Sample course

New Testament – NT201

Check out what it’s like to study online through the Timothy Partnership. The material below is the first week of the New Testament (NT201) subject. Follow these steps for an online learning experience:

Step 1: Listen to the audio material

Step 2: Download and read the associated reading material

Step 3: Read the tutorial questions below, as well as some of the actual online
discussions from students undertaking this unit.

 

Question 1: What were the major unifying features of Judaism at the time of Jesus?
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Monotheism and election. Although jews were often divided as to particular practices and traditions within their religion, they were unified in two common convictions; that there is only one true God, and that God chose the Israelites to be his special people.

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There’s not a lot more to add there Jenny – you have covered it! Maybe I could just add that expressions of this unity were the Shema daily prayer (“Hear O Israel, the LORD is one…”) and the importance of Mosaic law.

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i think the fact that the jews were God’s chosen period is important

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Hi Alison,
I was wondering what you mean by “chose period”?

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Does this mean you couldn’t convert to Judaism? (Given that they were born into Abraham’s family)

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Would the old Testament scriptures count as well?

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I like your question Kate, because for me that raises the question then of how God was growing his Kingdom before the inclusion of the Gentiles. Was he just multiplying them through birth? And if so, why did he limit it to only the Jewish line in the first place and then to everyone? I know that Jesus needed to come to make it possible for us all to be saved, but we (as Christians) are still a chosen group, and yet people can be chosen later on in life and not through birth now. Why did God do it this way?

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I think at this point we should look at the Old Testament. Gods instructions were that his people were not allowed to inter marry with other cultures/nation because they would pull his people away from him. So then the way he expanded his kingdom was through birth at that time at least.

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I agree that on the whole God grew his kingdom by the Isrelites reproducing and expanding their population. Not sure if you can “convert” to Judaism and take the title of being a Jew but there are definitely examples in the OT of being part of God’s chosen people.and God growing his kingdom outside of the Jewish line ( I think? )

Rahab for instance was not an Israelite but put her faith in Yahweh and believed he was powerful and would save her from being harmed when the Israelites brought down the wall of Jericho. Did she enter into God’s family/kingdom with this faith?

Another probably more significant example is Ruth. She was a Moabite and married into the Isrealite community and in the end had great devotion to Yahweh. She even turned out to be King Davids’s great grandmother and is thus found in Jesus genealogy. She was a foreigner but recieced great blessing as one of God’s faithful people.

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We must not forget that the Kingdom of God has always been for the whole world. It was the work of the children of Abraham to reveal that way. As far as Judaism is concerned, they were in one of the best positions that had ever been for revealing to us Gentiles, the salvation of God through faith. The freedoms of religion afforded to them in spite of the Roman dominance at the time just prior to Jesus’ ministry meant that no one would be persecuted or punished for proselytising …. but, as had nearly always been the case for them, they missed the point of their calling .

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My thoughts (better late than never)

There were a few unifying features I beleive amongst the sects. One was Monothesim, the belief that there was only one God (Yahweh) who was the the rightful ruler of Israel, and as an extension, the world. (though it would seem that the Saduccees were willing to swing with this when it was for them expedient), The other poinsts were Mosiac Law observations of circumsion and Sabbath. Prior to this unit I had never really heard much of the Essenes and found it very interesting to examine their seperatist theology and actions.

Question 2: How did each of the major groups in Judaism at the time of Jesus interact with the Old Testament? How did they respond to the rule of the Roman Empire?
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I guess we need to firstly isolate the major groups; Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots (a faction that can be traced to what Josephus coined the
‘Fourth Philosophy’).

The Sadducees (an aristocratic, high priestly group who ran the temple),only recognised the authority of the Torah (the five books of Moses). They refused to sanction any doctrine not taught therein. They rejected the belief of the resurrection. They were a self absorbed faction, concerned only with their own power and so it appears they responded to the Roman Empire in whatever terms best advantaged themselves.

