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BIBLICAL Your Guide to the Practices, Peoples, and Places of Scripture FIRST-CENTURY JEWISH WEDDINGS First Church,


Your Guide to the Practices, Peoples, and Places of Scripture

BIBLICAL Your Guide to the Practices, Peoples, and Places of Scripture FIRST-CENTURY JEWISH WEDDINGS First Church,


First Church, Antioch Scrolls, Books and Seals

summer 2015

volume 41 number 4
volume 41
number 4




N UMEROUS TIMES I have been unpleasantly surprised at how cre-


ative human beings have been throughout history in developing ways to hurt, maim, or kill other humans. Bullets and bombs for battles. Stones and steel for weap- ons. Chariots for chasing. Horses. Cars. Tanks. Ships. Planes. Guns, guillotines, and grenades. Knives and nails. Rocks, ropes, and rods. Arrows and axes. A cross and a crown of thorns. Indeed, murder and mayhem have helped define much of history. Although I didn’t realize it when planning this issue, many of the included articles deal with topics related to death and dying. The most obvious is the article on Cain, who committed the first murder in human history. Megiddo, located in north-central Israel, is the location of numer- ous battles throughout history and the site of the ultimate battle of good and evil—the Battle of Armageddon. Emperor Domitian persecuted early Christians. Jonah (eventually) went to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, a people infa- mous for torturing their enemies. And of course, many died during Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. One hundred years ago, many nations were in the throes of World War I, which was also known as “the War to End All Wars.” This war saw a huge shift in military capabilities. For the last time in history, a “successful” cavalry charge was used, by the way, at Beersheba, in what is now southern Israel. And this war saw the first aerial combat. Looking back makes me wonder what people will say of our day 100 years from now. The good news, though, is that battle and bloodshed do not last forever. Because of the One who carried the cross and wore the crown of thorns, a day will come when, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4, kjv). And a further prophecy that Isaiah states promises: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (9:6, kjv). Watching events unfold makes me cry earnestly, “Even so Lord Jesus, come quickly!”


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Biblical Illustrator (ISSN 0195-1351, Item 005075109) is published quarterly by LifeWay, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234, Thom S. Rainer, President. © 2015 LifeWay. For ordering or inquiries visit, or write LifeWay Customer Service, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234-0113. For subscriptions or subscription address chang- es, e-mail, fax (615) 251-5818, or write to the above address. For bulk shipments mailed quarterly to one address, fax (615) 251-5933, e-mail orderentry@, or write to the above address. Annual individual subscription, $26.50. Bulk shipments mailed quarterly to one address when ordered with other literature, $6.25 each per quarter, plus shipping. Please allow six to eight weeks for arrival of first issue. Biblical Illustrator is designed to support the Bible study lessons in the student and adult Bible Studies for Life curriculum, The Gospel Project curriculum, and the Explore the Bible series. Bible background articles and accompanying illustrative material are based on the passages studied in these curriculum series. We believe that the Bible has God for its author; salvation for its end; and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter and that all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. To review LifeWay’s doctrinal guideline, please visit Scripture quotations marked (HCSB) are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible ® , Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permis- sion. Holman Christian Standard Bible ® , Holman CSB ® , and HCSB ® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from English Standard Version ® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ® ), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the New American Standard Bible ® , Copy- right © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. ( Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Ver- sion®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc® Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.(R). Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

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BIBLICAL About the Cover: Your Guide to the Practices, Peoples, and Places of Scripture FIRST-CENTURY JEWISH
About the Cover:
Your Guide to the Practices, Peoples, and Places of Scripture
First Church, Antioch
Scrolls, Books, and Seals
A funerary vase
dated 255-250 B.C.
depicts a bride
with attendants. A
woman with a tam-
bourine leads the
procession to the
groom’s house.
Erotes and Nike
accompany the
group, signifying
the gods’ protec-
tion for both major
transitions in a
summer 2015
volume 41
number 4
woman’s life, mar-
riage and death.
On a scale of 1-10, this book receives a rating of 9 camels. Book reviews are
On a scale of 1-10, this book receives a rating of 9 camels. Book reviews are
On a scale of 1-10, this book receives a rating of 9 camels. Book reviews are
On a scale of 1-10, this book
receives a rating of 9 camels.
Book reviews are limited to those the
Illustrator staff feels confident to recom-
mend, based on ease of reading, quality
of content, and doctrinal viewpoint. Each
book is reviewed within the parameters
LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines. The 1 to 10
scale reflects overall quality and usefulness.
Illustrated Life of Paul, Charles L. Quarles,
B&H Academic; 2014; 300 pages; soft-
back; ISBN: 978-0-8054-9453-2

W OULD PAUL APPROVE of the accolades Christians have ascribed to him

throughout history? According to Quarles, Paul would blush with anger at the esteem in which Christians have exalted him (p. 268). What value then does yet another book on Paul’s life provide for twenty-first century readers? First, readers benefit from the research of a fine New Testament scholar. Quarles is well qualified to author a book on Paul’s life. After serving as a missionary in Romania, Quarles served on the faculty of New

Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

and Louisiana College. He currently serves as professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in

Wake Forest, North Carolina. Second, the book beautifully fulfills the title “Illustrated” with the type of quality photos and maps readers of Biblical Illustrator expect. Illustrated Life of Paul serves as a companion volume to Illustrated Life of Jesus by well-know pastor-theologian Herschel Hobbs. The volume contains at least 130 pho- tos, artistic portrayals, sculptural busts of key leaders, maps, and charts illus- trating the cities, cultural artifacts, and

everyday life of the first century.

Third, Quarles provides in nine chapters a narrative-theological discus- sion of Paul’s life from his early years to his martyrdom. As the author recounts Paul’s life, he provides excellent back- ground information from Jewish, Greek, and Roman history that assists the reader in understanding the histori- cal context of Paul’s ministry. Quarles interspersed brief discussions of Paul’s letters highlighting the purposes and theological themes within his historical reconstruction. One of the highlights of the book is the author’s proposal of Paul’s life between his first and second Roman imprisonment. Quarles postu- lates that after Paul’s release from his first imprisonment, he immediately traveled to Colossae to visit Philemon; subsequently journeyed to Spain and established churches; and journeyed back West for ministry to Crete, Achaia, and Macedonia before Roman authorities arrested him in Ephesus. A final benefit of the book is the author’s ability to communicate through academic research in a man- ner winsome and understandable to Bible study leaders and laypeople. I

Mark A. Rathel is professor of theol- ogy at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida.

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  • 2 BI Lines

  • 3 BI the Book: Illustrated Life of Paul By Charles L. Quarles Book review by Mark A. Rathel

InSites (between pages 66-67) Patmos Ships of the Biblical Era

  • 98 Issues Gone BI


  • 22 Joshua: Leader of the Conquest by Bryan E. Beyer June 7 // Session 1

  • 94 The Jordan River by David L. Jenkins June 14 // Session 2

  • 60 Reuben: His Land and His Legacy by Robert A. Street

July 5 // Session 5

  • 67 Jonah: A Prophet for His Time by Robert C. Dunston July 19 // Session 1

InSites: Ships of the Biblical Era


July 19 // Session 1

  • 46 The Nicolaitans


by Michael Priest

July 26 // Session 2

InSites: Patmos

July 26 // Session 2

  • 33 Life After the Exile


by T. Van McClain

August 2 // Session 3


First Church, Antioch

by Jeff Iorg

August 23 // Session 6

  • 74 Dinners and Feasts in the First Century by Dale “Geno” Robinson August 30 // Session 1


  • 82 Fellowship: A Word Study by Gary Hardin

June 7 // Session 1

  • 27 “Children” in John’s Letters by C. Mack Roark

June 14 // Session 2




  • 19 Cain: The First Unrepentant Sinner by Leon Hyatt, Jr.

