We are in the midst of our final Gospel, John and we should have at least one post on the Gospels as a whole. The word Gospel ”Euaggelion” means “Good News,” or “Good Announcement,” This is a (mostly) unique type of literature to Christianity that is in no way our modern biography. We hear of the stories of Jesus Christ and it is of note, that all of our Gospels were written after his death, probably between 65-100 AD/CE.
The first three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they can be viewed in line or side by side. These three are so similar that there is likely a source connection between them. That is, one or more of the Gospels knew about the other and there maybe another source out there (another Gospel). Let’s look at a few theories about the authorship and sources of these first three Gospels.
The Griesbach Hypothesis has Matthew as the oldest with Luke uses Matthew to write that Gospel and Mark using both Luke and Matthew. But, Mark omits some of the stories that Matthew and Luke have in common… That makes it unlikely that this theory is correct.
The most agreed-upon theory for the origin of the Gospels authorship and composition is with the two-source hypothesis (also four source). This theory places Mark as the oldest Gospel and is likely the case. In this theory, Matthew uses Mark and an unknown source that we call Q. Luke uses Mark and unknown source Q as well. In this scenario, Luke and Matthew do not know about each other. This theory has the fewest unanswered questions.
Q? Yes, we think that there is another source or Gospel out there that Luke and Matthew used (but is not used by Mark). We call this document or source, Q. Only God knows if we will ever discover such a Gospel or source and it is likely destroyed centuries ago. I’m hoping Indiana Jones will uncover this for us in the next movie.
What about John? John’s narrative is poetic and theological. It is the most simple language and yet the most complex ideas. John likely knew of other Gospels as all four, for example, have the feeding of the multitudes. John also has unique material such as story about the adulterer about to be stoned…”you without sin may cast the first stone…”
This post touches on authorship and some theories and there are scholars who have dedicated their careers to such research. We read these Gospels as independent and yet symbiotic documents for our understanding of Jesus, the person, our God, and Savior. Holding such knowledge enables us to approach the documents in new ways. God did not write our Holy Scriptures but inspired such documents. The revelation of God as we experience it in Christianity is in the person of Jesus Christ which dwells in and with each of us today.
We are deep in the book of Numbers now and, if you have not yet gathered, numbers themselves have significance throughout the Bible. The book of Numbers is named for the census (that part where you may have nodded off) that takes place at the beginning and end of the book (about 603,550 and 601,730 males 20 years old and older respectively). We often see numbers such as 3 (Holy Trinity!) or 7 (How many days in creation?), and, of course 12.
Why is the number 12 such a significant number? God made a promise, covenant, with Abraham and this covenant was established and re-established with Abraham's son, Isaac, and then Jacob. Jacob (later named Israel) had twelve sons and this covenant was passed onto the nations of Israel, that is the nations derived from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). The link between the twelve tribes of Israel and associated covenant that God made with them is then embedded in other areas where we see that number. Whenever we see that number, those writing and the readers, know that it is not only a factual number but symbolic of God's promise to them as God's people.
Throughout the Israelite history, we then see the number twelve and its multiples in many locations from the number of military divisions (1 Chronicles 27:1-15), to items for the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:5), and in other locations. Perhaps those establishing rules or numbers used this number to signify God's presence. It would be seen as advantageous, for example, to have such a significant number and presence on your side during battle.
When we cross into the New Testament, we see 12 in many locations there as well with the most obvious being "The Twelve!" or the disciples of Jesus. Also, remember in Mark when Jesus sets off to heal a daughter who was 12 years old and is stopped along the way by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for, wait for it, 12 years (Mark 5)? The intentional use of the number 12 in the New Testament carries over the symbolism of God's particular presence, a sign of God's continued promise, and the extension of that saving promise to all, inclusive of the gentiles. Israel is restored but is not limited to the geographical and tribal limitations as seen on the above map. It is now -re-established through The Twelve and carried out through Christ's church, established by Christ and carried out by such workers as the original 12 disciples and all of us today.
When Noah hit dry land, he placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the promise made to him and we recall that promise when we see a rainbow. Biblical writers and even the people our stories have the number 12 everywhere as a sign of God's promise to all people completed in Christ. We carry this significant number over into our secular lives as a "dozen" is used as a prominent means of measurement (and likely originated from this promise!). Take note of 12 and its multiples in the Bible (and everywhere) and remember the significance of this number with promise and Presence by and with God extends to you and all of us today.
- Much of the research for this article came from Joseph F. Scrivner in his article "Twelve," in The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.