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I had to leave the forum prematurely (the phone rang). In reference to my previous post, I’m not sure if the major groups I isolated are correct. Help me out here.

I’m also finding it difficult to pin down the Pharisees. A religious faction, accepted by the majority of Jews as the religious leaders. They were the teachers and interpreters of the Law. They accepted not only the Torah but the books of the prophets as authoritative Scripture. Unlike the Sadducees, they believed in resurrection. It appears they encouraged the Jews to accept subjugation by the Romans, in exchange for political power.

This is my understanding. What do people think?

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I think jenny you have really summarised the four religious groups well.

I find it interesting the relationship between religion and politics in these times, it seems that some roman rulers actually cared about keeping peace and satisfying the jewish population ie, Pontius Pilate ended up killing Jesus for a couple of reasons one that he was concerned about a rioting Jerusalem population.

Also the religious groups had a certain level of power and at times the High priests had high level of authority like a king. Where as Herod Agrippa 1 had no concern for the jewish people and actively and brutally persecuted them.

As with ‘pin down the Pharisees’, we can clearly see in the gospels that Jesus has no regard for them and i find it encouraging to see that Jesus very obviously understood the poison that their religion injected into the jewish community shown in Mat 3:7-9, Mat 16:6 and Mat 23:13.

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I don’t know if I am being too cynical, but I don’t know that there were altruistic Roman rulers of Palestine and self serving ones – I think all of them had a mixture of each.

They all realised that their ongoing reign relied on pleasing the Roman overlords, but it also relied on keeping the people somewhat happy. If they went against the people too much there would be rioting which would show the overlords that they couldn’t keep control. So there was this delicate balance of power between the ruler and the people they ruled.

For example Herod I sought to please Rome and further his own reputation by lots of impressive buildings. He tried to ingratiate himself with the people by building an enormous temple, but also ruled them with brutality.

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I have to say I agree with Jeff. Another example of this is Antipas. As we can see from our readings, it is thought that he didn’t meet with Jesus because of risking rioting crowds.

Isn’t interesting then to think that under Antipas Jesus was left alone to keep crowds from rioting and by the time Pilate was leading he arrested Jesus to stop crowds rioting. Over time the popularity of Jesus and the responses changed.

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I’ll just elaborate a bit on the last two groups you mentioned Jenny – the Essenes and the Zealots.

The Essenes were quite different to both the Sadducees and Pharisees, because they did not have the same political agenda. The Essenes really thought that it was a matter of obedience to the Law that would bring the Messiah(s), and were less than impressed with the compromises tolerated with the Roman overlords. So they took their ball and went home, or rather made new homes in isolated communities such as Qumran. They lived in strict ritual purity and asceticism while they waited for God to bring his Messiah(s) to the rescue of Israel.

The Zealots were not an organised party like the other groups described above. They were loose bands of revolutionaries whose religious zeal for the sole rule of God was manifested in opposition to the Roman rulers over them.

It’s interesting that the Essenes don’t appear in the gospel accounts – you would have thought that Jesus would have wanted to connect with these people who were waiting patiently and faithfully for God to provide a rescuer!

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I agree with you Jeff, it is interesting to speculate what is left out of the Bible! I was thinking what a great hero type Mattatias would be in the Bible. Taking the brave step of aggresively asserting that pagan sacrifices not be offered.

Jenny, I read something interesting about the Pharisees and how they relied not just on written law but on a second oral law or tradition that Moses was said by them to have instituted. it appears they went around teaching this oral law and its references to purity, sabbath, fasting, tithing etc.

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it is interesting that the essenes dont appear in the gospels? it that perhaps because they were isolated from the comunity?

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Hi Alison,

Somewhere among my stuff, it was suggested that John the Baptist may have been one of the Essenes, but that does not answer your question (Which I think is a good one and would like to know the answer too.)

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I think it makes sense that they would not appear if they are isolated. Really if you think about when people are isolated today we don’t hear about them either. But then that makes me wonder why Jesus didn’t speak to them… other than it being God’s plan and all.

