Category Archives: Bible in 90 Days

Bible in 90 Days: Day 75


BiND:  Day 75


Today we cross a strange line in our reading.  We finish Luke’s gospel, but instead of going directly to its sequel (Acts), we hop over into John, whose writing and focus and context are very different. 

In the end of Luke we see Jesus again as very human, showing emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and compassion.  We also hear him say, in the face of violence, “no more!”  And then, after the resurrection, we read the stories that in many ways characterize the church today, especially the Emmaus Road story.  The disciples don’t know what’s just happened, and they don’t recognize Jesus when he comes to walk beside them, but at the table they get just a little glimpse before he’s gone—and that glimpse is enough for them to rush back and testify to what they have seen and heard.  Isn’t that just how we are?  We don’t always recognize Jesus even when he’s walking alongside us, but at the communion table we get a glimpse of Christ and of the kingdom of God, and that little taste is enough to empower us to share the story. 


And then we turn the page and find ourselves reading John.  Again, “John” is a name that was attached later to an anonymous writing, and tradition holds to be the name of the “beloved disciple” who is mentioned a couple of times (though never named, and always written about in the third person).  Just as Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote from and to their own contexts, so does John.  We talked about sources:  the vast majority of scholars agree that Mark was written first, then used as a source by both Matthew and Luke, along with a source scholars call “Q”—material found in both Matthew and Luke but not Mark (implying that there must have been a document or a body of work from which they could both draw, since they are often word-for-word the same).  Then both Matthew and Luke had their own sources as well, generally called “M” and “L” (how original).  John, however, is different.  He does not appear to have had any of these sources, and his writing about Jesus overlaps very little with the synoptic gospels.  (synoptic comes from two Greek words that mean “seeing together.”)  So John reads very differently from the first three, and he portrays Jesus differently as well.  John is concerned with refuting Gnosticism (the idea that special secret knowledge is the key to salvation), though in the process he often sounds like a Gnostic himself.  He writes mainly theology, not history.  He presents a Jesus who works few miracles and tells few parables, but spends a lot of time in extended theological discourse.  John is also the most “greek” of the gospel writers—his language use is easy to understand yet sophisticated, his writing style is similar to that of the greek philosophers, and he is pretty clearly writing in the late 1st century to a community of probably mostly gentile Christians.  He also presents a very high “Christology”—understanding of Jesus—which is primarily about Jesus’ divinity, whereas we saw, for instance, in Mark, a lot of humanity.  This is one of the reasons having all four gospels, all four portraits of Jesus, is important:  we get a balance, a variety of perspectives and vantage points, a variety of understandings, all of which capture part of the story but, because God can’t be captured in words, not all of it.  There are other gospels, mostly written much later, that didn’t make the canonical cut—if you’re interested in reading some, I have a collection in my office, so just ask!


John opens with a beautiful rhetorical move that is beloved by many:  “in the beginning was the Word”—the logos, the divine word/logic.  God’s logic has come into the world.  God’s Word (with a Capital W), has been made flesh.  In the beginning of Genesis, we see God creating with a word, and now the Word is living among us, re-creating.  It’s one of the most beautiful expressions of who Jesus is that we have in our tradition.


You may have noticed that one of the first things Jesus does is have a Temple Tantrum—right at the beginning of his ministry.  In John, Jesus is out and about for three years, whereas in the synoptic gospels he’s out for just one year.  So we have a clue about how John views Jesus, right in the opening pages.  In the other three gospels, the Temple tantrum is the last straw that leads to Jesus’ arrest.  In John, though, it’s just the beginning—an announcement of who he is and what he’s come to do.  (Important note:  Throughout John the phrase “the Jews” comes up over and over.  This has often been used to create and foster anti-semitism, and it’s important to remember that Jesus and his followers were all Jews.  “the Jewish religious leaders” is a better translation in the context of the greek and the socio-political-religious situation of the day.) 


What else did you notice as you finished Luke and started on John today?

photos are:  a 2000+ year old olive tree in the garden of Gethsemane; some friends standing in the “Upper Room” in Jerusalem, wondering if Jesus and the disciples really celebrated Passover in a neo-gothic room built of cement on the second floor of a large building; a page of John from the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known manuscript of the Bible–this page is the only one remaining at St. Katherine’s monastery at Mt. Sinai (for which the codex is named) because the others have been taken by the British Museum and promised back but never returned; and a scale model of the Temple, part of a scale model of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, just outside the Jerusalem city limits.

bible in 90 days: thanks!


Friends, I love being in class with you all.  I may have played Buffy Quote Hangman during New Testament Survey in seminary (I read, and I listened…I just also multitasked) but you all keep me thinking and engaged and I love it!  Thank you for being such interesting and engaging people, willing to grapple with tough issues and to be vulnerable about what you think, feel, and believe.  It’s not easy to put out there some of the stuff we talk about, but you do it.  Thanks.

(I loved class tonight, can you tell?  I’m definitely in the midst of an adrenaline rush right now!!)

Jerusalem on the 3rd century mosaic map of the holy land at St. George’s church in Madaba, Jordan (famous for mosaics!).  Notice the Greco-Roman style colonnade down the center–a perfectly straight street running through the city.  cool!  photo by TCP

Bible in 90 Days: day 74


BiND:  Day 74


Well, today we got some of Luke’s best known writing—the teachings of Jesus.  Luke is really interested in the things Jesus said, and he reports several parables and teachings that we don’t find in the other gospels.  The best known examples of this are the parable of the prodigal and the parable of the good Samaritan.


