Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


The followers of Jesus boldly proclaimed the resurrection. Luke, like the prophets, had to authenticate his message. Luke did not have institutional authentication and he was an amateur. Luke was an outsider who had no basis for claiming authority. He therefore applied reason in order to persuade and ultimately convince most excellent Theophilus.

Meade asked the question, "Why do none of the gospel writers identify themselves, though at least in some cases (Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24) they are well known to their readers? Because it is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1), and no other attribution is needed. Once again attribution is linked with (authoritative) tradition."

Luke was writing at a time when the tradition was not yet authoritative to a person who expected Luke would follow the two witness rule and the Jewish style of writing with its chiastic structure. As noted earlier, Luke has no institutional authority. Luke emphasizes the centrality of Jerusalem because ideas have to be expressed in terms that are intelligible to their audience. The approach adopted by Luke works because Luke was known to Theophilus.

Consistent with Meade's observation, the word 'euaggelion' does not appear in the body of the text of Luke and John. The word 'gospel' [euaggelion] appears 77 times throughout the New Testament in places such as 2 Cor. 8:18 and most of the Pauline epistles and also including the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark. 2 Cor. 8:18 is evidence that Paul knows about the gospel. Eusebius states: "It is actually suggested that Paul was in the habit of referring to Luke's gospel whenever he said, as if writing of some Gospel of his own: 'According to my gospel.' Rom. ii 16; xvi 25; 2 Tim. ii 8." That the word 'euaggelion' does not appear in the body of the text of Luke and John is evidence of their early publication and the fact that 'euaggelion' did not become associated with the writings we now know of as the gospels until sometime after the publication of the first two books.

Luke was an amateur with no institutional authority. Luke is probably laughing at those who assert you need to be a professional to comment on his writings. I may be an amateur but I understand that the first rule of interpretation is, “What did the author intend his original readers to understand?” This is my two cents.

Copyrighted 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Stylometry Notes

Plummer and his contemporaries believed that word frequency analysis showed significant difference between writers and they therefore compiled lists of rare words. Today it is more likely that studies will examine conjunctions like de, oun and kai. Why it that the usage of these type words is more revealing? Writers use these words without thinking about them and it is very difficult to imitate the details of sentence-level connectives. For example, Matthew and Luke do not use kai with nearly the same frequency as does Mark.

A recent author attribution study used the word recurrence interval based method, Trigram Markov model method and the multiple discriminant analysis of function word frequencies to determine the author of the Epistle to Hebrews. The purpose of the study was to demonstrate the effectiveness of three new advanced text authorship detection methods. Needless to say, stylometry now involves sophisticated math. This study, after testing their formulas on known authors, determined that two of the three methods are valid author attribution tools and the third method needs to be refined. The study further determined that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul did not write Hebrews and that it is likely that Barnabas wrote the Epistle to Hebrews.

I suspect that we will see more author attribution studies of Biblical literature. My July reading list will include three stylometric books. After I do a little more reading, I may explain the new methodology being employed to identify the author of an anonymous text.

Copyrighted 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Reading the Law and the Prophets

Luke tells us in Acts 15:21 that the custom of regular Sabbath exposition of the five books of Moses is a long established one: “For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.” Acts 15:21 show that in Saint Luke’s view, the custom of Sabbath synagogue reading was one of very great antiquity. What evidence is there to support this statement?

Philo, On Dreams, writes: “And would you still sit down in your synagogues, collecting your ordinary assemblies, and reading your sacred volumes in security, and explaining whatever is not quite clear, and devoting all your time and leisure with long discussions to the philosophy of your ancestors?” This certainly suggest that not only there were synagogues in the time of Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, there was also in these synagogues a regular expounding of the holy books on the Sabbath. Josephus ascribes to Moses the institution of regular Sabbath readings of the law. However, the earliest evidence is probably found in the Preface to Ben Sirach where we learn that in the second century BCE the Egyptian Jews had as a permanent institution the public reading of the law.

