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Review of The Revelation of John the Apostle

We were pleased to receive this review by Duane S. Crowther, author of many books delving into LDS scriptures. You can find Crowther’s books on his website, Horizon Publishers.  

The Revelation of John the Apostle, by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, is an excellently prepared work, written and produced at a very high level of professionalism and scholarship. The 918-page book is comprehensive—it covers all the key themes of the biblical book of Revelation phrase by phrase, and when necessary, word by word. It also treats numerous pertinent details with careful explanations. The documentation is extensive, thorough and precise. Of particular value is the incorporation of pertinent historical information that adds meaning and aids the reader’s understanding of what the apostle John has written. While presenting numerous additional insights which have been made known to Latter-day Saints, the book also points out the viewpoints, finding and alternate interpretations of scholars from other faiths.

After providing the Greek text for each chapter or section of Revelation being considered, the authors cite the King James Translation and then add a “New Rendition” of each passage which restates the King James Version with additional clarity. The meaningful “Translation Notes and Comments” provide historical clues and explanations which help the reader grasp the passages’ backgrounds and allusions. Each subsection ends with an “Analysis and Summary” that clarifies what has been written from an overall perspective.

The Revelation of John the Apostle, one of the Brigham Young University’s New Testament Commentary series, is more than equal to almost all other treatises on the book of Revelation available. It’s a masterful work which deserves a place in libraries and scholars’ bookshelves worldwide.

Open House to celebrate the arrival of our First Corinthians volume

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, come visit with New Testament Commentary authors Richard Draper, Michael Rhodes, Julie Smith, John Welch, S. Kent Brown, and Eric Huntsman. Help us celebrate the arrival of our latest volume, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes. Location: the Joseph F. Smith Building (JFSB) in the Education in Zion Gallery, ground floor lobby on the east side of the building, by the spiral staircase. Light refreshments. For parking, this map shows several lots that are open to the public starting at 4 pm: http://map.byu.edu/ [select “Parking”]. We recommend the lot close by at the N. Eldon Tanner Building, Lots 40A and 40G. You do not need to be registered for Education Week to attend the open house. Authors Eric Huntsman, Julie Smith, and Richard Draper will be present Education Week classes on their books. Visit the Class Schedule for times and locations.

First Corinthians

The hardcover print version of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is now available from our publisher, BYU Studies, at https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/pauls-first-epistle-corinthians. Ebook versions are available too. The book is xvii + 908 pages, with bibliography and notes.  Click to see sample pages of the book discussion of 1 Corinthians 2, the table of contents, and the bibliography, scripture index, and general index. Questions? Call BYU Studies at 801-422-6691 or email byustudies.byu.edu. 

The Legal Cause of Action against Jesus in John 18:29-30

By John W. Welch

Published in Celebrating Easter, eds. Thomas A. Wayment and Keith J. Wilson, 157–76. Provo, Utah: BYU, Religious Studies Center, 2007.

It is a joy to ponder and appreciate the eternal importance of Easter. On the day before Easter, the body of the Lord lay in the tomb while his spirit inaugurated his redemptive work among the throngs in the spirit world. What a thrilling day it must have been for them to receive that visit from him. I imagine that the timing caught them by surprise, as it did among the Nephites. How much joy and excitement there must have been on this day before Easter on the other side of the veil.

In this paper, I will focus on only one aspect of the trial of Jesus, drawing more attention particularly to John 18:29-30 and articulating more clearly to an LDS audience why the accusation in that verse holds a key for understanding the legal cause of action and strategy of the chief priests before Pilate at that stage in the proceedings against Jesus. Continue reading

Preparing for Easter: Using the Days of Holy Week to Enrich Your Celebration

By Eric D. Huntsman

“There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Dec. 2000, 2)

I am convinced that if it were not for commercial and cultural factors, Easter would be more important to us than Christmas. As President Hinckley noted in the quote above, Christmas is only significant because of the miracle of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and his glorious resurrection.

