New Testament Cultural Contexts
The purity systems within the first century Jewish culture impacted profoundly on Jews’ attitudes and behaviours. As Jerome Neyrey, a prominent biblical scholar points out, Israel’s land and places, classes or persons, holy times and unholy physical “uncleannesses” were all classified and ranked according to degrees of purity or impurity. This system established the structure and social stratification of the Jewish community, the norms of public and private behaviour and the lines of demarcation between holy Israelites and those at or beyond the margins of God’s holy people - these being physical or social deviants, Samaritans and Gentiles. Read more...
Honour and Shame
Honour and shame are values within all cultures. In modern and ancient Mediterranean countries a visitor is immediately aware of this value as there is a different social dynamic. People are concerned with appearances. For example married women typically dress in black, with scarves covering their hair and men congregate together in the square, to drink, play cards or bowls, joke, smoke and observe passers-by. Men and women rarely share the same places. Anthropologists describe this phenomenon in terms of a value considered dominant in Mediterranean culture, namely honour. To understand the ways such cultures organise their world and social structures and relations, it is important to understand this value as pivotal. Honour can be defined as a person’s or group’s feeling of self-worth and the public, social acknowledgment of that worth. Honour in this sense applies to both sexes and it is the basis of one’s reputation, of one’s social standing, regardless of sex. Shame is a positive symbol, meaning sensitivity for one’s own reputation and sensitivity to the opinion of others. To ‘have shame’ in this sense is a very positive value because you are concerned for your reputation and there is a strong chance that you will behave in such a way as to uphold an honourable reputation. Read more...
Challenge - Riposte
Challenge - Riposte describes a constant social tug of war in the first century Mediterranean world. It involved a public, rhetorical interaction between two people. Someone would challenge another person in terms of some action (word, deed, or both). The receiver of the verbal and or physical reaction would gain a perception of the intention of the message, as would those listening and observing in the public arena. Finally there would be a reaction by the receiving individual and the evaluation of this reaction on the part of the public. The result of the interactive duel would be either riposte (honour) or a loss of honour. The gospel stories frequently exhibit this interactive social tug of war game between Jesus and others who were seeking to dishonour him. Jesus likewise uses this interactive technique in the public domain to do likewise and to teach about his vision of the reign of God.
Gender-Based Place and Roles
Men in this time directed their attention outwardly, away from the home; women looked inwardly to the home and to places and things germane to it, such as the well or the grinding wheel. Men are usually aggressive and concerned with authority and precedence, whilst women are guardians of the family honour. These first century Mediterranean societies are clearly patriarchal. A woman when she marries, moves to her husband’s house and becomes embedded in that new kinship group. She moves from one male protector - her father - to another - her husband. If a woman appearing in scripture is not identified as the wife of someone, the reader could wonder as to her ‘shame’. In many gospel stories, Jesus is seen to ignore the stereotypical roles and places of women. He challenges the ways of his own culture many times through his liberal and compassionate treatment of and association with, women.
Authors of the Gospels
There are four accounts of the life, ministry and death of Jesus that make up the Gospel. Each account brings a richness and diversity of concerns, while telling essentially the same story. However, there is one Gospel of salvation and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell it in four different ways. Hence we say, “the Gospel according to….” Each Gospel account bears the name of a male; therefore many people assume that each book’s author was a significant first century Palestinian male of that name. Some biblical scholars hold to this belief and focus on which Mark, Matthew, Luke or John wrote the text. Conversely, it is held by other biblical scholars that each gospel account demonstrates significant authorship on the part of one author and subsequent authorship of smaller sections by others. Such scholars suggest the minor authors of each gospel account frequently belonged to a scholarly group or school of similar thought, lead possibly by the major author. It is mostly this difference in style within and between gospel accounts that evidences the work of several authors. Read more...
Lectio Divina (‘holy reading’) is a way of praying with the Scriptures that allows the words you read to flow into every part of you; thoughts, words and actions; body, mind and soul. Lectio Divina begins with developing the ability to listen deeply, to hear with the ear of your heart. It is a time to slow down, a time to quieten, a time for silence. Read more...
A creed is a statement of belief, usually religious belief. It is derived from the Latin credere - to believe. Thus, in its simplest terms, a creed is a statement or profession of beliefs. A creed may cover the whole of doctrinal teaching or it may clarify certain points of dispute. Creeds contain the faith of historic Christianity and the results of controversy. They are useful to the church in helping to regulate its theological thinking and keep the church from straying into heresy, as well as for general use in catechetical instruction and as professions of faith.
A traditional belief is that after Christ's ascension, many of the apostles prepared to follow the great commission by leaving Jerusalem and teach the gospel throughout the world. In order to make certain that each apostle taught the same message, they jointly composed the Apostles' Creed before their departure. In reality, this is a most unlikely scenario. Most scholars agree that there was little uniformity of belief in the early Christian church. Even in the same geographical area and sometimes in the same cities, different Christian teachers taught quite different gospels and had quite different views of who Jesus was and what he did. It was only in the 4th century C.E. that the Christian church became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This created a need for doctrinal consistency. The date and writers of the Apostles’ Creed are therefore unknown.
Throughout church history, a number of important creeds have been formulated as statements of orthodoxy. These include the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Both are featured in this learning byte. Read more...