Barry Newman's Blog

October 31, 2012

The Sacraments (part XIV)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 9:28 pm

Re: Acts 2: 42

The relevant phrase is: “And they continued steadfastly in … the breaking of bread.”  This phrase and other similar ones to be found in the New Testament were studied at length in a previous blog series.  Suffice it to say that there are 11 references to “bread” in connection with “break” in the New Testament outside of references to the feeding of the 5, 000 and the 4, 000 and there is no evidence that a technical phrase is being used on any occasion. “Breaking bread” either refers to just that or perhaps in some instances to a simple meal as a whole, as a short hand way of saying that.  As mentioned above, bread was an important part of most meals especially simple meals. The text of Acts 2: 42 and some other texts in Acts refer to the extraordinary reality of early believers from different backgrounds often coming together to share simple meals.  As this text makes clear, on these occasions, they focussed on the teaching of the apostles, they shared a common bound – they were in fellowship with each other, eating a simple meal together, and praying together.  That the text refers to their participating in something akin to “the Lord’s Supper” necessitates building such a notion into the text.


The Parable of the Mustard Seed (part I)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The parable of the Mustard Seed — barrynewman @ 9:27 pm

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Like the parable of the sower, the parable of the mustard seed occurs in all three synoptic Gospels: Matthew 13: 31, 32, Mark 4: 30 – 32 and Luke 13: 18, 19.

Matthew has Jesus introducing the parable with “the kingdom of heaven is like” whereas both Mark and Luke record Jesus beginning with a rhetorical question, “What is the kingdom of God like, what parable shall be used to illustrate it?” Each account refers to a grain a mustard seed which Matthew and Luke says a man took and sowed but which Mark records that it was sown.  Matthew reports Jesus saying that the seed was sown in a field, Mark, in the ground and Luke in a garden.  Matthew and Mark have Jesus narrating that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Each of the Gospels refers to its growth. Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying that when it develops it is the greatest of (Mark: all) herbs. In Matthew it becomes a tree In Mark it produces large branches. In Luke it became a tree. All refer to “the birds of the air settling” there, with Matthew and Luke reporting “in its branches”; Mark, “in its shade”.  All three Gospels, but particularly Matthew and Luke, proceed as though it were a story, though there are some differences as regards tense or aspect.

October 29, 2012

The Sacraments (part XIII)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 8:26 pm

Re: Luke 24: 30

The text reads, “And it came to pass as he reclined with them having taken the bread he gave thanks and having broken (it) he gave (it) to them.”

The setting is that of the two disciples who unbeknown to themselves are accompanied by Jesus for part of the way as they travel from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. A discussion takes place concerning the death of Jesus and the report that he was now alive with Jesus, the unknown fellow traveller, speaking of these events as being the fulfilment of the writings of Moses and the prophets. Jesus appears to be going beyond the Village but they constrain him to spend the evening with them and have a meal. For some reason, perhaps related to his authoritative and learned manner they allow Jesus to act as host. He takes some bread, breaks it and distributes it to the other two. (24:  13 – 30).  At this point the text reads, “Their eyes were opened and they recognised him and he disappeared from them. (24: 31) That same night they return to Jerusalem and inform the eleven that he was known to them in the breaking of the bread (24: 35).

As mentioned earlier and in an earlier blog series, bread was an important component of most meals, particularly simple meals.  It normally was prepared in the form of a large loaf which in order for it to be distributed had to be broken.  The phrase, “broke bread” means precisely that.  It has no overtones in itself of any special ceremony being performed.  The Classical literature of the time has references to “broken-bread”, that is pieces of bread, being distributed in formal meals. What precisely the disciples saw or perceived when Jesus broke the bread that was associated with their recognising him for whom he was, we do not really know.  The reference to “Their eyes were opened” is indicative that by some means or another they were partially “blinded”, as it were, both as they travelled with Jesus and as they began the meal with him.  It is possible that it was the precise words that Jesus used in his giving thanks, or the appearance of hands that bore the marks of crucifixion that gave them the clue as to identity. However the text is silent on the details and seems to carry with it the notion that, as it were, a “veil” was lifted with perhaps the suggestion that the lifting of the “veil” was extraordinary in itself.

There is nothing in this account that is in any way suggestive of a celebratory meal being performed by the disciples.  A mention of wine might have gone a little way to assist in drawing such a conclusion, but even then the use of wine in the meal would not have been unusual.  However there is in fact no mention of wine.

