Search Results for: luke

October 18 – Luke

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Luke, witness to Jesus

Luke (‘the beloved physician’)
(Greek: Loukas = luminous, white)

The name Luke occurs only three times in our New Testament (Philemon 24, ‘. . . Demas and Luke, my fellow workers’; Col 4:14, ‘Luke the beloved physician’; and 2 Timothy 4:11, ‘Only Luke is with me’), but authorship of the third gospel (and by association, The Acts of the Apostles) is also attributed to him from early times. Part of the evidence for this claim comes from the ‘we’ passages in Acts 16:20-21 and 27 onwards, describing sea voyages with Paul, where it seems that the author himself suddenly joins the story in Troas. Luke remains with Paul until the end (Acts 28:16 and 2 Timothy 4:11), though he refrains from telling us the sad story of Paul’s death.

Further evidence in support of these connections is given in the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke, containing the following Greek section that may date as early as the second century:

Luke: a native of Antioch, by profession a physician. He had become a disciple of the apostle Paul and later followed Paul until his (Paul’s) martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit, he died at the age of 84 years in Boeotia (Greece).

It was Luke’s genius that set the story of Jesus in the wider world of the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1; 3:1) and then continued it into the story of the earliest followers (Acts). He did this in sensitive continuity with the Jewish traditions, yet in a way that rehabilitated Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, as the great missionary who took the Gospel beyond the boundaries of Judea.

We owe to Luke’s research and 2-volume narrative the conceptual and chronological framework for our understanding of the events following Jesus’ death: from Passover to Pentecost, from First Fruits to the full harvest. We also are indebted to Luke’s honesty for our awareness of the considerable tensions between the earliest communities of Jesus-followers (Acts 6:15; and 21, for example), and for his vibrant portrayal of the movement of God’s Spirit amongst diverse ethnic groups — a movement which the Apostles sometimes struggled to comprehend and affirm.

Traditionally, Luke has been the patron saint of artists, physicians, students, teachers and butchers (Feast Day, October 18). Given the particular emphasis of the Lukan tradition, we might also suggest he should be seen today as patron saint of single people, the childless, researchers, historians, and of multi-ethnic communities.

Contributed by Keith Dyer

Illuminating Liturgy – The Passion according to St Luke – A Service Order

For a number of years the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist has heard the passion narrative of the gospel for that lectionary year on Passion (Palm) Sunday as a preparation for Holy Week. A version of that order — for Luke’s Gospel in Year C – is shared here in the hope that it might be useful to others .

The text of the passion narrative is punctuated with prayers, psalms and hymns, with a few suggestions for dramatic actions which might help to reduce the ‘wordiness’ of such a long reading in church. The order also includes the Eucharist. More explanation of the service and how to prepare it are given in the downloadable documents. Used ‘as is’ – including Holy Communion – the service would run for 70-75 minutes, depending on your music choices.

Please feel free to download these resources (in MS Word .docx format) and adapt them as appropriate to your local context. We’d love to hear whether they have been useful to you!

PLEASE NOTE that this order will be reviewed late in 2021 in readiness for Lent 2022 – Year C, Luke.


3 October – Becoming like a Child

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Pentecost 19

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Psalm 26
Mark 10:2-16

Sermon preached by Matt Julius

God, may my words be loving and true; and may those who listen discern what is not. Amen.

Our reading today from the Gospel of Mark the Evangelist, like our Gospel reading from last week, comes from a section of Mark’s Gospel which gives us a sort of loose collection of Jesus’ teachings. It’s kind of like the story is about to get to the good bit — where Jesus actually goes to Jerusalem to be arrested, tried, and crucified — but there’s still a couple of teaching moments that need to be squeezed in at the last minute. So it feels like we get a bit of a mishmash: last week we heard something about a rogue exorcist, and the risk of being cast into hell. And today we have heard a teaching about marriage and divorce; and then a teaching about needing to receive God’s kingdom like a child.

However, rather than being simply a collection of last-minute teachings before Jesus’ passion, I want to suggest that this section of the Gospel aims to prepare us for the road ahead. Jesus has before him a road which leads to death, and as our teacher it seems this is a road we too must follow. To quote the German martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When Christ calls a person, he bids them come and die.”

