Feast upon the Word Blog

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GD NT Lesson 2

Posted by BrianJ on January 11, 2007

Luke 1; Matthew 1

For my lesson this week, I asked the class to complete this assignment:

“Luke 1 contains several speeches or prayers. How would you summarize each? Try to do so in just a sentence or two, and then in just a few words. Is there a pattern or overall theme?”
Here is what I learned:

v. 13-17 Gabriel to Zacharias
Gabriel’s main message is, of course, that Zacharias will have a son. But the way the conception is announced is important: Zacharias’ prayer is answered. We don’t know exactly what Gabriel meant by this—was he referring to the prayer offered by the priest on behalf of Israel or to Zacharias’ lifelong personal prayer that he could one day have a son?—but John is announced as an answer to that prayer.
Key words: fear not, prayer is heard, John’s mission will be guided by the Holy Ghost

v. 30-33 Gabriel to Mary (part one)
These words are clearly Messianic, but that meant different things to different people (and still does). We often say that the Jews thought of the Messiah as a political/military leader, but there were some groups who anticipated a priestly Messiah or even more than one Messiah. How would Mary understand it after Gabriel’s words?
Key words: fear not, God’s favor, Jesus as Messiah

v. 35-37 Gabriel to Mary (part two)
Part one of Gabriel’s message is about Jesus; part two is more focused on Mary. The really important message has already been delivered, so what is the purpose of Gabriel’s message here? I see it as serving two purposes: one, building Mary’s faith; two, contrasting Mary and Elizabeth. On this latter point, note that Elizabeth is old and barren, and yet she brings forth new life; Mary is young and virgin (not exactly the opposite of barren, unless one thinks of the terms as they apply to soil), and yet she brings forth new life. It’s an appropriate metaphor for “closing” one covenant and beginning a new one.
Key words: Holy Ghost will descend on Mary, nothing is impossible for God

v. 42-45 Elizabeth to Mary
I’m not sure what to make of these verses. Are they just comfort for Mary, or something more? For the third time in this chapter the Holy Ghost is mentioned, so that stands out, as does the way that this is the first time John gets to “testify” of Jesus’ divinity. Elizabeth’s final words, “blessed is she that believed,” let us contrast Mary with another person in this chapter: Zacharias. He was old, presumably wise, and his rational mind led him to doubt the improbable blessing (though it was not without precedent); Mary was young, presumably naïve, yet she irrational believed the impossible and unprecedented.
Key words: Holy Ghost, Mary is blessed for believing

v. 46-55 Mary to Elizabeth
My first question is: Why does Mary have this experience now, rather than when Gabriel was present? Mary introduces two important themes that will come up in the next speech: mercy (vs. 50, 54) and fear (v. 50). Mary takes us from a discussion of Jesus, to praising God for his power and condescension, to reminding us of the covenant with Abraham.
Key words: praising the Lord, mercy and fear

v. 68-79 Zacharias to those attending John’s bris milah
Verses 70-75 use some interesting repetition:
70: God made promises through his prophets
71: That Israel would be saved from enemies
72: Thereby fulfilling God’s promise of mercy
73: Which was the promise God made to the prophet Abraham
74: And thus being saved from enemies could serve God without fear
It’s not exactly chiastic, but I sorta get the feeling that Zacharias wants us to be thinking about promises, salvation, and God’s mercy (see also v. 78). Most importantly, this and Mary’s speech suggest that the mercy of God—the promise given to Abraham—really is Jesus Christ.
Key words: mercy, promise, fear, Holy Ghost

I also noticed the word “fear,” which is used six times throughout the chapter. I don’t know anything about Greek, but all of the words translated as “fear” (phobos, phobeo, aphobos) apparently are noun, verb, and adverb from the same root. They form a theme: As long as you fear God you have no reason to fear.

9 Responses to “GD NT Lesson 2”

  1. nhilton said

    The full JST of Luke 1 (not what’s in our KJV) gives incredible insight. I.E. v. 56 should be the last verse in the chapter, meaning Mary stayed with Elizabeth until after John was born, so she was a witness to all these happenings. Also, v. 65&66 are placed after v. 80 (before v. 56 end) which makes the “fear” factor more understandable. Also, v. 77 has “baptism for” inserted before …”the remission.” Studing the gospels with the full JST beside me has taught me much concerning the scriptures and made me increasingly grateful for Joseph Smith’s contribution.

  2. Robert C. said

    I’ve been wondering a bit about Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting. I think one interesting thing going on is the way in which Mary takes Elizabeth’s praise of her and redirects it to God in a way that emphasizes her lowliness and humility (esp. vv. 48 and 52), something that establishes a theme for the Luke’s gospel as a whole. If Mary’s speech had been recounted during Gabriel’s announcement, perhaps it wouldn’t have had as dramatic of an impact as following Elizabeth’s praise of Mary.

