Tuesday, November 25, 2008

December Quiz


1) What issue does Peter's vision address prior to his visit to Cornelius in aesarea?
a. Gentiles receiving the word of God
b. The stoning of Stephen
c. The appointment of a new disciple
d. The preaching of the Gospel

2) Which of the following phrases continues the story beginning with the words: "And a woman in the city, who was a sinner..." (Luke 7:37)?
a. "began to bathe his feet with her tears."
b. "begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter."
c. "came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak."
d. "put in two small copper coins."

3) Which of the following concerns does 1 Timothy address at length?
a. Children
b. Drunkards
c. The rich
d. Widows

4) What is the conclusion of this retrospective view of Paul's career: "I have fought the good fight..."?
a. "and Christ has given me the victory."
b. "and my strength is made perfect in weakness."
c. "I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
d. "and my head is bloody but unbowed."

5) What is the issue that prompts the gathering in Jerusalem in Acts 15?
a. the debate over circumcision and salvation
b. the rejection of Jewish law by Paul
c. the replacement of Judas
d. the way to preach the gospel in synagogues

6) According to the book of Acts, what sparks a riot in Ephesus?
a. The local Jews were offended by Paul's disregard for the law.
b. The local silversmiths thought their business was in jeopardy.
c. The local citizens claimed that Christians were advocating customs unlawful for Romans.
d. The local priests of Zeus wanted to offer sacrifices to Barnabas and Paul.

7) In Luke, who says, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles..."?
a. Anna
b. Elizabeth
c. Simeon
d. Zechariah

8) In the Gospel of Mary, why did Peter reject what Mary told them about Jesus?
a. Because her words were strange.
b. Because she was a woman.
c. Because she heard these things in private.
d. All of the above.

Short Answer:

Why do scholars think the author of Luke is the same as the author of Acts?

Is the book of Acts more like history or fiction or some combination? Why?

What do the pastorals (Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy) have to say about women and slaves?

Do you think Paul wrote Titus and 1 & 2 Timothy? Why or why not?

Longer Answers:

Why do you suppose the Gospel of Mary was not included in the Bible?

Do you think it could be a resource for the church as are those texts that are in the Bible? Why or why not?

December Quick Guide


1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are called the pastoral epistles. They are supposedly letters by Paul to his followers, Timothy and Titus. For various reasons, many scholars doubt these letters are in fact by Paul, but come from a much later time in the church. The concerns reflect matters of established communities.

I Timothy: This letter written to Timothy is advice from an old pro to a rookie in ministry. “Fight the good fight of the faith.” (6:12)

II Timothy: This is more personal than the first letter, and quite fatherly: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands...” (1:6)

Titus: This is the third of the pastoral letters (I & II Tim. and Titus). “Paul” writes to Titus, who is “my loyal child in the faith” and reminds him to do the job in Crete, which includes putting things in order there.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is not found in the Bible. This text was discovered in the 19th century in Egypt. It is not a complete text. In this text, Mary is closer to Jesus than the other disciples. Jesus tells her things he does not tell the other disciples. When she reveals to them what she has seen and heard they do not believe her. It is intriguing to compare the Gospel of Mary with the pastoral epistles and other letters of the New Testament, especially in terms of attitudes toward women. In the Gospel of Mary, Jesus says: “Do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you, and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it.”

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same author. It is helpful to read the two as one complete narrative. The Gospel of Luke takes Mark's Gospel (and possibly Matthew's Gospel or a source common to Luke and Matthew) and embellishes it with memorable events and parables. Luke contains two of the most famous parables of Jesus that are not found in the other gospels: the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is Luke's gospel that forms the narrative basis for the church year from Advent to Ascension.

Acts is possibly quite late, possibly 2nd century,and attempts to tell the history of Peter and Paul. While we often think of Acts as history, it is not history as we would describe it. It is more along the lines of historical romance or historical fiction. It paints a picture of how the author wants readers to see the development of the church. The main character in Acts is the Holy Spirit. In the tradition of travel narratives, Acts takes the reader on the adventure of the church in its earliest days. Much of the squabbles surrounded the role of the Gentiles in the church. Should Gentiles be required to become Jews before they could become Christians or could they simply bypass circumcision and the Law altogether? Arguably the author of Luke-Acts has done more to shape the church's understanding of itself than any other New Testament author. Historians are now deconstructing Luke-Acts and showing fairly convincingly that it is more fiction than history.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November Quick Guide


The Gospel of John is unique among the four gospels in the way the story of Jesus is presented. The sequence of events is different (the temple is cleansed early in his ministry as opposed to later, he goes to Jerusalem three different times as opposed to one, he carries his own cross, etc.) Jesus delivers long monologues and this language is mysterious. He says one thing and means another. Things appear to be working at two levels in John. The reader wonders about details and whether symbolic significance should be read into them. For example, should one make anything of the fact that they caught 153 fish?

Revelation: This letter is of a genre called apocalyptic literature. Through symbolic language it is designed to inspire hope. Many symbols and references come from the Old Testament. It should not be taken as a prediction of the future but as a song of hope in God’s kingdom. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (21:4).

I John: This is an important letter about love for one another to show that we are God’s children: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (4:16).

II John: This a postcard warning about deceivers. Don’t welcome anyone who teaches the wrong stuff.

