Luke the Priest?

Sometimes you might hear or read something like this, “Paul wrote more of the New Testament than anyone.” This is usually said because Paul wrote more “books” of the NT with 13. By that method of counting it is true. But when we talk about the number of words, or the length of writing, Paul is actually in second place to another.

Luke actually wrote more of the New Testament than anyone. His two volumes, Luke and Acts, make up 27% of the words in the Greek New Testament while Paul accounts for 23%. Luke wrote 37,933 words but Paul wrote 32,407 (give or take a few because of textual variants).

Luke’s Gospel is also the longest Gospel while Matthew is the second longest. So between Luke and Paul we have exactly 50% of the New Testament.

Paul was a charismatic rabbi. Paul was a Pharisee in fact (Phil 3.5; Acts 23.6; 26.4). I think when Martin Luther, F. C. Baur, and J. W. McGarvey meet Paul in the new heavens and new earth they may die of a heart attack when this man in a prayer shawl, phylacteries and tassels comes up and introduces himself as Saul of Tarsus.

Luke. Well who was Luke? Luke is mentioned by name three times in the NT, Colossians 4.14; 2 Timothy 4.11; and Philemon 1.24. Colossians 4.14 notes that he was a physician. Some think he is the “yokefellow” in Philippians 4.2.

One of the mantras I grew up on was that Luke was a Gentile. Interestingly enough, the New Testament never says this. For Protestant scholars of the late 18th thru the mid-20th century the Gentile ethnicity of Luke was simply taken for granted. Scholarship of the day, however, anathematized anything “Jewish.” And it seems to be par for the course in much Restoration/Evangelical preaching. The only possible way, the assumption goes, that Luke could have such an interest in the “Gentile” mission, so the argument goes, was that he himself was Gentile. The Gentile Mission and defending Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles was, in this view, clearly what Acts was about. Such an assumption directly colors how we interpret the “conversion” of Saul (he clearly stopped being a Jew and became a “Christian” we assume. But Saul did not convert, i.e. change religions and he never once describes himself, or anyone, else a “Christian.”). Such a view views Paul’s sacrifice as an anomaly, a capitulation to legalistic Jews rather than part of Paul’s normal routine when in Jerusalem. But what if Saul was called, like Isaiah or Jeremiah or the prophets, to be a herald to the nations – an extension of Israel’s own historical mission – to announce the arrival of the King.

The assumption of Luke’s Gentile DNA often colors (distorts?) the reading of the narrative of the Gospel and Acts. Indeed, it often obscures what is actually there. What is the nature of that Gentile mission, for example? Is it an extension of vision of the vision of the prophets and psalms where Gentiles flow to Mt. Zion when Israel has been restored or is it merely an explanation of God replacing Jews with Gentiles as the covenant people? What if the “Gentile mission” is the announcement to tell the Gentiles that the King has come. And now they are the inheritance of the Son of David, the Davidic Messiah (as in Psalm 2 and many other texts)? They are not replacing Israel but being grafted into Israel.

Most of those assumptions have fallen apart however. Many scholars always thought Luke was in fact Jewish and they based this on the text of Luke and Acts together. Joseph Fitzmeyer takes the interesting position that yes Luke was a Gentile but also Semitic!

The trend among scholarship, is rather that Luke was Jewish. Luke-Acts is not written to simply to defend Paul at his trial in Rome. Rather Luke’s emphasis from beginning to end is the renewal of Israel in accordance with the promises of God. Paul’s mission is not anti-Jewish at all but straight out of the Jewish Scriptures. Jacob Jervell argues in numerous books and articles that Luke, like Paul, was a diaspora Jew. Greg Sterling, now dean of the Yale Divinity School, and great NT scholar seems to think the question is settled. Luke was a Jew.

Many New Testament scholars now view Luke and Acts as some of the most Jewish writings in the New Testament. This is surprising, even stunning, to many. But the “Jewishness” the Gospel of Luke and Acts is on display from the opening of the Gospel to the end of Acts. Among Protestant scholars in Germany among the chief reasons for discounting Acts as a historical source was the reality, vividly displayed in the narrative, is Paul is a devout, even law keeping, Jew. Thus Luke was a pious fiction written rather late to heal the rift between factions in the early church. Luke was “conservative!” It is only with the coming of the “New Perspective on Paul” that has suggested that the epistles of Paul may not be Protestant after all (or Lutheran!). So the distance between the epistles and the “Lukan Paul” is not nearly so great (in fact I think they are the same).

Conservatives just ignored a good bit of the text in Luke-Acts. The assumptions we read the text through filter out a good deal of this because we are unfamiliar with the Jewish scriptures, Jewish liturgy in the temple, and Second Temple Judaism in general. If you are interested in these Jewish themes that are right on the surface of Luke-Acts, here are a few articles to help.

Aroma of Incense: Shadow of the Temple in Luke’s Jewish Story of Jesus and the Way

Acts: A Jewish Story, James & Paul’s Animal Sacrifice

Acts 2: Shavuot/Pentecost, The Day God Renewed His Covenant

Acts 1: Luke’s “Old Testament” Connection with Isaiah, Joel and Tobit

In 2008, Rick Stelan, an Australian NT scholar, wrote a comprehensive study called, Luke the Priest: The Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel. After surveying the history of positions and the arguments used to support them, he finds the arguments are persuasive that Luke was a Jew.