According to Levine, The Ancient Synagogue (2000), “Undoubtedly, the single most important piece of evidence relating to the pre-70 Judaean synagogues generally, and Jerusalem synagogues in particular, is the Theodotus inscription, founded by Weill during the City of David excavations in 1913-14.” The inscription written in Greek reads as follow:

Theodotus, son of Vettanos, a priest and

an archisynagogos, son of an archisynagogos

grandson of an archisynagogos, built

the synagogue for the reading of

Torah and for teaching the commandments;

furthermore, the hostel, and the rooms, and the water

installation for lodging

needy strangers. Its foundation stone was laid

by his ancestors, the

elders, and Simonides

The inscription indicates that this synagogue was governed by a priestly "synagogue ruler" (archisynagôgos) surrounded by a group of elders (presbyteroi). The building functioned as a place for the reading and exposition of Torah. This designation of the ruler of the synagogue (archisynagogos) is a term used by Luke (Luke 8:49; 13:14; Acts 13:15; 18:8, 17). The term elders (presbuteros) is also found in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (Luke 7:3; 9:22; 15:25; 20:1; 22:52; Acts 4:5, 8, 23; 6:12; 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 23:14; 24:1 and 25:15).

Parenthetically, some of the epigraphic evidence used to demonstrate the existence of synagogues third century BCE contains the phrase, “the most high God,” which was spoken by the slave girl in Acts 16:17.

Copyrighted 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Apodotic kai and the Lucan Use of Hebrew Sources

A number of scholars have investigated the writings of Luke in an attempt to ascertain whether Luke imitated the Septuagint. Recently I wondered whether or not there were any published studies of common word usage such as kai. My preliminary search located a 1982 article published in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament by Fr. Wm. Most, bearing the title, “Did St. Luke Imitate the Septuagint”?

Most noticed that Luke “uses a very odd Semitic structure that in no case at all is found in the parallel passages in Mark. It is the apodotic kai. Here is an example, from Lk 5:1: ‘And it happened, when the crowd pressed on Him to hear the word of God, and He stood by the lake of Gennesaret.’ The and does not fit in English, Latin, Greek or even Aramaic. But it is common in Hebrew.”

Most concluded that Luke used “Hebrew documents in a slavish fashion, i.e., he brought a Hebrew structure into Greek, where it does not belong. The fact that Luke uses this structure only from 20 to 25% of the time he would have used it if he were translating an all Hebrew document, shows he was using Hebrew only at points. At other points, he writes a good quality of Greek.”

Most has identified seventeen examples of the apodotic kai used by Luke in his gospel only one of which is discussed in detail in his article. I plan to review the other sixteen examples and comment further on this Lucan phenomenon.

Copyrighted 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blame it on the Samaritans

Most scholars have concluded that in the Gospel of John the separation between Judaism and Christianity has already occurred. This conclusion is sometimes based upon the anti-Jewish vitriolic polemic, the monolithic view of Judaism and the stereotypical picture of the Jewish people that the author of the gospel has painted. Yee has stated there are three factors leading to the Johannine picture of "the Jews."

The exclusion of the people with blemishes, the lame, the Samaritans, and persons employed in unclean occupations such as tanners, is a factor that ought to be considered in the creation of separate but not equal Jewish communities. The Johannine community, which had been excluded, is presented as “disassociating themselves from a past, even while providing a basis for continuity in concrete and symbolical terms." It is the conflict between these two communities in their struggle for self-definition and identity that is reflected in John’s Gospel.

Raymond Brown's 1st stage of the development of the Johannine community includes, as part thereof, those Jews of Samaritan background. Although Johannine scholars discussed the exclusion from the synagogue as a factor, it is more likely the prior exclusion form the Temple predated the so-called Johannine polemics and was a factor in its creation. Brown’s influx of Samaritans theory is based on a real event. “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

This must have provoked a reaction from the Jewish members of the community. Perhaps Matthew records this reaction in these words: “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Mark does not mention the Samaritans but Luke not only mentions them, he also records a successful ministry to them in these words: “Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”

Yet even before this successful ministry, Stephen preached his last sermon containing numerous contacts with Samaritan theology, the significance of which has not been understood. Stephen’s last sermon has a decidedly Samaritan viewpoint. The following arguments can be advanced in favor of Samaritan background of Stephen's last sermon:

1) The MT says Terah lived 205 years but Stephen said 145 years in harmony with the Samaritan text. In Gen. 11:32, Terah lived 205 years surviving by 60 years Abraham’s departure from Harran. Stephen reports that Abraham left at his father’s death in Acts 7:4 in harmony with the Samaritan text in which Terah lived for only 145 years.

