All posts by Bill Pratt

Commentary on Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan) – #1 Post of 2017

Jesus is teaching and, within the crowd, an expert in the Old Testament stands up to challenge him. He asks Jesus a common question among Jews of the day: What do I do to guarantee I will be accepted into the kingdom of God when the end of the age arrives?

This question most likely references the description of the end times in Daniel 12:2. Daniel wrote, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The lawyer wants to see how Jesus will answer this question, probably hoping to catch Jesus in an error.

Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks the lawyer what his reading of the Law is on this important subject. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which effectively command a person to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus commends the lawyer for his answer. Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary, provides some interesting background:

The expert’s answer consisted of two OT passages. The first (Deut 6:5) was called the Shema because it begins ‘Hear, O Israel.’ A devout Jew would repeat it twice each day (Ber. 1:1–4). In the Shema three prepositional phrases describe the total response of love toward God. These involve the heart (emotions), the soul (consciousness), and strength (motivation). The Synoptic Gospels all have ‘heart’ and ‘soul,’ Matthew omits strength, and all add ‘mind’ (intelligence). The second OT passage in the lawyer’s answer is Lev 19:18. It is found also in Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8. In Luke the two OT passages are combined into a single command, whereas in Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39 they are left separate. Whether these two OT passages were linked before Jesus’ time is uncertain. They appear together in the early Christian literature. That this twofold summary was basic to Jesus’ teaching is evident by its appearance in his parables (Luke 15:18, 21; 18:2; cf. also 11:42, where ‘justice’ equals ‘love your neighbor’).

Some Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus is advocating a salvation by works in this passage, but the commands to love God and love your neighbor are completely compatible and consistent with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Stein expands on this topic:

To love God means to accept what God in his grace has done and to trust in him. Faith involves more than mental assent to theological doctrines. Similarly, love is not just an emotion. Both entail an obedient trust in the God of grace and mercy. The response of love to God and of faith in God are very much the same. This intimate association between love and faith is seen most clearly in Luke 7:47, 50. For Luke, as for Paul, salvation was by grace (Acts 13:38–39) through faith (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), but this faith works through love (see Gal 5:6). At times the aspect of faith may need to be emphasized and at other times love.

Theologian Norman Geisler reminds us, in Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, that

True faith involves love, which is the greatest commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37). Unbelievers ‘perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved’ (2 Thess. 2:10). Paul speaks of ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6).

The lawyer, however, demands clarification from Jesus on who exactly counts as a neighbor. Instead of giving the lawyer a direct answer, Jesus delivers a parable. In brief, a Jew traveling alone from Jerusalem to Jericho is accosted by robbers and left for dead. An Aaronic priest and a Levite both pass him by without helping, but a Samaritan stops to help him. The Samaritan also transports him to an inn and pays for him to stay several weeks until he heals.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was remote and dangerous. It was a 3,000 feet descent along a 17- mile road. There were plenty of places for robbers to hide.

Once the man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead, a temple priest (a descendant of Aaron) happens by. Why did the priest fail to help the man? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, speculates:

Since the man was ‘half dead’ the priest would probably not have been able to be certain whether he was dead or not without touching him. But if he touched him and the man was in fact dead, then he would have incurred the ceremonial defilement that the Law forbade (Lev. 21:1ff.). He could be sure of retaining his ceremonial purity only by leaving the man alone. He could be sure he was not omitting to help a man in need only by going to him. In this conflict it was ceremonial purity that won the day. Not only did he not help, he went to the other side of the road. He deliberately avoided any possibility of contact.

A man from the tribe of Levi then comes upon the man, but he also continues without helping him. Robert Stein explains:

The Levite was a descendant of Levi who assisted the priests in various sacrificial duties and policing the temple but could not perform the sacrificial acts. Luke was not suggesting that since the Levite’s duties were inferior to those of a priest he might have been more open to help because the problem of becoming defiled was less acute. Rather he was emphasizing that neither the wise and understanding (10:21) nor the proud and ruling (1:51–52) practice being loving neighbors.

Finally, a Samaritan man arrives and has compassion on the injured Jew. He binds his wounds and treats them with wine and oil. Wine was used for cleaning wounds, due to the alcohol in it, and the oil was used to provide pain relief.

The Samaritan goes even further, though. He places the man on his donkey and carries him to an inn where he can rest and heal. He offers enough money to the innkeeper for the man to be able to stay for several weeks.

The fact that Jesus uses a Samaritan as the hero in the parable is shocking to his audience. It is worthwhile to remind the reader of the history between the Jews and Samaritans. Stein writes:

The united kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death due to the foolishness of his son, Rehoboam (1 Kgs 12). The ten northern tribes formed a nation known variously as Israel, Ephraim, or (after the capital city built by Omri) Samaria. In 722 b.c. Samaria fell to the Assyrians, and the leading citizens were exiled and dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Non-Jewish peoples were then brought into Samaria. Intermarriage resulted, and the ‘rebels’ became ‘half-breeds’ in the eyes of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. (Jews comes from the term Judea.) After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Samaritans sought at first to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. When their offer of assistance was rejected, they sought to impede its building (Ezra 4–6; Neh 2–4). The Samaritans later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, but led by John Hyrcanus the Jews destroyed it in 128 b.c. (cf. John 4:20–21). So great was Jewish and Samaritan hostility that Jesus’ opponents could think of nothing worse to say of him than, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ (John 8:48; cf. also 4:9).

