E113 – June 2005
Some thoughts from Luke’s Gospel, Easter 2005.
It is likely that Jesus died, or rather was killed, in the year 30 CE or thereabouts. About 1975 years ago therefore, Jewish pilgrims were heading for Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Passover. Among them was Jesus of Nazareth who, almost within a week of his arrival, would be dead, crucified by the Roman authorities. On arrival, he headed for what the Jews thought of as the centre of their worship and of the world, the Temple, where, amongst other things, he engaged in teaching those who would listen.
Why did Jesus spend so much time teaching and preaching to his people, including his own disciples? After all, they had access to their Scriptures, hearing them read regularly in their synagogues and explained by the Rabbis, and wasn’t all that God had revealed about His plan and purpose for His people outlined in them for all to see, hear and understand? If it was all as simple as that, there was no reason for Jesus to teach them anything and no reason for Jews to disagree with one another. However, there is plenty of evidence that, at the time of Jesus, there were several groups of Jews who understood their Scriptures differently and had different views about what kind of God they worshipped and what he wanted of His people.
The fact that both John the Baptist and Jesus after him had to appeal to and teach the people makes it plain that they both felt that they had something different, something new, to share with them. Having the Scriptures was one thing but understanding them was another. The only sensible answer to the question I started with is that both John and Jesus thought that the people in general had not yet clearly grasped what it was that God wanted of them at that time, what it was that God wanted to give them, and what kind of God they were dealing with anyway.
What were the general expectations of the Jews of Jesus’ generation? Luke gives us some idea when he tells us that:
Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, for Israel to be saved (2:25),
Anna was waiting for God to redeem Jerusalem (2:38),
and that Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God (23:50-51).
No doubt the expectations varied from group to group and from individual to individual. The consolation of Israel, the redemption of Jerusalem and the coming of the kingdom would probably have meant different things to different people, although there may well have been a more widespread common core of belief. Whatever the case, Luke has no doubt told us of these particular expectations because in his eyes they had in some real sense been fulfilled in the story he is telling us, in both his Gospel and Acts, of Jesus’ birth, baptism, life, death, resurrection and ascension and of the sending of the Spirit. But in what sense had they been fulfilled? What was God doing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?
At Passover time, the people of Israel remembered how God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt. The people then eventually settled in the promised land and enjoyed life under a series of kings in the OT form of the kingdom of God. But it all soon (in about 500 years) went sour and the Assyrians and Babylonians conquered the people, sacked Jerusalem and took many away captive, effectively bringing the kingdom to an end. Later, some exiles returned and tried to restore the temple and kingdom but Gentile oppressors were never far from the door. The Greeks tried to wipe out Judaism and some Jews, the Maccabees, rebelled and started their own dynasty, the Hasmoneans. The Romans however were not far behind and the remaining Jews had to learn to put up with Herod and others who were effectively puppet kings. The people longed for their freedom, especially at Passover time, and hoped that God would soon return to Zion, to His Temple, forgive the nations sins and give them a Messiah who would free them from Gentile oppression, more or less the hope encapsulated in the statements of Simeon, Anna and Joseph.
It is clear, from all the Gospels, that whatever the people in general expected, Jesus must have thought that some of their ideas about God and His kingdom were in fact unworthy of God’s people, and that is why he tried to teach them differently. Surely, Jesus was appealing to the nation to think again about God and what He wanted them to do in order to further His purpose with mankind. Israel was not currently being the son that God wanted them to be; they were not the people of God that God needed to promote His purpose in the world. Jesus was God’s last attempt to try to get through to His people. God sent someone who was prepared to be the son that God really desired.
The parable of the Tenants of the Vineyard in Luke 20:9-18 makes all this clear. Verse 13 has the owner of the vineyard saying: ‘What shall I do? I will send my own dear son; surely they will respect him.’ N T Wright suggests that behind the scenes here there is a meaningful pun, for the normal Hebrew for son is ben and the Hebrew for stone, referred to in verse 17, quoting from Psalm 118:22, is eben as is the stone in the Aramaic of Dan 2, the stone cut out of the mountain without hands. Whereas the pun is lost on us in English it was likely to be detected by Jesus’ first hearers who would no doubt make the link between the son and Daniel’s stone that brings in the kingdom. The link with Dan 2 is reinforced by the reference in verse 18 to the stone ‘crushing to dust’ which is reminiscent of Dan 2:35.
Jesus knew what had happened to many of the OT faithful prophets: they had been killed. He had seen the same happen to John the Baptist and so he no doubt anticipated that he was likely to be treated in the same way if he spoke out in criticism of his people and their leaders. But not only so, for Mat 21:43 has Jesus warning the people that if they reject him as God’s son, the stone chosen by God, they would lose what they were hoping for, the kingdom of God. It would be taken from them and given to a people who will produce the fruit that God is looking for. So Jesus faced the prospect of death. Whether he expected it to be stoning by the Jews or crucifixion is perhaps not so clear but he did say ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me’ which suggests crucifixion.
The cross looked like the victory of Caesar over yet another failed would-be revolutionary Jewish king. It seems that that is how even Jesus’ own disciples saw it once they learnt that he was dead (Luke 24:21). But the resurrection changed all that. In fact the cross was God’s victory over the powers of evil, for Jesus refused to try to save himself by resorting to the methods of evil in order to fight evil. Instead he took the path of peace and love, resolutely allowing evil to do its worst to him. Evil’s tactics failed to win him over and so evil was itself defeated. In Luke 11:14-23, when he is accused of being one of Beelzebul’s minions, Jesus teaches his accusers that ‘Any country that divides itself into groups that fight one another will not last very long; a family divided against itself falls apart. So if Satan’s kingdom has groups fighting each other, how can it last?’ Isn’t Jesus saying that in a world governed by Love, if such our world is, then in the long run evil is self-defeating? Isn’t that what lay behind Jesus’ statement that ‘All who take the sword will die by the sword’ (Mat 26:52)? Since we have all been involved with evil, this would be bad news for us all were it not for the fact that God, in love, does give us time and opportunity to repent and redirect our lives.
Jesus was vindicated, proved to be right, by the resurrection, when his disciples began to really understand what he had been driving at and started to put together the elements of their faith in a new way. They began to see that it is self-giving love which is on the throne of this world and expressed this by declaring that their Master, who on the cross had shown what self-giving love is like, is now at the right hand of God sharing the throne of the self-giving God, ruling not oppressively but lovingly. (In Rev 5, John is first told about the Lion of the tribe of Judah and then sees a slain lamb!) It is self-giving love that is on the throne of this world and the son of God could do no other than show such self-giving love right to the limit of giving himself for us and thereby revealing the extent to which his Father, God, is giving of Himself to his human creatures. What the cross shows, is the son of God giving himself up to suffering, being prepared to take the worst that evil could throw at him because love will not force its enemies to submit, it will only continue to love in the hope that the love will be recognised for what it is and bring a freely given response, a change of heart to finish with evil and its ways. The cross is God’s ultimate appeal, first to Israel, the Old Covenant people of God, and then to the rest of the world, to recognise that it is not weakness that allows evil to have its way, it is the power of self-giving love, which will not force itself on others, which appeals for a loving response and waits for it to be freely given. Where it does not come, disaster will follow because evil goes against the grain of this world, created as it is by the God of love. Evil ends up destroying itself while God stands by waiting for the penny to drop in the hearts and minds of at least some of his human creatures.
But God does not just stand by, nor did his Son. Jesus warned his people of the crisis that was looming because they would not take the road of peace but insisted on seeking their freedom from Rome by military means. Many Jews of the time expected the coming of the Messiah to be at first a time of woe, bringing what have been called the Messianic Woes, before the battle with the Gentile oppressors was won and peace would reign. They never expected their Messiah to die but rather to gain victory in battle and rout the human enemy. Jesus tried to show them that it was not Rome that was the real enemy but Satan, death and their own sin. How could the true Messiah stand by and see his people on the receiving end of the Messianic Woes and not be involved himself? And so, as the true Messiah that he was, he took on the real enemy for his people, took on himself the burden of his nations sin in order to at least save some of them.
Vindicated as he was by his resurrection, about 3000 of his own people repented and were baptised at Pentecost, the next great Jewish festival. Like a true king, Jesus had led his people into battle and what seemed to be a victory for Rome, turned out to be a victory against the powers of evil, won by a sinless human being, which opened the door to eternity for us all.
And so, before loving his own to the uttermost (John 13:1), he kept a Passover of sorts with his disciples but taught them to see it in a new way. This was to be the second exodus (see Luke 9:31, where the word for decease (AV) in Greek is exodus) that the prophets had spoken of and this Passover was to see the coming of the new covenant and the forgiveness of sins (Jer 31) which was to be open to the whole world, provided the disciples would commit themselves to taking it to the world. The expected new age had arrived, Israel had received its consolation, Jerusalem had been redeemed and the kingdom had come, although not yet in its fullness and not in quite the way that had been generally anticipated. For, as Tom Wright has said:
‘The cross is the surest, truest and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living God; the more we learn about the cross . . . the more we discover about the one in whose image we are made, and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known.’ (The Challenge of Jesus, p 69)
In the last Endeavour Magazine, [there was] a thoughtful summary of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. [The author] is certainly right that ‘The film is worth [seeing], so that we can make up our own mind about it.’ and use this as an opportunity for personal evangelism. Nonetheless I am disturbed, or perhaps bemused, by the unqualified enthusiasm shown by Christians in the Protestant tradition, Christadelphians included, for this film.
In [the] article [the author] highlights director Mel Gibson’s own Catholic faith, and the influence that this appears to have had on the film. The Passion is certainly nothing more, or nothing less than, an artwork in the Roman Catholic tradition. Its Roman Catholic theology seems to have been missed, or ignored, by Christadelphian viewers. If I can attempt to summarise the theology of the film in one sentence it would be this: Christ suffered, very much, and you had better repent, otherwise you will be tormented with the pains of Hell. And so it is only the suffering of Christ – and not the suffering Christ who also loved us, offers forgiveness and spent his whole life (and not just his final hours) in humility to our Father – that is presented to the film’s audience.
This emphasis on the suffering of the Christ is set out from the beginning of the film, which opens with the following quotation from the Old Testament: ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5, KJV). This verse is one of the key scriptures used to support a substitutionary view of the atonement: that God, angered by the sin of humanity, meted out on His Son the punishment due for their sin. With its focus on the physical torture of Jesus, something highlighted by [the author], – ‘The scourging of Jesus is a gruelling spectacle, lasting about 20 minutes’ – The Passion forces us to concentrate on the suffering of Christ and, by connection with the words of Isaiah, on Christ’s punishment in our stead. With their theology of the atonement, which sees the death of Christ as representative of the punishment of death due for sin, Christadelphians may need to be a little more wary of embracing The Passion, with its contradictory atonement theology, as a preaching tool.