III John: This letter is a bit more paranoid than the others; the author defends himself against some guy named Diotrephes. “Beloved do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good.” (vs. 11)

Ephesians: This letter describes the great unity we have in Christ who is the head of the Church who can bring Jew and Gentile together: “For he (Christ) is our peace; he has...broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (2:14)

Colossians: Paul has a concern that some goofy teachings have taken over “empty deceit” (2:8). He speaks of Christ as the head of the cosmos “the firstborn of all creation...in him all things hold together.” (1:15-17)

I Peter: This letter from Peter is encouragement in the face of persecution. “Live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.” (4:2)

II Peter: This letter is an attack on false teachers and a warning that Christ will come again for judgment. In the meantime: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (3:18)

Hebrews: This is a long sermon about how Christ is the perfect sacrifice done once and for all. Therefore, animal sacrifice in the temple is no longer needed. It contains a list of the heroes of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (11:1)

James: This letter is about putting your works where your faith is. Not one for idle talk is James: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” (2:14)

Jude: Bad apples have entered into the barrel. Don’t listen to them and reject the true faith. “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (vs. 21).

November Quiz


1. Which book contains the following quotation: "You do well if you really fulfill the royal law
according to the scripture...For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become
accountable for all of it"?
a. Hebrews
b. James
c. 1 Peter
d. 2 John

2. In the book of Revelation, what causes John to weep bitterly?
a. Multitudes of people are left behind on the earth.
b. No one can be found to break the seals on a scroll.
c. The whole world follows the antichrist.
d. None of the above.

3. What does James say stains the whole body and is set on fire by hell?
a. pride
b. sexual passion
c. the love of money
d. the tongue

4. Which book contains the following: "Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house..."?
a. James
b. 1 Peter
c. 2 Peter
d. Jude

5. Who asked, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"
a. Nathanael
b. Nicodemus
c. Philip
d. Thomas

6. The example of Melchizedek is used by the author of Hebrews in discussing what?
a. Christian tithing
b. Jesus' death as a sacrifice
c. the messiahship of Jesus
d. the priesthood of Jesus

7. The letters of John contain all except which of the following?
a. "For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments."
b. "Do not love the world or the things in the world."
c. "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them."
d. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

8. Which of these themes may be said to be characteristic of Ephesians?
a. defense of Paul's authority
b. dissension in the church
c. explanation of the Second Coming
d. unity in Christ

9. What book contains the following quotation: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you"?
a. Titus
b. Hebrews
c. 1 Peter
d. Jude

Short Answer:
1) What are some of the differences between the way John tells his story and the way the story is told in the other three Gospels?

2) What metaphors does Jesus use to describe himself in John's Gospel? Which ones are most meaningful to you?

Long Answer:
1) The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye has sold millions of copies. It is uses the Book of Revelation as a code to understanding current events and predicting the future—the end of the world. Is LaHaye interpreting Revelation correctly? Why or why not?

2) There is apocalyptic imagery in the Bible. The Bible does on occasion seem to speak of an “end” of things, eternal life, heaven and hell, Jesus returning, a heavenly city, and so on. Is this imagery for you literal or poetic and what value might modern day folks take from it, if any?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

October Quiz: Seven Authentic Letters of Paul

October Quiz on the Seven Authentic Letters of Paul

1. "Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever" occurs in which book?

a. 2 Corinthians
b. Galatians
c. Ephesians
d. 1 Thessalonians

2. In which letter does Paul say, "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ"?

a. Romans
b. 1 Corinthians
c. 2 Corinthians
d. Galatians

3. In Romans 9-11, as Paul discusses the fate of the Jewish people and their place in God's plan, which of the following statements does he make?

a. "Your house is left to you, desolate"
b. "All Israel will be saved"
c. "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles"
d. None of the above

4. How does this quotation from Philippians end: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling..."?

a. "for faith without works is dead."
b. "for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
c. "for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."
d. "for the one who is righteous will live by faith."

5. How does Paul answer the question, "Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?"

a. "By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?"
b. "You will fulfill the law of Christ."
c. "Sin boldly! Grace will abound."
d. "Love covers a multitude of sins."

6. Freedom in Christ is a major theme of which book?

a. 1 Corinthians
b. Galatians
c. Philippians
d. Colossians

7. Where was Paul when he wrote to Philemon?

a. in jail
b. in Nicopolis
c. on board a ship
d. In Crete

8. In which chapter does Paul emphasize the “election” of God’s people?

a. Romans 9
b. 1 Corinthians 15
c. Philippians 2
d. 1 Thessalonians 4

9. Which letter contains the following quotation: “…and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’”?

a. 1 Corinthians
b. 2 Corinthians
c. Galatians
d. 1 Thessalonians

10. Which of these claims is found in 1 Corinthians?

a. “. . .work out your own salvation in fear and trembling. . . .”
b. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. . . .”
c. “Three times I was shipwrecked. . . . “
d. “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”

11. In which letter does Paul commend “Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” to his readers and describe a female co-worker named Junia as “prominent among the apostles”?

a. Philippians
b. 1 Corinthians
c. Galatians
d. Romans

12. ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited’ is found in which book?

a. Romans
b. 2 Corinthians
c. Ephesians
d. Philippians

13. To which church did Paul write ". . . I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue?"

a. Corinth
b. Ephesus
c. Galatia
d. Jerusalem
e. Rome

14. Onesimus was a

a. disciple
b. magician
c. soldier
d. politician
e. slave

15. "If there is a physical body," Paul says, "there is also ___________."

a. a terrestrial body
b. a spiritual body
c. a perishable soul
d. an immortal soul

Short Answer:

Fill in the blank from Paul’s letters:

“If I speak in the tongues of mortal and of angels, but do not have love, I am ______________________________________________.

