Through the New Testament in a Year: 2013 Reading Plan

bible with coffeeIf you’re looking for a Bible reading plan for 2013, here’s a simple one (pdf) that takes you through the New Testament six days a week, at the rate of about a chapter a day. Logos 5 generated the reading plan for me.

I am going to get as far as I can reading the New Testament in 2013 in Greek (see here), though it may be enough for me to stay with Greek Isaiah in a Year. (More than 150 people have already joined me in the latter.)

Faith and healing in the Gospel of Mark: a brief reflection

Jesus healsFaith is closely connected with healing in Mark. Jesus heals the paralytic on the basis of the faith of his friends (and of the paralytic himself, too?) in 2:5. Mark 5:34, 7:29, 10:52 feature similar healings where the faith of the healed seems to be at least a partial basis for Jesus’ healing.

At the same time, Jesus shows his frustration with lack of faith. He exhorts his disciples in 4:40 after he calms the storm, since they are afraid and not showing faith. In 6:6 and 9:19 Jesus expresses disapproval of the crowd who does not have faith in him. And in Mark 11:22 Jesus tells the disciples, “Have faith in God” (or, “Have the faith of God,” ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ).

Causation in general is difficult to prove, and although some hold that Mark 6:5-6 say that lack of faith limits Jesus’ power, one should be careful not to conclude from Mark that if someone is physically sick or mentally ill, it is just because that person does not have enough faith. At the same time it is clear that in Mark Jesus heals those who have faith. Mark seems to convey that Jesus’ act of healing is at least in some sense related to their faith, if not a direct result of it.

Robert A. Guelich, in his commentary on Mark, writes, “Faith represented the critical link in one’s relationship with Jesus” (312-3). And, “although Mark does not actually define ‘faith,’…it meant much more than being impressed with Jesus’ words and deeds in view of his modest family background. …To those who came to him in faith seeking help…, he responded by meeting their need” (313).

Just as Jesus tells the disciples (as noted above) to “have faith,” he says in Mark 9:23, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” The father of the boy with an evil spirit says, “I believe (πιστεύω), help my unbelief (ἀπιστία)!”

Mark’s Gospel finally reaches a Christological culmination in the profound profession of faith by the centurion in chapter 15, who declares Jesus to be truly the “Son of God.” Such faith!

Biblical Studies Carnival (November)

carnival

Bob MacDonald hosts this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival here. What, you thought blogs were so 2008? Well, they were. But they’re pretty 2012, too. Bob compiles a long list of blog posts in the field of Biblical Studies from the month of November.

I’m hosting the carnival next month, so if you know of good links I should include (anything that will be posted in December), please feel free to let me know.

Read through Greek New Testament in a Year?

When I had a chance to ask N.T. Wright one question in January, I asked him how to improve my Greek. His reply: “Read the text. Read the text. Read the text.”

I decided not long ago to read through the Greek version of Isaiah in a year, starting one week from today. Amazingly, more than 50 people have already joined the corresponding Facebook group; we will be reading together.

On a related note, there are just 260 chapters in the Greek New Testament. This means that, even cutting the longer chapters in half, one can read through the New Testament (in Greek or any other language) with just a chapter a day.

That seems doable. Already in the Greek Isaiah Facebook group and through this blog, I’ve been able to correspond with folks who have read the Greek New Testament in a year. All of them have described it as a rich and rewarding experience.

So I’m not sure I’ll commit to reading all of the Greek NT in 2013, but I’m at least going to give it a shot. For anyone interested in doing the same, Lee Irons has a helpful two-page briefing on how he goes about it. He’s posted reading plans in years past, too (see here for 2012). He recommends using the Reader’s Edition of the Greek New Testament in the image above, which is my favorite Greek Bible for reading.

If anyone reading this post wants to leave a comment as to your experience with reading through the New Testament (Greek or otherwise) in a year, I’d love to hear about it. I do know that if I take it on, it will be to improve my Greek, yes, but primarily it will be a devotional exercise in which I seek to more fully immerse myself in God’s Word.