The Parables of Jesus (part XIII) – The Parable of the Sower (part VIII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 8:26 pm

In Conclusion

Though we could hypothesise that on the basis of the parable alone, the proportion of those who fit with any one domain in reality is along roughly equal lines, this would be to go way beyond what Jesus is teaching.  We know from the teaching of Jesus elsewhere, from history and from our own present circumstances that few there are that find the narrow way.  There is a type of unreality that one might force from the parable but Jesus simply paints the picture of four realities not the numbers of those who fall within the various categories.

The three Gospel writers may have moulded their account of the explanations to fit their own purposes to some extent, for example Luke choosing his reference to Satan to be “the evil one” for his Gentile readers, but overall the accounts given differ in very little.  The dominant reference to “the word” may have suggested to all readers that for them it is the gospel message that is the focus of the parable.  How will they respond to it?  How have they responded to it?  How might they respond to it if conditions change? For the believer, reading these explanations, one would be warned about falling away in times of persecution or proving to be unfruitful because of a desire for other things.  But the accounts could also remind the believer of the realities of life – that Jesus knew that some would simply never understand, that others, though appearing to be very enthusiastic for the gospel initially could not “take the heat”, while others simply fell in love with the world one way or another.  For those who were unbelievers, the material presented in the Gospel accounts could make them very aware of the situation that they were already in or in which they could find themselves.  Perhaps they would in the end see that the abundant crop was what any sensible person would hunger for no matter what difficulties lay ahead.  How much the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be listened to, understood, desired and thoroughly embraced.

What an extraordinary parable and how blessed we are for Jesus to have given us its interpretation.

October 27, 2012

The Sacraments (part XII)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 9:56 pm

Re: Hebrews 13: 10

In chapter 13 the writer to the Hebrews exhorts, “Do not be led astray by diverse and strange teachings.  For it is good for the heart to be strengthened with grace, not meats which have not profited those who have ‘taken that line’. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin, are burned outside the camp.” (13: 9 – 11).

The idea that this text is in part a reference to partaking of a meal considered to be “the Lord’s Supper” stems from the use of the word “altar”.  Mention has been made earlier to the reference to “table” in 1 Corinthians 10.  In that instance “table” probably refers to a meal placed upon a table.  Certainly 1 Corinthians 10 also makes mention of an altar but there a general argument is being made that when one eats sacrifices one is closely associating oneself with the character of the altar upon which the sacrifice is being made. (10: 18 – 20) The point being made relates to not eating food that has been offered to idols.

If we understand the reference to “altar” as a reference to a special table set aside for what is thought of as “the Lord’s Supper’ we are in danger of viewing what happens at what is being considered  “the Lord’s Supper” as involving a sacrifice again of Jesus, either in a spiritual or physical sense.  This Jesus however is the one who died once for all. (Rom 6: 10; 1 Pet 3; 18)

The writer to the Hebrews at this point in chapter 13 is concerned with his readers not being drawn into false teachings which seemingly focus on or are predominantly concerned with what one eats.  In his reference to “those who serve the tent” we are surely meant to assume that these false teachings emanate, at least mainly, from a Jewish quarter.  The writer simply wants to indicate that for “us” and in reality, things are radically different from a Jewish legal perspective. In “our” case, “we” have an altar (as though there is one) which they (who only see things from that perspective) have no right to.  The writer goes on, “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.” (13: 11) The statement drives us to recognise that such bodies being burnt are not available for eating. It is probably a further way of indicating that “they have no right to eat from our ‘altar’ – for in their case, they could not even partake of the animal food in those sacrifices”. And then as he marvellously develops his thought, the writer refers to “Jesus who also suffered outside the camp …” and then says, “Let us go to him outside the camp and bare the abuse he endured.” (13: 12, 13).

Typically the writer uses images from the Law to convey new kingdom realities.  In this case his prime concern is the instruction to resist false teaching emanating primarily if not entirely from Jewish opponents recognising that as a consequence one might well suffer but this would be only to affiliate oneself with Jesus who suffered and indeed suffered for our sins.  It is not at all obvious that the reference to “altar” is a reference to something associated with anything considered to be like “the Lord’s Supper”.

