Bible Study Resources

Tyndale House puts biblical studies at your fingertips

Need more resources for your Bible Study? Would you like to compare a Scripture in 70 different English translations or look at it in the original language? Then Tyndale House may have the resources for you.

Tyndale House is a biblical studies research facility associated with the University of Cambridge. It boasts a library without equal in most universities, and all of their electronic resources are at your finger tips. How?

They have created a toolbar that can be easily downloaded and added to whatever browser you use. Then simply type a scripture to reference, or use the other resources available.

It is certainly worth spending some time investigating to see how it can enhance your studies.

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Tags: bible study, Bible Helps, translations, Tyndale House

Did Jesus Christ Actually Exist?

Geza Vermes examines the validity of evidence provided by Josephus

A much-debated point is the lack of nonbiblical evidence from the first century for the actual existence of Jesus Christ. A passage in Josephus has long been a standard response to the question. However skeptics have contended that the actual wording of Josephus was probably an interpolation by a subsequent Christian editor. The works of Josephus have been preserved by the church rather than the synagogue, opening the question of additions to suit the apologetic needs of the church.

Accordingly, in recent years the passage in Josephus, known as The Testimonium Flavianum, has been scrutinized to establish what, in fact, Josephus wrote as opposed to what was added later. One help in this area was the existence of an Arabic version of Josephus that had not been preserved by the church and was thought to be free of any interpolations.

Summarizing the whole aspect of the reception of Josephus as well as The Testimonium Flavianum is a useful article by Geza Vermes, published in the latest issue ofStandpoint, titled: Jesus in the Eyes of Josephus. Vermes concludes his article with his reconstruction of the statements of Josephus about Jesus Christ. Interestingly, Vermes reads Josephus as seeing Jesus as a Christ—in Vermes's view to link to the name by which he knew of the followers of Jesus. He posits:

So by portraying Jesus not unsympathetically, yet without fully embracing his cause, he achieved what none of his ancient Jewish successors managed to do: he sketched a non-partisan picture of Jesus. The Testimonium lies half way between the reverential portrait of the early church and the caricatures of the Talmud and of the early medieval Jewish lives of Jesus (Toldot Yeshu). In conclusion, what seems to be Josephus's authentic portrait of Jesus depicts him as a wise teacher and miracle worker, with an enthusiastic following of Jewish disciples who, despite the crucifixion of their master by order of Pontius Pilate in collusion with the Jerusalem high priests, remained faithful to him up to Josephus's days.

Let me offer therefore the text that I believe Josephus wrote. The Christian additions, identified in the paragraph that follows the earlier reproduction of the English translation of Antiquities 18: 63-64, are excised and the deletions are indicated by [ . . . ]. The dubious authenticity of the phrase "[and many Greeks?]" (see the same paragraph above) is signalled by the question mark. Finally, the word [called] is inserted into the sentence "He was [called] the Christ" on the basis of Josephus's description of James as "the brother of Jesus called the Christ".

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man . . . For he was one who performed paradoxical deeds and was the teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews [and many Greeks?]. He was [called] the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him . . . And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Read the entire article as it provides useful background on the first century.

H/T to James Davila of PaleoJudaica

 

Tags: Jesus Christ, Geza Vermes, Josephus, Testimonium Flavianum

Just what did the Apostle Paul teach? The hottest debate in Christianity

'First Things' provides a useful review

NEARLY FIVE HUNDRED years after the Reformation, debate over the doctrine of justification continues to divide Christians. What is interesting about the current form of the debate, however, is that it has returned to scriptural foundations. The focus is no longer on Martin Luther’s condemnation of late-medieval works righteousness but on Paul’s epistles—and the decisive question is this: What does Paul mean by “the righteousness of God”?

The debate took this new turn when historical research into first-century Palestinian Judaism generated what has (for a quarter century now) been called “the new perspective on Paul.” In this view, justification by faith alone is a distinctively Jewish doctrine that must be interpreted in the context of “covenantal nomism”: The Jewish understanding of law, according to this account, is a gift that maintains (but does not earn) the individual’s status as a chosen, covenanted member of Israel. If this view is correct, the Reformers were wrong. Paul’s teaching does not contrast unmerited salvation through the grace of Christ’s cross with a puffed-up attempt to earn salvation by obedience to the Law.

