Formation of the Text

{This lecture comes from a very old course called "Biblical Backgrounds". It has been left in note form}

1) Discussion of the parts of the Bible

- OT:NT - two basic parts of the bible, what about the apocryphas and pseudipigraphas?

- books of the bibles

- torah - the first five, prophets - the prophetic works and writings - all the rest in the OT

- historical, prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, epistles, gospels, psalms

- pentateuch and deuteronomic history

- Pauline, Hebrew, Pastoral, Johannine

- as to period - pre exile, exilic, post exilic etc.

result following the major works:

Pentateuch or Torah consists of Genesis to Deuteronomy. Historical but classed as law by the Jews.

Deuteronomic History consists of Deuteronomy to 2Kings. Historical but classed as prophets by the Jews.

Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah Historical but classed as prophets by the Jews.

Esther  Historical but classed as prophets by the Jews.

Job Wisdom Literature

Psalms Psalms ie hymns, spiritual songs

Proverbs Wisdom Literature

Ecclesiastes Wisdom Literature

Song of Solomon Psalms ie hymns, spiritual songs

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel Major prophets - the three

Daniel Apocalyptic

Hosea - Malachi The 12 or the minor prophets.

Matthew, Mark, Luke Synoptic Gospels

Luke-Acts Two parts of the three part work.

John, 1John, 2John, 3John Revelations - Johannine corpus

Romans - Thessalonians, Philemon Pauline Epistles

Timothy, Titus Pastoral Epistles

Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude Hebraic Epistles

Peter Petrine corpus

Revelations Apocalyptic


2) introduction of the concept of redactor

- It must be remembered that these figures are significantly rubbery - no one knows these are guesses.

- story begins around 1500BC

- at this time very little literacy - stories handed down by word of mouth. This is the time of the Patriarchs

- This oral tradition continued until around the time of David.

- David's court and strong hold on the territory allowed culture to flourish.

- The King's court implied a clerical staff and thus literacy.

- David c.1000 - 961. This was the beginning of the bible stories being written down. Specifically the J traditions

- after the division of the kingdom the E traditions begin to be collected. Other writing by the prophets are continually being written and embellished.

- After the fall of Israel the northern traditions were brought south and mixed in with the southern traditions.(JE)

- The law book probably created at this point - small portion of Deuteronomy.

- The law book was important in that it formed the basis of the revival under Josiah 640-609 BC 2K22:8ff

- Under Josiah, just before Josiah, during Exile the law book was expanded into deuteronomy and the rest of the DH written. Note process of writing Deut History (DH) was contentious issue when I was at college.

- During exile the priestly traditions were probably written

- After the temple rebuilt we have Ezra, Nehemiah and the prophetic books of Haggai and Zechariah written. Esther also written around this time.

- Proverbs and Job??? just after exile

- Psalms came together as the hymn book of the second temple

- c 300 Ecclesiastes written

- Daniel written during maccabees c150BC

- Problems

- Daniel is written well beyond the time of Daniel ie the writer lied about who he was

- The New Testament calls the pentateuch the books of Moses - common name? content Moses? Plain wrong?

- accuracy of verbal traditions

- conflicting verbal traditions

- Proverbs supposedly largely Solomon etc

- what is important and true is that all the material has had a long history of rewriting and redaction.

- The text up until fairly late was not static because it was taken and reused again and again to meet the new situations God's people found themselves in.

- Should be seen more in terms of preachers sermon notes...

New Testament time of writing:

- 1 and 2 Thessalonians 51 A.D

- Philipians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans - 57AD

- Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Timothy, Titus 63AD

- Paul supposedly martyred in 64AD

- James and 1Peter around 60AD

- Hebrews and Mark around 68AD

- Matthew, Luke-Acts, Jude, II Peter, John, 1-3John, Revelation c70AD to 96AD.

- This table is very conservative. The Pastoral epistles especially often considered very late even 200AD. The dates tend to be later rather than so close.

3) introduction of the different types of material

major types of material are:

1) prophetic

2) apocalyptic

3) historical

4) legal

5) wisdom

6) epistolic

7) others like psalms

1) Prophetic:

- The gift of prophecy or ministry of prophet has been with us since very early.

- It could be argued that Moses was a prophet but that would be to lose the unique significance of his role and the essential elements of the prophetic.

