Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVII. Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death. The Roman Trial.

Part 18, here.
Part 16, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Pilate and the date of Jesus’ death.

When did Jesus die? The problem here is the differences in the Gospels over the relation of his death to the feast, Passover. They all agree that it happens on a Friday, but for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, that coincides with Passover.

The Jewish day starts in the evening and runs until the following evening. This means that the Last Supper, the Trials of the Sanhedrin and Pilate, crucifixion, and death, all take place on the Passover holiday. Thus, for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the dinner on Thursday night is a Passover meal. For John, it’s different. When the chief priests come to Pilate, they don’t want to go in, because they want to celebrate the feast that begins on Friday (evening). So for John, Passover runs from Friday evening until Saturday evening. In that case, all the actions take place the day before Passover. And the issue is one of timing Jesus ministry. It’s possible to compute which years Passover occurred on Thursday and which on Friday.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XVI. Pontius Pilate and the Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Part 17, here.
Part 15, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Pontius Pilate. Genesis of Roman Rule in Judea. Why did people dislike Jesus?

Pilate lived at Caesarea, the Roman capital on the coast, and there are inscriptions with his name there. When he came to Jerusalem, he probably stayed at the Palace of the Herods built about 23BC, it’s a strategic spot, the highest in the city. In the second century BC, the Maccabees were fighting Antiochus Epiphanes. Desperate for help, they wrote letters to Rome. The Romans wrote back with encouragement, they would rather deal with the Jews than the Syrians at that point, but sent no army. Much later, Pompeii invaded Palestine, to fix conflict there. The competing Jewish priest/kings were fighting and killing each other, and Pompeii came in and set things in order, in fact this begins the uncomfortable interplay of international politics and religion in Jerusalem: the Romans start picking the High Priest, and they change them now and then to show who’s in charge.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XV. Matthew and the Fate of Judas. The Theory of Innocent Blood. Zechariah. Ahitophel again.

Part 16, here.
Part 14, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Matthew and the fate of Judas.

One the three predictions Jesus made was about the betrayal of a disciple, and that it would be better if he had not been born. Matthew tells us what happened to Judas in the aftermath of the kiss in Gethsemane. As the chief priests et al. are taking Jesus off to see Pilate, Matthew interrupts the story to tell how Judas dies (Mt. 27:3-10). The first thing to note is that not only is Peter following the action, Judas is too. Matthew is vague about this, maybe he’s thinking that Judas is outside the palace.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIV. Peter Denies Jesus. Different Stories. The Invisible Disciple.

Part 15, here.
Part 13, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Peter Denies Jesus. The details here differ considerably in the different Gospels. The Invisible Disciple.

When Jesus is taken to the High Priest, Peter follows the group and enters the area where Jesus is. The various Gospels interpret the location of Peter differently. One has Peter in a courtyard, one inside a building, one in a court. He’s sitting with guards, warming himself by a fire. Mark has Jesus upstairs, Peter is below in a courtyard. Matthew says Peter is outdoors. Luke has Jesus go to the house of the High Priest, and Peter seems to go into the same house, where a fire is built. John has Peter interrogated before Jesus’ interview with Annas, then twice after. The Synoptics do things differently as usual. Before Luke’s trial, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Just to recap, in Mark, Peter is in the house but downstairs, in Matthew, Peter is outside, in Luke Peter is in the same room as Jesus. One thing the stories have in common is a maid who asked Peter a question. She says, you were with him [Jesus], Peter says, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIII. Luke and John on the Jewish Trial.

Part 14, here.
Part 12, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Trial. Luke and John.

Luke doesn’t have a trial at night, whereas Mark and Matthew have one at night. All three have Peter’s denials at night however. In Luke the trial is in the morning. Luke does have a Sanhedrin meeting at night, but the High Priest plays no role, and he also has mocking at night. Luke’s sequence is better from a legal standpoint. Luke’s rearrangement of events probably comes from a desire for a better sense of order. Trials at night suggest some kind of secretive hurried kangaroo court atmosphere, Luke doesn’t like that sort of thing.

