Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Through the New Testament in 2012 -- Introduction

Below are three brief articles: One is on the Gospels, the second is a comment on the oral tradition and third is on the Gospel according to Mark. Starting January 2, 2012 there will be daily (or nearly so) postings on this blog regarding daily readings that the Christ Church, Snyder, New York will be doing together. Beginning with Mark 1 on January 2.

The following comes from a document I wrote for our Mission partners in Uganda: This "Biblical and Theological Primer" was written for Nexus Seminary students and is being translated into Lugandan and will be printed in Lugandan and English as a teaching tool for Nexus graduates.

Gospels The word Gospel comes from the Greek word meaning “Good News”. The Gospel writers are sometimes called the four evangelists. The gospels are written to show that Jesus is who he said he is (Son of God). The four gospels tell the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection from four different perspectives and are written to four different audiences (or communities). The four gospels tell the same story but they differ in details and emphasis. It is widely believed that Matthew was written to a Hebrew congregation because he quotes the Old Testament significantly more than the other Gospel writers and other factors. Mark was written for a Latin, perhaps a Roman military audience; Mark is an action orientated book where there is little teaching but a lot of activity. Luke, the only identifiable non-Jewish writer in the entire Bible, writes as an historian, to show that Jesus came for the whole world; he includes more contacts with foreigners than the other three gospels combined. Finally, John writes not to tell what Jesus did but to show why he did what he did; every story in John arrives at the same conclusion: Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the World.
Oral Tradition: The ancient world was not a literate world. People did not have books or scrolls at their immediate disposal. The vast majority of people could not read or write. Family history was passed down by word of mouth through stories. These stories were memorized in each successive generation and passed on exactly as received. In the New Testament the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed before it was written. Jesus death and resurrection occurred in AD 27-30. The earliest of the gospels, Mark, was probably written down 25 to 30 years later. Many modern persons do not understand the quality of information in the oral tradition because, with the easy access to books and computers, we do not need to remember anything. In a preliterate or non-literate culture stories as carriers of wisdom and information are more prevalent. In existing tribal cultures there is a clearer understanding of the importance of the oral tradition and the place of story in a people’s history. 

Mark was probably written for a Latin (Roman) audience and possibly for a military audience. The gospel writer often explains Jewish customs which strongly suggests that he had a non-Jewish audience in mind. The gospel according to Mark bustles with activity and energy. Mark contains the least amount of Jesus teaching in the four Gospels preferring to show the activity of Jesus ministry. Mark is generally believed to be the first of the gospels written. It was written sometime between AD 55 and AD 70. The oldest Christian tradition holds that John Mark was the author. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin and accompanied Barnabas and Paul for much of their first missionary journey. Later he became a close companion of Peter and it is widely believed that Peter is the primary source for Mark’s information. Scholars believe that Luke and Matthew had a copy of Mark available to them when they wrote their gospels. Mark shows Jesus victory over the power of darkness through the casting out of demons. Mark also shows the disciples struggle to understand the meaning of Jesus life and teaching.
Key Learning: Mark has a bias for action. Jesus proves he is the Messiah of God through miracles and the casting out of demons.
Dr. BJ

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent/Christmas Adventure

I published this in my weekly newsletter (Christ Church Update) about a week ago and some of you wanted to see it again:
We are half way through the Advent Sundays and less than three weeks from our celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation (aka Christmas). I get a kick out of all the energy and excitement people have around the observance of Christmas. In our society there are a wide variety of celebrations going on this time of year. Our Jewish friends and neighbors are observing Hanukkah a minor observance celebrating the miracle of the oil during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees (circa 167 BC). There are many “pagan” celebrations (pagan from the Latin paganos meaning country rural – is a reference to some of the older pre Christian religions that were practiced in Europe. Christianity was an urban movement and the older religious practices survived in the country side: hence pagan.) that note the arrival of the Winter Solstice. In recent years we have added the African American celebration of Kwanza. On top of this diversity, different Christian cultures and groups observe different parts of the Nativity story (many Hispanic cultures, for example, focus on the arrival of the “Three Kings” making January 6 – Epiphany – the bigger celebration than December 25). We could, I suppose, join the now dated Seinfeld craze and celebrate “Festivus” and just admit it is all just one big party to the end of the year anyway. In our “melting pot” American culture, much of this just gets blended together into a “Happy hanakwansolsfestimas”. Unfortunately, some Christians’ discomfort with these other celebrations often gets expressed in an exclusive “keep Christ in Christmas” – which sounds good but relegates to unimportant status all of the other observances going on around us. There is the group that gets excited and upset when Christmas gets shortened to X-mas – not knowing that the X in Greek is the letter Chi and represents Christ. I find no reason to be upset with Greek shorthand (and it is really fun to point it out to those who don’t know this). However, there is a uniqueness to the Feast of the Incarnation. Maybe the best solution is this: rather than getting worried about what other groups, cultures, and religions are or are not doing we would proceed to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation like Christians – that is living after the manner and example of Jesus (and doing a little exploding in love and service might help too!). I don’t even mind hearing “Happy Holidays” since I know that the word “Holiday” is simply another form of “Holy Day”. Wishing me a “Happy Holy Day” works just fine. It is Advent . . . are you slowing down? Are you getting ready? The Feast of the Incarnation is nearly upon us! Jesus is coming (nay, is already here!).