Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson 4

Posted by Jim F. on January 22, 2007

NOTE: THERE IS A MORE RECENT, UPDATED VERSION OF THESE NOTES AT: https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/01/16/nt-sunday-school-lesson-4-jf-matthew-3-4-john-135-51/

Lesson 4: Matthew 3-4; John 1:35-51

Matthew 3

Verses 1-2: What function did the herald of a king serve in ancient times? Why did kings need heralds? Is John the herald of a king? Why does this King need a herald? Compare John’s message to Jesus’s message in Matthew 4:17. Why do you think Matthew uses almost exactly the same words in each case? What is he teaching? Given Matthew’s focus on Jesus’ royal birth, how are we to understand “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? How many ways can you think of understanding that the kingdom of heaven is soon to come or is nearby? Does it help to know that the word “kingdom” might better be translated “reign”?

Verse 3: Matthew (like the other three synoptic Gospel writers) quotes from Isaiah 40:3 to describe John’s mission. (Matthew quotes from the Greek version rather than the Hebrew, which explains why there are differences between what he says and our version of Isaiah 40:3.) How does that verse from Isaiah explain John’s mission? Does it shed any light on what John means when he warns that the kingdom of heaven is at hand?

Verse 4: This verse reminds us of Elijah. (See 2 Kings 1:8; see also Matthew 11:14 and 17:10-12.) Why is that parallel important? Does Zechariah 13:4 teach us anything about John the Baptist?

Verses 5-6: Notice the contrast that Matthew sets up between “Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan” in verse five, and the Pharisees and Sadducees in the next verse: everyone came to be baptized, confessing their sins—and many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came. It appears that though Jews of this time baptized converts to Judaism, they did not baptize those who were born Jews. When John baptizes Jews, too, people would probably take this as comparing them to the Gentiles. Why would this part of John the Baptist’s message have been shocking?

Verses 7-8: The Pharisees and Sadducees seem not to have been political allies or allies otherwise. Why does John the Baptist, and then Jesus, treat them as a group? Why does he single them out? Does his message to them differ from his message in general? How?

Verse 9: Against what mistake does John the Baptist warn the Pharisees and Sadducees? What would it mean for a Sadducee to say, “I have Abraham for my father”? For a Pharisee? Has God raised up children to Abraham that are not genetic children, children from stones, as it were? If so, who are they? Does this discussion of the seed of Abraham have anything to do with the fact that John baptized Jews (verse 6)?

Verse 10: Does “the axe is laid unto the root of the trees” mean the same thing here that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” means?

Verse 11-12: Does verse 11 begin a new topic, or is this part of what he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees? What does John mean when he says that he isn’t worthy to carry the Messiah’s shoes? How is fire used metaphorically? What does cleansing by water suggest? What does cleansing by fire suggest? Can you think of any incidents of cleansing by fire in the Old Testament? Do they have any bearing on our understanding of these verses? What is the connection between the fire mentioned in verse 11 and that mentioned at the end of verse 12? Some early Christians, such as Origen, understood these verses to refer to the fires of hell. Do you think that could be right? Why or why not? Might John’s audience have understood the purging of the granary floor as something that has already occurred in history, at the fall of Jerusalem? Compare verses 10-12 to Malachi 4:1.

Verse 15: What does “to fulfill all righteousness” mean? What does Jesus’ baptism demonstrate about him? About us?

Verse 16-17: What does the dove symbolize in the story of the Flood? Does its meaning in that story help us understand its symbolism here? In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is announced as the king at his conception, at his birth, and here at his baptism. What do you make of that? The phrase “in whom I am well pleased” uses a verb that in Greek is in a kind of past tense, the aorist tense. A verb in the aorist tense indicates that the action of the verb is complete or fulfilled. What does that tell us about the Father’s relation to the Son? Does Matthew want us to see verses 15-17 as a fulfilment of John the Baptist’s prophecy that the kingdom of God is at hand?

Matthew 4

Verses 1-2: Jesus goes into the desert for forty days. What does it mean to say that the Spirit led him so that he could be tempted of (“tried by” or “examined by”) the devil (“the seducer,” “the slanderer”)? What parallels do you see here between Jesus and ancient Israel? What do those parallels teach? Do Hebrews 2:18 and Alma 7:12 help us understand what happens in the desert?

Some Protestant scholars have noted parallels between Satan’s temptation of Jesus and his temptation of Eve:




Genesis 3


Matthew 4

Appeal to physical appetite You may eat of any tree (vs. 1) You may eat by changing stones to bread (vs. 3)
Appeal to personal gain You will not die (vs. 4) You will not hurt your foot (vs. 6)
Appeal to power You will be like God (vs. 5) You will have all the world’s kingdoms (vss. 8-9)

What do these parallels teach us?

Verses 3-4: Satan tempts Jesus by challenging him to use his power to satisfy a basic human need. Jesus responds by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3. What does Jesus’ answer tell us about our priorities?

Verses 5-7: Satan tempts Jesus by challenging him to use his power to produce a sign of his divinity, and he quotes scripture (Psalms 91:11-12) to justify his challenge. Jesus responds by again quoting from Deuteronomy (6:16): “Ye shall not tempt [‘put to the test’] the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.” How did Israel tempt God in Massah? (See Exodus 17:1-7.) How is that relevant to this temptation?

Verses 8-10: Like the two previous temptations, the third temptation is also about power. What does Satan offer Christ? Jesus’ response this time begins with a dismissal: “Get thee hence.” Then Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13: “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” In context, it is clear that this verse is a reminder that the Israelites are not to worship false gods. How is that relevant to understanding Satan’s temptation?

In each of the previous temptations, Satan addressed Jesus as “Son of God.” Why? Does it have anything to do with Matthew 3:17? Satan does not address him in that way for the third temptation? Why not? What is the significance of the fact that Jesus answers Satan each time by quoting from the Law? How do Jesus’ answers define his mission? How do they define for us what it means to be faithful?

Verses 12-16: Why does Jesus go to Galilee? Why does Jesus wait until after John’s imprisonment to begin his ministry? How does Matthew understand Jesus’ move to Capernaum as a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Gospel will go the Gentiles (Isaiah 8:23-9:1, using the Greek translation of Isaiah).

Verse 17: Jesus begins his ministry. How does this message apply to us? How is it the message that we continue to preach?

Verses 18-22: The same Greek word is translated “straightway” in verse 19 and “immediately” in verse 22. By repeating that word, Matthew is emphasizing it. What does that emphasis tell us?

Verses 23-25: Why is so much of Jesus’ mission dedicated to healing the sick? Does that healing have symbolic as well as literal significance? Is it related to Jesus’ experience in the desert? Does it help us understand scriptures like Mosiah 4:16, Mosiah 18:8-10, and D&C 81:5?

John 1

What does John’s story about the first disciples tell us that Matthew’s did not? Why might that be? The conversation between Jesus and the two disciples of John in verses 38-39 is quite prosaic. Why do you think that John included it? Does it have any meaning for us? How might we understand Jesus’ question of them, “What do you want?” How might we understand their response, “Where do you abide?” How might we understand his advice, “Come and see”?

Why do you think Jesus changes Simon’s name? What connotations does the word stone have?

What does the story of Nathaniel’s call teach us? What does Jesus promise Nathaniel and how is that significant?


I don’t know how what follows came to be in this lesson. I seem to have pasted it here from some place else because it has nothing to do with the passages under consideration. However, now that it is here, I will leave it.

Here’s a place where reference to the Greek, teleios (“have a purpose,” “whole,” “mature”) is sometimes helpful. If we understand perfection as being in unity with God, being whole, as sharing in his purposes, then we can avoid some of the false notions we have of it, such as “never making a mistake” or “completing a very long check-list of duties.” Cross-referencing Matthew 5:48 to Leviticus 19:2, where “holy” is substituted for “perfect” can also be helpful.

80 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson 4”

  1. Todd Wood said

    Jim, this is the first time I have seen such an LDS view of teleios in Matthew 5:48. But wouldn’t you say that God has never made a mistake?

  2. Robert C. said

    Todd #1: I read Jim as saying that we are admonished to be “whole” in the same way that our Father in Heaven is whole, not that we are being admonished to not make mistakes. So there’s no claim here about God making or not making mistakes.

    Jim, I’m confused by your reference to “Page 19” on this topic (the last paragraph of your post), can you explain what you’re referencing? (Also, in the 2nd paragraph under John 1:29-34, you had “understood” when I think you meant “understand”–I fixed this, but you should double check it.)

  3. I don’t know that I want to commit myself to a theological discussion on the point, but I don’t think Latter-day Saints are (should be?) generally too concerned with the idea of God making a mistake (at least in the past, but perhaps in the present?).