When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks the lawyer who was the true neighbor to the Jew who had been robbed. The lawyer, without being able to say the word “Samaritan,” nevertheless identifies the Samaritan as the true neighbor.

The message is clear. The command to love our neighbor crosses ethnic, religious, and national boundaries. Stein comments:

For most Jews a neighbor was another Jew, not a Samaritan or a Gentile. The Pharisees (John 7:49) and the Essenes did not even include all Jews (1QS 1:9–10). The teaching of the latter stands in sharp contrast with that of Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love everyone as we love ourselves, including those whom we consider our enemies.

What Are the Roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? – #2 Post of 2017

Verses like John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I,” have led to confusion in the church. The Bible seems to clearly teach that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally divine. They all possess the same attributes of deity. Then how can Jesus say the Father is greater than him?

The early church developed the doctrine of functional subordination to clarify the roles of the three members of the Trinity. Theologian Norman Geisler explains this doctrine in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation:

All members of the Trinity are equal in essence, but they do not have the same roles. It is a heresy (called subordinationism) to affirm that there is an ontological subordination of one member of the Trinity to another, since they are identical in essence . . . ; nonetheless, it is clear that there is a functional subordination; that is, not only does each member have a different function or role, but some functions are also subordinate to others.

The Function of the Father

By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.

The Function of the Son

The Son, on the other hand, is the Means, Sent One, and Achiever of salvation. The Father sent, and the Son came to save us; the Father planned it, but the Son accomplished it on the cross. This is why it is a heresy (called patripassianism) to claim that the Father suffered on the cross—only the Son suffered and died.

Further, the Son is eternally ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from the Father, but the Father is never said to be ‘begotten’ or ‘generated’ from anyone.

The Function of the Holy Spirit

According to orthodox theology, both East and West, the Holy Spirit is said to ‘proceed’ from the Father, but the Father never proceeds from the Holy Spirit—that is, the Father sends the Spirit, but the Spirit never sends the Father. . . . Many Eastern Orthodox theologians are willing to say that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father indirectly through the Son, but they deny that the Son has authority to send the Holy Spirit on His own. Be that as it may, all agree that there is a functional subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Father.

In brief, the Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers. The Father is the Source, the Son is the Means, and the Holy Spirit is the Effector of salvation—it is He who convicts, convinces, and converts.

One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God’s Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity. Paul wrote:

‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom of God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power … When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24, 28)’

Commentary on John 11 (Raising of Lazarus) – #3 Post of 2017

Jesus and his disciples have previously left Jerusalem to escape the hostility Jesus was facing there. Many scholars believe that they are staying in the region of Batanea, which is about one hundred miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus receives word that his friend, Lazarus, is ill. Lazarus lives with his two sisters, Mary and Martha, in a town called Bethany, which is about two miles east of Jerusalem. When Jesus hears about Lazarus, he assures his disciples that through Lazarus’ illness, God will be glorified.

Two days later, Jesus announces that he is going back to Judea, the province in which Jerusalem and Bethany are located. His disciples, fearful for his safety, ask him why he is returning. He answers that Lazarus is dead and Jesus wants to go to him. Jesus adds, mysteriously, that he is glad he wasn’t there with Lazarus before he died, so that his disciples might believe. Thomas (one of Jesus’ disciples), not understanding what Jesus is talking about, resigns himself to go with Jesus, even though he fears that all the disciples may be killed by the Jewish authorities.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he learns that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The fourth day after death is an important milestone for Jews at this time. Jews believed a person’s soul would hover over the dead body for three days, trying to return to the body. After three days, when decomposition had set in, the soul would depart. In other words, there was no question that Lazarus was dead four days after he was buried. If it had been one to three days, there would have been some doubt as to whether he was actually deceased.

Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters comes to meet Jesus and bemoans the fact that Jesus did not arrive before Lazarus died. She has presumably seen Jesus heal sick people and she assumes he would have done the same for Lazarus.

Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, but she thinks he is referring to the future resurrection of all believers when the messianic kingdom begins. Jesus responds by saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus asks Martha if she believes what he just said, and she replies, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Martha affirms her belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah, and as a man who has a unique relationship with God.

