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Metaphors be with you . . .

    Bob Lane   December 1998 (an old lecture)

As I grow older I find my mind circling back on a few vivid memories from the past. One of my favorites is of a time when our family went to the zoo in Seatlle for a Sunday visit. Our daughter, Margaret, was a little girl, still riding in a stroller. We went to see the apes and the lions, the monkeys and the polar bears. 

“What do the monkeys say, Margaret?” 

“Monkeys say, uhhn, uhhn uhn!”

“What does the bear say?”

“Bear says, rrroaar, rroaarr.”

We then were walking along one of the many paths, pushing the stroller and trying to keep Margaret’s older brothers from climbing into the fields with the ruminants. At one point we saw a water buffalo grazing in the field just on the other side of the fence that the boys kept looking at as a challenge to be overcome. As we stopped by the fence we watched as the water buffalo walked towards us, curious, I suppose, about this group of non-water buffalo. As it came closer Margaret was equally curious perched there in her stroller at the height of the first strand of barbed wire. It came right up to the fence. Its broad nose was almost touching Margaret as it smelled her to determine, I guess, if she were friend or foe, or food. The five of us stood there looking at the beast for several minutes. If finally made whatever determination it needed to make and continued its grazing in the field. 

“What does the water buffalo say?”

“Says, woof, woof, woof.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed, “that’s what a dog says.”

“No,” she insisted, “ bufflo say woof, woof.”

I thought about that for a moment and then I came to realize an important lesson about reading the world. So much depends upon point of view. From Margaret’s point of view, down there close to the bufflo’s nose,  it did indeed say “woof, woof” – the sound of its breathing through those big silky nostrils. To my ears, four or so feet above hers, there was no such sound, and I also had some preconceived idea of what a bufflo should say! But Margaret simply reported what she experienced. She didn’t know what bufflo were supposed to say, only what that one on that day did say.

Later when I went on to graduate school to study literature I came to realize the importance of that lesson. Literature taught me again, what Margaret taught me that day in Seattle, point of view is important. 

Just as a narrative structure is necessary for the story of Margaret and the water buffalo so is a structure necessary for any story. And stories, like other experiences, are both told from and “read” from a point of view.

Hermeneutics in everyday life

(hermeneutics = the science of interpretation; especially the branch of theology dealing with the principles of exegesis.)

Suppose you’re traveling to work and you see a stop sign.  What do you


That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1.  A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2.  Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

3.  A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition.

Observing that the interpretive community doesn’t take it too seriously, he doesn’t feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4.  An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn’t bother to read the sign but he’ll stop if the car in front of him does.

5.  A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6.  A preacher might look up “STOP” in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers.  The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7.  An orthodox Jew does one of two things:

1) Take another route to work that doesn’t have a stop sign so that he doesn’t run the risk of disobeying the Law.

2) Stop at the stop sign, say “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop,” wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed.

Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage:

R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long.  R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding.  R. Simon ben Yudah says:  Why three?  Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs.  R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign?  Becauseit says: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out.  For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her.  Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign.  R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll.  One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign.  Young Hillel called out: “Stop, father!”  In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time.  Thus it is written: “Out of the mouth of babes.” 

R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from?  Out of the sky, for it is written: “Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.”  R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created?  On the fourth day, for it is written: “let them serve as signs.”  R. Yeshuah says: … [continues for three more pages]

8.  A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3.  He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

9.  A scholar from Jesus seminar concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called “Q”.  There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar’s commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunately omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage “STOP”.  For example, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination.  He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later.  Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P”.

12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back.  (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.)  Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor.  He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

13.  Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar emends the text, changing “T” to “H”.  “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP” because of the multiplicity of stores in the area.

The textual corruption probably occurred because “SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make.  Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

Matthew, in telling his story about Jesus Christ, also has a point of view, and each of us, when we read the story, has a point of view. Before I launch into a discussion of the texts you are studying let us be sure we are using the same vocabulary.

  • Gospel of Thomas 1945
  • Synoptic gospels and the synoptic problem: what is the relationship among the gospels? Who is first? What is Q?

