Who Is God?
AS KNOWN IN OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT
Biblical Exegesis and Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL SSL
PICTURE DEVELOPS GRADUALLY!
PRENOTE: You may want to have your Bible at hand as reference.
As far back as we can go in the written records of mankind, there has been a penchant to create or depict a Supreme Being or beings. These beings were given all sorts of names and their lives were developed in numerous ways. In Hebrew, the general conglomeration or mixture of these gods was called the ELOHIM or the ELIHIM.
It is a plural word and is found in the oldest accounts of the Old Testament (OT). The plural was chosen because they thought there were many gods. Gradually, the Hebrew beliefs centered on one God, whom they called “YAHWEH.” No one is sure what this name is supposed to mean. However, it is the “hiphil” or causative form of the verb “to be” and means “He causes to be.” Hence its meaning would be something like the “SURROUNDING PRESENCE” or “PROTECTIVE PRESENCE.”
The teachers and writers of the OT looked upon Yahweh as a father. They saw him as a “PRESENCE” in the life of each follower in much the same way as a person often feels the “presence” of Dad or Mom in his/her daily life. The parent may be dead or far away but a decision has to be made or an act to be performed. The person automatically recalls what Dad or Mom would say, exactly as if he or she were present. This sense of “PRESENCE” is the notion of “Yahweh” in the entire Old Testament. Each writing gives us some development of this “FATHER” so that he becomes ever more real to each of his followers.
People get their sense of “parental presence” from living with their parents and growing into adulthood with them. This same sense of understanding of the divine presence must be obtained from the pictures developed by the OT people, teachers, and writers.
Jesus Christ came, and his whole life and teaching were concerned with this one notion. He was the ideal son because of the way in which he thought and acted. He was so convinced of his ideas that he insisted they be handed on by all his followers.
The New Testament (NT) is primarily a description of how this presence should govern our lives - especially in our relationship to all the people around us. Jesus summarized the whole notion in the command: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (MT 5:48).
Once the notion of God as “surrounding presence” was determined and a name was given him, this question arose: “What is he like?” The teachers and writers of the OT went from idea to idea trying to determine and describe the nature of this God.
It is good to trace this development and to see how it was picked up in the NT. Then the emphasis shifted. Jesus was thoroughly convinced they had arrived at the notion of who God was. Now the question is how should people live in order to be worthy of this God? The New Testament is a presentation of the various aspects of human life in reference to this world and to God.
The story of Genesis was written and edited again and again through the centuries. The latest development is found in the opening lines. God is the MAKER of the Universe. Everything in the universe depends on God for its origin, existence, and proper functioning.
Human beings have a special role in this universe but it must be exercised according to the plan of God. Human beings wander farther and farther from this wise governance and they destroy themselves.
One group of people, under the guidance of some wise leaders, began their search for this true God again. The founder was first called “Abram,” “noble” or “lofty” Father. This was changed to “Ab-Ra-Ham” which is interpreted “Father of many peoples.” Gradually these peoples were formed into a single nation, with their belief in a single God and the life that this entailed. They developed a strong unity through adversity such as persecution, slavery, and a nomadic life.
The name of this God was “YAHWEH” and he was a wise lawgiver. He chose Moses as his representative and through Moses gave the basic law that was to be followed. This stage showed a strong emphasis on monotheism and the need to obey Yahweh’s laws and plans or suffer the consequences.
This God expected the expression of obedience and reverence not only in daily life but also in ritual form. Some rites were developed in the course of the wandering in the desert. Once the people were established in the land, this liturgical life was fully developed under the guidance of a special group at priests.
NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY, JOSHUA, JUDGES, RUTH.
This development of allegiance to Yahweh was not a one-way street. There were many backslidings and failures as we see in the accounts of the times. NUMBERS, JOSHUA, JUDGES gave detailed accounts of these failures and the resultant penalties or punishments for the people. DEUTERONOMY was called the “Second Law” in the Greek. This was due to a faulty idea that it was a second version of the Torah. Actually, Deuteronomy was a book that came from the time and influence of Jeremiah. It stressed many of the ideas and warnings characteristic of the preaching of Jeremiah.
RUTH is an idyllic short story about a non-Israelite girl who married into the Chosen People and through her husband was an ancestor of David and later of Jesus. This short story is valuable because of its description of customs and practices of the times.
SAMUEL, KINGS, CHRONICLES.
KINGSHIP OF YAHWEH - KING DAVID
The people were partially settled in the land west of the Jordan. They had begun to fall into the idolatrous practices of the natives of the place. One man, Samuel, felt a strong drive to get these people back on the right track. He stressed the absolute necessity of only one God, Yahweh, and the leading of lives that were worthy of him. Samuel saw the people going farther and farther from the ideal and then they demanded a king just like all their neighbors. Samuel resisted the movement but the demand got louder and stronger. Samuel realized that they would set up a kingdom with or without him so he decided he had better keep his hand in the projected plan.
A king, Saul, was chosen and anointed. Immediately the people turned to the idolatrous practices of their neighbors. Saul went from bad to worse and died a violent death. His successor was a young man, named David.
David got off to a good start because he had been the leader of the army in their fighting with the natives of the land and had been kept very busy. Once the wars were over, David fell into the ways of the pampered monarch. He married several women. But Nathan, another prophet, was able to keep some control. He succeeded in getting Solomon crowned as successor to David.
Solomon built a beautiful Temple for the worship of Yahweh. At first everything seemed to move in this direction. Then Solomon fell into the numerous wives syndrome and the idolatry that went with it. Each of the wives brought along some of her gods.
After the deaths of Samuel, Nathan and Solomon, the kingdom went from bad to worse. It was split into a northern and southern kingdom. The north was openly idolatrous and the south was not far behind. Then a group of teachers, known as seers or prophets or official teachers, strove to bring the people back on course. Sometimes they succeeded but the general movement was farther and farther away from the worship of Yahweh into the paths of idolatry. Each of the prophets was extremely helpful in the development of the notion of the true God.
Today, the prophets would be called reporters. They made it their job to ferret out the facts and assess their meaning in relation to the plan of Yahweh. Then they made suggestions or threats as to what would happen in the future if the people did not live in keeping with the plan of Yahweh.
Isaiah is really the story and the teaching of several men. The first and the founder of the group was a teacher, named Isaiah. Others followed his lead over a span of centuries, and their teachings were attached to the scrolls of Isaiah. The entire work stretched from about 738 B.C. to the late 400’s B.C. The book is divided into four sections. Isaiah I: chapters (cc) 1-36; Historical interlude: cc. 36-39; Isaiah II: cc. 40-55; Isaiah III: cc. 56-66. This last section is sometimes divided into several pieces but such division does not add to the understanding.
Isaiah I: Chapters 1-36.
Yahweh is presented primarily as the HOLY God. The people have become so involved in the lust and debauchery of idolatrous worship as part of the fertility cults that they were detestable to Yahweh. The conversion of the people to true holiness was demanded.
Isaiah II: Chapters 40-55.
Yahweh is seen in his JUSTICE. He allowed his people to be decimated and destroyed and the remnant taken into captivity. Now he offered them forgiveness and comfort if they truly repented. However, he demanded sincerity or he would have nothing to do with them.
This portion of Isaiah has four “SERVANT SONGS” that will be important in the development of the ideas and ideals of Jesus, and the manner in which he explained his teachings. (cc. 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).
Isaiah III : Chapters 56-66.
This section showed the demands of Yahweh for the sincere conversion of the remnant in Palestine and, at the same time, the total failure of the majority. Yahweh was adamant.
The overall picture of Yahweh in Isaiah is the Holy God who refused to be contaminated with the idolatry in the land. He could not be fooled, cajoled, ignored or bought off. Either the people accepted his holiness and live accordingly, or they would be destroyed by their own crimes.
These dates are not the whole lifetime of the prophet but they are the crucial years. The writings extended from the call of Jeremiah to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the remnant was carried into captivity.
Jeremiah was a perceptive man with a tender conscience. He saw the crimes of the people and felt compelled to speak out against them - especially against the leaders. However, he was not a member of the upper class or the priestly group and so he ran into real problems. He was physically beaten and threatened with death. He decided to keep quiet but his conscience stirred him and he had to speak.
His picture of Yahweh was a Holy God who would not tolerate any sinfulness. He particularly detested the bad example of the leaders who thought they were above the law. Yahweh had given up on any thought of conversion and was definitely going to let the people be crushed. However there was one hope. In the future, there would be a NEW PEOPLE and a NEW COVENANT in a NEW LAND. (Jer. 31:31-34).
LAMENTATIONS. 597-587 B.C.
This set of songs of Jeremiah stressed the holiness of Yahweh in a special way and the impossibility of his tolerating any sin.
