“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD …”
//In Bible times, there existed a means of donating a boy or girl to the service of God. Presumably, this meant cultic service at the Temple. A Nazirite could be either male or female, as today’s verse indicates, and did not require one to be of the lineage of Aaronite priesthood. Anyone could be a Nazirite. Numbers chapter 6 indicates the rite of passage, and how the vow is offered. In particular, one agreed not to drink any wine, not to shave one’s hair, and not to touch that which is unclean, like corpses.
Yet few took this opportunity, at least as a lifelong dedication. We have two Old Testament examples–Samson (Judges 13:7) and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11). In the New Testament, we have John the Baptist (Luke 1:15).
But was Jesus a Nazirite? Maybe. Jesus was a Nazarene, but there is much confusion over what this word means. Matthew, in verse 2:23, claims that Jesus hailed from Nazareth, and thus fulfilled the Biblical requirement that he would be a Nazarene. But the word “Nazarene” might stem from the word “netzer,” meaning a branch or off-shoot, referring presumably to the claim that Jesus would be a descendant of David. Or it can mean Nazirite.
Not that Jesus would have been a Nazarene/Nazirite from birth, but perhaps he later took the vow of purity, dedicating himself to God. And indeed, maybe he did, as he spoke these words:
Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. –Mark 14:25
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God
//How do we know, when we hear instruction from another, that it comes from God? In the book Unfettered Spirit, Robert Cornwall presents three rules to help us critically examine any instruction we may hear. I thought these rules to be interesting enough to repeat. Three verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians will highlight the three rules.
1. First, as with today’s verse from 1 John, the instruction cannot contradict Jesus, or that Jesus is our Messiah.
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. –1 Cor 12:3
2. Next, it must be spoken in love.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. –1 Cor 13:1
3. Third, it must be to the benefit of the Church.
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. –1 Cor 14:4
by Thomas Daniel Nehrer
Wanna meet the real Jesus? From page one, I was hooked by Nehrer’s jaded dismissal of believers and scholars alike, and his promise of delivering the real Jesus. Nehrer, the mystic, reveals Jesus, the visionary … and he does it entertainingly well.
Nehrer is not religious, and finds no value in the Bible (other than as a historical oddity) outside the parables of Jesus. No sugar-coating, here. But don’t let Nehrer’s self-aggrandizing style turn you off. He over-values his credentials a bit–for example, his mystical background allows him to “see clearly what Jesus meant with his parables”–and thus commits the same error he warns us against: perceiving Jesus through the lens of his own worldview. But there’s nothing wrong with a little positive endorsement, right?
Nehrer promotes embracing “Oneness,” by which he means the connection between Self and experienced Reality. He prefers the term “Clear Awareness” for seeing deep into the Oneness and understanding how life works. That was Jesus’ insight: he understood life.
140 pages into the book, it shifts unexpectedly into a fictional narrative of Jesus’ “lost years.” Jesus is a smart, hard worker able to contribute at multiple jobsites, but he is driven to keep moving and learning. Nehrer feels he is “uniquely qualified” to take a stab at reconstructing where Jesus’ wanderlust carries him, because of his own extensive travel and spiritual journey as a young man. This fictional account continues for roughly 200 pages, and was my favorite part of the book, as Nehrer’s fiction is quite engaging.
In Nehrer’s recreation, Jesus is self-confident, not a goody-goody but quite likeable. He speaks in religious language when necessary, perhaps inventing a Heavenly Father image to help his listeners displace the vindictive, judgmental Yahweh. His vision is encapsulated in what he calls the Kingdom of God, describing (you guessed it) how life really works, but his greater knowledge is so contrary to the established religious regime–particularly the Temple class–and so difficult for everyday people to grasp that he struggles to make progress, and is eventually put to death.
A final section then discusses how Christianity was born out of the misunderstood message of Jesus. An interesting take on the life of Jesus, but far from the direction my own studies have led me.
Christian Alternative Books, © 2014, 401 pages
And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
//For anyone not familiar with the Donatists, they were the primary strand of Christianity in Africa in the fourth century. Followers of Donatus (though he was not its founding leader), the Donatists considered themselves purists in that they did not recognize the authority of anyone who had ever denounced his or her faith to avoid persecution. Such persons, they insisted, needed to be properly rebaptized—by a recognized authority, of course—back into the Church.
This schism in the church was one of the primary problems Saint Augustine fought to correct during his tenure as Bishop of Hippo. So how did Augustine combat the Donatists, restoring a single universal (Catholic) church? Verbal persuasion proved ineffective, and the schism grew violent. Imperial troops were brought into Africa to tear down Donatist churches and force their congregations back to the Catholic basilicas. Augustine at first opposed the use of force, but when it became clear that no other method would work, he turned to today’s verse. He took the phrase “compel them to enter” and applied it to mean forceful coercion of the Donatists.
Not all Donatists were persuaded by force, as one would expect of a movement founded on reverence for martyrdom, but never again would the Donatists be a major competitor to the Catholic Church.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
//I recall as a child wondering about this verse. What could possibly be comforting about the rod and staff? Who likes getting beat with a rod?
In case anyone else wonders about this verse, let’s put the phrase in context. The psalmist says rod and staff are a comfort when walking through the valley of the shadow of death. They presumably remove the fear of evil. But how?
The shepherd’s staff had a hook on the end, which he could use to snag a wayward sheep and bring it back from danger. The rod was carried not to correct the sheep but to defend against enemies. It was a long wooden pole with often a metal tip to protect against wild animals.
Both are symbols of God’s care and protection.
“Our Lord holds the seven stars?” Matthew looked up questioningly.
“I will explain in due time, my son. Now, sit with me.”