What does Jesus mean by saying he is the resurrection and the life? D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, writes:

Jesus has repeatedly mentioned resurrection on the last day (5:21, 25–29; 6:39–40). In this he has been in line with mainstream Judaism. But these references have also insisted that he alone, under the express sanction of the Father, would raise the dead on the last day. The same truth is now repeated in the pithy claim, I am the resurrection and the life. Jesus’ concern is to divert Martha’s focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in him who alone can provide it. Just as he not only gives the bread from heaven (6:27) but is himself the bread of life (6:35), so also he not only raises the dead on the last day (5:21, 25ff.) but is himself the resurrection and the life. There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of him.

Note that as soon as a person believes in Jesus, eternal life begins. That is why Jesus can refer to a person physically dying, but yet still living. Eternal life does not start after death, but immediately upon believing in Jesus. The person who has eternal life will never experience a permanent death.

Martha then returns to her home to get Mary, her sister, and bring her to Jesus. The mourners who are comforting Mary rise and follow them. Apparently Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were wealthy because quite a few people had come from Jerusalem to mourn with Mary and Martha.

Mary repeats what Martha had said to Jesus, that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if Jesus had arrived while Lazarus was alive. This time, however, Jesus reacts to her weeping, and the weeping of the mourners, with indignation and then weeping of his own. Why did Jesus react with anger and indignation, and then weeping?

Carson offers two interpretations:

Some think that Jesus is moved by their grief, and is consequently angry with the sin, sickness and death in this fallen world that wreaks so much havoc and generates so much sorrow. Others think that the anger is directed at the unbelief itself. The men and women before him were grieving like pagans, like ‘the rest of men, who have no hope’ (1 Thes. 4:13). Profound grief at such bereavement is natural enough; grief that degenerates to despair, that pours out its loss as if there were no resurrection, is an implicit denial of that resurrection.

Notice that nobody, including Jesus’ disciples, Martha, Mary, or the Jewish mourners understand who Jesus is and what his mission is. They accept that he can heal, but they do not even consider that he can raise a man from the dead. They do not fully understand that he has been sent by God to conquer sin and death. Gerald Borchert, in vol. 25A, John 1–11, The New American Commentary, agrees:

The other places in the Gospels where such a depth of Jesus’ emotions were expressed are specifically places related to his mission: the places where he groaned over the failure of Jerusalem to come to him (cf. Matt 23:37–39; Luke 13:34–35), where he prayed for his disciples’ safety and future (cf. John 17:9–26), and where he wrestled with his death and the disciples’ weaknesses (cf. Matt 26:37–41; Mark 13:33–37; Luke 22:40–46; John 12:27–28). Accordingly, I would maintain that Jesus’ weeping here is directly related to the failure of his followers to recognize his mission as the agent of God. God’s Son was in their midst. They really missed the point.

Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and instructs the crowd to remove the stone which is covering the entrance to the tomb. Martha, not understanding what Jesus is about to do, warns Jesus that removing the stone is a mistake because Lazarus’ decaying body will stink.

Jesus reminds her that because she believes in him, she will see the glory of God. Jesus speaks a short prayer to God the Father, thanking Him for hearing Jesus. He then yells at the tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus comes out of the tomb, and the onlookers unbind him from his graveclothes.

Carson explains that the

corpse was customarily laid on a sheet of linen, wide enough to envelop the body completely and more than twice the length of the corpse. The body was so placed on the sheet that the feet were at one end, and then the sheet was drawn over the head and back down to the feet. The feet were bound at the ankles, and the arms were tied to the body with linen strips. The face was bound with another cloth (soudarion, a loan-word from the Latin sudarium, ‘sweat-cloth’, often worn in life around the neck). Jesus’ body was apparently prepared for burial in the same way (cf. 19:40; 20:5, 7). A person so bound could hop and shuffle, but scarcely walk. Therefore when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, and the dead man came out, Jesus promptly gave the order, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.

The Chronological Study Bible explains the significance of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the turning point in John’s Gospel. Not only is this miracle the last of the ‘signs’ emphasized by John . . . , it is also the climax of Jesus’ public ministry. Repeatedly John mentions how this miracle revealed Jesus and led people to believe (11: 4, 15, 25– 27, 40, 42, 45). Raising Lazarus from the dead dramatically concluded Jesus’ public ministry among the Jews (11: 54). While some came to believe in Him because of this great miracle, His opponents, alarmed at Jesus’ growing popularity, resolved ‘to put Him to death’ (11: 53). A threat of execution had already hung over Jesus (11: 8, 16), but now the religious authorities decided that His popularity threatened to provoke intervention by the Roman military. The priest Caiaphas advised that Jesus must die so that the Romans would not take away the privileges of the Jewish nation (11: 48). But John interprets the priest’s political calculation as an indirect prophecy that Jesus would die for the salvation of the Jews and of people everywhere who would believe in Him (11: 51, 52).

Why Don’t the Synoptic Gospels Recount the Raising of Lazarus? – #4 Post of 2017

Some critics have cast doubt on the veracity of the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel because it is not recorded in the other three Gospels. John’s Gospel is believed to be the last Gospel written, so the critics allege that John invented the story to further his particular agenda. Andreas Köstenberger, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), argues against this viewpoint.