With Palm Sunday and the week before Easter, much of the Christian world enters into a period of reflection and celebration known as “Holy Week.” Each of the events chronicled in this last week casts light on Jesus’ true nature as the Son of God, and reviewing them deepens the faith of believers in his matchless love.

While the LDS community does not formally observe Holy Week, the period from Palm Sunday to Easter morning present a wonderful opportunity for believers to use the scriptures to reflect upon the last days of our Lord’s earthly ministry. Striving to observe Holy Week and celebrate Easter more fully over the past years has convinced me that the best ways to do this are first through personal study, and second, through developing rich family traditions.

My 2011 volume God So Loved the World: The Final Days of the Savior’s Life and a subsequent online blog, LDS Seasonal Materials, represent my previous attempts to make Holy Week more accessible for Latter-day Saints. This current effort, a collation of the New Testament texts of Jesus’ final week, aims to supplement my earlier materials by bringing the scriptural accounts to individuals and families in what I hope is a useful format.

In one sense, it is a collection of scriptures in the early Christian tradition of a lectionary, a collection of readings for given days or occasions. In another, it is a soft academic effort to help readers better understand the source materials—particularly how the four gospels relate to each other while simultaneously painting unique portraits of Jesus and his final week. It is more of a collation than a harmony, and it is arranged as a reader’s edition, formatted in paragraphs rather than verses, labeling sections, and using modern conventions such as quotation marks to better indicate dialogue.

Whether used in connection with my earlier publications or used alone for one’s scripture readings in the days leading up to Easter, I hope that you and your families may find this a useful resource in celebrating the greatest story ever told.

Eric Huntsman Lent 2017

The Last Days of Jesus: A Collation of the New Testament Texts

A Holy Week Lectionary to be used with God So Loved the World, “Easter Meditations: From Palm Sunday to Easter Morning,” or the LDS Seasonal Materials blog

While Latter-day Saints do not formally observe the last days of Jesus’ life, this period is an ideal time to deepen our understanding of and faith in what the Lord did for us. We can use this sacred time to worship with both our minds and our hearts through both concentrated personal study of the pertinent scriptures and rich family traditions that use these events as opportunities to share testimony and feel the spirit. Continue reading

Exploring Jesus’ Question in Mark 3:4

By Julie M. Smith

             In Mark 3:4, Jesus asks if it is acceptable to save life or to kill on the sabbath as part of a response to those who would criticize him for healing a man’s withered hand on the sabbath. Jewish tradition permitted breaking the sabbath in order to save a life,[1] so the Pharisees would have readily agreed that one can save a life on the sabbath no matter what rules have to be broken to do so. But the man’s hand is unlikely to cause his death in the next day, which raises questions about how this saying would apply here and leads to several different interpretations of Jesus’ statement:

