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For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 8:23-27; Jesus Calms the Storm (Word Study)

posted by Mike Nappa

It’s easy to read about a “furious storm” in Matthew 8:23 and cluck at the disciples’ lack of faith over a little rain. That’s because we often overlook the true danger depicted in those two words, “furious storm.”

Our modern translations render Matthew’s description of this weather event as “furious storm,” but it turns out that’s something of an understatement. Matthew’s original Greek phrase was mĕgas sĕismŏs. If you live in California you’ve already figured out what that means. For the rest of us, here’s a more literal translation.

  • Mĕgas: “exceedingly great, high, large, loud, mighty, strong”
  • Sĕismŏs: “earthquake.”

In other words, this furious storm is so severe, it’s akin to a disturbance of tsunami-like proportions, bearing down relentlessly on a bunch of guys hanging out in little boats, just trying to get from one side of the lake to the other.

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This mĕgas sĕismŏs really happened; because of it real men were in real, life-threatening danger. Drowning would have been a horrible way to die, and they knew it. In that moment, in that situation, when the end of the story was still unknown, it would’ve been truly terrifying to be trapped in a tiny fishing boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. This would’ve been especially true for seasoned fishermen like Peter, James, and John who had experienced the dangers of similar storms in the past. They would’ve learned to respect, and fear, that power charging on the water.

“Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asked his disciples at that time. Well, the truth is, you and I would have been just as terrified as they were. Only the presence of God acting noticeably in that circumstance could have overcome that kind of fear. Thank God Jesus himself was there!

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Works Cited:

[GSM, 60-61]

 

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Matthew 8:23-27; Jesus Calms the Storm (Geographical Backgrounds)

posted by Mike Nappa

The Sea of Galilee is an important location in the history of Jesus, particularly because it was there he once demonstrated divine mastery over creation by miraculously calming a deadly storm. (Matthew 8:23-27). Here’s what we know about that body of water:

  • Although it’s called the “Sea” of Galilee, it’s actually a large, freshwater lake. As such, it’s sometimes referred to as Lake Galilee by modern folks. Others have also called it the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Jospehus), the “Sea of Tiberias” (naming it after a city on its southwestern shore), and “Sea of Kinnereth” (its ancient Hebrew name).
  • Measuring about 16 miles from north to south, and about 9 miles from east to west, the Sea of Galilee calls to mind the shape of a harp. Perhaps that’s why ancient Israelites tagged it the “Sea of Kinnereth,” which may be a reference to the Hebrew word kinnor, which means “harp.”
  • The location of the Sea of Galilee makes it particularly susceptible to storms. It sits about 640 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, and is surrounded by steep hillsides along most of its shores. Ravines on the west side funnel cool air into the bowl-like basin where the sea sits. When cool air rushes into hot air rising from the valley lake, it can create sudden, fierce winds that stir up waves big enough to swamp a boat.
  • In Jesus’ day, the Sea of Galilee supported a thriving fishing industry—it was where Peter, James, and John earned their living as fishermen. The great lake held three kinds of fish: Sardines, Barbels (named for the barb-like feelers on their upper lips), and a tasty Bass-like fish. The latter still lives in the Sea of Galilee and has been re-named “St. Peter’s Fish” in honor of Jesus’ famous disciple. Today, restaurants on the shores of the Sea of Galilee serve this fish as part of their menus.
  • In 1986, a drought shrunk the water levels of the Sea of Galilee for a short time. Two men on a walk spotted the outline of a sunken boat in the mud of the shrunken lake. After experts excavated it, they discovered it was a fishing vessel about 2,000 years old—likely from the time of Christ. Many theorize that Jesus calmed the storm in a boat very similar to this one. The excavated boat measured about 24 feet long and six feet wide, large enough to hold a sleeping Jesus and all twelve of his disciples.

 

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Works Cited:

[WWA, 340-341; ISJ, 66-67]

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Matthew 8:18-22; The Cost of Following Jesus (Historical Backgrounds)

posted by Mike Nappa

“Lord, first let me go bury my father,” a disciple said to Jesus, asking to defer his commitment as a follower of Christ. There were three historical circumstances that could have prompted that request:

1) The man’s father had just passed away, and so the disciple needed to take a short break to attend to the funeral. It was highly unlikely this was the case, though. Dr. Lawrence Richards informs us that, “Jewish burial customs involved the disposal of the corpse immediately upon death. If the father had died, the young man already would have been on the way to the tomb with the corpse.” Instead, Scripture indicates he was hanging around here, having a conversation about discipleship with Jesus and a teacher of the law. The context suggest that his request about burying his father was actually a response to Jesus’ statement to the teacher of the law about the cost of discipleship (Matthew 8:18-20).