This critique is part of a larger argument against the historicity of John’s Gospel based on its omission of many events found in the Synoptics and its inclusion of material absent from the other Gospels. However, this critique is ultimately unconvincing. For no matter one’s theory as to how John composed his Gospel, it is apparent that he had a large amount of material from which to choose. If John was aware of the Synoptics as he was writing, which is probable (see Bauckham 1997a, esp. 147– 71; Köstenberger 2009, 553– 55), then he could reasonably be expected to assume much of the material they contain.

On the other hand, if John wrote without knowledge of the Synoptics, then it is likely that at least some of the differences can be attributed to the large amount of material from which he had to choose. This corresponds with what John later writes: ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book’ (20: 30). Craig Blomberg rightly notes, ‘Any two ancient historians’ accounts of a given person or period of history differ from each other at least as much as John does from the Synoptics, when they do not rely on common sources for their information’ (Blomberg 2007, 207).

In addition, it stands to reason that John had his own theological emphases and unique perception of the significance of the events surrounding Jesus, not to mention his own individuality, style, interests, and distinctive eyewitness recollection from which to draw.

If the raising of Lazarus really did occur, why would the other Gospel authors fail to include it in their biographies? Surely an event of this significance would necessitate inclusion, the critics argue.  Köstenberger disagrees:

Why does an event require multiple attestations in the Gospels to be considered historical? Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus performs a host of miracles, including raising people from the dead (an admittedly rare feature), so critics certainly cannot legitimately argue that Lazarus’ resurrection fails to comport with the general Synoptic portrait of Jesus. Although it is impossible to know for certain why a given author selects or omits particular material in his or her account, one possible reason for the omission of the story of Lazarus in the other Gospels is their focus on Galilee (the raising of Lazarus takes place in Judea). Also, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham (2006, 184– 87) cites favorably G. Theissen’s theory of ‘protective anonymity,’ according to which the evangelists sought to shield individuals who were still living from persecution by not naming them. If Lazarus was still alive when the Synoptic Gospels were written, but died in the interim between their publication and the composition of John’s Gospel, this, likewise, may account for the Synoptic non-inclusion of the account and John’s inclusion of it. Lazarus’s death would have meant he no longer needed protection from persecution, so that John was free to include the account of his raising from the dead by Jesus.

What Happened to Verse 37 in Acts 8? – #5 Post of 2017

If you’re reading the NIV, ESV, or other modern English translation of the New Testament (NT), you will notice that Acts 8:37 is either omitted or bracketed. There will be a footnote saying that early manuscripts do not contain this verse. So what’s going on here? How could there be a verse 37 that once existed, but now has been deleted?

The first thing to understand is that verse numbers were not assigned to the biblical texts until the year 1551. One hundred years earlier, the printing press had been invented, and there was a subsequent explosion in printed copies of the Bible. At that time, the scholars who were producing printed Greek NT’s or translating the Greek NT into other languages only had a small number of ancient manuscripts to use in their translation, and these documents were primarily dated from the ninth through twelfth centuries.

These manuscripts from the ninth to twelfth centuries contained the text that was assigned to Acts 8:37. Here is the reading: “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” For the next five hundred years, verse 37 was included in most Bibles.

As we fast-forward to the twentieth century, archaeologists began discovering much older Greek NT manuscripts dating as far back as the second century. The older documents dated from the second through fourth centuries did not contain the text from Acts 8:37 (the text first shows up in a Coptic translation dated to the late fourth and fifth century). So, given the discrepancies between the earlier and later manuscripts, scholars must decide which variant most likely represents the original Book of Acts written in the first century. The consensus seems to be that the original version did not contain the words from verse 37.

Darrell Bock explains that verse 37 “appears to be a scribal addition, likely motivated by the fact that the original text of Acts does not recount the eunuch making a confession of faith.” Bruce Metzger adds that the phrase “Jesus Christ” is not a Lukan expression and thus must have been added by someone else.

Even though scholars don’t believe Luke wrote these words, they do believe that the contents of verse 37 likely reflect the practice of second century Christians.

Did James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, Die for the Gospel? – #6 Post of 2017

In Matthew 20, Jesus confirms that his cousins, James and John, will suffer, and possibly die, for his sake. This raises the question of whether we have any historical documentation about the deaths of James and John.

With regard to James, the book of Acts, chapter twelve, actually records his death around the year AD 44.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Given that there are several Herods mentioned in the Bible, which Herod killed James? According to gotquestions.org,

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12). It was he who persecuted the church in Jerusalem and had the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee, put to death by the sword. By the hand of Herod Agrippa I, James became the first apostle to be martyred.

With regard to John, the historical record is less clear. According to ccel.org, here is the most plausible account of what happened to John:

According to John’s Gospel (19:26-27), it was probably John who took Mary, the mother of Jesus as his adopted mother. He preached in Jerusalem, and later, as bishop of Ephesus, south of Izmir in western Turkey, worked among the churches of Asia Minor. During the reigns of either Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) or Domitian (AD 81-96), he was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD 100.