- Balaam son of Beor was a prophet, though of a different religion

- The seventy elders appointed to assist Moses also "prophesied"

- Abraham is described as a prophet

- "seers" are recorded in the ministry of Samuel. It must be noted that 1Sam 1 implies the prophetic was well established just not happening.

- perhaps the judges carried out this role???

- The seers were very different in character to our image of the writing prophets.

- They gathered together into schools of prophets - "the sons of the prophets".

- generally gathered around one significant figure? Samuel, Elijah, Elisha.

- Involved in ecstatic behaviour much as the pentecostals are/were accused of. cf 1Sam 19:20-25

- an older translation uses the term "raved" instead of "prophesied"

- Their ministry tended to be very event based. The ecstatic behaviour for example. Elijah on Carmel 1K 18. The miracles of Elisha 2K2ff.

- Their words are not written down.

- The writing prophets were very different.

- They shared the role of calling Israel back to God.

- Their actions had less of the miraculous about them.

- they used oratory - preaching drawing from the traditions of the people, and sign to call the people back to God.

- signs included - walking naked - Is 20, Laying seige to bricks and cooking food over dung Ez 4

- They were not so much involved in foretelling the future as forth telling from God. A common way of speaking was "thus sayeth the Lord..."

- Their main message was repent and return to God.

- New testament prophets swing back closer to the seers and sit approximately between the two.

2) Apocalyptic.

- If you ask someone about prophecy about today they generally turn to Revelations. This is apocalyptic not prophecy.

- Apocalyptic grew up in the exile. It draws on elements of the religious atmosphere the Jews found themselves in in exile

- Prophecy relied on sign and word, apocalyptic relies on vision and event.

- it is significant that the prophetic book written in the exile Ezekiel has definite aspects of apocalyptic. Consider the first few chapters in comparison to Revelations.

- Daniel is the other canonical apocalyptic old testament book.

- There are smaller apocalyptic passages in the Gospels and of course the revelation of St John.

- the specific aspects of apocalyptic are beyond the scope of this course

- for a good introduction see Lion p651

- It is important to get the feel for the difference.

3) Historical:

- The historical books recount the history and traditions of Israel and the early church.

- Despite the label history they should not be considered to be historical.

- the aim of the writer is not so much to tell events but to tell about God and God's relationship with his people.

- The Torah or pentateuch had a long history of redaction from the time of David to after exile.

- The DH - deuteronomy to end of kings, began around the time of Josiah and was finished either before, during or after exile depending on your redactionary theory.

- the aim of the writer was to demonstrate what was necessary to keep/return to the land. Keep retain Gods favour

- Chronicles were post exilic and have a slightly different emphasis

- The Gospel writers were determined to demonstrate in the life and teaching of Jesus the method of life and theology for their own churches.

- Because the aim is theological rather than historical, historical detail is not necessarily accurate.

4) Legal:

- if you have a legal mind check out leviticus and the relevant portions of Exodus and Numbers.

- the legal material is about being holy

- They followed a holy God so they were to be holy.

- This soon became a snare in itself - the legalities more important than the main thrust. Pharisaism

- Even beyond the new testament, legal work continued in the formation of the Mishna and later the Talmud. cf the camel driver quote...

Ketuboth 5:6

If a man vowed to have no intercourse with his wife, the School of Shammai say: [She may consent] for two weeks. And the School of Hillel say: For one week [only]. Disciples [of the Sages] may continue absent for thirty days against the will [of their wives] while they occupy themselves in the study of the Law; and labourers for one week. The duty of marriage enjoined in the Law is: every day for them that are unoccupied; twice a week for labourers; once a week for ass-drivers; once every thirty days for camel-drivers; and once every six months for sailors. So R. Eliezer.

Based on Ex 21:10 - If he takes for himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.

5) Wisdom

- very interested in wisdom.

- proverbs, ecclesiastes etc

6) Epistolic

- writings from a church leader to a church or group of churches

- usually for a specific reason - Corinthians because of the reports of sin

7) Psalms

- psalms form the hymn book of the second temple

4) life settings

- important term Sitz im Leben - or just Sitz

- german for life setting ie where this stuff was written and what was happening etc

- remember most of this stuff was written within and to situations.

- the final redaction of the pentateuch was written after exile.