  1. Jesus is alluding to Deuteronomy 30:14-19 (where the Lord sets out two paths, one of life and the other of death) which implies that this situation has two paths: one where the man’s full life, including temple worship, is possible, and one with a wooden examination for sabbath violations, ending with the goal of killing Jesus. Because the Deuteronomy text mentions cursings, Jesus is suggesting that the Pharisees have chosen to curse themselves by choosing (Jesus’) death over (the man’s) life. Jesus’ allusion makes clear that the Pharisees are on the side of the wicked, a truly remarkable accusation. Deuteronomy 30:14 mentions the mouth, heart, hands, and doing, all four of which are also mentioned in this story in Mark.[2] In the Hebrew Bible text, references to the hand are prominent in the context of the violation of covenants as a result of failing to act; if this is paralleled to Mark’s text, it implies that the man with the withered hand is literally suffering the consequences of the curses of inaction, from which Jesus rescues him by his own action. As is typical in Mark’s healing miracles, atonement theology comes into play as Jesus exchanges roles with the man.
  2. The passage implies that withholding healing is a form of killing: “Jesus makes withholding the cure of the man’s paralyzed hand, even for a few hours, tantamount to killing him, and performing the cure immediately tantamount to saving his life. For Mark’s Jesus, the [last days] war is already raging, and on that battlefield every human action either strikes a blow for life or wields one for death; the cautious middle ground, upon which one might wait a few minutes before doing good, has disappeared.”[3]
  3. Jewish tradition held that if there is any doubt concerning whether life is in danger, it is acceptable to heal on the sabbath—and the example offered is a sore throat![4] Since there is at least a hypothetical chance that the withered hand could cause the man’s death before the sabbath is over and it would show callous disregard for the man’s life to take the risk, healing him constitutes saving a life. And the objectors’ actions are all the more venal since Jesus’ healing was permitted under the law.
  4. “Life” is to be understood as “quality of life.” The man’s withered hand would have prevented him from participating in temple worship.[5] So Jesus is not merely restoring a hand, but restoring his ability to engage in temple worship. This reading links this story to Mark 2:1-12, since restoring the man’s hand makes worshiping possible, just as the forgiveness in Mark 2:1-12 restores the man’s spiritual wholeness.
  5. “Save” can have a theological meaning in Mark.[6] This would imply that Jesus’ miracle will increase the man’s faith and therefore “save” his soul—an action most appropriate to the sabbath. This reading creates a nice link to this controversy story’s chiastic partner (Mark 2:1-12), where the issue is forgiveness of sins.
  6. This statement is an example of exaggeration to make a point.[7]

Regardless of which interpretation is correct, Jesus’ reference to taking a life applies to the plot against his own life (see Mark 3:6). Obviously it is a violation to kill someone on any day of the week, and yet they are closely watching Jesus so they can level an accusation that will result in his death. In this sense, the contrast between his actions and theirs is clear: to any extent that Jesus is guilty of violating the sabbath, they are guilty of much, much worse.

One implication of Jesus’ statement is that the categories that they have adopted (“do” and “don’t do”) create horrifying outcomes since the man can be left disabled on the sabbath but it is permissible to plan a murder.

[1] See Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York:  Doubleday, 2002), 248.

[2] See Kurt Queller, “‘Stretch Out Your Hand!’ Echo and Metalepsis in Mark’s Sabbath Healing Controversy,” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, no. 4 (December 1, 2010): 737-758. The parallel to “doing” is found in the man’s action of stretching out his hand.

[3] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York:  Doubleday, 2002), 252.

[4] See Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark:  A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2007), 209.

[5] See Leviticus 21:16-23.

[6] See Mark 5:34, 10:26, and 13:13.

[7] See N. T. France, The Gospel of Mark:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2002), 150.

Why Did the Wise Men Give Gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?

by John W. Welch

Little is known about the Wise Men. The Gospel of Matthew says they came from somewhere east of Jerusalem. The early Christian writer Justin Martyr said that they were Jewish men who came from Arabia, southeast of Judea. They may have been among the many Jewish people who were looking for the fulfillment of Israelite prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, such as Daniel’s 490-year prophecy.

Jewish traditions also spoke of temple priests who had gone into exile in Arabia awaiting a chance to return. The Jerusalem Talmud, Tacanit 4.5, mentions priests who had fled from Jerusalem and settled in Arabia around 625 B.C. Other priests may have been expelled by King Herod when he built his own magnificent temple in Jerusalem.

So, it is possible, as Margaret Barker first pointed out in her book Christmas: The Original Story (London: Continuum, 2008), that the Magi came from these priestly groups or from other groups of watchful priests awaiting the coming of the Lord of Holiness. If so, their three gifts could not have been more perfectly suitable, given by priests to their new High Priest.