Stelan goes further. Taking Jervell’s arguments even further and dealing with the social and political situation of the emerging Jesus Movement (the term Christianity did not exist yet and does not show up until the second century), he argues that Luke not only was a Jew, but a priest (Acts does indicate that a “large company of priests” believed in the Messiah, Acts 6.7). One cannot be dogmatic but the cumulative nature of the evidence certainly is thought provoking.

So who was Luke, the man who wrote more of the NT than any other individual? He was a Jew whose paths crossed with Paul in Asia. He may have been a believer already, Paul never refers to him as his son in the faith (as with Timothy, who was also Jewish). He probably was a priest who earned money as a physician. He traveled with Paul. He interviewed many, read other works and researched the history of the Way (Luke 1.1-4). He was a master of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Greek translation called the Septuagint. His Greek is very good Greek, some of the best in the NT but it is still distinctly “Semitic” Greek.

There you have it, who was Luke the man who wrote a chunk of the NT. He almost certainly was not a Gentile. He was a Jew and … if I was a betting man … he was a priest. All of the New Testament was written by Jews. A Pharisee and a likely priest wrote exactly half of it.

What happens to Luke-Acts when we read it as the product of a Jewish scripture scholar telling the story of how God has renewed God’s people?

Just something to make you (and me) go hmmmmmmmm.


What Does “the End” Mean?

I begin with a quote from Karl Barth in a sermon he gave on Psalm 119.67, “Now I Keep Your Word,” as he was leaving Nazi Germany because of his opposition to Hitler.

“And now THE END has come … So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! … Keep to the Word, to the Scripture that has been given to us.” (my emphasis)

Exegesis tests all. But exegesis is what so few seem to want to actually do. And if exegesis reveals weakness in some previous belief many will choose their previous belief over what we now know the text to say. Exegesis will rewrite our assumptions.

Look at some attitudes toward the Old Testament, as Melito of Sardis taught us to refer to the Hebrew Bible. It is stunning, to me, some preachers talk about the Hebrew Bible. I recently posted something about the “Old Testament” and was chastised for “going to the shadows,” “Christ delivered us from the that which is against us,” “that has no authority for us,” “are you a Jew,” “Christ is the end of the law.”

All of those statements are direct quotes. Much of the rhetoric sounds like it is coming from non-believers. And sometimes they even use a “biblical” phrase but in ways the NT writer simply does not (this is true on the “shadows” rhetoric from Hebrews and “Christ is the end of the law” from Romans). It is amazing how some respond to any positive exposition of the Hebrew Bible. I simply do not get it. But their distortion of the Hebrew Bible has resulted in their distortion of the New Testament writings themselves which have been divorced from their Scriptural context.

So my critic quoted “Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4)” and then added this commentary “the Old Testament can only be understood in terms of the New Testament.”

While I believe that Jesus is the pinnacle of God’s revelation to us, the Gospels themselves and the rest of the New Testament dares to say that it is Jesus and the Gospel that must be understood in terms of the Old Testament not the other way around. In fact they claim the Faith once delivered cannot be understood apart from the Hebrew Bible.

For I delivered unto you that which is first importance:
that Messiah died for our sins,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day

(1 Cor 15.3-4)

for the gospel of God, which he promised before hand
through his prophets IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES,
the gospel concerning his Son,
who was descended from David

(Romans 1.2-3).

Matthew, the Gospel that opens the “New Testament” opens with a “book of genesis” that looks an awful lot like the material in the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles. Its almost like a Third Chronicles in fact. Jesus simply cannot be separated from the genealogy of Israel. According to Matthew and Paul, “the Gospel” is according to the “Old Testament” not the Old Testament according to the New.

To be “in accordance with” does not mean simply, or even primarily, that Jesus was predicted. Rather the message of the Gospel is in “harmony” and “in line with” and “conforms” with the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets something that Paul makes abundantly clear as he goes thru Romans itself.

So while some people are bothered (for some unknown reason) that we might go study the Hebrew Bible, the apostles say you cannot preach the Gospel unless it is “according to the Scriptures” because the Gospel is about an Israelite King.

This brings us to our “proof text” in Romans 10.4. Barth told us “exegesis” and more “exegesis.” My critic quotes a translation that reads, “Christ is the END of the law.” In his interpretation “end” means “do away with” or “termination,” “get rid of.” But this is an assumption.

The word “end” can mean the following according to the dictionary and thesaurus: intention, intent, purpose, design, aim, object, goal, culmination. Now stick any of these synonyms in Romans 10.4 and see what happens to the unproved assumption?

“Christ is the purpose of the law”
“Christ is the design of the law”
“Christ is the object of the law”
“Christ is the goal of the law”
“Christ is the CULMINATION of the law”

Each of those sound radically different than Jesus terminated, did away with, got rid of the law.

The last possibility is the translation of the TNIV/NIV in fact. Christ is the “end” of the law in the sense that he its object, goal and culmination. The Messiah is the culmination not its repudiation.

The message of the Messiah/Christ is “according to the Scriptures,” he did not come to get rid of the Scriptures.

We do not have to apologize when we study or preach the Hebrew Bible. In fact we should be apologetic that we do not have the same view of them that Jesus did, that Peter did, that Paul did, that John did, and that the Holy Spirit does.

Christ is the goal of the law” (Romans 10.4, CEB; See also the Kingdom New Testament)

Great is the Truth, and mighty above all things, and will prevail” (1 Esdras 4.35, KJV. From the masthead of the 1858 Millennial Harbinger)

In March 1858 an elderly Alexander Campbell was on the steamboat Tempest in the Cumberland River. He occupied his time by reading articles and writing.