“Bless those who ____________________.

“If your enemies are hungry, __________________.

“If your enemies are thirsty, _____________________.

Do not be overcome by evil, but _____________________.

Longer Answer:

Some have said that Romans is about faith and I Corinthians is about love. Which do you think is most important?

Why are these seven letters considered the seven authentic letters of Paul?

What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “In Christ?”

Find examples in Paul’s seven letters of women in leadership.

October Synopsis: Seven Authentic Letters of Paul

Bible Cover to Cover for October: The Seven Authentic Letters of Paul

1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Romans

These are the seven letters that scholars all agree were written by Paul. Disputed letters (Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) will be read later. We begin with Paul’s seven authentic letters (the earliest writings in the New Testament) rather than Acts which is written a half century after Paul. The Paul of Acts is a legendary character that serves the purpose of the author of Acts.

In these seven letters written on the road to particular congregations, we get insight into the struggles and the convictions of the early Jesus movement as understood by Paul and his communities. Paul mythologizes Jesus for a Greek and Roman audience. There is little about the historical person of Jesus in Paul’s letters. Paul is mostly concerned about the death and resurrection of Christ (the Messiah) and what it means for his readers to live “in Christ.”

It is in these seven letters that we find the “real” Paul. One of the challenges is to seek to uncover what is coherent in Paul’s message and what is contingent upon circumstances. We find in the authentic Paul a radical message of personal and social liberation and egalitarianism between women and men, between slave and free, and between Jew and Greek.

I Thessalonians: This is Paul’s first letter and the oldest writing in the New Testament. There was concern that Christ had not returned. Paul reassures them that Christ will come again and the dead will be raised. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (5:2)

I Corinthians is written for the church that has lost its center in Christ. Fighting, division, competition, and self-aggrandizement rule the day for the Corinthians and Paul teaches them the meaning of community, of love, and of authentic spiritual maturity. Chapter 13 contains some of the most beautiful poetry in scripture. That is why you hear it during weddings.

II Corinthians: Relations between Paul and the people at Corinth had deteriorated. This letter reveals the hurt and frustration when people of faith have conflicts that cannot seem to be resolved. Paul tries to walk that difficult line of seeking reconciliation but needing to defend his ministry. “Make room in your hearts for us...” (7:2)

Philemon: Paul writes to Philemon who is the owner of a slave, Onesimus. Paul admonishes Philemon to grant Onesimus his freedom and to take him back not as a slave but as a brother.

Galatians: The Galatians have reverted back to their old ways by putting the demands of the law onto Christians. Galatians is an important letter which tells of the universal implications of the Christian faith. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you!” (3:1)

Philippians: Paul writes this letter from prison and it is a powerful letter of faith and joy amidst struggle. It is a letter of confidence in Christ’s presence. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” (4:4)

Romans is Paul's theological summa. Romans was the work that changed Martin Luther and inspired him to reform the church. "We are justified by grace through faith." Paul wrestles with the same questions we do today. How good do I have to be? What is the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law? Why do I keep doing the bad things I detest?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

September Quick Guide: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Thomas

For the period September 1 through September 30, read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Thomas.

The word "gospel" means good news. It comes from the Greek word euangelion where we get the words evangel, evangelist, and evangelism. Traditionally, "gospel" was a secular word. Governors would begin public announcements about military victories or state celebrations (such as Caesar's birthday) with the phrase "Good News!" Using this format, Mark's Gospel begins with a different kind of good news. The "good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God." (Mark 1:1)

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels. Syn (similar) Optic (eye). These three proclamations about Jesus are similar in both form or narrative flow and in content. In contrast, the Gospel of John is quite different from Matthew, Mark and Luke both in the kinds of stories told about Jesus and the way in which they are framed. Each work brings its own interpretation about the significance of Jesus. That is why it is good as we read them to respect each author's integrity rather than to try to mix all the gospels into one life of Jesus. These gospels are proclamations about Jesus' significance rather than biographies of his life. John 20:30-31 explains: "Now Jesus did may other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

Most scholars agree that Mark is the first gospel written around 70 A.D. at the time of the Jewish War with the Romans and the destruction of the temple about 40 years after Jesus. The stories about Jesus reflect that contemporary situation. Luke and Matthew followed Mark, used his narrative flow, and added material of their own, completing their works ten to fifteen years later. The author of Luke also wrote Acts so these works should be read and interpreted as one book.

The Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel. It was found in 1945 in the collection at Nag Hammadi. Some of the Gospel of Thomas is similar to what is found in the synoptic gospels. Some is quite different. Thomas may have preserved some of the earliest layers of the Jesus sayings tradition.

Who was Jesus? Was he a real person? Did he even exist? We know next to nothing about Jesus outside what the Bible says about him. The Gospels are not reliable as historical biographies. They are theological proclamations. One can find antecedents to nearly all of the stories about Jesus in earlier literature. Miracles such as virgin birth, resurrection, walking on water, turning water into wine, healing people of illness, and ascending to heaven are common themes attributed to divine figures. Even many of the sayings and parables of Jesus are likely to have originated with philosophers, prophets, and sages before him. It is difficult if not impossible to determine what the historical person was like, even if there was one.