June 28 // Session 4

  • 63 Domitian: Emperor of Rome by Timothy N. Boyd

July 19 // Session 7

InSites: Patmos July 19 // Session 7

  • 42 First-Century Jewish Weddings by Sharon H. Gritz

June 21 // Session 3

  • 15 Along the Nile by Daniel P. Caldwell June 28 // Session 4

  • 78 Elijah and Messianic Expectations by Steve W. Lemke

July 5 // Session 5

  • 39 The Church at Philadelphia: Pillars of the Faith by Timothy Faber July 26 // Session 8

  • 90 Scrolls, Books & Seals by E. Randolph Richards August 9 // Session 10

  • 56 Megiddo: A Crucial Locale by Jeff S. Anderson August 23 // Session 12

  • 49 Alpha and Omega by Bobby Kelly August 30 // Session 13


  • 10 Why These 66 Books? by Terry L. Wilder June 7 // Session 1

  • 52 Houses in Jesus’ Day by Paul E. Kullman

July 26 // Session 2

  • 30 The Jewish Tradition of Fasting by Lynn O. Traylor August 9 // Session 4

  • 67 Jonah: A Prophet for His Time by Robert C. Dunston August 9 // Session 4

  • 85 The Churches of Macedonia by Rudy González August 23 // Session 6

  • 71 Glory: A Hebrew Understanding by Stephen J. Andrews August 30 // Session 7




ISTOCK PHOTO BSFL: Acts 13:1-3 FIRST An ioch CHURCH, BY JEFF IORG Antioch is a model

BSFL: Acts 13:1-3


An ioch



Antioch is a model of facing and solving problems in real church life—warts and all.

ISTOCK PHOTO BSFL: Acts 13:1-3 FIRST An ioch CHURCH, BY JEFF IORG Antioch is a model

HE STORY OF THE church at Antioch is an inspiring drama. A healthy first-century church, Antioch is a model for the church in the twenty-first century. The New Testament provides an extensive biblical record of the church’s beginning and early years of growth, along with examples of how it handled doctrinal debates, personality con- flicts, and practical matters of church life, Christian devotion, and mission- ary outreach. Antioch was one of the most significant churches in history, if not the most significant church. Why is such a bold claim possible? Antioch was unique because it was a church of “firsts.” While many churches carry labels like First Baptist or First Methodist—these labels usu- ally refer to chronology, being the first church of their denomination in an area. Antioch was that, and so much more. It was the first church where several events occurred which have marked the church for two millennia.

In Evangelizing Gentiles

Some preachers, fleeing the perse- cution resulting from Stephen’s martyrdom, arrived in Antioch (Acts 11:19-20). They started preach- ing the gospel among Gentiles. While

Right: The Orontes River runs through the modern city of Antakya, Turkey, which was Antioch of Syria in the New Testament Era.

Below: Marble stat- ue of the god of the Orontes River. The river flows through Antioch of Syria; found at Magaracik- Smandagi; dates to the 1st cent. A.D.


the gospel had previously reached a few Gentiles (like the Ethiopian eunuch, 8:27-38), believers had not yet strongly evangelized non-Jews. The Jerusalem church had not fulfilled Jesus’ mandate to be witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). 1 These anonymous preachers at Antioch, though, broke through the

racial and cultural barriers restricting the gospel. That they are unnamed in Scripture is noteworthy. One of the most important advances in church history was accomplished by anony- mous heroes who were more con- cerned about spreading the name of Jesus than being remembered for their contribution. The Book of Acts names dozens of individuals, so Luke was not averse to including personal details. The omission here is striking and instructive. God sometimes uses anonymous leaders to accomplish His most significant actions.

In Involving Barnabas

When the Jerusalem church learned of the gospel’s breakout in Antioch, they were agitated. Acts 15 recounts the confrontation between the Jerusalem and Antioch churches over the nature of the gospel. The crucial question was this: Must a person become a Jew (evi- denced by circumcision) prior to or as


part of his conversion to Christianity? The Antioch church rejected this as a requirement for new believers. The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate the movement in Antioch. While he later developed a reputa- tion as an encourager, in this instance Barnabas was more of an inquisitor. He went to Antioch to evaluate what was happening. He concluded that the gospel was expanding to include the Gentiles, apart from circumcision. Barnabas became the Antioch church’s advocate and leader. His stature in the early church was a significant asset in affirming the gospel’s expansion, vali- dating the Antioch church, and later winning the theological conflict over the nature of salvation (ch. 15). Why is this significant? The Antioch conviction—the gospel is for everyone, apart from any human inven- tion or addition—is orthodox doctrine today. Without the successful resolu- tion of this issue, the early church’s



growth would have been truncated; and a multi-cultural, multi-national, multi- lingual global church would not have been possible.

In Engaging Paul

After Barnabas concluded the Antioch church was legitimate, he understood it needed to be stabilized through a capable teaching ministry. He knew just the man to translate the gospel from a Jewish perspective into the Gentile mindset. Barnabas summoned Paul and added him to the teaching team, thus marking his emergence into public ministry. Paul taught the Antioch church “for a whole year” (11:26) and remark- able growth occurred—both numerical and spiritual. An interesting question is “what was the curriculum?” While the text does not specify an answer, it might have been embryonic insights of what later emerged in the Pauline letters that form much of the New Testament. Perhaps Paul hammered out his theology by field-testing his ideas while teaching at Antioch. If

Inside Church of St. Peter’s at Antioch; many believe this to be one of the oldest
Inside Church
of St. Peter’s at
Antioch; many
believe this to be
one of the oldest
Christian churches;
it may have been
in use in the 1st

Below: House at Beit Gurvin (Maresha). Philip journeyed on the road that ran past Beit Gurvin through

the southern Shephelah to Gaza. Along the way he met the Ethiopian and shared with him the gospel.

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BOB SCHATZ (25/3/13) ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRENT BRUCE (60/8981) growth would have been truncated; and

so, by embracing Paul’s teaching min- istry, the Antioch church played an important role in helping the apos- tle develop thoughts and theological understandings that the Holy Spirit would later inspire Paul to put into written form, resulting in much of the New Testament.

In Using “Christians”

At Antioch, early believers were first called “Christians.” Some speculate about the nature of this designation. It may have been a term of derision to describe people who talked inces- santly about the same subject—the Christ, the Christ, the Christ! Early


Above: Dating to the 3rd cent. B.C., a colossal Charonian carving in the mountain-

attempt to save the city below from a plague afflicting persons in the area.

side overlooking Antioch. Ancient records indicate the figure was carved in an

Right: Mosaic at Antioch depicting three male magi- cians.

believers spoke of “the Christ” in the market, in the workplace, and in their homes. Their persistent evangelism and preoccupation with Jesus—talk- ing about Him all the time, every- where—earned them a new nick- name. They were the Christ-ones, or “Christians.” This new name underscores the nature of early Christianity. It was infectious. The gospel spread by word of mouth, with many believers gladly speaking openly and often about Jesus. Modern believers are often intimidat- ed, unconcerned, or otherwise too dis- tracted with worldly interests to talk about Jesus with friends and family members. The nickname the Antioch believers earned is a reminder about the true nature of evangelism—being so enamored with Jesus that one cannot help but talk about Him.

In Relief Offering

Soon after its founding, a prophet from Jerusalem named Agabus spoke to the Antioch church. Part of his message was about a famine coming to Jerusalem. In all likeli- hood, Agabus may have even asked the Antioch church for assistance. Regardless, upon hearing the news, believers at Antioch gave money to

help those suffering (11:27-29). This

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ DAVID ROGERS (5/15/1) Above: Dating to the 3rd cent. B.C., a colossal Charonian carving


was a bold action, considering the tension between these two churches. The Jerusalem church had retained the gospel as a Jewish movement for years. When the message finally spread rapidly among the Gentiles in Antioch, the Jerusalem church was suspicious of the legitimacy of both the conversions and the result- ing church. The Jerusalem church had a major confrontation with Paul, Barnabas, and a delegation from Antioch over the nature of salvation. In that context, the Antioch church demonstrated grace to those at the Jerusalem church—in spite of the Jerusalem church being much larger and more fully developed. The Antioch believers could have declined to offer assistance, citing the doctri- nal and personal tension between the churches. But they did not. Instead, they gave generously and proportion- ally to feed hungry believers. Human need trumped church conflict.

In Dispatching Missionaries

Paul and Barnabas were commis- sioned as the first missionary team intentionally sent out by a church

(13:1-3). The preachers who started the Antioch church were fleeing per- secution, not extending themselves as missionaries. Antioch was the first church to select a missionary team, pray for them, commission them, and provide their financial support.

Much of the second half of Acts is the record of the missionaries’ work. The Antioch church is the mother church of the modern missionary movement, establishing a new paradigm for how churches extend themselves to found new congregations in new places.

