Saturday, 27 October 2012

Mark's Audience

      While John Mark (son of Mary of Jerusalem and cousin of Barnabas) was an ethnic Jew,1 his Gospel appears to have been written for a non-Jewish audience. Aramaic expressions are translated (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36; 15:22, 34) and Jewish customs explained (7:3-4; 14:12; 15:42). More specifically, Mark had close connections with Rome (cf. Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). Having been summoned to Rome by Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), he was with Peter (presumably in Rome) when 1 Peter was written (5:13). Irenaeus affirms that Paul and Peter were in Rome at the same time (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1),  corresponding to Paul’s second Roman imprisonment in conjunction with the great fire of Rome in July 64 and Nero’s subsequent persecution of Christians.
     Peter sends greetings from "she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you ..." (1 Peter 5:13). Although some have suggested that "she" is a reference to an actual woman (perhaps Peter's wife), most interpreters understand this to be a metaphoric allusion to the collective members of the church (cf. KJV). It is only natural to interpret "Babylon" symbolically as applicable to Rome.2 In late Judaism "Rome began to take on the name and many of the characteristics of Babylon as a world-power hostile to God . . ." (BAGD 129), and the book of Revelation indicates that first-century Christians understood "Babylon" as a symbolic reference to Rome (cf. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). If Nero’s persecution was looming or in its early stages at the time of writing, Peter’s reluctance to expressly identify the Christian community in Rome is understandable.
     According to Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140), Mark was "Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. . . . [he] followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single points as he remembered them" (as quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15-16; cf. 6.25.5, trans. K. Lake, LCL).3 It is of further interest that the Gospel of Mark follows a pattern very similar to Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 10:36-41 (see esp. W. L. Lance, The Gospel According to Mark 10-11; also D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 193).
     Both Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.2) and Clement of Alexandria (Hypotyposeis; cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14.5-7) report that Mark’s Gospel was compiled in Rome. In fact, the Gospel has a definite Roman flavoring. It contains a number of Latinisms: e.g. modus (4:21), legion (5:9), speculator (6:27), census (12:14), denarius (12:15), lepta (12:42), quadrans (12:42), flagellare (15:15), praetorium (15:16), and centurion (15:39, 44-45). Mark uses Roman rather than Hebrew time (6:48; 13:35). And seeing that Mark’s readers were acquainted with Simon’s sons Alexander and Rufus (15:21), it is not without significance that there was a Christian named Rufus among the believers at Rome (Romans 16:13).
     Mark portrays Jesus as the suffering servant of God (8:31-32; 9:31; 10:33-34), and his unique focus on suffering (cf. 10:30)4 may be the result of Nero’s persecutions in Rome approximating the time of writing. The message and unique features of Mark’s Gospel make more sense when read from a first-century Roman perspective.
–Kevin L. Moore

    1 Colossians 4:10-11; Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37. The author of Mark’s Gospel was familiar with the geography of Palestine (5:1; 6:53; 8:10; 11:1; 13:3), knew Aramaic (5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36), and understood Jewish customs (1:21; 7:2-4). Although one of the arguments against Markan authorship is an alleged ignorance of Palestinian geography and Jewish customs, these criticisms are exaggerated and do not stand up to close scrutiny (see D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 175).
     2 There is no evidence that the church was existing in the literal Babylon of Mesopotamia in the mid-first-century AD or that Peter or Mark or Silvanus was associated with the region. Few, if any, would consider Egypt’s Babylon as a possibility either.
     3 Note that Mark’s Gospel is arranged more geographically than chronologically. On Mark’s association with Peter in the biblical record, see Acts 12:11-12; 13:13; 2 Timothy 4:11; and 1 Peter 5:13. Comparable early testimonies include Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 106.3); the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), Tertullian (Adv. Marc. 4.5), and Jerome (Ad Hedibiam 120).

    4 Mark does not include teachings of Jesus on discipleship until after the Lord's description of his own suffering (8:31-33). 