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From what I read it sounds like they actively isolated themselves., which I’m sure in turn woulld have made them seem a little weird and others may not wanted to have heaps to do with them.

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How did each of the major groups in Judaism at the time of Jesus interact with the Old Testament? How did they respond to the rule of the Roman Empire?

Sadducees included some Greek thoughts in their interpretations but took only for the 5 books, rejected doctrine of resurrection.

Pharisees are said to also uphold the Torah plus the oral living tradition of Moses and Daniel and Isaiah. They seemed to take what worked for them. The Essenes withdrew totally but the evidence by the Dead Sea scroll point to the fact that they had access to scriptures and made commentaries on them. They were totally withdrawn and waiting for God’s intervention. Zealots believed in the sole rule of God. Their respond to the Roman rule is of a diverse nature.

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The thing that I fond most interesting form the readings was the fact that the Pharisees, the sect that perhaps is mentioned most in the gospels in a not so positive way usually due to their legalistic view of their faith, was the fact that they were in effect ‘lay’ priests, not Levitic priests

Another point of interest, and I believe that it was brought up by a previous post, was the fact that the Essenes were not only mentioned in the gospels, but that Jesus didn’t seek them out (at least as far as we are aware as we are reminded by John , the Gospels are not exhaustive accounts). I too would have thought these would be the type of guys that Jesus would have wanted to have a chin wag with than for no other reason than there proven willingness to put action behind their words.

In this peer learning environment, can anyone help me out as to learning the reason that the Saduccees only recognised the Pentateuch, (the first 5 books of the Old Testament, and not the other 34?

Question 3: What caused the Jewish War? How does this heated political context help us to better understand Jesus and the Gospels?
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Personally, I think the name “The Jewish War” is laughable . One has to search hard to find a time when they were not fighting with the Gentiles or with each other.
But Stephen, I assume the context of your question is the period of Roman expansion and the oppressive rule of the local governors controlling Judea.

As for the cause, I have learned from the notes that Florus knocked off a truck load (or should I say, “a chariot load” of gold from the temple at Jerusalem.

I also remember hearing something about someone “mooning” some Roman official???

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Maybe we could say the “unsuccessful Jewish uprising”…….

Nah, still wouldnt get any votes from me!

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To supply a little more context…

The Jews were becoming increasingly discontent with Roman rule, especially as this went against their theology. There were all these groups agitating for independence – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots etc – and it had to come to a head eventually. This occurred when the Romans increasingly flouted the sanctity of the temple and therefore the authority of Yahweh.

Add a little bit of unauthorised mooning, and you get….disaster.

Anyone want to elaborate on the details more fully?

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In an attempt to address the second part of the question, the Jewish war established the heated political environment in which Jesus found himself. The religio/political situation in Judea at the time was unstable and exploitive. The Sanhedrin (puppet government) were not secure in their authority (they thought Roman support was tentative). Jesus offered the Kingdom of God (peace/hope/salvation). We better understand Jesus and the Gospels in this context, when the kingdom of this world (Roman Empire etc) is so starkly contrasted with the Kingdom that Jesus was offering.

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What caused the Jewish War? How does this heated political context help us to better understand Jesus and the Gospels?

While there seemed to be ongoing disagreements between the Jews and the political governing body, the Romans, the last straw was when the governor Florus took money from the treasury. The Romans were in dominance at the time of Jesus. Romans was more forceful compared to the Greek.

Question 4: Some scholars have presented Jesus as a political revolutionary. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this portrait?
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I don’t think Jesus saw himself as a political revolutionary. He had a mission and never allowed himself to be distracted from it. However, in terms of how the people viewed Him and how the religious/political scene was influenced by His teaching, it may be fair to say he was somewhat of a political revolutionary.

I think perhaps it was more God the Father who was the political revolutionary. He providentially prepared the way, manipulating the political scene to create an environment conducive to the spread of the Gospel after Jesus’ death.

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I agree with you Jenny.