    Jim, fantastic as always. Are you familiar with Margaret Barker’s interpretation of the Markan baptism passage and its connection with Revelation? Any thoughts on this? I love it and am wary of it at once.

    I really liked the questions you raised (and are forcing me to ask) about the Jews being baptized and all the implications being bound up with the coming of John. I recently read an article by Jeffrey Chadwick on Sadducees and Pharisees that I thought was excellent (though I think it domesticates Jesus a bit too much in its drawing Jesus together with the Pharisees). I wonder how his findings might be brought to bear on this question.

  4. Jim F. said

    Just a quick response. I’ll try to get back to this later today or tomorrow.

    Todd, Robert’s read is right: I’m not saying that God has made mistakes, only that it makes more sense to think of perfection in terms of wholeness than in terms of mistakes.

    Robert C, I’m trying to figure out what “page 19” means as well. I had more than one document open at the same time. I wonder if I thought I was typing in another document when I was typing in this. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t even notice it when I proofread–nor did I notice the “understood.”

  5. nhilton said

    Did John the Baptist have to wait until he turned 30 to begin his ministry or was he able to baptize and preach earlier due to being set apart for that from birth & being a Nazarite? So, how long was his ministry?

  6. nhilton said

    In studying the temptation of Christ I’ve often reflected on the Young Women’s Theme (having been a YW leader for years)and how it addresses and combats Satan’s traps. The girls stand and recite the theme weekly until it becomes a kind of subconscious mantra. It is powerful in combating evil. Perhaps teachers of youth and parents of YW would enjoy/benefit from this comparison in the classroom or around the dinner table.

  7. Jim F. said

    Having looked into the “page 19” thing, I’m even more mystified. I don’t know how it got into the document. Obviously I pasted it in there accidentally or I typed into the wrong document, but I can’t think of when or how that would have happened.

    I’d like to pass it off was the Spirit working through me, but I don’t think that will fly very far; it probably won’t even get off the ground.

    I’ve added a note to the lesson about my puzzlement.

  8. Jim F. said


    I have read Barker’s piece, but didn’t recall it until you brought it up. I don’t know that I have much to say except that my reaction to it–as to almost all of Barker’s stuff–is much like yours: I love it and, at the same time, I’m nervous about it.

  9. BrianJ said

    “Having looked into the “page 19″ thing, I’m even more mystified. I don’t know how it got into the document.”

    Sounds like the work of a redactor.

  10. nhilton said

    Jim, re: Matt. 3:4 & Zech. 13:4, what is happening with the physical appearance of the prophet? In Zech. it appears the prophet is “hiding out.” Did John & Jesus do that? Repeatedly Christ silences the demons who recognize him & speak his identity & he requests from some that he heals to remain silent. It appears that they made effort to conceal themselves. Why? Does this relate to Isa. 53:2? This is in bold contrast to our present prophet who is seen on prime time TV.

  11. nhilton said

    V. 9: See JST for significant interpretation of what the Jews were thinking re: Abraham. But aren’t they justified in this perception due to OT isolationist law/training? Isn’t this a bit harsh? When were the Jews ever asked to look outside themselves before this? It looks like they’re getting chewed out for only doing what they’ve been told to do from time immemorial.

  12. nhilton said

    Matt. 3:16-17 What do we know about the “sign of a dove” historically? It’s used in the Abraham Fascimilie #2, figure 7. This is an interesting thread to pull between the testaments re: Gen. 8:8-12 & in the gospels.

  13. Robert C. said

    nhilton #10: Interesting question about John and Christ trying to coneal themselves. I think I heard someone once conjecture that John was in the wilderness for the same reason Christ went to Egypt: to not fall victim to Herod’s slaughter of young boys. But I think this is importantly related to both Isa 40:3 and Zech 13:4 b/c the reason for exile and hiding, respectively, is b/c of Israel’s wickedness. Isaiah (Matt 3:2) seems to be talking about a return from exile, and I think the exile itself is a result of Israel’s wickedness and rejection of the prophets (incl. Lehi…). John’s being in the wilderness is symbolic of Israel’s wilderness, and perhaps literally b/c of Herod’s wickedness. where Herod is the (client-)king-symbol of all of Israel.

    Zechariah seems to be talking about people who reject the prophets also, although there it seems the prophets are silent b/c they are false prophets and the Lord is purging Israel of false prophets (at least I think this is how most scholars read the Zecharaiah passage). So I think there’s a bit of irony going on here in Matthew’s passage if he’s quoting Zechariah: God purged Israel in order to silence (and conceal) the false prophets, but when real prophets come, they must conceal themselves or they will be put to death by the wicked people, though the prophets were eventually killed as they revealed themselves to Israel. On this view, perhaps Christ didn’t want his miracles advertised b/c it would most likely lead to a premature ending to his ministry.

    Part of what I think makes all of this so interesting for Mormons is D&C 45:52 which quotes Zech 13:6, “I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Although it seems a case could be made that Joseph is restoring an original intent of a corrupt Zechariah text, I tend to think the same kind of irony is at work there: in Zecharaiah the false prophets deny that their wounds are wounds of prophets (the Word Biblical Commentary takes the reference to be “wounds made in ecstatic orgy” like in 1 Kgs 18:28) by saying their (self-inflicted) wounds were caused by their friends, whereas Christ, the true prophet, was truly wounded (through his own choice, “thy will be done”) by those who should have been his friends.

  14. n.hilton said

    Robert C. Good comments. Thank you. I particularly like the irony you point out. How does this relate to our Latter-day prophets who have been extremely public? They’re not hiding out, i.e. J.S. ran for President!

  15. Robert C. said

    Follow-up to #13: I’ve been thinking more about this wilderness motif, allow me to ramble a bit: Building on the Joshua/Jesus parallel, John–as Moses symbolically–baptizes his people in the wilderness, parallel to crossing the Red Sea. Jesus too is baptized in the wilderness by John. Then Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, though after his baptism. I take this as parallel to Israel wandering in the wilderness, being tempted and tried. When Christ eventually enters Jerusalem and endures atonal suffering, the wilderness roaming is over.

    Since the Fall, mankind has been in the wilderness, the lone and dreary world, and at long last Christ makes it possible to enter the promised land. This is exactly the view I think that the BOM frequently takes: “the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyod this vale of sorrow [(the wilderness)] into a far better land of promise” (Alma 37:45). The wilderness theme is esp. prominent in the BOM narratives: Lehi in the wilderness, Jacob in the wilderness, Alma the elder goes into the wilderness, the Jaredites also traveled in the wilderness before coming to the promised land, etc.

  16. Robert C. said

    nhilton #11: Regarding the “We have Abraham to our father” in Matt 3:9, I think this is referring to those who claim privelege b/c they are Abraham’s children, but John is saying they must repent anyway, and that God can doesn’t need them to fulfill his promise to Abraham, he could just raise up new seed “of these stones” (“stones” and “children” is a word play, since they sound very similar in Aramaic). This is how I think most NT scholars read this and I think the JST (listed under Matt 3:36 in the LDS edition appendix) is basically just clarifying this view: “think not to say within yourselves, We are the children of Abraham, and we only have power to bring seed unto our father Abraham” (emphasis mine). This becomes an important theme throughout “later” NT passages (“later” in Mattew and in “later” books in terms of the sequence in our Bible, though most scholars date Matthew after most of the Pauline epistles, the Gospel of Mark, etc.).

  17. Todd Wood said

    Jim F., I grew up in a very religious home and fervently served in all kinds of various church activities. The sermon on the mount by Christ slew me spiritually. Despite all my zeal, Matthew 5-7, showed my overwhelming lack. In fact, Jesus revealed to me my own spiritual bankruptcy when I had imagined I was ok. I was miserable, so rather than charting a course and striving by more personal discipline to be perfect, I submitted to the new birth “of water and Spirit” talked about in John 3.

    Even to this day, I am thankful for the disturbingly perfect law of Christ’s sermon to wake me up to my desperate need. His demands carried me beyond any notion of personal reformation.

    I know this is off the main topic of the thread. Maybe I am just anticipating the next chapters in Matthew and John.

    Jim F., have a good day.

  18. Three comments.

    The dove. I think it is important that the dove appears in Abraham in a temple context. What does this suggest about Jesus’ baptismal “the heavens opened”? This may even suggest that Barker’s reading of the Markan baptismal sequence is close to the truth. At any rate, I don’t think we can make a very good case for any other dove appearances being quite in the same vein as these two. That suggests to me that there is some connection between Abraham’s covenant and Jesus’ baptism, maybe something like this: Jesus’ baptism replaces Abraham’s circumcision as the dove comes to him. But then what of Joseph’s discourse on the dove in the pre-mortal council, etc.? Of course, that might again bring us back to Barker… Hmm…. I thought I had some clear thoughts on this, but it had been too long, and the water under the bridge is flooding my thoughts.