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2) The man’s father had passed away within the past year. In Jewish society, it was the responsibility of the oldest son to handle his father’s burial. Craig Keener reveals that, “The initial burial took place shortly after a person’s decease…[and] a year after the first burial, after the flesh had rotted off the bones, the son would return to rebury the bones in a special box in a slot in the tomb’s wall. The son in this narrative could thus be asking for as much as a year’s delay.” This is more probable than the first option, but again unlikely. Since Matthew identifies this man as “another disciple,” his leaving to perform a second burial of his father would’ve meant the man was reneging on his previous, solemn oath to follow Christ in order to perform a chore any other member of his family could have handled.

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3) The man’s father had not yet died. This is the commonly-held view among most Bible historians. The man wanted to take an indefinite leave from following Jesus so that he’d be present to claim an inheritance at the time of his father’s death—whenever that might be. Being in charge of the burial of his father would have ensured that he received his father’s estate. Maybe he reasoned this kind of “time-out” from commitment right now would give him greater resources to use in future service to Christ’s ministry. Or maybe he just didn’t want to give up his inheritance in order to follow some itinerant preacher. We’ll never know.

Regardless of the exact situation, we do know this: Jesus took no circumstance as an excuse to postpone dedicating one’s life him—and he demanded nothing less than total commitment from all of his disciples.

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This was a hard truth to face, and it’s one we must still wrestle with today—and every day.

 

Works Cited:

[BAH, 275; BBC, 68; IBC, 1130]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

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Matthew 8:18-22; The Cost of Following Jesus (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

In Jesus’ time, it was customary for a would-be disciple to pick the rabbi who would become his mentor/teacher. He would scout a “master” much the same way an aspiring student today picks a college, studying his options and picking the rabbi he felt would best equip him for future success.

In this kind of environment, some potential disciples were inherently more prestigious than others. For instance, a lowly, uneducated fisherman would rank near the bottom of a rabbi’s wish list. A scribe on the other hand would’ve been a prized recruit for just about any rabbi.

Although many ancient Jews could read and write, only a small number had regular access to writing and reading materials, and an even smaller portion actually had access to the Scriptures—but a scribe had both. A scribe, then, was already well-educated, skilled at reading and writing, and very knowledgeable about the Old Testament books. Within the elite group of scribes an even more prestigious group of leaders had emerged: experts in teaching and interpreting Scripture. These were “teachers of the law. It was one of these super-elite scholars who declared his intent to choose Jesus as his rabbi/mentor (Matthew 8:18-20).

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Jesus should have been thrilled by the man’s decision. This was like an NFL team signing a coveted, free-agent quarterback. A teacher of the law would’ve been a prestigious addition to Christ’s team of disciples, everyone knew that. Perhaps even this particular teacher of the law knew it. Maybe he thought he was doing Jesus a favor by joining his followers, we can’t be sure. But we do know he liked the idea (maybe the reciprocal prestige?) of being associated with the immensely-popular Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ response to landing this prized recruit was unexpected. “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” he said. It appears he was actually trying to talk the man out of his decision!

Instead of welcoming the star disciple into his fold, Jesus redefined discipleship for him. There would be no prestige or perks waiting for him as a follower of Jesus. Rather, he would have to give up his place of honor among the religious establishment. He’d be expected to endure sacrifice, hardship, and a deliberate abandonment of the demand for basic human necessities such as home and hearth. It was going to be all or nothing—just the way Jesus lived it and also the way he intended it to be.

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We assume today that, upon hearing Jesus response, this teacher of the law changed his mind about following Jesus. It’s certainly possible this is true, but Matthew doesn’t tell the final outcome of this encounter. So, until we know otherwise, I like to believe this man meant it when he said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go”—even when it meant humbling himself and abandoning all the comforts and prestige he’d know before.

 

Works Cited:

[ZB1, 58-59]

 

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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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