Related Posts: Uniqueness of Mark's GospelMatthew's AudienceLuke's Audience, John's Audience

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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Matthew's Audience

      What readership did Matthew have in mind as he composed his Gospel? Matthew himself was a Galilean Jew1 and evidently shared a background in ethnic Judaism with his audience. The Gospel clearly betrays a strong Jewish orientation (cf. 5:17-18; 10:5; 15:24; 17:24-27; 23:2-3). The terminology employed is decidedly Jewish (2:20-21; 4:5; 5:35, 47; 6:7, 32; 10:6; 15:24; 17:24-27; 18:17; 27:53). A number of Aramaic expressions are found throughout the text, often without translation (5:22; 6:24; 16:17; 27:33, 46). The frequent use of tote ("then"), occurring no less than ninety times (more than anywhere else in the New Testament), reflects Aramaic thinking. Familiarity with Jewish history, politics, ideas, and customs is also assumed (1:18-19; 2:1, 4, 22; 14:1; 17:24; 23:2; 26:3, 57, 59; 27:2, 11, 13).
     The Hebrew Bible has a prominent place in Matthew, with about forty quotations and over 100 allusions, demonstrating a mutual knowledge of and respect for these writings. Jesus is portrayed as the promised Messiah of the Jewish scriptures, and more fulfilled Old Testament prophecies are cited in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels (1:1, 22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23; 3:3; 4:14-16; 5:17; 8:16-17; 12:17-21; 13:14-15, 35; 21:4-5; 26:63-64; 27:9-10). Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, starting with Abraham and tracing the line of decent through David (1:1-16). The only other New Testament record of the Lord’s lineage (Luke 3:23-38) reaches all the way back to "Adam, the son of God," thereby linking him to the entire human race. In contrast, Matthew’s account is primarily concerned with Christ’s Jewish connection.2
     Admittedly the internal evidence does not always confirm whether the heavy Jewish flavoring pertains to the Gospel’s provenance or destination, but if Matthew lived among his audience, it would apply to both. While Palestine, especially Judea (cf. Jerome, De vir. ill. 3), is a plausible location, a more popular suggestion is Syria, particularly Antioch. The earliest clear usage of Matthew’s Gospel comes from Antioch in the early second-century writings of Ignatius (ca. 35-107), who made much use of the text (see Smyrn. 1.1; Eph. 19.1-3; Polc. 2.2). The Gospel fits well into the setting of Syrian Antioch, which had a large Jewish population, a well-established Christian community, and a church committed to the discipleship of all nations (Acts 11:29; 13:1-3; 14:27-28; 15:40; 18:22-23; cf. Matthew 28:18-20). The unique features of Matthew’s Gospel and its overall message make more sense when read from this first-century Jewish perspective.
–Kevin L. Moore 

     1 See, e.g., Acts 2:7. Matthew was intimately familiar with Palestinian geography (2:1, 23; 3:1, 5, 13; 4:12, 13, 23-25; 8:5, 23, 28; 14:34; 15:32, 39; 16:13; 17:1; 19:1; 20:29; 21:1, 17; 26:6).

      2 Both Irenaeus and Origen affirm that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for a Jewish audience (see Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 5.8.2; 6.25.4).

Related Posts: Original Form of Matthew's Gospel, Lineage of Jesus in MatthewMark's Audience, Luke's Audience, John's Audience

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Biblical Interpretation: Asking the Right Questions