Campbell read an article clipped out for him from the Western Recorder, a Baptist publication out of Louisville. The Recorder, apparently, had a new editor who was determined to make the paper “intensely Baptistic” as Campbell quotes the editor, “let the lines be strictly drawn.”

Campbell complimented the editor for being upfront about his sectarian loyalties. He was wrong but he was honest, many are not honest about their sectarian loyalty. At this point Campbell does not criticize any point of doctrine but the perspective of approaching a subject. The editor was more concerned about party loyalty than what the actual truth may be. Truth may not be our position. Campbell then quotes from a contributor to the Recorder who noted that it was important to have equal space for opposing ideas because that is how “impartial men” discover truth rather than “our position.” Campbell praises this idea. He then testifies,

We SYMPATHIZE with the latter, while we ANTIPATHIZE against the former. We have, on sundry occasions, gone even farther than this, in giving equal space to those opposing our main positions with that occupied by ourself, in defending them. We prefer to be generous rather than merely just to our opponents.” A lover of truth has no loyalty to a party or “our position.

A lover of truth has no fear from free examination of the evidence. We cannot simply assume that “our position” is identical with “the truth.” A lover of truth does not decide ahead of time that you are wrong and we are right. And a lover of truth does not demand homage to “our” position as the basis of recognizing one’s Christianity nor as the basis of Christian fellowship. A lover of truth seeks the truth as “our position” regardless of who said it and what it is. This strikes fear into the sectarian.

Every man who propounds any Basis of church union, communion and co-operation, other than that ‘Jesus is the Christ the Son of God,’ is a HERETIC, — a full developed heretic–or a SECTARY, according to Paul.”

Campbell then notes that many Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Papists etc are “heretics” in the Pauline sense of the term.

It is true that he who lays down any other foundation [for Christian faith/unity] is the heretic, the schismatic … It is a fearful thing to lay a human, a false basis for the church of Jesus the Christ.”Campbell, reflecting on the article, notes that most “heretics” make some form of agreement on church government the basis of fellowship with themselves. “Most modern sects make church POLITY and POLITICS their basis.”

Church polity, including Campbell’s own “ancient order,” is not and never can be the basis of unity except as insisted upon by “heretics.”

A lover of truth, a seeker of truth, may have his or her understanding on the biblical data on all of these matters. But it is the love of party that makes our understanding of those positions the basis of recognizing the Christianity of others and the basis of fellowship with them. Campbell certainly had “positions” (i.e. understandings/opinions) on these matters.

Campbell notes that the first and original designation for Christ’s followers was not Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, not even “Christian.” The original and most basic designation was, and is, disciple. Jesus was the “Great Teacher.” He is the master, the teacher. We are the learners who shall never cease to learn from the Great Teacher. Disciples, learners, do not evaluate other students standing with the Teacher based on their position (i.e. understanding) of the Teacher. Our task as disciples is to learn.

Campbell closes by taking us to John 17 and the prayer for us as disciples to be “one.” We are already “one.” God’s fractured people are already one. The problem is many disciples have become heretics by insisting that other students embrace “our position,” before we can recognize them.

What a timely article penned by Campbell. Lovers of Truth, as opposed to Heretics/Lovers of Party, have no fear from study, from learning, from growing, from admitting the other may right and “we” (I) may be wrong. Lovers of Truth have no fear from letting other people see the evidence from the person who holds the position themselves.

Campbell put his pen down and found a post office at the next town to mail his brief article back to Bethany, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Lovers of Truth recognize the ultimate truth, it is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, that holds us together not sectarian loyalties. Have we become “heretics?” I believe it is a message that so many within the Stone Campbell Movement desperately need to hear today.

For more see Alexander Campbell, “The LOVE of PARTY versus THE LOVE OF TRUTH,” Millennial Harbinger, May 1858, pp. 260-262.

Articles of Related Interest on this Blog See

A Taxonomy of Sectarianism …

Church of Christ, Sectarianism & Romans 16.16

1835: Tares Among the Wheat, Roots of Sectarianism in Churches of Christ

Many years ago, I was preaching for a congregation. A 16 year old girl in our youth group became pregnant. An elder visited me and told me I had preach on the evils of premarital sex. “We cannot let them think this is OK.” I was much younger then but I recall suggesting to him that instead we throw her a baby shower. He demurred. I recall saying, “Don’t you think she is probably scared right now? That she feels everyone has already condemned her and are whispering all manner of unChristian things. We have a golden moment as a church to do what Jesus would do.” I recall asking him to pray through John 4 and John 8. We did throw her a baby shower.

Several years later a former widower elder sat in my office. As we talked he confessed he was sexually active with a woman he was seeing. He had been desperately lonely. He wanted to know what I thought about it. I began by saying that I love him. God loves him. And then I asked, why is it OK for you but not a 16 year old girl. (They make viagra for old men not teenagers!)

This experience highlights the huge double standard we often have in the church, especially when it comes to sex. One for men and one for women. I’ve seen it and so have you. Boys will be boys but girls become sluts in the eyes of many. She is stigmatized but he is given a pass. She is often excluded from the youth group, not allowed to teach, regarded as a bad example. How different it is for him.

The saddest part of this is that frequently those who are not Christian are far more gracious than church members on these very issues.

Some of these men even become leaders in local churches. Ministers, youth workers, counselors on staff that prey on women, children and even sometimes on men. It is often, sadly, that the men are protected and the women are the Jezebel’s and evil one’s. On these matters see my review of Scott McKnight and Laura Barringer’s important book, A Church called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture.