In a Forced Termination

Paul and Barnabas ended their mis- sionary partnership after a conflict over John Mark (15:36-41). This conflict was intense (v. 39), spilled over into the Antioch church 2 (vv. 39-40), and took a long time to resolve (2 Tim. 4:11). The good news is that the sides involved did find an amicable solution. Antioch is a model of facing and solving prob-

lems in real church life—warts and all. Many church practices today are rooted in the church at Antioch. It was—and is—a model church for min- istry in any time and place. The “firsts” at Antioch reveal the paradigm-chang- ing nature of this remarkable group of early believers. They changed their world and are still shaping ours by pro- viding a timeless model of ministerial effectiveness and missional advance. I

  • 1. Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian

Standard Bible (HCSB).

  • 2. David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 448-49.

Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, California.


TGP: Psalm 119:1-16







T HE WORD “CANON” (Hebrew: qaneh ; Greek:

kanon ) originally meant

“measuring reed,” but eventually developed the meaning “standard.” Pertaining to the Bible evangelical Christians use, the term refers to those books the church accept- ed as the standard that governs

Christian belief and conduct. 1

The Old Testament Canon Unfortunately no clear record exists to show exactly how the Jews decided which books to include in their canon of Scripture. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, does offer, though, in his book Contra Apion (1:37-42; ca. a.d. 90) some strong indications about the Jewish canon. Josephus mentioned some standards that Jews used to determine the books of their canon: (1) they chose books that were not contradictory; (2) “they were written by prophets or by persons recognized as having divine authority”; (3) “they origi- nated through inspiration from God”; and (4) the Jews accepted them as authoritative material. 2 Josephus limited the OT (Old Testament) to the 22 books (he combined Jeremiah-Lamentations, Judges-Ruth) currently in the Hebrew canon. Hundreds of OT references attest to the fact that these books are from God, using statements such as: “thus says the Lord” and “the Lord said.” Apocryphal and pseudepigraphal books, however, contain no such assertions. Jews commonly believed that prophet- ic inspiration had ceased around 200 b.c., so that apocryphal works written later had to revert back to an earlier time in order to gain authority for their works. 3

Important Dates Determining when the OT books were collected is difficult. The OT canon was already established at least a century before Jesus walked the earth. The NT (New Testament) gives evidence of a three-part canon that was complete in Jesus’ time (see Matt. 7:12; Luke 24:44). 4 Moreover, Josephus mentioned a threefold division of the OT. Further, the Jewish Council of Jamnia con- firmed these same three parts of the OT around a.d. 90.

The Old Testament Jesus Used

Our Hebrew OT and its transla- tions are based largely upon the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars (ca. sixth–eighth centuries a.d.) who preserved the OT text and added vowels (called vowel pointing) to consonants to aid succeeding generations in Hebrew pronunciation. The Masoretes com- piled, collated, and compared ear- lier manuscripts in order to come up with a text that they regarded as the proper Hebrew OT. Their resultant text is extraordinarily accu- rate when compared with the Dead Sea Scrolls written some 900–1,000 years earlier. Their canon was com- posed of 24 books and three divi- sions: the Law (Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Joshua; Judges; Samuel [1 & 2 Samuel]; Kings [1 & 2 Kings]; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Hosea through Malachi [known as the Book of the Twelve]), and the Writings (Psalms; Proverbs; Job; Song of Solomon; Ruth; Lamentations; Ecclesiastes; Esther;

Daniel; Ezra–Nehemiah; Chronicles [1 & 2 Chronicles]). Jesus’ use of Scripture shows He considered these same books in the Hebrew Bible as authoritative (see Matt. 5:17-20; Luke 24:44). He treated the OT narratives as statements of fact and frequently used the OT as the final court of appeal in matters of faith and conduct. For example, when the devil tempted Him, Jesus resisted the temptations by quoting the OT (Matt. 4:4,7,10). Moreover, He viewed the OT as predictive of Himself (see John 5:39; Luke 24:27) and expressly stated the authority of the OT and of His own words (John 10:35; Matt. 5:17-18).

The New Testament Canon

When Jesus’ apostles were alive and operating in the first century, no great need existed for a NT canon to

Below: Torah case and scroll from Hebron.
Below: Torah case
and scroll from

The basic criterion for recognizing books as being part of the NT is whether they were considered “God-breathed.”



Right: Parchment leaf from the Latin Psalter, dated about 1200- 1210. The text is Psalm 36:1-4.

Below: Sea coast at Alexandria, Egypt.

Bottom right: In northern Italy, the Trento Cathedral, known locally as

Duomo di San

Vigilio, was the host church for the Council of Trent.

be defined. This fact was because the apostles were divinely-appointed, ordained men who had in them- selves the authority of the Lord Jesus (see Matt. 10:40; 1 Cor. 9:1-3). 5 They were God’s authority between the time of the Lord’s ascension and the completion of the NT Scriptures, which would then become the final and continuing authority. As long as the apostles and their immediate disciples were alive, people could easily determine what constituted apostolic teaching. As time wore on, however, certain developments prompted the need

for defining the NT canon. First, the rise of certain heresies occa- sioned the need for defining the NT canon. When heretics began to pub- lish their views and establish can- ons themselves, the true followers of Christ necessarily had to refute them by defining what the whole church regarded as sacred Scripture. 6 Second, during times of intermit- tent Roman persecution, 7 Christians were subject to imprisonment and even death if they possessed any of the Christian Scriptures. The pos- sibility of imprisonment or death made it imperative for believers to

know which books the church rec- ognized as being a part of God’s Word and which were corollary or supplemental works. 8 Third, as the second century wore on, the apostles’ oral teaching was becom- ing less familiar to believers, and the apostles’ disciples were beginning to die. Thus, Christians were being separated further from the apostles’ authoritative teaching. This meant Christians placed less reliance on the apostles’ oral teaching and more dependence on their writings. Thus, the need arose to define the canon of Scripture so that later generations might know what apostolic doctrine was and was not. 9 The basic criterion for recogniz- ing books as being part of the NT is whether they were considered “God-breathed” (Greek: theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Books do not become inspired because they are recognized as being canonical; rather, they are recognized as being canonical because they are inspired by God. Thus, the church did not “produce” the canon. Three principal criteria emerged which the early church used in recognizing books that were God- inspired and thus canonical: (1) apos- tolic origin, (2) recognition by the churches, and (3) apostolic content. 10 Books recognized as canonical had to be related in some way to the divinely-appointed, authoritative, Holy Spirit-inspired apostles. 11 With the criterion of apostolic origin, the early Christians essentially asked, “Is this particular work under ques- tion the work of one of the apostles, or was it produced under the super- vision of and with the stamp of approval of one of the apostles?” The criterion of recognition by the churches asked how the earliest lead- ing churches regarded the book. 12 If the churches at Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and Carthage, for


example, accepted a book as authori- tative, then chances were strong that the whole church would give it seri- ous consideration for inclusion. The criterion of the book’s content asked whether a book’s content agreed with the doctrine the apostles taught orally or wrote when they were still alive. If anything was contrary to the apostles’ actual teaching, it was con- sidered spurious and not the Word of God. As time wore on, these distinctions became increasingly dif- ficult to determine; this difficulty motivated the church to delineate the genuine NT canon in the earliest Christian centuries. So, all of this led to what was perhaps the “prime” criterion for the NT: “Was this book produced by an apostle or under the auspices of an apostle, and does it obviously correspond in doctrine to what the apostles themselves taught when they were on earth as God’s divinely appointed spokesmen?” An example of this criterion at work is the Gospel of Thomas, a book that did not attain canonical status. This writing bears the name of an apostle, but it is not in accord with what the apostles taught. Instead, this forgery represented the heresy of gnosticism. Though an apostle’s name was attached to the book, its content does not agree with apostolic doctrine.


T he Roman Catholics’ canon contains more than the 66 books of Genesis through Revelation. They added works (known as “the Apocrypha”) like the Wisdom of Solomon,

Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and others. These books likely originated “from Jewish traditions or folklore concerning the bibli- cal text during the Second Temple period” (c. 300 b.c.a.d. 100). 13 After OT revelation ceased, some Jews perhaps desired more revela- tory material. 14 These non-canonical scrolls might have been stored with canonical ones, and over time some distinctions between them dissolved. 15 Two factors contributed to the Apocrypha’s inclusion in the Roman Catholic canon: (1) The church father Jerome later included the Apocrypha in the Latin Vulgate, which was for years the standard translation for Roman Catholicism; and (2) in response to Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (a.d. 1546) recognized the authority of the apocryphal books. The Hebrew OT canon the Jews and early Christians used, how- ever, excluded the Apocrypha. Apocryphal books were never recog- nized in the Hebrew Scriptures (though some were included in some fourth-century manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint). Also, their content differs significantly from the OT books. Moreover, they were not recognized in the NT. Further, Jesus Christ never cited or

acknowledged any of the Apocrypha.