The Parables of Jesus (part XII) – The Parable of the Sower (part VII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 9:53 pm

The Explanation of the Parable

The explanation that Jesus gives to the parable can be found in Matt 13: 18 – 23, Mark 4: 14 – 20 and Luke 8: 11 – 15.

One might be tempted to see Jesus as the sower but only in Mark’s account of the explanation is there any reference to the sower and no identity is forthcoming.  The emphasis is surely not on the sower but on the seed by whatever means it is delivered and the various “soils” on which it lands.

The seed is identified in Matthew’s Gospel as the word of the kingdom and in Luke’s Gospel as the word of God.  The “word” occurs six times in Matthew, eight times in Mark and four times in Luke. Translate “logos” as “word” or “message”, the parable is about that which comes from God and is about God.

The three Gospels are in basic agreement about to interpret the soils.  However Matthew speaks of “the one who”, while Mark and Luke refer to “those who”. That distinction will ignored in what follows.

Basically, the seed sown along the path situation is identified with those or who do not understand (Matthew and Mark) and clearly little time or attention is given by them to the message for the evil one (Matthew), Satan (Mark), the devil (Luke) snatches away what was sown in their hearts (their minds) so they do not understand (Matthew) so that they are unable to believe and be saved (Luke). The birds have been identified as the evil one/Satan/the devil.

The seed sown along the rocky ground scenario is identified with those who hear the message and immediately (Matthew and Mark) receive it with joy but having no root (for though there is top soil there is little depth to it before meeting the rocky substrate), though enduring (Matthew and Mark), believing (Luke) for a while, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word (Matthew and Mark), in time of temptation (Luke) they fall away. The “temptation” of Luke is probably to be identified with the notion of having to face trial as in persecution. This aspect of the parallel speaks of those who see the great worth of the message and accept it gladly. However, they have not really taken it completely to heart and when they are under personal stress because they have accepted the message in the first place they give up whatever commitment they had in the first place.

Concerning what was sown among the thorns, the reference is to those who hear the message but the cares of the world and the delight in riches (Matthew and Mark) and the desire for other things (Mark), the cares and the riches and pleasures of life (Luke) choke the message and it proves to be unfruitful. The focus on such prevents the hearer of the message of really taking it to heart.  It never really amounts to anything in their lives.  Their other concerns prevent it bearing the fruit that is the potential of the message.

Finally, with respect to the seed sown on good soil, the reference is to those who hear the word, understand it (Matthew), accept it (Mark), hold it fast in an honest and good heart. They bear fruit and yield a hundredfold, sixtyfold or thirtyfold (Matthew, reverse order Mark), bring forth fruit with patience (Luke).  No other situation, not even where the word is first accepted with joy, produces such fruit.  But what is the fruit? That fruitfulness (or lack thereof) is mentioned with respect to the seed sown among thorns is suggestive that the reference is simply but profoundly to how reception, understanding, believing, holding fast with sincerity to the word of the kingdom, produces the kingdom person. A wonderful transformation takes place, as the kingdom message is seriously “taken on board” in its fullness. The mention of “with patience” in Luke may be a reference to the development of the kingdom person over time.

October 25, 2012

The Sacraments (part XI)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 8:16 pm

Re: Hebrews 6: 4, 5

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes, “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly gift and who were made partakers of the Holy Spirit and who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and who fall away, to restore (them) again to repentance …” (6: 4 – 6).

It is the word, “tasting”, when first used that some have thought is a reference to partaking of something considered to be “the Lord’s Supper”.  In the previous section the writer has extolled Jesus as the heavenly priest but begins chapter 6 with a reference to “the elementary doctrine of Christ and not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God.” (6: 1) In the following verses the question of the possibility of restoring people again to repentance is not unnaturally raised. That there should also be a reference to Christ in the same context would also not be unexpected.  So assuming that “the heavenly gift” is a reference to Christ is not an unreasonable one.

But the use of the word “tasting” can readily be understood as metaphorical usage and this would seem to be particularly obvious when used in connection with “the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come”. If these words were considered on their own, is it not unlikely that people would see in them a reference to a celebratory meal?  It becomes somewhat difficult therefore to state, justifiably, with any confidence that the first reference to “tasting” is a literal reference to tasting at a meal.  Of course it is possible to see the first usage of “tasting” as literal and the second as metaphorical with the first being a reference to something experienced when taking part in a meal understood as something akin to “the Lord’s Supper” and to additionally claim that partaking of the Holy Spirit is what also happens when taking part in such but a long bow is being used to come to either of these conclusions. One can understand the strong desire to find a particular view of “the Lord’s Supper” that one already has, somewhere in Scripture but at very best it is veiled here.  There is no explicit context in this text or thereabouts for a celebratory meal.