Jesus could have easily achieved political/national independence if he wanted to – after all, he is Creator of the whole universe! But clearly Jesus agenda was not the reinstatement of the Israelite Kingdom centred in Jerusalem.

Jesus plan was for a much more far reaching kingdom. John records him saying “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36). Jesus intention was to set up a kingdom which transcended geography, nationality, gender, culture, race etc

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I agree with both of you Jenny and Jeff, Jesus was not political in our sense.

I have just been readin Mark and I think Jesus often silences those around him from talking about him because he wants to define what his role and identity are himself. Maybe a bit off the topic??

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Those of us participating in this particular conversation (so far), seem to agree, that certainly in terms of how Jesus viewed himself, he was not a political revolutionary. However, Jesus was revolutionary in the sense that he worked to bring about a very radical upheaval in society. Jesus’ teachings were directed towards bringing about the Kingdom of God. The political implications of proclaiming Jesus as Lord, is that Ceasar is not!

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i think maybe jesus was a bit revolutionary in the fact that he was proclaiming a new kingdom the “kingdom of God”. calling people to repent and believe

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Its worth noting here that apparently, A revolutionary was exactly what Judas was hoping to see in Jesus. I learnt somewhere in my distant past that the main reason Judas sold Jesus out was to try to force his hand and get him to take Jerusalem by storm and kick those pesky Romans out. (Hence the turning up with a pile of armed men the night he betrayed Jesus.)

It seems Judas’ suicide was because of what he perceived as a failed coup against the Romans.

Can anyone validate this story for me?

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This isn’t biblical but in Jesus Christ Superstar- the musical, Judas is presented as very frustrated by the manner Jesus seems to be going about his business so maybe Dave part of that idea came from there?

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That could well be, Kate. But even the writer of the JCSS script may have drawn his thoughts from something he gleaned from the bible.

Trying to keep this line of thinking with the original question, it makes sense to me that Judas could well have been looking to Jesus as an all conquering Messiah that was going to put Israel at the top of the world.

The writers of the Old Testament were quite willing to expose the failings of their key people in full living colour, but we do not see that so much in the New Testament.
If Judas was a political revolutionary at heart, was it because of the potential for instability in that era that caused such scant details of Judas to be presented in the Gospels?

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If a revolutionary is simply someone who supports and works towards rapid and drastic change (does it have to be by violent means? ie can a pacifist be a revolutionary eg. Ghandi?), and if politics and religion (in Jesus’ time), were so intertwined as to be almost indiscernable as separate entities, then perhaps we could describe Jesus as a political revolutionary.

David, the idea of Judas wanting to force Jesus’ hand was certainly depicted in Jesus Christ Superstar and seems to have become an accepted theory of Judas’ betrayal, but I’m not sure there’s any biblical basis for that. The only thing we glean from the Bible about the character of Judas is that he was a thief and he loved money. I think he just sold Jesus out.

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I have a question … People often say that many Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah because he wasn’t what they expected, they were expecting a warrior of sorts. While I can see where this would come from given he came to save them, can some one actually point me to where this idea is in the bible? Thanks

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I have found it interesting reading through everyone’s comments on whether Jesus was a political revolutionary. While it appears that his life on earth was transforming for the world at the time and the present times, for some reason it doesn’t sit well for me to think of Jesus as a political revolutionary, because that was not his reason for coming into the world. I guess I find it hard to view him in any other way than as the Messiah, and a King whose ONLY purpose was to save the world from sin.

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Not sure that I’m adding too much new to the topic but I’ll throw my 2 cents in.

I haven’t read anymore than the notes in the folder at this stage but I wonder if the whole idea of Jesus being political revolutionary, or not a revolutionary, still stems from our post-modern western world mindset that makes it difficult to perceive Jesus as a political figure.

I think Jenny put it well when she suggested “.. politics and religion were so intertwined as to be almost indiscernible as separate entities”.