Baruch is presented as a sort of secretary to Jeremiah. The book that carries his name does not add much to the picture of “Who is God” but it is accepted as one of the writings of the Old Testament Canon.
Ezechiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah but greatly different. First of all, he belonged to the priestly class, so he was able to speak strongly without fear of repercussions.
His style of oratory was totally different. He had visions and spoke in mysterious pictures. He performed many, almost weird, actions. He did his work in the Babylonian captivity where he was deported with the first wave of captured people.
Ezechiel stressed the glory of Yahweh and the need of conversion to holy lives in order to be worthy of this glory. He pointed out the filth and abomination of the fertility cults, and how degrading this so-called worship truly was. His great contribution to the picture of “Who is God” is the notion of INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY.
When the people reached the captivity in Babylon and saw all the suffering and deprivation, they had to have someone to blame. They claimed they were innocent and that their ancestors were the ones who had sinned. Ezechiel agreed that their ancestors had sinned. But he pointed out that they themselves had not been pure lilies. However, said Ezechiel, in the future each person will be judged for his or her own individual actions. There will be no more of this common guilt and putting blame on the group for good or bad. (c. 18)
Ezechiel was the teacher who began to talk about the new CREATIVE BREATH or SPIRIT that would be given to the people who cooperated with Yahweh (36:26-28). Ezechiel stressed that this new creation would be the new covenant that Jeremiah talked about. The foundation for the New Adam and the New Creation was laid with this teacher. In fact, the followers of Ezechiel were the ones who re-fashioned the whole story of the first creation and re-edited it.
Daniel was a teacher who arose during the tumult of the Maccabean period. Daniel again stressed the holiness of Yahweh and the impossibility of his tolerating any of the excesses of the idolatry that were prevalent. The Abominable Idol of the pagans had been installed in the Holy of Holies itself. The people had stooped lower than ever before in their immoral conduct.
Daniel proclaimed the creative power, the holiness and wisdom of Yahweh. He demanded that these attributes be recognized by his people and manifested in the moral lives that they lead.
There are several dramatic scenes in this short work. The best known is the handwriting on the wall and the prediction of the final destruction of even the remnant of the people of Yahweh. From this time to the coming of Jesus, only the individual person would be accepted by Yahweh if he/she lived according to his ideas and ideals.
Gabriel, Gabri-el, came into the picture as the messenger from Yahweh who interpreted the dreams and visions. Gabriel will be a connecting link with the beginnings of the New Covenant. Much of the imagery, language and ideas of Daniel will come into the gospel writing, and especially the Apocalypse of John.
During this same time, from the 8th to the 2nd centuries B.C., there were several other well-known teachers or prophets who developed aspects of Yahweh’s personality. They are frequently called “minor” prophets - not because their messages were less important but because there is not as much of their teachings extant.
Hosea was a contemporary of Isaiah I. His message was also concerned with the holiness of Yahweh and the insult that he saw in the fertility cults that had overrun the land. Hosea developed all his ideas from the viewpoint of marriage and the marriage contract. Yahweh was the husband and Israel was the wife. Israel had been unfaithful over and over again. Yahweh had forgiven but the conversion did not last. Now Israel was going to be punished in the most severe fashion ever, and the majority of the people would be destroyed forever.
Amos was a contemporary of Isaiah I and Hosea. His message was the same, the holiness of Yahweh. However, his presentation was different. Amos was a farmer, or more precisely, a vineyard-keeper. He had no formal education and, as he said, he had no finesse in his manner of presentation. He saw the evil that was being perpetrated by the people. He knew how offensive this was to the holiness of Yahweh. He would speak his piece and then get back to his vineyards.
Amos was blunt in his predictions of the punishments that were to come and was particularly explicit in his condemnation of the women of the upper class. Amos called the women “the fat cows of Bashan.” Bashan was the cattle country across the Jordan. It was noted for its fat cows and strong bulls. Amos made a vivid comparison between the women of the court and those cows, and related in graphic terms what their punishment would be. He condemned the men as well but he was particularly severe with the upper class women.
His point was that their lives were an abomination to the holiness of Yahweh. Amos could not tolerate their scandal, and he would see to it that this lesson was clearly understood by all the people.
JOEL. 400 and 150-100 B.C.
This book was written in two different time periods in much the same way as the Book of Isaiah. One part is written in the narrative style. The other part is in the apocalyptic style of the 2nd century B.C.
As in all the other prophets, the holiness of Yahweh is stressed against the sins of the people. Joel is famous for his description of the punishment as a plague of locusts. He carefully pointed out that the punishment would not be over and done with in one movement. Like the locust plague, there would be three successive waves of the insects so that absolutely no one had a possibility of escaping.
The apocalyptic description of the punishment is the exact opposite of the creation picture. The sun will no longer give its light, the moon and stars will fall from the heavens, the universe will go into a tailspin. All will be horror and destruction. The picture was very graphic in order to make the people realize how they had offended the holiness of Yahweh.
OBADIAH. 5th-4th Century B.C.
This prophecy has only 21 verses. Little is known for certain about the man or the teaching. The theme is the destruction of the people of Edam to the satisfaction of Israel. Edam was a name given to the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob or Israel. This is probably why it is included in this part of the Old Testament. The only positive quality of Yahweh that can be learned from the writing is that he is a God who exacts total justice from everyone.
This book is entirely narrative. Most read the story in simplified form and know the main event. The prophet was swallowed by a whale. He lived in the belly of the whale for three days. Then on the third day he was set out on land, safe and sound, courtesy of the whale.
For a long time, the book was held up as evidence of the inaccuracy of the Bible stories. Whales are big animals. However the throat of a whale is very small and he could choke on a large orange. How then could he swallow a whole man? Then the sperm whale was discovered and they learned that this animal could swallow the whole rear end of a dory with no problem. Another problem was brought up. How could a person stay alive in the gastric juices of such a large animal? To these questions, there are no answers.
Most probably the story would never have gained much prominence except that Jesus referred to it as a symbol or sign of his own burial and resurrection. My own version is that it is a popular story that grew with the telling. The story was intended to amuse and instruct. It showed us a God who is demanding of penalties yet forgiving at the first sign of repentance.
Micah was a Judean, a native of Moresheth. He did his work just before and shortly after the fall of Samaria (721 B.C.) He was a peasant and had much in common with Amos. He was suspicious of city life. He tended to be blunt, almost vulgar, in his speech. He liked puns.
It is from Micah that we get the text concerning the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:6; Jno. 7:42). Micah was very clear in his threats of punishment for all those in charge of the people. He was especially hard on “false prophets.” These were the people who disregarded men like Micah and told the leaders not to worry.
Micah held out hope and especially pointed out the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. He stressed that the present generations would be punished for their sins but the redemption would come because of the wisdom of God’s plan and the holiness of his name.
ZEPHANIAH. c. 640-630 B.C.
The message of this prophet is quite short: The day of Yahweh will bring suffering and hardship not only on Israel but also on the pagan people roundabout. Judah will be punished for religious and moral corruption based on pride and a spirit of rebellion.
The most used part of this prophet is the “Dies Irae” in 1:14-18. The people had been talking about the “Day of Yahweh.” For them this phrase meant their deliverance from and triumph over all enemies. Zephaniah warned them that they had a completely false picture of this Day of Yahweh.
This would be a “Day of wrath, distress, agony, ruin, darkness, gloom, battle cry and defeat.” The prophet was talking about 587 B.C. when Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple was in shambles. Most of the people were destroyed and the rest were taken into captivity.
The sad part is that the Christian liturgy took this description out of context and gave it as a description of the terror of the individual’s death, and the terror of the final judgment at the end of the world. This misuse of a text in the Christian liturgy has given rise to a morbidity about human life that was never intended.
There is a ray of hope at the end of the prophecy (3:14-20). There would be cause for joy and happiness in the future because Yahweh would repeal this disastrous sentence. Finally, Israel would be able to find joy, happiness, and victory in the world again.
This is an unusual prophecy in that the teacher was concerned only with the destruction of Niniveh, the capital of Assyria. He saw this as evidence of the power of Yahweh and his rule over all nations. The prophet was probably holding this event out as bait to the Israelites to repent of their sins. Then they could be forgiven by Yahweh and not be destroyed. If they did not repent, they would certainly be wiped out in the same way in a few years.
The fall of Niniveh would certainly have given hope to the people of Israel. However, they did not learn the real lesson and only a few years later, they would be sacked and wiped out in the same way.
HABBAKUK. c. 605-597 B.C.
This short booklet is rather difficult to date. This date is chosen because the prophet seemed to be speaking to the people prior to the first siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.