- the writer, so the liberals believe, was writing to give hope and direction to the returned exiles, a framework for life

- The deuteronomic history was an argument for a return to the orthodox cult.

- The prophetic books each had their own Sitz generally in some manner Israel was threatened and was being called back to God.

- the life setting of the psalms was of course the worship life of Israel

- wisdom liturature grew up in the kings court - ie it was a public service pastime.

5) source model of the synoptics

- for a discussion of this see Lion p531

- Mark is thought to have been written first. Possibly by John-Mark of Acts

- He worked from written sources that are not extant - note the very common redactional link "and immediately" Mk 1:29

- Matthew and Luke then took the gospel of Mark and built on it

- Both had another source that Mark didn't or didn't use now designated Q.

- Quelle is german for source hence Q

- this was a collection of sayings of Jesus - short sentences/words (logia)

- Matthew then adds some other material that is only in his gospel.

- this is generally called Special M. For example his account of the birth of Jesus is unique

- Luke also has his own material generally called Special L. Again the birth narratives are unique to Luke.

6) source model of the pentateuch

- the source model of the pentateuch is more complex

- four redactors each designated by a letter - J E D P

- J known as the Yahwist (J is the german first letter - hence the germanized form Jehovah)

- this was the first layer written/gathered around the time of David/Solomon 1000-950BC.

- Note he would have been building on oral traditions that had been passed down.

- Called the Yahwist because uses YHWH as the name for God

- E known as the Elohist - known because he called God Elohim

- Source is around 750BC in the northern kingdom

- Makes strong emphasis on the importance of Prophets

- brought together with J and added to in 700BC ie when the refugees from Assyrians came to Jerusalem.

- composite work called JE or Jehovist. Note not just an addition of the two, some extra redaction added

- D - deuteronomic tradition. Mainly found in the book of deuteronomy

- deuteronomy was initially written as the first book of the DH. It has its own complex history of redaction

- begun in the northern kingdom and completed in Jerusalem???

- P - priestly tradition. written during Exile 587-538BC

- written to maintain the traditions of the cult and to supply hope of return.

- also to give Jews a sense of identity.

- P would have left the pentateuch in largely the form we have it today.

7) source model of Isaiah

- You can roughly split Isaiah into two parts

- Ch 1-39 - Isaiah 1 or Isaiah of Jerusalem

- Ch 40 - 66 Isaiah 2 or Deutero-Isaiah

- Note some make a further break Ch 55-66 Isaiah 3 or Trito Isaiah

- Isaiah of Jerusalem was pre-exilic - His role was to call the people back to God so they would avoid the judgement of God

- Deutero-Isaiah was exilic. His role was to assure the people that they would return and prepare them for the return.

- trito-Isaiah was post-exilic

8) source model of the deuteronomic history

- Initially the Law book - written/found by Josiah

- Later embellished during Josiah's reign/or in Exile

- then added to the other historical books through to 2Kings

9) where does faith come in?


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)


{This comes from an old course called "Biblical Backgrounds" and has been largely unchanged}

Broad Cultural Shape

- Patriarchs were ass nomads

- lived in tents moving to different pastures as the grass finished

- might camp near a city - cf Gen 34

- religion was carried out by the head of the household - Gen 22

- however this meant that at times a number of other Gods were worshiped cf Gen 35

- During the wilderness/exodus period the distinctive cultus was formed

- In the wilderness the tent of meeting/tabernacle formed the center of the life of Israel

- It is important to realise that the Israelites were basically nomadic when they entered the Land.

- It is only once they are in the Land that they begin again to live in a settled city life.

- Exodus, numbers, leviticus and Deuteronomy all contain laws for living in a settled city society

- conservative answer would be God preparing his people. Liberal that they were projected back in time to the time when God was molding his people so that they gained authority.

- Israel very hot and dry - although dryer now than then

- water scarce with low rainfall

- Two main times of rain - former rains in autumn and latter rains in spring

- poor lived in 1 room houses made of mudbrick.

- in this they slept ate and kept their animals.

- on top there was a flat roof that could be accessed by an external stair - a place to store things or to rest in the cool

- the richer had bigger houses - sometimes of two stories or including courts and gardens.

- Most of the cities were small by our standards, although Nineveh is recorded as having a circumference of 10 miles.

- cities were either walled or unwalled.

- the walled cities formed a secure safe place to retreat for the surrounding countryside

- each city had a series of villages surrounding them.