Amazed by Jesus

Amazement is a common crowd reaction to Jesus’ teaching and to his miraculous powers of healing and exorcism in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark uses the Greek words ἐκπλήσσω, θαμβέω, ἐξίστημιθαυμάζω to depict others’ amazement at Jesus. In Mark 1:22 the people are “amazed by his teaching.” In 1:27, they reiterate their amazement at his teaching and at his command of unclean spirits. 2:12 shows the people amazed at the healing of the paralytic. In 5:20, “All were amazed” (πάντες ἐθαύμαζον) after Jesus healed the Gerasene Demoniac. 6:2 shows the people amazed again at his teaching.

Then in 6:6, whereas the subject of the verb “amaze” has been the people, Jesus is amazed (ἐθαύμαζεν) on account of the lack of faith (ἀπιστία) of the people. The prior verse has said, “And he could not do any miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (AKJV). This is odd. Just as Jesus’ miracles lead to amazement, now his lack of miracles in 6:5 lead to a lack of belief on the part of the people, and this leads to Jesus’ amazement at the people’s lack of faith.

In 6:51 the disciples are amazed at Jesus’ walking on the water, and in 10:24 and 10:26 at his pronouncement that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. In 7:37 the crowd has gone back to being amazed at Jesus’ curing of a deaf man. In 11:18 and 12:17 they stand amazed (ἐξεπλήσσετο) at his teaching.

In 15:5 there is a new subject who is amazed: Pilate is amazed at the lack of a reply from Jesus in his own defense at his trial.

The theme of amazement is significant in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus in Mark is the divine Son of God who has authority to teach, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Because of this the crowds and his disciples are amazed. (Except in 6:5-6, where they are not.) And yet Jesus is not the political Roman empire-conquering Messiah that many Jewish people expected, so there is amazement even on Pilate’s part in 15:5 when Jesus does not respond.

Though no “amazing” words are used, the centurion in Mark 15:39 seems to have the final word of amazement in the Gospel. Having watched Jesus die, he utters in astonishment, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Why did Jesus tell the disciples not to tell anyone about him?

Why did Jesus sometimes tell people not to tell others about who he was, or about how he healed them? This passage from Mark 8:27-30 (NIV) looks almost anti-evangelistic:

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

This hard-to-understand aspect of Jesus’ ministry is often called the “messianic secret.” I.e., Jesus wanted his messiah-ness kept secret (at times). As the Handbook on Biblical Criticism (4th ed.) puts it, the “Messianic Secret refers to a discernible phenomenon in the Gospels, most especially in the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus explicitly conceals his messianic character and power until the closing period of his ministry” (124).

The messianic secret is not an attempt on the part of Jesus to keep people from knowing, believing in, and following him. But Jesus did seem to be careful throughout the Gospel of Mark to keep his identity as divine Son of God/Messiah from spreading. There are at least two reasons for this that I can see.

First, though Jesus is identified early in the Gospels as a miraculous healer and exorcist, early in his ministry is not yet time for his identity to be revealed. The fullness of time has simply not come. Perhaps Jesus had certain ministry objectives that needed to be accomplished before his crucifixion? He knew, either way, that as his fame spread, he would be tried and crucified for it. But this could only happen in due time.

Second, Jesus may have been cautious that a misunderstanding of the title “Messiah” would result if people were to say things like, “Here is the Messiah!” He was not the military insurrectionist and ruler than many Jews were expecting (I wrote more about this here), and he wanted to prevent title confusion, I suspect. So he often warned the evil spirits and those who received healing (and, as above, even the disciples!) not to tell anyone about him.

Even with those explanations in view, I still find the “messianic secret” difficult to understand. But perhaps this is because I am like Peter, in Mark 8:33, who all too often has in mind the things “of humanity” rather than “of God.” The messianic secret remains, at least to me, something of a mystery.

My Logos 4 review: all six parts

Here, collected in one place, are all six parts of my review of the Bible software program Logos 4.

Part 1Logos 4 Review: Install and Initial Impressions

Part 2Logos 4 Review: The Septuagint

Part 3The Original Languages Library in Logos 4

Part 4Using the Exegetical Guide and Passage Guide in Logos 4

Part 5 (excursus)Logos 4: a quick note about a portable library

Part 6Searching in Logos Bible software (concluding part of my Logos 4 review)

UPDATEGo here to see my Logos 5 reviews.

UPDATE: Go here to see my comparative review of BibleWorks, Accordance, and Logos.