On the questioning, Luke has “if you are the Christ, tell us.” Luke splits Mark’s question in two. He’s emphasizing the dual role of Jesus: Christ, Son of God. Jesus responds in a strange way: “if I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.” It’s incredibly ambiguous. Maybe this is Luke’s way of saying that Messiah has become a complicated term that means something different to Christians of his era than it did to Jews of Jesus’s time. Then he has Jesus go into the “right hand of the Power” thing.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XII. The Jewish Trial: Sanhedrin and a bunch of interesting questions.

Part 13, here.
Part 11, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Jewish Trial: The Sanhedrin.

Jesus is now alone, that is, his friends are gone. Mark says that they led Jesus to the High Priest, and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes were assembled. Peter followed at a distance, into the courtyard of the high priest, he sits with the police, warming himself at a fire (remember, it’s Passover-ish). Mark is setting up the two parts of the narrative he’s going to explore: the interaction with Jesus and the High Priest and the interrogation of Peter. These are simultaneous events, not consecutive. For the trial part, Mark says that “the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death.”
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus XI. The Arrest and more on Judas.

Part 12, here.
Part 10, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Arrest of Jesus. More on Judas.

The story of the Passion of Christ has its share of pathos, and certainly a portion of that is provided by the betrayal of one of the Twelve, Judas. Mark 14:43 (ESV): “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”[12] Mark has already told of Judas contracting with the scribes and priests to deliver Jesus at a moment when he’s isolated so there won’t be a riot. Riots were not unknown in Judea but they could have fearful consequences since the Romans didn’t like them at all.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus X. Gethsemane part 8. Passion as Parable. Bloody Sweat, or Just a lot of Sweat?

Part 11, here.
Part 9, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane VIII. This is it for Gethsemane. On to the arrest next time.

The Passion is a parable in itself. The kingdom is not coming in power. It comes by having the King become powerless. (Now, John would not like that idea, he has a much different vision of Jesus’ psychology, his position.) This is remarkable because Jesus has demonstrated power previously, conquering death (Lazarus), calming the sea (storm on sea of Tiberius), healed the sick merely by the touch of his clothing. Now he will soon be in the power of “sinners” as Mark says at the end of the Gethsemane story. And Jesus has to live through this, he doesn’t have power to stop it. He’s asked God to stop it, the answer is no. Finally, he comes to a point of utter aloneness on the cross. It’s through this weakness, isolation, impotence, suffering, that the kingdom will finally emerge. The sleeping disciples fulfill the tale at the end of Mark 13. They aren’t ready for the end trial, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak–they aren’t ready, Jesus must do it alone.

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Easter. The Passion of Jesus IX. Gethsemane part 7. Jesus Prays. How do we know? Our Prayers are Infected with Aristotle.

Part 10, here.
Part 8, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 7.

Jesus is coming into God’s presence, and Mark indicates it by saying Jesus falls to the ground. It’s Abrahamic. Luke doesn’t like this drastic picture: he has Jesus kneel—in control of himself always. Luke’s picture of Jesus in his trouble and finally his death is one that models the death of Christians in persecution. You see this in the death of Stephen.
Earlier, Mark reports that Jesus says (three different times) that he must suffer and die. But in prayer he now says, “And going a little further, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me.'” This seems illogical. Why is he praying for the trial to go away, when he’s already predicted that it will come?
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VIII. Gethsemane part 6. Is it twelve or three? Draining the Cross of Meaning.

Part 9, here.
Part 7, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 6.

In Mark, after Jesus comes to Gethsemane, he takes Peter, James, and John with him a little further on, and then he leaves them and goes off by himself. This separation with the three occurs in other spots. Sometimes Andrew is included so you have two sets of brothers and Jesus. Mark 5 has Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead in the presence of Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration has the three with him. In Mark 13, it’s Peter, James, John, and Andrew hearing Jesus teach on the Last Days. These four always appear at the beginning of lists of the disciples. As far as the rest are concerned, during Jesus’ ministry, they are basically invisible.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VII. Gethsemane part 5. Where? And Variety is Spice.

Part 8, here.
Part 6, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 5.