 

Temple of Herod, model, in Jerusalem

Temple of Herod, model, in Jerusalem

The gift of gold would have sparkled like the gold that was required in the Temple. According to scripture, the inner doors, altar, table for the bread of the Presence, lamp stands, bowls, censers, utensils and implements of the Temple and the paneling on the walls of the Holy of Holies were to be made of pure gold or were gold-plated (1 Kings 7:48-50). Gold was incorruptible and did not rust. It was thought to have absorbed and embodied the radiance of the sun. Shiny gold objects reflected radiantly the heavenly glory of the sun.

Frankincense, a resin gathered from trees in south Arabia, provided fragrance in the Temple. The Holiness Code required incense to accompany every sacrifice “offered by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 24:7). Its sweet, billowing smoke was thought to carry prayers up to heaven. It was burned in the Temple to invite and invoke the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:6 prophesied that camels would bring gold and incense from southwestern Arabia, but what about myrrh? Myrrh is another resin, drawn from the life-sustaining sap of another desert tree. It was a key ingredient in preparing the sacred oil that imparted holiness. The recipe for that anointing oil is found in Exodus 30:23-24. It calls for 500 shekel-weight of myrrh, 250 of cinnamon, 250 of calamus, and 500 of cassia to be mixed in a hin (about one gallon) of olive oil. That anointing oil was uniquely used to sanctify the temple, the ark of the covenant, and the temple vessels, menorahs, and altars. Most of all, it was used to anoint and consecrate the High Priest, and it could not be used outside the Temple (Exodus 30:26-33).

The holy myrrh had disappeared from the Holy of Holies and been hidden away in the time of Josiah according to the Babylonian Talmud, Horayoth 12a. It represented Wisdom (Ben Sira 24:15), and because of its preservative qualities it was used in preparing the dead for burial.

But more than that, this myrrh oil was known as the “dew of resurrection,” and it had anointed the royal high priests after the order of Melchizedek and transformed them into sons of God. One early Christian, Pope Leo the Great, said: “He offers myrrh who believes that God’s only begotten son united to himself man’s true nature.” That uniting of divine and human was the mystery of the myrrh oil in the Holy of Holies. Old traditions also spoke about Adam receiving gold, frankincense, and myrrh from three angelic messengers, so that he could offer proper sacrifices when cast out of Eden.

By giving Jesus these three essential, holy, and precious gifts, the Wise Men prepared Jesus, “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), to offer the ultimate sacrifice as the new and everlasting High Priest, bringing eternal light, life, and God’s presence from heaven above to earth below.

 

 

 

Revelation volume now in print

We are happy to announce that the hardcover print version of the book The Revelation of John the Apostledraperrhodesrevelation is now available for $29.99. It can be purchased through the BYU Studies website or by calling our office at 801-422-6691. The ebook is also available through the BYU Studies website in Kindle and Deseret Bookshelf app. If you have previously purchased the ebook, an update is now available through your vendor.

The book is 900 pages of commentary that explains the text phrase by phrase, using LDS doctrine and both LDS and non-LDS scholarship, going back to the original Greek. See Sample pages and the Table of Contents.

Others in this series are The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, which is available in print or ebook. The volume Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes, is available only in ebook at this time.

July 29, 2016, Conference: New Mormon Ideas about Mark and Hebrews

Announcing the 4th Annual BYU New Testament Commentary Conference: 

New Mormon Ideas about Mark and Hebrews

Friday, July 29, 2016,  9:00 am to 3:00 pm,  Hinckley Center Assembly Hall, Brigham Young University. All are welcome to attend. Admission free.

