New Testament Trivia!

CC BY-NC-SA, LEOL30, Flickr

CC BY-NC-SA, LEOL30 Flickr

Let’s see how well you fair. Share your comments.

  • Excitement over what miracle effectually sealed Jesus’s fate? (John 11:45-54)
  • To whom did Paul likely write a prior epistle that is now lost?
  • Who was the prophet that accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey? (Acts 15:32)
  • A portion of what group of religious leaders converted as the gospel spread in Judea? (Acts 6:7)
  • What church in the province of Asia received a now lost letter that was to be read by the Colossians and vice versa? (Colossians 4:16)
  • What event marked the first great persecution against Christians in Judea? (Acts 8:1-3; 11:19)
  • Who was the cause of sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and was Barnabas’s cousin? (Acts 15:36-40; Col. 4:10)
  • What was the requirement the 11 apostles imposed in selecting Judas’s replacement? (Acts 1:21-22)
  • Who was the first apostle martyred? (Acts 12:1-2)
  • What four languages might Jesus have spoken?

 

ANSWERS

 the raising of Lazarus; the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9, 11; 2 Cor. 7:8); Silas; the priests; the church at Laodicea; the martyrdom of Stephen; Mark, writer of the Gospel; the person must have been an adherent of Jesus’s ministry from his baptism at Jordan to his ascension; James the Greater, brother of John; Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek (most likely), and Latin (possibly)

The Parable of the Laborers

CC BY-NC, kewing, Flickr

CC BY-NC, kewing, Flickr

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

*Portion of an exegetical paper I wrote on the topic.*

The parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16 is part of Matthew’s gospel of the kingdom. Matthew is the only writer who tells the story, which places its composition around A.D. 63 and for the benefit of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The details of the parable would have been very familiar to Jesus’s audience. Brad Young offers a sitz im leben perspective (on-scene contextualization):

The setting assumes the difficult economic conditions of first-century Israel. Many day laborers are standing in the market hoping to be hired for a day job. The original audience could readily identify with these workers and their real-life situation…Day laborers were on the bottom end of the economic structure. They received minimal wages for sporadic work. As the primary wage earners, they had to support their families by the odd jobs they could acquire for day service. During the time of harvest, the situation improved as landowners needed additional day laborers to harvest the crops on time.

One noticeable aspect of this parable is that at its outset the householder, not his steward, works from early morning to late evening to acquire laborers. This would have been an immediate signal to the listening crowd that their normal worldview was about to be challenged.

The parable can be divided into three acts: Act One, the hirelings (vs. 1-7); Act Two, the payments (vs. 8-11); and Act Three, the dialogue between the owner and the grumbling workers (vs. 11-15).

It is obvious that the parable involves economic details. The only condition imposed on the workers is proper work for a day’s wage. This was the denarius, a silver coin that meant a usual day’s pay. The parable, however, should not be used to imply any message about economic arrangements in society, a proposition not obvious in the illustration.

Moreover, the owner’s pay arrangement is simply impossible in the developed world and modern economy. Business leaders and workers would spurn the idea.

A Hard Pill to Swallow

The workers are recruited throughout the day and are finally called in to be paid. This is where the parable does what it is characteristically known for, which is setting up listeners for a surprise. The owner starts by paying the laborers who have worked the least amount of time first—and they receive just as much as those who have toiled all day in the heat.

The first-comers are begrudged. When confronted the owner explains that he had kept his word and had also decided to be gracious to those who had come later. Donahue says:

“If the reader too quickly identifies the owner as God and is unwilling to experience the same feelings as those who worked all day, the challenge of the parable loses its force. Hardly any parable in the Gospels seems to upset the basic structure of an orderly society as does this one…The constant complaint in our society about welfare is proof that popular morality operates according to the principle of ‘equal work for equal pay.'”

The laborers who had been fortunate enough to receive work in the morning should have rejoiced at the generosity of the owner.

Still, one significant limitation of the parable needs to be pointed out. Those who labored all day earn their day’s wage by their work; but Jesus did not believe that anyone earns a place in the kingdom by his or her work. It should be understood that parabolic language should not be pressed too far.