- The walls while seeming formidable may have been mainly show

- In Jericho before Joshua took it the walls were also made of mud brick.

- the foundations were built on an older wall and not very well evened out - the gaps being partially filled with field stone

- Then they built houses against the walls and on top of the narrow cross walls tying the abutments together (cf Garstang p114)

- The staples of the poor were Goat's milk, olives and barley bread.

- the peasant families life consisted of work

- The man farmed or worked at a craft

- the women did house work - drawing water, milling seed to make bread etc

- during harvest they were also involved in the harvest tying the bundles as they were cut by the men cf Ruth

- seed was either popped or ground and made into bread

- rising was added in the form of a part of the previous days dough allowed to ferment - leaven

- farming was central to the life of the settled Israelites

- In autumn after the former rains the farmer ploughed the field and sowed the seed

- the latter rains in spring were essential in giving a good crop

- The seed was threshed by running a wooden sledge or simply oxen over it

- winnowing where the corn was thrown into the wind to allow the straw to be blown away was then done

- Other major crops included grapes, olives and figs.

- grapes were crushed and fermented into wine

- olives mainly for their oil

- a small amount of fishing was done. Mainly in the rivers and lakes

- Note the sea itself was seen as evil - a place of terror

- Apart from these the other main method of gaining food was livestock

- Generally the flocks had to travel large distances because the pasture was poor.

- they also had to be brought into a well at the beginning and end of the day to be watered cf Gen 29

- The flocks were a mix of sheep and goats. There was very little distinction.

- The job was dangerous because of the predators - lions and jackals.

- a noted shepherd was of course David. The themes of shepherd and sheep are used throughout the old and new testaments as illustrations of God's relationship with his people as well as the relationship between leaders and followers among God's people

- crafts included carpentry - the making and repairing of farm tools.

- mason who quarried limestone for building

- the potter and the tanner.

- it was considered a disgrace for a woman to not have children.

- she was considered under the curse of God. Hence the situation of Hannah mother of Samuel 1Sam 1, and the shenanigans with Rachel Gen 30

- After the time of the exodus, the sons were circumcised on the eigth day. Before exodus, this custom was not always carried out

- circumcision symbolised the covenant with YHWH made between Abraham and YHWH


- Israel's religion was molded in her experiences with her God

- firstly there were the successive covenants with the patriarchs. God Slowly revealed himself as the God who chose them to be his people

- Then the major formative event was exodus.

- God by his powerful hand led his people out of slavery.

- This is reflected in the continual reference to the event as validation of legal requirement eg the preface of the exodus version of the ten commandments

Ex 20:2

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me

Temple and Tabernacle

- It was in this experience that the temple cultus was set up.

- the tent of meeting or the tabernacle.

- this and later the stone version, the temple, was to be the center of their experience of God

- This was where God dwelt - the footstool of God, the place where his name dwelt etc

- The temple was later sited at Jerusalem, although other places hosts the tabernacle and the Ark eg Shiloh 1Sam 1-3

- The Holy of Holies was where the earthly realm ended and the realm of God began.

- In the holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant. This ark contained the proofs, the touch stone of the covenant and the experience of God in the wilderness - manna, the rod of Aaron, the tablets with the ten commandments.

- because of the sin of the people, the holy of holies needed cleansing every year.

- this happened on the day of atonement - Yom Kippur

- this was a peril filled process - the high priest used to enter and sprinkle the mercy seat - the top of the ark - with the blood of the sacrifice

- Lev 16. To carry out this task the high priest had to take special precautions - covering the mercy seat with the smoke of incense and cleansing himself etc. In later times it is said that they used to tie a rope around the ankle of the priest in case God struck him down, then they would be able to pull him out again.

Feasts and Festivals

- There were a series of festivals in which the pilgrims went to the temple

- The festival of passover and unleavened bread celebrated the exodus event

- the dedication of the firstborn is also related

- the passover celebrated the final act of God in making the Egyptians let the Israelites go.

- There is a sense of mercy in that the angel of death passed over the Israelites houses.

- The reason they were passed over was the blood of the lamb placed on the lintels of the door.