The prophet asked a bold question of Yahweh. Why was Israel being punished by people who were openly greater sinners than the Israelites? Habbakuk gave a list of five “Woes” with all the threat that this word has:
Woe to the unjust oppressors! They take what is not theirs at the
expense of others. These oppressors will be destroyed
by Yahweh just as they destroyed other people.
Woe to those who exploit others to build up their own material worth.
All their wealth will not save them in time of trouble.
Woe to those who rule by violence: Their violence begets violence
and soon will destroy them.
Woe to those who are the source of scandal or stumbling to others.
Their very scandal will come back to haunt and punish them.
Woe to the idolaters. They set up pieces of wood, stone, gold and
silver as their gods. They ask that which cannot speak
to help them in their speech. The carved image is
dumber than the one who carved it.
The prophet ended his writing with a plea for deliverance from all this punishment and destruction which only Yahweh could bring about. God is seen as one who can deliver us from all punishment.
Haggai, also known by the Latin name, Aggeus, was the first of the post-exilic writings. The whole point of view was different. Before the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem, the prophets had talked continually of the punishment and destruction that threatened. They tried to scare the people into conversion from their evil ways. During the exile, the teachers were more concerned with consolation and encouragement. They wanted to lift the remnant out of its self-destructive sorrow and give them some new hope. Now, in the post-exilic period, after 538 B.C., the point was Restoration. The remnant, no matter how small, had to rebuild and get the people on its feet once again. Yahweh is always present - even in time of trouble.
The Temple would never reach its old glory. The people would never have the power and greatness they once enjoyed. But they must get the picture of victory and reconstruction started again. This Temple and the descendants of David would become the focus of the messianic hope.
This teacher, too, was encouraging a hesitant remnant to enter into the hard work of reconstruction. The people felt that they were inferior to the glory and splendor of the people of God in its greatness. They would not achieve the material greatness of old. The important point was to re-establish their basic goals and ambitions because they know that the promises of Yahweh were still true.
It is hard to give an exact date to this prophecy. First of all, the name means “My Messenger.” Was this a deliberate attempt to hide the identity of the teacher himself and just give his message? His Hebrew name means “Messenger of Yahweh.”
Two main themes run through the teaching. There was the failure of the priests and the people in their religious duties.
The language used against the priests is some of the strongest in the entire Old Testament. While sacrificing the various animals, there was much waste matter and dung. The prophet presented Yahweh as saying explicitly that he would throw the dung of their sacrifices in their faces. Put that in the vernacular and you can see how powerful the picture and words were.
This concludes the picture of Who Is God? according to the prophets of the Old Testament. As we said at the beginning, the prophets were teachers who arose because of some inner compulsion to lead the people back to Yahweh. In general, they were unsuccessful. The people went farther and farther away from Yahweh and his service because they did not listen or obey.
As stated in the Old Testament, the attributes of Yahweh are, first and foremost, his HOLINESS. He would not tolerate being associated with the objects of the fertility cults. He demanded holiness and a moral life from all who wanted to follow him or proclaim his kingship.
At times the punitive power of Yahweh was pointed out. The teachers were attempting to get the people to obey at least out of fear, if for no other reason. Yahweh was also seen as a very forgiving ruler as soon as there was the slightest indication of repentance.
Many of the other traits attributed to Yahweh would not appear clearly stated until the Didactic literature, a few centuries later. The teachers and writers of these scrolls would be the next stage in the providence of Yahweh for his people.
INTRODUCTION: Besides the Prophets who rose up spontaneously as teachers and reformers, there was another group known as the Didactic Writers. Some of them are called “Wisdom” writers because they discuss who a wise person really is. These writings are different from the prophets in that the writers were not oral preachers.
Didactic books are: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Qoheleth, Sirach, Song of Songs, and Wisdom. Parts of these books have appeared in various writings and teachings all through the Christian era. Some quotes are used so often that people forget where they come from. Each writing contributes its understanding to the question ‘Who Is God?”
This is a cleverly crafted writing. One theme runs through the entire work: How do we explain or justify the presence of evil in the world? God is all goodness. He does not want evil. If evil is a punishment for sin, this makes some sense. But how do we explain a good person who suffers evil through no fault of his own? What if he suffers evil in the very act of goodness that he is performing? How can God be good or just and still allow these things to happen? Or are some things beyond the control of God?
As you can see, the author faces up to some important and touchy questions. The form of presenting his ideas is well structured. The main character is a man named Job. Job was a paragon of holiness. He had a wife and they had ten children, seven boys and three girls. Job was very wealthy. He also had a tender conscience and was careful to do no wrong.
Then there is God, whose name is Yahweh. He had a special court around him, known as the Sons of God. One day, the Sons of God appeared before his throne and Satan was with them.
Note: The word, Satan, is a legal term meaning “the Adversary.” Gradually, it comes to mean someone who is evil. It becomes synonymous with the dragon, the devil, and the serpent.
When Yahweh saw Satan in the group, he asked him, “Where have you been?” Satan said he had been traveling around the whole world. Immediately Yahweh asked him if he had seen anyone as good and holy as his servant, Job. Satan smirked. “So what else is new? Give anyone all the things you have given Job, and that person will be good and loyal too. You just take away what Job has, and see where his goodness and loyalty go.”
Yahweh accepted the challenge. He told Satan he could take anything that Job had but he could not touch Job, himself. Satan accepted the offer.
Job began to lose everything he had in one catastrophe after another. Job was terribly upset by all the bad news but never did he utter a word of complaint. His attitude was summed up with these words, “Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, naked I shall return. Yahweh gave; Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh.” In all of his losses and misfortunes, Job committed not even the slightest fault.
Satan came back to the presence of Yahweh again. Yahweh rubbed it in a bit. He asked Satan if he had ever seen a man like Job. Satan was ready. He agreed that Job had done well in all his losses but none of these touched his own person. Strike Job in his person and then watch him turn downstream.
Yahweh agreed that Satan could afflict Job but he could not kill him. So Job was afflicted with open ulcers over all his body and he was relegated to the city dump to live. Even his wife told him to curse God and die.
Job was amazed at her lack of confidence in Yahweh. He said to her, “We accept good things from the hand of Yahweh. Should we not also accept the sorrow?” In this entire sad plight, Job did not utter a single word of complaint.
Now three of Job's friends heard of his misfortune and decided to come and visit him. When they saw Job, they could not believe their eyes. No one had ever been so afflicted as Job. They were convinced that Job had committed some heinous hidden sin and was being punished. They said as much. Job protested his innocence.
These three friends are a part of the literary picture. Their names are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Sophar. Eliphaz was an older man and tended to be moderate in his statements. Bildad was middle-aged and a “windbag.” If something could be said in two words he used twelve. Zophar was a young excitable person who was ready for any action.
The literary form is a cycle of three debates or accusations. In each round, each of the friends expressed his ideas about what was wrong. Job answered each individually. The accusations became more pronounced as the process continued. After the final response, Job asked Yahweh to come down. Job would ask him questions and Yahweh could give the answers.
Job sounded a little strong in his statements but the author was careful to say that Job did no wrong. It would not have been proper for Yahweh to come running in response to a challenge from Job, so he sent a messenger, named Elihu. Finally Yahweh appeared and talked to Job. The speeches of Yahweh and Job's responses are some of the most powerful literature in the whole Old Testament.
When the book draws to a close, the question is still standing and no answer had been given. Why does a good person suffer? If Yahweh is all good and all-powerful, why does he not prevent such seeming contradiction? The writer did not know the answer but he knew all his premises were true. He just couldn't get to the conclusion.
Question continued into New Testament:
Do we know the answer to the question, today? We have a bit more light since the teaching of Jesus has been given to us. But we still do not understand the picture exactly, and we will not until we see the facts from the other side of death.
A psalm is a song or poem sung to the accompaniment of a zither. There is no set meter or linguistic style. The collection of songs, called the Psalms or Psaltery, has a huge variety. For convenience, they are divided into five books with Psalms 1-2 forming a sort of introduction to the whole collection:
Introduction: Psalm 1,2;
Book 1. Psalms 3-41;
Book 2. Psalms 42-72;
Book 3. Psalms 73-89;
Book 4. Psalms 90-106;
Book 5. Psalms. 107-150.
The whole collection is frequently called the “Psalms of David.” According to Biblical history, David was a song composer and sang them to the accompaniment of his musical instrument. He was supposed to be quite adept as a singer because even as a young boy he was able to bring Saul out of his psychic depressions by his singing.
Some of the Psalms relate to events in David’s life and could easily have been composed by him. Other Psalms just as clearly refer to events that came centuries later. The actual writers were forgotten and David got the credit, just as Solomon often got the credit for all Wisdom literature.
