For most of us who are relatively unaware of the history of the ancient world, to say that the Gospel of Mark was written sometime between 68 and 71 A.D. is to say very little. But for those that know their history, this statement is actually quite stunning. For if this Gospel was, indeed, composed during this era, than we know that it’s author was writing during one of the most tumultuous times in the history of the Jewish people – a time when everything the Jews knew and believed to be true came to a devastating end. Read the rest of this entry »
Tag Archives: New Testament
My martial arts instructor often talks about the difficulty of trying to put together a puzzle when all the pieces are still face-down on the table. It can be done, but without a sense of the larger picture, the task of putting together the puzzle becomes much more complex – much more arduous.
This morning, on the eighth day of reading through the New Testament, I felt as if I had the opportunity to turn over some of the puzzle pieces; and I’m starting to get a sense of the larger picture.
The first piece that was turned over this morning is found in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3. Here, the Apostle Paul talks about whether or not he needs “letters of recommendation” so that others might be willing to listen to Gospel he is preaching/living. Now look at what Paul says:
“You yourselves are … a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”
Typically, in the past, when I have heard others teach on this passage, the discussion turns to issues of piety. We are told that others will “see” Christ if we avoid certain behaviors and activities (e.g. swearing, drinking, gambling, pornography, etc…). But this morning, as I read through 2 Corinthians in one sitting, something else become abundantly clear. Take a look at the following themes that are discussed in the chapters that surround these verses:
- We don’t want to keep you in the dark about the suffering we went through in Asia. The load we had to cary was far too heavy for us; it got to the point where we gave up on life itself.” (1:8)
- God brings suffering so that comfort can be delivered to others (chpt 1)
- “We are under all kinds of pressure, but we are not crushed completely; we are at a loss, but not at our wits’ end; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are cast down, but not destroyed.” (4:8)
- “For we know that if our earthly house, our present “tent,” is destroyed, we have a building from God (5:1a)
- “We recommend ourselves as God’s servants: with much patience, with sufferings, difficulties, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, going without food” (6:4-5)
So when you look at these words from chapter 3 in the context of the entire book, it becomes clear. We are not meant to be “letters” solely through our acts of piety. We are meant to be blood stained ink. We are meant to live our lives is such a way that our suffering for Christ bears witness to the centrality of His claim to be the Son of the Living God.
So now, when you look at this in context of the Gospels, which call us to reach out to the poor, the afflicted and the oppressed, it starts to come together; and the questions become obvious.
Does your discipleship involve reaching out to those in desperate need?
Does it involve any kind of significant sacrifice on your part?
Is your life marked by suffering?
If it is, does your suffering cause others to pity you or see Christ through way you handle it?
Now for the harder question:
What does it mean if your life is not marked in this way?
First, a brief note on translations. As some of you know, I am doing my reading from N.T. Wright’s recently released translation of the New Testament. Now Wright is clear that no translation should be considered the definitive translation, and he goes as far as to say:
“… [even if you know Greek itself, but especially if don't] you should always have two English translations open in front of you. No one translation – certainly not this one – will be able to give you everything that was there in the Greek …”
The reason I point this out is that his phrasing in certain well-known passages is actually causing me to slow down and really think issues through. And for that, I am exceptionally grateful for his work as well as for his wise counsel regarding the utilization of a multiplicity of translations.
This brings me to my first real observation on the text itself. Look at how Wright translates Acts 2:42: “They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” Something about the way he opens this particular verse really spoke to me. It starts by saying: “They all gave full attention.” But “full attention” to what?
- “The teachings of the apostles.”
- “The common life”
- “The breaking of bread”
- “The prayers”
As I look at that list and consider the words “full attention”, I realize that I probably give the most attention to the teachings of the apostles, slightly less attention to the common life, still less attention to the breaking of bread, and a shocking lack of attention to prayer itself … Once again, I am struck by the same impression I had when I read through Matthew. My “discipleship” bears little resemblance to the discipleship prescribed by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and again in the book of Acts. What about you friends? Do these things get your “full attention?” Or do you give them cursory nods on Sunday and a few other occasions during the week?
