No Bull About It—Why We Don't Have Sacrifices Today

Each week during the #LentChallenge, we’re collecting YOUR questions to send to our oh-so-brilliant New Testament scholar and professor, Dr. Craig Blomberg. 

Soak up his wisdom and insight today.

(Stumped by a passage or verse as you’re reading? Leave your question for Dr. Blomberg as a comment to this blog post). 

Lent is 40 days. Jesus fasts for 40 days. What is the significance of 40 days throughout the Bible?

It rains for 40 days and nights at the beginning of the Flood in the time of Noah.  Moses is on Mt. Sinai for the same period of time in preparation for receiving the Law. The spies’ trip to scout out the Promised Land took forty days. Goliath taunted the Israelite armies for forty days, while Elijah fled from Jezebel for forty days and nights. Jonah threatened Nineveh with being overthrown within forty days. Jesus likewise appeared to his followers for this period of time.

It appears to be a round number for a complete period of time—long enough for a significant activity to occur. In many of these instances, 40 days is the appropriate length of time for preparing for a key event. Lent prepares us for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection in similar fashion.

No Bull About It—Why We Don't Have Sacrifices Today

In the genealogy of Jesus, only a few of the women are mentioned, not all of them. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary are mentioned, but why them and not the others who gave birth?

The first four are Gentiles, but Mary isn’t.

Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba all had illegitimate sexual relations, but Ruth and Mary did not. Most likely what unites all five women is the suspicion of inappropriate sexual relationships. While Tamar played the prostitute and Rahab was one, and while Bathsheba and David committed adultery, Ruth’s story about lying down to next to Boaz at the threshing floor in the middle of the night was at least suspicious. And for those who didn’t believe in Mary’s virginal conception, the only alternative was to assume that she too had an illicit union.

Matthew’s understanding of the Messiah was that he came from and came for the sinful and outcast, not just the upright and popular. [Tweet this]

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus seems to be promoting the Law (the Old Testament). But there are so many rules and regulations in the Old Testament that we don’t observe anymore. Why? What it sounds like here is that Jesus is saying DO the Law. Any insights to unlock what Jesus is talking about?

Actually what he says in this verse is that he came to fulfill the Law. He didn’t come to abolish it, but neither did he come to preserve it unchanged.

Rather he came to bring to completion everything to which it pointed.

Christians don’t bring a bull or sheep to church to be slaughtered for the forgiveness of sins, as was commanded in the Old Testament law, because Jesus is our once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Every law in the Old Testament has to be interpreted in light of what Christ’s ministry accomplished [Tweet this] and how New Testament revelation may or may not have changed its relevance.

When Jesus is asked about his disciples not fasting in Matthew 9:14-17, his response about the garments and wineskins seems very random to me. What am I missing?

Even today we don’t put unshrunk cloth as a patch on already shrunken jeans, because when the patch shrinks it will no longer cover the hole it was meant to cover. If we still used wineskins, we’d learn that wine puts pressure on its containers as it ferments, meaning you don’t want new wine fermenting in old and brittle skins.

So, too, the newness of God’s kingdom as revealed in Jesus could not be contained in all the old forms of Jewish Law and custom. Some changes were required. [Tweet this]

Matthew 13:20 describes the seed being thrown on rocky ground. It’s received with joy but soon falls away. Why does real joy vanish so readily? Or was it never real joy? 

It all depends on what you mean by “real joy,” I guess.  There are seemingly endless gradations of happiness and contentment among human beings.  We are so easily distracted and so bombarded daily by so many stimuli.

In the parable, however, what matters to a farmer is not whether a seed takes root, begins to grow, or even produces leaves. What matters is the crop or fruit for which it was planted. None of the three seeds that landed in inadequate soil represent true believers, only the fruit-bearing seed. So if “real joy” is the joy of true Christian discipleship, than in this verse we never see real joy.

I’m new to reading the Bible. Sometimes it’s confusing. Any thing you’d suggest to make it easier?

In 100 words or less? People take entire classes on interpreting the Bible! In short, read it like you’d read any other collection of literature, but recognize it was inspired by God.

  • Read large chunks at a time.
  • Try to get the overall flow of thought of a given book.
  • Read verses in context.
  • Don’t get bogged down at one or a few places that are puzzling.
  • Learn a little about the setting of each book, and its literary genre or form.  Who wrote it, under what circumstances and for what purposes? A good study Bible can give you helpful information along these lines.
  • Ask if there is a promise to claim, a model to imitate, a danger to avoid, or a command to obey. 
  • Look for as analogous circumstances as possible in our world today to see where the text would apply.
  • Look for larger principles behind specific details if those details don’t seem as relevant for our world.
  • And pray for God’s wisdom through it all.

No Bull About It—Why We Don't Have Sacrifices TodayDr. Craig L. Blomberg (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, where he has taught for more than twenty-five years. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including A Handbook of New Testament ExegesisJesus and the Gospels, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Preaching the Parables, Making Sense of the New Testament, and commentaries on Matthew, 1 Corinthians, and James.

Pick up a copy of Dr. Blomberg’s 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.

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