeus? If it was Jesus we have to change our Sunday School song, Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…well in fact I think the Greek favors the translation that it is Zacchaeus who was short therefore being vertically challenged he climbed up in the tree to see Jesus. So in fact we have no long physical description of Jesus in the New Testament. You see that culture was not all caught up with image is everything. That’s our culture—appearance is everything in our culture. What happens when the reality is radically disjunctive from the appearance? Take for example Tiger Woods, sports star, model for children, and founder of a foundation right? What happens when you discover that supposedly this family man who has two children is running around with 3, 4, 5, or 6 other women? All during the period of time when he supposedly a faithful family man. Does that matter? You see when the culture loses its sense of shame it loses its sense of honor. Oh that’s too bad, it was a boo boo. No it was a sin, it was a big sin it’s called adultery. You see antiquity did not judge people on the basis of their PR, their constructive public image. They believed in judging people on the content of their character, not how they appeared in public. And the physical appearance was the least important thing. There could never have been a cosmetic surgeon in the first century AD. Ancient peoples were not hung up with their physical appearance and you can really tell that from some of the statues that some of the Romans who were really ugly and had no teeth and etc. No the Gospels are not like modern biographies. What about modern historical monographs? Well modern historical monographs are chronicles of important deeds that’s what they are. And they are very much concerned with precise chronology and getting the order of events exactly the same, exactly right. Ancient historical monographs were not that concerned with precision, nobody was running around with a sun dial on their wrist saying, you know, it’s 14 grains past mid-day just now, it’s we who are concerned with precise chronology, not ancient historians. One of my favorite words, Greek words in the Gospel of Mark, our earliest Gospel is this word euthus, it means immediately. Well, it’s translated immediately. This word shows up 45 times in the first half of the Gospel of Mark. It’s intending to give paste to the narrative, immediately Jesus got in the boat and went to the other side of lake, immediately he got out of the boat and went up the hill and met the Gerasenes demoniac, immediately he cast out demons from the Gerasenes demoniac and immediately they went into the pigs and ran into the water and immediately Jesus got back in the boat and left and went across the lake again, immediately he went up into the hills to pray, immediately begin praying, immediately the disciples came to him and said we need to go away to another place because there are all these people that want more healing and immediately he left and went to Nazareth. This story keeps going like this and you have this image in the Greek of Jesus panting with his tongue hanging out running all over Galilee. Only you see immediately doesn’t mean immediately, it means something like next or a word my grandfather used all the time, good southern gentleman that he was, directly. I’d say, “Granddaddy when are we going to the store” and he’d say, “Directly.” That usually meant after while, it didn’t mean directly it meant after awhile. And immediately didn’t mean immediately either in the first century it meant well that’s the next major thing on the agenda. That’s what’s happening next that’s big, right? Even when they used time words they didn’t use them the way we use them. Let’s take another good example. Have you noticed that in some of the passion narratives it says and Jesus arose on the third day. And there are other narratives that say he will arise after 3 days. Oh no, we’ve got a chronological contradiction here. Oh dear, there goes the Word of God. Well, no, you don’t because the phrase after 3 days was a common idiom in the Old Testament and in early Judaism that meant after awhile. It meant after several days, it was not a chronological precise phrase at all. If you wanted to be chronologically more precise you would say on the third day. If you said after 3 days people would say well that means after awhile. That could be 2 days, 3 days or 10 days. It’s not a precise chronological phrase at all.
Now here’s what’s happening when you try to read a modern way of reading history into an ancient historical document. There’s a famous book written by Harold Lindsell in the 70’s called the Battle for the Bible, any of you old enough to remember this book? Well, it just means you and I are both old as dirt, that’s what that means. Well, Harold Lindsell was not an ancient historian at all. He didn’t know how ancient historians wrote, he was a modern historian and he got his knickers all in a knot over the fact that there were these cock crows and there were these denials and the relationship between the denials and the cock crows didn’t seem to be identical between Mat, Mar and Luk. Are you with me now? So how many times did the cock crow after Peter denied the first time. How many times did the cock crow after Peter denied the second time, you see here’s the problem Harold Lindsell thought well I’ve got to reconcile all these accounts. So you know what he came up with? He came up with something that none of our Gospels say, he came up with Peter denied Christ 6 times. Now Mat doesn’t say that, Mar doesn’t say that and Luk doesn’t say that and John doesn’t say that. Something is wrong with this picture. And what is wrong is imposing a modern concern with precise chronology on an ancient text that is trying to give you a general picture. Yes, Peter denied Christ 3 times and yes the cock crowed and beyond that they weren’t very much concerned. That was it. So one of the things you have to do, with ancient historical documents, is when they want to be general you gotta let them be general. When they want to be specific they’ll be specific but rarely that specific. When it comes to chronology they’re usually pretty general really. That’s the way it works. The Gospels are they like modern biographies? Not so much. One thing they are way too short and they leave out too much of the life. Are they like modern historical monographs? Well no they’re not because they don’t have precision of chronology like modern historical monographs do and they don’t intend to. Are they like novels? There are actually scholars who argue these days that the Gospels are more like novels, they are some kind of historical fiction so there’s little sprinklings of history in there and you have to ferret out in the history from the non history but largely