Having dealt with the ‘suffering Christ’ component of The Passion’s theology let me turn to the ‘repentance or torture’ aspect. There are two unrepentant characters in the narrative of the film: Judas Iscariot, and one of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus. Judas is hounded out of Jerusalem by what [the author] calls ‘demonized children’. Fanciful indeed but clearly designed to represent the supernatural torture of the wicked with the pains of Hell. The same is true of the unrepentant thief on the cross whose eyes are plucked out by a raven – with all its dark symbolism. Christ suffered, very much, and you had better repent, otherwise you will be tormented with the pains of Hell. This, it seems to me, is the theology of the film.
Christians in the Reformed churches are always in danger of bringing a subconscious ‘anti-Papist’ prejudice to anything Roman Catholic, and I found myself guilty of this when watching the film. One objection, which I have since corrected, was the resentment that the film focussed on the suffering and devoted so little time to the resurrection. This is of course, entirely in keeping with artistic representations of the passion narrative, Protestants like Bach included. A passion is the Good Friday portrayal of the death of Christ, with the resurrection left three days later until Easter. My objections to the film on these grounds had to be qualified by the artistic tradition in which the film operates.
Can Christadelphian responses to The Passion be unqualified? I don’t think so, and not just because of the inclusion of elements of Roman Catholic mythology highlighted by [the author]. The portrayal of the suffering of Christ is in keeping with other passion narratives but has to be balanced with a questioning of the theology behind it. For Christadelphians at least, the message of the crucifixion story is not that of retributive punishment against Jesus and the threat of torment for the sinner. The Passion is indeed a useful tool for preaching but a tool which has to be handled with care.
I would like to thank [the author] for [a] thoughtful reply to my article on The Passion of Christ. When watching Mel Gibson’s film, it never crossed my mind that it might be underpinned by Roman Catholic theology, namely the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, from the Latin vicarius meaning ‘substitute’.
Frankly, I have never sorted out the difference between Jesus dying ‘on behalf of us’ ( the preposition huper in Greek) or ’instead of us’ (the preposition anti). It is perhaps worth noting that in Jewish theology, when expounding the Akeda (the ‘binding’ of Isaac) it is proposed that the ram was substituted for Isaac: ‘Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it instead (LXX anti) of his son’ (Gen 22:13).
But putting aside all technicalities, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me, willingly and freely, because of his love for us all, that we all might be saved.
The Crucible is one of the best-known works of Arthur Miller, the American playwright who died in February. The play was first published in 1953 as a protest against the antagonism being shown towards members of the Communist party, in particular towards Senator Joseph McCarthy. Miller saw this as a kind of witch-hunt and it reminded him of the true account of the `witches of Salem` which took place in 1692. Miller picked up on various themes including personal rivalries and moral issues but the one which is of particular interest to us is religious intolerance.
This is not, therefore, a review in the usual sense but an exercise in identifying some of the causes of intolerance and, perhaps, learning some useful lessons. Three of the main issues which characterize intolerance appear to be: a firm conviction in the absolute correctness of one’s own beliefs, an unwillingness to consider any other point of view and a determination to maintain the status quo, come what may. These traits can be manifested in huge populations and also in very small communities. We are not exempt.
Salem, in Massachusetts, was run by Puritans, most of whom would have been able to trace their ancestry back to our own country, where religious beliefs had been the cause of a great deal of heartache and trouble. During the sixteenth century, England had veered between Catholicism and Protestantism and the power of the state over the religious life of every man or woman remained dominant. According to the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity, ‘all persons were bound to attend divine service every Sunday’ or to pay a fine of twelve pence for each absence. This law was re-enacted early in the reign of the Protestant James I. The law also obliged parishioners to receive the sacrament three times a year. It was not until 1689 that the Act of Toleration allowed dissenters to have their own licensed chapels. For this freedom, we have to be truly grateful.
The Puritans were a zealous Protestant group with very strong views. They aimed to rid the Church of England of all vestiges of ‘popish idolatry’, disliked ritual and were opposed to the Book of Common Prayer. Puritans believed in a presbyterian form of organization, in which all were equal, rather than an episcopalian order under the control of bishops. They had high hopes that, when James I took the throne, he would share their views but in this they were mistaken and the resulting divergence of opinions eventually led the country into civil war. Puritans came into their own under Cromwell and were just as implacable as other regimes had been. However, they lost their power after the restoration of the monarchy.
Against this background, many Puritans left the country, some for Holland and some for the New World. They saw themselves as religious refugees and hoped for the freedom to worship in the way they thought fit. They did not, however, believe in religious toleration. What they wanted was freedom of worship for themselves but not necessarily for others. The question can be asked: why do people who were desperate for freedom themselves, then deny it to others?
Two-thirds of the settlers who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 were economic migrants but 35 were members of the Separatists, a radical form of Puritanism. While on board ship, the passengers signed a covenant amongst themselves agreeing to ‘unite in a political and religious society’. This unification of church and state resulted in a theocracy in which God was said to rule. An élite of the righteous, with close ties between the government and the clergy, governed Massachusetts. ‘Heresy became a civil offence, like any other such as witchcraft, profanity, blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, sodomy and Sabbath-breaking.’ In the following years, religion continued to dominate and the distinction between vice and crime remained unclear.
The story in The Crucible is about the small community of Salem in Massachusetts. The plot involves a group of young girls, led on by the West Indian slave, Tituba, who were seen dancing in the woods and therefore believed to have been communing with the devil. Mass hysteria took effect and these children then made accusations against other people in the town, their words being believed against those of ‘covenanted’, honest and worthy citizens who had always been respected. Personal grudges come into the tale, with some people taking advantage of the situation to settle earlier disagreements. Religious and secular leaders were called in to assess the truth of the matter but the situation got completely out of hand and resulted in imprisonments and the death of 24 individuals, 19 of them by hanging.
Probably the only theocracy we as a community are happy with is the kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation (Exodus 19:5 & 6).
We can look around and see examples of communities which are convinced that they have a divine right over members. The Pope believes that he has the authority of God behind him and Islamic countries which are governed by Sharia law allow no freedom of belief. There are also ‘police states’ which control their citizens with political rather than religious dogma and are determined to maintain power and control. Some communities use an extreme form of isolationism to maintain the status quo; examples of these are the Mennonite and Amish groups in North America. In all these cases we see a conviction that the hierarchy believes that right is on its side.
It is not only large communities which forbid freedom to their followers. An interesting point was raised when a local evangelical church re-named itself a new covenant church. This might sound Biblical but, in fact, the reason given was that members were asked to sign a covenant (reminiscences of New England) of obedience. The elders claimed the right to do so by quoting Hebrews 13:7 ‘Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of your conversation.’ Was their interpretation of this verse justified?
How easy it is for us to be mistaken! How can we be sure that we are right? How can any group be sure that it is right? Are we ever guilty of being too dogmatic?
Just as Miller used the witch-hunt story as a basis for demonstrating faults in his society, other generations, including ours, could probably find examples of misguided zeal. Are we ever guilty?
Authoritarianism in Salem
Their fathers had, of course, been persecuted in England. So now they and their church found it necessary to deny any other sect its freedom, lest their New Jerusalem be defiled and corrupted by wrong ways and deceitful ideas. (Act One p.15)
It was, however, an autocracy by consent, for they were united from top to bottom by a commonly held ideology whose perpetuation was the reason and justification for all their sufferings. (Act One p.15)
The Salem tragedy … developed from a paradox. … Simply it was this: for good purposes, even high purposes, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. … all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space. … The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom. (Act One p.16)
Control entered into the everyday lives of the community. For example, it was common practice to send patrols out while church services were being held to note the names of those not attending ‘and to present them to the magistrates, whereby they may be accordingly proceeded against’. (Act One p.14.) As the play progresses, the concerns of the local minister become as one with the concerns of the state. Four judges were sent out of Boston, weighty magistrates were involved and ‘at the head sits the Deputy Governor of the Province.` (Act Two p.53) The accused were tried by the ‘highest court of the supreme government of this province, …`
(Act Three p.79)
Men in positions of authority in Salem included ministers of religion and officials from the judiciary. The church and the state worked as one. The Reverend Parris, minister of Salem’s church did not have the approval of the whole population and was, therefore, concerned about his position. There was a faction that was ‘sworn to drive me from my pulpit.’ (Act One p.19) Parris was accused of dreaming ‘cathedrals, not clapboard meetin’ houses.’ (Act Two p.63) and had not rested until the old pewter candlesticks on the altar had been replaced by golden ones. He wanted obedience: ‘a minister is the Lord’s man in the parish; a minister is not to be so lightly crossed and contradicted …` (Act One p.35) During services, he ‘felt insulted if someone rose to shut the door without first asking his permission.’ (Act One p.13) John Proctor was one of the opposing faction. He had a mind of his own and did not believe that there were witches at large amongst the women of Salem. He was later condemned to death.
The Reverend John Hale was a young minister reputed to be an expert on witchcraft. He was asked to visit Salem to sort out the problems and arrived with books ‘weighted with authority.’ (Act One p.40) Initially, he was very confident and sure of himself but, as the persecution of the so-called witches began to reach a climax, Hale began to have doubts. He begged the court to stop. ‘I may shut my conscience to it no more’ he said (Act Three p.100) and finally declared ‘I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court!’ (Act Three p.105)
Judge Danforth, deputy governor of Massachusetts, was the grave and humourless presiding judge at the trials. He was jealous of the authority of the court. ‘. .the entire contention of the state in these trials is that the voice of Heaven is speaking through the children [the accusers].’ (Act Three p.81) Everything was black and white to Danforth; there was no grey: ‘… you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between.’ (Act Three p.85)
After a few months most people concerned with the witch-hunt and the trials began to see the folly of what was being enacted. But, by that time, families had been destroyed and farms were lying derelict. In 1712, the excommunications were rescinded and compensation was paid to the victims. The power of theocracy in Massachusetts ended.
Lessons to be learned
Just as Miller picked up some of these points, so can we. First of all, we have a firm conviction that we are right. It makes sense, for why would we join a community if we did not have such a belief? But, can we be sure that we are absolutely right about absolutely everything? Even the Apostle Paul, with all his Bible study and conviction that he was in the right, was in fact wrong. He would not listen to his conscience but rejected the Saviour who had been promised. Even worse, he was zealous in his persecution of brethren and sisters. He would not listen to the reasoning of others until he was forced to by the Lord himself.
Our community started life as a group of students who studied the Word of God for ourselves and came to our own conclusions but, now that we have become established, do we sometimes deny this freedom to our own? We probably all have our own little mental lists of brethren and sisters with whom we are free to discuss whatever we want but also another little list of people who would be offended if we did not ‘toe the party line.’ It is probably because they are afraid.