    As for prophets now not having to be so clandestine, I have some “clear thoughts” on this. Joseph ran for president yes, but he spent a lot of time in hiding in the same couple of years when he was vying for political prestige. In fact, it seems quite clear that Joseph’s campaign was part of an attempt to establish a nation that would allow Joseph to live safely, and it probably should not be cited as an example of how popular Joseph was (he was martyred while a candidate, for crying out loud!). But since then? I think D&C 105:26 is one of the most important verses in the D&C. The saints were told specifically to back off and wait until Israel becomes very great (so the PR compaign begins, and according to the revelation). After that, we can return to our lands in Zion, etc.

    Todd, are you familiar at all with Paul Ricoeur? I highly suggest his “The Logic of Jesus, the Logic of God” in _Figuring the Sacred_. He offers a reading of the Sermon on the Mount that allows it to maintain its overwhelming radical nature, and yet allows one to engage it without being “slain spiritually.” A snippet of what he says: “It seems to me that the situation here is the same as it is in other usages by Jesus of an extreme language, such as the extravagance of a parable or the hyperbole of a proverb: a log in the eye or a camel through the eye of the needle. Parables, paradoxes, hyperboles, and extreme commandments all DISorient only in order to REorient us. But what is reoriented in us? And in what direction? I would say that what is reoriented by these extreme sayings is less our will than our imagination. Our will is our capacity to follow without hesitation the once-chosen way, to obey without resistance the once-known law. Our imagination is the power to open us to new possibilities, to discover another way of seeing, or acceding to a new rule in receiving the instruction of the exception.”

  19. nhilton said

    Todd, in reading your response to the Sermon on the Mt. my heart hurt. It may be helpful to realize that you excelled in qualifying for the first step towards perfection, according to this roadmap outlined by Christ,in being poor in spirit (humble). I’ve thought extensively on what each quality really means, as I’m sure you have, too, and the line upon line nature of the journey. When we’re poor, we are at the mercy of someone who can inpart to us what we need. In recognizing our lack, we enable God to grant us “the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:3) Additionally, your response in being “slewn spiritually” is not Christ’s intent. Quite the opposite as pointed out by the Savior in v.17 when you apply the message to yourself. It is important to note the intended audience here: members of the church and I venture to say, endowed members. Simply the placement of the sermon typifies temple instruction and the parrallel story in the BofM is indeed at the temple. This isn’t a lesson to the uninitiated or someone unable to receive further ministration as we experience in the temple. This is a life-long pursuit facilitated by temple attendance and perhaps even temple attendance being requisite.

  20. nhilton said

    #15, RobertC.: Good thoughts. Along that line, God uses the geography of the earth to further this object lesson. Look how often God’s people travel toward God going from east to west or toward God as they travel westward (or visa versa, when they go eastward they move away from God), i.e. latter-day saint pioneers, us in the temple, Adam’s people, Israelites and in this case, the Savior (& many more examples I didn’t list). It’s not a big jump, but it does happen.

  21. nhilton said

    #16 This is what I’ve always been taught & I’m sure they’re right. But as I re-read this today, I’m additionally hearing in their excuse of being the seed of Abraham the Jews not only being proud, but also unwilling to listen to the modern prophet who is telling them to learn a new trick (reminds me of response to Official Declarations by some) and also complacent as if the responsibility to be a missionary isn’t indeed theirs (another echo to modern day).

    As I’m reading this passage today its the “…we only have power to bring seed unto our father Abraham…” as an excuse for their lack of an outward look. Also, the word “into” added by JS contrasts the Jews’ excuse that it’s all genetic & with the novel concept of adoption of the gentiles.

    This resonates with me because I frequently hear “Mormons are snobs” coming from our community non-members. They call the kids the “Mormon Clique.” Whenever we have an excuse not to look outward, like we’re just too busy with our own families or afraid of the influence non-Mormons will have on our kids, etc. we use it to justify our exclusivity.

  22. nhilton said

    Nobody has addressed my #5 question. Is it a stupid question or doesn’t anyone know?

  23. Robert C. said

    Joe #18: Thanks for these thoughts, esp. the Ricoeur quote. Can you give us a sense of what the Barker’s view of the Markan baptismal sequence is?

    nhilton #19: I think I had the opposite reaction to Todd’s #17 statement, “Christ slew me spiritually.” I see this as indeed one of Christ’s intents in the Sermon on the Mount–and I’ll try to rationalize this comment as not a thread jack by saying that I think this is precisely the symbolism of baptism: to die ourselves and be reborn in Christ, and then to continue with a new heart that is perfect in Christ, even to the point of loving our enemies etc. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, can you elaborate on why you think breaking our hearts (a la “broken heart and contrite spirit”) is not part of the intent of the Sermon on the Mount?

    nhilton #20-22: Thanks for these comments. I don’t have have an answer for #5 yet, I’m hoping to work on it later this week. (I appreciate your quetsions b/c they give me an excuse to focus on certain passages–sometimes all of Jim’s questions are a bit overwhelming making it hard for me to focus….)

  24. nhilton said

    RobertC. I haven’t seen & can’t see, even with your explanation, Christ slaying me with his teachings. True, the baptism symbology, but I see the Sermon being balm, not gall. Simply the phrase “Christ slew me spiritually” takes me back, is incongruent with everything Christ-like. Repentance is the message, but repentance is a possitive thing unlike “slaying.” Maybe this is just symantics, but I don’t think Christ intended anything negative to come of his sermon(s).

  25. nhilton said

    RE: this dove symbolism intrigues me (Matt.3:16; John 1:32-33). I’ve always considered the dove a symbol of PEACE, but wondered if that was scripturally valid, or just tradition. JimF. pointed out that “Kingdom” = “reign” (Matt. 3:1-2). The dove lighted upon Jesus as a sign of his Kingship, identifying him to John. I considered this in connection with Isa. 52:7. This is all milling around in my head in relation to the comments Todd put out re: Sermon on the Mt. I think Isaiah is speaking of Christ but so often we, in the church, relate this only to ourselves. But, of course, we’re all trying to be Christ-like so both answers are correct. Where am I going with this?…to Matt.5:9. As we progress through the beatitudes we come to the 7th (interesting that it’s the SEVENTH) step being that of PEACEMAKER. It seems to me that this is the pre-pinnacle of our mortal spiritual evolution as we indeed become like Christ, through sharing/spreading the gospel. The only thing left is enduring to the end through persecution as Christ ultimately did. If this sequencial process is significant, then I have to assume the 7th stage is similar to all 7th stages of progression illustrated through the scriptures & history and the 8th is indeed a fulfillment of all that’s gone before, i.e. dispensations, baptism, weeks, years, etc. Ah…glad I got that all out. I hope it made sense. Thanks for listening. I’d sure like to hear your thoughts on this, anyone.

  26. Rebecca L said

    Rob C.
    I liked your comments on the wilderness. I have also been thinking a lot about liminality and the transcending/crossing of borders that we get in these last lessons. In John it was the announcement of the word made flesh, last week the literal incarnation of God in human form, now the image of baptism in the Jordan which reminds us of the children of Israel and their ark of covenant entering the promised land. As this crossing of seemingly impassable barriers takes place in Christ’s birth, the even more miraculous barrier of death is ruptured in his promised and foreshadowed resurrection. The account of the nativity, with the heavenly hosts appearing to the shepherds, announcing the son of God was on earth seems to burst the bands of the temple and traditional religion as well. (cf. Acts 7:48-49). Now the High Priest is not the only one who can receive the heavenly vision, God, by being veiled in flesh, is unveiled to all who believe and will see him.

    That Christ is baptized in the Jordan, the threshold of the promised land/celestial kingdom, reminds us that he is the gate/way that takes us as a people and as individuals across these borders. As the heaven opens we are brought into the presence of God. Christ shows us how we can move from one state of being to another as we are reborn. In this regard, I find John’s account of the water to wine fits perfectly as a “first” miracle because it testifies not only to Christ’s power, but specifically to his power to transform something plain (like us) into something precious.

    Jim, thanks for outlining the temptations cf. to Eve’s temptations. I like to see this as a new creation after a new birth–and now an answer to the fall. Seeing the comparison it is easy to see how we are like Eve, and yet we have a clear model in Christ–obedience to the law superceding our own rationalizations. Neither here nor in the Genesis stories does Satan challenge the worthiness of our goal to become like God. It is in how we pursue that goal that he seeks to redirect us (and who we see as “god”). This should make us wary about pursuing good ends by unusual means. The law is a valuable guide.

