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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Context is Crucial – A Commentary on Mark 12 (part 5)

This is the fifth part of my commentary on Mark 12 as we look at this chapter in its original context.  We are asking the question, “what did this passage of scripture mean to its original hearers?” and it is transformative to our understanding for certain.  Be sure to see the other parts of this commentary too as each builds on the previous.

Part 1 – Setting the Stage: The Sadducees

Part 2 – The New Tenants

Part 3 – Give to Caesar…

Part 4 – A Silly Question

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Context is Crucial – A Commentary on Mark 12 (part 4)

This is the forth part of my commentary on Mark 12 as we look at this chapter in its original context.  We are asking the question, “what did this passage of scripture mean to its original hearers?” and it is transformative to our understanding for certain.  Be sure to see the other parts of this commentary too as each builds on the previous.

Part 1 – Setting the Stage: The Sadducees

Part 2 – The New Tenants

Part 3 – Give to Caesar…


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Context is Crucial – A Commentary on Mark 12 (part 3)

This is the third part of my commentary on Mark 12 as we look at this chapter in its original context.  We are asking the question, “what did this passage of scripture mean to its original hearers?” and it is transformative to our understanding for certain.  Be sure to see the other parts of this commentary too as each builds on the previous.

Part 1 – Setting the Stage: The Sadducees

Part 2 – The New Tenants

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Context is Crucial – A Commentary on Mark 12 (part 2)

This is the second part of my commentary on Mark 12 as we look at this chapter in its original context.  We are asking the question, “what did this passage of scripture mean to its original hearers?” and it is transformative to our understanding for certain.  Be sure to see the other parts of this commentary too as each one builds upon the previous:

Part 1 – Setting the Stage: The Sadducees

In post will cover the question “who are the ‘new tenants’ mentioned in Jesus’ parable”?

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Context is Crucial – A Commentary on Mark 12 (part 1)

Note: This was originally one post, but since it’s over 4,000 words, I decided to break it up into several smaller posts.  I’ll be posting the next parts one per day over the next few days.

Introduction

One of the ministers at my church, Bob Chisholm, told this story to the congregation not too long ago.  He was at a conference on Biblical studies attended by people from many different denominations when he went to a lecture given by a Jewish rabbi.  The rabbi got up to speak and began by telling everyone that what he was about to say would revolutionize his listeners’ studies.  Bob was naturally very intrigued by the idea and listened with great anticipation.  What secret, what kernel of Jewish wisdom would this rabbi impart to him?  The rabbi said something akin to, “When you study to Bible, in order to get the best understanding from it, do not ask merely ‘What does this text mean today?’ but rather ask yourself, ‘What did it mean to its original hearers?'”  Bob was stunned, but not because it was so revolutionary, but because he’d been taught that all along at the Harding Graduate School.  However, he noticed it was apparently quite shocking to many in the room.  Was it really that foreign of a concept to try to understand what the written Word meant to its original readers?  Apparently so.

In this series of posts I want to show you what understanding the original context of the Bible does for you by taking you through Mark 12.

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Shammai and the Zealots

This week my Tuesday night Bible study, The Jewish Context of the Bible, continued our series on Famous Rabbis.  Last time we started with perhaps the biggest one of all, Hillel.  This week we took a look at his most eminent halakic (legal) opponent, Shammai.  Next up is Akiva, then Sha’ul (aka: Paul, and with Paul we’ll look at his own first rabbi, Gamaliel) and finally ending with, Yeshua (Jesus).  Knowing and understanding the rabbis has helped me understand the teachings and writings of Jesus and Paul and I’m sure you will be excited as well as we apply all that we’ve learned. You can find the audio on the website of Prestoncrest Church of Christ, or on my Audio Lessons page.

In my readings about Shammai, I ran across something very interesting.  Apparently Shammai, a member of the peace-loving Pharisees, had some ties to the religious movement known as the Zealots.
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Hillel and The Good Samaritan

This week my Tuesday night Bible study, The Jewish Context of the Bible, started a new series: Famous Rabbis.  We start with the three biggest names in first century Rabbinical Judaism: Hillel, Shammai, and Akiva.  Then we progress to Sha’ul (Paul) and finally culminating in, Yeshua (Jesus).  I think after examining these great rabbis it will mean so much more when we look at Jesus.  You can find the audio on the website of Prestoncrest Church of Christ, or on my Audio Lessons page.

In my study of the Mishnah to prep for this week, I looked at every single verse where the name “Hillel” was mentioned.  There were hundreds of them and most were not exactly relevant to what I wanted to present.  However, there were a few gems, most of which I presented in class.  There was one more that I found that I’d like to share with you that was too technical to share in class.
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The Essenes and the Messianic Banquet (Part 2)

One of the focuses of my Tuesday night Bible class, The Jewish Context of the Bible, was the Essenes.  I always write a follow-up post regarding the topic of that week’s discussion that goes deeper than I was able to in class.  The follow-up post for the Essenes lesson was The Essenes and the Messianic Banquet (Part 1) and I discovered there was much more than I could write into one post, so I left you hanging.  Well, here’s the rest of it.  If you haven’t already read the first one, you’ll understand this better if you go back and read it, and also if you listen to the Essenes Audio Lesson.

As we talked about in part one, the idea of the Messianic Banquet was strongly entrenched in the culture of first century Judaism.  A feast, banquet, or wedding, was a favorite metaphor of Jesus’, so now let’s compare the Essene Messianic Banquet to the one Jesus talked of.

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