The Parables of Jesus (part XI) – The Parable of the Sower (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 8:13 pm

Not Understanding the Parable (cont.)

In Matthew Jesus explains why he teaches the people in parables, because “seeing they do not see …” whereas in Mark and Luke Jesus explains that it is so that “seeing they may see and not perceive …” or “seeing they may not see …”.  Matthew has Jesus prior to this explanation making the comment that “For to him who has will more be given and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  This bespeaks of God’s judgement and what follows in the “because” statement gives the reason for God’s judgement.  Yet as one follows the Isaiah quote to its end the reason turns into a judgment itself. In the account given by Mark and Luke, the use of “so that” points automatically to that judgement, rather than it being a reason (see below).

Though there are differences among the Gospels, they are not substantial with the record in Matthew giving the fullest account. Perhaps the author of Matthew’s Gospel saw the importance of the quote from Isaiah for a Jewish readership many of whom would have known how Jesus had being rejected by many of their own kind.

The disciples obviously don’t understand the parable themselves. Perhaps by way of being indirect, in Matthew and Mark it is reported that they question Jesus as to why he speaks in parables to the crowd.  Jesus explains that there is an explanation for them but not for “the others”.  And blessed are they because they do see, they do hear, they do understand.  And their understanding pertains to matters that many in the past would have desired to have known but never did obtain that knowledge.  Yet the reality was that Jesus had to explain the parable to them.

The teaching of the crowds by means of parables is in effect God’s judgement on them for their already “disbelief”.  But who exactly in the crowd were coming under this judgement?  Mark makes it clear that it was not only the twelve to whom Jesus spoke these words.  There were others who were also there – those who had also attached themselves to Jesus and his teaching.  That is, those under this judgement were not all except the 12. And consider the following scenario.  Imagine that someone from “the crowd” happened to overhear what Jesus said.  He could have said to himself, “Well there is no point in my trying to understand what Jesus meant by the parable.  According to him I am already condemned to ignorance.  Alternatively, he could have become so anxious about his position before God that he betrayed his presence and blurted out, “Please help me to understand”  Would not Jesus have included him along with those others who were following him?  Of course he would have. But then from God’s point of view such a person did not have a dull heart, heavy ears or closed eyes!!

Behold the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man!  But let all beware of treating God with contempt imaging that in our own time and in our own way we will turn to God when we will.  We have no such liberty.  We must turn to him at once while we can.  Otherwise his judgement will surely fall on us when we cannot turn to him!

October 23, 2012

The Sacraments (part X)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 10:06 pm

Re: John 6: 22 – 69 (cont.)

I have paid some attention to John 6 not because I think there is a strong case that the relevant texts are a reference to something underlying a ceremony such as that considered to be “the Lord’s Supper” and that the case needs to be argued against at some length.  To begin with the relevant passage is lengthy and requires some considerable discussion anyway. The issue is however, that some seem to be convinced that John 6 really is a reference to something fairly closely associated with the last Passover Meal and hence something associated with what might be considered to be “the Lord’s Supper”, “the Eucharist” or “Holy Communion”.  This conviction needs to be taken seriously and addressed. I suspect the strength with which this view is held results in part from their being no reference towards the end of John to the Last Passover Meal at all.  Those thinking that John must have made some reference to it, are perhaps driven to seeing far more in John 6 than the text can legitimately sustain.

There is a link between the Last Passover Meal and the reference by Jesus to his flesh and blood in John 6.  It is however simply yet profoundly in terms of the way Jesus describes his actual upcoming death and the need to appropriate for oneself this Jesus and his death in order to receive “life”. As the Scriptures state, “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Lev 17: 11)  And in both instances, the language used refers to food and drink, eating and drinking.  The truth behind the language is the actual death of Jesus, yet to be, the necessity of that death in order for eternal life to be made available and the imperative to come to him and to believe in Him and his words.

