New Testament Studies

  The New Testament is a compilation of letters and history and one book, the last, whose literary style (genre) is called apocalyptic, meaning it's full of visions of the end of time and the catastrophes that will come with that ending. The first 4 books of the New Testament are called the "Gospels", the word "gospel" deriving from the Greek and meaning good news. They basically give us the life of Jesus from 4 different perspectives, which means that they contain shared material and also their own individual material. The first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke contain much more in common with each other than with John, the last of the 4 Gospels, and so they are sometimes called the "Synoptic Gospels".  Scholars are coming to the view that the Gospels were not the earliest part of the New Testament to be written down, although they are they are the first part of the New Testament. It is also thought that the Gospels may share certain older source

Is there a single unifying theme in the Old Testament?

I think if I had met the question of a unifying theme in my earlier years I'd have said, "God", or "It's about God and humanity isn't it?" It is interesting to see that students of the Old Testament cannot really agree about a unifying theme, indeed some completely reject the idea that there is a unifying theme at all. It is hard to see how there could be a unifying theme when there have been so many authors, compilers, editors at work over so many hundreds of year, which means that if we ask the question, "What is the Old Testament about?" the answers will be as varied as its history of compilation.    However at its most general it is the story of a certain people's relationship with God. Its laws and other pronouncements should all be seen in that light. If we see its pronouncements as determinative for today, we get ourselves into quite a mess. We have to figure out why we want to exclude some of the pronouncements and la

The Writings and the Prophets

After the book of Nehemiah the rest of the Old Testament falls under the headings "The Writings" and "The prophets". These form a fairly eclectic mix of sayings and pronouncements with some real gems which people go back to and savour time and again. But these gems are indeed that - gems. And gems are usually located after hard work mining away deep underground or maybe long searching in difficult terrain. Reading the Bible can feel a bit like that when ploughing through Chronicles or Isaiah. The prophetic books follow their own paths. WIthin them there are some random verses which Christians take as referring to Jesus. I am convinces that those who wrote them did not think of most of these sayings as having a Messianic aspect, but that does not detract from their value to today's reader. Prophecy was mostly shrewd discernment of the near future and comment on the behaviour of the nation, or its ruling classes. It is important to read the Old Testament as a

The History Books

The books of the Bible which really focus in on the history of God's people from the time they colonise the promised land start from Joshua and go on to Nehemia. The first of these books, the book of Joshua, follows the exploits of Joshua as he leads the people across the river Jordan and into the country we know now as Israel and Palestine. It contains the story of the fall of Jericho (probably it's best known story) and the destruction of its walls so that the army could enter and take it. It details the parcelling out of the land to the various tribes and various other stories of conquest ending with a closing speech from Joshual to the leaders, and a renewal of their covanant with God. The history continues in the book of the Judges, named after the system of government in the time of settlement in the land. There was no monarchy and it seems that those who had leadership roles simply gained these roles by being leaders or by giving leadership when it was required. The j

The Sin Problem

Many people have a problem with the do's and dont's of the Old Testament, particularly in the books from Exodus to Deuteronomy. There are in effect 2 main problems. The first is the wide scope of the rules. They ban things which we no longer see as bad. Some of the things are plain irrelevent, having to do with Jewish Temple worship and life rituals, and some are  seen as no longer having a claim on our behaviour, like Sabbath day observance. Indeed in the New Testament we can see both in the teaching of Jesus and of the Apostle Paul, a setting aside of some of the Old Testament regulations. The second problem lies in the area of punishments. Some of the punishments seem vastly disproportionate to the behaviour to which they are allocated. Stoning for adultery springs to mind, but there are plenty others. So how do we approach this in a way which allows us to disregard some of the rules but not throw the baby out with the bathwater? Once again we need to start with our theology

Leviticus to Deuteronomy

These books should not be dismissed as outright boring or full of old and irrelevant laws about temple worship and regulations, or a way of life now consigned to history. The first half of Leviticus is pretty rooted in its time and culture but from around Chapter 16 of its 27 chapters there is a lot to be mined. 16 starts with the Day of Atonement which is of immense importance in understanding Christian theology and in following chapters we can read about loving your neighbour and caring for the poor, cancellation of debts, and also the seasonal cycle as the harvest celebrations are itemised. Numbers, despite its rather dreary title is an interesting book. It takes us into the narrative of the wilderness journeying with its twists and turns and adventures. It provides the rational for the extended wilderness wanderings in chapters 12 to 14 and gives us the strange tale of Balaam and the ass that spoke in 22-24. The census from which the book takes its title occurs at the start. Don

Interpreting Genesis and Exodus

After the initial 3 chapters of Genesis we launch into the family tree first of humanity in general and then of Israel in particular. The point of these for us today is not whether they are historically accurate so much as what principles do the stories attached to the various players in these stories tell us about God, relationship with him, and the lives of these early pioneers of faith. So whether you like to take the stories as a literal account of the generations or not, we can all read them as vehicles which carry important truths about faith and people and God. You can also trace in them a kind of development of understanding about God and faith. So for instance we have one motif about God which can be described as "The God of the Fathers". This is how he is known to the earliest characters in the sagas of Genesis. He is local, tribal, and one among many, but he is their God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This understanding develops and climaxes in the revelati