The Baptism of Jesus

Mat 3:13-17 (NRSV)  Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11 (NRSV)  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22 (NRSV)  Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The Beatitudes

Mat 5:3-12 (NRSV)  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke 6:20-23 (NRSV)  Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

The Two Bandits

Mat 27:44 (NRSV)  The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

Mark 15:32 (NRSV)  Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

Luke 23:39-43 (NRSV)  One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

  • apocalypticism, eschatological (end-time) views and movements that focus on cryptic revelations about a sudden, dramatic, and cataclysmic intervention of God in history; the judgment of all men; the salvation of the faithful elect; and the eventual rule of the elect with God in a renewed heaven and earth. Arising in Zoroastrianism, an Iranian religion founded by the 6th-century-BC prophet Zoroaster, apocalypticism was developed more fully in Judaic, Christian, and Islamic eschatological speculation and movements.
  • eschatology  the doctrine of last things, especially in Judaism and Christianity, concerning beliefs about the end of history, the resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, and related matters. Similar concepts are found in other Western religions (Islam and Zoroastrianism) and in the religions of nonliterate peoples, ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures,and Eastern civilizations.

Historical eschatology is basic to the Old Testament and thus enters into the structure of faith of those religions, primarily Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, that stem from it. Old Testament eschatology consists in the conviction that the catastrophes that beset the people of Israel and threatened their destruction were because of the Jewish people’s disobedience to the laws and will of God. Subsequent conformity to the will of God would result in a return for the Jews to a final condition of righteousness and moral and material renewal, in which God’s purpose would at last be fulfilled. OldTestament eschatology is closely bound to the concept of a redemptive history, in which the Jewish people are viewed as God’s chosen instrument for the carrying out of his purpose and in which, upon the fulfillment of God’s promises, theJewish people would be the vehicle for both their own salvation and that of the rest of the world. If for Judaism the peculiar eschatological event lies in the future, this future of God, according to the New Testament, has already begun with Christ. Christian eschatology is centred in the figure of Christ as the anticipation of the future Kingdom of God. Jesus is viewed as the Messiah of God, through whom and by whom the new age of God’s redemption has at last been opened. The historical development of Christianity was subsequently marked by widely differing interpretations and degrees of acceptance of this original eschatology, however. Distinctions can be made between the hopes of messianism(directed toward a salvatory or vindicating figure to come), millenarianism (directed toward the prophesied 1,000-year Kingdom of Christ), and apocalypticism (directed toward the cataclysmic intervention of God in history).

  • Canon;  autograph earliest is John from about 140 c.e.
  • Jesus seminar
  • Immaculate conception
  • Virgin birth
  • gematria, the substitution of numbers for letters of the Hebrew alphabet, a favourite method of exegesis used by medieval Kabbalists to derive mystical insights into sacred writings or obtain new interpretations of the texts. Some condemned its use as mere toying with numbers, but others considered it a useful tool, especially when difficult or ambiguous texts otherwise failed to yield satisfactory analysis. Genesis 28:12, for example, relates that in a dream Jacob saw a ladder (Hebrew sullam)stretching from earth to heaven. Since the numerical value of the word sullam is 130 (60 + 30 + 40)–the same numerical value of Sinai (60 + 10 + 50 + 10)–exegetes concluded that the Law revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai is man’s means of reaching heaven. Of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the first ten are given number values consecutively from one to ten, the next eight from 20 to 90 in intervals of ten, while the final four letters equal 100, 200, 300, and 400, respectively. More complicated methods have been used, such as employing the squares of numbers or making a letter equivalent to its basic value plus all numbers preceding it.

Four stages in the growth of the passion tradition.

the historical passion

The historical passion would have originally contained every detail known to those who participated in it. Facts; what really happened. We will never know what really happened, other than by historical reconstruction using the canonical texts as well as all other writings of the time which mention the events. Those who knew what really happened did not care and those who cared did not know. The most we can claim to know: Jesus was crucified by a conjunction of Jewish and Roman authority under Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem at Passover. Josephus tells us “Pilate…hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us …condemned him to be crucified.”