So begins a review of one of N. T. Wright’s books: Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. The review is undertaken by Gary Culpepper and published in the latest edition of First Things. Culpepper draws the battle lines that presently exist in the current debate over Paul showing the motivation for Wright’s book.  Wright outlines the deficiency of the old approach and highlights what he sees as the correct approach to understanding Paul.

A worthwhile read if you are trying to understand the debate over Paul

 

Tags: Paul, N T Wright, New Perspective, First Things, Justification, Righteousness of God

Chanukkah and the Maccabees Again

New archaeological discovery sheds new light on events leading to the rededication of the Temple

Over the past few years in the Judean hills, parts of a stele (an inscribed tablet) have been recovered containing an edict from Seleucus IV, the elder brother of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). The stele addresses the payment of taxes by Judea and has given fresh insight into the Maccabean revolt which resulted in the festival of Chanukkah to celebrate the victory over Antiochus and the cleansing of the temple. The edict was carved in stone to be viewed and read by the populace.

Details of the stele and how it was discovered are outlined in the Jerusalem Post of December 11, 2009. The stele which was first reassembled in February this year, helps authenticate the account of the Maccabees recorded in 2 Maccabees.

H/T to http://twitter.com/Jamesdtabor


Tags: Archaeology, Temple, Antiochus IV, Chanukkah, Maccabees

The Origins of Chanukkah

The Gospel of John is important to understanding the event
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Details: The Origins of Chanukkah
Chanukkah

Tonight, the Jewish world welcomes not only the Sabbath, but the start of the celebration of Chanukkah, an eight-day festival to celebrate the purging and restoration of the temple after the desecration of Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BCE. 

Many legends surround the festival, leading some to question the whole detail of the event. Clearly the eight days of the celebration mirror the original dedication of the temple under Solomon as recorded in 1 Kings 8.  But the timing is different. That dedication took place during the autumnal seventh month at the Festival of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot. Chanukkah takes place in the winter during the ninth month. 

This point is made in the Gospel. John records Jesus and the disciples being in the temple during the Feast of Dedication and mentioning that it was winter (John 10:22).  John is not confusing the two festivals, because in preceding chapters he records Jesus’s presence in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles in detail (John 7:1ff). So John establishes and links the re-dedication of the temple to this event.

John is very careful about the festivals in his Gospel account, providing a portrayal of Jesus as an observant Jew of His day, keeping the festivals outlined within Scripture, as well as those national events that had been added subsequently such as Chanukkah.

With the loss of the temple in 70 CE, the festival of Chanukkah changed focus so that the focus is now upon the individuals who acted, rather than the result of rededicating of the temple to enable the true worship of the God of Israel.

That provides a salutary lesson for us today. How easy is it for humanity to focus upon the wrong aspect of life!

  

Tags: Jesus Christ, Temple, Festivals, Chanukkah, Gospel of John

What did the Readers of the Gospel of Mark understand?


Can an examination of an Implied Reader help us understand Mark's view of Jesus' teaching?

This year, a consultation entitled: “Sabbath in Text, Tradition, and Theology” was held at the Society of Biblical Literature.  I was able to attend one of the sessions which was styled, The Sabbath in the New Testament

Tom Shepherd, of Andrews University presented a paper on the Gospel of Mark which asked the question, how the implied reader of Mark’s Gospel was to understand the references to the Sabbath day included in the Gospel.  As we read Mark today, we notice that when the Sabbath is mentioned, Jesus or Mark does not seek to educate the reader about the Sabbath Day.  That detail was expected to be known.  It is a surprise to many people today to realize that the first followers of Jesus all observed the Sabbath.  Mark’s Gospel is clearly written with that in view.

What Mark seeks to convey is the teaching of Jesus about the Sabbath day and how it should be properly kept as opposed to the accretion of traditions that people had imposed.  In Mark 2 and 3, two incidents relating to the Sabbath are provided.  Because of the way that the book has been divided into chapters and verses, long after the Gospel had been written, we can easily lose sight of the message being conveyed.  Mark presents Jesus as providing proper understanding for the listeners.  In the two cases, the instruction is given in response to a question.  Firstly the religious leaders asked one of Jesus (2:23-28), in the second, the roles are reversed.  Jesus asks the question of the leaders (3:1-5). The results of the two questions are not the abrogation of the Sabbath commands, but an understanding of the standards that Jesus and by extension, the Father expect in the Sabbath observance.