There are various kinds of Psalms and a study of each song is a true enlightenment. If you ever get angry with someone and want to say some powerfully threatening words about that person, you can do it with what is called a “Cursing Psalm.” One of the greatest is Psalm 5. If you sing or say this Psalm with real gusto, I assure you it will relieve a lot of your deepest feelings and get rid of them.
The Book of Psalms gives us a varied picture of Yahweh. He is always presented as listening carefully to the prayers of those who turn to him. The Psalms do not say that he will necessarily do everything he is asked, but Yahweh will listen and console.
A Proverb has been defined as “the wisdom of the many and the wit of one.” The collection of Proverbs, called the Book of Proverbs, is well edited. It has a huge number of wonderful sayings that will serve as mottos and guidelines for all occasions in life. Anyone of the proverbs is able to set a person thinking carefully. Chapter 31:10-31 is unique in that it describes an ideal wife or woman of the 4th Century B.C. Many of the qualities are just as applicable today as they were at the time of the writing. Go back and see how great was the position of women in society in those days and the reasons for this lofty place.
Yahweh is known through the wisdom of many people and events.
Proverbs need not be read all at one time. In fact, it will probably be more appreciated if it is read in short snatches and in a random fashion.
Qoheleth is the Hebrew title of this book and Ecclesiastes is a good translation. Literally, the title means “the person who is in charge of the gathering or assembly.” Qoheleth was the person who gathered all the people into one place and conducted the meeting.
Many people have referred to this book as “pessimistic.” This is an unfair assessment of what is said. Ecclesiastes says he has searched thoroughly in the whole world, and there is a lot of emptiness or vanity. But the real teaching of the entire book is found in 12:9-14. “To sum up the whole question: Have true reverence for God and keep his commandments. This is the whole work of man. For God will call to judgment all hidden deeds - good and bad.” This is the positive conclusion that the writer wants the readers to remember.
The Jewish wedding feast lasted eight days or longer. It was the host’s obligation to have the food, drink, clothes, living accommodations and entertainment all at hand for the entire time. Small wonder that a wedding could bankrupt the parents who had to put it on.
There were many collections of songs available and many of them were downright lewd. The Song of Songs was a collection of songs intended to be used at Jewish wedding feasts. Some say it goes back to Solomon’s time in the 10th century B.C.
Some of the wording was considered too explicit in the Christian era. At various times and places, Christians were forbidden to read the book. Today, it is still a rather outspoken book but would hardly be too graphic for some of our modern literature.
The Song of Songs was one of the five Festal Scrolls or Megilloth. The Song of Songs was used for the feast of Passover. Ruth was used for Pentecost. Qoheleth was used for the Feast of Tabernacles. Lamentations was used on the Day of Mourning - the great fast commemorating the events of 587 B.C. Esther was used on the Feast of Purim or Lots. Jonah was used for Yom Kippur during the Minhah. Second Maccabees was read on the feast of Hannukah.
What does the Song of Songs tell us about Yahweh? This book counteracts the desecration of marital love as seen in the fertility cults. Yahweh is presented as a God who understands the holiness and creative power of married love, and does not tolerate any of the abuses that have unfolded in the name of religion over the years.
Sirach is a part of the Greek Bible but not of the Hebrew Bible. Hence it is called a Deuterocanonical book. The Latin title, Ecclesiasticus, was given to the book because so much of this book was used as part of the Liturgical Prayer in the Church.
The book is written in the style of Proverbs and is divided into many topics. There is outstanding advice for daily living in all ages. The teachings of the book are particularly applicable to the needs of today.
The central chapter of the book is c. 24. This is a eulogy of Wisdom in which Wisdom speaks of itself as a person. It is a tremendous piece of poetry and content. God guides our daily lives.
Chapters 25:13-26:18 is a strong tirade against women. This passage is one of the reasons that the book is often referred to as “anti-feminist.” This is not true - at all. The author is really advising people, both men and women, of observations about the misconduct of women through the history of the human race.
Some people say the author should have written the same kind of speech against the faults of men. This would have been helpful but he did not. Even his praise of woman in this passage is demeaning.
Chronologically, this is the last book of the Old Testament. It is a treatise on Wisdom seen from the viewpoint of the Old Testament teachings. It was written to counteract a lot of the ideas prevalent among Greek philosophers at that time.
Wisdom is a book that has been much used in the Christian liturgy and writings. Its wording has received fuller meaning from the light of the New Testament times and teachings of Jesus and his followers. It is a book well worth reading over and over again.
The Wisdom writers portray Yahweh as the all-wise God. His wisdom is seen in the origin of all things, in their governance, and especially in the destiny and freedom of human beings. Wisdom is a trait of God and all people can share in it if they will. However, if they refuse to share in his wisdom, they shall be of all fools the greatest.
I repeat: This is a book that should be read again and again.
NOTE: These two writings are combined because they speak to the same people, at the same time, about the same subjects.
“For Ezra had given himself to the study of the Law of Yahweh, to living by it, and to teaching its laws and customs to Israel.” Ez. 7:10.
This is the best description of a true Scribe that is found in the Bible. Ezra was a man who had become a leader of the Remnant in post-exilic Israel. The people had been very discouraged at first when they came back to the homeland in 538 B.C. They had been helped immensely by Haggai and Zechariah.
It did not take them long to forget the plan and prescriptions of Yahweh and turn toward the pagan way of life. Ezra and Nehemiah were the two leaders who worked to overcome this waywardness. The principal failure was the intermarrying with the pagan women and then following the ways of their gods in the fertility cults.
NEHEMIAH is known primarily because of his leading the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. These walls worked both ways. They were a constant reminder to Israel that this was their Holy City. The walls were a barrier to the entrance of the pagans and their gods.
Post-exilic Judaism is born at the feast of Tabernacles. Ezra reads the Torah to the people and explains its obligations to the people. There is a ceremony of atonement and the small remnant is ready to carry on the mission of the Chosen People. Yahweh stays with his people.
New Testament reference:
This remnant and their ideals are extremely important because it is from this small group that Mary, Joseph and Jesus will come.
These are three stories of outstanding heroes of the Jews. One is the story of a man named Tobit, and his son Tobiah. The other two are stories of women, Judith and Esther. Both women saved their people in different crises.
All three are great hero stories, and definitely intend to make the people proud of their ancestry and wishful of imitating their good example. Tobit comes from about the 4th century B.C. Judith and Esther are from the late 2nd to the 1st century B.C. The stories are beautiful and easily read. It would be an injustice to try to summarize them. Pick up your Bibles and read them carefully.
The notion of God emphasized in these books is his holiness and the corresponding holiness that should be in the lives of the people.
FIRST AND SECOND MACCABEES.
“The Abomination of Desolation”
One and Two Maccabees are not a continuation of each other. Each is an independent work that treats of some of the same years and events about 164 B.C. It is frequently called the “Abomination of Desolation” because of the desecration of the Holy of Holies itself.
The books are written in Greek and are not in the Jewish Canon of the Bible. Yet the Jews quote from both books constantly and almost all of their history is contained in or derived from these books.
There was the mother and her seven sons. When they are finally captured, the boys are killed, one after the other, and the mother is made to watch their deaths. Finally she, too, is put to death.
The name “Maccabee” came from the Hebrew word “Maqqabah,” which means a “HAMMER.” It was the nickname given to one of five brothers. His name was Judas, and he was nicknamed the “Hammer.” The name was given because of his undying fight against the forces of evil. These forces were the pagans who ridiculed and desecrated everything that the little handful of Jews held sacred. The primary enemy of the faithful Jewish people was Antiochus the Terrible. We learned much about him from secular history.
From the viewpoint of teaching there are several important points in Second Maccabees.
Resurrection from the dead: 2 Mac. 7:9; 14:46.
Sanctions in the afterlife: 2 Mac. 6:26.
Value and power of praying for the dead: 2 Mac. 12:41-45.
The spiritual fruits of martyrdom: 2 Mac. 6:18-7:41.
The intercessory power of the saints: 2 Mac. 15:12-16.
These texts are the foundation for the notion of Purgatory and the value of prayers for the dead. However, these basic ideas have been stretched out of proportion and rendered morbid by many writers in modern Christian times.
Summary of “Who is God?” Expressed in Old Testament.
As the Old Testament came to an end, the notion of God that was prevalent was that he was the Father of all people. His special name among his Chosen People was YAHWEH. This name was called the “sacred four letters” and was not allowed to be pronounced. Instead, each time the name was met in the text, the generic name, “ELOHIM,” the “deity,” was substituted. To indicate this in the Massoretic (Hebrew) text, the consonants “YHWH” were written and the vowels of Elohim were put beneath the consonants. As a result the name came to be pronounced or mispronounced “Jehovah” - which is not a Biblical name at all.