2) Stephen says that God told Moses I am the God of your fathers; the MT reading is "father" while the Samaritan reading is "fathers".

3) Stephen in Acts 7:37 mentions a future prophet like Moses based on the Samaritan Book of Exodus as the history recited of Abraham through Moses depends on Genesis and Exodus; the MT lacks this statement in Exodus (but does have it in Deut 18:15).

4) Stephen mentions the city of Shechem which is the Samaritan counterpart of Jerusalem.

5) Stephens says that Abraham's seed shall "worship me in this place". The word "place" is standard Samaritan terminology; see John 4:20 and Acts 6:14. The Jewish cultic term is “house”.

6) Solomon's temple was not only in the wrong "place", it was of human hands. According to the Samaritans, the tabernacle of Gerizim was not made by human hands.

7) Stephen says that the Law was given by an angel on Sinai.

8) The Samaritans called themselves Hebrews from the third century BCE as confirmed by Josephus [Ant. XI viii 6] but in the first century Jews did not call themselves Hebrews.

Why does Stephen in verse 4 refer to Judea as “this country in which you are now living” when he lives in the same place? Soards in agreement with Haenchen considers it odd. Perhaps it is not a rhetorical device to create distance. Perhaps, because Stephen and his community have been excluded from the Temple, they do not consider themselves part of Judea! Perhaps Stephen is a Samaritan!

This is a work in progress. More work is needed on this. Why does the Gospel of Mark omit all references to the Samaritans? Why does this sermon include Samaritan material? Does this material support the influx of Samaritans into early Christianity? If the Hebrews are the Samaritans, who are the Hellenists?

Copyrighted 2006

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Every One is talking about James

Yet no one has addressed these questions!

How was James, a relative of Jesus, sufficiently rehabilitated to become the leader of the Jerusalem community of the followers of Jesus?

Does James exhibit a theology of the cross?

What is the significance, if any, of the mosaic of allusions appearing in the letter?

Did James consider himself to be the High Priest?

Is James related in any way to Lucan studies? If there is a connection, it is a possibility, previously discussed on this blog, that James is the unknown disciple depicted in the Lucan periscope, On the Road to Emmaus. In writing the previous sentence, I realized that I almost wrote Damascus instead of Emmaus and realized that there are striking parallels in the two events. There is neither mention in James of the death and resurrection nor any mention that Jesus died for the sins of mankind.

Copyrighted 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Temple as the House of God

In the Priestly literature, God’s presence is in the Temple, not in heaven. This view is criticized in Solomon’s Temple dedication prayer, the Levites’ Prayer and Stephen’s Sermon. Is there any evidence that Second Temple Judaism believed that God’s presence was in the Temple? This question needs to be addressed in light of Stephen’s criticism.

According to Eusebius, the "Shekinah" Glory left the Temple and hovered over the Mount of Olives during "the siege of Jerusalem" (66 to 70 CE). The Shekinah is the presence of the Lord in the place where He has chosen to dwell. Josephus mentioned that in the Spring of 66 CE some astonishing events took place within the Temple. In War VI, 290, Josephus stated that a great light shone over the altar for thirty minutes at 3 o'clock in the morning (a week before Passover in 66 CE) and then it departed. Both of these can be interpreted to mean some Jews believed that God's presence was in the Temple.

In Matthew 12:4, Mark 2:26 and Luke 6:4, Jesus characterized the pre-Solomonic tabernacle dwelling as “the house of God.” In Matthew 23:21 (with no parallels in Mark or Luke), Jesus states, “and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it.” This statement implies that the Matthean Jesus viewed the Temple as the dwelling place of the living God.