The Gospel of Mark, while it is the shortest Gospel, doesn’t actually tell the life of Jesus in the most straightforward way. Mark at times repeats stories or teachings which the other Gospels don’t. Often the stories which are retold from Mark in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are actually shorter in their retelling. And then on top of that Mark sometimes seems simply to repeat himself.

In this transitional section of Mark Jesus predicts more than once that he must go to Jerusalem, be handed over, and die. As often as Jesus repeats this prediction, the disciples fail to understand it. Instead of heeding the foreboding words of their teacher the disciples instead challenge and rebuke Jesus, becoming distracted by fighting amongst themselves over who is greatest among them. Rather than the disciples taking the stark warning from their teacher as a sign to pay closer attention, we see instead the disciples repeatedly getting in the way of Jesus’ work. Last week, the disciples tried to get in the way of someone sharing in Jesus’ work of freeing the world from demonic forces; and today they try to keep away the children Jesus wishes to embrace and bless.

Setting today’s reading into the context of discipleship — and context is everything — allows us to see in Jesus’ teaching not only wise counsel, but a deeper lesson about what the path of following Christ is in fact about.

The question about the lawfulness of divorce is, in reality, a non-question. While there was some debate in Jesus’ day among the Pharisees — the forerunners of later Rabbinical Judaism, who like Jesus sought to teach their students how to interpret and apply the tradition they had received– While there was some debate among the Pharisees about how liberally or restrictive the law relating to divorce should be interpreted. What exactly should the threshold for divorce be? The question of whether men had the right, under Jewish law, to divorce women was not really at issue. Men had the right to divorce their wives; and there was little women could do about it.

While it can seem strange to modern ears, shaped by the ongoing struggle of feminism for women’s autonomy, what Jesus offers in seeming to rule out divorce is actually a subversion of the presumed rights of men. In heightening the seriousness and responsibility of marriage, Jesus makes clear that women cannot be discarded as though they simply do not matter. Men must hold onto the responsibility to provide for women who would otherwise struggle to sustain themselves in a society dominated by men.

Against the received tradition in which men had rights and little responsibilities, and women had little to no rights at all, Jesus seeks to assert the status, dignity, and equality of women. And Jesus makes this assertion not by a technical reading of the law, but by reclaiming the world that creation ought to be: the world that is in fact more true than the one in which we live, because of our hardened hearts.

So while we might take some clues from the subversive teaching Jesus offers here, when we think about the rights of women in our quite different context. We should also be attentive that what is at issue in Jesus’ teaching is the concern for the empowerment of women who have no rights, and the reclaiming of a world in which those without status are restored to full dignity and respect.

This is the theme which ties together the teaching about divorce and Jesus’ teaching about children. While children today are celebrated as joyous gifts, as signs of hope, protected by child labour laws, and a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the context of the first century children had no legal rights of their own: excluded from participation in public life, or that of the synagogue, until they became “children of the commandment” at their “bar Mitzvah.” Much like women, the example of children represents those who were deemed to have no status in Jesus’ day. They were under the rule of their father. With no rights to freedom, only obligation.

In these two teachings Jesus is pointing to the focus on those without status in his broader redemptive work. This is what ties together Jesus’ movement from claiming that the world is one in which women without rights must be treated as equal, to the claim that we must welcome God’s Kingdom as though we were like children. God’s work is among the lowly, whom Christ embraces, empowers, and restores. And so we must see the disciple’s jostling for greatness as a cautionary tale, and allow ourselves to be led down the path Jesus must tread: the path that leads to Jerusalem, and ultimately the cross.

When, in our reading last week, Jesus talks about being cast into “hell,” using the word Gehenna: which refers to the Valley of Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem. Jesus is talking about a place you can visit, a place which was associated with ancient child sacrifice, and which in Jesus’ day was likely a rubbish dump — perhaps a smouldering cesspit. In other words, Jesus was talking about the place where the trash goes when it is taken out of Jerusalem. Jesus is talking about the place that it is cursed because it was believed to have been the site where children were sacrificed and discarded.