John likely was assigned to slave labor in the mines of Patmos, so he did indeed suffer greatly. There is also a church tradition which claims that, at one point, John was thrown into a basin of boiling oil.

Both brothers, then, suffered greatly for proclaiming the gospel. James was the first apostle to be martyred and John, although he lived several more decades than his brother, was banished to work the mines on the island of Patmos.

Commentary on Matthew 26 (The Last Supper) – #7 Post of 2017

During the week before the Passover Feast, the Jewish authorities have been looking for a way to arrest Jesus and they finally find one. In Matthew 26, verses 14-16, Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, betrays him. Judas goes to the chief priests and offers to help them arrest Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. This amount represents about four months of wages for Judas. To put this in perspective, this would be the equivalent of about $18k for the average American worker today.

Why would Judas offer to betray Jesus? Scripture does not tell us directly, but we can guess. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, offers the following: “Perhaps most plausible is an intermediate view, which sees Judas as growing increasingly disenchanted with the type of Messiah Jesus is proving to be, a far cry from the nationalistic, military liberator the Jews hoped would free them from Roman tyranny.”

On Thursday afternoon of the Passion Week, Jesus arranges for himself and the twelve disciples to eat the Passover meal that evening in a large upper room in a private home. Jesus and his disciples recline on three couches that form a U-shape (referred to as a triclinium). The food and wine are in the center of the U. The meal would only start after sundown because Passover begins after sundown.

Michael Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), explains how the Passover meal would have looked:

The ‘Haggadah of Passover’ was the set form in which the Exodus story was told on the first two nights of Passover as part of the ritual Seder (‘order’). The expression ‘Haggadah of Passover’ then came to be used for the entire Seder ritual as well as for the book containing the liturgy and ritual narration of the events of Deuteronomy 26:5–9 (first referred to in m. Pesah. 10). Central to the meal were three foods—unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and the Passover offering (lamb in temple days)—along with the four (traditional) cups of wine.

During the meal, each of the disciples would dip bitter herbs into a mixture of nuts, fruit, and vinegar to lessen their bitterness. Also, bread would be dipped in sauces. Just before the meal begins, Jesus announces to the disciples that he “who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” The mood of the meal turns to sorrow as each of the disciples asks Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” Judas asks Jesus if it is him, and Jesus answers, “You have said so.” It seems likely that Judas and Jesus’ conversation is private because the other disciples don’t seem aware that it is Judas who will betray Jesus. Otherwise, they surely would have confronted him during the meal.

In verse 24, Jesus affirms that the betrayal was prophesied in the Old Testament and is thus part of the divine plan. However, the person who actually betrays Jesus is responsible for freely choosing to do so. Judas will be damned because of his betrayal. Presumably, Judas leaves the meal at this point, although Matthew does not report it (his departure is reported in John). The other disciples still don’t suspect what he is up to.

Jesus then begins the Passover meal by breaking bread and saying a blessing over it, but he also gives a new command to the disciples: “Take, eat; this is my body.” Blomberg explains Jesus’ meaning:

A common loaf would be distributed to all. The unleavened bread originally symbolized the haste with which the Israelites departed from Egypt (Exod 12). For additional laws about how to celebrate the feast, see Lev 23:4–8; Num 9:1–14; and Deut 16:1–8. Jesus now invests the bread with new meaning. It foreshadows his body figuratively broken and literally killed in his upcoming death.

Deflecting intra-Christian debates about whether the bread is, in some sense, actually Jesus’ body, Blomberg writes,

As Jesus holds up a loaf and declares, ‘This is my body,’ no one listening will ever imagine that he is claiming the bread to be the literal extension of his flesh. Moreover, in Aramaic these sentences would have been spoken without a linking verb (‘is’), as simply, this, my body and this, my blood. As frequently elsewhere, Jesus is creating a vivid object lesson. The bread symbolizes (represents, stands for, or points to) his crucifixion in some otherwise unspecified sense.

During the Passover meal, four cups of wine would be consumed. Each had special significance, according to Michael Wilkins.

(1) The first cup initiated the ceremony with the Kiddush, the cup of benediction, a blessing over wine that introduces all festivals. (2) The second cup just before the meal and after the Haggadah of the Passover concluded with the singing of the first part of the Hallel (Ps. 113–114). (3) The third cup was drunk after the meal and the saying of grace. (4) The fourth cup followed the conclusion of the Hallel (Ps. 115–118) (m. Pesah 10:1–7).

Just before the third cup of wine was to be passed around, Jesus again gives a new command. Blomberg explains that the third cup is “tied in with God’s promise, ‘I will redeem you,’ in [Exodus 6:6c] and hence specifically to his original liberation of the Israelites from Egypt (m. Pesaḥ. 10:6–7).