Below: Fragment from the Septuagint; the text is Exodus 26:22-25. Left: In northern Africa, the ruins
Below: Fragment
from the
Septuagint; the
text is Exodus
Left: In northern
Africa, the ruins
on Byrsa Hill in
Carthage, Tunisia.
In the background
are the tow-
ers of a former
Catholic cathedral.
The Council of
Carthage helped
confirm the New
Testament canon.
Important Dates

The formal establishment of the NT canon happened later. In the east- ern church it occurred with the 39th Paschal Letter of Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, dated a.d. 367. This document was the bishop’s letter to the faithful written on the occasion of Passover. In this letter Athanasius mentions 27 books that the church accepted as being the NT. In the west- ern church, the Council of Carthage met in a.d. 397. Part of the council’s work was to publish the names of the 27 NT books that the church held to be genuine Scripture. By the middle- to-late part of the fourth century, the church evidently had no question about the 27 books that would comprise the NT. No really serious question has

risen since.

you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25-26, writer’s translation). The prophets of old spoke “as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, hcsb). Those who penned the NT wrote in like manner. Their work is God’s trustworthy, inerrant Word. The biblical canon of 66 books we possess today is God’s Word and the result of His sovereign oversight and provision. It has stood the test of time as the “true” canon. I

ence to “Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” meant “the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.” This is because Moses is connected with the Pentateuch (the Law), and the Psalms alone were sometimes mentioned to denote

the Writings. Other times, persons from the beginning of the OT and the end of the OT were mentioned to signify the entirety of the Hebrew OT, i.e., “the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.” Scripture lists in this article are representative. Other passages, not listed due to space, could also apply.

  • 5. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove,

IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 119-20, 256-59; Wilder, Pseudonymity, 165-216.

  • 6. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament

(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), 75-106.

  • 7. Roman persecution began around A.D. 64 and

occurred intermittently over the course of about three centuries.

  • 8. Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, 106-108.

  • 9. Herman N. Ridderbos, Redemptive History and


Jesus, while on earth, did not spe- cifically mention writings that would become what we know as the New Testament. However, He did seem to “pre-authenticate” the NT when He told His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you while abid- ing with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach

  • 1. About A.D. 367, the church father Athanasius was

the first person, to our knowledge, to use the word

“canon” to refer to the Scriptures; in other words, these books “measure up.”

  • 2. As Paul D. Wegner correctly summarizes in “Do We

Have the Right Canon?” in Steven B. Cowan and Terry

L. Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 402.

  • 3. Terry L. Wilder, Pseudonymity, the New Testament,

and Deception (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004), 58. In addition to Josephus’ Contra Apion 1:37-42,

the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11a likewise mentions the cessation of inspired prophecy: “Since the death of the last prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.”

  • 4. This three-part division of the OT was mentioned in

a variety of ways. For example, in Luke 24:44 the refer-

the New Testament Scriptures, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ:

Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988), 12-24.

  • 10. Bruce, Canon of Scripture, 255-69.

  • 11. Ibid., 256-59; Ridderbos, Redemptive History,


  • 12. Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, 253-54.

  • 13. Wegner, “Do We Have the Right Canon?” 403.

  • 14. Ibid.

  • 15. Ibid.

Terry L. Wilder is professor and Wesley Harrison Chair of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist

Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

TGP: Exodus 2:1-10



Daniel P.




Nile River

I N THE VATICAN MUSEUM is an ancient sculpture symbolizing Egypt and the Nile. The art-
I N THE VATICAN MUSEUM is an ancient
sculpture symbolizing Egypt and the Nile. The art-
work depicts the river as a giant stretched out on his
side. A cornucopia of fruit is in his left arm and ears of
wheat are in his right hand. A sphinx on which the giant
supports himself represents Egypt. The scene is made
livelier by 16 children representing the 16 cubits of water
by which the Nile rises for its annual flood. The base of
the statue is decorated with the Nile landscape, including
a hippopotamus and crocodiles. The whole work is sym-
bolic of the regard in which the Egyptians throughout
history have held the great river.
to the Mediterranean without being fed
by any further rivers or streams.
In ancient times a combination of rap-
ids and waterfalls (cataracts) at varying
points prevented the complete navigation
of the Nile. The first set of cataracts was
at Aswan, which is generally acknowl-
edged as Egypt’s southern boundary.
Right: Osiris, whom
the Egyptians of
the Old Kingdom
began to associ-
ate with death,
was also the pri-
mary god of the
Nile, which the
Egyptians under-
stood to be the
key to life and
Geography of the Nile
The longest river in the world,
the Nile flows north roughly 4,130
miles from the heart of Africa to
the Mediterranean Sea. The Egyptian
Nile (the northern-most portion) is
formed by the union of two riv-
ers. The first is the White Nile
which flows out of Lake Victoria in
Tanzania. The second is the Blue
Nile from Lake Tana in Ethiopia.
These join at Khartoum (capital of
Sudan) and are later fed by the Atbara
River near Barbar. Thereafter the
Nile flows over 1,500 miles northward
Replica of the
sculpture by
Italian artist
Lorenzo Ottoni
dating to about
A.D. 1690; the
figure represents
the Nile River.

Above: A high-ele- vation view of Tuti Island, which is at the confluence

of the White and Blue Nile rivers in Khartoum, capital of Sudan.




goshen • Cairo
• Cairo


first cataract Lake Aswan Nasser • • elephantine second cataract
• •











Atbara River




Blue Nile

White Nile

Heading north from Aswan, the Nile flows between two lines of cliffs. At times the cliffs come directly down to the river’s edge and in other places are over eight miles away. Using irrigation, farmers could cultivate the wider areas of land. Due to the dark color of the rich soil, the Egyptians called the cultivated areas Black Land. At the cliff tops were the Libyan and Arabian desert lands where few Egyptians traveled. At Cairo (modern Egypt’s capital) the Nile begins to spread out like a fan, the bulk of its waters flowing into two branches: the Rosetta and the Damietta. The land enclosed within and lying adjacent to these river channels is known as the Nile River Delta. This region is the area where the clos- est links with the ancient Israelites are likely to have been

Below: Lake Victoria as seen from the Nile River. The large concrete block marks the begin- ning of the Nile.

located. Goshen, in the upper northeastern section, was where Jacob and his descendants settled (Gen. 45:10; 46:28-29).

Livelihood from the Nile

The Nile was the source of Egypt’s life and agricultural wealth, an oddity for a region that is primarily arid and desert. Since rainfall was minimal in Egypt, the Nile was essential for watering the land by means of flood, irrigation, and infiltration. The annual flooding in the early fall was due to the runoff from heavy rainfalls in Sudan. The rising of the Nile during the hot, dry months remained a mystery to the ancient Egyptians. They developed nilometers, formed by graduated degrees cut in natural rocks or in stone walls, to measure the river levels. The flooding also

brought natural fertilizers (silt) to the desert land. 1 The Nile’s flooding was a well-known event amongst the Hebrews. At times the Old Testament prophets would use this natural occurrence in judgment con- texts concerning the rise and fall of nations (Isa. 46:7-8;


ISTOCK PHOTO Blue Nile White Nile Heading north from Aswan, the Nile flows between two lines




Above: The Tis Abay (translated “Smoking Water”) Falls on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. The falls range from about 120- 150 feet wide in the dryer season to over 1,300 feet in the rainy season.



Lake Kyoga

ISTOCK PHOTO Blue Nile White Nile Heading north from Aswan, the Nile flows between two lines

Lake Victoria


Lake Albert



On Elephantine Island, this Nilometer indi- cates the water level of the river.