God’s Undeserved Favor

What is the message of the parable? It is first a parable of the kingdom by which Jesus illustrates the incredible grace of God. It drives a wedge between two ways of thinking about Christian life and one’s relationship with God.

The first mindset centers on human goodness and the ability to earn one’s way into the kingdom. But a problem arises here because distinctions are easily and often made between those whose length of service and fervor for the kingdom are exemplary and those who have less to show. The simple standards of justice and the ranking of time and effort determine degrees of worth.

The second way of thinking ventures much deeper into the gospel to show us that God’s way with us makes no distinctions between us. Each of us are accepted and loved by him, and we are saved not due to any efforts we make but purely as a result of his grace. It is that “God loves us not because we are lovable, but because God is loving in a radical way.”

This is the gospel. Borsch says, “We either ‘take what belongs to us and go’—a way of living that cuts us off from true fellowship with God and others—or we receive from God what he has graciously chosen to give.”

Credits: Borsch, Frederick Houk. Many Things In Parables: Extravagant Story of New Community. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988./Donahue, John R. The Gospel in Parable. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988/Young, Brad H. Jesus The Jewish Theologian. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995

Lectio Divina: Psalms 126

"Jews in Exile" by Eduard Bendemann Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne CC BY-NC, Magdeburg, Flickr

“Jews in Exile” by Eduard Bendemann
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne
CC BY-NC, Magdeburg, Flickr

Encouraging articles about persevering through tough times are plentiful; there is nothing wrong with them. But I want to share with you an inspiring coming-out scenario lifted directly from scripture. Since we all are in process and will encounter tough times, it would do us well to keep this text handy. It offers a glimpse of God’s rescue.

Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is one of 15 psalms (120-134) called “Songs of Degrees” or “Songs of Ascent.” Four of them are attributed to David (122, 124, 131, 133), one to Solomon (127), and the remainder have unknown authors.

The origin of the name—Degrees, Ascent—is uncertain. It is often thought that they were purposed for pilgrimages to Jerusalem or sung by the Hebrews upon their return from captivity. There is also the notion that there may be a thought progression in them. The truth, however, is that the categorization is not understood. The circumstances of their composition or the occasion for which they were used granted them a certain unity and distinction by the editor of Psalms. Still, the title would have been fully understood by Hebrew readers.

Psalm 126 is one of only two (the other: Ch. 122) that could possibly have anything to do with a Babylonian return; and it appears that the return of exiles may very well be the subject here. The psalm is a first-person testimony of exiles recalling their release from captivity.

VERSE 1(ESV)

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…”

Have you ever been in hardship so severe that it seemed that you would never get out of it? Pain and suffering has the tendency to make us feel isolated and locked in circumstance. Sometimes we forget faith and cast off hope (Isa. 49:15). But this verse reveals a God who always knows where we are and how to free us.

Some Bible versions are worded more aligned to the New King James (NKJV)—“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion…”—the word “captivity” meaning “return,” referring to the captives themselves. The notion is the Lord’s deliverance and by not only bringing us out of misery, but also freeing everything connected to us. It is a recovery or recompense in ways we may have resolved would never happen.

You see, God has the power to free us, our goods, and our ability to prosper. He doesn’t just release the captives; he establishes them and gives them livelihood. “He will beautify the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4). The word “fortunes” used by some versions is good.

“…we were like those who dream.”

Our burdens were so monumental that, once delivered, we could hardly believe it. It was surreal. Too often we’ve watched news stories of a man wrongly imprisoned for 10, 15, 25 years, only to be set free immediately after conclusive evidence proved his innocence; certainly it takes time for him to understand his new reality.

It is the great disparity between our dire situation and unexpected relief that shocks the senses and may even cause us to fear that our new state isn’t lasting. For instance, people who have starved have to learn not to hide food when they finally have enough to eat. They fear that satisfaction won’t last and that they’ll starve again.

VERSE 2

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy…”

These people were exiles—prisoners—for years. Now they were free, and it came without expectation and with ecstatic joy. What we’re witnessing in these two verses is a reversal of what we understand of the Kubler-Ross model, or five stages of grief. The first two stages are denial and anger. Denial encompasses shock at a great sadness, just as shock and denial, seen here, was the initial response of the exiles’ great joy. Now, the shock wearing off, they cannot contain their giddiness.