Copyrighted 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006

What is the Most Important Issue in NT Studies?

If we accept the premise that Jesus was Jewish and that all of the early followers were Jewish, then we can recognize what was the important question faced by followers of Jesus in the Second Temple post resurrection era. Each Jewish follower of Jesus had to answer the question, “What do we do with High Priest?” The unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews provided the ultimate answer. We no longer recognize what a problem this question was to the first followers of Jesus.

Although scholars can debate the details of Pauline chronology, everyone agrees that during the entire ministry of Paul, the Temple stood, the High Priest was in office, the Day of Atonement was being observed and Judaism recognized the followers of Jesus as Jews. Yet little attention has been devoted to the issue. Remarkably the High Priest is not mentioned in Paul’s writings and the Temple, which was the political, economic and religious center, is not prominent. None of Paul’s polemics were directed at the High Priest or the Temple.

We know from Philo that the ceremonial robes of the High Priest repeatedly vaunted in Hellenistic literature and interpreted in terms of cosmic symbolism endowed him with transcendent glory. Furthermore, the religious duties of the High Priest in the cult were viewed as a universal saving event particularly by Jews in the Diaspora. Since the High Priest was viewed as “the captain of their salvation,” even a cynical Jew would want to treat the High Priest with the utmost respect.

As each follower and each community formulated their answer, each NT author following Luke likewise answered the question. Traces of the deliberations can be seen throughout the New Testament. If the relationship between Jesus and Paul lies at the very heart of historical Christianity, then the disposition of the High Priest as “the captain of their salvation” is critical to the understanding of that relationship.

I plan to return to this subject that I have come to realize is an important part of the development of the theology of the new communities of the followers of Jesus.

Copyrighted 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

More on Intermarriage

The Church in Antioch was founded by Hellenists who left Jerusalem after the persecution that arose over Stephen (11:19). The Church at Antioch did not consider them as bound by the Jewish law. For instance, they did not observe the Jewish dietary laws (Gal. 2:12). Was this idea in practice in Jerusalem among the Hellenists?

It is apparent that the Jews of the Diaspora were stricter, more conservative in their observance of Jewish laws than the Hellenists. This strictness has been explained by their physical distance from Jerusalem; that the Jews in Jerusalem were, relatively speaking, complacent because they had access to the temple.

What about the Hellenists? Are their views traceable to the "liberal" views of community espoused by the writers of Joel, Ruth and Jonah? Did the conflict that erupted when Stephen preached his last sermon arise out of the devout Jews and proselytes from every nation coming into contact/conflict with the many priests who became Christians? We have four clues whose significance becomes apparent after reviewing evidence from the Dead Sea Scroll. 1) Acts 2:5 "Now there were living in Jerusalem devout Jews drawn from every nation under heaven . . . ." Is the text variation "devout men" of any significance? 2) Acts 2:11 "visitors from Rome, both jews and proselytes." 3) Acts 6:5 Nicolaus, one of the Seven who was chosen to serve in the Jerusalem was a proselyte. 4) Acts 6:7 "and very many of the priests adhered to the Faith."

Schiffman in his discussion of the Book of Jubilee (Second Century B.C.E.) indicated that the author placed certain of his teachings in the mouths of the patriarchs using the example of the prohibition of intermarriage:

“And if there is any man in Israel who wishes to give his daughter or his sister to any man who is from the seed of the gentiles, let him surely die. . . . And also the woman will be burned with fire because she has defiled the name of her father's house. . . . (Jubilee 30:7)”

Schiffman states: "The author strong stand against intermarriage should be seen in the context of extreme Hellenization going on in contemporary times. Nonetheless the author is echoing the traditional Jewish prohibition of mixed marriages, to which he has added extremely harsh penalties, as is his tendency throughout."

According to Schiffman, the text of the Halakhic letter reconstructed by Qimron from six fragmentary copies concern laws, inter alia, condemnation of mixed marriages. Schiffman in his discussion of "Other Laws in the Temple Scroll" indicates passages in the Temple Scroll seem to indicate that all marriages between Jews and gentiles was prohibited (Temple Scroll 57:15-17).