Jer. 46:7-8; Amos 8:8) and the diminishing of Egypt’s strength (Isa. 19:1-15). 2 Significantly, the first plague affected the Nile, which turned to blood. This would have rendered the waters filthy and unsuitable to drink. 3 In addition to the flooding, farmers depended on irriga- tion for water. Workers cut channels from the river to the fields and used small earthen dams to control the flow. Moses mentioned this practice in Deuteronomy 11:10 as a lesson for the Hebrews. Just as they depended on the Nile while in Egypt, they were to depend upon God to provide rain for them in their new land. 4 Ancient Egyptians correctly understood that all of their water was from the Nile. The Nile Valley’s porous soil allowed water to penetrate the ground on either side of the river, a process known as infiltration. As a result, people dug wells for drinking water and for irrigation in the dry season. 5 Due to the Nile providing water year around, the Egyptians were able to produce bountiful harvests. The Hebrews mentioned some of these while wandering in the wilderness. In 1 of the 10 times they tested God (Num. 14:22), the Hebrews wanted more than manna to eat. They mentioned the good foods of Egypt: cucumbers, mel- ons, leeks, onions, garlic, and fish—fish that people may have caught in the Nile or the canals flowing out of it (11:5). Jacob earlier knew of Egypt’s abundance as he sent his sons there to purchase grain (Gen. 42:1-2). The effects of the flooding, constant irrigation, and depositing of silt over the years enabled Egypt ultimately to become the granary of the biblical world. The Nile facilitated transportation. The current helped boats traveling north; the prevailing wind guided those head- ing south. The cataracts may have provided some protection from enemy invaders approaching from the south.

Influence on Egyptian Religion

The Nile, so fundamental to the nation’s well-being, did not dominate Egypt’s religious life. Egyptians took their

world largely for granted; they had no name for the Nile but referred to it simply as “river” (’io’r, ’iotr). The Hebrew term generally used for the Nile in the Old Testament is yeor and was most likely borrowed from this Egyptian



The term “Nile” is not Egyptian. “The ultimate

origin and the meaning of the name Nile are unknown (Gr. Nei√loß; Lat. Nilus).” 7 The Egyptians had gods, though, that they associated with the Nile. They believed that bringer of water and fertil- ity was not the river but its annual flooding, called “Hapy” (also spelled “Hapi”), who became one of the Egyptians’ gods. Although Hapy was an image of abundance, he was not a major deity in the Egyptian pantheon. Depicted as a fat figure, Hapy bought water and produce in abundance to both gods and humans. Although Hapy had no temple, Egyptians presented sacrifices and sang hymns to him as they acknowledged the beginning of the annual floods. 8 The major god most closely connected with the Nile was Osiris. In myth Osiris was a king of Egypt; his brother, Seth, killed him on the river bank. His body was cut into 14 pieces, placed in a coffin, and cast into the Nile. His sister-wife, Isis, later reassembled his body; and he became king of the underworld. According to some Egyptian thought, the Nile River receding in the autumn and overflowing in the spring represented the annual death and rebirth of Osiris. 9 This constant cycle would lead the Egyptians to accept the pos- sibility of immortality. The faithful follower of Osiris hoped to overcome death just as this god had done. Because the ancient Egyptians depended on the river so much, the contributions of the Nile to their life, culture, and religion cannot be overemphasized. But the contribu- tions were not to Egypt alone. From the reeds of its waters, an infant was drawn out (Ex. 2:10) and became God’s faith- ful servant, Moses. This was perhaps the Nile’s greatest contribution to those who worship Yahweh. I

  • 1. Edward Mack, “Nile” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, gen. ed.

James Orr, (Chicago: Howard-Severance, 1915), 4:2146.

  • 2. Ralph H. Alexander, “raoy>” (yeor, Nile) in Theological Wordbook of the Old

Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody, 1980), §832; 1:357-58.

  • 3. John Ruffle, “Nile River” in Holman Bible Dictionary [HBD], gen. ed. Trent C. Butler

(Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 1024. Ruffle points out that some attribute the

Nile turning to red to a natural occurrence that happens “at the peak of the flood season in August when large numbers of tiny organisms turn the water red and could make it foul and undrinkable. It would also kill off the fish which would decompose and infest the frogs (the second plague) leading to successsive plauges of lice, flies, and pestilences. God may have used such natural conditions with His timing to plague Egypt.”

  • 4. For interpretations of this passage, see J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy, vol. 5

in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 5:171; and John D. W. Watts, “Deuteronomy” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 2 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), 234.

  • 5. Mack, “Nile,” 4:2146.

  • 6. Alexander, “raoy>”, §832; 1:357-58.

  • 7. C. E. DeVries, “Nile” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, gen. ed.

Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 4:437-38.

  • 8. John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books,

1997, 241.

  • 9. Jacobus Van Dijk, “Myth and Mythmaking in Ancient Egypt: The Myth of Osiris” in

Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. in chief Jack Sasson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 1702-1706; William S. LaSor, “Nile” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, gen. ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 536-37.

Daniel P. Caldwell is professor of religion and dean of the Cooper School of Missions and Biblical Studies,

William Carey University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

ETB: 1 John 3:7-19 Below: Man sift- ing grain. Cain’s offering to the Lord was produce

ETB: 1 John 3:7-19

ETB: 1 John 3:7-19 Below: Man sift- ing grain. Cain’s offering to the Lord was produce
ETB: 1 John 3:7-19 Below: Man sift- ing grain. Cain’s offering to the Lord was produce
ETB: 1 John 3:7-19 Below: Man sift- ing grain. Cain’s offering to the Lord was produce

Below: Man sift- ing grain. Cain’s offering to the Lord was produce that he had grown himself.



By Leon Hyatt, Jr.

F IRST JOHN 3:12 identifies Cain as “of the evil one” and says he killed his brother

because his evil works made him jeal- ous of his brother’s righteous works. Two other New Testament texts men- tion Cain, Hebrews 11:4 and Jude 11; the Jude passage lists him with others in the Old Testament who rebelled against God. Ancient extra-biblical writings, such as those of Josephus, 1 The Apocalypse of Abraham, 2 The Life of Adam and Eve, 3 and Pseudo- Philo, 4 either agree that Cain was evil or add questionable, sometimes fanciful, details. The only reliable information about Cain’s sinfulness outside the New Testament is in Genesis 4:3-24.

First Insincere Worshiper

The first action Scripture describes Cain performing was to worship God. Cain and his brother Abel came together to present offerings to God (Gen. 4:3-5). The name of their offerings came from a Hebrew word meaning “tribute.” 5 Cain and Abel were giving tribute to God in recognition that all of their posses- sions belonged to Him. Many years later, when Yahweh gave Moses instructions about the offerings, one of the five offerings He described had that same name (Lev. 2:1-16). God explained that the tribute offering was to consist of grain—whole or ground, raw or cooked. It usually accompanied the Hebrews’ gifts to God from the first produce of their harvest or the first-born of their herds or flocks and was hence called the offering of firstfruits. Cain and Abel brought to God a simpler form of that same offering to acknowledge that their produce was entrusted to them

by God’s goodness. When the first sons laid their offer- ings before God, the Lord accepted

First Murderer PUBLIC DOMAIN
First Murderer

When Cain did not repent and change his attitude, his sins multiplied. His wrong attitude toward God expanded into a wrong attitude toward his brother. Cain spoke to Abel, evidently in anger, and may have even blamed his brother for his predicament. 7 Cain’s resentment grew until, catching Abel in the field alone, he attacked and killed his brother (Gen. 4:8). First John 3:12 confirms that Cain’s murder of his brother grew out of his previous wrong relationship with God. God still did not respond to Cain in anger and punishment (vv. 9-15). Instead, He asked Cain where his brother was, giving him an oppor- tunity to confess and be forgiven. Cain did not confess but denied

Above: Bronze axe head from Ur. Tubal-cain, who was one of Cain’s descendants, was the first recorded in Scripture to make metal tools (Gen. 4:22).

Left: Painted ceramic plaque depicting musi- cians; found at Uruk in southern Mesopotamia, a possible site for the city of Enoch, which Cain built. The lady on the left plays a small drum and the man on the right, a flute.

Right: Ivory panel from the Cathedral of Salerno in Italy depicts God choosing Abel’s offering over Cain’s, Cain killing Abel, and God confronting Cain. Panel dates to about A.D. 1084.

