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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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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You Are The Lord Who Sees Me

Every year in July I go to a church camp called Haskell Singing School.  In a nutshell, Singing School is a praise camp.  We sing all week long and learn about music, especially from an a cappella standpoint.  If you are curious about this place, I wrote this post a while back.  Each year I write a song, and this year (as well as last year) I collaborated with my good friends Bryan Nix and Robert Nix.  After I wrote the lyrics, I told Bryan that I wanted a contemporary-sounding feel, like what you would hear on the radio today.  The following is what we came up with, and I’m really happy with it.  Disclaimer: this was done entirely without the use of professional equipment. The credits for the following song are as follows:

  • Lyrics: James Prather
  • Melody: Bryan Nix
  • Original a cappella arrangement: Robert Nix
  • Instrumental Arrangement: Bryan Nix
  • Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Vocals: Bryan Nix.
  • Percussion: Eduardo Diaz.
  • Acapella version: Robert Nix (all parts).

Listen to the song: My Eyes Are Forever On The Lord (instrumental) or My Eyes are Forever on the Lord (acapella).

This song is entirely rooted in scripture, so bonus points to anyone who can figure out where it’s from (there are at least 3 different places).  What do you think?

Peace,

James

Paul and Silas Sing it Out!

Over and over again in the New Testament it’s clear that the story has some basis in the Tanakh (Old Testament). Over and over again, when we do a little digging, we find that the all-important backdrop of the New Testament is found in the Tanakh. From the way people talk to the things they do, it’s all firmly rooted in God’s book.

A good example of this is in Acts 16.  When Paul and Silas are in prison, what they do there is no exception to this rule, and knowing what the backdrop of this story is helps to enrich it greatly! Continue reading

Paul’s Profanity

Tuesday, February 2, I started a year-long commitment to a discipleship group, mentored by Bob Chisholm, one of the ministers at my church.  It’s Bob and 3 guys, and he meets with 4 different groups each on a separate day of the week, at 5:30am.  So while I meet with him once a week, he meets with 4 groups of 3 every week, which I think is very cool because that’s 12 guys, just like Jesus.  Anyway, in our daily scripture reading I came across something incredibly fascinating that I just had to share.

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