Jesus ties the cup of wine to the blood he will spill on the cross. This blood sacrifice will result in the forgiveness of sins for many people (those who accept Jesus). This language echoes Isaiah 53, where Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, or the Messiah who will come. But Jesus is also announcing the beginning of a new covenant. Wilkins writes:

The traditional cups of the Passover celebration now offer another stunning illustration for Jesus to show that his sacrificial life is the fulfillment of all that for which the historical ritual had hoped. This is the new covenant that was promised to the people of Israel by God: ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ (Jer. 31:31, 34).

In verse 29, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not ever drink wine at another meal with them until the great banquet that accompanies the inauguration of the messianic kingdom at the end of the age.

The combination of eating bread and drinking wine, as Jesus directed during this Passover meal, has become known as the Lord’s Supper. Blomberg believes there are two key reasons for celebrating the Lord’s Supper:

One looks backward; the other, forward. First, we commemorate Jesus’ redemptive death. Second, we anticipate his return in company with all the redeemed. These two points remain central to all three Synoptic accounts and should form the heart of any theology of this ordinance.

After the meal, the disciples accompany Jesus out of Jerusalem and back east to the Mount of Olives, where they will spend the night. When they arrive, Jesus surprises them by telling the eleven remaining disciples that every one of them will abandon him because of the events that would transpire this Thursday night. When a shepherd is struck, his sheep will scatter. However, unlike Judas, the disciples will get another chance to renew their allegiance to Jesus after he rises from the dead and meets them in Galilee.

The disciple, Peter, once again sticking his foot in his mouth, insists that even though all the other disciples abandon Jesus, Peter will never do so. Jesus corrects Peter and tells him that he will deny Jesus three times before dawn breaks Friday morning (before the rooster crows). Peter, however, vows along with the other disciples that he would die before denying Jesus.  How is Peter’s denial of Jesus different from Judas’ betrayal Jesus to the chief priests? Blomberg writes:

Peter’s impulsive denial of Jesus is obviously not as treacherous as Judas’s premeditated betrayal, but Jesus has already said that any who disown him ‘before men’ he will disown before his Heavenly Father (10:33). So the difference between Peter and Judas lies primarily in their subsequent behavior. One may either deny or betray Christ and be forgiven if one genuinely repents. Without repentance (a change of heart followed by right action), both remain equally damning.

Commentary on Acts 8 (Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch) – #8 Post of 2017

In chapter 8 of Acts, Stephen’s death sparks an intense persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Many of the believers must flee the city, but the apostles decide to stay. It seems likely that the persecution was targeted more toward the Greek-speaking Christians, as they were more closely associated with Stephen. However, the persecution may have spread to the Hebrew Christians as well. Saul tracks down Christians and has them arrested and thrown in prison. Some brave Christians give Stephen a proper burial, even though it was prohibited by Jewish law.

The attacks on the Christians in Jerusalem have an unintended consequence, however. As they flee the city and travel to other towns and villages, the believers start to spread the story of Jesus to the surrounding region, something they hadn’t done for the first several years after Pentecost.

Luke focuses on Philip. Recall that he was one of the seven chosen to ensure the Hellenist widows were cared for. As a Hellenist Christian, he was probably one of the first to leave Jerusalem. He travels to a city in Samaria and preaches “the Christ.” It is unclear which city Philip visits first, although Darrell Bock suggests Sychar (see map below). Sychar is the religious center of Samaria, so it would make sense that Philip would go there first.

Philip performs miraculous exorcisms and healings, all of which cause the Samaritans to listen to what he has to say about Jesus. Luke reports that a significant number receive the message and that there is great joy in the city.

In verses 14-17, Luke reports that Peter and John travel from Jerusalem to see for themselves what is happening in Samaria. When Peter and John arrive, they pray for the Samaritan converts and lay hands on them. Immediately, the Holy Spirit manifests himself in the new believers. We are not sure what occurs, but we can speculate that they were able to speak in foreign languages just as the disciples were able to do at Pentecost. In fact, some scholars refer to this event as the Samaritan Pentecost.

A question arises, however, as to why the Samaritan believers did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit when they professed and were baptized in Jesus’ name. Only after Peter and John lay hands on them does this occur.

As mentioned in a previous lesson, there is not a set pattern in the Book of Acts for baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit, so we must not take this particular story and try to make it normative for the church. It seems that the addition of the Samaritans to the early church required apostolic confirmation to keep the church from dividing. We need to remember that the Jews and Samaritans actively dislike each other. Clinton Arnold, in , recounts the history of the Samaritans:

The Samaritans viewed themselves as Israelites, true remnants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who maintained a monotheistic faith and upheld the Torah as holy scripture. They kept the rite of circumcision, regularly observed the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals, and honored Moses as the greatest of the prophets. The Jews, however, viewed the Samaritans as ‘half breeds’—descendants of Mesopotamian (Gentile) colonists who settled in the area and intermarried with the Jews remaining there after the Jewish exile by Assyria (2 Kings 17:24-31).