9:00  Welcome and Opening Prayer

Introduction: About this New Testament Commentary Series and this conference

Morning Session: The Epistle to the Hebrews

9:10  Michael D. Rhodes, “Thoughts on the Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews”

9:45  Joshua M. Matson, “‘Whoso Readeth It, Let Him Understand’: The Use of Extra-Canonical Jewish Traditions in Hebrews”

10:05  Q&A on the Authorship of Hebrews

10:15  Richard D. Draper, “‘Now Since the Children Share Flesh and Blood, [Christ] also, in Just the Same Way, Shared Their Humanity’: The Low Christology of the Lord as Viewed in Hebrews 1–2”

10:50  Avram R. Shannon, “‘I Have Sworn’: Ancient Exegesis and the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood”

11:10  Ben Spackman, “Joseph Smith, JST Hebrews 9:15-20, and Covenant Curses”

11:30  Nathaniel Pribil and Chris Brockman, “The Many Uses of Hebrews by LDS Leaders”

11:50  Q&A on Main Themes of Hebrews

12:00  Lunch Break. Food courts and buffets are available on campus, or bring a box lunch to eat on the patio.

Afternoon Session: The Gospel of Mark

1:00  Reconvene

1:10  Julie M. Smith, “The Purpose of Parables: A Closer Look at Mark 4:10-13”

1:45  Andrea Brunken, “Messianic Secret in the Book of Mark”

2:05  Philip Abbott, “The Markan Sandwich of Mark 5: A Reflection of Christ”

2:25  Andy Mickelson, “‘[He] Fled from Them Naked’: Uncovering the Significance of Mark 14:51-52”

2:45  Q&A on LDS Interests and Perplexities in Mark

2:55  Thanks and Closing Prayer

Parking is available at the visitor lot near the BYU Museum of Art or the Wilkinson Center. Handicap parking is available for vehicles with a hangtag or plate in any “A” lot, except in specially marked parking stalls.

Lunch options are available at the Wilkinson Center or the Cannon Center, or bring a box lunch.

No registration is required. Click here for a printable schedule: ntc_conference_schedule_2016_3

Seven Versions of Jesus’ Prophecy on the Mount of Olives

By S. Kent Brown

For Latter-day Saints, Luke chapter 21 presents readers with one of seven versions of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount of Olives. Naturally, we know the versions that are presented in Mark 13 and Matthew 24–25. But there are more. We first notice that the Joseph Smith Translation completely freshens the reports of the sermon preserved by Mark and Matthew with a large number of changes that render their records largely the same; fewer adjustments appear in Luke 21. In each of the JST versions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the alterations bear on the meaning and thrust of Jesus’ words. Thus far, we see six versions—those in the three synoptic Gospels and those in the JST version of those Gospels, one of which is partially reported in Joseph Smith—Matthew of the Pearl of Great Price. The seventh record of the sermon lies in Doctrine and Covenants 45:16–59. As a preface, the Lord tantalizingly declares that “I will speak . . . and prophesy, as unto men in days of old. And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh” “upon this mount,” the Mount of Olives (D&C 45:15–16, 48). With these words, we learn the vivid detail that Jesus imparts in the sermon while standing before his disciples, as a distinguished teacher, not sitting with them as Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:3 lead us to believe.

In contrast to Mark 13 and Matthew 24–25, Luke chapter 21 provides two delectable dishes, not just one, ending with crowds still seeking Jesus’ company (see Luke 21:38). The first small dish consists in the refreshing story of a poor widow’s two mites, complete with tasteless displays of wealth that contrast with her tiny gift to the temple that glows with her adoring devotion (see Luke 21:1–4). Why is this story in this place? Possibly because of Mark’s placement of it just before the Savior’s sermon on the future (see Mark 12:41–44). On this view, the fact that Luke includes this story here may demonstrate a dependence on Mark’s order of events for Jesus’ last week. Perhaps significantly, Matthew omits the story, effectively dulling the notion that Mark serves as Luke’s main or only source for Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, including the sermon on the Mount of Olives. Another possibility glimmers in front of us: Jesus’ mention of “widows’ houses” in the foregoing (Luke 20:47) may instead form a verbal bridge that brings the widow’s story here, pointing to a catchword association, a feature that may also infuse Mark 12:40–42.