The location of Passion events is not certain. For Gethsemane, it’s obviously related to an olive grove, the name means oil press. It seems to be located near the hillside. Olive trees can live for millennia, but the trees that exist there now, are not those from Jesus’ era. When Titus was crushing the Jews at the end of the war in 70, he cut down all the olive trees around the Mount of Olives (Josephus mentions this specifically), he needed the wood and it removed any cover for fugitives. Present landmarks you might see on a tour of the area are merely guesses. About the only things one can say with some slight assurance is that the spot was near the base of the hill, the trees do much better in that area.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus VI. Gethsemane part 4. Luke: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Part 7, here.
Part 5, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 4. Luke + Mark – Matthew in between. John: off the ledger.

Luke doesn’t have anything on the conversation at Kidron, but he puts it in the supper. Luke has a more upbeat narrative, he doesn’t like to speak badly of the legends of the church (his Gospel is partly shaped by Acts). So he tempers a lot of it. The prophecy about Peter is still there, but in Acts he tells how Peter is fearless in preaching, he’s a heroic figure. This is always true of venerated religious people of the past. We always ignore or minimize their faults and failures. We did the same thing in writing about Joseph Smith in the 1850s. He was practically sinless by some lights. Of course he was nothing like that, but it’s natural and that’s Luke. Remember, he’s writing 50-60 years after the fact. Luke can’t help Judas, there’s nothing really that can be done to mitigate that story. But for the other disciples and Peter in particular, he puts in positive statements about their ultimate fate:
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus V. Gethsemane part 3. Predictions, Failure, and Mark.

Part 6, here.
Part 4, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane III.

Last time I ended with the predictions and they are negative. Going back to Mark 14:27, Matthew 26:31, and Zechariah 13:7. Mk reads “And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away (you will all be scandalized, offended); for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ Yet after my resurrection I shall go before you into Galilee.” The last part is the only positive phrase in the whole Markan Passion account (Luke expands on this a lot because he doesn’t care to have Jesus unsure about himself, Luke covers up much of the negative). Matthew has it somewhat differently: all of you will be offended IN ME this night. Offended, or scandalized begins to take on the sense of losing faith. They will be so disturbed that their faith will be completely threatened. In Mark’s audience, he is perhaps looking at a situation in the community where people have failed in some drastic way. Many believe Mark was written in the aftermath of the Nero persecution, when Christians betrayed other Christians to the empire in the threat of martyrdom. It was a time of shock, loss, and depression. Mark’s negative tone, he even has Jesus wavering in his resolve, seems meant to show that the worst kind of failure can be healed by Christ. Take courage he seems to be saying. We are all human, but God can heal us.[7]
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, IV. Gethsemane part 2. Locations: Old Testament Influences, Judas as Antitype.

Part 5, here.
Part 3, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane II.

The Mount of Olives is a large hill, east of the city, separated from it by the Kidron Valley. Kidron is a wadi, it only has water during part of the year, in this case, the winter. So Jesus crosses this winter flow.

Gethsemane (lit. oil press) means a place where there were oil vats. There are olive trees about, and they need oil presses to press out the oil. Gethsemane is a place where this is done. This seems to be part of the earliest tradition, that there was this place called Gethsemane. Mount of Olives has interesting theologizing around it, and it’s mentioned in Luke that on Easter Sunday night Jesus ascends to heaven there, and in Acts, he again does this after 40 days. It’s usually inferred that he will come back to that spot in the future.[5]
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, III. Gethsemane part 1.

Part 4, here.
Part 2, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 1. Where to begin? The Gospels give us different pictures. John’s Gospel has the Last Supper, chapters 13-17 and then a break, crossing the Kidron Valley in chapter 18. The break in the other Gospels is not so clear, especially in Luke. It’s hard to make a break there, but the Supper is a complex thing in itself, so I’m just going to start things with Gethsemane, even though that’s not always how the Passion is defined. But this thing has to be finite. It’s a blog post. The same thing happens at the other end. Matthew doesn’t make a sharp divide between death and burial. I think the latter belongs in a treatment of resurrection, something I don’t want to get in to, and I haven’t really carefully reviewed the texts anyway. That’s on purpose. This series focuses on issues we don’t consider with much frequency.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus, II. The Natural Order.