"No doubt non-Jews would have been prohibited from entering the temple since even proselytes were forbidden entry into the middle Court until the fourth generation (Temple Scroll 39:5-7). Indeed, in the End of Days, non-Jews as well as proselytes were to be excluded from the sanctuary described in Florigium."

Paul's views on marriages and sex have produced an outpouring of writings. His theory of status quo said that if you are married, you were to remain married even to a heathen but that divorce desired by the heathen partner was permitted. If you were not married, you should remain single. These views were based on Paul's belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. For our purposes, we are interested in his rather liberal view regarding marriage to non-Christians. There has always been a conflict in Israel concerning intermarriage presumably with the proponents thereof citing the examples of Moses marrying Miriam, Joseph the daughter of the Pharaoh and the story of Ruth. The bottom line is that intermarriage was a prominent issue in first century Judaism and it would be surprising if the issue did not surface in the early Christian community in Jerusalem.

The Book of Jonah provides another clue. The Book of Jonah is usually cited as the source for that passage in Matt. 12:39-41 as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days so Jesus was in the belly of the earth for three days before He was raised from the dead. The story of Jonah has a larger significance for our understanding of the Lucan (and Pauline) vision of a universal church.

The Book of Jonah was written in the post‑Nehemiah period (fourth century B.C.E.) after the return of Jewish leaders from the exile into which they had been cast by the Babylonian conquest of Palestine in the early sixth century. This book was a gentle satire on a type of self‑righteous Jewish religious exclusivism that had arisen after the return.

The story avoids the more immediate feelings against the Babylonians (who had caused the exile of the leaders of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the early sixth century) by projecting its tale back to the time before the destruction of the city of Nineveh in 612 B.C.E. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, which had caused the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the latter part of the eighth century. Because of this conquest, which scattered the northern tribes of Israel and replaced them with Assyrian settlers, no city was more hated in Jewish tradition than was Nineveh.

God sent Jonah to the city of Ninevah to preach to them the coming wrath. But the 120,000 citizens of Ninevah led by their king repented changing from their evil ways and God relented and did not impose the wrath that Jonah had expected. Jonah believed that all the people of Ninevah were Gentiles and thus were sinners doomed to eternal damnation in this world and the next.

In two separate scenes, Yahweh is portrayed as a God whose compassion reaches beyond Israel to the nations. It is Yahweh who hears the prayers of pagans on the storm-tossed boat, each of whom are praying to their own God. This ship represents the family of nations. Yahweh saved Jonah and the pagans. In the second scene, the point concerning Yahweh's compassion is made even more forcefully. God cares for the inhabitants of Ninevah and does not desire their destruction. God seeks their repentance and deliverance from destruction. Since the people of Ninevah symbolized the Gentile nations, the story is a powerful statement that the divine compassion embraces all the people of the earth. The final point of the story reveals that the chief obstacle to the extension of Yahweh's salvation to the nations was Yahweh's own messenger, Jonah.

The Book of Ruth demonstrated the compassion of Yahweh to those foreigners who had been drawn into the community through marriage. The Book of Joel provided bold new expression to the eschatological dimensions of Yahweh's presence in the world.

The Books of Joel, Ruth and Jonah were a reaction to the reforms and visions of Ezra and Nehemiah of separateness of the people of Judah from the other people of the world. This different vision of God as the compassionate and righteous Lord of all people was the biblical legacy to the Lucan and Pauline communities. It included the notions of Israel as a "light to the nations" (Isa. 49:6), of the temple as a "house of prayer for all peoples" (Isa. 56:7), of all nations of the world contributing their children to the priesthood of Yahweh (Isa. 66:18-21), of offerings being made to Yahweh "from rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal. 1:11), of a Moabite woman being adopted and protected by the Yahwistic community (Ruth), of a pagan king repenting and appealing to the mercy of Yahweh (Jonah 4:6-9), and of Assyria and Egypt joining Israel in becoming "a blessing in the midst of the earth" (Isa. 19:24).

