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Archive for the ‘Gospels’ Category

Gethsemane

…and [Jesus] began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them… (Mk. 14:33-34)

As we reflect this week on Christ’s death and resurrection, I often find myself thinking about Jesus in Gethsemane.  This began several years ago, when I had some abdominal surgery to correct a kidney problem.  The day of the surgery, I had a slight feeling of nervousness – like butterflies in my stomach.  As the hour drew nearer, my attitude became much more solemn, and the anticipation of what was to come waxed alongside my anxiety.  Even though I was a Christian at the time, and had all the prayer support, theology, and faith to know that I could face the operation with peace and confidence in God’s providence, my emotions we still high.  I knew that some measure of pain and suffering awaited me.

As I’ve thought about that day, I feel like it was a taste – an infinitesimally small taste, mind you – of Jesus’ distress before he was crucified:  There I was, surrounded by friends and family who I knew were behind me, and would not leave me.  There Jesus was, surrounded by friends who would soon abandon him, thanks in part to a friend who sold him out.  I was about to be given over to a staff of medical professionals who had spent countless hours of study and practice learning how to preserve and protect life, to ease suffering, to bring comfort, and to heal, all under the auspices of a government with laws regulating every last inch of my care to ensure its efficacy and safety for my good.*  Jesus was about to be given over to a staff of professionals whose raison d’être was to torture and kill, to maximize suffering, and bring utter humiliation.

If I think about it from this angle, I can catch at least the trajectory of Jesus’ anguish, and again, in very small measure, appreciate his passion.  My thoughts, of course, ignore the much greater mental anguish that Jesus endured, as he anticipated abandonment by the Father, and bearing the full brunt of his holy wrath.  For this suffering, by God’s grace, I have no good example from my own life from which to imagine Jesus’ pain.

It is no joyful thing, but meditating on the Passion helps us appreciate the seriousness of sin, and the price Jesus paid to free us from it, and all while we were still sinners.  Our own sense of thankfulness towards another is usually closely coupled to our appreciation of the price they paid to help us.  Attempts to understand the depths of Jesus’ suffering can only deepen our gratitude for the glorious salvation we freely receive at his expense.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

*Please no cynical comments about the state of Western medicine, the FDA, etc.  For all of their many flaws, I think the point of my contrast here stands.
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Special thanks to India of Broadman & Holman for a review copy of this book.

Over a year ago, I noted that Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels is the single best book on… well… Jesus and the Gospels.  I also noted that a new edition would be coming out later that year, which I’m now happy to review.  My feelings regarding the book haven’t changed at all over time.  I’m just as excited about it now as I was when I first read it 10 years ago. 

The book is divided into 5 main sections: Historical Background for Studying the Gospels, Critical Methods for Studying the Gospels, Introduction to the Four Gospels, A Survery of the Life of Christ and Historical and Theological Synthesis.  Each section can be read on their own and out of order, though of course it is helpful to take the material in the order given.  The book is “textbookish,” which shouldn’t be surprising since it was written as a textbook.  Blomberg does a phenomenal job of weaving through debates in a concise but informative manner, along with giving suggestions for further reading.  He offers his opinions when there are differing options, but he represents other viewpoints well and doesn’t force his reading on the text.

I’ll select two sections to highlight.  First, his opening section on the historical background is extremely helpful, especially for those who have little knowledge of the culture and historical circumstances in which Jesus was born, lived and died.  Whether Blomberg’s discussing the Maccabean Revolt or the religious groups in 1st century Israel (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc), the reader walks away with a clear understanding of the major players and events that form the backdrop of the Gospels.  And- this is very important- you won’t find yourself nodding off like you did in ancient history class (or was that just me?).

Second, Blomberg’s Survey of the Life of Christ functions as a wonderful mini-commentary on the Gospels.  Blomberg deals with issues of historicity and harmonization (perhaps a bit more than I would), as well as offering thoughts on each episode in the life of Christ as seen in the Gospels.  I’m consistently impressed with just how much information is fit into a relatively short space, with attention given to distinctives in each Gospel, interpretive options and short, but crucial, exegetical notes.  You won’t have all your questions answered in this section, but you’d be surprised just how many are. 

There are probably a few places where I disagree with Blomberg on matters of interpretation, but honestly I can only think of 2 off the top of my head.  1) Blomberg sees Jesus’ death as happening in 33AD, whereas I lean (ever so slightly) to a 30AD date.  2) I don’t think the Temple “clearing” (Blomberg’s preferred term) found in John 2 is a separate event from the one seen toward the end of the Synoptic Gospels.  That’s it.  These aren’t exactly the issues denominations divide over.  Like I said, I’m sure there’s probably more, but that’s all I can came up with at the moment.

