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.

Short Take: Shepherds and Lambs

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the New Testament in 2015. Here’s my “short take” for the month.

God invited shepherds to visit the manger that night, then bear witness – not religious, civic, or business leaders (Luke 2:8-18). The God and Friend of ancient shepherds – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Abel, Moses – was not just being social. He was continuing a frequent and powerful symbol, declaring both who Jesus is to us – Shepherd and Lamb – and who we are to him. (See Isaiah 53:6-7; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Nephi 13:41; Helaman 15:13.)

Observers of shepherds’ ancient ways report details which help us understand the symbolism.

Shepherds lead from the front, instead of driving from behind. (“Follow me” – see Matthew 9:9John 1:43.)

A shepherd knows the face, personality, and name of each sheep.

Each shepherd has a unique call, which his sheep recognize. (“My sheep hear my voice . . . and follow me” – John 10:27.)

Sheep generally follow their shepherd, but sometimes bolt. The shepherd knows which sheep is missing and goes to find it. Bringing a sheep back on one’s shoulders is heavy, smelly work.

A proper shepherd doesn’t recoil from an ailing sheep. He ministers.

A shepherd is compassionate. Jewish tradition tells of Moses tending a flock before his prophetic call. One sheep bolts. He pursues it all the way to a familiar watering hole. He is kind and understanding, not angry, and says, “It was because of thirst that you strayed.” He lets it drink, then carries it back to the flock.

Finally – as a prelude to our year’s study of the New Testament – when sheep hear their shepherd’s voice, they raise their heads, turn to him, listen, and gather to him.