Abel and his tribute offering but rejected Cain and his tribute offering. Many claim the problem with Cain’s offering was that he did not offer a blood offering. That suggestion almost surely is not accurate, because God later taught Moses that tribute offerings were to be made of grain. Genesis 4:3-4 reveals the defect was Cain presented “some of the land’s produce,” while Abel presented “the firstborn of his flock and their fat por- tions” (hcsb, emphasis added). Abel brought God his best. Cain did not. Cain’s inferior offering revealed an inferior respect for God and a lack of genuine gratitude. 6 Hebrews 11:4 sup- ports that explanation; it says Abel’s faith led him to offer “a more excel- lent sacrifice” than Cain (kjv). Cain’s inadequate offering to God reflected his inadequate faith in Him. Cain’s response to God rejecting his offering was to go about with his head bowed down in anger and resentment. Yahweh did not strike down Cain for being angry. Instead, He explained to Cain he could obtain His favor by doing the right thing, that is, by pre- senting the right kind of offering in the right attitude. He added, if Cain refused to worship in the right way, sin was crouch- ing at his door, ready to pounce on him. The Lord urged Cain to rule over that sin by resisting it.



Egyptian flutes made from bone and lyre from Ur decorated with a bull’s head. One of
Egyptian flutes
made from bone
and lyre from Ur
decorated with a
bull’s head. One
of Cain’s descen-
dants was Jubal,
“the father of all
who play the lyre
and the flute”
(Gen. 4:21, HCSB),
which many biblical
scholars take to
mean that he was
responsible for
the development
of early musical

knowing anything about where Abel was. God told Cain He knew all about what had happened and said the result was going to be Cain’s fields would no longer be fertile and productive. Sadly, Cain continued to resent and criticize God. He said his punishment was too harsh; oth- ers would hate him and kill him. When God judged Adam and Eve, they submitted and repented. By contrast, Cain continued to resist. God was gracious once more and put a mark on Cain to warn every- one who saw him they would be punished seven-fold if they took vengeance on Cain. Refusing to see God’s mercy in the way the Lord was dealing with him, Cain hard- ened his heart even more. He moved away from the rest of Adam’s fam- ily into the land of Nod. His move

expressed his determination to reject God’s word and go his own way.

First Kingdom Builder

Living in the land of Nod, Cain sought to avoid fulfilling God’s warning that he would be a wanderer in the earth. He built the world’s first city and named it after his first son, Enoch (vv. 16-17). No doubt, that first city was modest in comparison with later cities, but building a city was evidence that Cain and his fam- ily were helping populate the earth sufficiently to constitute a whole city. In those early days, sin had not yet severely weakened the fiber of humanity, so people lived much lon-

ger (6:3). Many surpassed 900 years. They had plenty of time to repro- duce and populate a small city while Adam and Eve still were alive.

In Cain’s city his family got busy using the talents God gave them to advance their way of life. In the sev- enth generation, Cain’s descendants had progressed enough that one broth- er became the first nomadic rancher, another the first inventor of musical instruments, and a third was the first smith to work with different kinds of metals (4:20-22). Unfortunately, at the same time they also greatly expanded their sinfulness and rebel- lion. Lamech, the father of those three inventive brothers, was the first polygamist. Further, he bragged to his wives about killing a young man who offended him and dared anyone to criticize him for it (vv. 23-24). Cain’s example led his family to build a civilization without God, and they were spiraling downward toward the monstrous tragedy that wiped out all humanity except one family, a tragedy that evidently engulfed the world during the lifetimes of Lamech and his three inventive sons. Cain is a dramatic example of the harsh real- ity that unchecked sin grows, spreads, and ultimately destroys. I

  • 1. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 1.2.1-2 in The

Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans.

William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 31.

  • 2. R. Rubinkiewicz, trans., “The Apocalypse of

Abraham” in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old

Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1983), ch. 24, vv. 4-5 (p. 701).

  • 3. M. D. Johnson, trans., “Life of Adam and Eve” in

Ibid., vol. 2 (1985), 264-67.

  • 4. D. J. Harrington, trans., “Pseudo-Philo” in Ibid.,

vol. 2, ch. 2, vv. 1-3 (p. 305); ch. 16, v. 2, (pp. 323-24).

  • 5. “hx'n>mi“ (mincha; tribute) in Francis Brown, S. R.

Driver, and Charles A Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 585. English versions of the Bible all copy each other in failing to communicate the distinctive meaning of the name of “tribute-offerings.” They hide the significance of the brothers’ worship experience by

substituting the generic term “offering” in Genesis 4:4-5.

  • 6. Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, vol. 1A in

The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman

and Holman, 1996), 267-68.

  • 7. James G. Murphy, A Commentary on the Book of

Genesis in Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (Grand Rapids:

Baker Book House, 1985), 153.

Leon Hyatt, Jr. is a retired Louisiana Baptist pastor and missions director, living in Pineville, Louisiana.


ISTOCK PHOTO BSFL: Book of Joshua Joshua had served Moses faithfully, but many perhaps wondered whether

BSFL: Book of Joshua

Joshua had served Moses faithfully, but many perhaps wondered whether Joshua could lead as well as Moses had.

ISTOCK PHOTO BSFL: Book of Joshua Joshua had served Moses faithfully, but many perhaps wondered whether



ISTOCK PHOTO BSFL: Book of Joshua Joshua had served Moses faithfully, but many perhaps wondered whether


By Bryan E. Beyer

J OSHUA SON OF NUN played a significant role in God’s purpose for Israel.

Under his leadership, the Israelites conquered Canaan and divided it among the tribes. However, we know little about the background of the man God used so mightily.

Joshua, the Man

Joshua’s name means “Yahweh has saved” or “Yahweh is salvation.” His name is thus related to the names Isaiah and Hosea, and the name Joshua was Jesus’ Hebrew name as well. (See the allusion to Jesus bringing salvation in Matt. 1:21.) The Pentateuch describes him only as “Joshua, son of Nun” or merely as “Joshua.” Joshua hailed from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8,16), and 1 Chronicles 7:20-27 provides more names from his family background, but yields little additional information.

By Bryan E. Beyer J OSHUA SON OF NUN played a significant role in God’s purpose

Above: Area of the Wadi Feiran, which is west of Mount Sinai and the site of the Sinai’s larg- est oasis. Wadi Feiran was known

in Scripture as Rephidim and was the home of the Amalekites. Joshua led the Israelites in a battle against the Amalekites at


Rephidim. As long as Moses’ arms were uplifted, the Israelites were successful in the battle. Hur and Aaron helped hold up Moses’ arms.

Joshua’s Life Before the Conquest

The Bible first mentions Joshua in Exodus 17 after the Israelites had left Egypt. The people warred against the Amalekites, a nomadic group in the region, and Joshua led Israel against them and defeated them (Ex. 17:9-14). The Book of Exodus also places Joshua with Moses at Mount Sinai when Moses was receiving God’s com- mandments (24:12-13; 32:17). After his experience at Sinai, Joshua also appeared at Moses’ side after Moses

Left: A Jewish rabbi blowing the shofar. God instructed the children of Israel to march around

were to circle the city seven times. Then the priests were to blow their shofars and the city wall would fall.

of Jericho; in the background is the Jordan River Valley. Jericho was the first city Joshua and the

the city of Jericho once a day for six days. On the seventh day, they

Below: Mound that is the site of the ancient city

Israelites con- quered as they came into the promised land.

spoke with God face-to-face at the tent of meeting (33:11). Clearly God was already preparing Joshua for future leadership. Joshua also served as one of the 12 men Moses sent to spy out Canaan (Num. 13:8,16). When the spies returned from their mission, 10 gave the people a bad report about the land (vv. 31-33). They did not believe that God, who had brought them so far, could give them the promised land (Heb. 3:19). Only Joshua and Caleb stood firm in their conviction that God would help Israel take the land despite the challenges (Num. 14:6-9). The unbelieving generation received God’s judgment and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until all those who were 20 years of age and older died (vv. 28-35). Joshua and Caleb lived on because of the faith they had shown in God’s prom- ise. One can only imagine their pain as they waited


an additional 40 years to receive their inheritance (Num. 14:30; Josh. 14:7,10).