Part 3, here.
Part 1, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Passion narratives in the Gospels differ from the rest of the respective content in several ways, this is one. The Passion stories of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John have a sort of built in consecutive character. And that probably represents the second epoch. It’s just natural. You must have a conspiracy, a capture/arrest, a trial, a conviction, a death. The ordering is just there, though there are some variations. Some people have argued that no such ordered narratives existed until Mark, the earliest Gospel. This seems odd and I don’t think it can possibly be true. This contrasts with the rest of the Gospel stories in several ways. There is no implied sequence for most of the them. For example, the parable of sower and seed. One Gospel has it in one place, another Gospel puts it in a different place. There isn’t anything that clues you in to where or when it was said. Jesus heals the blind man. Where was he? It doesn’t say. Sometimes there is a place name attached to an event, but one Gospel puts it when he comes into town, another puts it when he leaves town. The sequence of events is not part of the story, and it’s obvious that there are different (oral and perhaps written) traditions in play, and that the Evangelists themselves exercise freedom over the placement of traditional events.
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Easter. The Passion of Jesus I. Preliminaries.

Part 2, here.

You can read the whole series, here.

Latter-day Saints don’t often use the term “Passion” in referring to the last hours of Jesus’ life. I like the term however, so I will use it in this series of Easter thoughts. One can think of its historical meaning as “suffering.”

I’ll begin this with a word about the nature of the Gospels. If you’ve managed to get through some of my posts lately, then you have probably already encountered this. There are various levels of meaning in scripture, and the longer scripture has been around the more this is true. I’m going to assume a centrist position, one that can accommodate faith, and scholarship. What I mean is this: you can, I think, err on a “fundamentalist” side, or a “liberal” one. It’s somewhat complex to illustrate this in general, but since we will be discussing the New Testament Gospels, the two positions might go like this. The fundamentalist notion is that everything we find in the Gospels is precisely what Jesus said and did. The liberal position is that virtually nothing is historical in the Gospel accounts (in both cases I’m stating the most extreme view). Each has been argued for but each has drawbacks. The first is really not tenable because when you compare the Gospels (and we will see this as we go along) you find deep divergences. It’s obvious that something has happened between the time of Jesus’ words and acts and the time the Gospels were written down. The liberal argument uses such divergence to conclude that nothing can pass the test of being historical. I think that position (one that exists in the literature) goes too far in the other direction.[1]
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Millennials and Marriage

In Joseph Smith’s lifetime, America’s population was essentially 90% rural and existed more or less in the Jeffersonian ideal of subsistence farming. These farms were nuclear family enterprises, not generally places of extended family dwellings. To operate a farm required cooperative distribution of labor, men generally cleared land and engaged in cultivation and hunting for food. Women engaged in disciplines of manufacture. Government reports indicate that 2/3 of all clothing and linen was produced in households in 1810 and shopkeepers in towns contracted with housewives to produce goods beyond home use. That production often functioned as payment for credit extended for farm implements and household tools and the like.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 8-Summary.

[Here’s all the previous parts: Part 1 (Introduction–Construction of the Gospels), Part 2 (Incarnation and the Wisdom Literature), Part 3 (John and his community–The Jews), Part 4 (More on Community, Feasts, Doc. and Cov. 7), Part 5 (John and ecclesiology–Joseph Smith’s Struggle), Part 6 (John and Joseph Smith’s revelations and preaching–Holy Ghost–Election), Part 7 (John and the Historicity of Scripture).]

You can read the whole series here.

I’m summarizing a few things here, so there are spoilers for the previous posts if you haven’t read them.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 7-John and the Historicity of Scripture.

[Part 6 is here. The finale is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

There is an issue with John’s Gospel that’s related to Doc. and Cov. 7, but I avoided it when I brought up the revelation. This seemed like the right place to discuss it, the back end of what I originally planned, since it leads to a natural conclusion and where this whole thing was supposed to end up. But I’ve since realized that it really belongs in an extended study of resurrection texts, so I’m just going to hit a few of the high spots here, and then come back to it in some Easter posts. Maybe.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 6-John and Joseph Smith’s Revelations and Preaching-Holy Ghost-Election.

