Reading the Bible Responsibly

God’s story is amazing. There is nothing I would rather write, speak or spend my time investigating. It's not always patently clear what is happening or for that matter what has happened and - perhaps of greater significance - what it meant and therefore should mean to us.

God has often worked in patterns and picture, requiring familiarity with the story in order to recognize what NT writers may be employing. Looking back and surveying it makes one realize, it is all one story, part of a big picture and grand scheme that God has been using many times and for various purposes. It is just as alive today with you and I, as it was in the beginning. We all have our part to play, but this takes effort.

I have highlighted in the past the relationship between Moses and the prophet that would be like him, raised from among his brethren (Deut 18 cf. Acts 3, Acts 7). When examining the life of Jesus and noticing the similarities portrayed of him alongside the great men of the faith in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), the nuances that await the careful reader will no doubt come as a surprise. In the next few posts, I'm going to examine some of these themes.

What becomes interesting - as investigation into the lives of these others is made - are the patterns and resemblances in the life of Jesus that emerge. It may be a word or phrase, OT quotation or even a paragraph, but from my observation, the volume of these subtle and not-so-subtle allusions force the realization that the writers of the NT invariably had an objective when they included these little nuggets and nuances. Possibly they used them for revealing a particular personal trait, or maybe a certain attribute of his nature. There are in fact too many similarities, to be merely “coincidental,” - as a critic might offer.

Regardless of the writer's objective, it is obvious to see that such allusions exist. To the readers who know their text, these references make an even stronger connection. The connection is important on various levels, but perhaps the most significant is that the NT is in some ways a collection of interpretations and commentary of the Hebrew Scriptures which seeks to show why Jesus is the promised eschatological messiah and the rightful king of Israel, who having inaugurated the kingdom of God is destined to rule with the saints at his side. 

Jesus said on multiple occasions, 

“you have heard it said, but I tell you…” 

Peter, Paul and others make reference to 

“this is what the scriptures said concerning,”…and so on. 

Jesus himself also stated, 

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me... if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (Joh 5:39, 46-47 NAU). 

The NT commentators and writers carry the conviction that what they heard and saw was a fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold, that which had been revealed to them through the spirit of God. For instance in Acts 10,
"We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem...not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead" (Act 10:39, 41-42 NAU). 

The frequent use of the OT to convince not only their readers, but (earlier and arguably more culturally normative) firstly their listeners was for the express purpose of making an irrefutable case that the long awaited messiah had indeed been born. But this was not the only way they communicated the uniqueness of this "Jesus of Nazareth." 

The writer John is a good example, his mention of specific miracles -which are absent in the Synoptics - such as water to wine, and the healing at the pool of Bethesda can be curious if not frustrating for the "harmony of the Gospels." This is where culture and context are of extreme importance. It must be taken into consideration that the main audience of GJohn was in all probability Asia Minor. Dionysus, the god of grape harvest and of wine-making was a prominent god, reputed for turning water to wine, the first miracle John attests to Jesus. Asclepius, the god who healed by moving waters had a temple/shrine in the vicinity of the pool of Bethesda.1 In John’s Gospel, there was a man who was not healed by Asclepius, but rather by Jesus, a loud and clear testimony to John’s audience. With this as a backdrop, it can be easily seen why John would make reference to specific miracles in relation to Jesus.

Context plays a crucial role in our biblical worldview. To ignore it is to do the Bible a great injustice. Read responsibly.  

1. There has been fairly recent archaeological evidence that leads some scholars to believe there was a temple to the god Asclepius in the vicinity of the pool of Bethesda. Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible p. 697, Maureen W. Yeung, Faith in Jesus and Paul, p. 79. Also, “the text is missing in the earlier manuscripts of John and may have been added by a scribe for greater clarity” Brad Young, The Gospel of John: From the mouth of Yochanan– HHBT p. 23.

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