- The passover meal consisted of a young sheep or goat. It seems likely that the animal was under 12Mths

- NDB suggests that there was a preference for a lamb rather than goat - but there was little difference in the eyes of the people in general life

- No bone was to be broken - Ex 12:46, Nu 9:12. This is later seen as a type of christ - none of his bones were broken either

- although Dt 16 doesn't mention it, the doorposts and lintel were daubed with the blood of the victim

- The blood is applied with a sprig of hyssop (ie fronds of majoram).

- Hyssop is used elsewhere in symbolic purification cf Ps 51:7

- The beast is roasted whole and eaten completely before morning

- included in the meal is unleavened bread and bitterherbs

- the meal is eaten in an attitude of haste - they gird their loins and have their staff in their hands ready to depart

- If a person was not clean ie they were ritually impure, they could celebrate the passover in the next month Num 9.

- during the meal the eldest son was to ask the meaning of the feast so that the event could be rehearsed.

- The passover evolved from something done in the home to something done at the temple

- The mishnah tractate Pesahim (quoted in NDB on Passover) describes the practice in Herodian times - 44 - 4BC

The common people gathered in the outer temple court in companies to slaughter the passover victims. The priests stood in two rows; in one row each man had a golden, in the other each man had a silver, basin. The basin which caught the blood of the expiring victim was passed from hand to hand in continuous exchange to the end of the line, where the last priest tossed the blood in ritual manner on the altar. All this was done to the singing of the Hallel (pss 113 - 118)

- by new testament times, the victim was slaughtered in the temple but the meal was held elsewhere

- companies with common bonds tended to eat the meal together eg Jesus and the disciples

- with the destruction of the temple in 70AD all sacrificial parts were ended and the meal reverted to a more home based event

- although jews today finish the meal with the toast - next year in Jerusalem.

- The feast of unleavened bread was closely related. Passover in effect was the first day of the week long feast.

- Because of the haste in which Israel had to leave Egypt, they didn't have time to leaven their bread.

- to commemorate this they didn't eat leaven for seven days. During this time no servile work was done.

- The jews today celebrate it. The house is cleaned from top to bottom and then ritual crumbs of leaven are left out. The head of the house with son in tow searches and removes these crumbs.

- The offering of the first born was also related to the passover.

- because the angel of death passed over the Israelites, all their first born were forfeit to God. In the case of the animals this mainly meant death - clean animals were sacrificed (Num 18:17,18; Dt 12:6,17) if they were blemished they were killed and eaten - DT 15:19-23. Unclean animals were redeemed ie paid out Nu 18:15 and in the case of an ass it was either redeemed by a lamb or have its neck broken Ex 13:13,34:20

- humans in the first instance ie after exodus were redeemed by God taking the Levites for himself. Those afterwards were redeemed by the cost of five shekels to the priests.

- After the feast of unleavened bread came the feast of first fruits/harvest/weeks.

- seven weeks after the first sabath of passover.

- celebration of the goodness of God.

- in direct competition with the nature religions of the canaanites which the Israelites dabbled in

- the feast of weeks of course was later known as pentecost

- in the seventh month - Tishri (september/october) were the blowing of trumpets, the day of atonement mentioned previously and the feast of tabernacles.

- It is not clear why they blew trumpets but they did - rams horns to the reading of scripture Num 29:1

- Yom Kippur of course was when the temple was rededicated

- Tabernacles or the feast of booths was again a reminder of the exodus where Israel lived in booths for 40 years

- the booths were created out of branches and they lived in them for seven days.

- during the time sacrifices were made starting with 14 bullocks and one less each day.

- on the eigth day a bullock, ram and seven lambs are offered

- On the 25th of Kislev - Nov/Dec, is the feast of lights or Hanukkah.

- this feast celebrates the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus.

- the temple had been dedicated to Zeus by Antiochus Epiphanes.

- an altar had been erected to Zeus on the site of the great altar and even unclean animals such as pigs had been sacrificed there.

- blameless priests carried out the defiled stones and the temple was rededicated on the third anniversary of its defilement

- This feast is mentioned in John 10:22 called the feast of dedication.

- This is celebrated by the jews to this day - the term lights from the practise of lighting up their houses as part of the feast.

- The final festival was that of purim - the jewish version of Guy Fawkes night

- Purim was instituted to celebrate the salvation of the Jews from the plot of Haman the Agagite that he formed in the court of King Ahasuerus (usually identified with Xerxes 1)

- for the biblical equivalent of Mills and Boone check out the book of Esther - make sure you include the apocryphal extensions though!

