Archive for the ‘Gospels’ Category

      Some readers of my earlier essay, “Strange and Glorious New Rites,” have written to object that I have strained a gnat and swallowed a camel. I have strained out the gnat of a possible link to the memorial bread of the minchah (Lev. 2), while overlooking the camel that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.
      Actually, I did not deal with the Passover aspect because, to be frank, Jesus almost certainly was not eating a Passover meal at the Last Supper. More on that below.
      Let’s assume, however, that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal. At the Passover, lambs and kids (by Jesus’ time, only lambs) were taken to the Temple, slaughtered according to the rites of the Thanksgiving Peace offering, roasted by the priests and Levites, and distributed back to the people. (Deuteronomy 16:1-8; 2 Chronicles 30 and 35.) The Passover had to be eaten in one day, and this is the same as the rule of the Thanksgiving (Lev. 7:11-14). We notice here also that various items of bread were offered as part of the Thanksgiving.
      Beyond this, Numbers 15:1-15 specifies the precise Minchah that was to be offered with offerings at “appointed times” (v. 2). The revised Minchah consists of wine as well as semolina.
      Also, the passages in 2 Chronicles affirm that Ascensions consisting of bulls were brought near at the same time as the Thanksgiving Passover lambs and kids. The Ascensions also required the Minchah.
      So, if indeed the Last Supper took place as a Passover meal, and Jesus was crucified the following day, then there is plenty of foundation for the disciples to have regarded His actions with the bread and wine as a new form of the Minchah. They were quite well aware that at Passover bread was given to God and then eaten by the priests, while wine was poured out. They understood fully that for Jesus to break off the first piece of bread for Himself and then say, “Do this as a memorial TO ME,” Jesus was putting himself in the place of God. It was enough to send Judas over the edge, and he left almost immediately.

      All the same, this Last Supper was not a Passover meal. Paul wrote, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7), indicating that Jesus died at the time the Passover lambs were being killed.
      In Luke 22:15-16 we read “And he said to them: ‘I have longingly desired to eat this Passover with you before my suffering; however, I tell you that I shall not eat of it, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.'” This indicates that Jesus wanted to rejoice in the feast with them, but that He would not be able to until the Kingdom had fully come. (Moreover, if this were a Passover meal, where were the wives and children?)
      John’s gospel stresses that the Last Supper was eaten before the Feast of Passover. See 13:1, 21; 18:18; 19:14, 31, 42. John refers to this as the Preparation Day of the Passover. What does this mean? It means the 14th of Nisan, starting in the evening and continuing until around 3:00 pm the following afternoon, when the Passover lambs began to be slaughtered. The following day was a special sabbath (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:6-7). So, let us consider: If Jesus had eaten a Passover meal, the next day would have been a High Sabbath. The Jews could not have brought Him before Pilate on that day. And in fact, the gospels stress that it was the day after the crucifixion, beginning around 6:00 pm Friday evening, that was the High Sabbath (John 19:31).
      Now let us consider the chronology:
      Thursday afternoon: Around sunset right at the beginning of Nisan 14, Jesus allows some disciples to find a room to prepare for the Passover (Mt. 26:17-21; Mk. 14:12-18; Lk. 22:7-16). Preparing for the Passover means getting rid of the leaven (Ex. 12:15). According to the gospels, this was the Preparation Day, and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
      Note: Let us be clear: The Day of Preparation is the same Day as Passover, but Passover happens at the end of this day, in the afternoon, while the day begins the previous evening.
      Thursday evening: Having prepared the room, the disciples have the Last Supper with Jesus. After a long conversation (John 13ff.), they walk out into the full-moonlit night to the garden of Gethsemane. Three hours later Jesus is arrested. (I calculate this as around midnight, so that Jesus’ arrest corresponds to God’s killing the sons of Egypt in the days of Moses.) Throughout the rest of the night and into the morning, Jesus is conveyed from one trial to another, all on Nisan 14.
      Friday afternoon: By noon, Jesus is being crucified. He suffers for our sins for three hours, and then dies around 3:00 pm, which is exactly when the Passover lambs begin to be slaughtered.
      Friday night: Starting at 6:00 pm or so is the High Sabbath, Nisan 15, and by this time people have their Passover lambs roasted by the priests and a feast can begin. But the disciples don’t enjoy any Passover feast. They weep and mourn apart.

      So, what shall we say? Is the tradition that the Last Supper is some kind of Passover meal totally wrong? I do not think so. Remember that the Passover kid/lamb was to be set apart on the 10th of the month for observation. This begins a larger “Passover time.” The Last Supper was a meal at Passover Time. And indeed it happened on the same day as Passover, only at the beginning of that day rather than at the end when the lambs were sacrificed.
      There was no Temple-roasted Passover lamb at the Last Supper. Jesus was the Lamb at that Supper, and the food He gave was his own flesh, in bread, and blood, in drink.