these are more like novels. The problem with that friend is that if you read these stories as novels they don’t read anything like ancient novels. Ancient novels were romances, were tales of great daring-do of military heroes, OK? What happened in Jesus’ life is not the story that anyone would tell if they wanted to glorify Jesus. You don’t tell a story about someone who ended up on a Roman cross and say, “And he’s my hero”. That’s not how an ancient novel worked. That’s like going to the movies today to a great romantic thriller and expecting the consummation being a wedding and discovering they murder each other at the end. You know that’s a real buzz kill. That’s not a romance. Well the thing about the Gospels is they have too many sharp troubling elements to be like ancient novels which tried to affirm general values and create a feel good mood. This is not the way the Gospels are written. I mean at times Jesus bites people’s head off, right? The young man comes to Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”? And he says, “Why do you call me good”, nobody’s good but God alone”. Whoa, Jesus, dude back off. That’s harsh. Rich young ruler comes to Jesus and Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God; this is not a favorite verse of prosperity preachers. A lot of Jesus’ teaching is offensive even today. One of things I would urge you never to do is don’t whittle off the hard edges of the Gospel. The parts of the Gospel that most disturb you will tell you more about you than maybe you even want to know. Let those stories disturb you and then ask yourself why does this upset me? What is it about me, don’t ask what is it about this text, ask what it is about me. No, the Gospels were not like ancient novels and they’re certainly not like modern novels either. Some people have said well the Gospels are like myths; have the read the Greco Roman myths? The Greek word mythos simply means a story about the Gods, OK, was Jesus God? OK, so in a very broad sense if you were witnessing to a pagan you could say let me tell you a story about a deity, his name is Jesus. See the problem for us is the word myth means in little Johnny’s vocabulary something that we know ain’t so. This is not what mythos meant in Greek, it meant a story about a deity. It could be a true store about a deity, it could be a fictional story about a deity, but the word myth itself did not mean fiction in antiquity it simply meant a story about a god. Well in a very general sense I guess you could say that the Gospels could be myths not in the sense of fiction but in the sense of being a story about a supernatural person. But that’s not how they present themselves. They don’t read like Greco Roman myths. Now here’s the beginning of a Gospel, inasmuch as many have undertaken to give an account of the things that have happened amongst us, oh noble Theopolis, I too, having observed things for a long time, and having consulted the eye witnesses and the original preachers of the word have resolved to provide for you an account in good order so that you might note the straight story about the things that have happened amongst us. This is Luk 1:1-4. Now he’s presenting himself as not presenting a myth or a novel but a historical account about something. He’s presenting himself as an ancient historian in Luk 1:1-4. Not this, not this, not this, not this, what about a legend? A legend is a story about a real person but it’s written up long after that person has come and gone. A good example of this would be Homer’s Odyssey and Idyllic. The Idyllic is the story of the Trojan War, are you with me now? Was there a Trojan War? Yes there was. Were there Greek heroes and Persian heroes and etc in the Trojan War? Yes there were. But the story was written hundreds of years later, are you with me now? How long after the death of Jesus were the Gospels written? Within the same century but let’s just speak very broadly now. I would say within a generation or two at the most. So were some of the eye witnesses still alive when the Gospels were written? Yes, so could these things be called legends by ancient standards? No because the gestation period is not long enough. There would be people who would raise their hand and clear their throat and say now you can’t put that in the story because that ain’t true. And that’s actually the way it was. So if we have eliminated all of these what’s left when it comes to the genre of the Gospel? Well the answer is they are like ancient biographies and ancient historical monographs. That’s what they are like and they are not actually examples of the preaching. They are the basis of the preaching, they are the back story to the preaching. Now if you read the Book of Acts preaching doesn’t look like telling a whole Gospel. Preaching looks like what? One of two things, either you take an episode from the life of Jesus and preach on it or you summarize the birth, the death and the resurrection and talk about the salvific significance of the overarching life of Jesus.
If you read the Book of Acts closely you will discover that none of the preaching sermons in Acts start retelling a parable of Jesus or start retelling a miracle story of Jesus. They don’t do that. They summarize the story, the life of Jesus and its salvific significance because they want to get to the chase of converting people. And while I’m on that subject most ancient people did not believe in conversion as even a human possibility at all. They didn’t think it was a divine possibility even most Jews didn’t believe in this. Remember Nic at night? One of my favorite stories we will look at it later. Jesus and Nicodemus, remember that? What does Jesus say? Jesus says you must be born again and Nicodemus says what are you saying to me Jesus? Are you telling me I should crawl back into my mother’s womb and call for womb service? I’m thinking not. They didn’t believe in being born again. They didn’t think it was a human possibility. They even misunderstood the language. Conversion was simply changing your religious allegiance, it wasn’t a spiritual experience. Not in antiquity. Generally not. I don’t think many modern people really, genuinely believe in conversion. We have cliché like this, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. We ask rhetorical questions like can a leper change it’s spots? And what’s the assumed response? No. I don’t think we believe in conversion any more than ancient peoples do in some context, especially secular persons don’t. In that regard this world is like that one. Now what we have in the Gospels is the back story, the basis story, the foundational historical and biographical story about Jesus and when we get up in the morning, after our cornflakes, we’re going to talk about the what the Gospels really are and how they work in their original context.