- There were three major feasts. In these feasts all the jewish men were to present themselves in Jerusalem. They were the passover/unleavened bread, Weeks/firstfruits/harvest and tabernacles.

- this had a real effect on the life style - three pilgrimages a year broke up the year nicely.

- it is to be presumed that some were not too heavily involved especially when the diaspora came


- during the Exile the temple was unavailable to the Jews so they built the concept of the Synagogue.

- The exiles missed the religous activity surrounding the temple.

- The synagogue was a little temple though dispersed everywhere

- there was no sacrifice this being replaced with prayers and reading of the Torah

- it also formed a community centre where people could gather to discuss issues

- there is no record of the beginning of the synagogue but it is thought to have developed in the exile.

- by new testament times everywhere there are jews there are synagogues.

- with the reestablishment of the temple there is some contention between the synagogue and the temple

- the synagogue managed to survive the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and the Romans allowed its continued operation

- The method of evangelism in Acts was largely based on the network of synagogues. Paul first went to the jews and then the gentiles.

- in many cases his new church was built from the proselytes attached to a synagogue and the jews who defected.

- The central feature of the synagogue was an ark in which the scrolls of the torah were kept.

- The synagogue was there for worship, instruction and civil government

- the congregation was governed by elders who could punish members by scourging or excommunication

- The service was similar to church services including prayer, readings and preaching.

- It was largely because of the existence of the synagogues that Judaism survived the fall of Jerusalem in AD70

- other wise the temple would have been irreplaceable.

- the synagogue was also formative in the worship life of the young church

- the worship and activity were initially based on the familiar synagogue pattern.

High Places:

- The problem with the worship life of Israel was who they were to worship.

- the habits of the nation tended to be ecclectic.

- there was a real tendency to worship the Baals and the Asherith.

- then there were the other deities like Molech who was probably phoenician or ammonite. this idol had children sacrificed by fire to it

- This going after other Gods was especially strong when either there was a religios power vacuum or when the leaders were actively promoting it.

- In Judges there was continual apostasy - cf Micah Jud 17.

- during the monarchy - if the king was orthodox then there was a tendency for YHWH to worshiped alone

- if the king was not then apostasy resulted

- A major area of problem were the high places.

- these existed before the temple as locations of worship.

- some were devoted to YHWH others to other Gods. The good Kings actively stamped out the latter

- even those devoted to YHWH were a problem since they were not regulated - it was everyone for themselves.

- finally Hezekiah banned them.

God etc:

- the customs and society had an influence on the way the people responded to YHWH

- because the lifestyle was very close to the land, the response was in terms of lets get the crop growing God.

- There was also thus an opening for the Canaanite fertility gods.

- the three great feasts were a time of holiday however you can imagine the hard bitten farmer refusing to leave his fields.

- The temple was both the solution and a problem

- because it was centralised, it was inaccessible to the ordinary person - try having church three times a year and see how relevant it is

- The temple was also very much a look and see experience. Teaching of heritage and the Law was left to the families themselves

- this has always been somewhat of a failure even in our times

- The high places were an alternative but then the ones belonging to other gods were the Kings Cross of the Old Testament world cf Gen 38

- they were unregulated and easily became a source of unorthodoxy

- The synagogue finally took this role. Because they were set up by presumably the priests in exile and because they were literacy based - the law was read they fulfilled the need.

- they also survived the temple - Judaism became about lifestyle rather than persecuting goats.


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material of the course was based on the following books:

"The New Bible Dictionary" (InterVarsity Press 1962)

"The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible" (Abingdon Press 1962)

"The Lion Handbook of the Bible" (Lion Publishing 1973)

"The Story of Jericho" 2nd Ed. by J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang (Marshall Morgan and Scott 1948)

"How to Read the New Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"A Way into the Old Testament" by C.R. Biggs and A.L.G Catlin (Uniting Church Press 1983)

"The New Testament Environment" by Eduard Lohse (SCM Press 1976)

"How to Read the Old Testament" by Etienne Charpentier (SCM Press 1981)

"The Background of the Gospels" by W. Fairweather (T & T Clark 1911)

Dealing with Difficult passages

The bible contains a variety of material that is arranged in a narrative. At times the writer is drawing a scene and inviting the reader to join them in an understanding of the wonder and rightness of the scene. In other cases, the writer draws a scene with a fair amount of tongue in cheek or even sarcasm. Finally we also find passages that are difficult to interpret - was that practice to do with the culture of the time?