In the years after the return of the exiles and before the birth of Christ, there developed another vision of community among some of the Jewish groups that ethnic membership in the elect in the absence of good moral behavior was insufficient for salvation. This message espoused in the story of Jonah and the whale as well as in the Books of Joel and Ruth provided biblical support for Luke's universalism. It is also provides insight to the events of Acts 6 and why Stephen's last sermon provoked such a reaction.

This discussion suggests that the conflict in the sixth chapter of Acts may deal with intermarriage. This excursion into the Dead Sea Scroll community is intended to show the beliefs of the members of the early Jerusalem Church regarding intermarriage; and to establish that these ideas, that had to have time to develop for Luke to write about them, in fact had existed in the community for a long time. When these clues are combined with Stephen's attack on the Temple, and the different vision of Jonah and Ruth, it becomes apparent that the devout Jews and proselytes of Acts 6 have been excluded from the Temple. Among such excluded people, the status of the Temple is downgraded. When Stephen suggested that the very existence of the Temple is idolatrous he echoed the sentiments of many devout Jews and proselytes from many nations who were excluded from the Temple because of intermarriage. This trouble was created by the breaking of the boundary lines that defined Judaism.

Copyrighted 2006

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Christine Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud, viewed the inevitable break between Jews and Christians as aided by Ezran ideologies that denied Jewish identity to non-native Jews and converts:

"... for the first time, the Jewish community was confronted with persons who met none of the requirements of Jewish identity: neither the sufficient condition of genealogical filiation nor the condition of moral-religious conversion as signalled by circumcision and observance of Jewish law. By no definition, then, could such persons lay claim to Jewish identity -- certainly not by those espousing an Ezran concern for genealogy and not even by tannaitic rabbis, who required, at the very least, the adoption of Jewish religious practices. And so, a new religion was born (p. 198)."

It was Ezra and Nehemiah who first prohibited intermarriage for all Jews. Jubilees and Miqsat Ma'aseh Torah (4QMMT) are two texts which, in Hayes’ view, prohibited intermarriage as a result of Ezran influence. Hayes also indicated that in her reading of Paul, mixed marriages are identified as a sexual sin, as porneia. Paul instructed his followers: “Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

Consequently, we can say that different groups in the first century of the Common Era had strong opinions about intermarriage. We can also say that Luke was familiar with Nehemiah 9 having used it as his outline for Stephen's sermon and was also familiar with Jubilees. Book of Jubilees makes Pentecost the most important of the annual festivals on the Jewish liturgical calendar. According to Jubilees, the Feast of Pentecost was instituted in connection with Noah and was to be celebrated annually in perpetuity. Of further interest Luke, but not Matthew, includes Noah in the genealogy of Jesus. Since Luke has emphasized Noah and the Noachic decree, he may have used the Book of Jubilees as a source. Paul was familiar with Nehemiah and with 4QMMT since he used the phrase "words of the law" five times in Romans and Galatians and this phrase appears nowhere else except in 4QMMT. Thus Luke and Paul were familiar with the writings about the prohibition of mixed marriages.

It is now apparent to me that Stephen's sermon alluded to Nehemiah 9 because both situations related to mixed marriages. It is consistent with the step progression used by Luke. Krodel claims that “Luke never says everything at once, but expands and unfolds earlier themes as he moves step by step from one episode to another.”

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.”

Luke wants us to understand that there are two groups of people with different cultural and/or ethnic backgrounds sharing community resources resulting in some discontent. Intermarriage occurs between people of different backgrounds, languages and culture because of opportunity to meet and interact. Children are born of such relationships and some children may be denied access to benefits because they are different and not accepted. Spouses die and surviving spouses may be treated as outsiders and denied access to benefits.

The Apostles had to appoint seven elders to care for widows in a mixed community due to intermarriage although this reason admittedly is unstated. Stephen, in particular, developed a successful ministry among a segment of the community that had been excluded from participation in the Temple worship. [cf. the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate; the Eunuch returning to Ethiopia; Cornelius the centurion with the non-Jewish widows being the first step]. The ministry of Stephen threatened the boundary markers of Judaism because it recognized outcasts due to intermarriage as members of the community of God. It was the first outreach program initiated by the followers of Jesus.