So…what is a parable, anyway?  The word parable has to do with “setting alongside”—in a story form, a parable sets alongside each other two things in order to make a point.  So, “who is my neighbor” leads to a story setting the question of “neighbor” alongside three examples.  “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed” is, if not obvious, at least an obvious expression of “setting alongside.”  Though often interpreted as allegories, Jesus’ parables are not all necessarily allegories.  In other words, they do not have to be interpreted with God and Jesus and us as the characters.  It’s possible for them to have other meanings, though the allegorical meaning is often the most obvious or most common interpretation.  We often like this form of interpretation for parables because we tend to be intent on figuring out what the story has to do with us, personally, and the easiest way to do that is to put ourselves in the story.  So next time you’re reading a parable, try putting yourself in as different characters, not always the same one (how often have you heard that God is like the father and we are the “prodigal son” who wanders off and has to come begging home, only to be forgiven?  Try thinking of yourself as the older brother.  What does the parable say then?  What if you’re the father?  etc…).


Many of Jesus’ parables are still as confusing to us today as they were to the disciples who, you may have noticed, are constantly asking, “umm, was that for us?  ‘cuz if so, we didn’t get it……”  The beautiful thing about teaching via story is that there is always something new to learn.  The hard (yet still beautiful) thing about teaching via story is that you’re never able to tell what’s the “right” way to interpret it or the “one big thing” to learn from it.  Luke has Jesus telling more parables than any of the other gospels, and I wonder if Luke’s emphasis on drawing God’s circle wider than we expect has to do with that?  What do you all think?  And what did you notice as you read today?

photo is of the Sea of Galilee, taken by TCP

Bible in 90 Days: Day 73


BiND:  Day 73


Hmm, by the third time through the stories start to sound pretty similar, don’t they?  “Didn’t I just read this??”  Well, yes and no.  Luke of course puts his own twist on the good news, the story of Jesus’ life and teaching, etc!  Luke was likely written near the end of the 1st century, but the location of the writer and/or his community is unknown.  What we do know is that Luke writes very elegantly and that his story is in two volumes, the second volume being the book of Acts.  And it starts right at the beginning—he says to “Theophilus” (both a common name and a word meaning “god-lover”) that he knows there are other gospels, other stories, floating around, and he’s decided it’s time for a carefully researched historiography. This is a Hellenistic literary form that involves telling “history” in such a way that it makes a point—in this case, to teach and to inform people’s identity in terms of Christ’s identity as long-awaited Messiah.  Since in antiquity (and to a certain extent still today, in some cases) “older is better” Luke needs to make the case that Jesus (and therefore the Christian community to which he writes) is part of a line extending back to the beginning of time, all the way to God.  Which he does, in his genealogy tracing Jesus, through Joseph, all the way back to Adam and then to God.

After establishing in his dedication what he’s setting out to do, Luke sets up the story carefully, beginning with the parents of John the Baptist (who were likely well off and of high social standing), then cutting to Mary (of no social standing), then back to JTB and then back to Jesus…and in the process he tells us the story that we are used to hearing at Advent and Christmas—angels, shepherds, glorias, songs, prophets, the whole nine yards.  Then nothing until the infamous precocious-12-year-old incident, which is reported only by Luke and at least gives us a little comic relief in the midst of the story.  The 12 year old Jesus gets left behind after Passover and is eventually found hanging out with the teachers in the Temple

 (which, by the way, is still a common form of education in the Middle East—teachers sit in the porticoes of mosques and synagogues and students sit around them in a circle and they have Q-and-A sessions).  His mother, frantic with worry, chastises him.  He, being 12, sasses his mother.  Then he appears to feel bad about it and goes home with them and “was obedient to them.”  uh huh.  Like all 12 year olds, I’m sure.

One of the characteristics of Luke is that he says “and Jesus went around Galilee doing stuff” and then gives examples—the examples aren’t necessarily in chronological order, and if you plot them on a map they don’t necessarily make itinerary sense, but they give the listener an idea of some of the things Jesus said and did.  Luke’s primary goal seems to be to show Jesus crossing boundaries and drawing the circle of God’s people ever wider—he’s sometimes called the “gentile” gospel for this reason.  Jesus constantly flouts purity laws and teaches that the righteousness so oft extolled may in fact not involve any right relationships at all (“right relationship” is the definition of “righteousness” in biblical language).  He also is more directly justice-oriented than some of the other gospel writers—so for example, Luke’s beatitudes are very direct:  

blessed are you who are poor, who are hungry, who weep, when people hate and exclude you.  Woe to you who are rich, who are full, who are laughing, when all speak well of you.  A great reversal is going to happen and there will be equity in God’s kingdom, not like today’s kingdom.  Also, have you noticed yet the number of women in Jesus’ circle?  Matthew included women in his genealogy (and some scandalous ones, too!) but Luke includes women in Jesus’ ministry.  Women are part of the traveling cohort, are healed, are restored to community, are raised from the dead.  It’s quite shocking, actually!


Speaking of healing…we’re going to talk about that in class.  🙂


What did you notice as you read the beginning of Luke (which, incidentally, is basically in 3 acts and today was Act 1.)??

photos are:  artwork from a church at the Shepherd’s Field just outside Bethlehem; the manger in the crypt under the Church of the Nativity (visiting that was the first time I realized that mangers would have been hewn out of stone, not made of wood the way we always depict them in Christmas pageants); women studying at al-Azhar Mosque, center of Islamic learning, in Cairo; and the floor and altar at Tabgha, the traditional place of the feeding of the 5,000. Tradition says that Jesus broke the loaves and fishes on that rock, the one with the cup of oil on it.  Churches have been built on basically every single potentially holy place in all of the Holy Land–you can’t turn around without running into one.  Many thanks to Helena, mother of Constantine, for scouting out the places important in Jesus’ life, so we could visit them even 2000 years later!  photos all by TCP.