Lets have a look at some examples of passages that are difficult to interpret:

a) 1Tim 2:9-15

Paul clearly indicates how women are to behave in the church: they are to be clothed modestly, be quiet and submissive and to not teach. What is your reaction to these instructions? Frankly they don't fit well with our modern perspective or our cultural mores in regards equality of the sexes. What are we to do with this passage - ignore it because it doesn't fit our culture? But we know that our culture is not as enlightened as it could be. Do we  say that these things are local to the time and context that Paul was writing to? It is fairly clear that Paul frequently worked with women in ministry. Romans 16:1ff lists a number of women ministers in positions of authority in the Pauline churches.

b) 1Kings 22:4-18

Here we have a situation where God is implicated in a scam. The text is very clear that (1K 22:19-23) God was instigating the direction to Ahab and Jehoshaphat. The prophets were truly speaking the message from God to the kings. So who were the good guys and who were the bad guys?

A key for interpreting this passage is the question: "Who did the kings believe and why?" Clearly there was something - perhaps in terms of reputation that distinguished Micaiah from the other prophets. Clearly the true message was available from him.

One of the key reasons that this passage is so difficult is that it projects an understanding of God and prophecy that just doesn't fit our current understanding. So how do we interpret it and how is it authoritative as the bible should be?

c) Ps 137:7-9

What is your reaction? The thought of killing innocent babies in such a callous manner horrifies us. Is this an invitation to commit infanticide on Iraq? Why?

d) Jud 19:20-30

What is your reaction? There are so many things in this story that cause a reaction: the attitude of the old man to his daughter, the attitude of the Gibeans to the Levite and the attitude of the Levite to his concubine. Is this story something to be emulated? Surely if it is the word of God...?

e) Jn 7:53-8:11

What is your reaction? There are people in this story that reflect us at times and are not to be emulated. The crowd was a self righteous mob responding to an attack on their moral position. There was the adulteress who reflects us when we are on the other side of the moral proposition and there was Jesus indicates the path we should take.

You should now have a feeling for the distinction I am attempting to draw. There are things in the biblical text that are there to demonstrate an important point, they are placed there as an example and we are supposed to emulate that example. However the example may be portrayed in the trappings of the culture of the time and if we interpret it literally we miss the point. Was Paul in 1Timothy 2, really indicating that church should be carried out in a manner that would be seemly in the culture in which it existed?

There are things that are limited to the time they addressed. I don't expect that the Christian church will return to a full sacrificial system. However the Old Testament sacrificial system has many insights to offer into our current covenant.

There are some portions of the bible that are meant to be normative i.e. they define what we are supposed to do - a fairly literal interpretation. The great commission remains a key visionary statement that defines an important part of the mission, ministry and purpose of the church. We are meant to go out and make disciples.

There are other portions that are descriptive. They may be cultural or even educational. However it is the lessons learned that are meant to define our actions rather than the text itself.

Finally there are things that are offered to the reader so that the reader can share in the horror that the writer is experiencing. A good example is the passage from Judges.

The Covenant Community

A basic tool for interpreting the bible is the concept of the life setting of the passage (Sitz im Lieben). This principle basically says that the meaning of the passage can only be understood in the context in which it was developed. Thus the bible becomes an extended sermon to a congregation and church context with all the insider jokes and references to the hot topics of that congregation.

The concept of the Covenant Community is an application or related concept to that of the life setting of the passage. One way of looking at the bible is to trace the history of the people of God and their interaction with God. Close investigation will show that this interaction is based on a series of covenants that are kept to a greater or lesser extent by the people of God. Taking a further step brings us to the realization that we can define the boundary of the people of God based on these covenants. We can state that the people of God were the patriarchs based on the Abramic covenants. The Israelites in a similar manner were the people of God based on the Sinaiaic covenant (Land and the ten commandments). The Israelites were the people of God during the monarchy under the covenants that came before and the additional covenants around the temple and the Davidic throne. These covenants especially, later flowered in the New Covenant which defines the church universal as the people of God.