    Regarding Satan dropping “Son of God” I see this as similar to the interaction between Moses and Satan, where, much more dramatically (and almost comically) Satan loses it rhetorically. He gets more and more irate. On the third temptaion I think he has become more desperate. He looses his ironic, mocking tone and reveals his own desire which is to be worshipped.

    Concerning John the Baptist. Was it your blog that discussed Elijah as “old Baldy” being an assault on the mantle of his priesthood or did I get that from Robert Alter? I think it is interesting that John appears at the Jordan, wearing the camel shirt, just as Joshua Elisha picked up the mantle from Elijah and came back across the Jordan. As I read Zech. 13:4, the “rough garment” is a sign of prophetic calling that the corrupt prophets have abandoned along with their witness to their visions. What do you think?

    Re #5 I’m not even sure John was a Nazarite. What about possible Essene connections?

    Sorry for the long ramblings. Thanks for all your insights.

  27. Rebecca L said

    For your entertainment. A note on entomophagy. http://growabrain.typepad.com/growabrain/entomophagy_insect_eating/index.html

  28. Rebecca L said

    #5 You might like this footnote by John Tvedtnes: http://www.meridianmagazine.com/gospeldoctrine/nt/070119nt4sf.html

    His other footnoote http://www.meridianmagazine.com/gospeldoctrine/nt/070124nt5sf.html plays nicely into your thinking on sevens. I.E. the baptism is itself in the place of a seven as it is a gate into the “rest of the lord” or sabbath/promised land/celestial kingdom (as interpreted by Psalms and Hebrews).

    I don’t see the Sermon on the Mount as cumulative, however.


  29. Rebecca L said

    “Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.”
    Deut 25:9 implies that loosing the shoe off someone’s foot would be a right conferred by their breaking a covenant or their dereliction in duty. The exchange in Ruth 4:8 indicates that a person voluntarily proffered his shoe as a token of covenant or contractual agreement. A pledge of sorts?
    Could John be intimating not just that Christ is greater than him, but specifically referring to the atoning covenant and duty which Christ bears that is greater than John’s own capacity to redeem or make good? Moreover, that he is unworthy to loose the latchet because Christ will fullfill his covenant?

  30. Robert C. said

    Rebecca, great comments. I esp. like your discussion of the boundary motf, which I think is indeed central to the purpose of all our ordinances and the temple itself as the boundary between heaven and earth. I particularly like how John 15:4-5 (cited in John’s comment on the other thread) casts this in terms of a new creation in Christ (rather than something we accomplish ourselves): “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine.”

    (In #26 I edited Joshua to Elisha in your comment b/c I thought that’s what you meant, please let me know if I’m misreading you–look for “Joshua” crossed out.)

  31. Rebecca L said

    #30. Thanks, Rob! I liked John’s comment too. Yes, I think it is clear that each of these transitions requires a miracle outside our own power.

  32. brianj said

    Rebecca, #29: very interesting thoughts on the shoes.

  33. nhilton said

    Rebecca, thanks for your great links.

    Re: John the Baptist being a nazarite, I think it’s pretty much a consensus that he was considering Luke 1:15; BD pg. 737. That’s why I wondered about the term of his service. I consider the Essenes to be an apostate group of Jews, from all I’ve read concerning their lifestyle and apocolyptic writings, and tho they lived the lifestyle of a nazarite I doubt John would have had anything to do with them.I found the Meridian article very interesting. I guess there’s no real answer to my question.

    RE: #28, do you mean “cumulative” in the sense that they add up to a greater whole or “sequential” meaning a line-upon-line process? I see the sermon as being both, like a math equation. If I could post a graphic I’d be able to better show what I mean, but I don’t think I can do that here. I see the sermon like the 13 Articles of Faith, each sequential and cumulative, beginning with faith in God and ending with striving for purification and enduring to the end.

    Your “shoe” thoughts are great! Thanks!

    That “wilderness” & “boundary” motif is likewise powerful & definitely will be included in my lesson next Sunday.

  34. brianj said

    Nhilton: The Essenes were apostates? Weren’t they the group accusing the mainstream Jews of apostasy since the time of Simon Maccabee’s rise to the high priesthood? (or maybe it was a little before Simon, but anyway…)

  35. nhilton said

    Essenes…my worthless opinion on the Essenes is that they were another sect of Jews, as were the Pharisees & Sadducees. They, however, extracted themselves from society by living in a desert fortress according to ascetic codes which are incongruent with the gospel, thus my “apostate” label. They are credited as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. All this I know from a BYU documentary re: DSS. Check them out on wikipedia…I don’t know how to link it for you. Sorry.

  36. nhilton said

    BrianJ, every group was/is accussing the other of apostasy. Technically, everyone was/is apostate except the restored church. I guess your definition of apostacy might vary as to whether the Essenes openly rebelled against the Jewish religion or just gradually abandoned orthodoxy to the point of being in conflict with truth. I’m viewing the later as the case.

  37. nhilton said

    Jim F., I just wanted to thank you for years of posting these gospel doctrine notes. They have helped me tremendously. In speaking with my dad last night, a BYU Physics Professor (just retired teaching an honors math modeling class presently) he said he had great respect for your thinking. He said he has met you at the Bohn’s on occassion, plus. It did my heart good to know you’re not a blog-posting crackpot on whom I’ve come to depend. : ) Anywho…I clicked on your name link & get nothing. At T&S I once read your bio but forgot it & would like to know, as I’m sure other readers/users of your notes would, what your background is. Maybe this lost link is an oversight/error re:FUTW as your new host. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts & elevating mine! Warmly, Nanette Rasband Hilton

  38. BrianJ said

    #35-36: “Technically, everyone was/is apostate except the restored church.”

    I disagree. There were people throughout the OT who were living the law that God gave them–a law that was very different than the one Peter later promoted. During Jesus’ time, there was no ‘restored’ Church, there was only the law of Moses. And there are people we regard as righteous (which perhaps is not the exact opposite of apostate, but works in this discussion) even as they were living the law of Moses: e.g. Zacharias.

    I see–as, I think, so do you–varying degrees of apostasy in all people. Just to give you an idea of how I understood your use of “apostate”: in #33 you wrote, “I consider the Essenes to be an apostate group of Jews…I doubt John would have had anything to do with them.” That sounds like you are saying that they were apostate to such a degree that John would avoid them.

    So, yeah, I’m uncomfortable with calling the Essenes apostate. Yes, they took asceticism to an extreme, but I don’t know that that disqualifies them from righteousness. And I think many of their views seem appropriate for a person with John’s calling. I’d be interested to read specific reasons why the Essenes were too “far off the mark.”

    (I’m sorry if the wikipedia article addresses this; I didn’t read it. I’m going off of books talking about the Essenes I read a while ago—which is why my memory of Simon as high priest is a bit fuzzy.)

  39. nhilton said

    #38. Do you believe the Essenes were living a law God gave them? I don’t. I think it was a corrupted version of the law God originally gave, thus my label. I can’t include Zacharias in their same category since he never perverted the law given him. I think they did. They were zealous in their adherance to the law they considered divine, but that’s similar to those in S.Utah living in plural marriage & calling themselves fundamental Mormons. They’re really not Mormons at all, are they, since they’re not abiding by the law. They’ve taken THE law & corrupted it in their zealousness to live the law. I think the Essenes fall into this category of apostate group.

    Those who veer from the law originally in OT times and those who veer from the law as Christ gave it in NT & was carried on thru his apostles then & after restoration all fall into this apostate group…? This is my catch all for the term. Maybe too general for those good intentioned, but I think the scriptures point out that there are only 2 churches: that of God & then the other one. No fence sitting.

  40. Nhilton, Jim’s bio is still up at T&S, and he has a homepage at BYU’s philosophy website (he teaches phil there). Matthew that posts here is his son, in case you weren’t aware of that. Jim himself, however, will be the first to call himself a crackpot, so beware lest you trust what he has to say of himself.

    My take on the essenes:

    First, I think it’s very important to take Margaret Barker’s work on the first century situation very seriously. As she reads things, the essenes were an extreme example of a rather widespread faith (they ritualized it and left the city, etc., but they were not too different from others in a lot of ways). That is, any who didn’t follow the Sadducees or Pharisees was likely to have beliefs similar to the beliefs of the essenes (though not practices like the practices of the essenes).