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Mary’s Unbelief

Mark 3:20-35 is one of Mark’s typical sandwiches, in which a story starts, gets interrupted by a second story which relates to it in some way, and then finally comes to its conclusion. Here, we are told that, having heard about Jesus’ behavior, some of “His own people” come to seize him, saying, “He is out of his mind” (3:20-21). Then we have the second story, Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem who claim that he casts out demons by the ruler of the demons (3:22-30). Finally, we return to the first story, when Jesus’ brothers and mother come and send for Jesus and when Jesus identifies those who are doing God’s will by sitting around him as his brother and sister and mother (3:31-35).

That structure is obvious even in an English translation. But a look at the Greek reveals an interesting play on words. At the beginning, when Jesus’ “own people” say that he is “out of his mind” (3:21), the word used literally (or, rather, etymologically) means “standing outside.” (Perhaps that’s roughly equivalent to our English expression “beside himself.”) But at the end of the story, Jesus’ “own people” turn out to be his brothers and mother, who come and, “standing outside,” call him (3:31; cf. 3:32, which stresses again that they are “outside”).

So Jesus’ “own people” think Jesus is the one “standing outside” (in the sense of “crazy”). But Jesus’ family members turn out to be the ones literally “standing outside,” while Jesus identifies those who are sitting inside as his true family, those who, in obedience to God’s will, are “sitting around him” (3:32, 34). To be his true family — his true mother and brothers — his natural mother and brothers must come inside instead of calling him out.

Jesus does indeed belong with his family. But at this point, in spite of their natural relationship with Jesus, Mary and his brothers are not that family. They are seeking to take him away from the ones who sit around him in obedience to God, away from the ones he identifies as his mother and brothers and sisters, in order to take him into their protective custody, as if Jesus would be safe with them instead of they themselves being safe with him. And therefore, though they did later trust in Jesus, they are acting at this moment in unbelief. For Mary to become Jesus’ “mother and brother and sister” now, she must join those who are with Jesus; she must come inside. Otherwise, she will be left outside his family.

Furthermore, in a sandwich story, the middle story also relates to the story that frames it. And so here it is not just the frame story that involves standing (and sitting). In 3:24-25, Jesus says that a divided kingdom or a divided household cannot “stand.” And in 3:26, he speaks of “the satan” as “standing up” against himself.

The reference to the divided household that doesn’t “stand” might resonate with the frame story: Jesus’ natural household won’t stand if his mother and brothers are divided against Jesus. While Mary and Jesus’ brothers are not saying, with the scribes from Jerusalem, that Jesus is in league with the ruler of the demons, they are still opposed to him, still acting in unbelief, and therefore still in danger. Their natural family relationship to Jesus will not keep them safe. Mary is not saved through giving birth to Jesus, and she is not blessed apart from her faith. If Mary and Jesus’ brothers continue to “stand outside” instead of “sitting around him,” then their household won’t stay standing.

The repetition of the word “stand,” and especially of words having to do with “standing outside,” sets up this question: Who is really “standing outside”? If Jesus’ family thinks Jesus is “standing outside” in the sense of being insane, then their household won’t “stand.” And if you think Jesus is “standing outside” in that sense, then you end up “standing outside” yourself, here literally but, as Jesus’ words make clear, also in a deeper sense.

The family is sitting inside, sitting around Jesus and with Jesus. While not everyone has to be crowded into the room where Jesus is sitting, everyone must be with him and not against him. That’s God’s will. Only Jesus’ family is safe, only the mother and brothers and sisters who stick with him. You’d have to be insane to be “standing outside.”

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James Jordan recently pointed out in private conversation how appropriate it is, in John’s Gospel, that Nicodemus is present both to ask Jesus about being born again, and to see Jesus re-enter the womb of the mother.

Nicodemus rhetorically asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Then he gets to witness Jesus’ answer by being present for Jesus’ burial: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (compare Genesis 24.16a: “The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known”).

New birth as metaphor for resurrection should not surprise us.  It correlates to Adam’s first birth from the earth by the Spirit (thus, Paul’s direct comparison between Adam’s creation and Christ’s resurrection).  In fact, evidence for this idea fills the New Testament (see here or here for some further evidence).

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The phone rang. “Hello, this is John Mark.”

“Hi, JM. This is Simon Peter.”