A good example of this concerns interpretations of the book of Revelation. Bro John Thomas was not the first to offer an interpretation and he was, most certainly, not the last. It can be healthy to discuss the different approaches and we all have much to learn. However, there is intolerance in some quarters towards brethren and sisters who do not believe that Eureka has all the answers. This is an academic exercise but we have the same type of intolerance shown in some quarters about behaviour. None of us approves in theory of divorce but it is here to stay and we have to live with the problem of marriage breakdowns. Is showing non-acceptance towards those who are affected a sign of strength or of intolerance?
Danforth, the judge in the Salem trials, believed that black is black and white is white. When we are first baptized, we all probably feel like that but, over the years, we should mature and present a more balanced point of view.
We have built up our own set of traditions. In some ways that is inevitable, for no community could operate without some agreed code of conduct. But do we sometimes look to our traditions (constitutions) when faced with a problem before we consult the Word of God? More than once I have been presented with the argument ‘I always understood that’ we did thus and so, when a close look at the commandments of the Lord would have been more appropriate. Much of our practice is inconsistent, or should the word be hypocritical? This is a slightly flippant comment but sadly, if unbelievably, it is true. The minister of the Salem church reserved the right to supervise the opening of doors. More than one of our smaller groupings have done much the same with windows. Have we nothing better to do?
Then there is isolationism. We are not cut off from the world as the Amish are, but we do tend to keep ourselves to ourselves. This has its advantages for we share a wonderful worldwide communion of brethren and sisters but we cannot preach if we do not go out into the wide world. Also we need to care and show compassion, as we are taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It is easy to think that we, ourselves, as individuals, are not guilty of intolerance. However, Paul says: ‘Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’. We need to say ‘perhaps I am wrong.’ We need to stop and listen to one another and we need to be sure that we are looking beyond our traditions to the truth which can only be found in the Word.
Brogan, H., Longman’s History of the United States of America, Guild Publishing, 1986
Davies, G., The Early Stuarts 1603-1660, Oxford History of England, Clarendon Press 1985
Encyclopaedia Britannica on CD, 2001
Miller A., The Crucible, Penguin, 2000
Richardson K.W., The Salem Witchcraft Trials, Peabody Essex Museum, 1994
SparkNotes: Study Guides
A brief enquiry into another of the (infinite?) variety of pearls of wisdom contained in the Word of Truth.
5: ‘Go into the city…
The account in the gospels of the days – and then the brief hours – before the brutal murder of the Son of God is one of miracle after miracle, of fulfilment after fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and of gem after gem of exquisite beauty. I am indeed grateful to Bill Davison for the last issue’s review of the Gibson film – stark in its savagery but I suspect less so than the screenplay itself – which provided a suitable backdrop for this glimpse of the grim prologue to it.
I began research with a glance at the Companion Bible which I inherited, complete with his margin comments, from my father in 1971, followed by a long, hard look at Appendices 156 and 158. Their coverage is the six days, and the last 24 hours, of the sordid story; while their joint purpose is to support the proposition that the crucifixion took place not on ‘Good’ Friday but on the previous Wednesday. In other words, that the evening-morning of 14th Nisan was from sunset on the Tuesday to sunset on the Wednesday, Preparation Day for the Passover. Not being a Hebrew or Greek scholar, any opinion I have is based on sources like Young, Strong, The Expositor’s Greek Testament and various on-line Bibles and Bible aids. plus what scripture tells me clearly. I know this leaves me open to correction by those who are scholars, but since when did correction do anyone any harm, as long as the Word is rightly divided?
A basic fact from the OT (Leviticus 23 and Exodus 12 to be precise) is that the three major annual feasts – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles – were all defined as holy convocations and as sabbaths, while John (19:31) describes Passover Day, known by Jews as yom tov or Good Day, as ‘an high day’, the previous evening-morning being the day of the crucifixion. Thus Appendix 156 sets out the basis of its submission that Preparation Day, 14th Nisan, was the day the Lord was glorified by the most ignominious death that man could possibly perpetrate – and that only if he was Roman.
In a way, the material of the Appendices boils down to three ‘legs of a stool’. First is the concept that, in scripture, the idiomatic term ‘three days’ can mean anything down to part of Day 1, all of Day 2 and part of Day 3, whereas the longer version – ‘three days and three nights’ (as in Matthew 12:40, even being repeated for emphasis) will indicate a 72-hour period, plus or minus very little indeed. This will always be from the sunset starting Day 1 to the sunset ending Day 3.
The second ‘leg’ is the somewhat inescapable fact that, whichever day was crucifixion day, it is fairly obvious that whatever spices etc. the women had bought ‘when the sabbath was past’ were purchased in the later evening after the weekly sabbath, not the one after the Passover high day, since there was then still the second day of the feast to go – another holy convocation – before shopping could be done.
The third ‘leg’ is the most rigid of all. Whatever happened on whatever day or date, the Lord rose on the first day of the week, and by the time (still before dawn) the women reached the tomb Jesus was risen and out of it. We can safely count back from a late hour after sunset on Saturday, whether we count three full days or one and two fractions.
If the period according to the CB is correct, we arrive at an interment before sunset on Wednesday; if we go by the shorter interment then Jesus was left in the tomb at the same time but on Friday evening. Here, in tabular form, is a comparison of the CB timings and the Traditional view:
|GENTILE TIME||COMPANION BIBLE||TRADITIONAL VIEW|
|Sunset Tue to sunset Wed||14 Nisan: Prep for Passover. Crucifixion. Bodies down and
buried before sunset Wed
|Sunset Wed to sunset Thur||15 Nisan: Passover “high day”. Jesus in tomb eve/morn 1.
Women could not buy spices etc -this was a holy convocation.
|Sunset Thur to sunset Fri||16 Nisan: Passover Day 2. Jesus in tomb eve-morn.||14 Nisan: Locating upper room; Man carrying water. Last supper. Judas identified. ‘Went out.’ Gethsemane. Arrest. Trials. Jesus scourged. Crucifixion. Bodies down & buried before sunset Fri. Jesus in tomb ‘1st eve-morn’.|
|Sunset Fri to sunset Sat||17 Nisan: Weekly sabbath; rested. Jesus in tomb eve-morn 3.||15Nisan: Weekly sabbath; rested. Jesus in tomb whole eve-morn 2.|
|Sunset Sat to sunset Sun||18 Nisan: 1st day of week. Jesus rose approx sunset Sunday…Jesus in tomb 3 full eve-moms.
Women bought spices in evening & still came to tombe around dawn on Sunday
|16 Nisan: 1st day of week. Jesus rose before dawn
Saturday. . Jesus in tomb. Jesus in tomb 2 parts +1 full day. Women bought spices in evening & still came to tomb around dawn on Sunday
Thus it can be seen that in the Companion Bible’s timing Jesus was in the tomb ‘three days’, whereas in the traditional timing he was there for ‘three days and three nights.
Also, since in the traditional view the crucifixion was on Friday, the only time the women could have bought the spices etc. was after the weekly sabbath, yet even though the Companion Bible puts the crucifixion two whole days earlier, the day following the crucifixion was still a sabbath, being the second day of the feast (of the Passover). However, there remains one difficulty with a Wednesday crucifixion; if this really was the case, how come Jesus referred to the day of preparation as ‘this passover. before I suffer’? (Luke 22:15)
Incidentally, the number of times I have heard the reading given as ‘the women had brought spices etc…’ is amazing for a community so insistent on accuracy.
Anyway, there I must leave the question of timing, not because it doesn’t matter but because it doesn’t affect my salvation. What is more important, as John made so clear in his gospel (3:16), is that –
[ ]od so loved the world that He gave His
[ ]nly begotten
[ ]on, that whosoever believeth in him
might not [ ]erish, but have
I may have included this little gem before; it works for all the translations I use (maybe not the paraphrases), but it bears repeating. Fill in the blanks and you have what the verse comprises, in a nutshell.
However, two things we have left behind on the way through our study, and one is the fact that there is recorded in Luke 17 one sharing of the bread but two of the cup. Verse 17 is the first cup, v. 19 the bread and v. 20 the cup after supper. Now I know that there were in the Passover feast (remember; this wasn’t Passover day but the day before it) several takings of wine, but irrespective of that, why if Jesus instituted the Last Supper comprising two wine sharings do we draw the line at one? I’m 76, with 55 years of memorial services behind me, and I still don’t know!
The second? A truly remarkable demonstration of extreme discretion and loyalty to his master displayed by John as he reclined on the bosom of Jesus, in a manner totally misunderstood in da Vinci’s The Last Supper. There John adopts a quite slovenly posture – so that his head can be on Christ’s bosom while both are seated at a massively Italian refectory table. This was a feast of the Jews, at which they reclined on the floor, resting the left elbow on a cushion and taking the food from the serving dishes on carpets before them, the cushions forming a ‘horseshoe’ shape around the meal.
The host took the central cushion (corresponding to the middle nail of a real horseshoe). while the places on either side thereof were those of the highest honour, the rank descending with distance from the host’s place to the two ends of the curved line. Now, apart from Jesus, the host, who was where?
We know who occupied the place on Jesus’ immediate right. It could only be John, whose head, in the reclining position they all adopted, would naturally – and quite properly – be within an inch or two from his master’s as they ate. At a guess, but one which makes sense as you’ll see, Peter took one of the places on or near the end of the line; a humble cushion for a humble man, whatever else you may call him. From here he could catch John’s eye and in silence mouth the request for which he is renowned. The other humblest place? Well, my guess is dear old Matthew, once a despised Quisling for the Romans whose motto had suddenly changed one day from ‘Faith, Hope and my 50 percent’, as he fiddled the occupation taxes and other levies he was responsible for, to ‘Faith, Hope and fairness for all’. As to the rest, I leave you to guess.
But who was in that other place of honour, on the Master’s left? You’d never dream of it simply with your knowledge of the man. Picture the scene as Jesus suddenly, and apropos of nothing at all, said ‘I tell you truly; one of you will betray me.’ That stopped the idle chatter! Then the muttering began. ‘Is it him? Or him? Surely not him! Oh no – perhaps it’s me…!’ Peter wasn’t going to guess any more, with John right next to the Master. Catching his eye, he silently mouthed: ‘ASK – HIM – WHO – IT – IS!’
Dear John – he didn’t hesitate. ‘Lord,’ he whispered, ‘Who is it..?’ You know the rest. With his own fingers Jesus picked up a morsel of bread, dipped it in the most piquant sauce of all – the pièce de résistance of the meal – and with his own fingers reached across to his left to place it on the lips of the one next to him, as a sign of extreme personal love and regard.
Judas Iscariot, in the other place of honour – put there by Jesus.
Now we know that even these gestures had no effect on the betrayer; Jesus knew then that they wouldn’t. And still he made them.