    Second, I think there are some very important historical considerations to take up. For hundreds of years, the Law had been a fundamentally political thing: it was the literal lawcode of an actually existant political state. Whether it was meant to be so at the beginning, by the 7th century B.C. the Law of Moses had become so profoundly interwoven with the nature of the state that when the nation fell to Babylon there was a sort of crisis: if the Law had been tied to the state, did the dissolution of the state amount to a dissolution of the Law (and the fall of the national God, YHWH)? The resolution–or at least a resolution–of this crisis took place in the Babylonian captivity, where a sort of reinvented Law of Moses emerged. The Law, no longer interwoven with the political reality of the state (and its implicit promise of a still-future universal justice), was reinterpreted such that it could be binding and yet not fundamentally political. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem a few years later, but ultimately without political power, the older interpretation of the Law (political interpretation) began to do battle with the newer one (generating, of course, several other interpretations to vie for power as well). A few centuries of this interpretive conflict resulted in the situation we call “the times of Jesus.” Essenes obviously represent a strain of the political interpretation, while the Pharisees represent a strain of the non-political interpretation. Sadducees seem originally to have been somewhat ambivalent, but by Jesus’ time they had a very specific position: they stood by an overtly non-political interpretation but precisely so that they could gain more political power in the divided nation. To be a practicing Jew at the time meant that one almost had to take sides on all of these issues. It is fascinating to read the New Testament in this context and to read the political overtones of Matthew over against the totally non-political (or perhaps super-political) overtones of Luke, etc.

    But which of all of these groups was apostate? I think if apostasy is thought of as departure from a covenant, I don’t know whether any of them was apostate. It may be for this reason that Jesus came to all of them and invited them to come and take up that covenant (in the fulfillment–the making good–of the Law). I’m hesitant, for that reason, to call the Essenes apostate, or any other group at the time.

  41. douglashunter said

    After an all too brief discussion of mat 3&4 yesterday I am left wondering if others consider Matthew 4 to be odd in any way? I have always been uncomfortable with the reading of the text that takes seriously the notion that Jesus is actually being tempted here. I don’t see any evidence of this in the text and I also think this emphasis on a supposed temptation masks what is more important in the passage. I’ll throw out a few thoughts if anyone is interested in discussing it.

    I think it’s worth questioning the idea that this narrative actually presents us with a temptation in any real sense of the word. An offer that has some sort of emotional appeal, something that has allure or that entices us. For a temptation to be a temptation is has to stir this kind of emotional response. Now, while the word temptation is used in the chapter, looking at the narrative world of the scripture and Christs’ replies, it seems that Christ knows who he is speaking with, and its also widely accepted by readers that the devil is offering things that Christ knows are not his to offer primarily “all the kingdom’s of the world and all their splendor”. So what does it mean to say that Christ is being tempted in this context? To say that Christ is tempted by these offers is to imply that at the very least there was something compelling to Christ in what the devil was saying, or that Christ took the proposals seriously in some way. If this is not the case then they can’t be called temptations, they are simply offers. Offers that Christ is not going to take seriously considering he knows their source. Offers that the devil can’t take seriously knowing whom they are being made to. Of course we are encouraged to read this scripture as an allegory on temptations we face in our own lives, and perhaps this is harmless, even if it does misrepresent the content of the narrative. But Christ is not represented in the text as someone who struggles to over come the emotional appeal of an offer that he knows is sinful but that he finds enticing nonetheless. If anything Christ is clearly “above the influence” to use the language of an anti-drug ad I saw on TV the other day.

    On the other hand I suppose there is one way that the story could be seen as a temptation or a trick. In the exchange between Jesus and the devil, this is the first time in the NT that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. In the first and second statement from the devil the phrase “Son of God” is used. Jesus does not confirm or deny this identity. He proceeds to address other aspects of the devil’s statement as if the very significant title Son of God had not even been used. So maybe, (and only maybe) an element of temptation can be seen on this level. The temptation or trick would be get Christ to claim this identity for himself (rather than have others claim it for him) or assert his authority or power over the devil by merit of his divinity rather than by the merit of his knowledge of Jewish scripture and their application.

    Granted I’m not making a very strong case for this understanding of the passage but such a reading is consonant with the historical understanding that the emphasis of Matthew is to place Jesus in a Jewish context, or to show his “Jewishness”. For example, In the birth narrative, Matthew is directly quotes Jewish scripture and states that the events of Jesus’ life are to be seen as a fulfillment of these scripture. In chapter 3 Jesus’ divinity is suggested by John who is to said to be the fulfillment of Isaiah; then Jesus’ divinity is stated by god himself, but I think we can see it as significant that John is said to fulfill Isaiah first, and that Jesus does not state his own divinity. Then in chapter 4 the “temptation” takes place in terms of quoted scripture. Both Jesus and the devil quote scriptures to make claims, but Jesus’ quotations go unanswered, he gets the last word in each case. His knowledge and use of Jewish scripture are so authoritative that the devil does not attempt a reply he just moves on. So chapter 4 shows examples of Jesus’ authoritative knowledge of Jewish scripture, then in chapter 5 he preaches the sermon on the mount in which he offers his own interpretation of Jewish scriptures / law. Considering this sequence I think it makes more sense to think of chapter 4 not so much as a narrative of temptations concerning food, or glory but as a key element in Matthew’s establishing Jesus’ as thoroughly Jewish and as having excellent knowledge of Jewish scriptures. Making this case would be essential if Matthew’s Jewish readers were to take seriously Jesus’ reinterpretation of scripture and Jewish law that follow in the Sermon on the Mount.

  42. Jim F. said

    I apologize that I’ve not been actively involved in this thread. I’ve had some other things to do that have kept me very busy. In fact, I need to finish and post the next lesson as soon as possible. I hope to do so some time today.

    That aside, I want to say how impressed I’ve been with the discussion on this and the other threads. These are some of the best discussions of the scriptures and of teaching the Gospel that I know of. I’ve copied some of them and handed them out to other teachers at BYU to show them examples of good discussions of teaching.

    NHilton: Indeed, I know your father and respect him very much, but you should be careful about taking his word for everything. As Joe points out, my being on the faculty at BYU doesn’t mean that I’m not a crackpot. In fact, it may be evidence that I am. But crackpot or not, I’m glad to hear that you’ve found my stuff useful.

  43. brianj said

    Douglas: I think that’s an important point: Christ was clearly above the temptation. But then again, he was also clearly above all temptation, even the one point out, so it’s sort of impossible to imagine that he was ever tempted like you and I. Still, I think it’s a good exercise to look beyond the obvious attempts of Satan, as you advocate, and see his subtlety and mischief. Along those lines, I think that Christ shows us multiple ways of combating temptation—or better yet, becoming untemptable (not really a word?). He quotes scripture, he fasts, he allows the Spirit to guide him (see JST), he tell Satan to leave—that’s probably just a short list of what we can learn from this story.

  44. nhilton said

    #41, Douglas: I, too, have always wondered about the “temptation” of Christ. I’ve never thought that the devil’s propositions were that enticing, myself, since anything he offered Jesus was available to Jesus w/o the devil providing it. So, why the interchange?

    Perhaps it’s similar to Christ’s baptism. Maybe being tempted is as necessary to our eternal progression as baptism. As Christ was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” perhaps he was likewise tempted. This makes more sense to me than trying to imagine Jesus having to exert any effort to resist Satan. Laughable. I’ve always wondered about this story in light of D&C 20:22. Neal Maxwell commented that “Christ did not fantasize, reconsider or replay temptations.” –Ensign May ’89. Not being educated in GR, I wonder if the “suffer” in KJV Matt.3:15 is anything related to the “suffered” used in the D&C. Even if not, I see the suffering as “allowing,” vs. being afflicted.

    Certainly in this story Christ has provided a role model similar to what he did in being baptized.

    #42, Jim, I know some BYU professors ARE crackpots since I’m BYU alumni & I’ve got a freshman daughter attending right now (don’t even get me started!!).

  45. Robert C. said

    Here’s how I tend to think of the first temptation, an approach that can apply to the other temptations too: Jesus was merrily fasting away, very righteously focused on the purpose of his fast to draw closer to his Father, with thoughts of food far from him. Then Satan showed up with a very real-looking version of a German chocolate cake (I’m likening here, but cake’s a form of bread, right?) and places it directly in front of Jesus. Jesus can’t help but notice the cake, and he can’t help the fact that his stomach starts begging him to turn the stones into cheesecake. Even though he is ultimately able to resist the temptation, I think the way that Satan caused his stomach to growl can be termed “temptation” in a very significant sense.

  46. What if Jesus had only just been made fully aware of His divine role? (I know what the JST says.) There may be reason to see Jesus as only just coming to this knowledge during His baptism (which might have been a sort of endowment/apocalypse experience). If that was what was happening, these might have been very real temptations. I think it is best to read Jesus as seriously tempted (the flesh wanted the things Satan offered). I’m sure we’ve all heard C. S. Lewis’ quotations, but it is worth going back to… and I can’t track it down. Paraphrased: You don’t know the strength of the wind by lying down, but by standing against it. Temptation, not given into, is a much harder experience than giving in. The point of quoting (paraphrasing) this: if Jesus wasn’t really tempted, can He really succor us? Didn’t He have to experience the same torture, when the flesh tries to subject the spirit?