“Oh, hello, Mr. Rock,” said Mark. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, JM” said Peter, “I’ve been very impressed by your recent essays in the New Jew Review, especially your series on David as the anointed one, pointing to our Lord Jesus. Some of what you’ve been writing about dovetails, if I may use the word, with what some of us have been hearing from the Spirit.”

“New prophecies?” asked Mark.

“No. What I meant was the way the Spirit has been leading our conversations. JM, Agrippa is becoming intolerable. The man is scum, but bears the title of `king’ thanks to that loony Caesar Littlebooties; and now that old pseudo-philosopher Claudius has added Judea and Samaria to Galilee and given it all to him. He thinks he’s Herod the Great reborn.


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I thought it might be good to put this up here, since it is 14 years old, and itself reflects earlier discussion. From this you can see that we at BH have been considering this notion for quite some time. Clearly, the last word has not been said. — James B. Jordan 

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 56
December, 1993
Copyright 1993, Biblical Horizons

My research for Through New Eyes II has led me to the conviction that there are three major periods of Biblical history, which lead to a fourth. These are the Ages of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit.

The First Age, that of the Father, is recorded in the book of Genesis. It focuses on the personal lives and faith of the men we call the patriarchs. It begins with God’s establishment of four environments on the earth: (1) the Throne Land of Eden, accessible only through the (2) Garden-Sanctuary, which is surrounded by (3) homelands, which relate to other spaces as (4) outlying world. Man’s first fall, in the Sanctuary, prevented his going into Eden and resulted in his being put in a Homeland that was not a Throneland. The second fall, of Cain, expelled him from a Homeland into a world of wandering. The third fall, of the Sethites, removed the sinners from the world through the great flood. As I have shown in a previous essay (“Three Falls and Three Heroes,” in Biblical Horizons 22), these rebellions constituted stealing the gift of the Father (sacrilege), murder of the brotherhood of the Son (fratricide), and resisting the marital gifts of the Spirit (intermarriage or compromise).


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Yesterday, I took part with my oldest son in a church-sponsored city outreach project (not because I’m especially prone to such behavior but because my son has a Boy Scout requirement that this would help him meet). Before we were sent out on our various jobs, the leader gave a devotional about the following text (unless he used Mark or Luke instead):

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When we read “sinners,” he pointed out, we tend to universalize the reference to cover everyone who sins–which is, in fact, everyone. But that is not the way the term is being used in this passage, he claimed. “Sinners” was not a term that could be legitimately applied to anyone and everyone who sinned. Rather, it referred to those who were regarded as having abandoned or compromised beyond recognitions the covenant of God the promised the forgiveness of sins–such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and even all non-Pharisees.

(He didn’t mention this, but it is obvious Paul uses the term, “sinner” the same way in Romans 5.8. If Paul had our modern definition of “sinner” in mind, he could not have said that Jesus died for us while we were “still sinners.”)

His point of application was, I thought, quite needful and helpful. By turning everyone into a “sinner” in order to universalize the need to grace, we have, he argued, escaped Jesus’ immediate point. Jesus’ point was that there are people who appear to be outside the pale, but to whom we are supposed to be in direct contact. Jesus wants us not to think of everyone, but especially of the people we would never consider worth spending time with.

I’ve heard people paraphrase Jesus’ last statement in the passage (“For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.“) as a statement that he came not to call the self-righteous, but those who acknowledged themselves as sinners. But there’s no indication that all of Levi’s friends were repentant in this way. I think it is much more probable that Jesus is saying that he, as a righteous man, wants to call sinners, and that if they are righteous, they will go an do likewise.

In my commentary on Mark, I veer away from the generic moral lesson that Jesus might have been teaching, to focus on Jesus’ claims about himself. But I don’t think this eliminates the possiblilty that Jesus is modeling an ethic for anyone who would want to demonstrate righteous behavior. Rather than calling one another, the righteous call those who are social outcasts to the covenant (c.f. Matthew 5.43-48; Luke 14.12-14; John 5.43, 44).

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I’ll start things off here. This year I’m preaching through the Gospel according to St. Luke. Over the past ten years I’ve preached through the Gospel according to St. Mark, St. John, and St. Matthew (in that order) in our morning services at Providence. It’s been eye-opening for me; and I hope also for my parishioners.

Right up front, the prophetic songs of Mary and Zechariah have forced me to rethink some deeply ingrained presuppositions. Zechariah sings about being “saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (1:71) and “being delivered from the hand of our enemies” (1:74). But who are these enemies? It’s common to say that Zechariah speaks for the Jews and that their enemies are the Romans. The Romans, we are then told, occupy the land of Israel. They are oppressive and cruel. But is that right? It doesn’t seem correct to me.


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