There are different ways to read these Gospels. One way is to read them as sources for information about the historical Jesus. In this way of reading we try to distinguish the mythological “gloss” from the historical person. Historical Jesus scholars such as the Jesus Seminar have developed methodology to do this.

Another way is to read each gospel as a story of Jesus in its own right. In this way of reading, we don't worry about contradictions of fact (who was actually at the tomb, etc.); rather, we try to determine who Mark's Jesus is, and how he compares to Luke's Jesus and Matthew's Jesus. In this way of reading, one brackets the questions regarding the historical person and steps into the story with all of its myth, metaphor, and magic. Then, the most important question will be from Jesus to you: "Who do you say that I am?"

September Quiz: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Thomas

1. The Gospel writers attempted to
a. write objective biographies of Jesus designed to enable readers to reconstruct the life of Jesus
b. to interpret Jesus theologically for the communities they served

2. In studies about Jesus, scholars often distinguish between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history. Which of the following is the best definition of the ‘Christ of faith’?
a. The Christ of faith is Jesus as proclaimed by the Christian community.
b. The Christ of faith is the very limited picture of Jesus that emerges when we use only data which can be ‘proven’ by using the historical method.
c. The Christ of faith is the real Jesus as we would see him if we could go back in time and listen to him teaching in Galilee.

3. Large amounts of information about Jesus may be found in non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus. In fact, we know almost as much about Jesus from these sources as from the Christian Gospels.
a. True
b. False

4. The criterion of dissimilarity asserts that
a. if an historical statement can be read as challenging the goals of the document in which it occurs or the goals of the community which preserved that document, then it is likely to be true.
b. if an historical statement can be read as challenging the goals of the document in which it occurs or the goals of the community which preserved that document, then it is likely to be false.
c. if an historical statement is not similar to other statements made in the same document, then it is probably false.

5. The criterion of multiple attestation asserts that
a. if an historical statement is supported by more than one source, it is probably true
regardless of what the literary relationship of those sources might be.
b. if an historical statement is supported by more than one source, and if the relevant sources could not be dependent upon one another, then the statement is probably true.
c. if an historical statement is supported by more than one source, the sources must be related to one another if the statement is true

6. The Jesus Seminar asserts that Jesus
a. preached a highly apocalyptic message, expecting the arrival of the Kingdom of God and the end of natural history shortly after his death.
b. preached a message that had little to do with popular eschatology.

7. Jesus grew up in __________.
a. Jerusalem
b. Bethlehem
c. Capernaum
d. Nazareth

8. Jesus was born sometime between
a. 40 and 27 BCE
b. 6 and 4 BCE
c. 1 and 12 CE
d. 27 and 30 CE

9. According to the canonical Gospels Jesus was born in __________.
a. Jerusalem
b. Bethlehem
c. Capernaum
d. Nazareth

10. Jesus was crucified in __________.
a. Jerusalem
b. Bethlehem
c. Capernaum
d. Nazareth

11. Which of the following is true about the New Testament claim that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist?
a. While the New Testament reports this event, we have no way to prove whether it actually happened or not. It must be accepted as a matter of faith.
b. Most historians would say that we have good evidence for this event. We can demonstrate that it is extremely likely that Jesus was actually baptized by John.

12. During Jesus’ public ministry
a. he attracted large crowds of both supporters and opponents.
b. he probably did not attract much attention. The Christian movement took on great force only after Jesus’ death.
c. he attracted large crowds, but the crowds virtually always opposed Jesus. He had few supporters.
d. he attracted large crowds of supporters. Strong popular opposition to his message arose only after his death.

13. Jesus’ public ministry lasted
a. between one and three years
b. about six months
c. between five and ten years

14. Who actually carried out the crucifixion of Jesus?
a. a group of Roman soldiers
b. an angry mob, without the help of the Romans
c. the Jewish temple leadership

Question Source:

Dr. Michael Palmer

Shorter Answer:

Of all Jesus' teachings, parables, or sayings, name one (or two or three if you can't decide on one) that is the most important for us as human beings to internalize? Why?

What title does Jesus use for himself more than any other? What do you think it means?

Matthew and Luke both include birth narratives. What are the differences between the two narratives? What does each author want us to know about the kind of person Jesus will be and the work Jesus will do through the device of the birth narrative?

Why was Jesus executed? What did it mean for his followers to claim he was “Resurrected”?

Longer Answer:

Imagine Jesus as a real person. Without using "theological jargon" describe in two or three paragraphs what kind of person Jesus is. Think in terms of personality, values, dreams, attitudes, and convictions. Don't worry about being "right or wrong" or orthodox or whatever; use your imagination and heart!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

August Quick Guide: Apocrypha/Deuterocanon

1, 2, 3, 4 Maccabees, 1 & 2 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151

These are important works that tell of the period in which Hellenization (Greek culture and language) dominated the known world. These works describe the various responses to this influence. Greek thought and culture was both welcomed and feared. It also tells of persecution by Greek rulers and Jewish response. These works cover the period from the death of Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BCE to the first century CE.

