Friday, June 17, 2011

Paul and the Difficulty of Accepting Change

Why did Paul have a hard time joining with the disciples at first? They were afraid of him. (Acts 9:26)

It was difficult for Paul, then known as Saul, to integrate with the disciples in Jerusalem as he had long been among their staunchest detractors (Acts 9:1-2). In fact, when Paul was last seen in the holy city, he was involved in the death of one of their own (Acts 7:58-8:3). The disciples were naturally suspicious of Paul’s newfound mission.

What would you do if your biggest competitor instantaneously sought to become an ally? Have you ever known anyone who made a sudden, dramatic lifestyle change?

Paul’s 180° shift was the result a famous encounter on the Damascus Road. Unfortunately, this experience was unverifiable. It was not until his friend Barnabas vouched for him that Paul gained acceptance among the disciples (Acts 9:26). The disciples then had the unenviable task of performing their own 180° turn in regards to their attitude towards Paul. Is it harder for a person to change or for their associates to accept the change in them?

Do you think the disciples’ fear of Paul is also evidence of a reluctance to believe that God can change a person irrevocably in an instant? Do you believe God can still change people in such profound ways?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seth: The Original "Replacement" Child?

Who was the third son of Adam and Eve? Seth (Genesis 5:3)

Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, born after their eldest son Cain murdered their youngest, Abel. Though Adam and Eve had other children, only Cain, Abel, and Seth are named in the Bible.(Adam and Eve must have liked four-letter words given the names of their first three sons...)
Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (Genesis 4:26, NASB)
The text utilizes a pun as the name “Seth” means “appointed”. It is interesting that with Cain’s exile (Genesis 4:16), Eve lost both of her sons, yet it is the victim that she misses most. Even in naming her newborn son, Eve does not conceal her association between her dead son and her newborn. In psychology, such a baby is often described as a “replacement child” as the infant serves as a substitute for the deceased offspring. These children are often thought to be at risk of later psychological difficulties because of a struggle to form an identity apart from their deceased sibling.

How would it make a child feel to be seen by her own mother as a replacement for a deceased sibling? Can you think of historical examples? Can we learn anything about “replacement children” from the case of Seth?

Seth is the least known of Adam and Eve’s named sons as there are no stories of Seth in the Biblical record (though in the case of Adam and Eve’s children, no news might be good news). There is a folk etymology for Seth’s name in Genesis 4:25 associated with the Hebrew word meaning “to plant”. This is fitting as Seth would become known by his seed. All nine Biblical references to Seth are genealogical (Genesis 4:25, 26; 5:3, 4, 6, 7, 8; I Chronicles 1:1; Luke 3:38). More importantly, the appointed one led to the anointed one - Seth’s lone New Testament appearance is in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:38).

Would it have been wrong for the Messiah to come from the line of Cain and not the line of Seth? Why?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Once a Fisherman...

What was Simon Peter’s occupation? Fisherman

Before becoming a disciple, Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen. In fact, the first four disciples Jesus called in the Synoptic gospels were fishermen. Jesus announces that the fishermen will become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17). (The pun is in the Greek as well as the English.)

Peter is depicted fishing in the gospels on several occasions even after becoming a disciple. He uses his skills as a fishermen to procure tax at Jesus’ request (Matthew 17:27). Based upon this story, tilapia is known as St. Peter’s fish in the Middle East. Also, between Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter returned to fishing (John 21:3).

In what ways did fishing prepare Peter for his ministry?

I knew that fishing required patience and reliance on God, but not being an angler myself, I asked Captain Greg Kembro of Apalachicola Fishing why he thought Jesus called fishermen. Greg has 35 years of fishing experience and is a Christian. He replied, “Maybe that is the answer, Jesus knew if he could win them he could win anyone and the people would see that. A large portion of the charter captains are rough and can be a bad experience for your wife or children that is why I let it be known (sic) that I try to make folks comfortable. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be a good fisherman, also traits of a good Christian. If you have all the tools you need and all the knowledge in the world about fishing and you do not put them together and in motion, you will never catch a fish. Jesus saw men of action that got things done and went after them and made them fishers of men.”

In what other ways does fishing parallel ministry? Why do you think Jesus built his ministry around former fishermen?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Habakkuk: "Minor" Prophet?

Complete: “The just shall live by _____.” Faith (Habakkuk 2:4)

The assertion that “the just shall live by faith” was made by the prophet Habakkuk. The word the King James Bible renders “just” is more commonly translated “righteous” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). The Hebrew tsaddiyq can equally mean “just, lawful, righteous”.

The book of Habakkuk is the eighth of twelve books classified as minor prophets. The apostle Paul used the Habakkuk quotation “the just shall live by faith” in composing his most influential letter, Romans (Romans 1:17). In fact, scholars concur that the Habakkuk reference serves as part of Paul’s thesis statement for the entire book. This “minor prophet” was significant enough to find its way into the core of one of the most important theological treatises in history.

The prophets, and specifically the minor prophets, are often neglected by today’s preachers? Why is that? Is it because it is assumed Jesus fulfilled their teachings? Is it because they are difficult to discern without knowledge of their context? Is it because they are understood and their social values are difficult to accept?

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” -  Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Esther's Double Identity

What is Esther’s other name? Hadassah (Esther 2:7)

Esther, the Jewess who used her influence as Queen of Persia to save her people, is introduced into the Biblical text with two names:
He [Mordecai] was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. (Esther 2:7, NASB)
While the name Esther appears 55 times in the Bible, the name Hadassah never again appears. The book of the Bible that bears the heroine’s name reads Esther, not Hadassah.

Hadassah is Esther’s Hebrew name, likely the name given her by her parents. Hadassah means “myrtle”. While the myrtle is a plain plant, its crushed leaves produce a pleasant fragrance. It is one of the four species bundled together in the celebration of Sukkot (based on Leviticus 23:40).

Esther, however, is a Persian name. It is either derived from the Persian word for “star” or a theonym which incorporates the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. While its exact meaning is contested, its Persian etymology is not.

In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word ester is related to the Hebrew word meaning “to hide”. Esther hid her Jewish identity (Esther 2:10, 20) and her Persian named helped her do it. The famous Rabbinic commentator Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164) justifies Esther’s subterfuge by noting that if she had not disguised her religion, she would bot have been able to observe it.

Was Esther wrong to conceal her religion? Is the fact that her Hebrew name is largely forgotten an indictment against her? How public should one be with their religious beliefs?