Our government doesn’t make any claims to be God, although other governments may hint at something like this. e.g. Communist regimes that prohibit any kind of faith/religion. China’s Chairman Mao comes to mind. To a government that makes this kind of stipulation (and a people living under that govt). Jesus most certainly would be a political revolutionary. But to our secular culture, and similar thinking cultures, He’s just another religious/faith option. (and still again to believers, He’s the son of God.

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Religion is certainly political, because it is a human organisation. But was Jesus into religion?

I agree that he was a revolutionary, but perhaps not a religious revolutionary. He deliberately avoided the Jewish agenda to achieve an independent theocracy, and instead taught about a kingdom “not of this world” (eg John 18:36). Some would argue that christianity went downhill when it became the state religion…

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I want to respond to and agree with Clare’s comment. Quite cleary the gospels show the purpose of Jesus’ life on earth was to save us from our sins. He does not form an army or run for government. In fact at times, he resists crowds and people telling others about him on their terms.

At the same time because he entered time and history he must bump into the social structures. To again refer to Jesus Christ Superstar, the show seems to depict Jesus as sort of oblivious to the fuss around him. However, the bible depicts Jesus as having a sharp understanding of society around him. For example, when he refers to Herod as “that fox”. Another example is that he is aware of the tax system and has a thought out comment on that.

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I’ll throw some thoughts in…

I found it interesting in the audio when Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God is coming ( Mark 1) that Jesus could have been responding to society ( particularly Jewish) around him. The message to believe and repent to receive salvation could have been more pointed in its’ meaning, a message to the different Jewish groups to repent of their agenda in bringing about God’s kingdom. It was not the political agendas of strict observance to the law, use of the sword, or collaboration with the Romans that would bring God’s favour and salvation. God’s kingdom was coming and he was choosing to make it happen through Jesus. it was nothing they could do to bring about God’s kingdom. It was happening and they needed to listen and trust the way God was doing this. It would have been a huge change of mindset for a people who were all about “doing” to be told they couldn’t “do” anything to be saved anymore. If this was so then Jesus agenda certainly did have political ramifications for the Jewish people..

Plus if the Jews were not waiting for an eternal salvation (were they???) but were thinking more about salvation, freedom and independence from Rome’s clutches then this adds to the political aspects of Jesus message. They didn’t understand it was not Rome’s clutches they needed to be free from but sins grip over them.

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Some scholars have presented Jesus as a political revolutionary. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this portrait?

He could be seen as a political revolutionary as he was challenging the rigid mindset of both the political and religious leaders. In some cases a spiritual leader can also end up being a political leader eg. Gandhi in more modern times. Whether or not this view has a strength or weakness, Jesus did stir the leaders and people by presenting a different kingdom.

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One of the disadvantages of posting late in the day is you get the dubious role of the class parrot on some points…However…

Whilst I definitely am persuaded that Jesus was a ‘revolutionary’, i don’t think that can extent to a political revolutionary label, at least by todays understandings.

I do however, agree that as previously posted that God the Father was ‘political revolutionary’ in how he brought about through his sovereign control a specific set of circumstances at a specific point in history that would allow Christ and the imagery and proclamations such as the ‘Kingdom of God’ would have tangible understanding amongst the John and Joe citizens in a Hellenised expanding Roman Empire. Knowing a few hundred years later that a bloke called Constantine was coming along probably helped in the planning process.

Jesus on the other hand at a specific mission not swayed by political considerations, and even at times seemed to question the legitimacy of undue focus on ‘political liberation’ from Roman subjugation rather than his Kingdom (I am unsure if give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s has any application here?)

I can understand that for secular historians a view that presents Jesus as a seditious political religious figure at a time of much intrigue and maneourings, can be of interest if Christ’s words are at this time not ones of personal conviction

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Sorry Im posting so late!

Someone in one of the other questions pointed out that because of the Roman rule and the discontent of the Jewish people Jesus found himself in a “heated political environment” perhaps this is partly why he has at times been labelled as a political revolutionary? As I’ve been reading religion played a very big role in politics and Jesus was bringing lots of insight into the OT laws many of the groups followed (even with their differences)…