the prophetic passion

“It is the work of the followers of Jesus, not from the peasant but from the retainer class, not from illiterate workers but from literate scholars. They searched their Scriptures seeking understanding of what had happened both to Jesus and to themselves. Was everything within the will and plan of God? Could they find in their sacred writings certain texts, themes, and types that would explain it all, explain especially what had happened and would yet happen to Jesus?” (Crossan 220)

the narrative passion

This is what gets written down in the form of gospel or story by the followers and the disciples of Jesus. This was a process of melding the scholarly exegesis of the earlier stage and putting it in the form of a narrative. 

the polemical passion

“This is the terribly unfortunate, ethically indefensible, and eventually lethal argument that equates the narrative passion with the historical passion and claims that its detailed fulfillments of the prophetic passion renders Christian belief obvious and Jewish belief indefensible.”

how it works

“In the historical passion, there was no darkness at noon when Jesus was executed any more than there was when Caesar was assassinated. In the prophetic passion there was Amos 8:9 (NRSV)  On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight foretelling a world turned upside down for its social injustice by the advent of an avenging God: daytime would become nighttime. In the narrative passion there is darkness for three hours from noon onward as Jesus dies on the cross. Jesus, in other words, dies in fulfillment of the sacred Scriptures of his people as read by his followers. Finally, there is the polemical passion. One example suffices:

Cyril of Jerusalem

Do you seek at what hour exactly the sun failed? Was it the fifth hour or the eighth or the tenth? Give the exact hour, O prophet, to the unheeding Jews, when did the sun set? The prophet Amos says: “On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.” Cyril was bishop of Jerusalem, and he preached the sermon from which that excerpt is taken during Lent of 349…


Of course the narrative passion agreed in detail with the prophetic passion; it had been quarried from its contents. (Crossan 221)

three historical points

there was a movement

the authorities executed its leader

the movement lasted and spread

reason and revelation

reason and revelation cannot contradict one another – they must be held in creative tension, for although in theory revelation is superior to reason, in practice reason is usually the final judge. Otherwise we have no way to evaluate a Jonestown or a Waco until it is too late.

Biblical Literature and Its Critical Interpretation

“what must soon take place”

John 13:34 (NRSV)  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Rev 6:9-17 (NRSV)  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11 They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. 12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

Authorship and style.

The Greek title reads “Apocalypse of John,” and the first word in the Greek text is “apocalypse,” which means “uncovering” or “revelation.” Revelation does not belong to the literary types of gospel, history, letter, sermon, or essay, but to the literary genre known as apocalypse, which flourished as a type of Jewish literature from 200 b.c.e. to 100 c.e. Apocalypses:

  • abound in symbolism
  • are written in cryptic language
  • include dreams, visions, angels, numerical schemes

After AD 70 (the fall of Jerusalem), apocalypticism was introduced into Asia Minor and c. 80-90 a prophetic circle was formed near Ephesus. Its leader was John, a prophet, who might well have been the author of Revelation, which is deeply steeped in apocalyptic traditions. The “Johannine circle” bearing the tradition of John, the Apostle of the Lord, and from which emerged the Gospel and letters bearing his name, might have been a continuation of the prophetic conventicle of Ephesus in which John was prominent. The various writings do not have to be consistent except in their basic faith in Jesus Christ; and, as the situations to which they addressed themselves were different, different styles and content were required. The seer was probably involved in an actual historical situation in the late 80s under Domitian, a time when there was open conflict between the church and the Roman state. There is a tradition supported by Irenaeus, a 2nd-century bishop of Lyons, that in this persecution punishment was death or banishment. John’s prominence might have led to banishment to Patmos, an isle off the coast of Asia Minor, from his homeland in or around Ephesus. From Patmos he wrote a circular letter to the churches in Asia.

Though the style of Revelation is certainly eclectic in form and content, containing elements of a heavenly epistle and with more than three-fourths of the rest made up of prophetic-apocalyptic forms from varied sources, it reflects a systematic and careful plan. Even the apocalyptic, however, is “anti-apocalyptic” in that the seer’s message is open and the mysteries serve not to conceal but to heighten what is seen and to be expected.

Apocalyptic schemata and motifs are, however, used toward this purpose, and allegorical incorporation of sources is more a demonstration of the true, ultimate message than a literary device. Blurred images (e.g., God, Christ, and angels; chiliastic [1,000-year] eras and temporal duplications; as well as interpretations) are part of the apocalyptic style, but a current concrete historical situation is the foundation. Revelation is written in fantastic imagery, blending Jewish apocalyptic, Babylonian mythology, and astrological speculation. It is pictorial, dramatic, and poetic.