  47. nhilton said

    Joe, those are great thoughts. I WANT Christ to know what my temptations are like, so I have to agree with you. But these temptations, as recorded, seem so inconsequential that I have a hard time imagining my Savior actually being enticed by…German chocolate cake (c’mon Robert, at least use Aladin’s 4-Star All-You-Can-Eat Buffet as your analogy). Maybe his temptations are as incomprehensible to us as is his suffering? And for our simple minds the story is made equally simple. This is where I must get off, relying again SIMPLY on faith.

    I can’t subscribe to the thought that Christ was just made aware of his identity at baptism. At 12 he knew who he was. Scripture recounts his progression in a manner similar to ours, gradual. If he is to understand our temptation, he must likewise understand our educational process. Luke 2:52.

    Which C.S. Lewis book are you citing? Mere Christianity?

  48. nhilton said

    Along the lines of #44, & in response to the following posts: maybe Christ indeed experienced just a token tempting in the wilderness “to fulfill all righteousness.” Why would this experience need to be the ultimate temptation experience of his life? I mean, it was just bread, afterall, not German Chocolate Cake or Aladin’s buffet. Perhaps these 3 temptations were the symbolic gateway into the WORLD that an enlightened Christ had to walk, willingly, as a taste of things to come.

    Additionally, he surely experienced temptation in his childhood, all akin to those Satan put before him. So to interpolate that this temptation experience was his first or last is unrealistic. Something BIGGER & more symbolic is going on in this account.

    He really experienced temptation, mine and yours, while in the garden. I know people say that the 3 temptations universally encompass all temptations we experience, but I don’t really buy it. It’s got to be metaphorical. There are so many things Christ didn’t experience that I do. The only way he can succor me is to have miraculously experienced my pains and sufferings in a unique way to each of us = Atonement.

  49. douglashunter said

    I agree with Nhilton that the work in the garden is where Jesus came into contact with the very real psycho-spiritual anguish that is caused by the temptations we humans face in life, and that is not found in the narrative of Matthew 4.

    nhilton “Perhaps it’s similar to Christ’s baptism. Maybe being tempted is as necessary to our eternal progression as baptism. As Christ was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” perhaps he was likewise tempted.”
    In the Oxford new revised edition of the NT there is a footnote refering to the idea that God tests the faith of the righteous (gen 22.1; Deur. 13.3; and Ps.81.7) Again for me the historical understanding works well, in that early readers of Matthew would perhaps understand the temptation narrative in the context of OT test such as Abraham and Isaac. So its another link to the Jewish tradition, further evidence of Christ’s Jewishness.

    Robert, I don’t really think the cake example holds up. In the Narrative Christ is not represented as *ultimately* being able to resist temptation, he does so immedately with no signs of struggle or enticement. Its just not there. Second, The narrative does tell us that Jesus knows that it is the devil who is presenting these offers to him. This kind of context matters. How many of us take seriously the words or offers of people who wish us harm?

    Reading the comments, I think there is a more basic issue that could be fleshed out , how do we read this particular narrative? Do we read it as an historical account of Jesus’ life? Do we read it as a non-historical story that nonetheless has significance to Matthew, his readers and us? Do we consider it a teaching passage or something else?

    I think that for one of the same reasons that the begining of Job is not considered historical, we should also think of the temptation narrative as non-historical.

  50. Robert C. said

    douglas, the historical vs. non-historical question isn’t all that interesting to me. I’m trying to parrot a response Jim F. often seems to give to these kinds of questions: if we have adopted the text of Matthew as canon, then regardless of its historical accuracy, we should read it for its spiritual significance (as though it were historically true). Why would knowing whether it’s historically accurate change our reading?

    You’re right that Matthew doesn’t focus on any particular struggle that Jesus has with these temptations, but the fact that he does describe these temptations and significantly notes “he was afterward an hungred” (Matt 4:2) just before the first temptation suggests to me that he was seriously tempted. (And I think the passages cited by Jim seem to corroborate this.)

    Nevertheless, I do wonder sometimes if Christ truly understands the agony of guilt–if he never really sinned, how can he understand how I feel when I sin? I can’t justify this, but I think he experienced this in the Garden of Gethsamane….

    nhilton: I think many great thinkers have tackled this question, but my favorite is Dostoevsky in The Grand Inquisitor (there is a quite lengthy but very interesting essay here that addresses this…). In short, I see these temptations, very similar to the Protestant view outlined by Jim, as symbolic of: (1) physical and material pleasure, as opposed to things of a spiritual nature (esp. hope); (2) intellectual pride (i.e. sign-seeking), as opposed to a humble and patient faith; and (3) power, as opposed to a love that does not coerce. I think these temptations indeed symbolically capture all the tempations we might experience, which is why I tend to think of their antitheses in terms of hope, faith, and charity.

  51. douglashunter said

    Robert #50 “if we have adopted the text of Matthew as canon, then regardless of its historical accuracy, we should read it for its spiritual significance (as though it were historically true). Why would knowing whether it’s historically accurate change our reading?”

    This is such an interesting statement. I agree that we should read passages for their spiritual significance but this significance does not necessairly have a fixed or predictable location. In other words, there is no need to try and link spiritual significance with historical truth. A text will have spiritual significance regardless of weather or not it can be said to be a historical record of actual events. I realize of course than some would reject this notion because they understand spiritual significance as arising in a very direct way from historical truth.

    Anyway, the larger question about this particular narrative is: does it show Christ going through a significant psycho-spiritual crisis? I don’t think it does, but clearly there are a variety of opinions on this matter. My feeling is that there is a strong tradition of reading the narrative as if it does contain a significant struggle for Christ but I think this emphasis is misplaced since the context and the narrative itself do not describe or really imply this struggle. As an aside, the idea that he was hungry after a fast, is not the same as saying Christ found something enticing in what the devil asked of him in the first statement.

    “I do wonder sometimes if Christ truly understands the agony of guilt–if he never really sinned, how can he understand how I feel when I sin? I can’t justify this, but I think he experienced this in the Garden of Gethsamane….”

    I agree with this completely in that its in Gethsamane that we see Christ undergoing a serious spiritual and physical crisis in what he has to endure. Also we should add that Christ had, what should we call it, “divine empathy”. throughout the NT has actions are described through the idea that he took compassion on those he was dealing with. He had an abundant capacity for compassion and empathy with us, including our struggles.

  52. nhilton said

    #50 Robert C.: Knowing whether something is historically true or not is huge and not only changes how I read the scriptures, but more importantly: WHY. It’s also a can of worms. It’s huge because it manifests to us how God works with His children, really. And we’re really here struggling on earth, not just figuratively. A can of worms because we can’t answer whether it’s historically accurate or figurative but merely learn what we can from the written account; also, it’s a can of worms because by simply asking if its true some people jump out of their skin assuming we’re showing a lack of faith in God’s word being true. Been there–done that–from the pulpit–ouch! Case in point: The OT lessons where the Israelites commit genecide in the name of God. Did they really? Was it figurative or historically accurate? Did the donkey really talk? Did the flood cover the earth? Is Satan a serpent & Christ a lamb? These stories are quick sand for teachers who dare to doubt the scriptures are historical fact. Where to get on and off the figurative vs. fact merry-go-round can make me dizzy!

    I love your Dostoevsky connection & HFC link. Thank you. I’ll think on that more.

    So, to the point (since this is meant to be a discussion on teaching)…just how am I going to teach this on Sunday when I differ from the popular notion that Christ rose to the challenge and defeated the adversary…ugh. If I were Christ it’d have been a piece of cake for me, too (no pun, Robert, or disrespect intended).

    Too often I find myself discounting the scriptures that I find idiotic in their characterization of diety (i.e. Job). I want to repent from doing this, especially when I do it aloud & might injure a fledgling testimony nearby, and instead find the liberating truth imbedded in the written word, figurative OR fact. By the way, I’ve learned a lot about Job this year and my view of it as being more than just a literary masterpiece has improved, tho I have a long way to go in understanding its spiritual gravity.

