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.

“Fit Us for Heaven” (Thoughts on a Christmas Afternoon)

I’ve been thinking a lot about music during this Christmas season. It’s not just because Offspring #3 is playing at Carnegie Hall (a concert last night and another on Friday; I wish we were there). And it’s not just because my wife’s organ playing in our Christmas service on Sunday afternoon was as glorious as ever, if not more so. At least since my teen years, when I made my share of it, the music of Christmas has been my favorite part of the season.

Christmas music

My favorite hymns, carols, and performances thereof have varied somewhat over the years – though mostly in the sense that my list of favorites has multiplied. Even now, after more than half a hundred Christmases, I am still adding favorites. For example, last year an old hymn, “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” made the list. I now have four different recordings of it on my iPhone, and I like them all. (See below for a performance on YouTube.)

Beyond Bethlehem

This season, bits of text more than whole songs have had me pondering. I’ve long appreciated Christmas hymns which celebrate but also look beyond the (mostly) sweet story of the Savior’s birth. For example, “Once in Royal David’s City” looks to a glorious future (again, see below for a video):

One Savior, Four Gifts (Easter Thoughts)

Easter

I have known people who thought their lives were wonderful, or at least happy, or at least good enough – until something awful happened to them or to people they love. I have known people who, from an early age, suffered in ways and degrees that convinced them – and others – that their lives could never be wonderful, or even happy, or even good enough.

The message of Easter, the holiest of Christian holy days, is that eventually, through the infinite grace of Jesus Christ, when all our becoming is done, our lives can and will be good enough.

Even happy.

Even wonderful.

Easter flowers

Circle the Wagons? Or Leaven the Loaf?

Circle the Wagons

Wagon trains crossing the plains parked their wagons in a tight circle at night for two reasons. The circle was a somewhat defensible, makeshift fort, in case the company came under attack. And it formed a sort of corral, to keep cattle and other livestock from scattering.

circle the wagons

The age of wagon trains is long passed, and “circling the wagons” has become a metaphor for the way we sometimes treat outsiders, when we feel threatened by their presence, their choices, or their views. Even in a religious context, we try to keep some people in and shut others out – as if sin were a germ we could catch against our will, and only on the outside.

As if we could fence in our children forever, to protect them, rather than preparing them to live and serve in the world.

As if we weren’t already sinners too.

As if you must agree with me about religion, politics, fashion, sports teams, tattoos, and adult beverages in order to fit the commandment I’ve been given to love my neighbor. (See Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Doctrine and Covenants 59:6.)

As if God didn’t have a higher calling for us.