They’re so full with excitement that all they can do is laugh with incredulity. I imagine it to be like a person on the verge of bankruptcy suddenly inheriting millions of dollars. The NKJV expresses the latter clause as “our tongue with singing.” Music often expresses what mere sentences cannot.

“…then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”

The “they” here are non-Israelites, or heathen (KJV), those that don’t know the Lord—they testify to his mighty deeds! It reminds me of Nebuchadnezzar, after seeing the fourth man in the fire, standing back in amazement and acknowledging the reality of the Hebrew God.

People around us often know details about our lives. It is not possible to hide everything about ourselves (and who really cares to expend a great deal of energy trying?) And non-Christian people on our jobs, in our social organizations, our peers and neighbors will see us, the Christians, go through trial. Some will mock for the seeming lack of regard our so-called God shows toward us. But we should be encouraged. Not only is pain working a reward within us and for us, it is also working toward a testimony of the greatness of God.

In the end God will prove himself and no one will be able to deny that it is his doing. Some struggles are so monumental that only God can change them, but we must be convinced—like the Hebrew boys—that God is able even if he doesn’t answer. He just might shock us all with his goodness!

And isn’t that the point? The glory of God is a testimony of his affection, that he is for us and his nature is goodness itself. He is eager to show us kindness.

VERSE 3

“The Lord has done great things for us!”

This is the reply of the Israelites—“Absolutely!” “Indeed!” And there’s also an element of “You cannot possibly understand.” We see people, perhaps smiling on the outside or getting on with their lives, but never have a clue about the depth of pain, lack, or suffering they’re dealing with. If they told us stories about the ins-and-outs of their daily lives…the number of jobs and the type of schedule they manage just to put food on their tables or the domino effect of trouble that fell upon them—we might be stunned.

So when God delivers people like this, we can rejoice with them; yet there is an intimacy about the whole thing that only they can share with their Deliverer. Only he knows how their hearts hurt, how situations tried their souls, the things they lost, and the lessons they learned.

“…we are glad.”

Our souls are satisfied. Others can be happy for us, but only we can be satisfied. If the Lord permits us to go through pain, he knew what the pain would accomplish. But when he brings us out, the true reward is not the mere reversal of fortune; instead it is the satisfaction of seeing the full scope of his purpose. It takes a really “seasoned saint” to acknowledge on the coming-out end, “It was good that I went through my affliction” (Isa. 53:10-12).  The experience may have been hell itself, but the work of God within us and through us makes it all worth it.

VERSE 4

“Restore our fortunes, O Lord…”

This verse implies that the restoration wasn’t complete and was most likely in progress. So the psalmist implores the Lord that full deliverance would be manifested. It very well could have been a prayer that all of his Israelite compatriots be freed from exile since we know that the exiles returned in stages over several years.

This is a good place for us to stop and ask the Lord to finish his work within us, using that great Pauline verse, Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Lord, we thank you that our lives are hidden in you. You have ordered our every step along this path of life. Where we must face trial, teach us patience and help us to trust your providence. You will deliver us; you will satisfy us. You will make your name great to all who see. Complete your work in us. Cause us to one day acknowledge that when you tested the good in us, it was a good thing indeed. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“…like streams in the Negeb!”

Restore our fortunes like the dry desert streams that are restored and swollen by the autumn and winter rains.

VERSE 5

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

Isn’t this wonderfully poetic? Agriculture is obviously a readily used illustration tool and a worthy one. But what I like about this verse is the oblivious thing happening with the subject. No one views suffering as valuable; pain is visceral—you feel it, spurn it, run away from it. God allows the yoke to come upon us and we ask why. It all seems so needless.

The psalmist images tears as seed. All of our misery is borne in our tears, yet our tears, in God’s eyes, are rudiments of renewal and reward. Suffering people might never be convinced that their grief is a spiritual act of sowing, but the scriptures assure us of this concept in many places.

God’s promise comes through resoundingly in this verse: “I will repay your trouble.” And to anyone experiencing hardship, you should know that God has not forgotten your pain. He has seen every tear you’ve cried. You’re gonna get through this. The harvest sprouting for you is going to make you shout with joy.

VERSE 6

“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing…”

The concept continues. Picture that person ambling along dejected and softly weeping.

