We’re so grateful for the insight and wisdom of Dr . Craig L. Blomberg during the #LentChallenge.
He’s been answering YOUR questions over the last several weeks and this week we asked him a big one: What is the most misinterpreted passage in the New Testament?
His response may surprise you:
1. I noticed that after Jesus was baptized, he also baptized people and used his disciples. I’ve heard that the children of Israel at the Red Sea is a baptism illustration. Was water baptism being taught in the Old Testament elsewhere?
Water baptism does not appear in the Old Testament. It developed later in Judaism.
We know the Essene Jews at Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea practiced daily ritual immersion to symbolize repentance and purification from the last day’s sins. Anyone wanting to go to the temple precincts would have immersed themselves in one of the more than 100 mikvaot (plural of mikvah) or immersion pools scattered around the city but especially concentrated near the entrances to the temple. By at least the late first century, Jews were also requiring baptism by immersion for proselytes (Gentiles converting to Judaism), though we don’t know for sure if this practice had already begun by Jesus’ day.
At any rate, when John and then Jesus and their disciples baptized people, it would have drawn on an existing ritual symbolizing repentance and purification. What was strikingly new was that these leaders were claiming that all of the country’s people needed to repent and be baptized, not just the notoriously sinful or the outsiders.
2. In Mark 6:40, Jesus directed them to sit in groups of hundreds and fifties. And in Luke 9:14, they are asked to sit in groups of fifty. Why did Jesus want them in those specific groups? Is there deeper meaning in those numbers?
It’s very possible there is deeper meaning. The same numbers were sometimes used for groups of soldiers; Jesus could have been implying that his followers were creating a spiritual army of sorts. [Tweet this]
In fact, John 6:15 says at the end of the feeding of the 5000, some tried to take Jesus by force and make him king, perhaps in response to such overtures by Jesus as this one. But of course they were looking for an earthly king of a very different kind.
3. I’m curious why it is important that the author added the details in John 20:6-7. Why do we need to know that the face cloth was folded up and put in another place? What’s the significance with his burial clothes?
Translations that say “folded up” are a little misleading because it makes it sound like Jesus’ made his bed before he left the tomb! The most common meaning of the verb is “to be in a rolled up or wrapped up like position.”
The point is precisely the opposite of what one would expect if there had been disciples or anyone else who had taken the body and laid it somewhere else and then folded the grave clothes to tidy up after themselves.
Rather, John’s point is that Jesus simply exited his burial place with the grave clothes still in the position they were when they encased him! The shroud that covered the body was in one place and a little bit away was the face cloth, still appearing in a roll as if wound around his head.
4. Acts 4:22 mentions that the man healed was more than 40 years old. Why is this detail included? What is its significance within the culture and context this is written?
It’s hard to be sure. Frequently in the New Testament we are told how long someone has been afflicted with a certain malady, so it’s possible we are meant to assume that this man had been lame a long time.
More likely, in a world with much shorter life spans, forty was often the age at which someone was considered “old,” even though some people lived for many years beyond that threshold. Unlike today, an older person (the same word from which we get “elder”) was usually more greatly respected, than a younger person, so this man’s testimony would have been credible even for those who had not seen the miracle or who knew him both before and after his healing.
5. What is the most misinterpreted passage in the New Testament?
Matthew 7:1—hands down—because it is taken out of context.
In fact, most people who quote it don’t even know where to find it in order to discover its context! Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Part of the problem is that the word “judge” in English (like its equivalent in Greek) can mean both to “analyze and arrive at a verdict” about something and to “condemn” or “deal with harshly or censoriously.”
The next five verses make it clear that Jesus is not telling his followers never to determine whether others’ behavior is good or bad because he uses the metaphor of taking something out of a person’s eye to stress that when one deals with one’s own sins then one is in a proper position to deal with other people’s sins.
Indeed, how does one determine how to obey verse 6 on not giving holy things to dogs or casting pearls before pigs unless one knows how to recognize a person who is, spiritually speaking, a dog or a pig—one who will simply not appreciate the valuable thing offered to them and either trample that which is of value or attack the one offering it?
So Jesus has to mean that we are not to be overly harsh when we have to assess others’ behavior. We suspect he has particularly those who are outside the pale of upstanding Judaism at this point, since the “tax collectors and sinners” are those he bends over backwards to read. Conversely, he can be fairly censorious with the upstanding religious insider (e.g., the Pharisees) who should know better but have turned their religion into a legalism that keeps those who need God from turning to him.
To read more of Dr. Blomberg’s insights, pick up a copy of his latest book, Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, here.
#AskABibleScholar: What verse has left you scratching your head? Have you ran into a passage that’s tricky to interpret? Leave your questions as comments below. Dr. Blomberg will be back to weigh in next Friday.