Along with defining relationship between God and his people and also describing how the people should live, to a greater or lesser extent the covenant also defines the things that are important to the life of the people under the covenant such as the government of the people of God. This may be explicit as in the case of the Sinaiaic covenant which had a complete system of law attached, or the Davidic covenant which defined who would rule. It may alternatively be implicit in that the style of government flowed not so much from stipulation but out of the activities in fulfilling the covenant. This is the case with the new covenant. The covenant speaks loudly about renewal of relationship and the sharing of the good news but doesn't stipulate how the church is to be governed in the kind of detail that we find in the Sinaiaic covenant. Apart from the statement about Peter being the rock on which the church will be built, descriptions and structures of church government and general ministry were identified and crafted by the church of the new covenant in an attempt to meet the requirements of that covenant. One of the reasons why the governance structures in the New Testament church appear to change between books is just this reason. Another reason is that each church - and books belong to different churches or communities - had a different governance structure at least at the micro level if not the macro level.

The concept of the covenant community as described is useful for interpreting the bible. I remember asking why the church should be involved in Social Action. I was directed to the many passages in the prophets that talk about reaching out to the poor etc. I was left unsatisfied. The covenant under which I operate doesn't have the strict stipulations that resulted in those passages, they belong  largely to the Sinaiaic covenant. However, it would be perfectly valid to develop a basis for social action - anything from feeding the poor to advocacy to the government - from the love for others that is a key part of the new covenant.

Another example is the issue of giving to the church. In conservative circles there is a strong push to tithe. However the concept of a tithe comes from the old covenant and was almost a tax.  Most of the biblical passages I have seen quoted to support the concept of tithing today are from the Old Testament. Under the New Covenant, the church's initial response to giving ranged from giving everything (Acts 4:34) to only giving on the basis of  famine relief. As an aside, I personally tithe, and plan to continue to do so on the basis of supporting the extension of the kingdom of God.

Clearly an understanding of the concept of the covenant community speaks into how we can use the text to develop theology. In my two examples, the actions  or conclusions that arise from the theology may have been right even though the theology was wrong. In other cases the actions or conclusions are also wrong. A good example of wrong actions and conclusions can possibly be found in the history of slavery, where a justification for owning slaves under the new covenant came from a passage from before any covenant.


About the Epistle:

1) Place and Date of Writing:


i. Rome: 61-63 AD

ii. Caesarea: 58 AD

iii. Ephesus: 54-55 AD

2) Authorship: Definitely Paul

3) Unity of the Text:

a. 1 Letter

b. 3 Letters or more

4) Philippi:

a. Named: c. 360 BC by Philip II, king of Macedon

b. Roman colony a significant city of the first district of Macedon.

c. Mainly Gentile church

d. Evidence of trade in purple.

Philippians 1:1 - 11

1) Inclusiveness of the greeting and prayers - 1:1

a. All the saints - the whole community, no rank or distinction.

b. Overseers and deacons added later ie they could have been considered excluded from the greeting.

c. When you write to the church who do you write to?

d. Why?

e. Not Paul's conception of church - the church is the community.

f. The community is defined by what comes later.

2) Mutual Blessing - 1:2,3

a. Grace and peace

b. Declaration theology

i. Creation

ii. Jesus and forgiveness/healing

iii. Blessing/benediction in other churches

iv. Declaring grace and peace has an impact in the spiritual realm which flows on into this realm.

c. Paul has spoken grace and peace into their lives - he has blessed them. Why?

d. They are a continuing blessing to him

i. In physical ways - they supplied his needs

ii. In spiritual ways - they prayed for him

iii. In a sense of accomplishment - he planted this church and they were a shining light

iv. They held a special place in his heart.

e. This dialogue of blessing, prayer and respect is the basis of their relationship, their community.

3) The Prayer:

i. Regular, Joy filled, Thanking God for them and what they have done - 1:4,5

ii. Confidence in the Philipians and also God - 1:6

iii. Partnership - 1:7

iv. Community, Love, Mutual care - 1:8

4) Prayer Contents:

1. Their Love may abound more - 1:9

2. Their Love may be knowledgeable and discerned. - 1:9

3. Distinguish or approve excellent things - 1:10

4. Sincere and blameless until the day of Christ - 1:10

5. Be filled with the fruit of righteousness from Christ - 1:11

6. That they may be a bringer of glory and praise to God - 1:11

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