[Part 5 is here. Part 7 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

While Joseph Smith appeals to John in working out the meaning of Election, at the same time John’s texts in chapters 14, 15, 16 become vital in both the Mormon egalitarian ministry of knowledge and the Mormon temple priesthood (and John 15 is the opening text for Smith’s announcement of choosing apostles in 1835): “God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve & even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to–bear them.” This comes to a head in John’s treatment of the Spirit. In the other Gospels, and Acts, the word used for the Spirit is a word without gender, pneuma—breath. It appears for example in Gabriel’s speech to Mary, the Greek version (LXX) of Genesis at the creation, and James 2:26, a favorite, though perhaps misused “body” and “spirit” text. John employs a different word to enhance or stand in for “Holy Spirit” that is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, Parakletos (pa-ROCK-luh-toss, is close enough) and it has masculine gender. In other words, John is speaking (writing) of a person.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 5-John and Ecclesiology-Joseph Smith’s Struggle.

[Part 4 is here. Part 6 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

At first glance, John seems agnostic about community structure. But this can’t be an ignorance of the issues. In fact, John does have structure (I mean in terms of pecking order in the church of the early 2nd century). John writes a lot about sheep and shepherd and there is the vine metaphor from the Wisdom Literature. But John seems to want this in terms of individuals. It’s an individualistic Gospel, at least it has much more of that than the other three. Every branch gets life from the Vine. If you don’t get that life, you are cut off. John is full of Jesus encountering people and these are really tests: either the person chooses light, or darkness (there is a lot of Mormonism and especially preaching and rationalization of missionary approach that has support here). John never uses the word “church” in the Gospel (it does appear in the letters). It’s not that John wants to neglect the body. It’s that salvation is very individualistic. However, not in the way that antebellum American Protestantism advertised. It’s Joseph Smith who picks up on this through a liturgical actualization of John’s picture of Jesus offering Eternal Life in the here and now, not just somewhere out in the distance.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 4-More on Community-Feasts-Doctrine and Covenants 7.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

Another unfortunate thing about this divorce between John’s group and the synagogue: they lose a powerful and fulfilling tradition. The feasts, celebrations, and cultural links with the past that acted as a continuing force of discipline, values, and stability drifted away, their meaning diminishing over time. You lose your own identity when something like this happens in some respects. That seems represented in the Gospel.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 3-John and his Community-and the Jews.

[Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

In Paul, and later in the Synoptics, the central act is that Jesus died for us, and God brought him back in resurrection. John keeps much of this certainly, but he draws us back to the Prologue (John 1) in statements like “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.” That is, God sent Jesus into the world, from a preexistent state. It’s not a reference to the end of Jesus’ life, atonement/resurrection, it’s a reference to its beginninglessness, it’s a passage about Christmas—Word became flesh. God’s Son came down, and brought God’s life with him (life in himself)—the life that he can give (here and now!) is God’s own life—eternal life. That seems to be John’s message, and it’s a message that Joseph Smith extracted and sacralized-sacramentalized. In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers people eternal life while he’s in conversation with them and with the disciples. John never uses the term “apostle”–he’s virtually anti-clerical–this tells us something of his presentism perhaps and the ecclesial nature of his community. The Book of Mormon carries the terminology of John when Jesus chooses Twelve and in many other places.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 2-Incarnation and Wisdom Literature.

[Part 1, here. Part 3 here.]

You can find the whole series here.

John is unique among the four Gospels in that it speaks of incarnation (John 1). The other Gospels never speak of a previous life for Jesus. In John, Jesus lived with God before mortal life. And everything he says and all his acts conform to what he heard and saw with God in a preexistence (John 5). Joseph Smith makes a huge thing of this, and it forms one of the two pinnacles of the final part of early Mormon teaching. Once you start to think this way, and John does it right from the beginning, it changes everything. The other Gospels make it clear that Jesus is speaking for God, but they never give an explanation of the genesis of that teaching. John does this, and it turns into one of the two pillars of Mormon cosmology.
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John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 1-Introduction and the Construction of the Gospels.