A trail of broken lives is what remains. Young girls shamed and taught to see themselves as damaged or tarnished or just “less than.” These women are often left behind without a second thought. But a former elder can engage in sexual intimacy and it never occurs to him he may be even more culpable than that 16 year old. (My story, though real, is illustrative of many numerous kinds of scenarios Christian women find themselves in.).

These women, not only these ones but many, are simply seen as inferior. They are not permitted to use their gifts. They are not believed (frequently) when they share a story (like the one above). Widows are overlooked. The depressed, the anxious and others are afraid to share their struggles. Those of different ethnicities often feel out of step or overlooked, especially women.

But it is not so in the Bible nor in the Kingdom.

God did not blame Bathsheba. Bathsheba is not the culprit. She is not shamed for taking a bath or because she wore the wrong clothes. God sent Nathan to rebuke David, not Bathsheba. God punished David, not Bathsheba.

God, in fact, honored Bathsheba. David tried to make her life hell but God did not abandon her. She is not some minor footnote in the Hebrew Bible. Anytime we tell the story of Jesus faithfully we must talk about Bathsheba’s (Mt. 1.6) pain and misery and how God took it into himself in the person of Christ. Jesus is as much the “Son of shamed Bathsheba” as he is the Son of David.

More remarkable still, God did not rebuke Tamar! In one of the most salacious episodes in the Bible, Genesis 38, Judah is in the wrong. Not Tamar. And Tamar too is honored by God in every faithful telling of the story of Jesus (Mt. 1.3). Indeed Jesus is the son of scandalous women that would be shunned and written off in my churches: Tamar (Mt.1.3), Rahab (Mt. 1.5), Ruth (Mt. 1.5), and Bathsheba, “Uriah’s wife” (Mt. 1.6). God reversed the verdict of so many men on these women.

The great heroes of the Bible are not white men. They are brown women and brown men. Not one person in the Bible is a white man (the only possible exception is Cornelius). They are Hagar, Leah, Rachael, Rebekah, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Abigail, Huldah, Anna, Mary the mother of Jesus (a single pregnant out of wedlock teenager!), Mary Magdalen, the Woman at the Well, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, the daughters of Philip and many more. And don’t overlook the “unnamed” women heroes like Lady Wisdom and the Song of Songs woman. If we read the Greek Bible of the early church we would add Susanna and Judith.

The problem is not just a matter of recognizing women can or cannot pass communion. The story I began with highlights the actual issue: how do we view women themselves. Do we believe that women themselves, that is a woman in her “womanness,” is every bit the Icon (image) of God as a man. How you and I treat any woman (every woman is represented in the individual woman standing before me) reveals more about our theology of women as image bearers than anything we claim.

Jesus ran into men who did not think so. In the passages I asked my elder to read (John 4 and John 8 ) the woman is the victim but the men are no where to be found. Jesus does not shame the woman at the well for divorces or even for living with a man. It is not there! The men had all the power, she had none. It is this woman who became the first Gospel preacher in history (4.39-42, this woman “testifies” or is a “witness,” the same Greek as for the apostles in Acts 1.8 ).

In John 8, they drag a woman “caught in the very act.” Where was the man!? The woman was not regarded as the image of Yahweh himself though by those men. She was an object. To be used, abused, to be tossed aside … to be a matter of religious dispute! There was not an ounce of respect for her coming from those who wanted to enforce the Bible. The Bible was for her, not for them!

Just as God did not rebuke Bathsheba, Jesus does not this woman. Jesus does not shame this woman. He recognizes her humanity. Jesus treated her like the Image of God that she was. Her “sex outside of marriage” was not a greater crime than the arrogant self-righteousness of that “moral majority.” The mere fact that she is on trial and the male was no where to be found highlights their abuse. I know some one will loudly proclaim, “Jesus told her to go and sin no more.” True. True. But first he said to that terrified woman, “I do not condemn you” (John 8.11, TEV). He did not even tell her to “repent.” His words to her were no rebuke they were gracious life. I am in awe of how Jesus lovingly cared for this woman in John 8.

We have a long way to go church. We have elevated sexual impropriety (especially by women and homosexuality) as the Sin of all Sin. Even while we give a pass to ourselves, like the religious men of John 8.

Proverbs declares there are seven things the Lord detests (6.6-19). It is interesting that these items are often found in most conservative churches. What is not listed is what we have made the Sin of Sins.

There are six thing that the LORD hates,
seven that are an ABOMINATION
[to’ebah] to him:
haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are quick to rush to evil,
a lying witness who lies,
and one who sows dissension among the family.

(Proverbs 6.16-19)

See how Proverbs 6 shed’s light on Ezekiel’s description of Sodom’s “sin” in Abomination: Christian Hypocrisy, Homosexuality & Compassion.

I can already hear people claiming, “he is justifying immorality.” Some people will never have ears to hear though.

I dream of a church that is genuinely a grace culture. Grace for me, a divorced single dad. Grace for women. Grace for my daughters. Not just those who have had sex (for every woman that did “it” there was a dude there too!). But simply a place that genuinely believes that women are the Icons of God.

A church culture of grace that values all women, as women, and does not abuse them. A culture in which women are safe. Mothers, wives, daughters, single women, older women, black women, white women, all women.

A church culture of grace is safe from double standards. It will be safe from predatory males masking behind clergy status. It will be safe from self-righteous condemnation. It is safe because genuine love, respect and care is the very air we breathe in a culture of grace.

A church culture of grace teaches the truth … God did not blame Bathsheba. He blamed David.