There will be some who own the 1st edition and will be wondering if they need to get the 2nd edition.  I’m not sure you need to run out and buy it right away if you own the 1st, but I’d make room in my budget to update it at some point.  And if you don’t own this book in any editon, you should.   It would be helpful if this book existed in paperback in order to drop the price a bit.  If it were a tad cheaper, I could see this book used in a church class (as it is, it certainly could be, I just know people in my church will struggle with the thought of dropping $30 on a book). 

So who would benefit most from this book?  Honestly, pretty much anyone can.  Laypeople will find this book an accessible guide to Jesus and the Gospels.  The only section that may not interest most laypeople would be the Critical Methods chapter, but it wouldn’t be because it’s over their head.  Pastors and teachers couldn’t ask for a better book to help them in their personal study and preparations to teach the material.  As I’ve said in the past, I’ve been using this book for years and see absolutely no reason to stop now.  Simply put, I’ve yet to find a guide as reliable as Blomberg or a book as well-written.

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Considering Lazarus

During a recent discussion in our church’s training school, I commented that in all of Jesus’ parables, he never once names any of his characters.  The people are always generic:  son, servant, master, builder, Samaritan, etc.  I was quickly corrected, however, and reminded that there is one parable wherein Jesus names some of his players.  The parable is found in Lk. 16:19ff, and is commonly called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  You can read the full text here.

Why is Lazarus named in this parable?  Tim Keller makes the claim that Lazarus’ name is significant in that it makes the contrast between Lazarus and the rich man all the more stark:  the rich man, who by earthly standards is ‘somebody,’  has no name in the parable, whereas Lazarus, a poor man (‘nobody’), has a name.  Even more, Lazarus means “God is my help.”  Perhaps this suggests, however subtly, that the rich man is one who trusts in earthly status (i.e., wealth) for help.  Jesus is speaking among Pharisees, after all (c.f., 15:2, 16:14), whom Luke reminds us are lovers of money (16:14).  We should also note that Biblical names very often speak to the character and identity of the individual.  The poor man’s character and identity are wrapped up in God, whereas the rich man has no character or identity outside of his wealth.

Jesus’ parable ends with the Rich man’s plea to Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead so he may warn his brothers of their impending judgment.  Abraham’s reply is that “If [your brothers] do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if somebody rises from the dead” (16:31).  I had always taken this verse to be foreshadowing Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  Says Jesus,  “You Pharisees are so hard of heart that even if I rise from the dead, you won’t believe me.”  Fast forward to Acts 4, and you can almost hear Jesus saying, “See?”

But perhaps v.31 is referring to the actual  Lazarus whom Jesus did raise from the dead (Jn. 11:38-44).  Note again the response of the Pharisees:  Not only do they want to kill Jesus (11:47-53), but they want Lazarus dead, too (12:10).  The resurrection of Lazarus is certainly a hinge point in John’s gospel, not unlike Peter’s confession in is a hinge point in Mark (Mk. 8:27-30).  Both are centerpieces in their respective gospels, and mark the beginning of Christ’s road to the Cross.

Because of the importance of Lazarus’ resurrection in John’s gospel, some have wondered why the synoptic accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke) do not include it.  It has been speculated that one of the reasons why the synoptics do not mention Lazarus is precisely because of Jn. 12:10, i.e., Lazarus is a marked man.  Since the synoptics could have circulated when Lazarus was still alive, the writers engaged in a “witness protection program” of sorts.  John, which is widely believed to have been written later than the synoptics, retells the story because by then Lazarus is dead.

The conservative exegete in me wants to limit the importance of Lazarus’ naming in the parable to a literary device created to contrast his character with that of the rich man.  This stays closest to Luke’s text and immediate context.  I am more cautious about taking v.31 to refer to the real Lazarus simply because it requires some speculation, however well-informed.  We could also play the “both/and” card here, and make the claim that v.31 refers to Lazarus and Jesus.  Thankfully, the referrant of v.31 brings little to bear on the point(s) of the parable itself, so I’m ultimately content to let it rest there, and perhaps add it to my list of questions to ask the Lord when I meet Him face to face, or at least to the list of reasons why I need a good commentary on Luke.

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The Rebuilding of Herod’s Temple

No, this isn’t an eschatological prediction of the Jewish people rebuilding the Temple, reinstituting the sacrificial system or anything like that.  Instead, I’m simply giving you all a link to something I found on Tim Challies’ site today.  A British man has been building a scale model (1:100) of Herod’s Temple for more than 30 years (and isn’t finished).  It’s remarkable what he has done, I highly recommend you take a look at the pictures.

