In rabbinic parables God could be portrayed as behaving in a morally ambiguous manner: he might be a cruel slave owner or a heartless judge. In a few Lukan parables, Jesus also portrayed God as behaving scandalously. Often unsettling for modern readers, such portrayals added humorous elements to the plot and heightened the dramatic effect.
Are any words of Jesus better known than these: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32, KJV)? This ringing declaration holds a prominent place in Western thought, and has exerted a powerful and even prophetic influence upon the American way of life in the last two centuries. Incised on our hallowed U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., it expresses the best of our ambitions and ideals as a nation “under God.”
Jesus gave his disciple Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and promised that whatever Peter “bound” and “loosed” on earth would be “bound” and “loosed” in heaven. What scriptural allusions lurk beneath these expressions and what are their implications? How does the Jewish literary background of Matthew 16:19 help us better appreciate Jesus’ words?
In the whole of Luke’s gospel, there is just one context in which the verbs “divorce” and “marry” appear together. That passage—only one verse—ought to contribute to a correct understanding of Jesus’ attitude toward divorce and remarriage; however, there exists no scholarly consensus on the passage’s meaning.
A passage in Sefer Pitron Torah, a medieval miscellany dealing with Leviticus 19, the Holiness Chapter, buttresses the conclusions arrived at in “The Decalogue and the New Testament.” If we could be sure that this passage is based on older, ancient material, and that it was not influenced by the New Testament, the area of conjecture in our conclusions would shrink, or perhaps vanish altogether.
One of the greatest theological controversies in the last century concerns the meaning of the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven.” Because scholars have not given adequate attention to the fact that these are completely Hebraic terms, confusion has arisen concerning the period of time to which the Kingdom refers, who takes part in it and the exact nature of the Kingdom. Examining relevant Gospel passages in their Hebraic context will clarify what Jesus meant when he spoke of the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven.”
Jewish sages were called upon constantly by their community to interpret scriptural commands. The Torah forbids working on the Sabbath, for instance, but it does not define what constitutes work. As a result, the sages were required to rule on which activities were permitted on the Sabbath. They “bound,” or prohibited, certain activities, and “loosed” or allowed, others.
For too long discussion of the Jewishness of Jesus has remained academic. Few scholars have had the interest or ability to unfold the practical meaning of the Gospels’ Jewish roots for today’s Church. Marvin Wilson, professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College, has finally filled that void with Our Father Abraham. And the result is simply revolutionary.
Like other sages of his time, Jesus demanded his disciples’ total commitment. They were to put the “kingdom of Heaven” (Jesus’ band of full-time disciples) before all else. They were to “hate,” that is, put second, father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and themselves, as well (Luke 14:26). Following Jesus to learn Torah from him was to take precedence over every other endeavor.