1 Maccabees is history that recounts the origins of the Hasmonean Dynasty. It begins with the death of Alexander the Great and the rise to power of the Seleucid King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Here you will discover the origins of Hanakkuh.

2 Maccabees tells the same history of the first eight chapters of 1 Maccabees with a unique literary style. It is like a blog versus a news story! The martyrdom of the seven brothers is important for later Christian developments regarding resurrection.

1 Esdras reproduces 2 Chronicles 35:1-36:23, Ezra, and Nehemiah 7:38-8:12. If you have already read the canonical works, you might skim 1 Esdras and notice differences. Read 3:1-5:6 as this passage is unique to 1 Esdras.

The Prayer of Manasseh is a touching prayer of confession by the “wicked” king Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1-18). It is a prayer of hope that even the most evil among us are capable of redemption.

Psalm 151. And you thought there were only 150 Psalms! This one isn’t too long. It is a psalm of David.

3 Maccabees is not about the Maccabees at all. It is about another bad guy, King Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203 BCE) and the struggle that Jews living in Egypt had with him.

2 Esdras is the only apocalypse in the Apocrypha. It reads like the book of Revelation and chapter 7-13 of Daniel. A heavy dose of this will give you bad dreams. Apocalyptic literature told of troubles and of future hope of God’s victory through complex symbols revealed in dreams. The word apocalypse means revelation.

4 Maccabees is a philosophical treatise written around the time of Jesus. It is an interpretation of Judaism using Greek philosophy.

August Quiz: Apocrypha/Deuterocanon

1) The Septuagint was
a) a Hebrew translation of the Latin Bible
b) a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible
c) a Latin translation of the Greek Bible

2) The Hellenistic ruler who tried to destroy Judaism in the second century BCE by persecuting Jews was
a) Ptolemy I
b) Seleucus II
c) Alexander of Macedonia
d) Antiochus IV

3) When did the Seleucid persecutions of the Jews begin?
a) 70 CE
b) 167 BCE
c) 538 BCE
d) 333 BCE
e) 587 BCE

4) Who was Mattathias?
a) The Hasmonean ruler who forced the Syrians to sign a treaty of non-aggression.
b) The priest of Modein who started the Maccabean Revolt.
c) A prominent resident of Jerusalem, in the Persian province of Yehud at the time Alexander imposed Greek rule there.

5) The Hasmonean Period was
a) a time when Israel was dominated by Rome.
b) a time of peace, when Israel was free from external pressures and able to pursue its own interests.
c) a time of independence for Israel, but not a time of peace.

6) The Maccabean Revolt began when
a) The Seleucid kingdom took Israel away from the Ptolemaic kingdom.
b) Mattathias, the priest in the small Judean village of Modein, refused to perform a sacrifice to the Greek god Zeus.
c) Judas Maccabeus marched into Jerusalem and rededicated the temple there to the worship of Yahweh.

7) Who led the Jewish forces in the recapture of Jerusalem in 164 BCE?
a) Judas Maccabeus
b) Antiochus IV
c) Simon
d) Alexander

8) Which of the following is not one of the typical characteristics of apocalyptic writing?
a) violence
b) tolerance
c) predestination
d) exclusivism
e) dualism

9) The people of Israel lost their independence at the end of the Hasmonean Period. What foreign power controlled Israel after that point?
a) The Greeks
b) The Romans
c) The Persians

10) Who was installed as ruler of the Jews when the last Hasmonean ruler died?
a) Pontius Pilate
b) Herod the Great
c) Herod Antipas

11) When were the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls produced?
a) Between 100 and 223 CE.
b) Between 250 BCE and 68 CE.
c) Between 500 and 415 BCE

12) A document that is pseudonymous is one that
a) now has a title other than the one originally assigned to the document
b) was written by a community of editors rather than a single author
c) was composed by an unknown writer in the name of a famous person

13) A canon is
a) the official list of books that a religious community accepts as authentic and binding
b) a list of books that are rejected by a religious community as unfit for divine instruction
c) an authoritative group of clergy who must decide on such issues as which books are to be read by a religious community

14) The term Tanak refers to the same collection of documents as which of the following?
a) The Septuagint
b) A Catholic Old Testament
c) The Hebrew Bible

15) Which of the following is NOT one of the major sections of the Tanak?
a) Kethuvim (Writings)
b) Neviim (Prophets)
c) Torah (Teaching, Law, Instruction)
d) Apocrypha (Hidden)

16) The Tanak ends with
a) the book of Malachi
b) the books of Chronicles
c) the book of Psalms

17) The Old Testament ends with
a) the book of Malachi
b) the books of Chronicles
c) the book of Psalms

Thursday, June 26, 2008

July Quiz: Apocrypha or Deuterocanon

1. What does the term "Apocrypha" mean?

a) False Inscription
b) Inspired
c) Extraneous
d) Hidden

2. The term deuterocanonical means

a) having to do with the second coming of Jesus
b) hidden; not to be read
c) belonging to a second canon

3. What did Tobiah use to keep the demon from the bridal chamber when he married Sarah?

a) A sheep's gall bladder
b) Warm bird droppings
c) A magical incantation
d) A fish's heart and liver

4. Who was pulled by the hair of his head by God and taken from Judea to Babylon to give Daniel lunch when Daniel was in the lion's den?

