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Matthew Price

Matthew Price

The earliest biblical texts show an Israel whose god looked very similar to the gods of surrounding nations. Yahweh was seen to be a warrior: “Who is he, this king of glory? It is Yahweh, strong and valiant, Yahweh valiant in battle” (Ps 24:8), and he fights for Israel as every national god was expected to do.

He is also seen as a storm god: “So Samuel called upon Yahweh, and Yahweh sent thunder and rain that day” (1 Sam 12:18). In Jdgs 5:5, 21 — a very early text — Yahweh wins the battle by sending a storm. In Solomon’s prayer, he prays: “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you … ” (2 Kings 8:35).

Monday, 24 May 2010 11:43

Israel Discovers Unconditional Love

One of the problems we have in understanding the Old Testament is that its various books are not in chronological sequence. Rather, they reflect story sequence, that is, beginning with stories of creation, then the patriarchs, and then Israel in the land. This means that some of the most primitive understandings of God are found in texts that appear quite late in our reading, if we start at the beginning. As we saw in our previous Scripture Article, Yahweh was seen as just “the God of Israel” who would protect them in the same way that the gods of the neighbouring nations would protect their own people. He was a warrior god, who acted like a storm god at times.

The previous article described how, through Israel’s experience of the exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., it reconsidered its understanding of God. This article looks at the sort of questions about God that Israel’s post-exilic texts sought to answer. There, we find that Israel’s perception of their relationship with God had been deeply affected by the trauma of the Exile, the threat to Israel’s continued existence, the loss of the Temple, the Davidic dynasty and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Monday, 24 May 2010 11:38

What Did Paul See?

Luke describes the conversion of Saul (Paul) in three places in Acts of the Apostles — in chapters 9, 22 and 26 — and in each case the story is told differently. Many commentators in the past have looked at the three stories and tried to ‘add them together’ to find out ‘what really happened.’ But this ruins the effect on the reader intended by Luke. Acts 22 is written as a speech of Paul intended for Jewish hearers; Acts 26 is written as a speech of Paul intended for gentile hearers. Acts 9 is very different, and we will pay close intention to the way Luke portrays the conversion of Saul as this tells us a lot about Luke’s themes in his double work of Luke–Acts.

Monday, 24 May 2010 11:32

Why Did David Dance?

When the Deuteronomic writer(s) composed the Book of Deuteronomy and the series of books known as the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings), they were writing in a period (7th–6th centuries BC) when many, of not most, regarded the monarchy as a prime cause of Israel’s downfall — first the loss of the Northern Kingdom, and then the loss of Jerusalem, the Temple and the remainder of the land.

After the ‘evil’ king, Manasseh, had allowed the worship of other gods in Jerusalem, the Deuteronomic group set out to show where Israel had gone wrong. They wrote a history demonstrating that Israel had continually disobeyed Yahweh and worshiped other gods, and that it had, against Yahweh’s will, asked to have a king, like the other nations. They told how Israel had been warned through the prophet Samuel that having such a king would return Israel to slavery, and that only Yahweh should be their king (cf. 1 Samuel 8). They went on to show how Israel’s kings had consistently ignored the Law and the prophets, and had allowed the worship of other gods.

The four evangelists present very different accounts of the call of the Peter. In Mark’s Gospel, Peter (called Simon in all the accounts) with Andrew, James and John inexplicably leave their family and livelihood to follow a man they had apparently never met. Mark surely meant the reader/hearer to be shocked by his brief call story — why would anyone follow this man Jesus, giving up everything as they did? What is special about this man? Mark was appealing to his persecuted community to radically give up everything to follow Jesus without hesitation

Monday, 24 May 2010 11:26

Jesus and the Dog

Readers are often puzzled by the incident in Mark 7:24–30 where the Syro-Phoenician woman comes to Jesus. ‘Gentle’ Jesus seemingly ruins his public image by calling her a dog, and rejecting her request to heal her daughter until she insists. Was Jesus just having a bad day?

We should look at our context first (as always). We are in the centre of what is often called “the Bread Section” of Mark’s Gospel. In this section, there are the two feeding miracles — of the five thousand in 6:30–44 and of the four thousand in 8:1–10.

“In the beginning … ” (John 1:1). A Jew picking up this text to read it in the first century AD could not fail to be reminded of the beginning of the Scriptures: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth … .” He would agree that “in the beginning was the word,” because Genesis 1 describes how God created all things merely by speaking — all things were made through his word. More than that, the Torah was seen to exist in the beginning, and “word” and “law” are often used interchangeably (cf. Ps 119).

Monday, 24 May 2010 11:23

Are You Not Strong Enough?

When Jesus returns to the sleeping Peter, James and John in Gethsemane (Mark 14:37), he literally says, “Are you asleep? Are you not strong enough to watch for an hour?” There is considerable irony in this verse, as the disciples had turned accusingly to Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee in the storm when he was comfortably asleep on the pillow in the stern and asked him, “Master, don’t you care?!” (4:38). Jesus’ reply was to chastise them for their lack of trust (pistis, usually translated as faith), and to show by calming the storm that everything was, indeed, under control. Now, in Gethsemane, Peter is asleep, and matters are not in their control at all. Within minutes, they will abandon Jesus in order to save their own skin. When their moment of testing comes, they will not be ready. They will not be strong enough.

Thursday, 20 May 2010 15:22

Understanding the Bible

For a mature Christian faith, it is very important to understanding the nature of the Bible. Leaders have a special responsibility to know what the Bible is, and what it is not, if they are to help people know God and how he works in the world, as they use the Bible in their teaching and ministry. Too often, people misuse the Bible because they do not understand what it is, or where it came from. Texts are used without any reference to their context or to the matter really being addressed. Texts are used selectively, without any integration with the whole biblical text. The Bible is often used to prove what the speaker is saying. But you can prove anything you want by selecting small pieces of text from the Bible.

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