See the Related Article

Abomination: Christian Hypocrisy, Homosexuality & Compassion

“The real student is an adventurer in search of truth. He should have no preference as to what truth is. The partisan spirit has no place in the study of truth. To permit some preconceived notion keep one from seeing or admitting truth is beneath the dignity of the real student.”
– (K. C. Moser, 1937 Journal, p.53)

As soon as night came, the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived, they went to the synagogue. The people there were more open-minded than the people in Thessalonica. They listened to the message with great eagerness, and every day they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was really true.” (Acts 17.10-11, Good News Translation)

Scientist:Quest for Knowledge

A scientist goes to her telescope. She collects mountains of data. She notices that somethings do not seem to fit currently held views and understandings regarding the behavior of a planet’s orbit or variation of a star’s light or that particle did not do what it was supposed to do.

After consulting the received canon of wisdom from Newton, Einstein and Hawking does not solve the puzzle. She decides that there is a mystery to be figured out. So this scientist returns to her telescope, lab or where ever and gets more and more data. She spends months and months crunching the data, she goes back over the numbers, checks the instruments and finally decides there is only one way to solve the mystery … postulate the existence of something affecting the movement of the planets orbit or that there is something in between the star and earth that is affecting its variation. What could account for this. She comes up with a theory and gets more time on the telescope or lab and points it not at what she was studying before but at the location she has calculated would hold this new object. And low and behold there it is! A planet, a galaxy in between us and the former object. Because she was willing to question previously held beliefs she actually discovered a truth that was unknown to previously smart people. So scientists announced the discovery of a new “state” of matter that exists in a one dimensional quantum gas. They had to be able to be non-threatened by questioning the status quo. See Stanford Physicists Find New State of Matter.

She is recognized. Congratulated. Nominated for a science prize. And we are grateful because our universe just got a little bigger.

Minister: Quest for Truth

A preacher goes into the study to “study to show thyself approved.” The student opens the word with the prayer of Psalm 119, “open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18).

Instruments are employed for study. Mountains of data are collected. The minister notices that somethings do not fit with currently held views and opinions regarding this or that passage or belief. Consulting the received canon of wisdom from the Gospel Advocate, Spiritual Sword or Wineskins does not solve the puzzle.

The minister decides to return to the excavation dig, gets more data, checks the instruments, goes over the numbers and finally decides there is only one way to solve the mystery. Postulate that currently accepted wisdom is WRONG. The minister postulates a theory and points the telescope and discovers “there it is.” Low and behold we have learned something new because the minister was willing to practice the “restoration plea” and go study and not think that previously held beliefs were sacred. The minister announces the discovery.

The minister is fired. The Berean is written up as not believing “things surely believed” known to “faithful and representative men.” The minister is called a “liberal.” He, or she, is castigated by critics with the slogan “you believe you have a PhD to understand the Bible and go to heaven.” What was discovered is denied as fake. We discourage fresh exploration. Instead we, in the words of K. C. Moser, cast the minister out of the synagogue as a heretic. And we are fearful and our universe just got a little bit smaller.

For this very reason do your best to add goodness to your faith; to your goodness add knowledge” (2 Peter 1.5, Good News Translation).

Disciples are called to a life of adventure in the quest for God’s truth.

Sometimes I am simply astonished by my brothers and sisters. Jesus once asked a group of Bible experts, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Mk 12.24). Yes, this statement is directed to men who thought of themselves to be Bible experts.

A person has written to me, concerning Easter, “I am grateful that I remember the resurrection of Jesus every week not once a year.” And I’ve received other messages with the same basic message some nearly verbatim.

I have acknowledged neither. I had to refill my Cup of Java to make sure I was reading the rejection of “Easter/Pascha” correctly. Seriously brothers and sisters, is this supposed to be an objection?

Do these brothers/sisters actually believe that celebrating Easter (early Christians called it Pascha) implies in any universe, that Christians across the globe and thru the centuries celebrating Easter remember the resurrection only once a year! My friends this is actually absurd and I am not trying to be offensive by saying it is absurd. I just know of no other word suitable for it.

If you remember your wife/husband’s anniversary or birthday does that imply you are only grateful for them one day a year? Surely such is worse than silly. It is not even rational.

But these critics seem to not understand a biblical rhythm of life.

Sunday/Lord’s Day and Easter/Pascha function analogously to the Sabbath and Passover. I cannot stress enough that early Christians did not own personal New Testaments, much less Bibles. They learned the contents of the Story thru public worship. This is simply essential to grasp to understand early Christianity.

Early Christians for the first 100 or so years were mostly Jews. They had a “biblical” rhythm to life. That rhythm was dominated by the festivals. The sabbath is the first and primary festival in the Bible.

Sabbath and Passover are connected. So are Lord’s Day and Easter. Some (they do not know the scripture as Jesus said) do not seem to realize that the Sabbath remembers the liberation of slaves from Egypt, the Exodus just as much as it remembers the days of creation. This is stressed many times in the “Old Testament” not least in the Ten Words (Deuteronomy 5.12-15).

So every single week, Israelites, remembered the salvation by the grace of God in the Exodus. But also in the Passover feast, Israel celebrated the event and reenacted the event. They did not only remember God’s astonishing earth shattering grace on the 14th of Nisan. They did it weekly and had a shabbat meal, a miniature Passover.

Just so, the Lord’s Day with its meal remembers the astonishing grace of the God of the Exodus supremely in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Early Christians and modern Christians, like Jews around the world, remember the foundational events of faith every single week.

