Looking in to the Warrumbungles from the southwest, 2011

Advent Study Week 2

The Gospel for Week 2 Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

Responding to the text
What are your emotions after reading this? Boredom, confusion, anger, fear, curiosity….? There is no right response, but our emotions key into what the text may say to us.

Are their questions that "pop into your mind" when you read the text?

Remember all "… that padding we removed to produce the Pilgrim Church Condensed Version?" Underline all the padding! How would you tell the story in 50 words or less for a radio competition?

The Artificial Lectionary
If you look carefully you can see there is a more or less self-contained narrative or story which stretches from Verse one to verse 20 in Chapter Three. The lectionary has cut it in two for week two and three of Advent.

How would you approach the text? Can you see natural connections between items that have been severed by the lectionary?

Names, Titles, Geography/Place
Names and geography are almost always included for a reason in Biblical text. They are part of the message.
Wilderness
Jordan
Abilene
Iturea
Judea
Galilee
Trachonitis

Question: What do the names and titles tell you?
Emperor Tiberius
Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea
Herod was ruler of Galilee
his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis
Lysanias ruler of Abilene
during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas
the word of God came to John son of Zechariah.

Note: He does not call him John the Baptist; he calls him son of Zechariah.

The listing of the date is also trying to anchor into history, and give authority to, the claims being made.

Who are the actors?
In the last study we asked, "Who are the players in this drama?" Who is the key person in the text this week? What has Luke already told us about him? This last question is a key question. We read the bible in bits and pieces. The people of Jesus' time, who listened, would remember that:

(Luke 1…) the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’

Question: What is the geography about? Can you see a basic contrast in the geography which parallels two groups of names—
The geography and borders imposed by Rome
vs
the geography of God: in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan…

Quoting the Old Testament
"… proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah…"

What this form of quotation of the Old Testament by the New Testament does is tell us to interpret / think about "repentance for the forgiveness of sins" in the context of the Old Testament quotation.

Our literary style today teaches us to quote only the words we need to support our argument. The only reason our reader should need to go back to the text we quote, is to check if we are telling the truth, or are quoting in context. The quote should hold all the information our reader needs.

But in the time of Luke, it was assumed that you would know the context of the quotation and, quite possibly, know the surrounding text by heart! So where he quotes these few verses from Isaiah, we would be more likely to say something like, "If you want to see what I am talking about here, go and read Isaiah Chapter 40— there isn't room to quote it all here, or, I haven't got copyright clearance to put it all in."

There were no chapters and verses in the texts of the day. You were expected to recognise the part of the scroll of Isaiah from which the quotation came, and go and read it, if you didn't know it by heart! The quotation was to help you find the right part of the scroll.

And, of course, the quoting of the text assumes we know the background of Isaiah 40!

Consequence: When the text quotes the OT, we should go and read the text before and after the quotation, and ask ourselves how Luke's first century Jewish contemporaries would have been in the habit of interpreting that text. You can see why you can spend your whole life studying this stuff!

Some Context: Isaiah 40-55 is commonly called Deutero-Isaiah. (i.e., second Isaiah) It's a well-recognised self-contained section within Isaiah, which reflects upon Israel's return from exile in Babylon— it may even be reading the signs of the time and making a prediction! It calls the Persian Emperor Cyrus, who allowed some of the exiles to return home, God's Anointed One; also known as, Messiah! (Isa 45:1)

Questions: What does putting the ideas of repentance and forgiveness of sins next to a text about a return from exile say to you? (sin causes exile?)
Who causes or engineers the return from exile?

What is the overwhelming affect or emotion in Isaiah 40? What does that say about Luke's understanding of the significance of John the Baptist? Does John sound like Isaiah?

Jargon
One of our problems as Christians, is that we get used to our own language, and sometimes forget what it means. Have you ever had that experience where someone asks you what something obvious means and you can't get it into a short explanation?

We will deal with this in the next study, but for now:
What does repentance actually mean? Is it just being sorry?
What is forgiveness?
What is sin?

In my own words…
Do the exercise: Imagine being with a friend who makes you feel safe and who is sincerely interested in your opinion. Tell them in a few words how you feel about what you have been reading and thinking— the questions, challenges, emotions. What is the text saying to you? What is the affect? Remember: the issue is not first of all what is right, wrong, or able to be sustained in an argument. It is to allow the text to "open you up" to the spirit around you.


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