For the final gem – and it’s a sheer diamond – I go back to the title of this little study. ‘Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water…’ I used to be so puzzled on reading that. I mean; Jerusalem at Passover-time – this Passover time? When every son of Israel would be filling the city to bursting point, and every square metre of land outside the gates had a tent pitched on it? (Apart from the area of Gehenna, of course; that was the municipal rubbish tip.) How on earth were the two men to find one other man among the teeming throng?
It was only when I read, on the same day, of Rebekah at the Syrian well and of the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus spoke while the disciples were away buying food, that the penny dropped. Whoever carried water, they had to get it from one of the city’s wells, so it made sense to head for the nearest well and see who was there. Then I realised that, while plenty of men would be seen carrying wine, maybe even water, in a skin, no man who was a man would ever be seen carrying a PITCHER of water! Ever seen a water pitcher? There’s only one way to carry it – on the head. And ideally, not using your hands. That was woman’s work!
Hence the seemingly impossible became the comparatively simple. And there was one man whose loyalty and love for the Lord was such that he willingly exposed himself to the scornful giggles and cat-calls that many women reserved for – well, you know what they call such men here today. All that Peter and John had to do was make for the wells, and the noise would tell them which well from a long way off. Provided, of course, that the man concerned didn’t chicken out at the last minute but meekly took the female spite that some women reserve for men who ape their behaviour.
Who was he? We’ll find out when the earth shall be filled with the Glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea!
I was relatively happy as a Christadelphian. I accepted the status quo, and, whilst there were things that were disappointing, I never had a single notion of leaving. God, however, had different plans and where I am today is a testimony to the power of God to open the eyes of the blind.
I was a strictly-brought-up Christadelphian and I carried that tradition on in the raising of our own family. Our children never attended worldly events, they had little association with the ‘Gentiles’ outside of school hours. We never read Christian books – we had a steady diet of Bible reading and instruction and pioneer works in our home. I read, over the course of the years, the bulk of Christadelphian literature available today. Every Logos Bible School was attended and I organized the instruction of the classes there for the young. We initiated Elpis Israel classes for our ecclesia in our home and encouraged attendance at the annual Eureka camp. All ecclesial meetings and activities were diligently attended, and if the ecclesial activity conflicted with one of the children’s school activities, it was the ecclesial event that was attended. We had no friendships with the world, whatsoever. We were, in fact, a model Logos-Christadelphian family.
In 2000 I was the head organist, Sunday School secretary and involved in the organisation of Indonesian mission work whilst my husband was an AB, the ecclesial young people’s overseer, Sunday School superintendent and instructor for baptisms & conductor of a funeral service. We counselled and encouraged the weak.
So how did I end up in a Pentecostal movement today involved in writing course materials for their local church Bible Colleges and national and international Bible Colleges?
God! God revealed Himself to me in such a profound way that I was compelled to reassess my understanding of the Holy Spirit, to discover to what extent I can call upon God and He would answer, to know just HOW the Holy Spirit worked in the life of the believer. For months I pored over my Bible and came to some amazing conclusions. From there, I was led on a path of discovery into the world of the Spirit, and things have never been the same since.
My husband took little interest in my research – God was leading him on a totally different path that led to conclusions that converged on mine. Whilst I cautiously shared my understanding that we were saved by grace, and that we were saved when we believed, and about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (as distinct from the gifts of the Spirit), my husband was relatively quiet about his conclusions.
After two visits from two ABs we decided to resign from Christadelphia. Our resignation was not accepted and we were immediately formally disfellowshipped in 2000 for what my husband had concluded: simply that we are saved by faith and not works (and not a combination of faith and works, either). Others, who would not refuse to associate with us, were similarly disfellowshipped, and others have continued to leave Christadelphia because of the way they perceived the disfellowship to have been conducted.
Leaving Christadelphia was traumatic. I hadn’t made friends with non-Christadelphians and to be suddenly shunned, ignored, misrepresented, ridiculed, laughed about, gossiped about, shouted at and publicly avoided by Christadelphian friends and family was a dreadful experience. Realizing that the friendships and love had been conditional was a very rude awakening to the fickleness of the human spirit. God, however, provided for us, and where there had been door-slamming on the one hand, there were open arms and genuine outpourings of love on the other. I found a family who really did love as Jesus had loved and God filled the void quickly. Being born-again involves being born again & welcomed into His new family. What I have found is a community of believers who actually love God and are personally involved with him at every moment of their lives. I have found a people of faith – who will pray and believe for it to happen. Amidst positive encouragement and love I have found a joy and a peace that exceeds anything I had ever experienced. I have found people who care passionately for the lost, people who go out of their way for the broken-hearted.
And when I look back on my experiences as a Logos Christadelphian, what do I see? I see a people so sad, so hurting, so afraid. I see people dominated, betrayed, distrustful of one another and lonely. I see children lost, confused and even frightened. Yes, I’ve seen and heard things in Logos-Christadelphia that no-one should ever have seen or heard. I pray every day for these poor broken-hearted people, for God to show them the open prison door. Jesus still heals today and I long for these hearts to be healed, for them to be set free into that life of super-abundance that he promised, for them to know that God really loves them for who they are, and not for what they know or do. God is bigger than any sin and I want the aching hearts of Christadelphia to find this solace and love with the Lover of their souls.
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth,
where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon:
for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
(Song of Solomon 1:7)
This important story is to be found in John’s Gospel Ch 1. It tells of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness that he had come to announce the Messiah.
Soon after that, when excitement had built up among the local people, Jesus came to John to be baptised. Then the next day Jesus walked by the crowd again, and John cried out ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’ Two of John’s followers began to follow Jesus. He turned round and said to them ‘What are you looking for?’
(John 1:38 GNB)
These are Jesus’ first recorded words in this Gospel, and I believe they have been, and still are, relevant to people all down the ages.
We cannot know the exact words, but the meaning is clear. We cannot know where Jesus placed the emphasis on the words in his sentence. This thought gave rise to the following poem, with its changes of emphasis emboldened. What do these words mean to You?
What Are You Looking For?
What are you looking for?
Do you seek health?
Do you seek wealth?
What are you looking for?
Do you need everything new,
or does familiar stuff do for you?
What are you looking for?
Someone to be kind,
or is it peace of mind?
What are you looking for?
Are you restless and afraid,
sick and tired of being betrayed?
What are you looking for?
A rock on which to stand
and Christ to hold your hand?
Many Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for God to send them the Messiah, a king to inaugurate God’s promised kingdom. John 1:41 tells us that this is what the two disciples of John were looking for, since they say ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ).
The rest of John’s Gospel tells us what kind of king Jesus would be and what kind of kingdom he would inaugurate. Why not read it for yourself? Isn’t this just what the world needs?
(The above was written to appear in a local newspaper. Editor)
Karol Wojtyla died peacefully on 2nd April 2005 in the place that had been his home for over 25 years. Born in Poland more than 80 years earlier, the son of a retired army officer, he became a highly educated man, speaking six languages and writing numerous best-selling books on religious topics.
In his 50s, he unexpectedly became the head of state of the smallest state in Europe, a place with barely 1,000 inhabitants – a post that, paradoxically, made him not only the accepted leader of an estimated one billion people worldwide, but also, in the words of a recent correspondent in the Times, ‘the chairman and chief operating officer of the longest running, most powerful global business in history’.
In common with his predecessors in the job, he operated under an assumed name – or in his case two names: John Paul. His decision to adopt the same names as his predecessor, who had died after only 33 days in office, was widely considered to be interesting, to say the least, because it was strongly rumoured at the time (and the rumours have never really gone away) that John Paul I was murdered to prevent him from initiating an unwelcome audit of the financial and banking procedures of this worldwide ‘business’.
There is no doubt in most people’s minds that John Paul II was a good man – certainly by the standards of most other world leaders, both religious and political. For many people, however, the problem was not his personal character but his official persona as head of the Roman Catholic Church. Another correspondent in the Times, for instance, remarked on the Pope’s life as being ‘characterised by personal humility and spiritual holiness’, but went on to regret, therefore, that ‘his passing (was) marked by the trappings of absolute monarchy and temporal power’. It would be difficult for Christians who accept Jesus Christ very directly as their spiritual head to disagree with those sentiments.
Letters published in the Times and the Independent in the immediate aftermath of the Pope’s death were divided fairly evenly between positive and negative attitudes, perhaps because of the editors’ need to reflect a balanced view. One non-Catholic writer was moved to say that the Pope’s life had been ‘a great example … of personal courage in suffering and faith and devotion to the service of Christ’. Others took exception to any suggestion that the Pope’s efforts had been in the service of Christ, including one lady who claimed that he had in fact ‘worked tirelessly to uphold the institution of the Catholic Church, which continues to work precisely against the precepts laid out by Jesus Christ, such as protecting the innocence of children, encouraging humility, freeing humanity of the burdens of guilt and sin, and pointing out the dangers of materialism’. She went on to state that ‘scholars will tell you’ (is it only scholars who read the scriptures?) ‘that there is nothing in the Bible about a pope, priests, confession, monks or nuns’. In fact, she (or those scholars) would be wrong, for there certainly are mentions of priests and of confession (and even, in a way, of ‘pope’, given that Jesus specifically instructed his followers not to refer to anyone on earth as ‘father’ (Matthew 23:8)). Laying that little aberration aside, the letter might have been written by a traditional? Christadelphian.
Many people from protestant, and particularly from fundamentalist, churches would probably share the lady’s view that, as regards biblical Christianity, this pope was just as far off beam as most of his predecessors. The question we need to ask, however, is whether that fact is really relevant. In one sense it is, of course, very relevant – because it means that millions of his followers have been prevented from realising the true nature and significance of a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and have been fed a humanised and politicised version of Christianity. Anyone who doubts that fact needs only to look through the obituaries that appeared in the serious newspapers. The Times, for instance, carried a thoughtful, if largely uncritical, piece extending to around 6,500 words, in which Christ was briefly mentioned only twice, but which catalogued in great detail the political impact of Wojtyla’s upbringing in Nazi-occupied Poland and his attempts both to bring together disparate religious groups and to engineer political changes.
On the other hand, it may just be that – even from the point of view of the furthering of God’s purpose – the Times’s unacknowledged obituarist had got the balance right. Maybe John Paul II – despite his almost inevitable failure, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, to advance true understanding of God’s purpose – was, under God’s overall guiding hand, the right man in the right place at the right time to unwittingly move world events a stage nearer to the fulfilment of God’s plan. We know that many less savoury characters than John Paul II have – often without being aware of it – been used by God to move his purpose forward.
Certainly events in 1978 took the Vatican hierarchy down roads they had not expected, to say the least. Their first choice as the new Pope lived for barely a month after taking office. And it is said that the cardinals surprised even themselves by their choice of a replacement: the first non-Italian pope for nearly five hundred years, and the first ever from what we now call Eastern Europe but what would then have been the Soviet bloc. How significant was that?