  3. BrianJ said

    nhilton: thanks for the added insight; it seemed strange that Mary would leave right before the birth, so I always assumed that it was just an error due to Luke’s writing style (he likes to finish up ideas/themes even though it means breaking up chronology.) Looks like Joseph felt the same way.

    Robert: Ahh, very helpful point about Mary redirecting praise–that is certain to become part of my lesson tomorrow.

  4. Denise said

    I teach Gospel Doctrine and recently referenced an article by Bryan Richards. In this commentary he stated that John the Baptist had never been ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood because it was already his through lineage. I need clarification and references, if possible, because this idea was not well received. Thanks

  5. Matt W. said

    Ok, my lesson sucked it up again today. We got to comparing Zach and Mary and Faith and Doubt and finally I just pushed them into it and asked them what they wanted and it came down to their saying more philosophical discussion and less of anything they have already heard. I had to get them to promise to let me know if they already new what I was talking about, so we could keep it moving at a solid pace.

    Any ideas? Next week I am planning on going over what Wisdom is in conjunction with Luke 2:52 and then to go through the styles of learning and the basics of epistemology and the philosophy of truth.

    Am I being too literal. What do 16-17 year olds mean when they want more philosophical discussion?

  6. Denise and Matt W.,

    Both of you are asking very serious (if very different) questions, and I’d like to give them both some serious thought before answering. I’m sure others will respond as well, but I promise to get back to these tomorrow. I may, if you would like me to do so, Matt, start an entire thread on the question you’ve raised. It would be worth discussing liberally.

  7. Robert C. said

    Matt #5: I have a new set of 12-year-old boys in my class and have a whole different set of problems than what you are describing (my boys have a lot of energy and I think I need to take a step toward more primary-type activities and a step away from the more adult-type conversations I was able to get away with last year; I might also incorpoate the modern-day-prophets manual for 12-year-olds more, since I have fewer older kids now). Nevertheless, I can sympathize with challenges teaching youth.

    Regarding philosophy, I would try to focus on scriptural ideas and theological issues more than philosophy per se (though I’m not really sure what the distinction is…). I think the “hearing them, and asking them questions” bit in Luke 2:46, the “understanding” in v. 47, and the “wisdom” in v. 52 are all great words to study from a philosophical/theological/scriptural perspective.

    I’d personally be inclined to focus on Christ’s “asking them questions” part in v. 46. I think a good question to ask is in light of these pastoral passages which seem to take a very negative view on questions. So the question might take the form, “What kinds of questions are Christ-like questions and what kinds of questions are strife-engendering in the sense condemned in the Pastorals?” I think this is also a good opportunity to challenge the students to ask good questions (following Christ’s example) in SS class itself. (Nephi also comes to mind as an example of asking God good questions, 1 Ne 10 or so in relation to Lehi’s dream; 2 Tim 3:7 is also a good passage for this type of discussion….)

    Also, if anything, I’d be inclined to contrast secular philosophy and perhaps the idea of “philosophies of men” with the wisdom and understanding promised in the scriptures (and displayed by Christ here in Luke 2). That is, I don’t think what we see Christ doing is showing a kind of philosophical prodigiousness in Luke 2, but rather an ability to take scriptures and interpret them. A key to my understanding of all of this is Isa 29 where I think the phrase “precepts/philosophies” of men is critical to grasp. I think this is a theme in the Pastoral passages also, the problem is that the philosophies of men (and “endless geneaologies”) ignore the importance of our inner desires, charity, etc. (see recent discussion at the wiki on this here). I think this is related to the theoretical-praxis issues we’ve discussed here recently.

    Another related question I’ve had successful class discussions with is asking whether doing what is right for the wrong reasons does any good–that is, if having the right intentions is so important, how do we make our intentions right? I think this would lead naturally into a discussion trying to get students to more sympathetically identify with the Pharisees (and hence Pharisaism within themselves): if doing what’s right helps us have better desires (or does it??), what’s wrong with focussing on doing what’s right? This is a dangerous game, but sometimes I like to play devil’s advocate by asking a question that is critical of the Church and forcing students to defend the Church, e.g. here: doesn’t the Church promote a type of Pharisaism through its focus on works-based commandents like Word of Wisdom, tithing, chastity, etc.?

  8. brianj said

    Denise, #4: Some of your class may have had D&C 84:27-28 in mind as they objected to the idea that John was never ordained:

    “Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power.”

    [response to Matt W moved to post addressing his concern]

  9. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to Denise’s point until now. I would only add to Brian’s point that receiving a priesthood right through a lineage does not necessarily mean that such a person would not be ordained. In the D&C discussions of the oldest direct descendant of Aaron and his right to the bishopric, I seem to recall there being mention still of his being ordained and even anointed. In other words: both by lineage and by ordination. I would need to do some serious thinking to go any further than this, though.

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