We just finished our section on the gospels in our training schools this week, and talked about Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  For many of us, we can’t picture such a place in our minds.  When we read about Jesus driving out the money changers, we’re probably picturing Him walking into our church foyer.  When the disciples remark to Jesus just how impressive the Temple is, we may not completely grasp what they’re saying.  Well, this man’s model gives us a clue.  I’m not sure where he found the time to do all this, but I’m glad he did.

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We’re just starting a section on Jesus and the gospels in our missions training school, and much like what Brian did with the Pentateuch, I thought I’d share some good books on this section of Scripture.  After all, it’s about Jesus; you can’t get more important than that!

But let me start with an important point.  There are more books on Jesus and the gospels than I have time to read.  In fact, there are plenty of books that have been published in the last couple years that I have yet to read.  A couple are on my shelves, crying out to me for attention.  Some I possibly haven’t even heard of yet.  So, if you know of any, I’m more than happy to hear suggestions- just leave a comment. 

The pride of place, in my opinion, goes to Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels.  I’ve read this book 4 times and have used it every year I teach on the gospels.  In short, it includes everything you need in 5 sections: Historical Background, Methods, Introductions to each gospel, A Survey of Jesus’ Life, and a Historical & Theological Synthesis.  Blomberg includes a ton of information, but is so readable it should put other scholars to shame (note: informative≠boring).  But, before you run out and buy this book, note that a newer edition of this book is supposed to be released this year at some point.  I’d suggest waiting until it comes out, then purchase it ASAP.

Another indispensable resource for me during my teaching prep is the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series), put out by IVP.  It’s full of articles covering a wide range of subjects related to Jesus and the gospels, written by top notch scholars.  It’s nice to have a wealth of scholarship in one book, though perhaps it, too, will need to be updated before too long.

If you’ve paid any attention to Jesus studies (or New Testament studies in general), you’ll have heard of NT Wright.  The first book I ever read of his was Jesus and the Victory of God one of the best books on Jesus in recent times.  Mind you, I disagree with him strongly at points (particularly his understanding of the Olivet Discourse), but you can’t help but come away having learned so much about Jesus and His historical context.  Along with this book is Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.  Quite frankly, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Both of these are heavy reads, so be aware.  You can always pick up his smaller The Challenge of Jesus to get an idea of his approach.

Under the category of Historical Jesus studies, I still find Ben Witherington’s book The Jesus Quest to be helpful.  I’m holding out hope that Witherington will update this helpful survey of scholarly portraits of the Historical Jesus (it’s been over a decade since it’s original publication).  One aspect I appreciate about this book is that you learn how to critique and discern differing views on Jesus simply by reading how Witherington does it.  Thus, it’s still quite helpful even if outdated.  Lastly, though I haven’t read too much of his stuff, I know that Craig Evans also has a number of books that are immensely profitable to read.

If you really want to wade through an important- and unique- book, check out Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.  Bauckham is in the category of “you should read whatever he writes.”  In this book, he helps demonstrate that the gospels do in fact go back to original eyewitness testimony, contra the common scholarly view of floating stories about Jesus circulating in distinct “community traditions.”

Though I haven’t had much time to work my way through it, Klyne Snodgrass’ new book on the parables, Stories With Intent, has received rave reviews.  I’m a huge fan of the parables, and from what I understand, once you own this book, you won’t need another one on the parables.  So, since I own it, I guess I don’t need to look for any more books on the parables, huh?  Also note, Blomberg has written extensively on the parables as well, and has good insight in his previously mentioned book.

On the Sermon on the Mount, I know D A Carson has written a useful book.  I’ll confess, I haven’t read his book on the Sermon on the Mount, but I do own his Matthew commentary and find it excellent, so I’ll bet the book is good, too.  Also, John Stott’s book, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, in the Bible Speaks Today series is good.

Before anyone complains that I neglected their favorite author or book, I want to point out that I’m trying to select a representation here.  I’m also intentionally leaving books on Christology and commentaries out for now, though perhaps those will come in later posts.  As I previously stated, there are plenty of books out there that I’m sure are excellent.  I think especially of those by Darrel Bock, but I have yet to read much of his stuff on the gospels (except his Luke commentary, which is tremendous). 

So, I say start with Blomberg and the Jesus and the Gospels.  Mind you, I’m offering my opinion as one who teaches in a local church context, not an academic one.  So, Bauckham’s book might be more important in terms of scholarly research than either of these.  But when I’m teaching, theories of criticism are not as important as dealing with the content of the gospels themselves.  And for that, I have yet to read anything better than Blomberg’s work.

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