Scholars have suggested that the Sermon was temple critical and/or temple establishment critical. Stephen responds to the practice of exclusion from temple participation by emphasizing the greatness and transcendence of God, a God so great it does not reside in a temple made with hands. By inference God has no desire or need to exclude anyone from temple participation. Furthermore, the sermon makes the point that God performed “wonders and signs” but the response was to build a calf demonstrating that the temple establishment was a “wicked tenant” from the beginning. The prophets called the people to repentance but they responded by killing the prophets.

God invites participation by all his people; the temple establishment excludes animals and people with blemishes.

Copyrighted 2006

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Rewriting Nehemiah 9

Nehemiah has rewritten scriptures. Luke has rewritten Nehemiah. There are four central issues that ought to be discussed: land, Sabbath, covenant and Torah. Instead, I plan to discuss the issue that is in the background.

In Nehemiah, intermarriage is the sin which is the context for the prayer yet there is no mention of this particular sin anywhere in the entire prayer which was delivered shortly after Sukkoth. Intermarriage separates one from the covenant community and makes one a permanent exile, a person unable to participate in the ingathering of the exiles.

In verses 36 and 37, Nehemiah presents the belief in the continuing exilic status of the people of God and that the exilic status did not end with the return of the exiles. Although Stephen does not mention the exile, he does proclaim that the deliverance, yet to come in the time of Nehemiah, has arrived. He introduces the deliverance with these words previously quoted: “God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.”

The Apostles had to appoint seven elders to care for widows in a mixed community due to intermarriage although this reason admittedly is unstated. Stephen, in particular, developed a successful ministry among a segment of the community that had been excluded from participation in the Temple worship. [cf. the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate; the Eunuch returning to Ethiopia; Cornelius the centurion with the non-Jewish widows being the first step]. The ministry of Stephen threatened the boundary markers of Judaism because it recognized outcasts due to intermarriage as members of the community of God. It was the first outreach program initiated by the followers of Jesus.

In Nehemiah, according to Throntveit, the prayer serves to motivate the people into making the proper response so lacking in the historical survey. Stephen, in using Nehemiah as his outline, also sought to obtain the proper response. It was not meant to be.

However Stephen makes a remarkable request. Although there had been no call for repentance and forgiveness, this final appeal to the “Lord” is for the forgiveness of those who rejected Jesus for eating with sinners and are now killing Stephen for waiting on tables for sinners.

Copyrighted 2006

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Stephen’s Sermon: Is it based upon the Levites’ Prayer in Nehemiah 9?

Newman provides a summary for the prayer:

9:5 Levitical exhortation and introductory blessing

v.6 affirmation of God as creator

7-8 God’s choice of Abraham and covenantal grant of land

9-12 account of Exodus from Egypt

13-14 gift of Torah at Sinai

15-21 wilderness wandering, Israelite disobedience with molten calf incident

22-25 conquest and settlement of the land

26-31 disobedience during period of judges and monarchy leading to exile

32-37 present circumstances of slavery in their land leads them to confess their sinfulness in the present as in the past

The prayer in its introduction includes the phrase “The host of heavens worships before you.” Newman believes this is an allusion to angelic liturgy and the priestly account of creation. Stephen begins his sermon, “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham . . . .” Although the reference to “The God of glory” may allude to angelic liturgy, there is no question that Luke states that the law was delivered to Moses by angels. Later in his sermon, Stephen says: “But God turned and gave them over to worship the host of heaven.” This statement immediately follows “they made a calf in those days.”

Just as there are two parts to the prayer in Nehemiah, the historical recital (9:6-31) and the prayer proper (9:32-37), there are likewise two parts to Stephen’s sermon, the historical recital and the prayer proper. In this prayer, Exodus is a principle of faith and testimony to God’s greatness, a view that Stephen also shares. The Levites’ prayer and Stephen’s sermon are characterized predominantly by the greatness and transcendence of God and the failure of the Israelites to uphold the covenant and the resulting need for repentance. In a manner that is decidedly more deuteronomistic in language and theme than priestly, Nehemiah ties Israelite obedience or disobedience to possession or loss of the land. Not only does Luke follow the general outline of the prayer in Nehemiah, he includes some of its themes and exact phrases, which reveals his awareness of the prayer.

