Reading the New Testament (Week 6)

This week’s reading is John 2-4. Jesus attends a wedding at Cana in Galilee, goes briefly to Capernaum, then heads south to Jerusalem for Passover, after which he preaches in Judea and briefly in Samaria on his way back to Galilee to preach.

Chronologically this period comes after Jesus returns to Galilee after his baptism and temptations, and ends as he preaches throughout Galilee, of which we read last week in Luke 4-5.

Reading the New Testament (Week 5)

This week’s readings are Matthew 4 and Luke 4 and 5. These chapters expand on some of the events we saw briefly in Mark 1 last week. So much happens that I won’t be attempting a complete commentary.

Temptations in the Desert

Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13

We begin with three approaches to Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ temptations: the logistics, which have theological implications; the temptations themselves and their relevance to us ordinary mortals; and Jesus’ scriptural responses, which, taken in context, emphasize a certain theme. Then we’ll briefly note some parallel events and passages in scripture.

Logistics: The Devil’s Role

The King James Version (KJV) and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) differ on key points, where Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness and his temptations are concerned. The KJV accounts raise some concerns.

Reading the New Testament (Week 4)

This week’s readings are Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3. These chapters are mostly parallel accounts, and we’ll look at them mostly in parallel, noting some distinct material along the way. They also partially overlap John 1 (last week) and Matthew 4 and Luke 4 and 5 (next week).

What Year Was It?

Luke 3:1-2

Luke begins with a historical note: It’s the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s rule over the Roman Empire, which began in AD 14. Therefore, by this reckoning, it’s now AD 28 or 29. However, the various methods scholars have used to fix the dates of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death vary by a few years in their conclusions. It’s widely thought that Jesus was born in 3 BC, or perhaps as early as 6 BC. (Note that the Roman practice of reckoning years by the birth of Christ began more than five centuries later, so some slippage would be plausible. Also, the year before AD 1 was 1 BC, not the year 0.)

This Wikipedia article, Chronology of Jesus, surveys of methods scholars have used to determine the year of Jesus’ birth, from political history to astronomy, as well as their different results.

Among Latter-day Saints, James E. Talmage discusses this question at the end of Chapter 8 of Jesus the Christ, considers the scholarship, and finally bases his conclusion that Jesus was born in AD 1 after all on modern revelation.

In any case, Luke puts Jesus at “about thirty years of age” when he begins his ministry (Luke 3:23), and John has Jesus attending at least three annual Passover feasts during his public ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55-57). The Book of Mormon has 33 years passing from the time of Jesus birth until his death (3 Nephi 8:2).

Reading the New Testament (Week 3)

This week’s reading is John 1. the first chapter of my favorite Gospel. (Sometime I should try to articulate why it’s my favorite.)

A quick note about the author: Before his apostolic ministry, John was a fisherman by trade. It was the family business, which was successful enough that they had “hired servants” (Mark 1:20).

John 1

John 1:1-5

Here are the first words of John’s book:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (KJV John 1:1-5)

It’s practically poetry, but what does it mean? We’ll turn shortly to the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) for help, but first let’s make what we can of the King James Version (KJV).

Reading the New Testament (Week 2)

This week’s New Testament readings are Luke 2 and Matthew 2.

Luke 2

Luke 2:1-7

There are few verses of scripture more familiar to Christians than these. We understand that this “tax” was more of a census, and I have read that by Roman law Joseph and Mary might have remained in Nazareth and registered there, but Jewish tradition declared that they should return to his — or their — ancestral home, Bethlehem, the City of David. Thus the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was fulfilled.

The Birth of Christ - Carl Bloch

As to where Jesus was born, I have often heard that it was probably a cave where animals were kept, not a barn. But I recently read an article by Ian Paul, “Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable.” He argues something entirely different. It’s an interesting exploration, though I am not scholar enough to evaluate it. See what you think.

In any case, the fact that he was born, the angelic announcements, and the role of the shepherds matter more than the specific structure and do not depend on it for their validity or significance. Even if what our imaginations have built may be shaky in purely historical terms — good grief, we sing of “bleak midwinter,” “snow on snow on snow,” and “a cold winter’s night,” which scarcely fit the climate — the text itself is mostly clear on the essentials.

Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds Abiding in the Fields - Carl Bloch

I have often reflected on the role of the shepherds in this story and heaven’s choice of shepherds for that role. Whether these were ordinary shepherds tending ordinary flocks or temple shepherds tending temple flocks matters little to our calculation of their humble station and circumstances.

Reading the New Testament (Week 1)

This Week’s Readings

This week’s readings are Matthew 1 and Luke 1. I’ll look at them separately, for the most part, though the Gospels often run in parallel. I’m a big fan of reading chapters and books whole, not just skipping around and cherry-picking whichever passages support the doctrinal point of the moment.

You’ll occasionally find me summarizing or retelling a passage without offering additional thoughts. I’ll do this either to connect with something earlier or later in the text (or discussion), or because sometimes merely retelling a passage in different words can be insightful.

Sometimes I will speculate, as I imagine what might have happened, given the sparse record we have. I’ll try to be be clear about that, when I do.

Reading the New Testament: Introduction (Week 0)

David Rodeback

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — like many other Christian churches, no doubt — we’re studying the New Testament in Sunday School this year. Latter-day Saint classes and congregations worldwide will more or less follow the same schedule, and members are invited to follow it in their personal and family scripture study. Interesting and fruitful things can and should happen when we study together this way.

If you hear a Latter-day Saint — we prefer that to Mormon — refer to “Come, Follow Me,” that’s either a beloved hymn or the title the Church has given to its revised multiyear curriculum. After we study the New Testament this year, presumably we’ll turn in subsequent years (not necessarily in this order) to the Old Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, to name the other books we accept as scripture, odd as most may sound to those of other faiths. I’ve read, studied, and loved all these books for years. But I’m glad it’s the New Testament this year.

I’m planning a weekly post here, with some of my thoughts as I study each week’s readings. I’ll try to post early in each week, for the sake of anyone who’s on schedule and finds my musings helpful.

Neighbors, Strangers, Pilgrims, Friends

I talked recently with some non-LDS friends and neighbors in Utah Valley. They’ve lived here for years, and they know us Mormons (officially, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) quite well. In speaking of their experience here, they praised us for welcoming their particular religious minority among us. I gratefully add that they were philosophical and forgiving about our occasional clumsiness and outright failures on that score over the years.

Welcome to Utah sign

When we truly welcome others into our towns and neighborhoods – and homes, hearts, and circles of friends – we’re not just being nice. We’re obeying two key commandments. Both are literally as old as Moses.