For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 5:17-20; The Fulfillment of the Law (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

In the modern practice of the Christian faith, we often live as though the New Testament has abolished the Old Testament, and therefore the Old Testament can be ignored. That was not Jesus’ view.

“Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished,” he said, as recorded in Matthew 5:18. But what did that mean to his original hearers? Those listeners at the Sermon on the Mount would have known immediately that the “smallest letter” Jesus referred to here was the yod (sometimes translated as “jot”) in the Hebrew alphabet, and that its use was often optional in a text. Likewise, “the least stroke of a pen” (keraia in the Greek) referred to minor strokes a writer added to help the reader distinguish one letter from another.

Both of these literary notations were considered generally insignificant. For Jesus to lift them up as examples emphasized his commitment to both the sovereignty and divine complexity of all of Scripture.

Jesus was not alone in this viewpoint, or in using this kind of example. Later rabbis taught a fable about Abraham’s wife to communicate that same message. As the legend goes, God removed the yod when he changed her name from Sarai to Sarah. The yod complained about this for centuries until God finally relented and added a yod into the name of Joshua.

The point of the yod in Matthew, however, was not that this “smallest letter” was so important, but that Jesus was determined to honor—and fulfill—even the most seemingly trivial inclusions in the Old Testament Scriptures. We would be wise to do the same.

 

Works Cited:

[ID2, 820; BBC, 57-58]

 

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Bible Resource Spotlight: Illustrated Life of Paul

posted by Mike Nappa

Reader Appeal: Seminary Professors and Students

Genre: Biography / History

FBSN Rating: C+

As far as biographies go, the Illustrated Life of Paul can seem a bit dry. It comes off as more of a “travel guide to the life of Paul” than an actual story of Paul’s life. Author, Charles L. Quarles, is a seminary professor writing for other seminary professors, which explains his deliberately academic, sometimes inaccessible writing style. He clearly expects this book to be used as a textbook in Bible schools across the nation, which is fine except for the fact that his knowledge of the Apostle Paul’s life presented in this way obscures it from millions of “pew-sitter” Christians who would otherwise love it. That kind of purposeful academic exclusivity feels elitist and shortsighted to me…but I digress.

From an academic perspective, this “dry” reading of the Apostle’s life is a treasure trove of detail and history that’s hard to match anywhere else. Quarles clearly enjoys his subject matter, and he’s delivered a well-researched, thorough exploration of what we know about Paul and his writings. And that’s a big deal, considering that roughly one-third of the New Testament is either about Paul or written by him. And as time has proven, Paul was the most influential Christian theologian in all of history. Deepening our understanding of his life, times, and letters is not only a worthwhile pursuit, but a necessary one for any true Bible Study Nerd. In that way, the Illustrated Life of Paul is a true gem of a resource, though it might take a little digging to get to the real treasures herein.

Additionally, this book contains over 150 color illustrations (maps, photos, charts, illustrations) which really do help break up the text and offer unique visual insights into the content. Background information on every one of Paul’s New Testament letters is invaluable, as is Quarles’ chronological approach that places those letters within the context of the Apostle’s missionary journeys and other life events.

In all, though I’d prefer that this were a book I could share with non-academics, the Illustrated Life of Paul still offers a wealth of history that any serious student of Scripture will find rewarding.

Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles L. Quarles

Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles L. Quarles

(B&H Academic)

 

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Matthew 5:17-20; The Fulfillment of the Law (Bible Difficulties)

posted by Mike Nappa

Jesus’ vehemence about the sacredness of the Law and the Prophets seems to contradict his other teaching and actions, particularly in his flagrant disregard for Sabbath rules and his teachings on ritual purity. Does that mean he was lying, or worse, simply placating his Pharisaical opponents with some kind of politically correct statement in Matthew 5:17-20? Most scholars would say no—and they’d point to the distinctions Christ makes between Scripture and tradition as the reason why.

In Jewish understanding, “The Law” consisted of the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). “The Prophets” encompassed the rest of the Old Testament, all of which was assumed to have been written by God’s prophets. Jesus clearly viewed all of these texts as divinely inspired and eternal—and he said just that. What he didn’t endorse was every human tradition and interpretation of the Law and the Prophets that had arisen among the Jewish people over the centuries. Those human traditions often elevated outward expressions over inward character, and thus they frequently negated the loving spirit of the law while obeying the harsh letter of the law.

Jesus’ teaching here, and life as a whole, helped his listeners to better understand and prioritize the true nature of God’s desires for humanity in practical, daily life. He alone became our living example of One who obeyed both the spirit and the letter of the Law. As one theologian explains, “He made the ritual commandments subordinate to moral duties, opposed the development of purity laws, and went further than the Pharisees in relaxing the Sabbath laws to meet human needs.”

In other words, as he said himself, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets—not to abolish them.

 

Works Cited:

[ESB, 1828; IB7, 291]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

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Matthew 5:13-16; Salt and Light (Word Study)

posted by Mike Nappa

It seems significant that, in Matthew 5:16, Jesus commanded his followers to “let your light shine before men.” Notice that Christ didn’t command people to “make your light shine before men,” or even to “ignite your light before men.”

The emphasis appears to be on our response to the light, not our manufacturing or maintenance of it.

The Greek text of Matthew 5:16 lends credence to this perspective. The word used for “let” is apolúō, and it means literally “to unbind” or “to let go free.” It was used in the context of releasing a prisoner from jail, or taking chains off a captive.

In the spiritual sense, the light of Christ that burns within us is a flame that cannot be extinguished. We did nothing to ignite it, we can’t make it brighter or dimmer—it already burns brighter and farther than we can perceive. But, if Jesus’ metaphor is accurate (and I believe it is), we can actively try to keep it captive, hiding his light of goodness from those around us, perhaps through inauthentic lifestyles or deliberate sinfulness.

Our job, then, is not to attempt to create light for Christ, nor to try to stoke greater intensity of his spiritual light. Instead, we are to let his light shine through us—to focus on living a transparent daily relationship with him that “lets go free” the warming light of his Spirit into our world.

 

Works Cited:

[NSC, 1566; CWD, 233]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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