The Book of Revelation contains long sections characterized by Greek that is grammatically and stylistically crude, strangely Hebraized to give a unique, almost Oriental, colour. This may have been deliberate. Although Revelation is replete with Old Testament allusions, there are no direct quotations, and this may reflect the seer’s conviction that the work is a direct revelation from God. In other sections the poetry of Revelation might stem from the seer’s experience in the heavenly throne room of God, from hearing the hymns of the angelic host, or from his recollection on Patmos of the liturgical practice of the church. The image of the Bride and wedding feast together with the “Come, Lord Jesus!” have associations with the eucharistic liturgy of the early church.

The recapitulations of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls may be deliberate schematization. The purpose of such repetition and increasing revelation can be a way of heightening enthusiasm to encourage the church.

Mysterious numbers and divisions (such as 7, 3, 12) recur and are part of the theme of assurance, because God has numbers in their order as a sign of his plan of salvation, turning chaos to orderly cosmos. The mysterious name of the second beast, 666, in 13:18, can be calculated by “gematria,” assigning their numerical values to letters of the word and summing them up. The most adequate solution is Nero (the numerical value of the Hebrew letters for Caesar Neron equals 666), a demonic Nero redivivus (revived), who returns from the dead as Antichrist. Astronomy and astrology have also been applied to Revelation in terms of the signs of the zodiac or a calendar of feasts and seasons as keys to understanding its structure, because it is God who orders the times and seasons. Numbers play an important part in the text: there is a basic dualism of the present evil age and a future age in which the forces of evil will be defeated by the forces of good; twelve is used for the faithful tribes (23 times); four is used (19 times) to represent all the parts of the world; three is used (11 times) ; and seven is used much more than any number (55 times) to represent completeness or perfection.

The structure of Matthew.

Matthew copies most of Mark. But about half of Matthew is composed of teachings of Jesus that do not come from Mark, including shorter sayings and parables. These teachings are arranged in five main sections, each of which ends with a similar formula, “and when Jesus had finished….” Not all of these teachings, usually referred to as discourses, go back to Jesus, some come from various traditions in the church, and some seem unique to Matthew himself. We can see, for example, that a number of the sayings Matthew has grouped together are separated in Luke. These parallels are of interest:

Mat 5:13-16 (NRSV)  “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

equals these two in Luke:

Luke 14:34-35 (NRSV)  “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Luke 11:33 (NRSV)  “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.

and Matthew 7:1-5 = Luke 6:37-38, 41-42.

Mat 7:1-5 (NRSV)  “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Luke 6:37-38 (NRSV)  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Luke 6:41-42 (NRSV)  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

and, additionally, Mat 7:12-14 = Luke 6:31 and 13:23-24.

(NRSV)  “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Luke 6:31 (NRSV)  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 13:23-24 (NRSV)  Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.

Between each main discourse (chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23-25) Matthew has inserted narrative material and added introductory and concluding narratives. The general structure of his gospel is:

  1. prologue: birth narratives; Mark has no birth narrative.
  2. introductory narratives (3:1 – 5.1) opening formula: “in those days came John the Baptist…” closing formula: “And great crowds followed him…”
  3. first discourse: the new law for Christians (Mat 5:2 (NRSV)  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:)
  4. miracle stories (8:1 – 9:36)
  5. second discourse: teaching for Christian missionaries Mat 9:37 (NRSV)  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
  6. narratives – mostly controversy material (11:2 – 13:2) Mat 11:2 (NRSV)  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples… Mat 13:2 (NRSV)  Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
  7. third discourse: parables about what the kingdom of heaven is like (13.3 – 53) Mat 13:3 (NRSV)  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. Mat 13:53 (NRSV)  When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
  8. narratives: miracles, controversies, and the church
  9. fourth discourse: the church and behaviour in it Mat 17:22 (NRSV)  As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them,… Mat 19:1 (NRSV)  When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.
  10. narratives: mostly controversy material Mat 22:46 (NRSV)  No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
  11. fifth discourse: woes, apocalyptic, and the need for watchfulness (23:1 – 26:2) Mat 26:1-2 (NRSV)  When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
  12. concluding narratives: the conspiracy against Jesus to the resurrection Mat 26:3 (NRSV)  Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest,… Mat 26:4 (NRSV)  and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
  13. closing commission: Mat 28:19-20 (NRSV)  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah who fulfills OT/HB prophecies.