“…shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

I like the assurance of the NKJV here: “shall doubtless come again…” The allusion to the sower remains, but the reward is imaged here: a sheaf. A sheaf is a bundle of grain produced from a harvest.

Need I say more? The one who trod the earth lamenting his or her lack and loss and without a clue that their own tears were working toward the answer of their prayers will “doubtless come again” leaping and laughing and falling over in disbelief that the Lord has favored them with more than they could have ever imagined.

More: Lectio Divina: Psalm 130

Law and Legalism

CC BY NC-ND, Wally Gobetz Flickr

CC BY NC-ND Wally Gobetz Flickr

In Colossians 2:16-23, the apostle Paul presents a straightforward defense against legalistic injunctions being forced upon the Colossian church. To the quick reader it may seem as though Paul is being critical of the Law of Moses since many people lump anything having to do with rules and religion in the word legalism. But this is not the case.

In fact, Paul shows great respect for the Law of Moses in Galatians 3 and Romans 7. For instance, he says, “Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law” (Rom. 7:7) and “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (v. 12).

Distinguishing Law and Legalism

What the apostle is doing for the Colossian Christians is liberating them from human rules. Paul understood Torah very well—remember that great resume of his in Philippians 3? He was once a Pharisee. Judaism was his heritage and the ground from which Christianity—Christ himself—sprang.

I think it would be fair to speculate that he could respect the devout Jew who did his or her best to follow God’s requirements apart from the knowledge of Christ or with hesitance or resistance to the new Jesus religion. The Law was indeed the tutor in righteousness (Gal. 3:24); however, altering one’s understanding of religious conviction is always difficult. Paul would have recalled his own dramatic crossroads.

What Paul is fighting in Colossians are additional, burdensome do’s and don’ts that false teachers would make these new Christians believe were obligatory for acceptance with God. This is legalism. Moreover, these teachers used the Law of Moses as a guise for their own extra rules, thus turning people away from Christ and back to works religion and locking their minds to wrong teaching.

The Treachery of Rule Givers

The implications in these verses are many. In fact, the warning remains as important to Christians today as it was then. I find in Paul’s words the increasing need for biblical teaching. The apostle was cutting away the excess that kept these Christians laden down. In a day when pulpits are overrun with newfangled concepts, self-help tactics, and glitzy preaching, Christians too stand in need of strong biblical teaching that will excise anything that is not verily the word of God.

CC BY-SA, J. Nathan Matias, Flickr

CC BY-SA, J. Nathan Matias, Flickr

We would be remiss to think that teaching like this comes devoid of ulterior motive, which is often the grasp for human control, a notion present in Paul’s argument. Rules, religious and otherwise, can be powerful because they bear, or are assigned, moral and ethical value. For this reason they can be used to control and manipulate. Rule-givers and paragons typically gain control when adherents go astray or are too weak to question authority.

This is exactly what Paul explains about the Law in Romans 7:7-25. The law of God was (and is) good for us, but, sin being found in us, we are beaten down with condemnation for our moral failure resulting from the command (Rom. 7:8). Now to the Colossians, Paul tells them that not only has Christ liberated them by fulfilling this Law completely and perfectly, but these false teachers are adding requirements that God never authorized.

It is also the character of the rule, or the spirit of the law, that is important. God’s rules never come to bash or condemn (cf. John 3:17; Rom. 8:1-2); so we can be confident that our honest effort counts with God. He is always firm but loving. This is yet another way of discerning what is and is not of God.

The End of the Matter

The significance is this: Sin must be sin for God’s sake, never for humans’ sake. What God calls good and bad, right and wrong, is what is indeed moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, and no person can add to it. Also, what we can assess to be the heart of God on an issue, by careful study of God’s holy character, the example of scripture, and the teaching of historical Christian writers, is sufficient to answer the questions of generations today and tomorrow.

This should make an end of debates on “petty sin” issues, like dancing and drinking, and some larger issues fit here, too.

We have to be sure that our answers do not make God and the Bible say things they never do. Sometimes our brand of religion promotes extra-biblical requirements, and we should be resolute to get biblical answers about why those requirements exist. What we may discover is that, although sincere, there is more to be gained by the leadership with certain rules being kept than for the laity being saved by their strict obedience.