And so, when Jesus offers a vision of the world which upsets the presumed rights of men over women, when Jesus embraces the child, and offers harsh teachings which come with the threat of being cast onto the cursed rubbish heap, Jesus is trying to get his disciples to understand the path he is on. The seriousness of his call. Jesus is trying to get his disciples to see, to get us to see, that his way towards Jerusalem is for those who find themselves without status, those who are at risk of becoming refuse. Jesus goes to become one among the many who are discarded, who find themselves in hellish places, who go where the trash goes when it is taken out of Jerusalem.

Jesus is concerned with the discarded many of his day, and those of every day: in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Tigray; refugee camps dotted throughout the world; the poor in slums waiting for the pandemic to come; and so many more. While we should certainly hear in this passage a lesson and guide about marriage, and how we should treat vulnerable children. We should, at the same time, hear here the faint echo of Jesus asserting a claim about the world his own saving work will bring. For Jesus the way to the trash heap, for us a path to a renewed order of righteousness and love: that goes through death and beyond it.

And so let us hear as Jesus’ disciples the challenge he gave to his first disciples:

If we are concerned with greatness in God’s Kingdom, let us not be concerned with ourselves. Let us have the same mind that was in Christ, who emptied himself, and took on the form of a servant.

Let us recall that we are the students, and our teacher is found willingly with the little ones, the disregarded, the broken, the maimed, the blind: those who have no rights. Let us seek out ways we can help those who are struggling — having slipped through the net of love which ought to bind us together.

Let us welcome all who work against the hellish places, where those who are refuse and rejected are sent. May we offer prayers and actions for displaced peoples in refugee camps, in warzones, in the midst of oppression.

And may we do this, not because we are good … but in contrition, knowing that we are still students of Christ’s way, still seeking to find our teacher who goes ahead of us to be with the afflicted. We do this because we have become children: lowly ourselves, obliged to others.

‘Everyone,’ — Holy Scripture says — ‘will be salted with fire.’

May we find in our own afflictions the teacher who embraces us like a child

May we find in the afflictions of others the willing one who lifts us out of our stumbling

May we find, and see, and hear the Good News:

In Jesus God reaches out in love, going before us, to bear the struggles we can no longer bear — binds the broken-hearted, gathers us in mercy, stands with us for justice: enacts a new order of righteousness and love. And though the fiery, hellish places seem never to be quenched, the risen ones resists, and resists and overcomes even death.

19 September – Of principalities and powers

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Pentecost 17

Ephesians 6:10-20
Psalm 1
Mark 9:30-37

In a sentence
God meets us in the midst of life and in the midst of life God takes shape

It’s not news to many of us that life is something of a struggle. The present pandemic context would be proof enough of that, on top of the ins and outs of daily life: working and learning and loving and dying.

Such things are the form of our struggles, but what makes them struggles?

In our reading from Ephesians this morning, Paul offers an explanation verging on incomprehensible to us today. We struggle, not against enemies of blood and flesh – not against what we can see and touch – but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the forces of evil in the heavenly places. Even if it is still alive in modern fantasy books and films, this is strange language in our modern world. The ‘cosmic powers of this present darkness’ and the ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ have little traction in what we consider to be our ‘real’ world lives. We have put these things to one side – even in the churches – except for when we want to play.

Yet, this is more problematic than it first seems. What embarrassment we might feel about Paul’s language of evil cosmic forces is in strange tension with what doesn’t embarrass us – the belief in God. For surely God is a spiritual power – albeit a much ‘bigger’ one, and a good one. We find ourselves, then, in a strange situation. We believe in what we might call a spiritual goodie – God – but not in spiritual baddies – the Devil and [his] cohort. And so it is commonly held in the churches these days that God is a personal spiritual reality but the Devil is not.

This has the effect that God is left ‘hanging there’ in the spiritual realm. And so is revealed something of the modern pathos of faith: we have largely dismissed the spiritual realm but still cling to a ‘spiritual’ God. The God of the Old and New Testaments inhabited a heaven filled with the forces of good and evil; the God of the modern mind is alone in heaven, with little to do. This emptying of the heavens has facilitated the recent resurgence of popular atheism: there is now only one spirit left to deal with, and now we outnumber it. Evangelism can feel like the call to leave the world to keep God company.

Maybe all of this sounds quite sceptical about the things of faith, but scepticism is not the point. The point is clarity about what our language means – to ourselves and to others, for our language is not innocent. Our words cast a world, cast God, cast our very selves. And we are able to hide in those words, or between them. Our language can hide from us who we are, who God is, or what the world is. The question is then whether our words capture us as we truly are.