Matthew’s genealogy

Mat 1:1-17 (NRSV)  An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. 

Abraham > Isaac > Jacob > Judah > Perez > Hezron > Aram > Aminadab > Nahshon > Salmon > Boaz > Obed > Jesse > King David. (14 generations) Notice: What is the point of view?

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 

Solomon > Rehoboam > Abijah > Asaph > Jehoshaphat > Joram > Uzziah > Jotham > Ahaz > Hezekiah > Manasseh > Amos > Josiah > Jechoniah (14 generations)

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Salathiel > Zerubbabel > Abiud > Eliakim > Azor > Zadok > Achim > Eliud > Eleazar > Matthan > Jacob > Joseph > Jesus (13 generations)

Here’s a Christian commentary:

        He must come in the line of Abraham through David

                  and no Israelite could be interested in one claiming to 

                  be He of whom this was not true. That Matthew should lay 

                  stress on this, and give the “generation” in detail is one 

                  evidence that his Gospel was addressed to Israel rather than 

                  the Gentiles. Neither Mark nor John gives a genealogy, and 

                  Luke’s table (3:23-38), written for the Gentile, is a 

                  different one, and for a special reason does not pause at 

                  Abraham, but extends back to God, through Adam. Reference 

                  will be made to Matthew’s table again when we reach Luke’s 

                  Gospel, but verse 16 is important, showing that “Joseph the 

                  husband of Mary” was legal heir to the throne of David, for 

                  the genealogical table following David’s time is that of the 

                  kings. And also that although “the husband of Mary,” he was 

                  not the begetter of Jesus as in the preceding cases. The 

                  changed expression is significant, “Mary, of whom was born 

                  Jesus.” The latter did not come of natural generation, but in 

                  the manner indicated in the next chapter. 

Compare this with the genealogy given by Luke:

Luke 3:23 (NRSV)  Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, [and so on] …

Luke 3:36-38 (NRSV)  son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech, 37 son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan, 38 son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.

Jesus’ virgin birth:

Mat 1:22-23 (NRSV)  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Isa 7:14 (KJV)  Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isa 7:14 (NRSV)  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem:

Mat 2:5-6 (NRSV)  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Mat 2:5-6 (KJV)  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Micah 5:2 (KJV)  But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Micah 5:2 (NRSV)  But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Jesus’ return from Egypt:

Mat 2:15 (KJV)  And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Hosea 11:1 (KJV)  When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

Herod’s killing of male children:

Mat 2:16-18 (NRSV)  When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Jer 31:15 (NRSV)  Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.

Jesus’ living in Nazareth:

Mat 2:23 (NRSV)  There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Isa 11:1 (KJV)  And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

The price of Jesus’ life:

Mat 27:9-10 (NRSV)  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Zec 11:12-13 (KJV)  And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.

Sermon on the Mount

The sermon on the mount has been acclaimed as the heart and center of the Christian faith. In Matthew this is the first and most important discourse of the Gospel.  First the very famous beatitudes come from this sermon and describe the condition of those for whom Jesus’ message is good news:

Mat 5:3-12 (NRSV)  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Second, the Sermon ends with a clear call to obedience:

Mat 7:15-29 (NRSV)  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!” 28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29 for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

And as usual with Matthew, the central insight of the sermon, the internalization of the moral law:

Mat 5:21-22 (NRSV)  “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Mat 5:27-28 (NRSV)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

echoes a similar thought from the prophet Jeremiah:

Jer 31:31-34 (NRSV)  The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Ethics in the New Testament.