But Easter/Pascha was viewed in the early church just as the Passover was for a millennia prior to Jesus. The Passover celebrates what the Sabbath does. Easter celebrates what the Lord’s Day does. There was no competition between Sabbath and Passover nor is there any between the Christian Pascha/Easter and the Lord’s Day.

Early Christianity was born in, shaped by, and has the DNA of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism ground into it. It is astonishing how little we understand our own faith.

To celebrate Easter hardly implies only remembering the resurrection once a year. It is the “Christian Passover.” It is genetically connected to the weekly “festival” of gathering in the name of the Lord … the God of the Resurrection is the same God of the Exodus which is why Jesus used the PASSOVER as his Last Supper in the first place. (See how Paul connects them in 1 Corinthians 5.7).

Remember that Jesus, the Apostles, James, Paul, etc were, and are, Jews. The book they wrote, we call it the New Testament, is a Jewish book.

Jews in Jerusalem for Passover

Festivals in Israel, and even in the early church, had several functions. They gathered God’s People to worship. Worship is intended to be communal. The festivals taught the people the “word of God.” You see no one in Israel, or the first 1400 years of the church for that matter, owned personal copies of the Bible. No one went home “from church” to read the Bible prior to Gutenberg. This is a significant fact.

Festivals like the Sabbath, Trumpets, Unleavened Bread … and “Pascha/Easter” served the practical function of teaching God’s People the STORY, that is the WORD of God. In fact through the Festivals of Worship the historical word became the Living Word as God’s people dramatically reenacted the Story of Redemption. Suddenly the flight from Egypt was not something you heard read to you, it was something you participated in dramatically. Those who complain about “drama” in worship have limited historical understandings of what “worship” was like in Israel, and for centuries among Christians. Drama preached the Word. Unleavened bread/Passover, for example, in one dramatic “production” preaches the Story of the book of Exodus.

Unleavened Bread/Passover celebrates the astonishing steadfast love (hesed) and grace of Yahweh for a group of slaves deemed so worthless that the state sanctioned the murder of their infant boys. The feast/festival proclaims the care, mercy and involvement of Yahweh for the “least of these.” The festival culminates in the Passover which proclaims the greatest act of grace in the history of the world until the incarnation of Jesus. It is the story of the Gospel of the Exodus.

God saves.

We get saved.

God redeems.

We do not redeem ourselves.

No Jew shares in these festivals because they are worthy. They participate because they were invited by grace.

Unleavened bread/Passover is mentioned frequently in our written Scriptures. We read of it in Exodus 12.15-20; Leviticus 23.6-8; Deuteronomy 16.3-16; 2 Chronicles 30.23-27; Ezra 6.21-22; etc, etc.

The festival was important in the development of Jesus. Luke tells us his family traveled to Jerusalem annually for the festival (Lk 2.41). John depicts Jesus walking to Jerusalem regularly for the festival.

The apostle James was martyred by Herod during the festival of Unleavened Bread (Acts 12.3). The apostle Paul celebrated Unleavened Bread/Passover with his fellow Jewish disciples (Acts 20.5-6). Paul even told the Corinthian church to “celebrate the festival” (1 Cor 5.8) though scholars argue about what this means.

But most importantly, Unleavened Bread/Passover became the occasion for the Messiah’s New Exodus through his death, burial and resurrection.

The festival is eight days long. Christians have called this week “holy week” since at least the third century AD. It is “holy” in that the events of the greatest moment of redemption in the Hebrew Bible took place AND the the greatest moments of redemption in the history of the world took place. This week changed cosmic history.

During the festival the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) are sung (Mt 26.30) and the Song of Songs is read out loud on the Sabbath during the Passover.

As we head through this week that remembers such momentous events I encourage you to read the following:

1) Story of the Exodus (Exodus 1-15)
2) Psalms 113-118
3) Song of Songs
4) Matthew 21-25

Passover – Pascha – Easter – God cares for the powerless and the aliens. That is why God delivered Israel. God loves the powerless and the aliens. That is why Jesus celebrated the Passover and became the Lamb of God.

7 Apr 2021

Jesus & The Temple: Freaky Facts

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Patternism, Worship
A view of the Court of Women, the 15 steps leading to the Nicanor Gate. Solomon’s Porch is located on the eastern side of the Court of Women where the Way met (Acts 5.12, etc)

Many times the images that lie hidden deep within our subterranean mind influence us in profound ways. These images are frequently never on the surface but their power is undeniable. What makes them insidious is they often skew how we interpret “reality.” Today’s Freaky Jesus Facts looks at a few facts that just might unsettle our minds and also help us read both the Gospels and Acts much better.

1) Freaky Fact. The Temple is a powerful theme and symbol that is ubiquitous in the Bible. To use an analogy (which has limitations), the Temple is like a wedding ring. It is incredibly an emotive symbol that points to something far more than metal and rock.

2) Freaky Fact. Jesus loved and revered the Temple. Like many Jews he may argue with the power structures running the temple, but the Temple itself, its worship, what it is, Jesus loved to be there. He called it “my Father’s house” (Lk 2.49; Jn 2.16f).

3) Freaky Facts. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus made the annual pilgrimages to the Temple. Those great worship festivals became the occasion for worship and teaching by Jesus. Jesus’s discussion with Nicodemus takes place either during or immediately after Passover/Unleavened Bread mentioned explicitly in 2.13, 23 and helps explain the allusions to Exodus/Numbers narrative.