If it is the case that our words about the heavens (and ourselves) have so shifted that God is now alone in heaven and distant from us in the world, then those words won’t do any more to speak of the struggle of life. To persist in talking that way is to become increasingly infantile in our speech. We place words next to each other in the way of a pidgin language which lacks an organising grammar: us here, God there. To what struggles we already have is added the struggle to link what we believe about a spiritual realm to what we live from day to day.

Yet one way of characterising what the Bible does is to see it as unravelling the world our words have made in favour of the world God’s word makes. God’s word does not separate but binds together.

At the heart of our confession is the presence of God in the person of the very real and worldly Jesus: the Incarnation. What happens in the very worldly struggles of Jesus, culminating in the cross, is the cosmic spiritual struggle. This much Paul has already declared in the first part of Ephesians.

The thing about the Incarnation, however, is that we tend to see it as a ‘one-off’ which comes to an end: Jesus is born, lives, dies, and returns to heaven. To be fair about this confusion, Luke does give us a graphic Ascension – which is pretty unhelpful – and the Creeds use this to amplify the suggestion. And so it seems that the powers are dealt with, and God is again alone in heaven, although now we see a Trinity rather than a monotheos – a kind of divine isolation ‘bubble’ of ‘intimate partners’ and perhaps a little less lonely. Most importantly, the Incarnation looks to have ended, and the world and God are again separated as they were before – into historical and spiritual realms.

But, the point of the Incarnation is that if God comes to the world, it is to stay.

And so, the world becomes the means of God’s work with us. If, as our modern society has come to understand, evil is not in some spiritual realm but can only be believed to exist in the ins and outs of history, then this is also the place where we meet God. And real-world actions are the form of so-called spiritual struggles.

This is to say that when Paul calls us to arm ourselves with the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith, these are not ‘spiritual’ things. These are disciplines – practices – which will necessarily be part of the life of every believer who is seriously engaged in the struggle for an authentic human life. The shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation are things we do. The sword of the Spirit is so specific a way of acting that it could cut off the hands of a fool who tries to wield it without sufficient training and familiarity.

God’s place is not a lonely throne in heaven but is properly in the world. We find a firm footing in life by attention to God’s calling, through practice and discipline, through study, prayer, fellowship and service in accordance with patterns which bring live and love, meaning and order into the loveless and disordered worlds our words so quickly create.

One Christian commentator has remarked that one reason our Christian faith often doesn’t make sense to us is that we don’t have practices which reflect it and make it real. If God is only a head and heart thing – and in this sense a ‘spiritual’ thing – then the things of God will make little sense in a world less about heart and head and spirit than it is about what we actually do, touch and manipulate. Christian life is habit and action which will strengthen us in lives of love and righteousness.

It is a struggle to be a Christian. There is much to unlearn. We are already armed, if often against the wrong thing – even God.

Yet God is faithful. God meets us with grace even when we fail in our discipleship – even if we arm ourselves against God. How much more, then, will God meet and strengthen us if we seek earnestly to be shaped according to his will by preparing ourselves, putting on the armour of God, growing in knowledge of the Scriptures, growing more confident in prayer, more accomplished in service, and more at peace in the world which God is healing.

Stand firm, Paul says to us, echoing the call of God. Act firm. Work firm. Pray firm.

In this way is Christ’s Body risen among us, here and now, we its members, for our life and for the life of the world.

16 May – Ascended, for us II

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Easter 7

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 93
Luke 24:44-53

In a sentence
The Ascension of Jesus is a sign that Jesus continues his ministry for us, now in the very heart of God.

Most of you are old enough to recognise the phrase, ‘Beam me up, Scottie’, and many have likely made a connection between the biblical account of the Ascension of Jesus and the collective memory of the call of Star Trek’s Captain James Kirk from some alien planet up to his chief engineer Montgomery Scott in the orbiting Enterprise (‘collective memory’ because Kirk never actually said it quite like that).