Of the seven occurrences of the term Sabbath in the Gospel of  Mark, two record Jesus teaching in the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day (Mark 1:21, 6:1).  The consequence of both occasions was recorded as public amazement at the quality of teaching of Jesus.  Between these two Synagogue events, we have the teaching provided about the Sabbath in chapter 2 & 3, as though they are sandwiched between the two events to give the reader an insight into the reasons for the reaction to the teaching.  So easily overlooked is the fact that in both cases, they seek to undo the tradition associated with the Sabbath and not the Sabbath itself.  This would have been ideal place for Jesus to describe the Sabbath as being redundant, or for Mark writing years after the death of Jesus to editorialize that this was now all changed because the church now kept Sunday in memorial of His resurrection.  Such is not the case.

Actually, we find the followers of Jesus, including the Apostle Paul, keeping the Sabbath and Festivals along with the rest of the Jewish community.  The Scriptures such as Acts 20:7-11 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 which have long been used to justify Sunday observance have nothing to do with worship or Sabbath or Sunday keeping.  The use of Sunday rather than the Sabbath as a time of meeting probably did not  get traction among people until the second century, and certainly was not fully established in congregations until the end of the 4th Century.

Jesus together with his disciples and those who followed him kept the Sabbath faithfully as they had been instructed. The concepts about the Sabbath and its non application to Christians is a latter idea that has no apostolic or Biblicala basis.


Tags: Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ, Gospel of Mark, Sabbath

The Ever-Changing Apostle Paul

Just how much is his teaching appreciated?

Paul has emerged in part from the strictures of his Reformation role: the New Perspective on Paul has rehabilitated him as a Jew within his day. Yet for many, there is a reluctance to ask the hard questions, and even in the New Perspective he remains the basis for our understanding of christianity.

For many, asking the ultimate question of Paul undermines the very foundation of their view of christianity. For Paul to remain totally as a Jew and be observant of the Torah with all its implications creates an uncomfortable position. If Paul didn’t legitimate christian behaviour and practice, who did? Most evangelical christians still require a biblical justification for their beliefs. But the concept that later Church Fathers and Church Councils changed the biblical requirements is not an acceptable ideal unless you are part of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or possibly an Anglican tradition.

Of recent date a number of scholars have been pushing the envelope on Paul. Mark Nanoshas written a paper titled The Myth of the 'Law-Free' Paul Standing between Christians and Jews in which he claims that Paul was a Torah-observant individual and expected those who followed him to do likewise. In an abstract of the paper which was published in Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, Nanos contrasts his view of Paul with the traditional view. He states:

Christians and Jews agree that the Apostle Paul did not observe Torah as a matter of faith, or in his daily life, except when he sought to evangelize among Jews who observed Torah. This perspective and the reasoning provided to explain it conceptualize the essential difference between Christianity and Judaism as revolving around Paul and his supposedly "Law-free Gospel," more so than around Jesus and his teachings. This understanding derives from the perception that Paul did not observe Jewish dietary norms, and that, moreover, he taught other Christ-followers not to observe them. This essay engages the primary texts on which this is based (Gal 2:11-15; 1 Cor 8—10; Rom 14—15) and finds that, contrary to the prevailing view, they show that Paul implicitly and even explicitly supported Jewish dietary norms among Christ-followers. The results challenge centuries of interpretation, with broad implications for Christian and Jewish portrayals of Paul and of the supposed foundations for differences that require and provide strategies of "othering" that continue to pose obstacles to progress in Christian-Jewish relations.

Nanos is not alone in espousing such views. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan have just published a book—The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon (HarperOne 2009)—challenging many of the stereotypes of Paul and reshaping his image. Pamela Eisenbaum goes even further with her latest titled Paul Was Not A Christian (HarperOne 2009). From being championed as the founder of christianity a generation ago, he is now presented as not even a recognizable christian!

What do these ideas mean to the average person? Probably very little. If they are exercised by them at all, the ideas probably add to the general skepticism with which so many now consider Scripture. However it is not the Scripture that is the problem. It is the way in which biblical figures as Paul have been reinterpreted by writers over the centuries to legitimize the behavior, position and outlooks that the writer held. We at Vision have long held that Paul was Torah-observant and required those who listened to and accepted his teachings, whether Jew or gentile, to follow the example of Jesus Christ. For an example of this understanding, view our video, The Quest for the Real Paul.

At Vision we compliment Mark Nanos and others who are trying to see Paul within his own culture, rather than one two millennia removed.

 

Tags: vision, Apostle Paul, Mark Nanos, Pamela Eisenbaum

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