My second observation actually comes out of my teachings at the Classical Consortium. This year, in Classical Rhetoric II, we took at look at various sermons preached in the book of Acts. And then we analyzed the common features of these sermons and compared them to our presentations of the Gospel today. Quite often, in today’s culture, we tend to present the Gospel as something that can be brought alongside culture. In other words, we present it in a way that causes the reader to believe that they can have “eternal life” and the idyllic, American life complete with a house, two cars, a dog and a white picket fence. If drawn out, it looks something like this:
But when we look at the bulk of the New Testament material, it becomes clear that this sort of “synthesis” between the Story of the Gospel and the story of the culture just is not possible. Because the Story of the Gospel is in direct opposition to the story of the dominant culture. If we were to draw it out, it would something like this:
“Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Rulers of the people and elders,” he said, “if the question we’re being asked today is about a good deed done for a sick man, and whose power it was that rescued him, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man stands before you fit and well because of the name of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. He is the stone which you builders rejected, but which has become the head cornerstone. Rescue won’t come from anybody else! These is no other name given under heaven and among humans by which we must be rescued.”
Here, in these five simple verses, you see Peter pulling out all the stops. First, he assails the Jewish leaders and charges them with crucifying Jesus and rejecting the “cornerstone.” But Peter’s work was not done. In his very next breath, he takes on the Romans who had adopted an early pronouncement by Augustus Caesar in 17 BC that “Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved.” So here, Peter presents the Gospel, and in doing so, he takes shots at the two leading cultures that dominated the world of his day.
So as I finished my reading of Acts, I found myself wondering: What would a radical encounter between the Gospel and the dominant culture of today look like? What “sacred cows” would have to be slaughtered in the lives of many Christians? And what would it cost us to engage in that kind of work?
So for those of you who are reading along with me, here are my initial thoughts regarding my “brisk run” through John. The first observation I will pose in the form of a question: does the Gospel of John lend itself more easily to synchronization with the Pauline epistles then the so-called Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? I ask this because much of the “discipleship” presented through John is focused on “belief in the Christ” as opposed to the Synoptics where “discipleship” seems to be focused on “praxis” – or action.
Second observation. Orthopraxis (or “right actions”) cannot exist without orthodoxy (or “right belief”) because every action is precipitated by some measure of belief, no matter how small. On the other hand, can orthodoxy exist without orthopraxis?
- The earthly ministry of Jesus was marked by near constant conflict. If He wasn’t arguing with the disciples, He was arguing with the Pharisees. If not the Pharisees, it was the priests and the scribes. But interestingly enough, when it came to the masses, His approach was much softer, much more inclusive. So I’m left with the impression that He relationship with leaders (both those that He was training and those that He was critiquing) was exceptionally tough. So what do you think? Do you think Jesus’ attitude towards leaders was tougher that His attitude towards the masses? And what might this mean for us as leaders in the church?
- The second thing I noticed was the unbelievable power that was manifested in His public ministry. Almost everywhere He went, the blind were being given their sight, demons were being cast out, the paralyzed were walking, etc… Interestingly enough, I started to make the connection between His power and the public’s interest in His ministry. For the first time, I was able to put myself in the Story and I was struck by the realization that I absolutely would have gone to see the Man who worked these miracles.
- The third thing I noticed is actually a bit disconcerting at the moment. If I knew nothing of the writings of Paul, or Peter, or John, and all I had to go one was the public ministry of Jesus, I’m not sure I’d actually be considered a disciple. When I look at those that He describes as being “in” the Kingdom versus those that He describes as being on the “outside,” I’m not sure I measure up. There is a really high cost to discipleship, and I don’t feel as if my life is measuring up to the standards our Savior proscribes …
So what about you guys? What’s standing out to you in your readings?
“It’s good to read right through chapters, sections and entire books at a single sitting. The ‘books’ which make up the New Testament weren’t written to be read in ten-verse sections at a time; imagine what would happen if you tried to listen to a symphony that way, or to read a novel at the rate of a single page once per week.” (N.T. Wright)
Oct. 27 The Gospel of Matthew
Oct. 28 The Gospel of Mark
Oct. 29 The Gospel of John
Oct. 31 The Gospel of Luke
Nov. 1 The Acts of the Apostles
Nov. 2 Romans
Nov. 3 1 Corinthians
Nov. 4 2 Corinthians
Nov. 5 Galatians
Nov. 7 Ephesians
Nov. 8 Philppians
Nov. 9 Colossians
Nov. 10 1 Thessalonians
Nov. 11 2 Thessalonians
Nov. 12 1 Timothy
Nov. 14 2 Timothy
Nov. 15 Titus
Nov. 16 Philemon
Nov. 17 Hebrews
Nov. 18 James
Nov. 19 1 Peter
Nov. 21 2 Peter
Nov. 22 1 John
Nov. 23 2 John
Nov. 24 3 John
Nov. 25 Jude
Nov. 26 Revelation