Since this is my first attempt to ever read the entire Bible, I was hoping the habit and accountability would be ingrained in my daily routine within a few short weeks. Little did I realize it was only a matter of days for the Bible treading to pleasantly capture my daily routine. It must be from the Bible’s spiritual inspiration and wisdom combined with the fellowship of knowing so many others are reading the same scripture as I read each day. In fact, I found myself reading too far ahead, even reading the notes in my New Oxford NRSV Annotated Bible, and beginning to weaken that feeling of fellowship, so I had to slow the pace to resynchronize and regain that feeling of fellowship. I have not taken the step of going into Zabriskie’s “The Bible Challenge” though. I hope everyone is finding fulfillment as we progress through the Good Book together in a year. Warm regards, Colgate Salomon
What's with the incredibly long lifespans in the Old Testament? How do we interpret it when someone lives to be 900? Was it real? What does it mean?
Our minds like to approach such historical texts as how we approach the history books from our education system. However, they were not written in the same way nor were they intended to be taken as literal history. Noah lived 950 years and is only outlived by Jared who lived 962 years. "Adam would still have been alive during the lifetime of Noah's father Lamech," states biblical scholar Michael Coogan, "and Noah would still have been alive when Abraham was born." If not literally, then why?
The number of years often have significance such as Enoch who lived 365 years, the same as the number of days in a year or Lamech who lived to be 777, symbolic of retribution to be given as one of Cain's descendants. Pay attention to the specific number and there is usually a reason it is assigned.
We also note that gradually, people start to live normal lifespans. The chart above shows a gradual decrease over time and a drastic decrease after the flood. Long life was associated with divine favor and the decrease in lifespans indicated a decrease in divine favor. While this might not be literal, it indicates a growing decrease in favor from God over time to the point of necessary redemption from God. God's promise through the covenant continues and humankind, as we do, wrestles with our ability to follow such a covenant exactly. We are humans and we fall away from our promises to God, but we return!
Compared to other narratives at the time, our biblical characters actually lived a shorter period of time. King Alulim of Eridu reigned for 28,800 years and other kings reigned for 64,800 years. Still other kings are written to have reigned for more than 385,000 years! Look at the epic of Gilgamesh which occurred during much of our biblical times and he reigned as king for 126 years. These Sumerian texts seem to exaggerate lifespan much more than our Hebrew texts.
By the first millennium BCE, our lifespans became more normal. This is closer to the time when God became incarnate for the redemption of the earth. A flood destroyed the peoples of the earth and now God came down to redeem all the peoples in heaven and on earth. The theology describes a decreasing ability to stay within our covenant until the redemption through the power of God in Christ with the New Covenant.
As we grow older, we certainly comprehend that time is relative. It tends to speed up on us! How might we use our lifespan to glorify God in the knowledge that we are offered hope through a God who became incarnate and died after only 33 years. Perhaps we interpret not length but in how we build our relationship with the God who created us and who offers a promise of love, more than divine favor, but an open invitation to an eternal relationship. And, how do we share each day to the Glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
- Much of the research from this post is from Michael D. Coogan's book, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures. If you are reading from the Oxford Annotated Bible, he is one of the primary contributors.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is pictured above in his ornate vestments as leading Bishop in the Anglican Church of which we are a part. Each piece of clothing and color have a particular meaning and there are particular reasons for wearing them. Weddings, Baptisms, Confirmations, and other days of celebration often bring out the fanciest of liturgical attire.
I was probably not the only one whose eyes glossed over a bit with the description of this clothing for the priesthood of Aaron. I returned to read it more carefully. While this passage is not prescriptive for the modern church, it described something special. When we encounter God's presence, you see biblical characters remove their shoes, bow their heads, and more. When they represent God, they do so with intention.
St. David's does not inhibit attendance based upon how we look when we go to church. In fact, I love to see soccer uniforms alongside suits. Worship is accessible from all who desire to come and we are authentic in that belief, Thanks be to God.
There is a reason we arrive, as we are or dressed up. We come to worship and give thanks to our God especially as was made incarnate in Christ. Our space is beautiful and we organize the service, including vestments and altar hangings intentionally. Our focus does not move toward how we look in outward appearance for each other but in the intention of our hearts when we enter that space and encounter each other in the name of Jesus. Bishop Doyle reminds us this week that our worship of God extends into our lives when we walk out of the door. That same intention, when brought to worship is then carried out into our lives.
Whether it is in our dress, actions, or words, know the intent is for God who sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins and whose Resurrection offers an eternal hope.
The Rev. William L. Packard
I am excited to read the Bible with you, not only for the knowledge and ability to say, "I've read the whole thing," but for the wonderful things that occur when Scripture is read intentionally each day.
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