Just before Nehemiah mentioned the molten calf, he said, “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey thy commandments.” Nehemiah also stated: "Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against thee and cast thy law behind their back and killed thy prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to thee, and they committed great blasphemies.

Stephen’s sermon included: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." Although in the preceding quotation, the polemical phrase “your fathers” appears, the sermon includes eight “our fathers.” Nehemiah included the phrase, “our fathers” five times. Since “our fathers” appears a total of fourteen times in Acts, the polemic use of “your fathers” in this instance is probably an indictment of the audience listening to Stephen.

This concluded the historical recital, which is unusual in that, there is no statement about the taking of the land which is the standard terminus in the other summary accounts of biblical history. Of course, unlike the standard accounts, this account was interrupted because the people became so enraged they stoned Stephen. Yet Stephen’s introduction of moral failure was not a novelty in the standard accounts. Nehemiah did the same in verses 16, 18, 26 and 29. Luke included in verse 37 a remarkable quotation from Deut 18:15: “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.'”

There is one more interesting similarity. “The sweep of the recital in Nehemiah from creation to life in the land,” according to Newman, “reflects a view of history consonant with the priestly composer.” The composer of Nehemiah 9 rewrote scripture changing the maker of the molten calf from Aaron to the people. Luke in agreement says, “They made a calf in those days.”

Why does Luke use the prayer of Nehemiah as his outline?

Because Stephen’s sermon is the longest speech in Acts, it may also be the most important. Numerous scholars have studied the speech and attempted to make sense of it. To my knowledge, no one has suggested that Luke used Nehemiah 9 as his outline. Soards does note “Comparable biblical summaries of history are found in the Septuagint in Deut 6:20-24; 26:5-9; Josh 24:2-13; Neh 9:6-31; Psalms 77; 104; 105; 135; Wisdom 10; Sirach 44-50; Jdt 5:6-18.”

In verses 36 and 37, Nehemiah presents the belief in the continuing exilic status of the people of God and that the exilic status did not end with the return of the exiles. Although Stephen does not mention the exile, he does proclaim that the deliverance, yet to come in the time of Nehemiah, has arrived. He introduces the deliverance with these words previously quoted: “God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.”

The second reason relates to the Festival of Sukkoth which is the occasion for the prayer in Nehemiah. I suggest Stephen is thinking about Sukkoth because his sermon is being delivered shortly before the Festival of Sukkoth.

I have previously noted that Jonathan is the High Priest in 7:1 who asks: "Is this so?" Since Jonathan served as the High Priest for only five months, I identified the stoning of Stephen as the reason for his removal using by analogy the information in Josephus for the stoning of James by another High Priest who happens to be a relative of Jonathan.

On my view, the stoning of Stephen occurs during the high priesthood of Jonathan. The high priesthood of Jonathan can be precisely dated using the information from Josephus. For Josephus, there are three great holidays: the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, also known as Pentecost and Sukkoth, when all Jews were enjoined to travel to Jerusalem to perform the necessary sacrifices and rites at the Temple. Since Josephus mentions that Jonathan is appointed High Priest at the time of Passover, his removal by Vitellius either occurred at the time of Shavuot, seven weeks later or Sukkoth, five months later. In the very next sentence, Josephus reports the death of Tiberius. After requiring the people take an oath of fidelity to Caius, Vitellius directs the army to go home and take their winter quarters there. In agreement with Jeremias, Sukkoth is the more likely ancient festival being identified by Josephus.

Therefore we can conclude that Luke, in using material from the prayer in Nehemiah, intends to tell us that we can date the stoning of Stephen as an event occurring just before the Festival of Sukkoth in 37 CE. This is confirmed by the information derived from Josephus.

Copyrighted 2006