John 5.1, Jesus walks back to Jerusalem and the Temple. Though this festival is unnamed scholars have often identified with Weeks (Pentecost). Some have identified it as Purim (cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, p. 332).

In John 7-8, Jesus has yet again walked to the Temple for the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles (cf. 7.2, 10, 14). And yet again Jesus walked to the Temple for Hanukkah/Dedication in John 10.

And finally, of course, the Passover/Unleavened Bread which dominates the last half of the Gospel. Jesus got a lot of exercise journeying to the Temple to worship and to teach just like other rabbis in the courts. (See the discussion in John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Johnny Melton, A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Divine Encounter, pp. 30-33).

4) Freaky Facts. Neither Jesus nor his disciples nor the church that gathered in the Temple in Acts could ever get into the temple without doing two things. Jesus, James, the early church, Peter, John, Paul, could not enter the Temple without having paid their Temple tax and entered a mikvah to be purified. There were huge pools, like the Pool of Siloam, for ritual purification. Jesus, the disciples, the early church, and Paul, would not have gotten past the Levites guarding the Temple gates.

When we read the Gospels there are many hidden assumptions. We need to see in our minds Jesus entering into the mikveh, immersing himself, and soaking wet as he enters the Temple courts (See James H. Charlesworth’s, “Jesus and the Temple” in Jesus and Temple, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, pp. 145-181). This same reality is true for Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 4, Acts 21, etc.

5) Freaky Facts. Jesus drove out the money changers from his “Father’s house” but not the musicians and dancers. In the biblical tradition there are two violent expulsions of people from the Temple: Heliodorus and the money changers. Second Maccabees 3.13-40 tells the story of the pagan General Heliodorus who intended to rob the sacred wares of the Temple and violate its sanctity. Led by the priest Onias, the people pray for the Lord to protect his house. As the General entered, a magnificent rider on a horse was manifested and struck Heliodorus on the forehead.

when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien; it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck him with its front hoofs.” (2 Maccabees 3.24-25).

Then two “glorious men” flogged the General and finally a “deep darkness” fell on the pagan. God’s glory was manifest and Heliodorus recovered and became a follower of the God of Israel (2 Maccabees 3.35-40).

The second time was Jesus driving out the money changers. An episode recorded in all four Gospels though in different locations. Jesus taught in the Court of Women of the Temple frequently it is there that the “Treasury” was located and the occasion of the Lord’s memorable teaching about the widow’s two coins (Mk 12.41-44). He would come into the Court and see the Levites gathered on the fifteen semi-circular steps that rise. As the Mishnah relates,

Fifteen steps led from within it to the Court of the Israelites, corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascents in the Psalms, and upon them the Levites used to sing” (mMiddoth 2.5).

On these steps not only are the Levites singing the Psalms, they are playing instruments of cymbals, harps, and lyres and many other kinds of instruments. As we read,

There were chambers beneath the Court of the Israelites which opened into the Court of Women, and there the Levites played upon harps and lyres and the cymbals and all instruments of music” (mMiddoth 2.6).

These fifteen steps that lead up to the Nicanor Gate was a place of praise and often a place for large crowds of men and women. Within the Court of Women, twenty-four girls dance with seeming joy to the Lord holding colored fabrics and we hear this,

Praise Yahweh!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with the trumpet sound;
praise him with the lute and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise Yahweh!
Praise Yahweh!

(Psalm 150)

Jesus sees this. Jesus regularly experiences this when he comes to his “Father’s house.” But not Jesus only. James, Peter, John, Paul and the entire Jerusalem church experienced this every time they gathered in the Temple to worship. And they did worship just as Paul says explicitly, “I went up to Jerusalem to worship … I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices” (Acts 24.11 & 17).

When Jesus had to protect the sanctity of his “Father’s house,” like Onias in 2 Maccabees and he drove uncleanness out as did that mystical rider on a horse, it was not the Levites with all kinds of instruments that he chased from the Temple. It was not even the women dancers that drew the ire of our Lord (cf. Pss 149.3; 150.4). What drew the anger of Jesus was the money changers, not singing, not dancing and not instruments. Makes you go, hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Jewish Mikvah. A person would descend into the pool via the steps then ascend out of the pool via the other set of steps.

It is just one of those Freaky Facts that will always be true.

When we put Jesus, and the early church, into the real world in which they really lived, many things become clearer and our assumptions fall by the way side.

The image of Jesus traveling with his Joseph, Mary, his brothers and sisters, to the Temple offering sacrifice during the festivals is a powerful one. The image of Jesus traveling with is disciples to do the same is powerful. Jesus and the disciples shared a sacrifice to the very end as the Passover eaten by Jesus included the sacrifice (cf. Luke 22.7-13; Mk 14.12-16). The mental image of Peter, John, James and Paul descending into a mikveh so they can enter the Temple to praise with the Saints is powerful is powerful indeed.

The image of Jesus, fresh from his immersion in the Pool of Siloam, singing joyfully, even shouting, clapping his hands to the music of the Songs of Ascent, even dancing a little in the Court of Women … just might help us from being so dour and argumentative about things that should never be an issue.

Of Related Interest:

Back to the Temple, AD 33: Time Machine Pilgrimage to the Temple and Early Church

Psalms and the Temple: What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced

5 Apr 2021

“Holy Week:” Scripture for Meditation

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Discipleship, Easter, Grace, Jesus, Journey, Lent

The coming week is traditionally known as “Holy Week.” The phrase dates to at least Athanasius, an African Christian leader in Alexandria Egypt and Epiphanius, a Christian leader in Palestine both lived in the AD 300s. From its earliest days, the church used a calendar to teach the story of redemption. The vast majority of people could neither read, nor afford reading materials like a scroll or book and thus did not own a Bible. In fact it would be nearly 1500 years before average disciples could own a bound Bible. The calendar was essential.