But why recount this story about the widow before rehearsing the sermon about the fate of Jerusalem and its citizens? Because, after a first glance, her story brings together a raw, untouched comparison between her situation and the gleaming opulence of both the temple and its contributors, the latter offering a practiced yet worn piety that will not save the temple from destruction. In addition, we sense that, while the temple’s importance remains strong in the minds and hearts of even the poor, its officials and major contributors are out of touch with common persons, rudely flaunting their wealth in their presence. Such a perception may also give flavor to Jesus’ prior talk about those who “devour widows’ houses” (Luke 20:47).

In the eschatological discourse on the Mount of Olives, the second and longest part of this chapter that rehearses Jesus’ grand and often frightful vision of the future (see Luke 21:5–36), the words of Jesus stir together a number of prophecies that appear elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel. The list is short: the exhortations to watch (see Luke 12:35–48; 21:34–36; especially JST 12:35–57); the warnings about deceptions (see Luke 17:20–24; 21:8–9); the desolation that stalks Jerusalem (see Luke 13:34–35; 21:20–24; JST 13:35–36); and the signs of the Second Coming (see Luke 17:26–37; 21:25–28; JST 17:26–40). The main question is whether the Savior indeed speaks such words away from Jerusalem, as Luke reports Jesus’ teachings. The answer is Yes, as both the JST version of Luke 12:41–45 and Jesus’ declarations about Jerusalem’s fate and the future kingdom make abundantly clear (see Luke 13:33–35; 17:20–37). Hence, we should see Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives as one wherein he brings together sayings uttered on other occasions, along with fresh prophecies, and shapes them into a whole piece that addresses the issues of the future of Jerusalem, of the disciples, and of the end-time.

In light of the Savior’s introduction to the sermon preserved in modern scripture, “As ye have asked of me concerning the signs of my coming” (D&C 45:16), no compelling reason exists to suppose that it is Luke who selects some of these sayings from their original setting in this sermon and inserts them into other, earlier contexts, or vice versa. Even so, we find what may be hints that Luke pens his version of the sermon after the Jewish War (AD 66–70), for he tops it with the vivid notation, “ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies” (Luke 21:20; also 19:43). The other accounts omit this detail. Instead, they feature the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14), an expression from the book of Daniel which the Joseph Smith Translation interprets as “the destruction of Jerusalem” (JST Matt. 24:12; JST Mark 13:14; see Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). This said, reasons exist to question the scholarly insistence that Luke writes in hindsight, after the end of the war.

This view of the discourse does not enjoy widespread support. Many see the sermon as a collection of disparate sayings that Mark, the first Gospel writer, artfully stitches together into an absorbing sermon that simply reflects the major concerns in the primitive church’s preaching, that is, warnings against false Christs and prophets, the sufferings of believers, the judgment upon Jerusalem, and the requirement of disciples to watch for Jesus’ return. In this view, much of the sermon illumines Jesus’ teachings, but Mark alone, or his source, is responsible for its ordering and flavoring, or even its composition.[1] For Latter-day Saints, both the inspired changes introduced into the Joseph Smith Translation of the synoptic Gospels and the first-hand account of the sermon that the Savior rehearses in Doctrine and Covenants 45:16–59 stand firmly against such a view. Instead of Mark presenting a table of teachings based on the church’s preaching interests, it seems more likely that it is Jesus’ words in the sermon that set the agenda for those interests.

In a completely different vein, this sermon will save the lives of uncounted disciples who, knowing of Jesus’ warnings about the fall of Jerusalem and its temple, will flee from the capital city which becomes the headquarters of the church in its early days. Rather than retreat into the city for safety, as thousands do when war breaks out with Rome late in AD 66 and again when Roman armies approach Jerusalem’s gates in AD 70, Christians flee northward, many of them settling in a gentile town, Pella, on the east bank of the Jordan River. There they wait out the war and survive intact.

This text is extracted from S. Kent Brown, The Testimony of Luke, 929–932. 

[1]Bultmann, History, 125; Francis W. Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 216; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1323–25; George R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: The Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 350–65.