If Yahweh is the universal Father of all people, then all peoples must respond by becoming the “Family of Human Beings” or the “Human Family.” All people of all nationalities are to express true brotherly or family love for each other. This is the ideal but it is hard to reach.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
Introduction to “Who is God?” According to New Testament.
The New Testament (NT) answers the question “Who Is God?” by building on the Old Testament writings. The NT answers the question through the life of Jesus and his contemporaries up to about 125 A.D. The writings of the New Testament are not in chronological order. I shall treat them in the sequence they appear in the present collections (Bible).
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW : THE MATTHEW STORY.
In Matthew, God is often explained by parables and beatitudes. There are many ideas that could be stressed for our purposes. However, I will point out only two:
1. Happiness and how to attain it in our daily life. This notion will be
developed in the “Beatitudes” and the “Sermon on the Mount.”
2. The “Kingship of the Heavens” that will be developed through
a series of parables.
The famous Sermon on the Mountain parallels the Old Testament picture of Moses going up 0n the mountain to get the Old Law. Jesus was concerned with one idea in all this collection. True happiness was not going to be found by running away from the world of daily life. True happiness was found in day-to-day living by the people in the REAL WORLD. This idea was presented in the Beatitudes.
The principal notion of this happiness is to establish the KINGSHIP OF THE HEAVENS. How do we do this? We establish this Kingship by living our own convictions in daily life and leading others by word and example to do the same. This Kingship is a personal power that is found inside and outside the follower of Jesus, and in the society in which he lives.
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK: MARK’S STORY.
In the Gospel according to Mark, God is the Good News for the world. God is the Good News that firmly establishes the hope that is in us. This Gospel was preached by Peter in Rome. Mark had become Peter’s companion some time after he left the company of Barnabas.
Mark’s Gospel is the closest chronologically to the original message of Jesus and best represents Peter’s understanding. This gospel is only a few steps beyond the Kerygma, or the summary presentation that the new convert was expected to know and accept before he/she was admitted into the Church and baptized. Therefore, Mark should be studied carefully for the basics of Christ’s message.
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE: LUKE’S STORY.
Luke shows us God as the source of salvation in every sense of this word. Salvation is health: physical, mental, and spiritual. God is the savior, the source of health in every circumstance of daily life.
Luke was the companion of Paul, first as his medical doctor and then as his missionary companion. There is no doubt that Paul was a difficult man to tolerate. He was opinionated, hot-tempered, and not above blaming others for his mistakes. He was easily offended and depressed as a result. Add to this, he had some kind of physical ailment for which he needed constant treatment. Many guesses have been hazarded as to what this sickness was. No one is certain.
Luke was a wonderful counteraction to this fiery disposition of Paul. We know Luke edited some of the letters of Paul and most scholars think Luke edited all the letters but was unable to remove all the harshness and still retain the basic message.
Luke's presentation of Christ’s teaching stresses several viewpoints.
- Salvation is universal. Jew and Gentile are saved if they cooperate.
- Luke stressed the power and importance of prayer and its
- Luke emphasized the dignity and importance of women in the
society that Jesus was establishing. This truth was in
direct opposition to the society of those days.
- Luke pointed out the way in which happiness could be
found in the midst of poverty.
In Luke, God is savior because of his concern and care for every person in all circumstances of life.
THE WRITINGS OF JOHN.
Gospel, Apocalypse or Revelation, One Letter, Two Notes.
John's main understanding of God was his love as a Father for his children. This love should be understood, appreciated and duplicated in the lives of people. Explicit statements of this truth are found in many places in the first letter of John.
“God is love and anyone who abides in love abides in God,
and God abides in him.” 1 Jn. 4: 16.
“In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love; because fear is to expect punishment and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love. We are to love, then, because he loved us first.” 1 Jn. 4:18. The word for “perfect” in this passage is “teleios,” that is - “complete in every detail.”
“Anyone who says ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, is a liar since a person who does not love the brother whom he can see, cannot love God whom he has never seen. Therefore, this is the commandment that was given us: anyone who loves God must also love his brother.” l Jn. 4:20-21.
The Gospel according to John is the last writing of the New Testament. It appeared in this present form about 125 A.D. and was traced to John. John was in his early teens, 13 or 14, at the time he was called by Jesus to be one of the twelve. He and his brother James were referred to as “Boanerges” or “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus himself. This means that they were “movers and shakers” right from the start.
John also was known as a favorite or the beloved of Jesus. In fact, Peter wanted to find out exactly who was going to betray Jesus. He asked John to get the information for him. John 13:23-25.
John fits his gospel story into the whole work of creation by using exactly the same words of introduction as those used in Genesis. John starts off with the phrase “IN THE BEGINNING.” Then he gave a brilliant summary of the whole work of creation down to the birth of Jesus. He stressed that Jesus, by his life, was the fulness of this creative Word of the Father and was his special Son.
Jesus, by his life, manifested the Fatherhood of God more fully than ever before. Instead of following the brilliant picture that John set before us, the theologians for centuries got into a useless hassle about the divine nature of Jesus and the three persons in one God. This distracting philosophy effectively hid the picture that John was painting.
The fullest description of love and all that it entails is found in John’s account of the Last Supper. John introduced the whole event with the statement that it was the greatest manifestation of Jesus' “love eis telos - love to completion.”
John described Jesus taking a basin of water and going from apostle to apostle to wash feet. When he came to Peter, this apostle created a scene. He said that Jesus would never wash his feet. Jesus said simply, “If I don't wash your feet, then you do not eat here, tonight.” Immediately Peter goes to the opposite extreme. He invited Jesus to wash not only his feet but his face and hands as well.
Jesus replied, “That is not necessary. For him who is clean, only washing the feet is necessary.” This ceremony referred to the custom of arriving at a house and the host met you with a servant and a basin of water. The servant untied the sandals. The guest stepped into the basin of water and the servant washed his feet. The dust of travel was removed. At the Last Supper, Jesus took on the task of the lowliest household servant to show how far his love extended and how far the love of his followers for each other was to go.
When Jesus reclined at table, again he told the lesson explicitly. He called them “His children.” “A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that you are my committed followers in the love that you have for each other.” John 13:33-35.
Then, in chapters 14-17, Jesus expressed some of his most basic and profound doctrine. He stressed that he, by his example, was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He told them that if they lived according to his teachings, especially in their love for each other, they would do even greater works than he had done. This would all be accomplished by the new creative Breath that they would receive from the Father after Jesus was gone. The followers of Jesus would need special courage. The work would not be easy and the enemies were many. However, with courage and their union with him, they could produce the work that was expected of them.
We get John's version of the Lord's Prayer in chapter 17. Each element was developed, and Jesus stressed that his followers would not be merely asking in his name. Rather, the Father loved them because they loved Jesus. Therefore, they could ask the Father for anything and he would answer their requests because of his love for them.
The most important aspect of this prayer is the unity and community that is to be established among his followers and through them in the whole world. The love of Christians for each other is to be so powerful that it will change the whole world into the brotherhood of mankind.
This is clearly the apex of the picture of who God is. This part of the picture should clearly be read last because all else led up to it. However there are several writings that must still be considered to pick up the bits and pieces that lead up to this overall picture.
Acts is a collection of stories about the early days of the Christian community after the Ascension of Jesus to the Father. This took place about the year, 30 A.D. The book ends before the deaths of Peter and Paul which were in 67 A.D. The events in Acts cover about 35 years.
The first part of Acts is the picture of Peter - his work and contacts. The second part is mainly the work of Paul in his missionary activity. The general theme of the whole book is given in a summary in c. 2:42-47. The group was held together by four elements:
1. teaching of the apostles,
2. sharing (Greek word - koinonia),
3. breaking of the bread, and
The people freely brought everything they owned and put it at the disposal of the whole group. The needs of each person were supplied from the common purse. They went as a group every day to the Temple to pray a then back to their houses for the breaking of the bread. Remember, this was a very small group and could be easily managed in this way.
The notion of God stressed in Acts is the brotherhood of all mankind because of the Fatherhood of God. This was lived by those first Christians and was to change the whole world by contact.
LETTERS OF PAUL. 50-67 A.D.
Saul of Tarsus was an adamant persecutor of this new group of Jews who followed Jesus and his teachings. Luke told us in Acts that Saul was in charge of the killing of the first Christian witness or martyr, named Stephen. Then Saul was converted and becomes an ardent follower. He was just as ardent a warrior for Christ as he had been against him, a short time before.
Paul made three or four missionary trips through the Roman world and stopped at various centers to talk about Jesus and his teachings. He made converts and set up small Christian communities. Problems arose after he was gone and he handled these by letter. We have thirteen of these letters in the canon of the New Testament. I’ll list them and then go through and give a key notion from each.