Matthew reports Jesus as having said, in the Sermon on the Mount, that he came not to destroy the law of the prophets but to fulfill it. Indeed, when Jesus is regarded as a teacher of ethics, it is clear that he was more a reformer of the Hebrew tradition than a radical innovator. The Hebrew tradition had a tendency to place great emphasis on compliance with the letter of the law; the Gospel accounts of Jesus portray him as preaching against this “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,” championing the spirit rather than the letter of the law. This spirit he characterized as one of love, for God and for one’s neighbour. But since he was not proposing that the old teachings be discarded, he saw no need to develop a comprehensive ethical system. Christianity thus never really broke with the Jewish conception of morality as a matter of divine law to be discovered by reading and interpreting the word of God as revealed in the Scriptures.

This conception of morality had important consequences for the future development of Western ethics. The Greeks and Romans, and indeed thinkers such as Confucius too, did not have the Western conception of a distinctively moral realm of conduct. For them, everything that one did was a matter of practical reasoning, in which one could do well or poorly.In the more legalistic Judeo-Christian view, however, it is one thing to lack practical wisdom in, say, household budgeting, and a quite different and much more serious matter to fall short of what the moral law requires. This distinction between the moral and the nonmoral realms now affects every question in Western ethics, including the very way the questions themselves are framed.

Another consequence of the retention of the basically legalistic stance of Jewish ethics was that from the beginning Christian ethics had to deal with the question of how to judge the person who breaks the law from good motives or keeps it from bad motives. The latter half of this question was particularly acute because the Gospels describe Jesus as repeatedly warning of a coming resurrection of the dead at which time all would be judged and punished or rewarded according to their sins and virtues in this life. The punishments and rewards were weighty enough to motivate anyone who took this message seriously; and it was given added emphasis by the fact that it was not going to be long in coming.(Jesus said that it would take place during the lifetime of some of those listening to him.) This is, therefore, an ethic that invokes external sanctions as a reason for doing what is right, in contrast to Plato or Aristotle for whom happiness is an internal element of a virtuous life. At the same time, it is an ethic that places love above mere literal compliance with the law. These two aspects do not sit easily together. Can one love God and neighbour in order to be rewarded with eternal happiness in another life?

The fact that Jesus and Paul, too, believed in the imminence of the Second Coming led them to suggest ways of living that were scarcely feasible on any other assumption: taking no thought for the morrow; turning the other cheek; and givingaway all one has. Even Paul’s preference for celibacy rather than marriage and his grudging acceptance of the latter on the basis that “It is better to marry than to burn” makes some sense once we grasp that he was proposing ethical standardsfor what he thought would be the last generation on earth. When the expected event did not occur and Christianity became the official religion of the vast and embattled Roman Empire, Christian leaders were faced with the awkward task of reinterpreting these injunctions in a manner more suited for a continuing society.

The new Christian ethical standards did lead to some changes in Roman morality. Perhaps the most vital was a new sense of the equal moral status of all human beings. As previously noted, the Stoics had been the first to elaborate thisconception, grounding equality on the common capacity to reason. For Christians, humans are equal because they are all potentially immortal and equally precious in the sight of God. This caused Christians to condemn a wide variety of practices that had been accepted by both Greek and Roman moralists. Many of these related to the taking of innocent human life: from the earliest days Christian leaders condemned abortion, infanticide, and suicide. Even killing in war was at first regarded as wrong, and soldiers converted to Christianity had refused to continue to bear arms. Once the empire became Christian, however, this was one of the inconvenient ideas that had to yield. In spite of what Jesus had said about turning the other cheek, the church leaders declared that killing in a “just war” was not a sin. The Christian condemnation of killing in gladiatorial games, on the other hand, had a more permanent effect. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, while Christian emperors continued to uphold the legality of slavery, the Christian church accepted slaves as equals, admitted them to its ceremonies, and regarded the granting of freedom to slaves as a virtuous, if not obligatory, act. This moral pressure led over several hundred years to the gradual disappearance of slavery in Europe.