Days of the year would be associated with events in the story of redemption like the Exodus, the birth/incarnation of the King, the death and resurrection of the King. Since the first century believers celebrated what they called “Pascha” (means “passover”) which we call in our language, Easter.

The week leading up to Easter people would gather to hear Scripture read out loud, The passages read told the story of the Messiah and what lead to his death. The culmination was “Easter” (called “Pascha”). The readings for this week are as follows.

Monday: Isa 42.1-9; Ps 36; Heb 9.11-15; John 12.1-11

Tuesday: Isa 49.1-7; Ps 71; 1 Cor 1.18-31; John 12.20-36

Wednesday: Isa 50.4-9; Ps 70; Heb 12.1-3; John 13.21-32

Thursday: Ex 12.1-14; Ps 116; 1 Cor 11.17-34; John 13.1-17, 31-35

Friday: Isa 52.13-53.12; Ps 22; Heb 10.16-25; John 18.1-19, 42

Saturday: Lamentations 3.1-9, 19-24; Ps 31; 1 Pt 4.1-8; John 19.38-42

Print this out or write down the passages for the day. I pray you will walk with Jesus through the week that changed human history for eternity.


Alexander Campbell

In 1834, Alexander Campbell expressed himself on the importance of Reading and having a Good Library in the Millennial Harbinger. The article is actually by Thomas Smith Grimke, but Campbell prefaces it with these words, “I have not found any writer who more fully expresses my views.” So rather than writing his own, he copies and pastes.

Grimke provides a long list of authors and books that he believes should be owned and read by everyone. He notes that a person who wishes to be a “scholar,” not so much in the “literary sense” but some one who is ‘well rounded,” open minded, “dignified,” and generally useful to society, should continue to grow and learn. “It is an error to suppose that a course of study is confined to the period of YOUTH” [sic]. Learning, including going to college, has barely begun by the time youth is ended.

A well rounded individual ought ‘to make up his mind to be a devoted student, in spite of his professional engagements” in order to “enlarge the mind.”

Then Campbell, with Grimke’s words, makes this rather interesting remark. “And here let it be remarked, that the TRUE student never considers how much he reads, but rather how LITTLE, and only WHAT, and HOW he reads” [sic]. In other words one cannot read to much but one can read not enough and one can be poor quality books which also may make us poor readers.

What are some of the titles recommended by AC/Grimke? I will not list them all (there is a page of them). They cover a wide array of subjects.

The Bible (with commentaries listed like Clarke/Henry)
William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity.
Several by Robert Lowth (a Hebrew scholar).
Neal’s History of the Puritans.
John Locke’s Essays.
Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning.
Horseley’s Nine Sermons.
Thomas Reid (a philosopher).
Hallam’s History of the Middle Ages.
Milman’s History of the Jews.
Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Pitkin’s Civil and Political History of the United States.
Jonathan Edwards, God’s End in the Creation of the World.
Roscoe’s Pope Leo X.
Milner’s History of the Christian Church.
A number of works by Shakespeare, Walter Scott, etc.

What a remarkable list that includes the leading historical, biblical, theological, and philosophical scholarship of the day. What a great perspective. I have met way to many, ministers and non-ministers, who almost brag (some actually do) about not reading. I have seen political leaders do the same. The former President Donald Trump was a notorious non-reader (see David Graham’s, The President Who Doesn’t Read in The Atlantic). It is only the young that need to learn and read (and possibly not even them!). What is equally interesting is that Campbell regards this as a starter list 🙂 .

There was a time, however, when many held the opinion that to be integrated into and to contribute to society – not just to be a minister or a politician – one had to cultivate the habit of enlarging the mind beyond its own inherent limitations through reading widely. Reading widely, in the words of Karen Swallow Prior “makes us more human” (see her essay, How Reading Makes Us More Human.) C. S. Lewis in An Experiment in Literary Criticism, speaks in much the same way of how reading serves our humanity,

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

Oh for statesmen who read like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr. Oh for ministers who believed reading widely, and deeply, was a sign of service to God to be equipped to minister to his people. I have met some who pretend to read and some who buy lots of books but do not read. Oh for those who held Campbell’s and Lewis’s view. Reading and Good reading is simply necessary.

Read. Read Good Books. Read cross culturally. If you are white then read some Black authors regularly (James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Esau McCaulley, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Cornell West, Bryan Stevenson, John Perkins, Ta-Nehisi Coats). If you are a man incorporate women authors (Maya Angelou, Lisa Bowens, A. J. Levine, Latasha Morrison, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Bell Hooks, etc). Read. Ponder. Grow.

Jack P. Lewis, of blessed memory, at Harding School of Theology used to call it “the ministry of study.” I end with what I quoted above, we cannot read too much. “And here let it be remarked, that the TRUE student never considers how much he reads, but rather how LITTLE, and only WHAT, and HOW he reads” [sic].”

You can find this article in the Millennial Harbinger for October 1834 on pages 490-493.

Campbell will publish an article 20 years later in 1851 called “A Christian Minister’s Library” with an amazing selection of recommended reading. It can be found in the Millennial Harbinger, May 1851, pp. 259-260.

Tolle lege

Related Posts:
Why Do We Read?

Why Do We Read, Part 2

One Hundred Great Books