1 & 2 Thessalonians. 50-51. A.D.
1 & 2 Corinthians .57. A.D.
Philippians. 56-57. A.D.
Galatians - Romans. 57-58. A.D.
Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon. 61-63. A.D.
Timothy, Titus. 65. A.D.
2 Timothy. 67. A.D.
The key notion of this letter comes from a misunderstanding. Paul had talked about the second coming of Jesus when he had converted these people. Paul thought the preaching of the gospel to the whole world would be accomplished in his lifetime. Everyone would be given a chance to choose for or against Jesus. Then would follow the Parousia or the second coming of Jesus, the end of the world and eternal happiness for those who followed Jesus faithfully.
Some of the Thessalonian Christians had died and the Parousia had not taken place. What was going to happen to these people in the second coming of Jesus? Paul admitted he did not have the answer but he was certain that no one is going to lose out. Gradually, the notion of the resurrection of all the dead, the public judgment and final reward developed. However, these ideas were not clearly understood at the time.
The topic was the Parousia, itself. The Christians in Thessalonika lead a community life. They expected the Parousia within a few years, certainly in their lifetime. They had a lot of supplies in the common treasury, so several of the able-bodied were loafing around, living off the common supplies, and waiting for the final coming.
The working people complained about these parasites. Paul did not settle the theological problem but he did settle the practical social difficulty. He laid down the rule: No work, no eat! Regardless of when this Parousia takes place, everyone is to work for his daily bread and contribute to the common supplies. God expects you to do your share.
The Greeks in Corinth were in the habit of inviting every new teacher to step up and expound his ideas. They did not intend to accept them or follow the conclusions but they would listen. It was a kind of forerunner to the daytime dramas on modern television.
Paul accepted the offer and taught about Jesus and his ideas. He made many converts and went to the next place. Soon, he was getting reports of all kinds of disturbances among the Christians in Corinth.
There were factions based on which one of the teachers had converted them. There were discussions about the validity of the teachings themselves and the miracles that backed up the teaching. They were making special comparisons between the wisdom of the Greeks and the so-called wisdom of the Nazarene.
Paul left no doubt in anyone's mind as to what he thought about these discussions. Then Paul treated some moral problems. Some of the fertility cult practices were being mixed in with the Christian worship.
There were some of the converts from Judaism who were terribly upset at the eating of “unclean” foods. They had brought their lists and practices over from their Jewish background. Paul said there was no such thing as unclean food. However, if it bothered someone if you ate a certain food, don't eat it in their presence. Avoid the problem and eat something else.
There was the question of marriage and virginity. Paul said that both were holy states. Each person must live the according to the state that appeals most to him/her.
Much of the food sold in the open market had first been offered to the gods in the pagan ritual. Could Christians buy and eat such food? Paul said the idols were nothing and therefore the food was not contaminated. However, if this point was being stressed to bring out a theological bias, then buy your food somewhere else.
The problem of public prayer went back to Jewish customs. Men were not to pray or prophesy with their heads covered. Women were not to pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered. It was a custom. So they were not to offend others over such a silly small point.
Then came an even worse problem. People were coming to the Lord’s Supper and drank or ate too much because it was free. Paul told them if they had no more control of themselves, to eat and drink at home - away from everyone else.
Finally, the Corinthians argued about which were the greater gifts in the community: preaching, teaching, healing, prophecy, miracles, tongues. Paul was close to the end of his string. He said this was silly as all gifts are good. The greatest gift of all: love for each other.
Chapter 13 is one of the most famous of all the Pauline writings. It is his description of the qualities of true love for each other. Love is the only quality that really counts and really lasts. All other good deeds without love are so much dross. Love gives them their true meaning.
God is love. Love is patient and kind; never jealous, conceited, or boastful; never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth. Love is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love is unending. Of these three, faith, hope and love, the greatest is love.
Second Corinthians is not quite as forceful as the first letter. Paul took up his own defense as Christians in Corinth were making fun of Paul. So Paul offered an apologia, explanation, for his life.
The letter to the Galatians is also a polemic letter. The main topic is the power of Christian Faith. Is it enough in itself or must Christians observe the practices of the Old Law in order to be saved?
Paul’s answer was clear. “If justice can come through the Law, then Christ died in vain.” Paul insisted he lived by his faith in Christ.
The notion of faith is very important here. Faith is an act of the whole person. Faith means I UNDERSTAND what is said and done. I am CONVINCED by what I hear and see. I am COMMITTED to my convictions. I CARRY OUT all the duties that flow from these convictions and commitment. Faith is not simply a word of trust or confidence in someone else. Faith is a whole way of life.
The time of the Torah was the time of childhood. The coming of Christ brings us all to the adult stage of our lives. God inspires FAITH.
This letter to the Christian community in Ephesus is a companion of the letter to the Galatians. Galatians was written in a polemic style and the animosity of Paul could not be removed even by the pen of Luke. The letter to the Ephesians is written in a much calmer state of mind and develops the basic ideas of Galatians more fully.
First is the SEVEN-FOLD BLESSING that comes with faith in Jesus Christ.
6. Good News
Jews and Gentiles alike needed this salvation in Jesus. All differences, antagonism and opposition have to disappear. No one has any privilege or rights over the others because all are made equal in Jesus. All sin is to be removed from the community but the responsibility rests on the shoulders of each individual.
All salvation starts in the home. Marriage has a new and deeper meaning. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved his Church and give himself totally for her. Out of this dedication comes the respect and obedience of children for their parents. With the home as the solid foundation, the work of Jesus and the Church will succeed.
The Christian is described as a soldier prepared for battle. TRUTH is the belt that holds the whole armor in place. INTEGRITY or JUSTICE is the breastplate. The shoes are EAGERNESS to spread PEACE. The shield is FAITH and the helmet is SALVATION. Clothed in this armor, the Christian works daily to bring the whole world into the Body of Christ. God wants cooperation among all people.
The WARRIOR OF CHRIST has the ARMOR (PANOPLIA*) OF GOD to repel the TACTICS (METHODEIA*) of devil:
ALETHEIA* (TRUTH) - Belt buckled around the waist.
DIKAIOSYNE * (INTEGRITY) - Breastplate.
ETOIMASIA* (GOOD NEWS-PEACE) - Shoes.
PISTIS* (AMEN) - Shield against fiery arrows of PONEROS.
SOTERIA* (SALVATION) - Helmet.
REMA THEOU* - SWORD OF THE BREATH.
PARRESIA (BOLDNESS) - Disposition of the warrior.
The community of Christians at Philippi were converts of Paul and one of the few groups from whom he accepted financial help. Paul made a couple of his best known remarks in this letter.
Paul longed to be with Jesus in glory. He said: “For me to live is Christ but to die is even more. I am in a quandary: I want to be gone and to be with Christ which would be by far the better. But for me to stay alive in this body is more urgent for your sake.” Ph. 1:21-24.
Then there is the famous song of praise to the name of Jesus. “Jesus emptied himself and took on the form of a slave and became as men are. Being in the form of man, he lowered himself even more to death - even to the death of the cross. Now God has raised him on high and given him a name that is above all names. Thus at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven, on earth and under the earth shall bend and every tongue shall proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.”
Paul stressed that his one ambition was to portray Jesus Christ in all that he did or said. “All I want to know is Christ and the power of his resurrection, and to share in his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. This is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:10-12.
The Christians in Colossae had fallen into some erroneous thinking of the times. There was a lot of astrology rampant in the Hellenic world. The philosophers talked about the influence of the stars on lives of people and developed rituals and routines that were supposed to appease these “beings” or “gods.” In the shuffle of these ideas, some of the Christians began to ask the question about the status of Jesus.
Paul entered the fray. He did not know anything about these astrological ideas and did not really care. He had only one thought that had to remain supreme. Jesus Christ was not a part of these “heavenly beings” and in no way was he subject to them. Jesus Christ was supreme and alone in his rule of the universe because of his obedience to the Father.
The Christians can discuss all these ideas and listen to others but in their own lives the supremacy of Jesus and his plan of life must be accepted totally by them. This Faith must be seen in the kind of lives they live.
Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is unusual for many reasons. First of all, Paul had not worked with this group. He was writing to them as an outsider and I don't think anyone knows exactly why he was writing the letter. Secondly, this letter is by far the most developed letter from the viewpoint of ideas and style of all the letters of Paul. Thirdly, this letter has certainly given rise to more doctrinal controversy than all the other letters put together.
In fact, the whole Reformation in 1517 A.D. was based on a reading of Romans 1:17. Many theologians at the time of the Council of Trent thought, as did Luther, that a person was justified by Faith. However, when the official teaching of the Council gave such a narrow definition of Biblical faith, difficulty was created. Luther and his followers refused to change their ideas and hence the split took place.