Thanks again to Logos for the review copy of the Original Languages Library.

Paul and the Old Testament

There are over 100 explicit quotations of Scripture in Paul’s letters and at least double that number of allusions. However, what is potentially more useful than just citing Paul’s answers to first-century questions is to study how Paul interpreted Scripture, and that is the theme of this book. (1)

This summer I reviewed the third volume of a de facto trilogy by Steve Moyise. In that same series is Paul and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (click on book cover image to see at Amazon). In 160 packed pages Moyise surveys Paul’s use of the Hebrew Bible/Septuagint.

Moyise’s approach is a thematic one, rather than book-by-book. This helps the reader focus on how Paul treated the same topic across his various letters.

The author begins with an introduction to Paul, his “conversion” experience, his missionary activity, and a wonderful problematizing of the issue: because Paul was familiar with Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic versions of Scripture, “[W]hen Paul introduces a phrase or sentence with an introductory formula (IF) such as ‘it is written’, we have to ask ourselves which version of the Scriptures he has in mind” (10). For Paul “would not have had our concept of ‘Bible’, a bound volume of 66 books (for Protestants) residing on his bookshelf” (10).

Moyise keeps his and the reader’s eye on this issue throughout Paul and Scripture. He explores how Paul used:

  • “The figure of Adam” and creation accounts (with Christ as a Second Adam)
  • The story of Abraham, including a brief but helpful look at “Abraham in Jewish tradition”
  • Moses–“an ambiguous figure for Paul. He speaks to God face to face, but his use of a veil is interpreted as a lack of openness” (59)
  • The law. This was perhaps the most interesting section of the book, as Moyise surveyed not only Paul’s use of Scripture, but how modern theologians have tried to make sense of what looks on first glance like conflicting statements about the law. This section is what led me to write:

I don’t even mind that at the moment I’m a bit perplexed by how Paul could both praise the law as being from God yet also refer to it as a “the ministry that brought death.”

  • The prophets–both to develop a theology of Israel and the Gentiles, and to provide instructions for how the Christian community should live
  • The Psalms, Proverbs, and Job

The final chapter is a more detailed survey dealing with “modern approaches to Paul’s use of Scripture,” which Moyise divides into “an intertextual approach,” “a narrative approach,” and “a rhetorical approach” (111 ff.).

Appendices include a focus on Paul’s quotations from Isaiah, an index of Paul’s quotations of Scripture, and pertinent excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As with The Later New Testament Writings and Scripture, the book is accessible to a non-scholar or non-specialist in this field, though it will require some work. Due to the book’s brevity, and what I assume was Moyise’s desire to still cover all the proper territory, the book is dense. This means that even a short volume like this will be a great reference to me for some time, as I seek to better understand the ways in which Paul used the Old Testament, and the ways in which Christians have tried to make sense of that use for some 2,000 years, especially recently.

The gray shaded boxes throughout explain key concepts such as the Septuagint, Origen’s Hexapla, Greek grammar, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so on. As with Moyise’s other book, one does not need to know Greek or Hebrew to read Paul and Scripture, but he does not hesitate to use transliterated Greek to aid his explanation.

I have begun to appreciate Moyise’s even-handedness in presenting various viewpoints and interpretations. Even when discussing potentially controversial aspects of Paul (which books Paul authored, the “New Perspective,” or the idea of some that Paul actually exhibited “contradictory” and inconsistent views of the law), Moyise is fair and presents the various views in a way that the reader is left to consider them for herself or himself. (And the reader knows where to go to find more.)

One thing that seems rare in a work like this is that Moyise generally writes out a Scripture he is citing, rather than just placing a slew of references in parentheses for the reader to slowly work through. This latter method is not all bad, but Moyise’s quotation or summation of the references he cites makes for a smooth read.

I found helpful Moyise’s employment of “an eclectic view, using whatever methods or approaches were helpful for understanding the particular quotation” (111). Moyise doesn’t conclusively answer all the questions that arise when studying Paul’s use of Scripture, nor does he seek to. He hopes “that this book has both laid a foundation and stimulated an interest to go on and read further” (125), a mission he very much has accomplished (at least in this reader) with Paul and Scripture.

Thank you to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy of the book. See its product page at Baker here.