Yet, it isn’t easy to make sense of where Jesus goes as he disappears into the clouds. Luke, of course, would answer, ‘heaven’, but we’ve long since abandoned the thought that heaven is up (I hope). For Luke, ‘up’ is a place; for us, it is only a direction. It would be easier for us today to hear that Jesus, after he finished talking to the disciples, simply ‘vanished’ from their sight (cf. Luke 24.31) in the way that Captain Kirk did, and to be told that he was now in heaven rather than to see him on his way there. Luke’s rather stark image of a body rising into the heavens is no doubt intended to help his first readers with the question of where the body of Jesus went, but it doesn’t much help us.

The Ascension as an event is not a dominant feature in the New Testament. It is a little like the Christmas stories, told quickly and without later references back to them in the rest of the New Testament. These are things which ‘must’ have happened and so are noted with an account or two, but otherwise not particularly important. That Jesus was born is essential; how it happened doesn’t matter. The gospel would still be the gospel without Christmas. So also for the Ascension: it matters that Jesus is in some way ‘elevated’ to ‘God’s right hand’; how that happened, or what it might have looked like, or even precisely when it occurred, is somewhat secondary.

This is to say that the doctrine that Jesus ‘sits at God’s right hand’ – another startlingly realistic image – can be held without Luke’s gracefully levitating Lord. We can believe that Jesus ‘sits at God’s right hand’ without believing that God has hands; so also can we believe that Jesus is ‘with’ God without visualising it in Luke’s terms. This conviction must take a specific form for its substance to be communicated, but the substance can remain much the same even if the form is changed. Luke’s image, implying as it does a view of Jesus’ feet dangling overhead, is simply the particular form in which the substance of Jesus’ relationship to God is expressed.

Of course, most weeks, we recite a creed which refers to the Ascension, and so we are put in a position of saying something the form of which – by itself – is difficult to defend. I hope that the distinction we’ve drawn between the form and the substance helps, so that we might be able to say that line – and every other line in the Creed – as a kind of code within which is carried the deeper confession.

But let’s note two other things about the credal statement, first to embrace it and then to qualify it somewhat. As the story of God in Christ unfolds in the Creed, we hear that Jesus was conceived, was born, did suffer, did die, was buried, did descend, and did rise. Then, shifting from the past tense to the present, we hear that Jesus now ‘is seated’ at the right hand of the Father. This is a continuing situation: Jesus is with God.

Note then how this relates to the doctrine of the Incarnation. To say that Jesus is God incarnate is to say that God comes into human being in the person of Jesus. Whether or not we believe it, this is the point of the doctrine. To say that Jesus ‘ascends’ to God is to say the complementary opposite: that human being comes into divine being. Where is God? In Jesus, among us. Where are we? In Jesus, in God. The Incarnation sees us as God’s context; the Ascension sees God as our context.

We see, then, that the Ascension doesn’t really ‘add’ anything to the Incarnation, and that the work of the Incarnation would not be incomplete without the Ascension. What we said about Jesus on Easter Day, we can also say about the Creed: it has no ‘parts’, but is rather a multitude of refracting surfaces through which, darkly, we see one thing.

Jesus is not, then, merely ‘elevated’ in the Ascension, or rewarded. Luke’s account affirms that the human Jesus who died a sinner’s death, discounted and discarded – this one is at the heart of God and continues there.

Ours is a time, then, marked by God’s embrace of God-forsakenness. In metaphorical language drawn from the royal court, one who died the death of sinners now ‘sits at God’s right hand’. Seated there, Jesus becomes, as it were, a reminder to God of his love for the world, the presence of the broken, godless world in Jesus himself, standing, praying in the heart of God. This ‘reminder’ is the purpose of Jesus’ prayer, which precedes and embraces our own. To place Jesus there is to place ourselves there.

To God, Jesus stands as the sign of broken creation; to the world, Jesus stands as the sign of God’s embrace of that broken creation: here God is, and remains.

This is the gospel: in all things, God with us, us with God. In every effort, the freedom to succeed or to fail. In every joy and sorrow, God filling and extending. As we are, we are found at the heart of God, our lives hidden with Christ in God – loved as we are, and in that love receiving the freedom of God’s children.

The gospel is that Jesus has gone before us in all things, and has already brought us into the heart of God. That being the case, fear has no place among us, nor envy or pride, nor greed or hatred. Such things have to do with incompleteness, with not yet being free. In such attitudes and behaviour, we act to secure what is already given us in Jesus. For the incarnate and ascended Jesus is himself complete and, by the grace of God, is our own completeness in God.