Joshua’s Work

Most of what we know about Joshua’s life and work comes from the book that bears his name. 1 God earlier had designated Joshua as Moses’ successor (Num. 27:18-23); and before Moses died, the Lord re- commissioned Joshua (Deut. 31:14,23). God did not allow Moses to enter the promised land due to his sin at Meribah (Num. 20:11-13). Joshua had served Moses faithfully, but many per- haps wondered whether Joshua could lead as well as Moses had. The Book of Joshua highlights the steps God took to ensure Israel saw His hand on His new leader. 2 First, God appeared to Joshua after Moses’ death, reassured Joshua of his mission, and promised to be with Joshua wherever he went (Josh. 1:1-9). Second, God parted the waters of the Jordan for Joshua, just as He had parted the waters of the sea for Moses (3:7-17; cf. Ex. 14:15-22). The Israelites certainly would have made this connection in their minds. Third, the Lord appeared to Joshua through a heavenly messenger (Josh. 5:13-15). God instructed Joshua to remove his sandals, just as He had instructed Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:5).

Joshua’s work essentially involved two purposes:

conquer the land of Canaan and allot it to Israel’s tribes. The conquest of Canaan included three major campaigns: a central campaign, a southern cam- paign, and a northern campaign. 3 These campaigns lasted approximately five to six years altogether (Josh. 14:7,10); and as they concluded, Israel had achieved effective control of Canaan, though some groups of people remained in the land (13:2-7). 4 The central campaign began with the famous battle of Jericho, in which God caused the city wall to col- lapse so Israel’s army could take the city (6:12-21). After a temporary setback at Ai due to Achan’s sin (7:1-26), the Israelites took Ai and Bethel (8:1-29). The Gibeonites, who lived in a major city on Canaan’s central plateau, acted deceitfully and secured a cov- enant with Joshua and Israel’s leaders, who failed to consult the Lord on this important matter (9:3-16). Nonetheless, this treaty meant Joshua had achieved control of the central plateau without a fight, and in doing so, had effectively cut the land in half, isolating northern and southern Canaan. A southern coalition of kings recognized the threat Joshua posed and moved quickly to attack Gibeon (10:1-5). Joshua responded with a surprise attack at dawn after marching through the night to the edge of the plateau (v. 9). During the battle, God caused the sun to stand still all day. 5 Joshua and his army routed the coalition and then extended the battle southward, conquering the major cities and towns (10:16-43).

Left: Gate at Hazor, which was the larg- est city in northern Canaan. Hazor’s King Jabin rallied the northern cities to oppose Joshua. The Israelites, though, were suc- cessful; they killed the Canaanite lead- ers and burned the city of Hazor.

Below: Valley of Aijalon; when bat- tling the Amorites here, Joshua asked God for a miracle. The Lord lengthened the day, allowing the Israelites to defeat their enemies (Josh. 10:12-14).








(1550–1200 B.C.)

3 2 1
7 6

“About 40,000 [Israelites] equipped for war crossed to the plains of Jericho in the LORD’s presence” (Josh.

an idea about the military equipment the Israelites may have used.

1. Bronze arrow- head; from Tel Dan;

fragment from Urartu. The relief illustrates the “tree of life” flanked by priests.

Bronze quiver


with no handle, and sword dat- ing from the Late Bronze Age II (1400–1200 B.C.).

Bronze dagger,


4:13, HCSB). These

Late Bronze Age


Hittite sickle


Bronze Hittite

objects give us

(1550–1200 B.C.).


helmet from Urartu.


Duck bill axe





  • 7. (551/15)

Chisel-axe head.









YORK (355/20A)













To the north, Jabin, king of Hazor, assembled another coalition of kings to face Joshua (11:1-5). God again gave Joshua success as Israel’s army defeated the coalition and then pressed the battle throughout the northern territory’s cities and towns (vv. 7-23). Israel had achieved effective control of the promised land (12:1-24). The task now remained for Joshua to lead Israel in allocating the land (chs. 13–21). Individual tribes would assume responsibility for removing the remaining people groups (13:1-7). Joshua, accompanied by Eleazar

the priest and Israel’s elders, oversaw the division of the land (14:1). Fittingly, Caleb, who along with Joshua had believed God’s promise (Num. 14:6-9,30), received the first recorded allotment (Josh. 14:6-14). The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had received Moses’ and Joshua’s blessing to settle east of the Jordan (Num. 32:29-30; Josh. 1:12-15). Joshua and Israel’s leaders then allotted territory to the tribes of Judah (15:1-63) and Ephraim (16:1-10); Manasseh also received territory in Canaan because it was a large tribe (17:1-18).

Left: Part of the western gate at Lachish, looking toward the outside

of the city. In the conquest, Lachish was allotted to the tribe of Judah.

land to help Israel achieve victory. Third, he was a man of faith. He persevered for 45 years as he await- ed the fulfillment of God’s promise (14:7,10). 6 He also expressed his faith publicly on many occasions and led the Israelites in renewing their faith pledge to God (3:5-6; 6:16; 8:30-35; chs. 23–24). All leaders have weaknesses. Joshua’s failure to consult the Lord on the treaty with the Gibeonites resulted in some questioning his leadership (9:18). Why Joshua failed to consult the Lord on such an important matter is unclear. Joshua also may have demonstrated a momentary lack of faith when he wondered why God had not helped Israel at the battle against Ai (7:7-9). All in all, however, Joshua followed the Lord faithfully.

Joshua’s Legacy Israel served God faithfully throughout Joshua’s days and during the period of the elders who survived him (24:31). Joshua led Israel in renewing the covenant dur- ing the conquest (8:30-35); and at the end of his life, he again reminded God’s people that their future lay in faithful obedience to God and His commandments (24:25-27). 7 Joshua’s legacy even has touched many Christian families today, who have Joshua’s famous words adorning their homes: “As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh” (24:15, hcsb). I

  • 1. See Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian

Survey, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 167-79.

  • 2. David M. Howard, Jr., Joshua, vol. 5 in The New American Commentary (Nashville:

Broadman & Holman, 1998), 62.

  • 3. Arnold and Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament, 172-76.

  • 4. Donald H. Madvig, “Joshua” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank

E. Gaebelein, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 311.

  • 5. Arnold and Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament, 174.

  • 6. “The time periods referred to in vv. 7 and 10 give us an insight into the period

of time covered by most of the Book of Joshua. Israel was sentenced to forty years of wandering in the wilderness after the spies came back with their report (Num 14:33-34).


Joshua then gathered all of the people to Shiloh, where the Levites set up the tabernacle (18:1). Joshua sent delegates throughout the land to survey it, after which he distributed the land to the remaining tribes by lot (18:4-10). The leaders also gave Joshua a portion within Ephraim (19:49-50). Joshua designated 6 cities of refuge (20:1-9) and 48 cities (including the cities of refuge) as Levitical cities so the Levites could live among the people and instruct them in God’s ways (21:1-42). Joshua’s actions fulfilled Moses’ instructions and highlighted the continuation of God’s purpose for His people (20:2; 21:2). Joshua’s final speeches reveal his spiritual commit- ment (chs. 23–24). In the first, Joshua encouraged the people to remain faithful; God had given them the land, and He would continue to help them settle it (23:3-5). If they trusted in God, He would bring blessing; if they turned from Him, He would bring judgment (vv. 14-16). In the second speech, Joshua surveyed Israel’s history, beginning with Abraham down to the conquest. He called on God’s people to affirm the covenant and to commit themselves totally to the Lord (24:1-15).

Joshua’s Strengths and Weaknesses

The Lord gave Joshua many strengths. First, he was a good leader; the people saw God’s hand on him and fol- lowed him. Second, he was a good general. He remem- bered the land well from when he surveyed it as one

of Israel’s 12 spies, and he used his knowledge of the

Verse 10 shows that forty-five years had elapsed since the time of this sentence, so the

conquest to date had occupied some five years


  • 7. Ibid., 445-46.

From Howard, Joshua, 329.

Bryan E. Beyer is associate provost and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina.


ETB: Letters of John

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ MIKE RUTHERFORD (57/0263) ETB: Letters of John “ C h i l d r



Egyptian children

playing marbles.