  53. Robert C. said

    douglas, I reread your #41 more carefully and now understand your concern better, and I think you’re right to note that Christ’s undergoing agony of temptation (or perhaps better: testing or proving–this is the same Greek word used in the LXX describing Abraham’s test with Isaac, Gen 22:1, which has suggestive parallels…) is not the focus of the pericope, and may not really be warranted by the text. Actually, I think the main purpose here is to draw a parallel with Israel wandering in the wilderness (hopefully I’ll have time to support this claim more carefully on the wiki), and perhaps to establish/prove the claim that Jesus is indeed the Son of God per the last verses in chapter 3.

    nhilton, regarding historicity of scripture, let me first strongly recommend that you read this post by Jim F. (following an endless blog discussion regarding the historicity of Noah and the flood covering the whole earth…). And briefly, let me add that I think this agnostic approach toward historicity seems to be a very good way in a SS class to sidestep the can-of-worms issues you mention. I think this is particularly effective when studying the Old Testament for which I think there is lots of evidence of redacting hands, some which I think are likely to have embellished or altered the original account (which perhaps was “historically accurate” in the beginning…). Also, I understand the importance of there being an historical basis for the scriptures, but I don’t think that aspect of the scriptures should play a very big role in our study of the scriptural texts themselves (esp. in SS!).

  54. I would very much like to weigh in on this question of history, but I don’t have the time right now (off to mutual in just a few minutes here… to play racquetball!). But let me just say this much for now:

    If I can interpret Robert’s interpretation of Jim, I would say that the relation of faith requires an implicit trust in the historicity of a text. But that means that the faithful are called to a new understanding of history and its nature, not that the faithful are called to force the scriptures into some sort of secular understanding of history. That is, a faithful reader of the scriptures takes them absolutely as historical, but “historical” does not here mean the same thing it means in the secular classroom. I’ll have more to say on that…, and it might be worth an entire thread. I should probably make it a scriptural discussion. Job might be a good place to start (I take Job as entirely historical–I don’t doubt for a moment that Satan came before God/YHWH as the book describes; and yet I believe that the text we have is a theological recasting of a traditional legend). Jonah might be better (as I understand the book of Jonah, it is precisely about the nature of history and historicity).

    We certainly have some thinking to do here. I might also note that this question is very closely related to the post on historico-critical method.

  55. nhilton said

    As Sunday approaches & we will again be discussing John the Baptist, I wanted to get back to his father’s possible murder, as mentioned in the Institute Manuals & refuted in the Jim F.’s #3 Lesson Post Comments. Here is a rebuttal to that, which I’d like to have addressed by any interested: Click Here for link. Thanks, Joseph & Kevin & anyone else willing to dig on this topic.

  56. The rebuttal is interesting. My own relation to the JST is complex, but it would undergird my response to this conundrum. Something like this: both readings are possible and justified (the “historical” question is not ultimately what concerns me… see my latest post). What matters to me is how these two different readings affect the text. And how do they affect the text? The JST reading makes this a comparison between then and now. Interesting. The standard reading makes this a summary of OT prophetic oppression. Interesting. Might they both be worth thinking about?

  57. Robert C. said

    Is the JST really that inconsistent with the OT Zechariah(s)? Seems to me the then-and-now comparison works, ableit slightly more strained, even if Jesus (Matthew?) is referring to now as Judah after they separated from Israel.

    But I generally agree with Joe, and I think it’s very possible that what Jesus actually said, what Matthew and Luke recorded, what Joseph Smith thought, and what the Institute Manual correlation committee thought about all of the preceding could all be very different from one another, and yet they could all be “true”! (Sometimes I imagine a pretty big circle in the sense of all truth being circumscribed into one great whole!)

  58. brianj said

    nhilton, #55: thanks for bringing that to our attention. Here is an article in JSTOR: here. Let me start by saying that I am open to both (or, according to JSTOR, all four) interpretations. Nonetheless:

    One question that I haven’t seen addressed is why (in accord with the TPJS quotation) John would have fallen under Herod’s edict. From the biblical text, it seems that only children in Bethlehem and in the surrounding villages were in danger. But we don’t know whether that applied to Zacharias, we only know that he lived in “the hill country…into a city of Juda” (Luke 1:39). I suppose this could be near Bethlehem. Alternatively, Herod may have heard rumors about the miracle at John’s circumcision, and therefore singled out John even though he wasn’t living near Bethlehem.

    The argument that Jesus was speaking in the present tense, “whom ye slew,” versus past, “whom your fathers slew,” is totally unconvincing. One could easily read this as Jesus lumping the people together as a whole: i.e. “you came out of Egypt, you rejected Moses, you slew the prophets, you will reject me also.” This reading agrees very nicely with the warning Jesus issues: that the people hearing him will be guilty not only of his blood, but of all the past blood that was shed by martyrs.

    The JST, I think, actually weakens the TPJS. The JST reads, “Ye bear testimony against your fathers…” For what do they bear testimony against their fathers? Well, the Jews criticized their fathers for a lot of things (worshiping the golden calf, complaining about manna, etc.), but Jesus gives the particular context in the preceding verses, “the blood of [all the prophets].” But, of course, the people would not have been critical of the murder of Zacharias John’s father, so this argues for referring to a murder the audience would have criticized.

    Jesus continues (in the JST) by saying, “when ye, yourselves, are partakers of the same wickedness.” How are they guilty of the same wickedness? If they killed Zacharias John’s father, then that is one way. But another way to read this is that Jesus knew that they had wanted Jesus dead for a while (John 7:1). (He also knows that they will eventually succeed.) So he’s saying, “You are guilty of murder, even though you haven’t yet murdered, because you are critical of murder and still you want to murder. You are therefore more guilty than your murderous fathers.”

    Lastly, if Zacharias’ murder was truly performed at Herod’s command, I doubt that many (any?) of the Jews would have agreed with it. For all we know, Zacharias was a pretty well-liked guy around 1 B.C. (His son didn’t start ‘causing problems’ until decades later.) But they hated Herod. So it seems a little strange to say that the Jews were guilty of a murder that Herod committed. It’s like blaming them for the deaths of the children in Bethlehem.

    My-real-“lastly”: Jesus specifically names only two martyrs: Abel and Zacharias. But he is talking about three murderers: Cain, the “fathers”, and his present audience. If we pair up martyrs to murderers, it makes the point: Cain and Abel; fathers and OT Zacharias; present audience and Jesus.

  59. brianj said

    Robert C: I’m uncomfortable with that big of a “truth circle.” Suppose, just for argument, that I make up some story about how the word for “cross” in Greek has the same sound as the Hebrew name for the knife used to kill the Paschal lamb. That leads to a comparison of the crucifiction with Passover. Is that comparison wrong? By no means, but I think you’ll agree that the way we got there is no good. (I’ll start a related post soon.)

    (And just to be clear: I do not mean this comment to imply that the Zacharias story was made up or even wrong.)

  60. nhilton said

    Brian, I’d like to read your linked JSTOR article but it didn’t come up to the specific article & I have no idea how to search it from the link.

  61. brianj said

    nhilton: My apologies. I found the article while in my university’s library, which has a subscription to JSTOR. I didn’t notice that I was logged in through the university. The link I made probably takes you to a login screen, right?

    (I’m going to abbreviate names below, using the first letter, okay?)

    I can’t really summarize the article, except to say that it discusses the merits of four “Zachariases”: Z son of Jehoiada, Z the post-exile prophet and son of Berachiah, Z father of John, and Z son of Baruch slain by Zealots in 67 A.D. The article gives a fair (honest) assessment of the different views, but ultimately favors the third. Here’s (briefly) why:

    1) Z son of Jehoiada. He’s not the son of Berachiah. We can think of ways to get around that: J. and B. are the same name, just different spellings; B. died early and so Z. was raised by his grandfather J. who was therefore referred to as Z’s father; some scribe inserted the “son of B.” into the text in Matthew; etc. But all of these rely on suppositions not supported in the text. (Please ignore the obvious “son of a B” joke.)

    2) Z post-exile prophet. This gets the son of Berachiah part right. But there’s no evidence that he suffered any kind of martyrdom.

    3) Z father of John. The text favors this, for reasons that have already been stated (though not using the JST or TPJS, of course). One addition is of interest: the article cites a tradition that states that Zacharias allowed Mary to enter a part of the temple reserved for virgins when she insisted that she was in fact virgin; for this he was killed.

    4) Z of 67 AD and son of B. The Zealots stoned a man in the temple; the names and description of the murder all fit. But this is dismissed because the time period is wrong. It is a possibility that the author of Matthew inserted this after Christ’s death when the Gospel was being written, but it kind of ruins the discussion of what Jesus meant when he said it.

    One more interesting point about the article: it completely dismisses the “son of Berachiah” portion of the scripture for two reasons: 1) it is not in the account in Luke, 2) in the Gospel of the Hebrews it reads “son of Jehoiada.” In other words, the author of the article thinks “son of B” was a scribal insertion.