      What does the Bible say to me, and how does it apply to my life? As important as these questions are, the proverbial cart is placed before the horse when they are the first to be asked. Conscientious Bible students should instead begin their investigation of any biblical text by considering what the inspired writer was seeking to convey to his original audience and how they would have understood the message in the context in which it was first communicated. When this is the preliminary focus, one is in a much better position to correctly interpret and apply the sacred writings as they were intended.
     Who is speaking? This is a logical question to ask when examining any form of communication. A statement like, "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9),1 although recorded in scripture, was not originally spoken by God or one of his authorized representatives. In addition to what has been revealed from heaven, the biblical record also contains words spoken by the devil (Matthew 4:3-9) and fallible human beings (John 8:48). Even true statements are not always attributable to a divine source (e.g. John 9:31; Acts 5:38-39; 17:28). The fact that the Bible is the inspired word of God simply means that whenever the sayings of uninspired individuals are recorded, an accurate account is given of what was said. As the pages of scripture are evaluated, the information's original source must be ascertained.
     Who is being addressed? If this question is ignored or not answered properly, misunderstanding is the inevitable result. Jesus promised in John 16:13a, "when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all the truth . . ." Would it be legitimate for me to read these words with a realistic expectation of all truth being directly revealed to me by the divine Spirit? By taking the time to examine the surrounding context (chaps. 13–16), it is clear that Christ is not speaking to me at all. In fact, while addressing the very same hearers in the very same setting he also says, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet" (13:14). Contextually, Christ’s chosen apostles are the ones whose feet he had just washed and who were to receive the outpouring of God’s Spirit not long after these words were spoken (cf. Acts 1:1-8).
     Who is the author? The sixty-six books of the Bible were penned by over forty separate writers whose forty+ different perspectives were utilized to transmit the biblical message. Bible study is significantly enhanced when the matter of authorship is taken into account. In the parallel Gospel records of the dispute over paying taxes, one might wonder why the common term dēnarion is used in Mark 12:15 and Luke 20:24, while the more precise nomisma (state coin) is employed in Matthew 22:19a. The fact that the author of the latter passage was a tax collector (cf. Matthew 10:3) is a reasonable explanation for this difference. In the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ statement about a camel going through the eye of a "needle," the term hraphis (an ordinary sewing needle) is used in Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25, whereas the word belonē (a surgeon’s needle) is found in Luke 18:25. This linguistic variation ought not be surprising, seeing that the latter text was authored by a physician (cf. Colossians 4:14).2 Of the three occurrences in the New Testament of the term deleazō (to "entice" or "lure" with bait), two appear in 2 Peter (2:14, 18), the significance of which is appreciated more when the question of authorship is considered (cf. Matthew 17:26-27).
     Who is the intended readership? Before a biblical text says anything to me, it has already spoken to those who first received it. If would-be interpreters have little regard for the immediate audience of any writing, chances are the meaning will be misconstrued and the message misapplied. I recently heard a televangelist quote Matthew 11:12, "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence," making direct application to persecuted believers in modern-day Eastern Europe. The historical context of this passage was completely ignored, including the fierce aggression of Jewish Zealots in the contemporary experience of Jesus’ listeners and Matthew’s readers, and was replaced by current events far removed from the setting of the original message.
     To what do the prophecies of Revelation 6 have reference? Is the first seal (vv. 1-2) an allusion to the present-day United States of America, with the rider of the white horse depicting the U.S. president, and the other seals (vv. 3-17) descriptive of the current war on terrorism and the advent of World War III? Such an interpretation implies that the message of Revelation had absolutely no relevance, meaning or application for the seven churches of the 1st-century province of Asia to whom it was addressed and for whom it was intended (1:4, 11). Moreover, the repeated warnings of "things which must shortly take place" (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10) are thereby rendered misleading. Alternatively, deciphering the complex symbolism is much less daunting when viewed through the lense of John’s contemporary audience. These readers were facing brutal and widespread persecution (1:9; 2:10, 13; 3:10; 6:9; 12:13; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; 20:4) and desperately needed a message of hope (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7). The bottom line is, since the day the sixth chapter of Revelation was penned, historical realities such as war, famine, disease, Christian martyrdom, and the fall of governing powers have not been restricted to modern times.
     Any shallow, irresponsible approach to Bible study not only generates a great deal of religious confusion and division, it provides a superficial boost to the ammunition supplies of biblical critics. But when the right questions are asked and valid answers attained, God’s word is capable of providing a solid basis for religious unity, an effective pattern for spiritual guidance, and a powerful instrument for saving souls.
–Kevin L. Moore

      1 All scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (1985).
    2 See Authorship of NT Gospels and Authorship of Luke-Acts.