“Yes, Father,” Matthew acquiesced, rightly perceiving this as not the time for attitude. He sat down, leaning against the rock wall, quite happy to delay his studies even if the interruption didn’t give him opportunity to play; even if he received no silver for his attention.
“You remember my telling you about Jesus of Nazareth, don’t you? The Son of God, they called him?”
“Of course I remember!” Matthew couldn’t help rolling his eyes as he recalled all the days he’d spent with his father’s Christian friends. “Some called him the Messiah, but others say he died a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans.”
“Yes, the Romans crucified him on a cross. My heart has been heavy, Matthew, ever since we escaped the Holy City and fled here to the church of Ephesus. The fathers here have been kind to us these twelve years, but still I wonder. How could things have gone so wrong? If Jesus is the risen Messiah, why didn’t he fight for us during the war? How could he let our holy Temple be destroyed? How could God allow such destruction in Zion, and then how could his Son delay his return for so long afterward? Have we been forgotten? Or was Jesus not the Messiah after all? These thoughts have often troubled me.”
Unsure of how to address his father’s doubts, Matthew coughed into a fist, buying time. Fathers should have answers, not questions. This already felt like an uncomfortable initiation into the adult world. “Jesus told us the Temple would be destroyed,” he remembered. “Not one stone left upon another. What he said came true!”
Samuel smiled and placed an affectionate hand on the shoulder of his only surviving child. “You’ve been paying attention at the communion meals, haven’t you? I knew you were ready for this discussion. Matthew, do you remember John, the son of Zebedee?”
–Revelation: The Way It Happened, 2010, p. 9, by Lee Harmon
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
//To fully understand today’s verse, you must put yourself back in the time of Paul, an age when virtually everyone was concerned about evil spirits. The “angels” in today’s verse clearly refers to evil angels, not good ones. Likewise, “principalities and powers” do not refer, as you might think, to political powers, but to spiritual beings. Principalities and powers are particularly evil beings, very commonly referenced as such in ancient literature.
Paul is saying that all such demons are powerless before Christ. We do not need to worry about the dark forces all around us.
But what does it mean that “height nor depth” cannot separate us from the love of God? Especially when followed by “nor any other creature?” Are height and depth creatures too?
Yes! They refer to astral spirits in astronomical texts. The zenith and nadir, the highest and lowest point of the celestial sphere. Paul is probably referring to every astral spirit from the highest point to the lowest. Perhaps he means everywhere from heaven to hell.
Paul’s claim is that no demon, anywhere, no matter how powerful, can separate us from the love of God.
by Craig S. Keener
I have huge respect for Craig Keener’s work ever since his 2003 two-volume commentary on the Gospel of John. It was largely instrumental in researching for my own book about John’s Gospel, and I believe has become the primary resource for Johannine studies. So when IVP sent me this brand new second-edition 800-page New Testament commentary, I was quite excited.
As a reference book, it doesn’t disappoint. Scholarly and interesting, each book of the New Testament is given a short introduction detailing authorship and setting, and then a verse-by-verse commentary. The verses are clustered and topical, so it’s easy to page through the book looking for topics of interest. Be aware that Keener’s emphasis differs from other commentaries; he is less interested in providing simple exegesis than in painting a picture of the first-century setting whereby a saying or statement can be understood. Note the title: this is a “Bible Background Commentary.” It is about the cultural background and what was going on in Bible days that colored the writings we read two thousand years later.
It’s this focus that gives this reference book its unique niche. A few examples of Keener’s focus will help explain what makes this a must-have resource for sermon development or (in my case) writing Bible commentary:
Matthew 5:22, about the “fires of Gehenna” for someone who calls his brother a fool: Keener doesn’t delve into the history of Gehenna but speaks to its metaphorical meaning as the opposite of paradise, and how some Jewish teachers envisioned eternal torture while others believed the wicked would be burned up.
Acts 2:1-4, about the arrival of the Holy Spirit: Keener explains the Jewish anticipation of the return of the Spirit and its outpouring as a sign of the Messianic age.
1 Corinthians 11:14-15, about a woman wearing long hair as a head covering, while long hair on a man is a disgrace: Keener points out how ancient writers, especially Stoic philosophers, loved to make arguments from nature. Nature taught them that men could grow beards, but women’s hair naturally seemed to grow longer. Paul is well aware of the exceptions to the rule (such as the Nazirites) but draws on this observation more to make a point than to instruct his readers in how to wear their hair.
Intervarsity Press, © 2014, 816 pages
So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
//Revelation’s letters to the churches contain some fascinating subtleties that only come to light with historical study. I’ve written about some of these before. Here is another one.
The church at Laodicea was described as distastefully lukewarm, and God says he will spew them out of his mouth. I’m guessing John of Patmos (who wrote these words) had visited Laodicea, and came away less than impressed by the drinking water.
Laodicea was built not far from an enormous hot spring, and water was piped from this spring to the city. However, by the time it got there, it was lukewarm, fit for neither cleaning nor drinking.
Joseph is the foal of a wild donkey,
the foal of a wild donkey at a spring—
one of the wild donkeys on the ridge.
//This is part of the blessing of Jacob to his sons, as he prepares to die. I’ve quoted the New Living Translation here, to bring out an alternative translation of this verse. Most translations read like this:
Joseph is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough by a well;
His branches run over the wall.
Much different. Most scholars now prefer the “wild donkey” version, which brings up an interesting question. What is Jacob telling us? How did his son Joseph acquire the ways of a wild donkey? Perhaps it goes back to the day Joseph, probably as a young man, is sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites:
Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. –Genesis 37:28
Thus Joseph comes under the influence of the descendants of Ishmael. And what is said of Ishmael?
He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers. –Genesis 16:12
Did the Ishmaelite way rub off on Joseph? The good news is this: While Joseph remained a wild donkey, he did seem to overcome his “hostility toward all his brothers.”