At the heart of the schism between Jews and Samaritans in the first century was the fact that Samaritans rejected the Jewish temple worship. Three centuries earlier, they had constructed their own temple on Mount Gerizim. They also rejected all of the Hebrew Bible except the first five books of Moses. The hostility intensified in the century before Christ when John Hyrcanus destroyed their temple (107 B.C.) and devastated many of their cities. Under the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (167 B.C.), they had requested that their temple be dedicated to Zeus Hellenios, thus identifying Zeus with Yahweh.

The Jewish rabbi Ben Sira refers to the Samaritans as ‘the foolish people that live in Shechem.’ Jews regarded Samaritans on the same level as Gentiles in ritual and purity matters. Not only did Jews prohibit intermarriage with Samaritans, but they did not even allow a Samaritan to convert to Judaism. The apostle John summarizes the situation well when he says, ‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans’ (John 4:9).

If the apostles did not personally visit the new Samaritan converts and confirm that they were truly added to the church by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, there would likely have been a schism. The bad blood between the Samaritans and Jews would have caused considerable damage to the movement. But with the Holy Spirit coming to the Samaritans, all doubts are erased, and church unity is preserved.

In verse 26, an angel instructs Philip to leave Samaria and go down south of Jerusalem onto the road that leads past Gaza (see map above). As Philip is walking on the road, an Ethiopian official is riding in a chariot and reading aloud from an Isaiah scroll. Clinton Arnold explains that in the

Greco-Roman period, ‘Ethiopia’ referred to the land south of Egypt—what is today the Sudan and modern Ethiopia. In Old Testament times, this was the land of Cush (see Est. 1:1; 8:9; Isa. 11:11). The term ‘Ethiopia’ has come to mean the land of the ‘Burnt-Faced People,’ indicating their black skin. The man whom Philip encounters is most likely from the kingdom of Nubia located on the Nile River between Aswan and the Fourth Cataract (a waterfall-like area of rapids). The capital of this region is Meroe.

Since the Ethiopian had come to Jerusalem to worship, he would have been called a God-fearer. God-fearers are people who worship the God of Israel, but who are not official converts to Judaism (proselytes). In this case, because the Ethiopian is a eunuch, Jewish law forbids him from becoming a proselyte. Arnold surmises, “As a Gentile God-fearer, he could not have taken part in the temple services in Jerusalem. At the most, he could be admitted into the Court of the Gentiles. Perhaps the Ethiopian came for one or more of the three great pilgrim festivals (Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles).”

The Holy Spirit directs Philip to engage with the eunuch, so Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch tells him no and invites Philip into his chariot to explain the words (Isaiah 53:7-8) to him. Philip explains that the sheep led to slaughter is none other than the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. From there, Philip expands upon how the Scriptures all point toward Jesus as the promised Messiah.

As the chariot passes by water, the eunuch asks Philip to baptize him because the eunuch has understood and believed what Philip has said about Jesus. Philip baptizes the eunuch and then disappears, taken by the Holy Spirit to a city just north called Azotus. Philip continues his missionary work up the coast of Judea and Samaria until he reaches Caesarea, where he resides for at least 20 years (see Acts 21).

Why would Luke spend so much time on the conversion of a single man? First, the Greco-Roman world regarded Ethiopia, which was south of Egypt, as the “end of the earth.” Luke wanted to show that the command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8 is being accomplished. Second, Luke is recording the first conversion of a black man, a man who belongs to a non-Semitic ethnic group. All ethnic groups are to be included in the kingdom of God. Third, the eunuch is the first example of a God-fearer coming to believe in Jesus. God-fearers were excluded from becoming full Jews, but in Jesus’ church, they were not excluded. They are full members, along with all other converts.

What Is the Meaning of Peter’s Exclusive Claim in Acts 4:12? – #9 Post of 2017

In Acts 4:12, the apostle Peter boldly tells the Jewish Supreme Court about the name of Jesus Christ, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” We moderns are offended by exclusive religious claims because we’re confident that nobody has the truth about spiritual matters. So what do we make of Peter’s statement? Was he just speaking to the people of his time and place?

Darrell Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), tackles the issue of Peter’s intentions:

Since Peter, just like anyone else among the early Christians, could not have known the sheer size of Earth or the number of its people groups and how long it would take to reach the whole world with the gospel, it has been suggested that ‘under heaven’ ought not to be taken to mean that Jesus is the only way people can be saved. Might it just be that Jesus is the only means of salvation among the Jews and the people groups his ministry touched?

Witherington (1998, 194) correctly observes, ‘Peter is no advocate of modern notions of religious pluralism’ (also John 14: 6; 1 Tim 2: 5; Heb 2: 3). The consistent message throughout the NT is that Jesus is the only Savior for humanity. Human ignorance about the size of Earth’s landmass and human population has no bearing on the central facts of humanity’s need for redemption and the one means of redemption that is provided. Of course the exclusiveness claim offends many readers, and they seek to avoid it by noting the primitive geographical understanding of biblical times. Two considerations speak against such an argument.