Well, Christadelphians have always been keen on interpreting European events in the light of Bible prophecy, though with varying degrees of perceived ‘success’. Some commentators see the collapse of communism as another phase in the process that will lead to the return of Christ. That is not a field in which I claim any expertise, and I make no comment here on whether it is reasonable.
But if it is, then it has to be pointed out that John Paul II was a prime mover in the events that set in motion the eventually unstoppable journey to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and even of the ‘iron curtain’ itself. His aversion to totalitarian regimes was fostered during his early adult life under German rule in his native Poland. Twenty years later, with a different totalitarian regime in place, he used his position as Archbishop of Krakow to re-establish some of the influence of the Church in the life of the people. This laid down the groundwork for what he was later able to achieve from his much stronger position as Pope.
In 1979, John Paul II visited his homeland and spoke stirringly to over a million people in Victory Square in Warsaw about the need to understand Poland’s history in a Christian context. Within a year the mood in Poland had changed (or perhaps, in truth, had resurfaced) to such an extent that the country’s first independent trade union, Solidarity, was sanctioned by the government. The slow and painful process of dismantling communism in Poland had begun, a process that gradually spread to other countries of the eastern bloc until in 1989 the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev actually travelled to the Vatican to meet the Pope. Gorbachev described their meeting as ‘a singularly meaningful event, a sign of the times and a sign that is rich with promise’. And the rest, as they say, really is recent history. Poland, in common with several other former communist countries, is now a member of the European Union.
Would the Europe we know today have come about if a particular Polish cleric with particular political views had not rather surprisingly found himself at the head of the Catholic Church twenty-seven years ago? Probably not. And have we therefore witnessed God’s purpose moving forward in one of those ‘mysterious ways’ that Cowper wrote about in his famous hymn? Only time will tell.
Part 21 Epilogue: Chapter 12:9-14
No one disputes that this section is an epilogue, but there is considerable disagreement over its purpose. Some argue that it was added by an orthodox Jewish editor trying to tone down the free-thinking content of the book. Others take it as a simple affirmation of the themes of the whole work. There is also a concentration of ambiguous and rare words and constructions which allow this disagreement.
Throughout the book the writer speaks in the first person, though at the start he is introduced in the third person as ‘Qoheleth.’ In 12:9-10 he is again spoken of as ‘Qoheleth.’ This can be taken as evidence of a disciple of the author who assembled and issued his mentor’s teaching. But if one assumes that the author was writing under an assumed role this is not necessary.
The very first word of the section is problematic. It can mean ‘And in addition (because Qoheleth was wise …)’, as the AV takes it. But the REB’s ‘So, the speaker, in his wisdom …’ is also possible, if perhaps less plausible. There is certainly an affirmation of Qoheleth’s competence to have written the book, first because he had been a preacher to the whole community, secondly because he had worked hard to gather and sift traditional teaching of this kind (v. 9), and thirdly because of his pains to express his thoughts in elegant language while adhering strictly to the truth (v. 10).
Next the provocation which reading the book may inflict on people is stressed. The ‘words of the wise’ were not meant as a soporific, but to prod the reader to right thoughts and actions. The simile is from the prods used to get oxen moving during plowing: sticks with metal spikes on their ends. The conclusion of this verse (11) is obscure. The AV’s ‘the masters of assemblies’ is possible, alluding to public teaching of the wise, but ‘compilers of collections (of proverbs)’ is equally possible. In either case it stresses the tradition behind the disturbing words, but then returns to the distinctive author of the book: ‘given from one shepherd’ (AV), or ‘come from one shepherd’ (REB).
The ‘one shepherd’ (i.e. Qoheleth) leads on to the following verse (12), which in many versions reads like a caution against too much study:
Of making many books there is no end,
and much study is a weariness of the flesh (AV).
But following on mention of the ‘one shepherd’ the implication can be entirely different. The end of the book has been reached, and it needs no supplements. Further attempts to solve the problems raised will only increase fatigue. This interpretation better suits both the preceding and the following sentiments. The following verse, 13, asserting that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments, is often cited as an orthodox addition to a heterodox work, but nowhere does Qoheleth urge his readers to ignore or show disrespect to God and to disregard his commandments. While he has indeed raised questions about the purpose and justice of God, his personal piety has always been maintained. So v. 13 is entirely an appropriate ‘end of the matter’ (REB), especially as followed by v. 14, where God holds people responsible for their actions and will judge them accordingly, though how and when is not stated.
The fascination of the book of Qoheleth within the whole Bible is due to his questioning attitude and his willingness to accept that he had no answers to many of the questions raised. He was indeed a creature of his time, when the voice of prophecy was extinct, and before the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus. He was inspired to put the questions to which only God’s son had the answers, and while leaving them unanswered to maintain his faith in God and his understanding of the duty of man.
Samuel the Seer
by Michael Ashton. Pp. vii, 280 including 15 sketch maps and charts. The Christadelphian, Birmingham, 2002.
Samuel has received very much attention recently in Christadelphian publishing, with the 767 pages in two volumes from Roy Standeven (see E102 46-49 and E111 43-45), and now 287 pages from Michael Ashton. It would be invidious to compare the work of these two authors, but one may say that the latter is a more homogeneous and disciplined work, nicely printed and bound, though the reviewer’s copy has a vicious mousetrap binding. It is divided into 36 short chapters that generally follow the sequence of the Biblical books. The author writes clearly and for readers the only problem with the book is the lack of Biblical chapter and verse indications in the chapter headings, which also serve as running headings for the pages of each chapter. Anyone reading the Biblical books alongside this work has no problems, but a user wanting to find the comments on particular episodes or verses will often have to turn to the index of Scripture passages first.
In general editorial matters a more thorough revision would have helped. Nazirite is misspelt on pp. 24, 25, 26 and 49, but not on p. 5l. And on p. l73 for ‘oldest’ read ‘older,’ to give a couple of examples only. In matters of more substance one notes that versions other than the AV are used from time to time, and the textual problems of the Books of Samuel are mentioned, though they are not adequately dealt with. It is well known that in the Books of Samuel the traditional Hebrew text is poor, and can often be corrected from various forms of the Greek Septuagint. Thus on p. 117 the author very properly quotes the Septuagint for 1 Samuel 10:27 in stating that ‘only a month passed between Saul being selected as king … and Nahash coming against Jabesh-gilead.’ The AV renders the doubtful Hebrew word (the last in the verse) ‘But he held his peace.’ The NIV chooses to add the name of Saul to help the meaning: ‘But Saul kept silent.’ The Septuagint takes this word as the beginning of the next chapter: ‘And it happened after about a month.’ The Dead Sea Scroll Samuel reads: ‘And it came to pass in about a month that Nahash …’ The traditional Hebrew text, literally, reads: ‘He was like a silent man,’ but in Hebrew, if the vowels are ignored, the two apparently very different texts are identical save for one letter: R in the traditional Hebrew, D in the Dead Sea Scroll, and these two letters are very similar both in the pre-exilic Hebrew script, and in the post-exilic ‘square’ script. They are often confused in MSS. Thus the LXX in this case is now proved to have a much better reading than the traditional Hebrew text, which is found in Hebrew in the earliest so-far known copy of Hebrew Samuel. This is a very simple example of the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the text of Samuel. There is much more that could be said, and should be used in any commentary on the books.
Throughout this book the assumption is made that the Law of Moses as we have it was known in Samuel’s time. From p. 3 (‘Samuel inherited the Law from Moses’) and onwards this is endlessly asserted. The books of Samuel themselves give no hint of this and reveal a society in which the Law was clearly unknown, even to the spiritual leaders such as Samuel, see E102, 48. Another, though less frequent, source of questionable interpretations is the titles to some Psalms (e.g. p. 208), but since these are textually doubtful they cannot be trusted, see E106 51-52.
Quite often the author draws on the meanings of Hebrew words, but all too frequently what is asserted cannot be sustained. There is no space here to give a full list, but a few examples must suffice. Competent Hebraists will be staggered to read that the name Agag means ‘I shall be head’ (p. l66), and that Adullam means ‘justice of the people’ (p. 231). And the discredited idea that Elohim means ‘mighty ones’ turns up here on pp. 113 and 240. See E103 4l-44.
It is embarrassing to read on p. 103 that silver coins existed in Saul’s time, when coins only came into use under the Persian empire. Purely within Scripture questionable connections are proposed. James 2:l9 is suggested as an allusion to I Sam. 5:1-5 (p. 72), and it is asserted as fact that Matt. 10:14-15 and Luke 12 :20 allude to the episode of Nabal (pp. 255-256). To the reviewer this is strained.
To sum up. This book reads far too much into Samuel, and does not let the Scriptural books speak for themselves.
In its proper context fundamentalism means belief in fundamentals of Bible truth and in the inerrancy of Scripture, but because the term has been used in a careless or vague way it has become one of the most debased words of our time.’ So wrote Bro John Marshall (Christadelphian 1962, Vol 99, p 455) in a review of James Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God (IVP 1958).However we define fundamentalism what is certain is that the term is a modern one; a word coined from the title of a series of booklets published in North America between 1910 and 1915. These writings reemphasised, among others, the doctrines of the inerrancy of the Bible, the authenticity of the Biblical miracles, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and substitutionary atonement.
Lyman Stewart’s publications, The Fundamentals, to which more than sixtywriters were asked to contribute, were the written expression of a movementwhich arose in opposition to liberal theology, and has come to be known as Fundamentalism. As Packer notes (p 28), ‘The name fundamentalism developed out of the habit of referring to the central redemptive doctrines which liberalism rejected as the fundamentals of the Christian faith.’ This idea that fundamentalists were defending what they regarded as historic Christianity is seen in Packer’s statement that ‘we honour fundamentalism for its stand at a time when faith was weakening.’
Why, then, was faith seen to be weakening? Was it because the Church was losing its influence, or was it the Bible which was losing its authority? It is possible to discern three important factors which have had implications for the changing status of the Bible.
For some Christians, developments in literary and historical criticism – especially in Germany during the nineteenth century – attacked the doctrine of an infallible Bible. For others, the rise of modern science made it unnecessary to believe in a supernatural creator. Yet for others, studies in comparative religion had led to the surrender of the view that Christianity was uniquely salvational. In the words of Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement (Mouton 1963), ‘modernism was seen as a rejection of the authority of the Bible as the inerrant word of God, tending to interpret it in the light of modern day science and philosophy.’
That the authority, authenticity, and inerrancy of the Bible was the key issue, rather than doctrines such as atonement and resurrection, can be seen when The Fundamentals are studied. For the defence of the Bible, itself, surpassed any other point at issue.
