The growing value placed on charity in the first century C.E. cannot be overstated. As a new sensitivity developed within Judaism that challenged the compensatory “blessings and curses” paradigm of the Hebrew Bible (cf. Deut. 28) as a basis to serve God, so there was a shifting emphasis towards altruistic love embodied in the Levitical commandment, “…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יי; Lev. 19:18).”
The Pharisee Gamaliel is mentioned twice in the New Testament (Acts 5:34; 22:3). In Acts 5:34 he appears as an advocate of the nascent congregation of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem and is called “a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law, held in honor by all the people.” Then, in Acts 22:3, Paul says that he was “brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel.” Indeed, Gamaliel was an important spiritual leader of the Pharisees and a Jewish scholar. He also is well known from Jewish sources.
Every reader of the Gospels knows the phrase, “Verily, I say unto you,” or “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” According to the standard English translations of the Old and New Testaments, it seems that Jesus alone used such a preamble. Most Christians, long accustomed to such expressions in the Bible, take it for granted that “Jesus talked that way.”
A “Hebraism” is a typical feature of the Hebrew language found in another language. The majority of today’s New Testament authorities assume that Aramaic is behind the Semitisms of the New Testament, and that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language. So much so, in fact, that the student who checks standard reference works is informed that the Greek words for “Hebrew” and for “in the Hebrew language” (not only in the New Testament, but in Josephus and other texts) refer to the Aramaic language.
Some months ago, pastor-blogger Trevin Wax posted an article called “Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition.” There he lists several “urban legends” that he’s heard floating around lately in sermons. Like Internet rumors that people forward on ad infinitum, these preaching illustrations don’t have much grounding in fact.
Without reading the Scriptures carefully, and without a familiarity with Second Temple-period extra-biblical sources, a simple reader of the New Testament might assume that a majority of the Pharisees were hypocrites and that the Pharisees as a movement were indeed a “brood of vipers.” As a result of this common Christian assumption, the word “Pharisee” has become a synonym for “hypocrite” in the English language.
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It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.
Jesus made bold messianic claims when he spoke. To thoroughly understand these claims, however, we must get into a time machine and travel back in time to a completely different culture, the Jewish culture of first-century Israel. We must acculturate ourselves to the way teachers and disciples in the time of Jesus communicated through allusions to Scripture.
An extremely interesting discussion is now taking place on the Bible Translation Discussion List (Bible-Translation@lists.kastanet.org). Jack Kilmon has stated (13Nov08), “Jesus/Yeshua’s native language was Aramaic. That is no longer disputed in serious scholarship,” and (15Nov08), “There is no evidence whatsoever that ordinary people spoke Hebrew in the late 2nd temple period.”
In the marketplace of ideas, legitimate biblical scholarship competes with the likes of Erich von Deniken (Chariots of the Gods) and Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), and other sensationalists.
Let’s consider how Jesus would have responded to the damage and loss of life wrought by Katrina. He no doubt would have said, “Do you think these people in New Orleans were worse sinners than all the rest? No, and unless you repent you will also perish” (compare Luke 13:1-5). In other words, this disaster (and all others) should serve to remind us that we need to urgently and seriously examine our own lives!
Mark’s placement of Jesus’ “no longer dared” comment is very awkward: first, because the comment comes in the middle of a lovefest between Jesus and a scribe; and second, because the comment immediately follows Jesus’ appreciation of the scribe’s wisdom: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
It appears that the original context for Jesus’ “Comfort for the Heavy-Laden” saying has been lost; however, in spite of this, passages in the apocryphal book of Ben Sira may help us determine Jesus’ intent. The Ben Sira texts indicate that Jesus was speaking of the study of Torah (Written and Oral) and the rigors of first-century discipleship.
Jesus’ teaching on judging is one of his most frequently misunderstood sayings, sounding as if he is saying, “Have no discernment. Just ignore sin!” Often we struggle to find a way to sort out sin without actually calling it that so that we do not judge. While Jesus’ ethical demands are high, we often give up trying to follow them if they do not make sense to us.
One of the difficult sayings of Jesus is his justification of the disciples’ plucking and/or rubbing heads of grain on the Sabbath. Fortunately, research in recent years among Jewish scholars in Jerusalem has shed new light on what the questionable action might have been.