There is no doubt that Faith is all that is needed if the word is understood in the Biblical sense of the word “Amen,” which is its Hebrew form. This word means: 1) I understand; 2) I am convinced; 3) I am committed; 4) I am living my commitment. All four notions have to be present in order to be able to say “Amen” or “I believe.” Hence, faith is all that is needed for salvation since the very notion includes the conviction and the commitment lived in daily actions.
The theologians had narrowed faith down to a mere intellectual understanding and a person could have theological faith and do nothing about it. Therefore they had to stress the absolute necessity of good works which were already included in the basic word.
The first part of this letter is concerned with the fact that all people, Jew and Gentile, need this salvation from Jesus Christ through faith. The Torah, which the Jews had, was a preparation for the coming of Jesus. It was no longer valid because the reality was here. The Gentiles needed salvation because their cults never did save anyone.
The main part of the letter, doctrinally, is found in chapters 5-8. Here Paul treated successively of the hope that every Christian has because of the death of Jesus Christ and his triumph over death in his resurrection. Then he talked of how the Christian participates in this triumph over death through Baptism. Thirdly, Paul stressed that, in no way, did the Christian have to keep any of the commands or restrictions of the Old Law, unless they are repeated in the New. The Old Law was fulfilled and no longer exists. If someone wanted to follow the prescriptions, he/she was free to do so but not because they had intrinsic or necessary value.
Finally, Paul stressed the Spirit that was the gift of Jesus Christ and in which all his followers live. “Everyone led by the spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again. It is the spirit of sons which makes you cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The spirit itself bears testimony to our spirit that we are sons of God. If sons, then heirs: heirs indeed of God and co-heirs of Christ, if we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.” (Rom.8:14-17)
That is the whole picture in a few words. Israel is still a privileged people if they fulfill their role as forerunners of Jesus and now accept him. They maintain their place as the firstborn if they accept Jesus for whom they were preparing.
Then Paul stressed how this community sharing (koinonia) among the Christians should make it possible for them to live in harmony among themselves. If someone was weak and bothered by some point of teaching or its application, help that person. If the outsiders cannot understand you, give them time. Realize what you have and be ready to share it.
Many of the problems that exist in our world could so easily be dissolved if the teachings of this letter were lived, today.
FINAL LETTERS OF PAUL: PHILEMON; 1 & 2 TIMOTHY; TITUS.
Now we come to the last of the letters of Paul. These are often called his PASTORAL letters because he was writing them to the men who continued his work. Two of them are written to TIMOTHY and one to TITUS. These letters were written between years 65 and 67 during the last years of Paul’s life. One other letter, PHILEMON, was written at the same time but on a completely different topic. We shall treat all four of these letters here.
Philemon was the one in charge of a Christian gathering. He was a convert of Paul and Paul was really leaning on him. The gist of the message is this. Onesimus, a slave who belonged to Philemon, had run away. He was captured and tossed in prison with Paul. While in prison, Paul and he talked together and Onesimus became a Christian. Now Onesimus was being sent back to Philemon.
Paul cannot demand that Philemon set the slave free because, according to Roman law, he was property. However, Paul did lean on Philemon’s friendship for him and little debts that he had toward Paul. He expected Philemon to take all this into consideration. Then, to give a final touch, he stressed that he himself would be in Philemon’s home soon for a visit. The implication was very clear. Paul would be following up on this letter.
Doctrinally, the letter does contain an important point. Slavery is contrary to Christian freedom. However, the first Christians did not immediately tackle all prevailing social problems at once.
Secondly, it showed the human element of Paul’s character and the ease with which he could lean on friendship to get a favor for someone else. It reminds us that Christian ideals were first planted in human vessels.
These two letters are important for our understanding of the first Christian communities. Timothy was close to Paul because his whole family were converted by Paul. Timothy had been around Paul since he was a young boy. Paul sets him up as an “episkopos” or “overseer” after he left. Timothy was young for this responsibility and some of the people were ignoring him for this very reason.
Paul told him to stand on his own two feet and not to let anyone push him around. His authority was the authority of Paul who received his authority from Jesus Christ.
Here are some practical rules stressed by Paul. Timothy must work from faith and a clear conscience. They were to pray for everyone even though it may be a pagan Roman who was persecuting them.
Paul’s criteria for women would hardly meet the approval of women, today. However, these ideas were in force in the Roman world for many centuries and are still in force in the accepted law of the Church. Women were not to wear fancy clothes or jewelry or have special hairdos. During the assembly they were to remain quiet and not tell men what to do. Adam was created first and therefore women were secondary to men. Woman led man into sin and she was to be saved by childbearing and modesty.
There is no doubt that these ideas and rules have been frequently invoked against women in the Church. However, they were the opinion of only one man, Paul. Paul’s ideas were not backed up by the example of Jesus in the gospels or his teaching. In fact, the women were the people who ran to the apostles with the message of the resurrection and got the men out of hiding. Women are presented as courageous and strong.
There was a group of helpers known as deacons. They had to be respected men. Timothy was not to soft pedal his condemnation of false teachers because they could do great harm. Widows were to be given special consideration but they were to be older women. If they were young women, they should get married again.
Elders, the presbyteroi, later called priests, were appointed by having the hands of the Episkopos laid on them. This later was carried out by the Bishop in ordaining priests.
Slavery was still in vogue and Paul did not condemn the practice. He simply said the slaves had to be treated with consideration but they were the property of the masters.
Above all, Paul cautioned Timothy not to get into useless philosophical discussions that were quite prevalent among the Greeks and Romans at the time. Some of the converts were wealthy people. Paul cautioned these people not to use their money to get into positions of authority or influence. Their money belonged to them but they should use it as a trust so that it did the most good.
Second Timothy is Paul’s “swan song.” He knew he was soon to die. He knew he would be beheaded because he had claimed his rights as a Roman citizen and therefore could not be crucified.
Paul made three comparisons to bring out the meaning of the life of a follower of Jesus. A Christian is to be a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. As a soldier he must be obedient and ready to carry on the fight. As an athlete he must keep all the rules of the game if he wants to compete and win. As a farmer he has to toil but he should enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Paul also told us the reason why the Scriptures are valuable. He said all of scripture is “theopneustos,” i.e. “breathed by God.” It participated in the creative breath of God. (This gave us the word “inspiration,” through the Latin.) Because of this inspiration, scripture is useful for teaching, refuting error, guiding people’s lives, and teaching them how to be holy. Scriptures will equip a person fully for every good work.
Paul ended with the famous description of the outlook of a Christian at the moment of death. “I have fought the good fight, I have run the entire race, I have kept the faith. Therefore there is waiting for me the crown which is justice, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day.” God rewards all who are faithful to him.
This is another letter in which Paul is advising one of his successors - a young man, a close friend and a bishop.
Paul described the qualities he should look for in anyone who was to be an elder or “presbyteros.” He must be irreproachable, not arrogant or hot-tempered, not a heavy drinker or violent; good, moral, sensible, devout, self-controlled; he must have a firm grasp of the message and tradition so that he can explain the meaning and refute the errors.
The Christian should be noted for being courteous, polite, kind, loving, generous. If anyone disputed the official teaching, warn him twice, and then have nothing more to do with him.
CONCLUSION TO WRITINGS OF PAUL.
The writings of Paul have a fund of practical wisdom that was needed in the first days and is just as necessary, today. God is known through actions of people. God guides people to recognize his true followers and to reject false leaders or prophets.
This letter to the Hebrews has raised many a question over the centuries. The teaching is clear and direct. The questions are: Who wrote it? Who were the intended audience? Why are these particular points being stressed so much? Was the author trying to instruct non-Christians, to bring back someone who had fallen, or simply trying to develop basic ideas further?
For a long time it was called simply another letter of St. Paul. However, early tradition did not agree with this, and so the claim to Pauline authorship was dropped. If it was not Paul, it certainly had to be someone who was well-known and thoroughly accepted by the whole community.
My own opinion is that the letter is a product of the Joannine community. The stress on the priesthood of Christ and the participation of his followers in that priesthood, fits well with the ideas of John. Be that as it may, here are the highlights of the letter.
Christ is greater than all the angels because his message announced everything that the Father wanted to say. Redemption was brought to us by Jesus Christ, not by the angels. Jesus was greater than Moses. Moses was a forerunner and he gave us the Old Law. Jesus gave us the fulfillment of what Moses had promised.