While the history of the movement is important in understanding its nature, we need to remember that fundamentalism should be studied in its present setting, for while it gained special notoriety during the Scopes trial in the 1920’s, where the issue was evolution, it still has a pejorative connotation in some quarters today. The term is increasingly used in discussions of present day Christianity. Cognizance of the influence of the ‘movement’ may be seen in a comprehensive treatment Fundamentalism by James Barr (SCM 1977). ‘Fundamentalism in the approach to holy writings may be found in such groups with such diverse doctrines as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Christadelphians. In this book it is not these groups, but the more orthodox fundamentalism more closely related to the mainstream churches and their doctrine, that is taken as the basis for exposition’ (pp 7-8).
Thus, his study is of the movement as it transcends denominational barriers. How can such a movement have adherents across the denominations? Because, according to Barr, it has two important characteristics. Firstly, there is a strong emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible; the absence in it of any sort of error other than through the process of transcription. Secondly, there is a strong hostility to modern theology and the critical methods which are used in studying the Bible.
Such characteristics can be seen in the words of Bro A.D. Norris , ‘[The Bible is] a book which claims to record the purpose of God with men [and as such] must reasonably expect to produce convincing evidence that its claims are true. But as soon as the evidence has been put before us, we are under the obligation to listen to what it says. Once the Bible has been accepted as God’s revelation it is impossible to submit it to appraisal, to criticism, to rebuke, as the unbeliever would.’ Barr uses the term fundamentalism, not merely as a label for such sects as Christadelphians or for denominations such as the American Southern Baptists, but rather for those who exhibit a certain ‘basic personal religious and existential attitude.’
His conception of fundamentalism is that it applies to those for whom the Bible becomes more than the source of truth for religion. It is part of the religion itself, determining the shape and character of that religion. ‘Fundamentalism is based on a particular kind of religious tradition, and uses the form, rather than the reality, of Biblical authority [as a shield] for a die-hard traditionalism. The fundamentalist position about the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible is an attempt to prevent this tradition from being damaged through modes of interpretation that might make the Bible mean something else.’ Hence, what distinguishes the fundamentalist is his or her attitude towards the Bible.
While certainly no fundamentalist, Kirsop Lake had this to say in his Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow (p 61), ‘It is a mistake often made by educated persons who happen to have little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians.’ Until the ‘age of enlightenment’ very few Christians doubted the infallible inspiration of the scriptures. Lake continues, ‘It is we who have departed from the tradition, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a fundamentalist on the basis of authority.’
Lloyd Geering, in a recent series of lectures Fundamentalism the challenge to the secular world (St Andrews Trust 2003), notes Lake’s ‘striking prophecy,’ ‘The fundamentalists will eventually triumph. They will drive the Experimentalists (Radicals) out of the churches and then reabsorb the Institutionalists (Liberals) who, under pressure, will become more orthodox…The Church will shrink from left to right.’ I wonder if such is happening among the Christadelphian ecclesias.
Fundamentalism, then, may be defined as a view concerning the origin, authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible. It is a viewpoint which sees the Bible, not as the written result of man’s searching for God, but as the revelation of God to man. For the fundamentalist, God has revealed what He has been pleased to reveal, and this knowledge, whether it touches on religious practices, ethics, or science, is valid because it comes from Him. As noted above, with the rise of the critical spirit in Biblical exegesis, principles of analysis and appraisal, as applied to literature in general, came to be used on the books of the Bible, especially on the Pentateuch and the Gospels, in an attempt to reconstruct the historical evelopment of Biblical literature.
Fundamentalists generally disagree with such reconstructions. According to Barr (p 132), ‘Conservative literature is full of assurances to its own readership that the great critical solutions concerning biblical literature, worked out in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the earlier part of the twentieth, are now breaking down.’ A reading of recent literature on this subject shows, however, that ‘critical attitudes to the Bible and analyses of it are firmly entrenched.’ Barr denigrates conservative scholarship, such as that of E. J. Young on the Old Testament and Donald Guthrie on the New. In his view, it is obscurantist, for it rejects the various documentary hypotheses and the conclusions which follow from these hypotheses. Interestingly, Barr (pp 128-30) acknowledges the scholarship of conservatives in such fields as Egyptology (Kenneth Kitchen?) and Assyriology (Donald Wiseman ? and Wilfred Lambert?) but asks the question ‘Is it not strange if scholars, whose personal faith is deeply anchored in the Bible and its religious authority, choose to become specialists in the environment of the Bible rather than in the Bible itself or, within the Bible, to become scholars in the furniture and technical mechanics of the Bible, if we may so term them, rather than in the religious heart of the Bible?’ According to Barr, this is because there is ‘an unwillingness to become involved with the critical problems.’ Thus, fundamentalists generally hold to ‘traditional’ views; concerning the text and authorship of the books of the Bible, and the development of Hebrew and Christian religion.
In the United States one body which has been influential in promoting the fundamentalist attitude across the denominational barriers is Dallas Theological Seminary; an institution which has its roots in the millennial movement of the nineteenth century, in Darbyite dispensationalism, and in the old Princeton theology. Dallas Seminary became the ‘theological stronghold’ for dispensational theology, using the Schofield Reference Bible as the standard Bible for fundamentalist churches. Not only does the seminary promote an infallible Bible, but it speaks forth, through its journal Bibliotheca Sacra, on such topics as Biblical criticism, the place of women in the Church, and evolution. A brief look at these topics should show us some of the implications of a fundamentalist’s attitude.
How does the fundamentalist see the place of women in the Church? As is well known, the second half of the twentieth century has been a time of intense debate about the position of women both within and without the Church. What we may term the more liberal denominations have ordained women as ministers. Some conservative groups allow women to preach, while others which claim to be fundamentalist do not. Interestingly, there has been debate among some Christadelphians in this area.
A fundamentalist attitude (which claims to take the Bible literally, although Barr disagrees) says that while the Bible teaches that women were given spiritual privileges equal to men, they were not given equal spiritual activities. Stress is laid upon the practices of the early Church; that no disciples (in the restrictive sense) were women, that missionary activity was carried out by men, that the leaders of the Church were males, and that no woman is numbered among the writers of the New Testament.
Fundamentalists are criticised by Barr for their use of scripture. It is not surprising to find that Paul’s words are used as justification for modern-day practices. ‘Let your women keep silent in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak.’ For the fundamentalist, the primary position and ‘honoured place’ of woman is in the home. Her position in the Church, as far as salvation is concerned, is equal to that of the male, but her functions as far as office bearing is concerned is limited.
Fundamentalists reject situation ethics; ‘No action is good or right in itself. It depends on whether it hurts or helps people, whether or not it serves love’s purpose – understanding love to be personal concern in the situation.’ (Moral Responsibility: Situation Ethics at Work J. Fletcher p 34).
Fundamentalists believe that the God of the Bible has laid down clear guidelines of behaviour in such a way that situation ethics are not needed. Right behaviour, which serves love’s purpose, is seen as the result of following principles exemplified in the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
Hence, the decline in the part that religion plays in determining moral behaviour (which Perman describes in his Change and the Churches) can be traced to an abandonment of the authority of the Bible. Perman sees this abandonment as being rapid in some of the major denominations, with the Bible taking second place to psychology, sociology and theology.
It was in the realm of science – biological in particular – that the debate concerning the authority of the Bible gave fundamentalism its notoriety. The debate between science and the Bible started in earnest with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, continued with Essays and Reviews, and is still unresolved. Four viewpoints regarding biological evolution may be distinguished.
Firstly, an acceptance that there is an apparent contradiction between evolution and the Biblical account of creation with an attempt at reconciliation; the position of theistic evolution or the ‘conservative’ stand. Secondly, an acceptance of evolution and the allegorisation of the early chapters of the book of Genesis with the general ideas accepted but the facts rejected. Thirdly, an acceptance of evolution and a rejection of the Biblical account in its entirety. Finally, an acceptance of the Bible and a complete rejection of evolution; the die-hard fundamentalist position.
To many people the mark of the fundamentalist is the rejection of the scientific method. This was especially so in the 1920’s in the United States and even in recent years where the right to teach creationism in schools has been tested in the law courts. However, this is only a superficial view of what fundamentalism is. In conclusion, while ramifications are to be seen in the realms of Biblical criticism, theology, and ethics as well as science, primarily fundamentalism is a question about Biblical authority.
Thereupon the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a meeting of the Council. ‘What action are we taking?’ they said. ‘This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone like this the whole populace will believe in him. Then the Romans will come and sweep away our temple and our nation.
John 11:47-48 NEB.
The first-century Jew was in a position of great religious responsibility, but he had been well blessed by God with circumstances unique within the Roman Empire, which enabled him to meet the requirements of his heavenly king. Alone in all the world he knew and mediated to mankind the revelation of its Creator. The continuance of the divine light was dependent upon his courage, his constancy and his integrity. He was called out and appointed by God to be a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation unto Him, and His peculiar treasure while he con trived to ‘obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant.’ No mere personal interest could measure up to this supreme destiny, and in an ocean of mortal humanity without faith and without hope, he was an island of impregnable rock where the restless waves would batter in vain, and eventually subside into the serene sun lit sea where they penetrated into his harbours.
Despite the fact that his country was one of the smaller and less important districts of the great Empire, he was accorded privileges denied to all other people. It may have been that his very unimportance as a political unit made it safe for Rome to be so lenient, and that his other worldliness removed any threat which such free dom would have augured in others. This being so, however, it became all the more important that any suggestion of political ambition or worldly intrigue should be expunged from his polity. He was allowed a worship in which the national gods of Rome had no part, but was publicly denigrated and despised. He was allowed a way of life which cut across all Roman customs, and which was a continuous public censure of that which Rome counted worthy. His leaders felt poised on the razor’s edge: the slightest indiscretion might plunge them to disaster, and it was much more than their lives that was at stake – it was the greatest thing in the world, the Kingdom of the Living God.
Into this tense situation came a worrying and disruptive influence. Individual centres of sedition there would always be, but such were men of a small and selfish personality, and their followers few and insignificant. One such, Barabbas, had but recently been captured and imprisoned with little difficulty, and any other of his kind would be disposed of just as easily. The prophet Jesus of Nazareth, however, was a totally different problem. There was nothing mean or petty in His disposition, and His per sonality brought thousands to their knees. So powerfully had He captured the popular imagination, that, within the next few days, they would strew the road into Jerusalem itself with palm branches, and shout His claim to kingship almost within the shadows of the grim Roman fort which looked down over the Temple. Now, when strangers thronged the streets, and the emotions were tense under the influence of the Feast, He had called forth a dead man from his tomb and ‘many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.’
We have seen Jesus proclaimed Son with power by His resurrection, but this was still future to them. They saw only what Paul described as ‘the foolishness of preaching,’ and were too blind to recognise that ‘divine folly is wiser than the wisdom of man, and divine weakness stronger than man’s strength.’ Theirs was a human judgment emanating from the wisest and most zealous of God’s people; it was the Temple which could be taken away, and it was expedient that one man die, rather than God’s witness be removed through His folly. Zealous He might be, good intentioned He certainly was, but where wisdom should have counselled silence and restraint, His foolish and frank expression of all which He sincerely thought, threatened the careful structure of three centuries, if He were not silenced, all for which the Maccabees gave their lives would be brought to ruin.
