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Lessons in Context

Martin Luther described the Bible as the cradle that holds Christ. Christians read the whole of Scripture and find meaning through Christ.

From the New Testament: The Gospels 


The Gospel according to St. Luke

The Gospel of Luke was probably written between 80 and 90 C.E. after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 C.E.). The books of Luke and Acts were written by the same person, possibly an educated Hellenic Jew, fluent in Greek with a fine literary style, who had become a follower of Christ. Scholars refer to the books as Luke/Acts and treat them as a double volume, meant to be read and studied together, because the story of Christ told in Luke then broadens into the story of the early Church in Acts. Luke's gospel ends with Jesus' ascension and the disciples in the Temple, waiting to begin their ministries; Acts begins with the ascension and the return of Jesus' Spirit, guiding the disciples to the successful completion of their mission. Luke shows how the beliefs and prophecies of the Jews had pointed to the coming of the Messiah. His leading characters, including a young woman named Mary, are all faithful Jews who know the promises of God and are ready when he returns to dwell with his people and usher in his Kingdom on earth; but the promise is not exclusively for them. The Jewish faith expected that when God's glory was revealed, all people would see it. That's Luke's point: the Messiah is good news for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, and all of creation. Harold W. Attridge, the Lilian Claus Professor of New Testament at Yale University Divinity School says, "Luke's Jesus is very much interested in instilling compassion and forgiveness in his followers.... Jesus is probably at his most powerful in the gospel of Luke, from a variety of perspectives, as prophet, as healer, as savior, as benefactor."


The Old Testament: The Prophets 


The Book of Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah is attributed to Jeremiah who was "only a boy" when he received God's call to be a prophet. He played his major prophetic role during the last forty years of Judah's history; however, there is no clear chronological ordering of material in the book. It also jumps from topic to topic. It is written in both poetry and prose, with biographical narratives thrown in for good measure, the latter which are attributed to Jeremiah's secretary, Baruch. It seems to be a collection of varied material. This could be, in part, because when Jeremiah died in about 586 B.C.E., Baruch retold some of Jeremiah's sermons. This underscores that pre-exile prophets tended to be preachers rather than writers; many of Jeremiah's teachings were most likely passed down in oral form. Furthermore, what we have today reflects two forms, the Masoretic text (Hebrew) and the Greek text (Septuagint), which differ from one another. For example, the Septuagint Jeremiah is about 2,700 words shorter than the Masoretic text's Jeremiah. Jeremiah seems to be an "outsider," not part of the Jerusalem religious establishment as is his rival Hananiah. They do not preach the same message, the inference in Jeremiah being that Hananiah does not speak for God and is, therefore, a false prophet. Jeremiah believes that a prophet must challenge the people's collective conscience. He admonishes the nation to repent and assures them that God wants healing and reconciliation, not punishment. There is hope for a future beyond disaster and captivity (which Christians believe became a reality in Jesus Christ). Chapters 30–31 are often called the “book of consolation” because in them are gathered Jeremiah’s oracles of hope for an eventual renewal and restoration for Israel.


From the New Testament: Letters of Paul


The Book of 1 Corinthians

Paul's letters to the Corinthians, written between 53-55 C. E., give us a glimpse of what life was like in a 1st century Greco-Roman city and the challenges faced by the Christians there, some of whom were Jewish converts, others Gentiles who had formerly paid homage to many gods. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Asclepius, the god of healing, were favorites of the Corinthians, and Corinth was also a major center of Emperor worship. The city was ethnically diverse and very sophisticated, the home of a large theatre and a haven for philosophers. It was a place where a resourceful person, even a former slave, could get ahead. Just as it is in the large cities of our day, there was a sharp divide between rich and poor; so the Gospel, with its emphasis on justice and equality and the oneness of all believers in the crucified and risen God-man, regardless of status, must have seemed just as radical to the movers and shakers of Corinth as it does to our "it's all about me" society today. The Corinthian Christians were a contentious bunch. 1 Corinthians seems to be a call to unity and advice on issues that were causing division among them—they were in a mess. As the one who brought them to Christ, Paul is trying to bring them back to his teachings.