One of the realities behind the situations of John 6 and the Last Passover Meal is that on both occasions Jesus uses powerful metaphors, just as he uses powerful parables as recorded elsewhere. In fact, these metaphors are parabolic. The Greek word “parabole” has an extensive coverage which includes “metaphors”. However the metaphors themselves must never be mistaken for the realities.  If we fall into that error we obscure the realities themselves.

The Parables of Jesus (part X) – The Parable of the Sower (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 10:04 pm

Not Understanding the Parable

If we had heard the story for the first time, and knew no more than the crowds and were asked, “What was Jesus trying to teach?” I doubt if many or any of us would have been able to give any answer with confidence.  The words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” may well have challenged us to try and discern the point Jesus was making but would we have been any more successful than the disciples?

The question the disciples asked Jesus about his use of parables in his teaching and the response that Jesus made is found in Matt 13: 10 – 17, Mark 4: 10 – 13 and Luke 8: 9, 10 and 10: 23, 24.

Matthew and Mark record that the disciples asked Jesus about the parables, Matthew has the disciples asking explicitly why Jesus speaks to “them” in parables, with Mark indicating that the question was raised when the disciples were alone.  Luke records that the disciples asked Jesus what the parable meant.  The three Gospels record that Jesus replies that to them the secret (or secrets) of the kingdom of God (or heaven) has been given. Mark and Luke record that for others (or for those outside) there are the parables, with the reason given – “so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand”, with Mark adding “lest they should turn and be forgiven”.  Matthew concludes with a remark by Jesus about how blessed the disciples are because they see, they hear what many prophets and righteous men desired to see and hear but did not. Luke has Jesus making a similar statement but omitting the reference to their hearing and referring to “kings” rather than “righteous men”. Furthermore, in Luke these comments by Jesus are divorced from the parable of the sower and associated with the response of Jesus to the return of the seventy from their mission.  Mark concludes this section with Jesus commenting upon the disciples’ lack of understanding of the parable in effect saying that if they do not understand this parable how will they understand any of the parables.  The expectation of Jesus is high.  I suspect that this says more about Jesus and the insight he has about matters pertaining to the kingdom of God than about Jesus and his understanding of the disciples’ lack of perception.

Bailey detects that in Matthew 13: 13 -18, imbedded in which there is a quote from Isaiah, there is a poem in which the first seven lines are inverted in the last seven lines[1]

Therefore I speak to them in parables,

1 because seeing they see not and hearing they hear not

2 And it is fulfilled to them the prophecy of Isaiah which says

3 “Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand

4 and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive

5 For this people’s heart is become dull

6 and the ears are dull of hearing

7and their eyes they have closed

7’lest they should perceive with their eyes

6’ and hear with the ear

5’ and understand with the heart, and should turn again and I should heal them.”

4’ But blessed are your eyes for they see

3’and your ears for they hear.

2’ For truly I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men

1’ desired to hear what you see, and did not see and to hear what you hear, and did not hear.

In a note[2] Bailey states, “The author seems to have begun with the text from Isaiah.  This text already has the Heart-Ears-Eyes = Eyes-Ears-Heart inversion in it. The new author adds 4’ and 3’ to balance the remaining sections of the OT quote and then extends the stanza to seven by adding 1 and 2 to the beginning and matching it with 2’ and 1’ at the end.”

The quote comes from Isaiah 9, 10 and the text in Matthew is almost identical with the Septuagint version. The main difference between the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Septuagint is that in the former, God directs the prophet to make the heart of this people fat and make his ears heavy and shut his eyes. Whereas in the latter the heart, ears and eyes of the people are simply described as being dull etc.  Given that the concluding sections are however very similar – “Lest he see with his eyes and hear with his ears and understand with his heart, turn and one heals him.” (Masoretic text) and “Lest they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn and I should heal them” (Septuagint), the main point in common is that God’s perspective is that with dull hearts etc the people do not understanding.  And given that Jesus is explaining why he speaks in parables, so that (Mark and Luke – see below) seeing they don’t see etc., his speaking in parables is so that they will be left in that state! Yet at the same time, the text points to the people’s own responsibility.  They have already come to the truth with dull hearts, heavy hearing and closed eyes.

[1] Bailey, K.E., Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, Combined Edition, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, pp., 61, 62 – italics his.

[2] Ibid, p. 62, note 43, where Bailey refers to Lund, N.W., Chiasmus in the New Testament, Chapel University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1942, 233f

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