We also are men of their calibre. Their responsibility is now ours, and we have become ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own. We enjoy many privileges from the civil authorities and must walk circumspectly lest we destroy the labours of those who have gone before. Unfortunately, we inherit also all the worldly wisdom and prudence which was theirs. We recognise only too clearly the dangers of simple unguarded efforts of those less cautious than ourselves, and even have a proverb in our tongue that ‘the way to hell is paved with good intentions.’ We recognise, equally with them, the fallacy of the democratic foundation that ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God,’ but because that voice has so much sway in the everyday affairs of life we strive to protect the masses, together with their way of living, from the influence of undesirable teachers who might lead them astray.
As we read John’s account again, it should he seen as a shattering revelation that it is the very zeal and wise judgment which mark out those of us who have become guides, which counselled and accomplished the death of Jesus. In their place, we would probably have been driven by circumstances beyond our control to give our vote of condemnation against the Holy One of God. In our century He lives again in others, and insofar as those others most nearly approach to His image, they will be misfits and embarrassments to the panoply of human wisdom and human prudence, by which all human organ isations are martialled and preserved. He has said that insofar as we do it unto the ‘least of these my brethren’ we do it unto Him, and we face the same snare in which they were entrapped.
This exercise of circumspection, however, was only the first of two snares. The Council which judged it expedient that Jesus should die was, indeed, composed of the elite of Jewry, their wisest and most zealous leaders, but, in experience, they were mere children in comparison with the Roman Procurator before whom they were forced to bring Him. His clear brain and experienced judgment saw through their artificial charge, and recognised in Jesus the harmlessness which He had ever exhibited. ‘I find no case against Him,’ he declared, and when they showed dissatisfaction with his judgment he repeated it the more firmly. Roused to fury by the unexpected opposition, they proceeded to apply to Pilate the same kind of pressure which had driven them to the deed – ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend to Caesar.’
As representative of the Emperor at Rome, Pilate had absolute power over this people, and in the weightier matters of provincial government he would not have given way an inch. But in this small matter of the life of a single man, and He an obvious centre of public contention, to flout the zealous pressure of the multitude was to risk his power and authority for little purpose. He cleared his own conscience by the osten tatious washing of hands, and excused himself by blaming them for the decision which only he was empowered to give.
The elevation of Pilate was so great, and the position of those of our number who bear a delegated authority as leaders in God’s household is so lowly, that we may miss the obvious parallel with its grim warning about our weakness. Paul told Timothy that the Church of Christ should not be immune from this fault, but would have some teachers with ‘itching ears,’ men, who, though sincere servants of Jesus, would be sensitive to the opinion of the majority whom they led. It is so easy to say ‘My position is vulner able,’ to weigh the good which one could do covertly, against the personal embarrassment of supporting a single individual, whom we may feel should have held his own counsel as his leaders are doing. Human expediency has weighed the slight wrong against the great evil, and sought the path which promised the least disaster. Divine wisdom, on the other hand, is concerned solely with the decision of right or wrong. Circumspection and expediency stand condemned before the cross of Christ. The power which raised Him from the dead could, and would, have kept the Roman at bay or maintained Pilate in power. It was the same expediency which sought to preserve the Jewish polity by sacrificing Jesus which caused the with drawal of God from His temple, and the final fall of that which they strove to preserve.
Equally fallacious is the ceremonial washing of hands and passing of responsibility on to the heads of those who clamour for blood. Pilate was personally responsible for the death of Jesus because, although he did not give his voice, he at least withheld his prohibition, when he recognised Jesus to be without fault.
It is easy for us to feel personal sympathy with this or that cause or person, to recognise therein the true spirit of Christ, but to stand on one side for the sake of ‘the greater good’ which we can contrive to do while uncommitted. It was the set purpose of the Jewish Council which planned and executed the murder of Jesus. But the inaction of the Governor, his refusal to commit himself where he recognised innocence, was the ultimate cause of that death. We, with as great a will for good as Pilate, can stand on one side where we recognise an unjust persecu tion, and, while it may be the venom of others which executes the deed, we will wash our hands in vain, and protest our innocence without avail, in the sight of God. It is because the wisdom of this world and the intricacies of prudence have blinded our eyes, that we do not realise what we are doing until it is too late, and innocence hangs impaled upon a cross. It is when we begin to turn from the question of ‘right or wrong,’ of ‘guilt or innocence,’ and consider the unaided human outcome with an ‘if I do this . . .’ that the danger threatens. When Paul looks back on this crisis of Jewish history he voices a third ‘if.’ He comments that, in all the exercise of their worldly wisdom and prudence, they were unaware of the hidden wisdom of God, that, being men standing in their own wisdom, they had never known it, but, ‘if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.’
I Cor. 2: 8 N.E.B.
From time to time some one asserts that to serve God acceptably He must always be addressed and referred to as ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahweh Elohim’, and not simply as ‘Lord.’ In one sad case we know of, a brother severed himself from fellowship with all other believers who would not conform to this practice. It is not our intention here to enter into all the many and complicated problems of the covenant name of God as given in Exodus 3, but a simple way of dealing with this problem is to inquire if Jesus and the apostles did as these people demand of us. If so, then certainly we should conform, but if Jesus and the apostles did not use the name Yahweh in normal circum stances, then we are under no obligation in this matter.
In the Old Testament God is often referred to as Yahweh, in fact some 6,800 times. This is not apparent in most translations, since, following an ancient Jewish custom, ‘Lord’ is substituted. In correctly printed copies of the AV and RV the term ‘Lord’, when it covers up an original ‘Yahweh’, is put in capitals, and if one wishes to retain the flavour of the Hebrew text, then ‘Yahweh’ should be read in these cases.
The name of God, however, became something very sacred among the Hebrews, and the beginnings of this phenomenon can be seen in the Bible itself. Certain portions of the Psalter (Book II, that is numbers 42-72, and the first few of Book III, numbers 73-83) have been edited by an editor who has, with few exceptions, replaced ‘Yahweh’ with ‘God’. This is very obvious, for example, in Psalm 68, which re-uses parts of the Song of Deborah. Where the original Song says, ‘before Yahweh, god of Israel’ (Judges 5:5), the Psalm now reads, ‘before god, god of Israel’ (68:8). A similar point is revealed by a comparison of Psalms 14 and 53, which are in fact the same Psalm, which appears twice in the present book. In the four cases where Psalm 14 has ‘Yahweh’ Psalm 53 now offers ‘god’.
Indications that the name Yahweh was con sidered something very special also occur in the earliest copies of the Old Testament. Some, but by no means all, copies of Old Testament books in Hebrew from among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1st century AD, or a little earlier), have the divine name written in the old Hebrew script, which was used up to the exile, while the rest of the text is written in the later, square script. The earliest surviving portions of the Septuagint (Greek) trans lation of the Old Testament offer similar evidence. In a fragmentary copy of the Greek Deuteronomy from the 2nd century BC, now in the Fuad Museum of Cairo, the divine name is inserted amid the Greek words by another hand and in the old Hebrew alphabet. The same occurs in a roll of the Minor Prophets in Greek (a corrected form of the Septuagint) from the Dead Sea scrolls. However, other fragments of the uncorrected Septuagint from the Dead Sea caves do differently. One such transliterates the name in Greek letters as Iaô, and another has the better known ‘Lord’ (kurios) substituted. The custom of using ‘Lord’ when referring to Yahweh is already known from the Greek-speaking Philo of Alexandria in the first third of the 1st century AD, and the New Testa ment writers do the same, (see for example Mat 22:37 and 44; Romans 9:28 and 29). This usage prevailed so that all Septuagint manuscripts from the second century AD and onwards use ‘Lord’ to render ‘Yahweh’.
Jewish custom paralleled what took place in the Christian church. From at least the time of Christ, and probably from earlier times though evidence is lacking, Jews generally were not allowed to use the name Yahweh, indeed to do so was blas phemy punishable by death. Thus when reading Scripture or speaking of God they could not use His name, but had a number of substitutions: ‘the Name’, ‘Holy One, blessed be He’, and, most commonly, ‘Lord’ (adonay). The last one became traditional and obligatory in the public reading of Scripture, and to this day in the Synagogue services where the text has Yahweh, adonay is substituted.
The evidence for the general prohibition of use of the name Yahweh among Jews of the 1st century AD, comes especially from the Mishna, a com pilation of traditional Jewish law put in final shape in the latter part of the 2nd century AD. This twice states:
In the temple they pronounced the Name (of God) as it is written, but in the provinces by another word.
Sota 7:6; Tamid 7:2.
Even in the temple use of the name, Yahweh was not casual or general. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest put his hands on the scapegoat and then recited a confession ending with Leviticus 16:30, a verse which concludes with the name Yahweh. This the High Priest uttered as it was written:
Now the people standing in the court, when they heard the ‘Expressed Name’ coming from the High Priest’s mouth, used to bend, bow down, and fall on their faces, saying, ‘Blessed be the name of his glorious king dom for ever and ever.’
This reverence for the name of God created diffi culties in legal prosecutions of blasphemy, since the death penalty could not be exacted without a full hearing of the evidence, which meant repeating the blasphemous use of ‘the Name.’ The Mishna tells us that the chief witness first repeated what he had heard the accused say, but substituting some other name for Yahweh. Then the court was cleared of all but the judges and the witnesses. Now the chief witness repeated his testimony to the judges, but used the sacred name. As he uttered it, the judges all stood and rent their garments (which they were not allowed to sew up again). Then the second and third witnesses said that they heard this also, but they did not actually repeat the words heard. (See Mishna. Sanhedrin 7: 5.)
Under these circumstances it is totally inconceivable that Jesus and the apostles ever used the name Yahweh in public. To have done so would have been committing a capital crime for which the Jewish authorities would have prosecuted them most zealously. There is the further difficulty that the New Testament gives no hint that Jesus or His followers ever gave offence in this matter. On the contrary, they are frequently represented as addressing God, and as speaking of him as Lord.
We conclude then that Jesus and the early Christians respected Jewish feeling about the name of God and followed current usage in substituting ‘Lord.’ We can see no reason for doing other wise ourselves in most cases.
This article is about a moral problem which many may have encountered. How should we react to the appeals of a beggar at the door?
The challenge lies, of course, in Jesus’ words. ‘Give when you are asked to give; and do not turn your back on a man who wants to borrow’ (Mat 5:42. NEB). ‘But you must love your enemies and do good; and lend with out expecting any return (Luke 6:35. NEB). Any one who tries to follow out this teaching conscientiously will be careful not to turn aside from those in need. Yet one may be uncertain what to do where there is more than a suspicion of fraud in the appeal that is made.