The Christian contribution to improving the position of slaves can also be linked with the distinctively Christian list of virtues. Some of the virtues described by Aristotle, as, for example, greatness of soul, are quite contrary in spirit to Christian virtues such as humility. In general, it can be said that the Greeks and Romans prized independence, self-reliance, magnanimity, and worldly success. By contrast, Christians saw virtue in meekness, obedience, patience, and resignation. As the Greeks and Romans conceived virtue, a virtuous slave was almost a contradiction in terms, but for Christians there was nothing in the state of slavery that was incompatible with the highest moral character. Christianity began with a set of scriptures incorporating many ethical injunctions but with no ethical philosophy. The first serious attempt to provide such a philosophy was made by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Augustine was acquainted with a version of Plato’s philosophy, and he developed the Platonic idea of the rational soul into a Christian view wherein humans are essentially souls, using their bodies as means to achieve their spiritual ends. The ultimate object remains happiness, as in Greek ethics, but Augustine saw happiness as consisting in a union of the soul with God after the body has died. It was through Augustine, therefore, that Christianity received the Platonic theme of the relative inferiority of bodily pleasures. There was, to be sure, a fundamental difference: whereas Plato saw this inferiority in terms of a comparison with the pleasures of philosophical contemplation in this world, Christians compared them unfavourably with the pleasures of spiritual existence in the next world. Moreover, Christians came to see bodily pleasures not merely as inferior but also as a positive threat to the achievement of spiritual bliss. At this point we may pass over more than 800 years in silence, for there were no major developments in ethics in the West until the rise of Scholasticism in the 12th and 13th centuries. Among the first of the significant works written during this time was a treatise on ethics by the French philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard (1079-1142). His importance in ethical theory lies in his emphasis on intentions. Abelard maintained, for example, that the sin of sexual wrongdoing consists not in the act of illicit sexual intercourse nor even in the desire for it, but in mentally consenting to that desire. In this he was far more modern than Augustine, with his doctrine of grace, and also more thoughtful than those who even today assert that the mere desire for what is wrong is as wrong as the act itself. Abelard saw that there is a problem in holding anyone morally responsible for the existence of mere physical desires. His ingenious solution was taken up by later medieval writers, and traces of it can still be found in modern discussions of moral responsibility.


Matthew presents Jesus as the messianic Son of David whose healings confirm his messiahship and whose life and work fulfill OT/HB prophecy. His gospel is the only one of the four to use the word “church,” which he uses on several occasions: Mat 16:18 (NRSV)  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it; Mat 18:15 (NRSV)  “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one; Mat 18:17 (NRSV)  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector; Mat 18:21 (NRSV)  Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Why do mountains (transfiguration, sermon on the mount) play such a central role in this gospel? For Matthew, Jesus’ teachings represent God’s will delivered by Jesus, just as the Torah represents God’s will delivered by Moses.  Matthew’s Jesus is the new Moses; and he brings the new covenant.

Revelations – The Apocrypha of John

The author of the book of Revelation identifies himself simply as “John” (1:4), with no title other than “your brother” (v. 9). All of the earliest church fathers agree it was written by John the apostle, but Dionysius of Alexandria challenged this in the third century. He compared the Gospel and the Apocalypse and found the contrasts in theology, vocabulary and grammar too great to be able to believe that they were authored by the same person.

One wonders why Dionysius rejected John as the author of the Apocalypse, rather than the Gospel. After all, Revelation identifies its author as John, while the fourth Gospel makes no such claim. One possibility is that the Gentile church was becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. Dionysius himself made no secret of his own distaste for the millinarianism in Revelation [which gives Israel and the Jews a special place in prophecy].

Most modern scholars follow Dionysius, prefering to attribute the Gospel to John rather than the Apocalypse. They deal with two ages, the present evil age and a future age in which the forces of good will triumph over evil. Apocalypses also in clude a doctrine of the resurrection, at least of the righteous dead. Thus, dualism is a feature of apocalypse  the dualism of apocalypse pertains to history and the world. It is not the Gnostic dualism between matter and spirit or the Paufine dualism between spirit and flesh.

Perhaps the dominant feature of John’s apocalypse is a dualism between two ages, this age and the age to come. This age, which is only temporary, is under the control of Satan, whose demonic forces and evil human agents torment the righteous. But it will soon end with a cataclysmic upheaval during which Satan and his forces will be defeated by God and his forces, and Christ will return as judge. The new age, with a new heaven and a new earth, will be eternal, with everlasting happiness for the righteous. Then God will rule in the world, not from above it, and all will have happened in accordance with the divine plan.