a) Zerubabbel
b) Jeremiah
c) Habakkuk
d) Elijah

5. Why did Tobit send his son Tobia to Media?

a) To claim a fortune deposited there
b) To seek out and marry Sarah
c) To find a cure for his blindness
d) To avoid death at the hands of Sennacherib

6. How did Judith assassinate Holofernes?

a) She stabbed him during intercourse
b) She beheaded him while he was drunk
c) She prayed to God and he was miraculously killed
d) She drove a tent peg through his chest

7. Two Jewish elders, out of lust for this woman, tell her to have sex with them or risk being accused of committing adultery with a young man.

a) Susanna
b) Esther
c) Judith
d) Baruch

8. Verses from this passage are used in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., as part of the "Rite One Morning Prayer."

a) Song of the Three Young Men
b) Susanna
c) Bel and the Dragon
d) Wisdom

9. In the additional parts of Esther, what character has a dream vision?

a) Esther
b) Mordecai
c) Vashiti
d) Haman

10. The Wisdom of Solomon is the only book of the Roman Catholic Old Testament that professes a belief that would have enormous importance in the history of the Christian West, namely,

a) Explicit monotheism.
b) A spiritual interpretation of the messianic hope.
c) The possibility of vicarious suffering.
d) The immortality of the soul.

11. What Deuterocanonical book is ascribed to the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah?

a) Baruch
b) Tobit
c) Sirach
d) Judith

12. Hellenistic culture

a) was the culture of classical Greece before the conquests that brought Greek language and customs to Israel.
b) was the culture of Mesopotamia and Canaan in the centuries immediately before Greek culture was introduced there.
c) resulted from the mixture of classical Greek civilization with the older cultures of the Near East.

13. Who was the conqueror who took Greek language, art, literature, philosophy, and social customs from Greece to the millions of people living in Egypt, Judea, Afghanistan, and all the way to western India?

a) Ashurbanipal III
b) Cyrus of Persia
c) Alexander the Great

14. General consensus regarding which books belong in the Hebrew Bible was reached at approximately

a) The time of Ezra, 400 B.C.E.
b) The time of the Maccabees, the second century B.C.E.
c) The end of the first century C.E.
d) The early Middle Ages.

15. The term diaspora refers to

a) a form of dress in ancient Israel
b) the war for independence from Seleucid rule
c) the distribution of Jews outside their Palestinian homeland

Short Answer:

1. According to Ben Sira, the chief function of a scribe is to ___________________.

2. If the Wisdom of Solomon exhibits respect for philosophy, it has scathing contempt for the Egyptians because of their ____________.

Longer Answer:

1. What is implied when we call the Bible “Sacred Scripture”?

2. What does it mean to speak of the “canon” of the Bible?

3. What enduring values can we hope to find in the Bible?

July Quick Guide: Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Literature (Part 1)

Tobit, Judith, Esther (Greek), The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch,
The Letter of Jeremiah, Azariah and the Three Jews, Susanna

These books did not make the canon of the Protestant Bible, but they are found in the sacred canons of other Christian traditions. These are the writings of Jewish people between the third century BCE and the first century CE. Many of these texts were written in Greek, some in Aramaic or Hebrew. Many respond to the Hellenization of the region since the conquest of Alexander the Great. While some of the writings incorporate Greek thought, much of it resists Hellenization and prizes faithful Jewish resistance.

The apocrypha includes some fun stories in the genre of historical romances:

Tobit is a found in the Roman Catholic canon. It is a fictional story that praises faithfulness and courage. Tobit gives us the concept of the guardian angel and provides a reason why young men may be frightened to death on their wedding night.

Judith is fiction in the form of history. Lest anyone doubt that women should be in combat, here is a how a brave, faithful, woman gets ahead.

In the Greek version of the Book of Daniel are three more stories not found in the Hebrew text. They are Azariah and the The Three Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.

1) The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews is what the three men pray to the Lord when they were tossed into the fiery furnace.

2) Susanna is the story of a woman who is wrongly accused. Thankfully Daniel comes to her rescue--just like Matlock.

3) Bel and the Dragon tells the story of how Daniel outwits the religious phonies, kills a dragon, and survives six days in a lion’s den.

The Greek version of Esther is the same story as the canonical Esther with some additions. These additions are pious, in that they contain explicit references to God not found in the Hebrew text.

In addition to fun stories, the Apocrypha contains wisdom literature:

The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach is skillful literature. It is a blending of Greek and Hebrew thought. These two works as well as 2 Maccabbees 6-7 had a great influence on the theology of the early Christian church, including the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

Baruch, named for the scribe of Jeremiah is really a praise for Wisdom and for Israel: “The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.”

The Letter of Jeremiah was supposedly written by Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon. It is really a scathing attack on non-Jews: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber bed, which guards nothing, so are their gods of wood, overlaid with gold and silver.”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Hebrew Prophets: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Hebrew Prophets: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
April 27th, 2008

Selected Readings from the Minor Prophets

The Good:
The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. --Amos 9:13-14

The Bad:
I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord. I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will make the wicked stumble. I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
--Zephaniah 1:2-3

The Ugly:
I am against you, says the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will let nations look on your nakedness and kingdoms on your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a spectacle.
--Nahum 3:5-6

Today marks the end of our tour through the Hebrew prophets.
In our journey through the Bible we have finished the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), and the Latter Prophets, which is divided into the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

Next month we begin the Writings.
We will read the poetic literature first, Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. Then for June, we will read The Five Scrolls: (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther). We will also read the Post-Exilic Writings: (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles). And by the end of June we will have completed the Hebrew Scriptures which Christians call the Old Testament. We are reading them, however, in the order of the Hebrew tradition rather than the Christian tradition.