  62. Brian, I anticipate your post with eager interest.

    nhilton, you have to pay for access to JSTOR articles, unless you work with a university that pays for access for you (curse my distance from the university!). Since I’m without the service as well: Brian, can you provide full citation for the article for the rest of us?

  63. Robert C. said

    I think Brian’s article is: “Zacharias: A Study of Matthew 23:35” by John Macpherson in The Biblical World, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jan., 1897), pp. 26-31 (try this link for the first page). And yes, that’s 1897, I wonder if more recent scholarship would add anything to the arguments there. That’s the article that a Wikipedia page links to. Wikipedia actually has pretty good articles on Bible characters–though, just like the Feast wiki, you don’t really know what kind of clowns are actually writing this stuff….

    I esp. like BrianJ’s argument in the last paragraph–I’m ultimately not sure how persuasive this is (I’m truly agnostic b/c I haven’t thought about this or looked at the issue very carefully, not b/c I have any reason not to believe the argument), but it’s a nice fresh angle I hadn’t thought of or come across.

  64. brianj said

    Robert provided the right citation; I should have thought to cite it. (I’m really spoiled to have journal access through my university, so I am out of touch with the trials of people who need personal subscriptions.)

  65. brianj said

    Joe, #62: my related post is posted. I have to admit you scared me with “anticipate” and “eager.”

  66. nhilton said

    I have a questions about Christ’s “temptations:” Who documented this espisode? Clearly He had to have told someone about his experience since he was alone. In so doing, I suggest that he simplified his experience in an effort to teach us. The only other option is that the authors or at least one author received revelation giving him the “inside” information about Jesus’ experience. So, I am apt not to take the episode literally but rather try to see the big picture Jesus, the master teacher, is trying to convey. I don’t buy for one minute the post on the wiki about Jesus being actually tempted with hunger or power, etc. These things were completely available to him. Today I think Christ had an experience with the devil that only we can understand FRAMED in the context of the temptations we experience.

    Additionally, I find it interesting that in Luke Christ’s son-ship is said to be of Joseph, then Joseph’s detailed genealogy follows, afterwhich Satan says, “IF you be the Son of God…” If being the operating word.

  67. douglashunter said

    Obviously we can never know who documented the episode since the original text does not exist. Maybe I’m stating the obvious but since the details of the account are present in Matt. and Luke but not Mark its though to have its origin in the Q source.

    Nhilton “The only other option is that the authors or at least one author received revelation giving him the “inside” information about Jesus’ experience.”

    Why is this the only other option? Couldn’t the story be made up, or a folk tale about Jesus, a useful fiction that was included in a text by authors who thought it had value for the reader?

    There has been a lot of historical writings about the genealogies, including the fact that Jesus’s divine blood line is traced through Joseph in both Matt. and Luke, although these genealogies differ from one another. The important thing here seems to be not the historical percision of these lists but the fact that both tie Jesus to Abraham and in Luke’s list to “Adam son of God.” This is a way of making the case for both Jesus’ divinity and place within the Jewish tradition.

  68. nhilton said

    Douglas, I think it’s the “We belive the Bible to be the word of God…” part that has me thinking that Jesus’ experience with Satan really occured rather than being a folk tale. I don’t doubt that it happened, but I do doubt it happened EXACTLY as written and readers should extract from the account that Christ suffered temptations akin to ours, i.e. wanting bread so badly he’d take Satan up on his off. I think the written account has been carefully crafted to teach the reader, similar to the discourse known as the “Beatitudes.” I think Christ experienced & said a lot more than we’ve got written down.

    Wasn’t “Q” suppose to be resource for Matt, Luke AND Mark?

    I understand the debate about Jesus’ genealogies, but my point was how it preceeded the pericope of the Temptation story, thereby emphasizing the doubting of the people and the challenge by Satan of Jesus’ divinity.

  69. douglashunter said

    “the word of God” I tend to priortize the metaphorical aspect of this phrase. Do you or others tend to take it as not being a metaphor? For example when describing the opening of John I notice that “word” is often (nearly always) described as meaning exactly, and only, Jesus in the opening lines. I’ve always found this to be curious. The literary value of the metaphor seems obvious to me, but maybe I’m alone in that.

    As a metaphor the “word of God” does not lead to historical assumptions, it does affirm the authority of the text and a serious comitment to it, but does not place an undue historical burden on the text. The editors / authors of the gospels were not historians, they were writing narratives to convince their audience of their beliefs.

    According to Bart Ehrman’s introduction to the new Testament, in the four source hypothesis Q denotes material not found in Mark but that is common to Matt. and Luke. The four sourcs hypothesis does not claim any source for all three that Matt. and Luke did not recieve through Mark.

  70. nhilton said

    #69, my basis for the Bible being fact vs. fiction stems from

    Article of Faith “8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated ccorrectly;…” which is not a metaphor. And there are no JSTs indicating this is anything akin to fiction.

  71. douglashunter said

    I think the phrase “word of God” requires interpertation in any context including in the Articles of Faith. But even in this context is it complete free of its metaphorical energy? Then of course there is the phrase “translated correctly” which opens quite an interesting can of worms which does not necessairly strengthen the fact over fiction dichotomy.

  72. Douglas and nhilton, I’d love to see you guys make some comments on my post on historicity. I think it goes right to the heart of these kinds of question. In a sense, I think it accounts for both of your positions. That post has received little attention generally, but it is meant to address questions just like this one.

  73. nhilton said

    Joe, I lost track of that post. How do I remember what posts I’m watching? There used to be a little box top left on my screen that clued me into recent changes but its gone as of late. Also, commentors seem to be a tight-knit group on this blog & I’m wondering how one generates interest in a blog. I’d be nice to get more feedback instead of becoming “inbred.” There was more activity on T&S, but perhaps because of it’s longevity vs. this new site. Anywho…I’ll go look at that post again when I have a minute. I’ve been way to interested in what ya’ll have to say…I’ve got a REAL life to attend to, too.

  74. nhilton said

    Douglas, if you begin down the road of what’s fact & what’s fiction within the cannon of scripture you’ll get derailed. We MUST rely on prophets here. I don’t think the AofF require much interpretation. They are very straight forward, written in contemporary English. Joseph Smith wasn’t trying to cloak any meaning, but rather clarify LDS beliefs. I agree that elsewhere it might be necessary. The translation aspect was targeted by Smith and he did not omit the story of the temptations, but rather corrected some important aspects of it. I trust the story is factual, if not highly stylized, probably by the Savior, himself.

  75. nhilton said

    Tried to use some html code & it didn’t work. I meant to write: “…if you begin down the road…” with the YOU in bold. : ) [Fixed; the html tag for bold is “strong”.]

  76. Robert C. said

    nhilton #73: The “recent posts” box is now on the left sidebar, below the Scripture/Lesson links box. Not sure how to get this blog less inbred. I know we’ve been added to the two main bloggernacle aggregators that I know of (Mormon Archipelago and LDSelect). I think you’re right that there is a slightly less broad cross-section of commenters now on Jim’s lessons, but only slightly (though it varied a lot week-to-week). But there are typically many more responses now than there used to be. The hope is that by keeping a narrower scope than T&S, focusing just on study and teaching of scripture, that we will eventually be attract more readers and higher quality comments on these topics, though perhaps we’re trying to have our cake and eat it too….

  77. douglashunter said

    Nhilton writes “Douglas, if you begin down the road of what’s fact & what’s fiction within the cannon of scripture you’ll get derailed.”

    I suspect you are not reading me very closely. Note that my emphasis is on metaphor and interpertation. Also note that when I suggest something is fiction I am not devaluing it.

    I admit that I strongly disagree with the idea that the Article of Faith you quoted earlier does not need interpertation. The first time I read it, I was floored. What a remarkable statement. It begs for interpertation! It has no meaning without interpertation. Its a powerful invitation to examine what is meant when we say something is the word of God, it invites us to ask what translation is, what are the various potentials of correctness. These questions are conspicious, and without them we can’t pertend to understand the fullness of its meaning.

  78. I have to agree with Douglas. It seems to me that the very nature of speaking or writing is that it calls for interpretation. When nhilton says something is “very straight forward,” I assume she means that the work of interpretation called for is somewhat simpler (which I’m not saying I agree or disagree with), but interpretation must be performed no matter what.

    And I think Douglas has made a few important remarks on the way to interpreting that Article of Faith. Why did Joseph say “word of God” instead of “true” or “historically accurate”? Why would he choose to say “translated correctly” when he himself had revealed that the Bible was incomplete? Why doesn’t Joseph reduce the Bible to “instruction” or “pragmatic help” or “demythologizeable narratives”? Why “the word of God”? I think the phrasing is very important.

  79. Aissetou said


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  80. Bon nuoc said

    Bon nuoc…

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