Monday, April 05, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Luke 22-24 and John 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Luke, chapters 22-24 and John, chapters 1 and 2.

Chapter 22

  • Verse 3 - I think this is the first version of this story to explicitly tie Judas' betrayal to Satan's influence, as opposed to a "merely" human motivation on Judas' part.
  • Verses 24-30 - The placement right in the middle of the story of the Jesus' Last Supper is striking, but this argument about "who is the greatest?" starts out a lot like one we've read already in the Gospel of Mark and even earlier in Luke itself.  The separate similar incident in Luke argues against this being a different telling of the same story, but it does seem unusual to see this dispute pop up again, and especially here.
  • Verses 36-38 - Jesus is actually telling his people to buy swords, even encouraging them to sell stuff to get them?  This is unexpected.  On the other hand, he does indicate that two are enough....
  • Verses 49-51 - In light of this, perhaps it is less surprising that the disciples think to use swords when Jesus is being arrested (although they do seem to ask him for permission while using them, for whatever that's worth.  I notice they don't see to wait for answer).  I also find it striking that, here in Luke, Jesus doesn't say the famous passage that those use the sword would die by it, although he does seem to tell his disciples to stop, and immediately heals the damage the attack has caused to the person's ear (if you'll forgive a rather gruesome question, does this mean that the man now has two ears, and a third is now laying on the ground?).
  • Verse 51 - Geldenhuys makes an interesting observation here.  Since one of Jesus's followers has attacked (and injured!) someone, Jesus' enemies would indeed have cause to accuse him of being the leader of a group of violent followers.  By not only ordering his disciples to stop, but also by healing the wounded servant, Jesus acts to work against this potential accusation.1
Chapter 23
  • Verse 12 - I don't find the idea of Pilate and Herod becoming friends (nor of the idea that they had previously been enemies) intriguing so much as the question of what, exactly, initiated the change in the relationship.  The fact that both of them had met Jesus (as a factor by itself) seems unlikely.  After all, what would be noteworthy enough about this incident, among all of the accused people each was likely to have to deal with, that--despite Pilate's insistence on Jesus' innocence and Herod's displeasure with Jesus at Jesus' unwillingness to perform miracles for him--they would become friends because of it?  Geldenhuys suggests that Herod was impressed by Pilate's "gesture of paying homage" to him (by having sent Jesus to him--the fact that this was done as a move by Pilate to evade responsibility for Jesus' fate notwithstanding).2
  • Verse 18 - Luke has the people ask for Barabbas without even waiting for Pilate to offer them a choice.  So far as Luke records it, the people are just upset that Pilate is going to let Jesus go, and they ask for a substitute.
  • Verse 44 - Jesus' death seems to have caused a change in the local weather pattern.  I expect that the fact that Luke tells us that it lasted for three hours is, itself, of some significance (or, alternatively, that it happened at those specific hours of the day), but I don't pretend to know what it is.
  • Verses 55-56 - Luke tells us two things: 1) that the women saw the body of Jesus being placed in the tomb, and that 2) although they went home to prepare spices and perfumes (presumably to treat the body with), they "rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."  I wonder, if Jesus had happened to die on a different day of the week, would the women have returned to the tomb earlier?
Chapter 24
  • (Due to a fortunate coincidence, I happen to be writing this on Easter Sunday)
  • Verse 4 - Although the men are not explicitly referred to as angels, the fact that Luke tells us that their clothes "gleamed like lightning" seems clear enough....
  • Verse 13 - It is somewhat unfortunate that, to this day, we cannot with certainty say where "Emmaus" was.  There is a city with a similar name ('Amwas) on a straight road to Jerusalem, but it is nearly three times as far from Jerusalem as the clear "seven miles" reference here would allow.  Another city, Kubeibeh, is about the right distance away, and was apparently considered the correct location by the Crusaders, and Geldenhuys considers this the most probable location.3  We'll probably never know for sure.  It's not too improbable to assume that a "village" (as Luke calls it) might have died out with little trace for future archaeologists to find....
  • Verses 13-35 - Another story where people look straight at Jesus (post-resurrection) and fail to recognize him.  Although I suppose it's possible that these particular followers had never been so physically close to Jesus at any given time so as to be able to recognize him, I suspect that the reality isn't so mundane.
  • Verse 34 - By the way, it seems that Jesus (who did, it seems vanish into thin air) beat the Emmaus disciples (who it seems didn't waste any time) back to Jerusalem to meet Simon (Peter?) and then leave again....
  • Verse 36 - ...and then re-appear again....
  • Verse 51 - Although Luke records Jesus' ascension into heaven here, it's worth noting that Luke wrote the book of Acts, also, and he backtracks a bit when he starts that book.  We'll get to that in a few weeks.
Chapter 1
  • Verse 1: "In the beginning" - It's no accident that this gospel starts of the same way as the first book of the Hebrew Bible....
  • Verses 1-16 - Brown argues that (most of) the verses so far are not only a poem (many would agree on this point), but may have been a hymn composed separately from the rest of the gospel, which was later adapted to become the "prologue" to it.4
  • Verses 32-34 - John (the gospel) does not actually show Jesus' baptism.  Indeed, some of the events of Jesus' baptism (especially the decent of the spirit "as a dove") are recounted by John the Baptizer.
  • Verses 45-47 - There's something refreshing about this exchange.  Nathaniel scoffs at the location of Jesus' origin, and Jesus--far from appearing to be insulted--actually compliments Nathaniel on his lack of deceit.
  • Verses 48-50 - This bit, on the other hand, is just bizarre.  Why should Nathaniel be amazed that Jesus "knows him" on the basis of the exchange in the previous verses?  And what's so special about being seen sitting under a fig tree that Nathaniel should be even further impressed?  It's really very mundane sounding.  Surely there's more going on here.  Brown notes a common interpretation that this demonstrates "Jesus' ability to know things beyond the normal human range,"5 and I see no reason to question that.  Indeed, something of the kind would almost have to be going on to explain Nathaniel's reaction.

Chapter 2
  • Verse 4 - The footnotes to the TNIV tell us that "The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect."  On the one hand, I wonder how they know this, but accepting them at their word, this seems to be important for modern English readers to understand.  I can't tell you the number of times I've heard this passage read aloud when the inflection made it clear that the person reading did think Jesus was using the word "Woman" in a derogatory manner.  (In a related note, I wonder if there's a cultural reason why Jesus does not refer to his mother as, well, "Mother," or something similar.)
  • Verse 11 - John explicitly tells us that this is the first "sign" (other translations say "miracle") that Jesus performs.  I wonder, then, how it is that Jesus' mother knew that Jesus could do something about the wine.  (There are traditions of Jesus performing miracles during childhood, but none of these are contained within the canon of Scripture, to say nothing of the contradiction to this particular assertion of John's.)
  • Verses 13-17 - This is way early for Jesus to be cleansing the temple compared to the synoptic gospels (all of which depict this story toward the end of Jesus' earthly ministry before his crucifixion).  Also, I'm intrigued by the lack of any "den of robbers" reference, here.  Going by the words alone, the fact that people are selling things ("Stop turning my Father's house into a market!") is sufficient to rouse Jesus' anger.
  • Verse 24 - Although the passage seems clear enough as to the question of "why not," I'm not at all sure "what" it means that Jesus didn't "entrust himself" to any of the people.

1Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1951, p. 580.
2Geldenhuys, p. 594.
3Geldenhuys, p. 636.
4Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (The Anchor Bible Commentary), Doubleday, 1966, pp. 18-21.
5Brown, p. 83.

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