First, the Roman Empire was like a sponge when it came to religion. Romans accepted all kinds of gods and religious ideas that came from the far corners of their vast empire. A trip to Caesarea Philippi, a locale where Jesus did some of his ministry, shows the presence and awareness of many of these gods. So Peter and the other apostles were well aware of the plurality of religions, and they understood that many of these originated in faraway places they would never visit. They preached the exclusivity of Christ within the context of the religious melting pot that was the Roman Empire, and so the fact that there were other world religions about which they were ignorant does not mitigate their claims about the exclusivity of Christ.

Second, and more importantly, the claim was that Jesus meets an internal need all people everywhere have. Their claim was not that other people did not seek to be pious; they knew that virtually all people are religious. Their claim was instead that Jesus alone can remedy what is wrong with us. The disciples were so committed to this idea and its exclusiveness that they devoted themselves to getting the word out as far and wide as they could. The claim of there being no other such saving name under heaven indicates how comprehensive a solution Jesus is in the apostle’s view.

Bock, in , addresses the fear that people today have of exclusive religious claims:

There is an exclusiveness to Jesus’s work that is not popular today. It is seen in our culture as a blow against religious diversity as well as the cause of great religious and political strife throughout history, especially in European history up to the Enlightenment. But a key point is often missed. It is when religion is imposed that it does damage. Here we see apostles making an appeal and leaving the decision and consequences to individual response. There is no effort to impose the faith, only to inform about it and to stress the responsibility every creature ultimately has to be responsive to the living God.

In addition, the offer of Jesus is made to all without discrimination. Thus the exclusiveness of the benefit is directly related to one’s willingness or unwillingness to be connected to the benefits. The church’s call is to be loyal to God in sharing the message and doing so in such a way that its impact on believers’ lives is evident. The call is not to impose the gospel on others. Some will not welcome such a testimony. They are left to go their own way with its tragic consequences. To others, however, the gospel will supply the sweet savor of real life and will open new vistas to how one can live and have fellowship with God.

Do the Three Accounts of Paul’s Conversion in Acts Contradict Each Other? – #10 Post of 2017

The conversion of Saul/Paul is so important to the author of the Book of Acts that he presents the story three times (Acts 9, 22, 26). Each version is different, and this fact has led some critics to say that the accounts are contradictory. But is that necessarily the case?

First, we must note that there are several common elements in the three versions:

  • Saul is on his way to Damascus to gather up Christians.
  • He sees an intense light.
  • The Lord asks why Saul is persecuting him.
  • Saul asks who the speaker is.
  • Jesus reveals that it is he.

What are the differences? Darrel Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), writes:

The biggest differences in the accounts have to do with whether the men traveling with Saul see the light and hear nothing (22:9) or stand speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (9:7). . . . Another difference is that Ananias does not appear at all in the Acts 26 account. . . . Another key difference between the accounts is that Saul does not mention his call to reach the Gentiles in the account given in Acts 9, whereas he shares this detail in Acts 22 and 26.

Bock then argues that each of these differences can be reconciled. About the different experiences of the men traveling with Saul,

The elements at play here can be reconciled (Witherington 1998, 312– 13), as for instance in the following way: The men hear a sound, but it is not intelligible to them; they also see a light but not Jesus himself. Only Saul sees someone in the light and is able to discern a speaking voice in the sound. Saul’s companions experience something less than the full event, which means that the appearance is neither an entirely private vision nor a fully disclosed public event. It is a public event whose details are for one man alone, Saul of Tarsus.

John Polhill, in Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary, agrees with Bock:

Paul’s traveling companions served as authenticators that what happened to Paul was an objective event, not merely a rumbling of his inner psyche. They heard a sound, but they did not see the vision of Jesus. Acts 22:9 says that they saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke with Paul. The two accounts are not contradictory but underline the same event. Paul’s companions heard a sound and saw a light. They could verify that an objective heavenly manifestation took place. They did not participate in the heavenly communication, however, neither seeing the vision of Jesus nor hearing the words spoken to Paul. The revelation was solely to Paul.

Regarding Ananias being left out of Acts 26, Bock writes, “This may be in part because the book has already mentioned him in detail twice, in Acts 9 and 22. Luke chooses not to be redundant on this detail, and so he provides a telescoped account.”

Regarding Saul not mentioning his call to the Gentiles in Acts 9, “Ananias notes in 9:15 that Saul would be called to a Gentile mission, so we probably have another example of telescoping. Another possibility is that Luke chose not to note this detail in his third-person narrative because the Gentile mission had not yet taken place, but this argument is somewhat weakened by the mention of the mission to Ananias. In any case, Saul’s not mentioning his Gentile mission in Acts 9 is simply an outcome of Luke’s literary choice, the exact reason for which is not clear.”

Bock concludes:

As is common in ancient retellings, each version has some variation so that each adds something to the reader’s understanding. Witherington (1998, 303– 15) has a helpful discussion of the relationship between these three accounts. He stresses that all of them are summaries and are not intended to provide comprehensive information.