In former times, the beggar formed a greater part of the town and country scene than he does today. In a society which has a rigid class structure, which is peasant based or, through lowly technology, unable to make good use of natural resources, there may be many of high latent ability who must remain im poverished and without opportunity. In such a situation the loss of a breadwinner could throw a whole family on to the charity of neighbours and friends. This was the position in Palestine in Jesus’ day. Through the foreign domination of the Romans, only those Jews who were prepared to be traitors to their country had high hopes of riches. The faithful had to remain poor. Some of the most upright of the people were, therefore, among the poor. In these circumstances a person could be destitute and yet be absolutely genuine. Today, among the indus trialised nations, the scene is very different. Social welfare is a matter of public con science, and new areas for relief are constantly being brought to attention. Recently the plight of the homeless and the vagrants has been in the news. Despite the affluence of the many, every big city has its tail of citizens who are classed as vagrants. Many sleep rough, often in the open. A figure as high as 90,000, made up of both sexes, has been given for Britain. This group is formed from those who are unable to cope with the disciplines of civilised life, par ticularly that of regular employment. Many have had family upsets. Whatever the basic reason, they take to the road, abandoning work as a means of support.
From a religious point of view the beggar has provided a moral challenge. Israel was com manded while harvesting to leave sheaves, olives and grapes behind for the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow (Deut 24:19-21). The Israelites were to be like Yahweh Who executes ‘the judg ment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment’ (Deut 10:18). In Israel the giving of alms was, therefore, a universal practice. Jesus presumes that His followers would give alms but warns against using the occasion for self advertisement (Mat 6:2-3). The common purse which the disciples kept was evidently not only for their own main tenance but for giving to the poor (John 13:29).
What, then, should we do when we are confronted by some unkempt individual, claiming that he has nowhere to go and asking for a shilling or more to obtain a cup of tea or a bed for the night? Our first reaction may be that it is worth 2s.6d. to get him off the premises and out of mind. But this is not an action prompted by a sense of Christian caring for the poor. The situation would be simpler if we knew how genuine was the need. It would probably be true to say that almost none of the vagrants is genuine in any ordinary meaning of the word. Each has cultivated a way of life which depends on pitting his limited wits against society or on his ability to put forward an appealing story.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not establish a new legalism to replace the Law of Moses. He taught by laying down principles, and then by giving contemporary examples. To the young man who was immensely rich and who had put all his heart in his wealth, Jesus said, ‘Sell everything you have and distribute to the poor . . .’ (Luke 18:22 NEB). This is an ethical instruction suited to the needs of the young man rather than a general instruction about caring for the poor. In considering the unselfish and generous hearts which Jesus expects to see in His disciples, He says ‘Give when you are asked to give.’ But here again the teaching is primarily concerned with the disciples’ attitude.
Behind Jesus’ teaching there is a major principle from which all His ethical directions flow. It is that the disciples’ character must become like that of their Father in heaven (Mat 5:48). In the quotation from Deuteronomy chapter 10, already given, the Law is clearly seen to follow the same basic principle. The Jews were to be generous to strangers and widows because God is generous to them and cares for them. Similarly, as God seeks to reconcile His enemies by a great love, so Christians are exhorted to ‘Love your enemies and do good: and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he himself is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be compassionate as your Father is com passionate’ (Luke 6:35-36 NEB). Because God cares for people and seeks their good, so this must be the motive of the Christian in all his engagements with people. But this does not mean loading everyone with presents: their highest good is not necessarily served in that way. Paul is consistent with the basic principles when he says, ‘The man who will not work shall not eat’ (II Thess 3:10 NEB).
A beggar may go from door to door asking for small sums, in the hope of accumulating enough for an evening’s drinking session. The sum asked may be so small as to seem trifling to refuse. But giving in these circumstances is not caring for the person or doing him good. Nor would a blank refusal of help. The second way might not contribute to doing him harm, but it is not acting positively as a Christian ought. There should be nothing blank or negative in the response of a Christian who is seeking to carry the love which God bears for people in his heart. The Christian carries the respon sibility of revealing this love to men that God, his Father in heaven, may be given praise (Mat 5:16 NEB).
The need of the vagrant is to return to a settled life with a roof over his head and, if possible, regular employment. Until he forsakes his irresponsible way of life he is unlikely to be able to form a meaningful relationship with Christ. This point has even greater force if the asking comes from one who is not technically a vagrant but simply looking for easy money.
The whole problem is clearly larger than anyone can handle on his own. Yet this is no excuse. There are many problems in this cate gory. Our small efforts may never clear up the refugee problem, but we are under obligation so to act that, if all were to follow our example, the will of God would be accomplished, and enormous benefit to the distressed accrue. What then should an ordinary citizen do in the case we are considering?
Overnight accommodation of vagrants is provided by local authorities and various voluntary bodies in lodging houses or hostels. There is a necessary measure of discipline in these places and some vagrants tend to avoid them. In Britain, the National Assistance Board has welfare arrangements for vagrants. The local manager is on call twenty-four hours per day to deal with cases of destitution and he has funds available for immediate use. It is his policy to do all that can be done to rehabilitate vagrants to normal life. He can be reached through any police officer. There is no need, therefore, to refuse blankly to do anything when a case of vagrancy comes our way. People are free to come and go as they wish but, if they express needs, there are clear means by which these can be met. No one need starve or go without shelter. An offer of help of a fundamental kind will soon reveal the genuineness of any pauper asking for money.
All vagrants have a distrust of officialdom and authority. This may be so strong that they will put up with great discomfort, illness, cold and hunger, rather than seek suitable help. The offer of food, in kind, is therefore a sensible preliminary to obtaining confidence. Beyond this, one must have a clear idea of what the local provisions are for such as he. In this connection, a number of voluntary organisations exist, and some have recently started, which specialise in breaking down distrust and pro moting the reintegration of the vagrant. The good work done by such bodies towards those generally called ‘down and outs’ might be remembered in our collections for those in need. The left-overs from fraternal gatherings, for example, would be well received by local hostels and lodging houses.
We should remember, then, that though ‘ . . . the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags’ (Prov 23:21), yet it is our duty to ‘withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it’ (Prov 3:27).
As a result of several urgent appeals, there has been a steady flow of donations to the Centre from individuals, ecclesias, Christadelphian charities, fundraising events and members of the public. This has secured funding for the first four years, leaving only the session 2005-2006 still to be completed. Contributions for the coming year therefore continue to be necessary, and providing this further help comes in, the future for the Centre looks bright. A meeting was held in March with the Mayor of New Sarajevo, Mr. Zelko Komsic, and he was very positive about both his personal and the Municipality’s support for the Centre. He mentioned that they frequently take official visitors to see it, in order to demonstrate the high standards of special needs care which can now be achieved in Bosnia. He said that in the long run the funding may become the responsibility of the Canton, but he gave an absolute assurance that the City would fund the Centre as long as necessary once the initial five years is completed.
The Director, Mr. Majuhedin Djudja, has recently been given two awards in recognition of his excellent work for the disabled in the Vladimir Nazor School and the Christine Witcutt Centre. The Home Outreach Service, which the Christine Witcutt Fund also supports, continues to provide essential care for the families of disabled children, and is much appreciated.
Many thanks to all those who have contributed to the success of this venture. More information can be obtained from Ian McHaffie (firstname.lastname@example.org), 176 Granton Road, Edinburgh EH5 1AH, or direct from The Christine Witcutt Fund, 29 Starbank Road, Edinburgh EH5 3BY. Donations may also be sent to either address.
Here is a sample of what you might find on their website.
MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY brings together a wide cross section of nearly 400 charities, campaigns, trade unions, faith groups and celebrities who are linked by a common belief that 2005 offers an unprecedented opportunity for change. It is the year to say ‘enough is enough’, and campaign for urgent and meaningful change in trade, debt and aid.
What is so special about 2005?
The G8 summit: In July 2005 the UK will be hosting the G8 summit in Gleneagles, in Scotland. Poverty in Africa will be a main topic for discussion and we plan to ensure your voice is heard there.
Edinburgh – Saturday 2nd July 2005
As the leaders of the world’s richest countries gather in Scotland for the G8 summit, join tens of thousands of others in Edinburgh on 2nd July to call for trade justice, debt cancellation, and more and better aid for the world’s poorest countries.
Be there. Make your voice heard. MAKE HISTORY in 2005.
Why should I come to Edinburgh?
We want as many campaigners and members of the public as possible to come in person to Edinburgh to persuade the Prime Minister and his fellow G8 leaders that the UK public cares about global poverty and injustice.
What will be happening on the day?
The day’s events will start from 11am, and will include:
rallies with international speakers, celebrity supporters and music
the creation of a giant human white band around Edinburgh city centre with staggered starts at 12pm, 1pm and 2pm – so no need to rush!
entertainment, ‘market stalls’ and activities
an opportunity for you to send your messages directly to the G8 in Gleneagles
The event will be a family friendly, safe and fun day – so bring as many people as you can!
The EU Presidency: In the second half of this year the UK will be holding the chair of the European Union. 20th Anniversary of Live Aid: takes place on 13th July and will draw the public’s attention back to issues of poverty in Africa and encourage western governments to take urgent action. The original Live Aid has been described as the greatest musical event of all time and the simultaneous concerts in London and Philadelphia raised millions for famine relief.
The Commission for Africa: launched by Tony Blair in February 2004 to help generate action for a strong and prosperous Africa. Its report released in March 2005 forms a key focal point of the British Chairmanship of the G8.
UN General Assembly Special Summit on the Millennium Development Goals takes place 1st – 5th September 2005 to review the progress since the 2000 Millennium Declaration of the MDGs to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015. Four years later the world is failing dismally to reach those targets.
THE CRUCIAL PART. WHAT WE ARE ASKING FOR.
In 9 words…
TRADE JUSTICE, DROP THE DEBT, MORE AND BETTER AID.
The gap between the world’s rich and poor has never been wider.
Malnutrition, AIDS, conflict and illiteracy are a daily reality for millions.
But it isn’t chance or bad luck that keeps people trapped in bitter, unrelenting poverty. It’s man-made factors like a glaringly unjust global trade system, a burden so great that it suffocates any chance of recovery.
It doesn’t have to be this way though.
In fact, back in 2001 the governments of the eight wealthiest nations on earth said that they were going to do something about it – in what was seen as a breakthrough, they promised to halve world poverty by 2015. Four years later the world is failing dismally to reach those targets.
But we have been given another, maybe even a final chance—2005.
With the UK hosting the G8 gathering of powerful world leaders in July, as well as holding the presidency of the European Union (EU) for the second half of the year, our Government and particularly Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, will be influential players on the world stage — we must make sure they play their part.
They have the power and we can make them use it.
Apart from all of the opportunities above,
2005 is most importantly an opportunity for you to speak out and make a real change.