If Jesus is with God and prays for us, all things are already ours.

And we are released to do and to be as Jesus was: children of God, working and speaking and thinking in the God who gives us all things and frees us for a fullness of life, in love.

Let us, then, live out of that freedom.

Re-worked from a sermon previously preached at MtE (2014)

Illuminating Faith – Introduction to the New Testament


This is a ‘value-added’ study series based on an excellent online resource on the New Testament from Professor Dale Martin at Yale University, and complements a similar Yale course on the Old Testament also adapted for IF.

This undergraduate course outlines many important considerations scholars bring to reading the New Testament, as well as covering providing an introduction to the content of the New Testament. The course should be particularly useful for introducing lay people to modern historical critical methods developed over the last two centuries for interpreting these texts.

The whole series and its associated resources can be found in its original form on the Yale site. The ‘Sessions’ tab on that page brings up the full list of lectures, and clicking on each brings up the video, an audio-only version, transcription text, and any other resources (occasional handouts, etc.) relating to that session.

This IF version uses the Yale videos and a version of the Yale transcript reformatted into an easily printable PDF with paragraph numbering for easy reference in conversation groups. The main supplementary material is gathered together on one web page for each part, and a few other resources are also provided to build on the Yale material.

For an introduction to the series and presenting it in your local context, download our introductory document:

The studies can be done in one continuous series. It is, however, quite long, and so a break-up of the material into four parts is suggested below (the break-up is not part of the original series)

Preparing for the discussions

Prior to each session, watch the lecture via the links below, or read the transcript. There is also an audio-only version of the lectures available on the course homepage under the ‘sessions’ tab — click on the session you want and the audio can be downloaded at the bottom of the session page.

The collection of lecture transcripts can be downloaded individually from the session details below, or as a zipped file here:

There is often a section of biblical text which it would be helpful to read in conjunction with Martin’s lectures. This is indicated in the session details below, along with other reading or video resources which might complement the material.

The Yale material is reproduced here according to the associated terms of use.

Other resources

  • Prof Martin suggests the New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV) as the version of the Bible for the course. There is no need to purchase this version; the text of the NRSV is available online at, for example, the Oremus Bible Broswer, should you need it.
  • The edition of the NRSV Martin refers to in the first lecture is the latest (5th) edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryhpa, which is probably most accessible to Australians via Angus and Robertson (Ebay) – about $AU61 (April 2021). This has extensive interpretative footnotes to the biblical text and a number of essays on themes of NT interpretation. It is a similar price on Book Depository, and bit cheaper there for the paperback version. (Take care not to purchase the much cheaper Apocrypha-only version!). The Kindle version of the full Bible is about $22.
  • Prof Martin has turned his lectures into a book, available here in paperback and Kindle versions. The text, however, does not extend greatly beyond the online lectures/transcripts. 
  • If you would like more reading to complement what we hear in the lectures, perhaps better (at least, with a different voice) might be Pheme Perkin’s Reading the New Testament (Kindle, paperback, $15-35 plus postage); probably cheaper at Book Depository.
  • For the intrepid, Tom Wright’s New Testament in its World is a massive book covering similar ground in much greater than a single lecture series could. This is available on Amazon (international stock) here but the best source for Australians might be Koorong (about $70 posted). Take care not to order the much cheaper ‘Workbook’ companion volume by mistake!

The Study Materials

[Part 1 – Introduction to the Study of the NT]

  • Session 1 – Introduction: Why Study the New Testament? Video 1; lecture transcript
  • Session 2 – From Stories to Canon Video 2; lecture transcript
    • Some might be interested in some extensive YouTube/video material from Robert Jenson on the theme of the canon and its relationship to the creeds: Illuminating Faith – Scripture, Canon, Creed
    • Prof Martin makes passing reference to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in this lecture. The Septuagint (meaning ‘70’ and abbreviated with the Roman numerals LXX), is important for the interpretation of the New Testament because it is the text (rather than the Hebrew) which NT authors cite. A quick (2.5 min) video overview can be found in the Museum of the Bible introduction; Andrew Perrin’s longer (15min) intro is here. A brief text overview of the LXX can be found in this Encyclopedia Britannica article; the Wikipedia page is more extensive. And you can read the LXX (in English!) here.
  • Session 3  – The Greco-Roman World Video 3; lecture transcript
  • Session 4  – Judaism in the First Century Video 4; lecture transcript
    • Bible: Book of Daniel (Old Testament)
    • See this supplementary page for more short introductory videos on Jewish history from the beginning of Hellenisation through to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. (There are quite a few videos here — an optional extra!)
  • Session 5  – The New Testament as History Video 5 ; lecture transcript
    • Bible: Acts 9-15; Galatians 1-2