Related PostsBiblical Interpretation in Perspective

Related articles: Jack Wilke's 3 Dangerous Ways to Interpret the Bible; Ben Giselbach's Why People Interpret the Bible Differently, M. Riley's Studying Revelation

Sunday, 7 October 2012

In Loving Memory of Dr. Eugene Prosser Hibbett (1932-2012)

      Twenty-four years ago I was writing a tribute to my own father who had gone to be with Jesus. Today my attention is turned to the third most important man in my life. Around 2:00 a.m. on the 6th of October, after battling meningitis for several weeks, my father-in-law Eugene Hibbett took his last breath on earth and passed on to his eternal reward. He has left behind his sweet wife Jackie, his loving daughter Lynne and son Lee with their spouses, four precious granddaughters, and a multitude of others whose lives he has significantly impacted.
     For years I have said, with tongue in cheek, that Gene Hibbett is the best father-in-law I have ever had. But in all seriousness, even if I had accumulated multiple fathers-in-law over the years, I can’t imagine any of them holding a candle to him. I am honored that he performed our wedding ceremony, and I am forever grateful that he raised his daughter to be the kind of Christian woman with whom I want to spend my life. What a blessing to have been warmly accepted into this good family.
     He is the only grandfather my daughters have ever known. I am so very thankful they have gotten to know him, to experience his unconditional love and generous spirit, and to witness and learn from his outstanding Christian character. My prayer is that they closely follow in his admirable footsteps.
     Dr. Eugene Hibbett was a retired chemistry professor, having served on the faculty at Freed-Hardeman University for nearly four decades. I can’t count the number of his former students I have met who did not hesitate to say that he was their favorite teacher and that he helped transform their lives more than any other. And his godly influence reached far beyond the classroom. For many years, as long as his health permitted, he was a faithful preacher of the gospel and an elder in the Lord’s church. Because of his kind and thoughtful demeanor, whenever there was a delicate matter that needed to be addressed, bro. Hibbett was the one to be sent.
     He was well known and highly respected in the community. Included among his constant good works were service projects with the Lions Club, regular visits to the nursing homes, mowing widows’ lawns, and giving away his home-grown vegetables. Whenever I introduce myself there as Gene Hibbett’s son-in-law, everyone knows exactly who I am.
     He was very soul conscious, always talking to people about the condition and destiny of their souls, setting up and conducting personal Bible studies, and developing his own evangelism tools. While there is no way of knowing exactly how many souls he brought to Christ during his lifetime, the number of those he tried to convert is unfathomable.
     Mr. Gene and Mrs. Jackie made multiple trips to New Zealand to visit and work with us on the mission field. They labored tirelessly, doing whatever needed to be done. They also endeared themselves to the New Zealand people. After all these years they are still loved and fondly remembered here, and even the children who are now grown still ask about Papa Gene and Momma Jackie.
     I am fairly certain he has always known this, but I am wholly committed to doing my best to carry on his legacy. Admittedly these are enormous shoes to fill, but my pledge to him is to do everything within my power to ensure that his daughter, at least two of his granddaughters, and perhaps to a lesser extent the rest of his family, are heaven-bound. We all have an additional reason to keep pressing on. Gene Hibbett has paved the way for this family and is now among the great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on to join him in that mansion where we shall never grow old.
     "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’" (Revelation 14:13).
     With all the love, respect, admiration and appreciation I can muster . . . . proud to be known as Gene Hibbett’s son-in-law.
--Kevin L. Moore