The poet Robert Frost, in one of his poems wrote that he had a lover’s quarrel with the world. In his 1942 poem “The Lesson for Today,” a long philosophical poem, we find this stanza:

And were an epitaph to be my story
I'd have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover's quarrel with the world

You will find on Robert Frost’s tombstone in his resting place in Vermont, that sentence: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” I took a photograph of it when I visited there a few years ago.

On my tombstone should be written, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the Bible.” It truly is a lover’s quarrel. I have been marinated in it since I was a child. I learned critical methods, even a dabbling in its original languages. I have argued with it, dismissed it, embraced it again, cursed those who misuse it, embarrassed myself in my misuse of it, and here I am again encouraging you to read it. Perhaps I want you to share my pain. The Bible won’t go away. I cannot seem to write it off. Its narrative continues to mess with my head and heart.

I still want to trust that what it says is true—we matter, something bigger than us cares, and in the end we experience Resurrection and a shining city.

Religious scholar Bart Ehrman, who teaches at the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, just published a book in 2008: God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer.

I think Professor Ehrman has a lover’s quarrel with the Bible, too. I resonate with what he wrote on page 17:

It is important, then, to see what the Bible actually says, and not to pretend it doesn’t say something that happens to contradict one’s own particular point of view. But whatever the Bible says needs to be evaluated. This is not a matter of setting oneself up as God, dictating what is and what is not divine truth. It is a matter of using our intelligence to assess the merit of what the biblical authors say…(p. 17)

That is true enough. Yet the Bible has power over us at that exact point. If we do “assess the merit of what the biblical authors say” we are breaking a taboo. It is that very assessment that is considered to be the slandering of the sacred. This taboo is not just for fundamentalists. Biblical scholars across the spectrum all have the desire to bring the Bible to their side. We really have a hard time finally saying, for example, “Yes, the Apostle Paul was probably homophobic, but we don’t have to be.”

Folks who have no lover’s quarrel with the Bible have no difficulty saying that. The Bible is as foreign to them as tales of the Norse god, Odin. But for those of us who do trust the Bible as a sacred text, we have a problem. Can it be true if we have the freedom to assess its truth claims? Is it true if we conclude that some of it is not true?

I am not speaking about whether or not an event in the Bible happened or not, I am talking about the big ticket questions, such as, “If God loves us, why do we suffer?”
This is the question Bart Ehrman addresses in his recent book.

Ehrman believes that that question is the foundational question of the Bible. Ehrman writes that it is not only a foundational question for the Bible but for most if not all religions. It is an existential question with which we live.

Why do we suffer? The reason we ask it is in order to then ask: How can we end suffering, or at least reduce it, or at even be at peace with it? I bring up Ehrman’s book because he begins with the prophets and how they answered that question.

There are a number of different ways the biblical writers answered that question. The dominant answer, the classic answer, is that suffering is God’s punishment for disobedience. The prophets also assert that some suffering is caused by human beings who inflict pain on others. The prophet Amos accused the rich of selling the poor for a pair of shoes. Their suffering was the result of the greed of the rich.

One explanation for human suffering is true enough: we bring it on others and ourselves by making selfish and cruel choices. Why do people suffer from grinding poverty, war, and sickness. Some of it can be explained by neglect, cruelty and ignorance. Those who see human suffering in that way, seek to eliminate it or alleviate it. There is suffering that we can do something about.

This is why Amos, of all the prophets, resonates so much with those who work for social justice. The hope is we can do something about it, if we care enough to act. Amos, in that sense, is quite modern.

That explanation doesn’t account for all suffering, though. It doesn’t account for natural disasters, birth defects, disease, pain in childbirth, and death itself. As much as we might enjoy blaming politicians and leaders for our suffering, we cannot concede to them that much power.

The classic explanation for suffering from the Hebrew prophets was that suffering was inflicted upon them as punishment for disobedience to YHWH. The crisis was this: YHWH chose us and made a covenant with us. Why then are we in such misery? Why are we being overthrown by our adversaries? Why do we die from famine and drought? Why do mothers weep for their children and refuse to be comforted? Why doesn’t YHWH answer our cries for help?

The answer from the prophets is that this suffering is not the result of indifferent weather patterns, nor is it the result of the Babylonian or Assyrian Empires’ quests for power. This suffering is YHWH’s way of communicating. You are suffering because you have disobeyed and you need to repent. When you do repent, YHWH will restore you.

Job didn’t buy it. Job rejects the classic answer. Here is a righteous person who suffers. There are two answers in Job. The first is that suffering is none of his business. YHWH speaks to him finally from the whirlwind and gives no answer. The second answer from the prologue and epilogue that the reader knows, but the character Job does not, is that YHWH was playing games with him. YHWH made a bet with the Adversary regarding how much suffering could be inflicted upon poor old Job, before he would break his covenant with YHWH. Suffering in this case is a test. Although, one might legitimately ask, for what purpose?

The answer from Ecclesiastes is “All is vanity and chasing after the wind.” The good suffer and wicked prosper, just the make the best of it. Ecclesiastes also resonates with our modern view on things.