[Part 2 – Jesus and the Gospels]

  • Session 7  – The Gospel of Matthew Video 7; lecture transcript
    • Bible: Gospel according to Matthew
    • The Bible Project’s summary of Matthew’s Gospel: Part 1 and Part 2
    • Gospel Parallels: A useful resource for the study of the four Gospels is a gospel parallel. This sets corresponding passages from the various canonical Gospels next to each other for comparison of the passages in each. A gospel parallel is probably best presented as a printed hardcopy document. An online version that does some of the work can be found here. This particular resource lists the parallel passages by chapter and verse in the columns. The actual text(s) for these references are found by clicking/tapping on the numbered link in the leftmost column, which jumps to the parallel texts at the Bible Gateway site. These passages can be read not next to each other (which printed book versions enable) but above/below each other, which is less satisfactory than a book version but saves trying to hold 3 or 4 bookmarks in place in your home Bible and then flipping back and forth between them! You will also see that it is possible to change the Bible version for the passages via the drop-down menu at the top of the passage; changing one changes them all for that parallel selection.

[Part 3 – Paul and Friends]

[Part 4 – Apocalypse and Interpretation]

Session 26 – The “Afterlife” of the New Testament and Postmodern Interpretation Video 26; lecture transcript

Illuminating Faith – Scripture, Canon, Creed

The series of lectures linked below were presented by Robert Jenson 2009; similar material is covered in his book, Canon and Creed (2010).

These lectures have particular importance for Protestants in view of the emphasis Protestantism places on the biblical text, whether in biblicist or extreme liberal interpretative modes. Jenson honours the biblical text but shows how it is the product of a pre-existing complex of theological commitments. Theology, then, does not only arise from the Bible; it also precedes the Bible. This is important for making judgements about the nature and authority of biblical material.

The following links do not constitute an IF study as such – at some stage in the future we may produce a study document to assist the hearing and discussion of the material. Nevertheless, individuals or groups will discover much to ponder in this extending material on its own!

18 April – Miraculous

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Easter 3

Acts 3:1-19
Psalm 4
Luke 24:36b-48

In a sentence
The miracle at the heart of faith is that God makes sense of us for our own understanding, and calls us to renewed life.

The events at the Easter-heart of the Christian story seem to beg to be ‘made sense of’. How can we comprehend a resurrection or any purported miracle around Jesus?

Yet, while the desire to make sense is a natural one, we must recognise its limitations. This is not to say that we ought to allow ourselves to be ‘unsensible’ or irrational. It is more a question of what makes sense of what. What will bring us closer to the heart of Christian experience is entertaining the possibility that these biblical texts might ‘make sense’ of us, might comprehend us

The story of the man miraculously healed in our Acts reading today is another ‘need to make sense of’ passage in the Easter account, reflecting as it does the ongoing impact of Easter and Pentecost.

While there is a lot of scepticism these days (and, even back then!) about miracles, even those who stand as a matter of principle against any purported miracle retain an interest in the idea of miracles. The credulous and the sceptic alike, we all would that someone enter our lives and declare, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk!’ or ‘be poor no longer’ or ‘be lonely no more’, and not only declaring this, of course, but the miracle then taking place. This is a story we would all love to believe for the relief it seems to promise.

However, as we ponder the idea of a miracle, we must be mindful of what the miraculous is not: miracles are not magic. Magic has to do with the possession of a certain knowledge about the way the world works and, so, possession of knowledge about how things might be manipulated. If you know the correct incantation and say it in the right way, then you can bring about what you desire. And so in the Harry Potter stories, for example, the young witches and wizards are gradually inducted into the mysteries of their craft: the words which must be said, and how they must be said. We see them struggle to get their Latin phrases right, and to wave their arms in the right way, in order to make happen whatever the spell is supposed to effect. In this, magic is much closer to modern scientific technique with the potential of its descriptive formulas than it is to biblical miracle.