Numbers and numerical schemes play a big part in John’s composition, which is the result of a highly imaginative mind. He uses 1260 days (11:3; 12:6) and forty-two months (13:5), which both come out to three and a half years, and he mentions a beast whose number is 666.

(13. 18j. His favorite numbers are twelve (twenty-three times), used for the faithful of the twelve tribes of Israel at the end of time; four (nineteen times), for all the parts of the world; and three (eleven times) and ten (nine times), the symbol ism of which is uncertain. But john uses seven (fifty-five times) much more than any other number; it probably symbolizes completeness or perfection. He describes things in sevens and seems to structure his book around the number seven, as the following outline shows.

The Greek title reads “Apocalypse of John,” and the first word in the Greek text is “apocalypse,” which means “uncovering” or “revelation.”

Thus, Revelation does not belong to the literary types of gospel, history, letter sermon, or essay, but to the literary genre known as apocalypse, which flourished as a type of Jewish literature from c. 200 B.c. to c. A.D. 100. Apocalypses in general are written in cryptic language, which only those familiar with the situations under which they are written can understand. Apocalypses abound in symbolism, often of a grotesque kind, and they include dreams, visions, angels, and frequently numerical schemes. All of these are included in Revelation, in addition to such symbols as the following: horns as a symbol for power–especially of men (12:3; 13:li 17:3)–eyes for knowledge (2:18; 4:6), a sharp sword for the word of God (2:12, 16; 19:21), white robes for glory and purity (6.11; 7:9), black for famine and death (6:5, 12), crowns for victory and dominion (2: 10i 3: 11;14:14), and horses of various colors for different calamities (6:2-8). Such symbolism adds to the mystery of apocalypse far modern readers.

Apocalypses often use the device of prediction, but sometimes the predictions are deceiving because they may actually be allusions to events of the past or present and make it appear as though the events are yet to happen. Apocalypses originate during times of persecution and are intended to boost morale and strengthen Revelation, like every other work in the NT, is situational; that is, it grew out of a specific situation in NT times and was addressed to readers of those times, not to future readers. Because the book is so misunderstood even today, we will begin our discussion with the literary nature of the work, an apocalypse that developed out of the religious situation confronting the writer.

I. Prologue (1:1-20)

A. Superscription (1:1-3)

The writer says that his revelation came to him from God through Christ by an angel sent to deliver the message. Read it aloud and be blessed. Martin Luther wondered how those who heard it were to be blessed since no one could understand it!

B. Epistolary greeting and theological summary (1:4-8)

The seven churches and the proclamation that Christians are the new people of God.

C. Initial vision (1:9-20)

Rev 1:9-20 (NRSV)  I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” 12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

II. Letters to the seven churches in Asia.

III. The apocalypse proper (4:1-22:5)

The drama unfolds with scenes from earth and heaven placed side by side, history past, poresent and future contrasted with prophecy.

A. Introductory visions

The torches, elders, trumpet, singing, and incense are symbols from Jewish liturgy. God’s throne is contrasted to the throne of Rome.

B. Visions of seven seals and their opening.

C. Visions of seven trumpets and their blowing.

The trumpets seem to represent the wrath of God in world upheavals that precede the new exodus of God’s people from the powers of the earth.

Rev 9:18 (NRSV)  By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.

After a series of cataclysmic events we are taken back to heaven for a preview of the conflict to come and the glory that is to follow.

Rev 11:15-19 (NRSV)  Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” [Notice, the writer is so sure that God is in control that he writes about the coming kingdom in the past tense.]  16 Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 singing, “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

D. Seven visions of the woman, dragon, and beasts (12:1 – 13:18)

E. Seven visions of the Lamb and angels (14:1 -20)

F. Visons of seven bowls of the wrath of God (15:1 – 16:21)

G. Seven visions of the fall of “Babylon”  – metaphors

H. Seven visions of the end of the age of Satan, and the final victory of Christ.

IV. Epilogue (22: 6 – 21) 

Rev 22:6-21 (NRSV)  And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” 7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” 8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” 10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” 12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Revelations, like the gospel of Matthew, and like Margaret’s bufflo report, has a particular point of view, and it speaks to us only if we can imagine that point of view.


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