5 Reasons Why It Matters How Christians Talk About Jews

Jews and ChristiansThe Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) is primarily about Jews.[1] You may think “duh,” but to some, this is a genuine revelation, especially when it comes to the New Testament. All the major players in the Bible are Jews (except a few foreign kings). Jesus was a Jew too. So it comes as no surprise that Christians spend a lot of time talking about Jews and their religion, Judaism. But what does surprise many Christians is when I tell them that it matters how we talk about Jews. Why does it matter? Here’s five good reasons:
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Reclaiming the Reputation of the Pharisees

Two rabbisThis post is written in response to “Freeing the Church from Pharisee Influence“, but also to Christians in general. As a scholar on first-century Judaism and the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), I get pretty tired of people beating up on the Pharisees. I’m also a Christian and I want people to read the New Testament appropriately. And so, I decided to write this article.

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In Favor with God and Men

Four years ago, I came across an interesting reference in the New Testament to a verse in the Hebrew Bible.  At the end of Luke’s narrative of the birth and childhood of Jesus, he writes:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

-Luke 2:52

It’s almost a direct quotation of 1 Sam 2:26.  But why would Luke quote this verse here?  Why compare the childhood of Jesus to Samuel?  The answer to these questions did not come to me until this past semester while taking the Dead Sea Scrolls seminar when my teacher (Dr. Curt Niccum) pointed out a peculiar reference in one of the scrolls.

But before we can get to that scroll reference, a bit of background on the expectation of the messiah in the first century is necessary.

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Standing at the Crossroads

I have once again been to the Haskell Praise Camp and Singing School.  Each year, I attempt to write a song, and this year I was happy enough with it to post it.  Here’s the credits:

  • Scripture: Jer 6:16
  • Lyrics: James Prather
  • Melody: Bryan Nix
  • A capella arrangement: Robert Nix
  • Singers: James Prather & Robert Nix (lead), Steve Smith & John Connel (tenor), Emily Pollastro (alto), Chris Pollastro (bass).
  • Click here to listen to the song!

Magic in the Ancient World and the Bible

In November I went to the annual national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco.  I spent three days listening to over 30 papers written by some of the most preeminent biblical scholars in the world.  It was quite an amazing experience.  Hopefully, one day I will present something at that conference, but that’s a day at least several years away.  For now I’d like to turn several of my favorite presentations into blog posts.  Many of the presentations I heard were on magic, amulets, spells, and exorcism in the biblical world.  Join me as we look at the first one: the exorcism of Jesus.  (update: May 3, 2013: I never got around to writing the other two. Sorry. I have changed the title to reflect that this is no longer “Part 1″.)

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To Translate is to Lie

There is an old saying: to translate is to lie.  For your average church-goer, this may be a bit unsettling.  Suddenly very bothersome questions start to arise.  Are my English translations wrong? Can they be trusted? Do I have to know Hebrew and Greek to truly understand what the Bible says?  The answer to all of these questions is: no…sort of.  Join me as I give a few examples.

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Slaves for Christ

A favorite teaching practice of many rabbis was the art of allegory.  All of the most famous rabbis were masters of this practice, and of course Jesus and Paul are no exceptions.  Paul used this technique often in his letters and knowing this is important to interpretation.  However, what happens when a master like Paul blends solid teaching about salvation and an allegory that would make perfect sense to his original audience?  We miss it, that’s what.  Let’s look at something that could possibly be underlying Paul’s teachings on slavery.

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Old Testament Eschatology

On Thursday I turned in my final paper for my Advanced Introduction to the New Testament class.  The paper was called: “The Eschatology of the Old Testament: A Case Study in Ezekiel 40 – 48″.  If you don’t know, “eschatology” comes from the Greek word “eschaton” which means “end”.  So “eschatology” is a theology of the end.  What happens at the end?  People have been asking this question for a long time.  It’s a very interesting subject because the canonized Hebrew Bible does not have the fully developed eschatologies that Judaism and Christianity would later see.  Ezekiel 40-48 is of particular interest given the way that the writer of Revelation leaned massively on it.  I have posted my paper for you here if you are interested to read it.  If you do subject yourself to it here is what I recommend: first read through Ezekiel 40-48, and then second, keep your bible out because you’ll also want to read other passages to which I refer (Jer 31, Zech 14, etc).

If anyone is brave enough to read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Peace,

James

Old Testament Eschatology – Ezek 40 – 48

P.S. Yes, I do know there are a few errors in the paper.  I missed them before I turned it in.

Islam, Jesus, and People Who Don’t Act Like Him

This past week at ACU was Summit, the event formally known as Lectureship.  It was an exciting time where scholars from around the nation (and world) gathered for a forum on issues that are pressing hard against the Christian church (as a whole) in today’s world.  Topics covered were in a wide range from worship, to biblical study, to social work, to recycling, and more.  The following is a write-up on one particular Summit class that I went to, called “Jesus and Muhammad”.

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The Call of the Prophets

If you were writing a letter to a friend, trying to convince him or her that some very supernatural events were real, what would you do?  I think that a probable course of action is to link it to something in reality to make it more believable and understandable.  You might also link it to the religion of your friend so that it fits into their worldview.  When Luke tells about Paul’s (the text still refers to him as Saul at that point) vision of Jesus (Acts 9) this is precisely what he does.

The Apostle Paul seemed to constantly be fighting an uphill battle in regard to his apostolic authority.  He writes in multiple letters about this topic because some doubted his authority, teaching, and even his motives.  One way for him to link his authority to Jesus, to the prophets, and to God was the retelling of his commission.  How did Paul use this true story to speak to the faithful?  Let’s dig in.

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