The Dead Sea Scrolls, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, and Early Christian Interpretation

eta53uf0ste-samantha-schollThe identity of Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah has been central to theological reflection since the earliest days of Christianity. Indeed, Martin Hengel states in Between Jesus and Paul that by the time Paul wrote his letters, the term Christos had already become strongly intertwined with the name of Jesus—and without losing its messianic connotations (2003, pp.74-77). This position is also supported by N.T. Wright in his essay, “Messiahship in Galatians?” (2014, pp.4-7).

For these early Christian communities, the belief that Jesus had lived and died “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3, NRSV), as Paul phrased it, was no mere secondary issue. In fact, as Richard B. Hays contends in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, the first Christians were actually very concerned to show that, “Jesus’ teachings and actions, as well as his violent death and ultimate vindication, constituted the continuation and climax of the ancient biblical story” (2016, p.5). Among the many Old Testament texts that early believers drew upon to better understand the redemptive meaning of their Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection, the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah 40-55 turned out to be among the most significant passages for them. Continue reading

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Approaches to Reading the Parables

fancy-treeIn each of the four canonical Gospels, extended attention is given to the events that led up to and culminated in Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection. It’s for this reason that the gospel accounts have sometimes been described as “passion narratives with extended introductions.” Without taking away from the obvious importance placed by the gospel writers on the cross and resurrection, though, I think it’s also worth pointing out how much space is given (at least in the synoptic Gospels) to Jesus’ parables.

Jesus was known for being a storyteller. In fact, Richard Lischer notes in Reading the Parables that in the synoptic gospels, “the parables constitute approximately 35 percent of everything Jesus is reported to have said” (2014, p.5). Mark even tells his readers that when it came to the surrounding crowds, “He [Jesus] did not say anything to them without using a parable” (4:34a, NRSV). Of course, the function of the parables in Jesus’ proclamation and enactment of the Kingdom is not without controversy. In some places—especially in Mark—it is uncertain whether the parables were told in order to conceal or reveal. Regardless, it’s clear that the telling of parables formed an important rhythm in Jesus’ ministry. Continue reading

Reading Israel’s Scripture with Fresh Eyes: A Review of Richard B. Hays’ “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels”

echoes of scriptureIn the Gospel of John, Jesus makes a pretty astonishing claim: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (5:46, NRSV). Similarly, Luke remarks in his account of Jesus’ conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that “he [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (24:27, NRSV).

In one way or another, this claim that the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection took place “according to the scriptures” sits at the heart of the Christian confession. But what does it mean to say that Moses wrote about Jesus? In the modern era, these sorts of claims have fallen on rather hard times. In the introduction of Echoes of Scripture in the GospelsRichard B. Hays brings up the German scholar Udo Schnelle, who brushes aside the possibility of doing “biblical theology” because “the Old Testament is silent about Jesus Christ” (p.3). Hays suggests that the writers of the New Testament would be surprised to learn this. For them, Christ’s resurrection provided the integrative “hermeneutical clue” that allowed them to reread Israel’s Scriptures with fresh eyes and find Jesus prefigured in them (p.3). Hays explains that one of the goals of his book is to offer: Continue reading

Love One Another: Craig Koester on Discipleship in John

the word of lifeAmong the four canonical Gospels, John’s account has long been seen as distinctive. His narrative is suffused with poetic symbols, dualistic language, and vivid imagery. The parables we find Jesus telling throughout the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are for the most part nowhere to be found in John. Instead, we find extended discourses from Him exploring the various dimensions of His relationship with the Father and the rest of the world. John’s Gospel also has a number of unique stories about Jesus. These episodes include the “I am” statements of Jesus (ex. “I am the light of the world” or “I am the bread of life”), as well as Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus and His wedding miracle at Cana. All of these things help make John’s written portrait of Jesus unique and valuable, but they can also make reading John a disorienting experience, especially for those used to the language and rhythms of the Synoptic Gospels. Craig Koester’s book, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel, is a great introduction that helps perplexed readers familiarize themselves with the major themes and distinctive features of John.

In the preface, Koester explains that reading John theologically means having the courage to ask questions. Questions like, “Who is the God about whom Jesus speaks? Who does the Gospel say that Jesus is? And how does the Gospel understand life, death, sin, and faith?” (p.ix). Because these sorts of questions get raised repeatedly throughout the narrative, thinking through them necessitates reflecting on the Gospel as a whole, rather than just focusing on one or two single passages and extrapolating from there. This is what Koester attempts to do throughout the book, looking at the entire Gospel to investigate how John’s portrayal of Jesus forms answers to these questions. In this post, we’re going to spend our time exploring Koester’s perspective on the life of discipleship in John, looking especially at some of the lesser known stories and metaphors used by Jesus to help His disciples get a clearer picture of what following Him is supposed to look like. Continue reading