I wanted to say goodbye to our New Testament year and hello to the Book of Mormon. I did a few posts in 2015 about the NT, but nothing much about John. John’s Gospel is a key text in the restoration, and I think it’s important to see how the genesis of the Gospel finds a home in early Mormon works of scripture and discourse. I’m just scratching the surface here. There are book-length treatments that await this point of view. This stands as a kind of prelude to some Easter material I want to post around the holiday.
[You can read the whole series here.]
[Part 2, here.]

John the apostle of Jesus and brother of James | the beloved disciple | John the Evangelist? | John the Elder | John the Redactor | John the Revelator. Five or six identities, possibly six different persons/traditions, associated with the New Testament and in a number of ways, early Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith’s revelations. To start out, I want to consider the Gospel of John and then to some extent the rest of what usually goes by the name, Johannine corpus. That includes the Gospel, the Letters (1, 2, 3 John) and Revelation.[1]
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Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple
Samuel M. Brown
Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014. 168 pages. ISBN 978-0-8425-2880-1
Amazon: $16.95, Kindle: $6.99.

Joseph Smith was born into the Second Great Awakening. Gravitating to Methodist preaching, he ranked it above his other experience. Visions and golden plates prompted a New Covenant, born in April 1830. At first the New Covenant looked for a place in the landscape of antebellum Protestant thought and doctrine but gradually that seeking turned to renewal and rethinking. Mormonism moved from the American individualism that played over the billions of pages of Protestant imprints and wrote a new way of seeing the ancient. It didn’t simply try to restore (unsuccessfully) the all things in common of Jerusalem’s Acts. It wrote a story of ritual and liturgy that made family of believers and eternal friends of family.
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The Christmas Story (XII). The Christmas Hymns

[Part 11 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

I’ve said something about the early hymns that Luke introduced in the nativity story and here for your enjoyment then, are some of the earliest Christmas Songs in various settings. That’s the end of our Christmas journey together. All of us at BCC wish you a Holy and a Merry Christmas, and, repeat the sounding joy.
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The Christmas Story (XI). Luke: The Temple

[Part 10 is here. Part 12 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

The first born child of a Jewish marriage at the time of Jesus had to be in effect, given to God. In place of actually turning the child over to the temple cult, a sum was paid (this was symbolic since only Levites could perform the temple service–it was a remembrance of the Golden Calf episode–Num. 18). The parents are not really involved here, but the mother must come after a waiting time for a purification rite (offer a sacrifice). (Lev. 12)

When priests like Zacharias offered sacrifice or incense, they had to be purified. They had to come out of the secular, leave it behind, so that they could enter the presence of God. They had to change their clothing, put on special vestments, wash, and so forth. There were well defined rituals to create this separation.[1] Birth was seen as a creative act (see the second post on the status of Mary) and much like the priestly acts, there was a holiness about birth, a participation with God.
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The Christmas Story (X). Luke: The Scene of Jesus’ Birth.

[Part 9 is here. Part 11 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke has told us about the birth and the circumcision of John the Baptist, and now he begins his narrative of the birth and presentation of Jesus. He spends more ink here since obviously this is his main point in the prologue of the ministry.

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled [RSV Luke 2]

It’s a census. It’s known that Augustus had a census now and then to get an idea of the population in various places, however he never commanded an empire-wide census. But remember that Luke’s view is a global one, and he wants this to follow that picture. Another thing to recall is that Luke is writing many years after the death of Augustus (August 14AD -yes the month is named for him) and the other events he’s telling us about. Consider trying to recall the highlights of the years of the U.S. presidency of William Howard Taft. It gives you some idea about Luke’s story. You have some general ideas about Taft perhaps, but probably not details about him. You probably don’t recall details of his role in the “Big Burn” and the forest service in 1910. But you may have some kind of general picture, legends of Augustus, if you’re Luke. Luke wants us to understand that this is an event that has world-wide significance.
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