On a magical understanding, Peter knows the magic word – ‘Jesus Christ’ – and the lame man is healed. (A little later a magician named Simon even offers to pay the apostles if they’ll teach him the ‘magical’ gesture by which the Holy Spirit was imparted to new believers ([Acts 8.9-23]). Yet, neither Peter nor Luke are interested in magic. If there is a tendency towards a magical interpretation of miracle stories like this, it is in us and not in the story itself that the magic is found. Such a magical understanding appears in us when we find ourselves thinking that, if only we knew the right words to pray, and if we prayed them with an appropriate air of authority or with the right degree of sincerity, or with the right amount of faith, or if we could find someone else who can do that for us … if only we knew the spell, we too could do what Peter did.

Yet, closer attention to the story contradicts this reading. Whereas our interest here is most likely to stem from the possibility (or the impossibility) that we too might share in such a healing, Peter is interested in communicating the possibility of the forgiveness of sin. He makes no implied promise of the healing of our bodies; the healing of the lame man is almost incidental to the point of the passage. Recall here what we said last week about the secondary status of the resurrection of Jesus itself: the resurrection is not the main event but a sign pointing to something else – in fact, a sign that also points to matters of judgement and forgiveness.

Peter declares not, ‘Repent and turn to God so that you may all walk again, or see again, or stand up straight again, or be healed of your sadness’, but ‘Repent … and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.’ The big news in the story is not that God acts in the name of Jesus to enable a lame person to walk again, but that God acts in the name of Jesus to forgive sin.

The introduction of the theme of forgiveness here disrupts the magical reading of the miracle. Magical thinking, with its the desire to know how to make this or that happen, is not just about what we might be able to do but is also about how we understand ourselves. To want to change things magically is to demonstrate that we don’t think of ourselves as part of our problems. Magic doesn’t change us in ourselves but changes others or the world: my love potion is given to change you, not me. Magic is a tool in our hands for shaping what is outside us.

But Peter’s preaching is directed at a different target. With the charge of sin and offer of forgiveness, Peter opens up the thought that we ourselves need to be changed. To be guilty of sin is to have a share in the reason for what is wrong. ‘Sin’, as an idea, gathers us into the problem, makes us a part of the problem.

The difficulty of the miracle now shifts. In terms of where we started, the hard text we seek to make sense of now offers us a new sense for ourselves. The crowd respond to the showy miracle, but Peter wants to show them themselves.

This is a bigger shift than we might think.

It is as difficult to believe that I might need real change as it is that the lame could walk again in this way. Pressing further, it is as difficult to learn and understand what might need to be done in me as an individual or in us as a community as it is for a dead man to stop being dead.

It is much easier to make sense of something – to know it on our own terms – than to be made sense of – to know ourselves on another’s terms, especially if that ‘other’ is one whose knowledge of us cannot simply be dismissed.

The death and the resurrection with which Easter faith is concerned is not the lame man’s disability and healing or even the death and resurrection of Jesus himself; it is the death which is in the people – the capacity to ‘kill the Author of life’, Peter says (3.15) – and the possibility of their rising from that in repentance (3.19). Jesus dies and rises, that we might die and rise too.

To proclaim Jesus as risen is not to believe in magic; it is to declare ourselves to be under judgement. And yet, miraculously – here is the miracle – to proclaim Jesus risen is also to declare that we are within reach of forgiveness by the sheer grace of the one who brings the charges against us.

We will hear more about these charges next week. But, for now, the point is the need to entertain not the abstract idea of a miracle but the concreteness of the repentance to which the miracles point. It is only when we let go of making sense of Easter on our own terms, and let the story speak to us of things we don’t yet know, that a rethinking – itself a kind of re­pentance – becomes a real and close possibility. And with that comes the possibility of a life lived with new understanding, vigour and hope.

This life is what the people of God – and all people – deeply desire: hearts once crippled now having cause to run and leap and praise God (3.8).

This life is what the gospel of the risen, crucified one makes possible, by making more profound sense of us than we yet have made on our own terms.

Jesus dies and rises that we might, too.

So let us die, and rise, and walk and leap in love and praise.

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