In the saga of Joseph, which Ehrman points out, is the same theme of the story of Jesus, God uses suffering for redemption. In this case suffering is not caused by God but used by God to achieve a greater good. The New Testament does not really provide any new answers. Although some have suggested that the incarnation shows that God suffers with us.

So far we have suffering is unexplainable, suffering is caused by the cruelty of others, suffering is a test, suffering is a means to a greater good. The classic, dominant answer is that suffering is punishment. That is what we find, for the most part in the Torah and the Prophets.

Here is the question: Is that true? Were the prophets correct? I am going to argue that they were not correct. As one biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan put it: if the Hebrew people had been on their knees in prayer, day and night, and been perfect followers of YHWH, the Assyrians and then the Babylonians would have slaughtered them anyway.

This is why I find the prophets very difficult to read. I resonate with Amos and the call for social justice. I do like the visions of hope and justice we find there. I call that prophetic message good. The message of punishment, that everything from drought to the defeat by enemies is God’s way of punishing, I cannot accept. I don’t think that theology is good or good for us. That prophetic message to me is bad.

I have to have some special category for the almost pornographic language of the prophets as they graphically depict the violence of God on those whom God punishes. Not good, worse than bad, it is ugly.

That is my quarrel with much of the Bible and the god who is portrayed there. I simply cannot accept a notion of God who punishes people either then or now because of their sin. Am I setting myself as smarter than God for saying that? Perhaps. Some would say that is exactly what I am doing. I do not think so. I think I am evaluating or assessing the merits of what the biblical authors wrote.

Actually, in an odd way, I think it makes me a lover of the Bible and the people who wrote it. I want to understand it and them. Why did they say things the way they did? What was at stake for them? Understanding includes assessing. Because they saw god in a certain way then, does that mean we must see god in that way now?

I may be wrong in my assessment. But I think that our personal growth is allowing ourselves the freedom to risk being wrong. We have the freedom, perhaps the responsibility to forge a way of thinking about God and our human plight in ways that move beyond ancient formulations.

There is a great deal of suffering in the world. Much of it we can do little about except to be compassionate to others and to ourselves. Yet there is much suffering that we may be able to alleviate and in some cases prevent. I do think that how we think about God does matter in how we respond to the challenges of life. I will give up God’s power and righteousness for God’s compassion any day.

Daring to assess the merits of the Bible may seem a road less traveled by in our culture.
So, I will close with another poem by Robert Frost that reminds me of this congregation and why I am glad I am here:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Torah (Overview)

The Torah which can be translated as Instruction or Law is made up of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It was formed by various authors over centuries. See The Documentary Hypothesis Quick Guide. It tells the story from Creation to the death of Moses before the Hebrews arrive in the Promised Land.

Here is the January quick guide for the Torah. Here is the quiz.  

The Former Prophets (Overview)

The Former Prophets are the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings. They are also known as the Deuteronomistic History because they follow the theological theme of the author of Deuteronomy.

They follow the history from the entrance into the Promised Land, late 13th century BCE, to the deportation to Babylon in 587 BCE. These works (along with the
Book of Deuteronomy and some editorializing of Genesis through Numbers) were likely created in the 7th century BCE during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE) after the conquest of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in 722 BCE.

History is not the best word to describe these works. They are commentary and theological interpretation of history.
Former Prophets is more accurate as the authors make prophetic analysis regarding the history of Israel and Judah. That is they claim to speak for God.

The theological theme throughout the Former Prophets is that the people will be successful in the land if they worship only YHWH. If they worship and serve other gods, YHWH will either remove his presence from them or will actively support the other nations in order to punish YHWH's people.

The Former Prophets speak to the situation in Josiah's time and for Josiah. With the threat of Babylon on the horizon, the former prophets have one message, you will retain the land by fidelity to YHWH. Some scholars suggest that the Former Prophets were not completed until the Exile (587 - 539 BCE). In this setting, they speak to the people in exile that the promise that getting back the land will require fidelity to YHWH.

Michael Palmer provides an excellent overview in his article, The Former Prophets. Here is a brief outline of the writings with the aid of an excellent resource, Reading the Old Testament:

Introduction and Key Terms
Story Line
Chapters 1-12 Campaigns of Conquest
Chapters 13-21 Tribal Territories
Chapters 22-24 Covenant Considerations
Outline of Joshua
Joshua as a Whole
Take the Quiz

Introduction and Key Terms
Story Line
What is a Judge?
Chapters 1-3 Narrative Introduction
Chapters 3-16 The Judges at Work
Outline of Judges
Judges as a Whole
Take the Quiz

Introduction and Key Terms
Story Line
1 Sam. 1-12 Samuel Cycle
1 Sam. 13-31 Saul Cycle
2 Sam. 1-24 David Cycle
Outline of Samuel
Samuel as a Whole
Take the Quiz

Introduction and Key Terms
Story Line
1 Kings 1-11 Solomon and the Unified Monarchy
1 Kings 12-2 Kings 17 Parallel Histories of Israel and Judah
2 Kings 18-25 Judah to the Babylonian Exile
Outline of Kings
Kings as a Whole
Take the Quiz

Here is my quick guide to the Former Prophets and the quiz to complete and turn in for your prize! Send your quiz answers to johnashuck@embarqmail.com!