Jesus was the fulfillment of all priesthood. His priesthood went beyond even Abraham himself. Jesus was not merely the fulfillment of the levitical priesthood but went completely beyond it. The levitical priesthood was just a shadow. The priesthood of Jesus was the reality and the shadow must disappear. The priesthood of Jesus was the priesthood of the new and eternal covenant.
This letter should be read carefully and totally. The ideas stand out clearly in the words themselves. God is known through the teachings of Jesus.
James was referred to as a “brother of the Lord,” a relative of Jesus. He is not thought to be one of the apostles. James clearly was a person of Jewish background and concerns.
The letter has had a varied history of acceptance. By the second century, it was clearly accepted into the official canon. It is often studied because of its explicit statement about the necessity of “good works” to establish the true faith in anyone’s life. (2:14-16) The letter came up for a lot of controversy at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) but was finally included as part of the official canon of Sacred Scripture.
There are several important and interesting points of doctrine.
TEMPTATION: 1:13-18: Temptation does not come from God but from our inner self or the world about us. God tempts no one.
RELIGION: 1:27: “Religion pure and undefiled in the eyes of God our Father is this: helping the orphans and widows in time need, and keeping ourselves uncontaminated by the world.”
SOCIAL SEGREGATION: 2:1-4: Don’t judge by externals. Don’t put the rich person above the poor person. Judge the person on his/her own worth.
FAITH AND GOOD WORKS: “Faith without good works is totally dead.” 2 : 14- 26
POWER OF THE TONGUE: 3: 1-12: “The tongue is only a small part of the body, but it can proudly claim that it does great things.”
PRAYER: EFFICACY AND CONDITIONS: 4:1-3 "Why you don't have what you want is because you do not pray for it. Or if you do pray and don't get your answer, it is because your are not praying in the right way.”
PRAYER OVER THE SICK: 5:13-18 “If one of you is ill, send for the elders of the church. They are to anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him.
This first letter of the Bedrock, Kepha or Peter, is a marvelous memento of a great man. We know a lot about his character from the Gospel stories.
Peter was a forward, impetuous, outspoken man. He blurted out his ideas before he had time to think about them. Yet he was a natural leader. Jesus chose him as the foundation stone of his Church. Its unity, community and strength was to come from him. He was the first to protest his undying loyalty and the first to run and deny he had ever heard of Jesus. There is an ancient story told that he wept so often about his denial that there were furrows down the cheeks where his tears ran. There is another story that when it came time for him to be executed for his faith, he demanded that he be crucified upside down because he did not deserve to die as died his master. Suffice it to say that he died in 67 A.D., about 37 years after Jesus died. In those years he had established a strong Church - well on its way to win the world for Christ and his ideals.
In this first letter he described all Christians as a Royal Priesthood, a Consecrated Nation, a Chosen People. Our work is to spread the light that Jesus lighted. (2:4-10) The primary duty of every Christian is always to have ready an answer for the hope that is in him/her. (3:15) The love of Christians for each other must always be sincere and at full strength. This kind of love will cover over all sin. (4:8)
He described the ideal for the priests. They were to be shepherds of the flocks entrusted to them. They were to watch over their charges willingly because that was what God wanted. They were not to do their work simply because of money but eagerly. They were never to lord it over their charges but be an example that the whole flock can follow. When the chief shepherd comes, then they will receive their crown. (5:1-4) All Christians are to be calm and vigilant because their enemy, the devil, goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Stand firm and face him because this is happening to your brothers all over the world. (5:8-10) This is clearly a reference to the persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire which goes on from about the year 60 A.D. until 313 A.D. with the Edict of Constantine in Milan.
The second letter is a shorter note and deals with a major problem that arose. There were false prophets or teachers who tried to win back the converts to the ways of paganism. Peter emphasized that this was not something new. They were to look back through the history of the chosen people and they would find false prophets and lying teachers at every major step of the way.
Christians should recognize the danger and equip themselves to withstand the temptation. The qualities or traits needed are: Faith, Goodness, Understanding, Self-Control, Patience, True Dedication, Kindness toward Each Other, and Love. This is a winning combination for any age.
According to the letters of Peter, God should be known through the priests who guide the faithful to follow the teachings of Jesus.
Now we have three works of John the Apostle who was also the author of the book, Revelation, and the source of the Fourth Gospel. The first of these three letters is a truly pastoral letter. The other two works are short notes of importance.
In this first letter, John was concerned with the great mystery or truth to be revealed by the lives of Christians individually and with each other in the midst of a world that hated them.
John stressed that Christians live in a world of darkness. This meant that the Light which was Christ did not shine in it. The Christians, by their sharing with each other and their example, were to dispel the darkness and turn the world into light.
Christians are not to love in mere words or empty talk. Their love is to be the foundation of their good conscience. If a person cannot be condemned by his/her own conscience, there is no need for fear in the presence of God. (1 J. 3:21)
Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. (1 J. 4:8) Anyone who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar. For a man who does not love his brother whom he can see, cannot love God whom he has never seen. Therefore this is the commandment given to everyone: Anyone who loves God must also love his brother. (1 J. 4:20-21)
The letters, 1 John and 2 John, are short notes that reiterate what John had said more at length in the first letter and the Gospel.
God is the Light of the World.
This letter or note is concerned solely with false teachers. Some people have wondered why there were so many people eager to lead the Christians away from their faith. The answer is simple. The Romans made betrayal well worth their while, financially. The Romans saw the ideology of Jesus and his followers as totally opposed to their way of life. They had either to destroy the Christians and their ideals or see the Roman empire fold. It took about two and half centuries of persecution and death for the martyrs to make their point and win the Emperor himself over to Christ.
God recognizes true and false teachers.
This book, at the end of the New Testament, was always accepted as an authentic part of the New Testament. In the beginning it would have been easily understood by the Christians for whom John intended it. It was written in the apocalyptic or mysterious language of men like Ezechiel and Daniel. John meant to encourage and instruct the Christians without putting any evidence in the hands of the pagan leaders and persecutors.
The book has caused many a headache down through the centuries because people have tried to read more into it than was intended. They have tried to see it as applying to new situations as years went by. They tried to see it as a foretelling that these things would happen and to give an actual date for the end of the world. They have tried to prove from this writing that the world is going to end in an act of universal violence.
The only thing that is said about the end of the world in the whole of Revelation is that it will be a “Telos.” This Greek word means “end” in the sense of “Completion.” When the world is brought to the fulness which God planned for it, then a new and final phase of creation will begin. This fulness has to be brought about by the work of the human race.
God will be with us until this “telos,” or until all things are complete.
Rather than give you a lengthy commentary on Revelation, I ask you to read it with first century Rome’s glories and imitations in mind. It will make a lot of sense and the imagery will be self-explanatory.
SUMMARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
The replies to “Who is God?” in the New Testament are as varied as in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, God is king, good news, leader - as rock and as shepherd, father, lover, counselor, healer, forgiver, son, judge - to praise or reprimand, spirit of community, teacher. God is free of bias. God values all persons regardless of life's situation or gender or age. These qualities are described in the works of the New Testament - each book reflecting one of several qualities. We know of God whom we cannot see by observing persons whom we can see. This is an awesome responsibility - individually and collectively.
CONCLUSION TO OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT.
Both Old and New Testament are collections of writings over periods of time and by different people or groups of people. Both are written as Semitic history answering the question “why” rather than “when” or “how.” Therefore, there is a comprehensive view of God from specific vantage points rather than a one photograph or biography.
The Old Testament presented a God who is Father: a provider of all basic tools (Genesis); a person who lays down basic law (Exodus); a person who details the rules & regulations of each day (Leviticus); a person who helps to pick up pieces once children see their mistakes (Numbers); a person who helps to start all over in a catastrophe (Deuteronomy); a person who helps in the first steps of a project (Joshua); a person who inspires leaders in time of need (Judges); a person who notices every good deed no matter how small (Ruth); a person who inspires and strengthens a wise counselor (1 & 2 Samuel); a person who believes in ambition if it is controlled (1 & 2 Kings, :1 & 2 Chronicles). Each subsequent Old Testament book adds to this list.
In the New Testament, the gospels are the stories of a man (son) who absorbs all of his cultural and religious heritage, feels compelled to act to make the world a better place to live, and has the courage of his convictions. Other books of the New Testament add information about the communities that were trying to live in harmonious brotherhood within the existing societies.
It took the Hebrews centuries to go from many gods to only one god. The notion of god as father developed specifically in the prophets. The concept of son or child began to grow in the literature and was fully developed in the ideals, ideas and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus died, the followers received the “breath” or “spirit” that gave them courage to work and live with each other. This courageous respectful cooperation should unite people rather than divide them.
The Garden of Eden or Happiness in Genesis 1-3 is really not the beginning but the goal of human life.
Our understanding of “Who is God” will and should continue to develop.