By C. Mack Roark

W HAT CAN WE know about the rela- tionship between

John the apostle and those who read his three letters? From a reading of these epistles, we can know some- thing of the issues John addressed, but how did he regard the readers? Within the letters is a clue to that relationship and to its meaning for both writer and reader. The clue is in the words John chose to address and identify his readers. One can learn much about the relationship between correspondents by reading their letters and noticing the way they address one another, from the formal “Dear Sir” to the personal “Dearest One.” John could have called his readers “Christians,” but the New Testament never uses the word “Christian” as a term of address. 1 New Testament writers used several other significant words for addressing the recipients of their letters, each for distinctive reasons:

“brothers,” “saints,” “believers,” “beloved,” “friends,” and in John’s letters “little children.” John had at his disposal the language of the classroom (disciples), the language of friendship (friends, beloved), and the language of religion (saints). In fact, some of these terms John did use. For instance, he used “beloved” 10 times (1 John 2:7; 3:2,21; 4:1,7,11; 3 John 1,2,5,11). He used “brother” 18 times in his epistles, but only once as a term of address (1 John 3:13). This may have been because of the clustering of the word “broth- er” in verses 10-17, where 8 of the 15 occurrences of the word in the letter are located. 2 Twice John spoke of “young men” (1 John 2:13,14). Additionally, two times (vv. 14,18) he used a Greek word for “chil- dren” (paidion) that occurs often in the Synoptic Gospels, but elsewhere

Right: Located 4 miles from Jerusalem, the vil- lage of Ein Karem was the hometown of
Right: Located
4 miles from
Jerusalem, the vil-
lage of Ein Karem
was the hometown
of Elizabeth and
Zachariah. Shown
is a lady kneeling
at the altar in the
Church of John the
Baptist where John
was supposedly
Right: Dated to
about 2477 B.C.,
a terra-cotta figu-
rine of children
playing leap
frog. Egyptians
buried figurines
depicting servants
and scenes of every-
day life to ensure
the deceased would
have assistance
and could
enjoy the

only once in Paul and three times in Hebrews. 3 A different word for chil- dren, though, was evidently even more important to John as he wrote his letters. Significantly, John chose the lan- guage of family when addressing his recipients, as did Paul. Where Paul, though, typically used the word “brothers,” viewing his readers in a sibling relationship, John, viewing his readers in a parent-child relation- ship, used a Greek term unique to his writings in the New Testament, “little children” (Greek, teknion). It is the diminutive form of the word for “children” (teknon). 4 Both Greek words are built from a verb mean- ing “give birth to” or “beget.” The Gospels of Matthew and Luke used the verb, for instance, for the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. An

examination of John’s use of these two related terms, “children” and “little children,” gives a strong hint of how he thought of his readers. Teknon—When John spoke about his readers (not to them), they were God’s children (teknon), begot- ten of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18; also 3:1,2,10; 5:2). Although elsewhere the New Testament describes Christians as God’s chil- dren, with God as their Father, only in John do we see this expression “begotten of God.” John wanted to make clear that the believer shares God’s nature. 5 Teknion—In contrast, when John spoke to his readers, not about them, they were teknion, “little children,” a term of direct address. This indicated that John considered his readers to be his spiritual children—even if he had not led them to faith in Christ him- self. 6 As mentioned above, teknion is the diminutive form of the word teknon. Diminutives, then and now, often refer not to size, but rather express affection, familiarity, close- ness, or endearment, not unlike our use of Daddy for Dad, Mommy for Mom, Bobby for Bob, Suzy for Sue.


Most translators of the New Testament used the term “little chil- dren” to render teknion, but those who used “dear children” may have been closer to what John was say- ing. 7 This word takes the read- er beyond friendship or brotherly affection to the intimate relation- ship of parent and child. This term occurs only eight times in the New Testament, and all are in John’s writings. For instance, John records in his Gospel, how, as Jesus pre- pared His disciples for His absence,

he called them “dear children” (John 13:33). The remaining seven occurrences are in 1 John (2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21). John made clear that he was speaking to them as a loving parent to his own children, dear to him. 8 This sounds much like Paul, who, although he did not use the diminutive, spoke of the Corinthians as “my dear children” and of himself as having fathered them in Christ (1 Cor. 4:14-15). John’s referring to his readers as his “dear children” speaks volumes

Beginning of the prologue of the Book of John from the Martyr’s Bible. The Bible belonged to Richard Hunne and was in his posses- sion when he was martyred in 1514 for his support of an English Bible.

about his closeness to them and the intent of his letter. He wrote not simply as a pastor, or as a friend, or even as a brother in Christ, but as a parent, a spiritual parent with the responsibilities and concerns any parent has. This is especially significant when we notice that the ethic of love permeates the letters; it is the dominant ethic. 9 The call and command to love has an even greater force when seen through this perspective (see 1 John 3:10-18; 4:7-12,16-21). Similarly the warn- ings about sin (1:8; 2:1-2; 3:4-10), the warnings about false doctrine (2:18-28; 4:1-6), the assurance of forgiveness (1:9; 2:1-2), and the assurance of salvation (5:13) are more compelling and authorita- tive coming from a loving father to his dear children. I


The word “Christian” appears only three times

in the New Testament; it is never as a term of address:

Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16.


The word for “sister” occurs once (2 John 13)

where it likely refers to a church, as “elect lady” probably does in 2 John 1. See Hans-Josef Klauck, Ancient Letters and the New Testament (Waco: Baylor Univ. Press,

2006), 29-30. 4. C. Ruth
2006), 29-30.

3. See 1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 2:13,14; 11:23. Concerning the Greek term paidion, 43 of its 52 occurrences are in Matthew, Mark or Luke. John’s Gospel has this word at 4:49; 16:21; 21:5.

Interestingly, only in Galatians 4:19 does Paul use

the term “children” to address his readers directly, probably because he then immediately spoke of being in the pains of childbirth “until Christ is formed in you” (HCSB). 5. In 2 John 1,4, and 13, John used “children” appar- ently to refer to church members; and in 3 John 4 he used the term to refer to his own converts or disciples. 6. Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, vol. 30 in The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 214. 7. “Little children”: KJV, RSV, NASB, HCSB; “children”: GNT, Phillips; “dear children”: NIV. 8. For an interesting, if apocryphal, account of John as father figure to his dis- ciples, see Clement of Alexandria, The Rich Man’s Salvation 42; Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical

Right: Ceramic vase in the form of a woman and child; dated from Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, 1450- 1400 B.C.


History II.23.6-19 repeats the story. 9. The language of love–noun, verb, or adjec- tive–occurs 62 times in the letters.


Roark is












Shawnee, Oklahoma.





ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ TGP: Isaiah 58:6-7; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8; Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting Fasting Fasting BY LYNN

TGP: Isaiah 58:6-7; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8; Matthew 6:16-18



ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ TGP: Isaiah 58:6-7; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8; Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting Fasting Fasting BY LYNN




  • L ONG BEFORE ITS MODERN POPULARITY as a method of dieting or improving one’s sense of wellbeing, fasting was a common practice for

many primitive peoples. Reasons and motivations for fasting varied. Some ancient cultures fasted out of a desire to show a penitent spirit, to prepare for a com- munity rite or special occasions, for personal purifica- tion, or to establish an altered physical state induc- ing a hoped-for dream or “vision.” 1 Because it

involved both personal and community dimen- sions, some form or practice of fasting was part of every major religion. In fact, in some cultures, fasting predated the development of a formal religion. 2

Biblical examples of fasting appear in two main forms. Individuals fasted, usually prompted by extreme desire or distress; and communities or nations fasted to mark significant events or crises.

Individual Fasts From the viewpoint of pagan cultures, individual fasting referred to a person’s refusal to eat or drink, motivated by a desire to earn a special merit. It is not starvation due to a scarcity of food, but a voluntary act of abstaining from food (and/or drink) in order to demonstrate or achieve a personal purity or strength. 3 Biblical examples of individual fasting, however, almost always involve an encounter with the divine; such fasting “is a person’s whole-body, natural response


Bottom left:

Communal fasting

included wearing


Right: Locusts. Local communities could call for a fast when facing dire circumstances such as pestilence, a lack of rainfall, or other calamities.

Below: In Jerusalem, the annual celebration of Purim, which commemorates God using Esther to rescue the Jews.


ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ MICAH KANDROS (35/93/2) Bottom left: Communal fasting included wearing sackcloth. Right: Locusts. Local communities

to life’s sacred moments” (emphasis mine). 4 Such a fast first appears in Moses’ experience at Mount Sinai. While receiv- ing the Ten Commandments, “Moses was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 nights; he did not eat bread or drink water” (Ex. 34:28). 5 Although the text does not use the Hebrew word for “fast” (tsuwm—liter- ally meaning “to cover the mouth”), 6 the pas- sage nonetheless describes a “fast” experience. Moses later repeated the experience as he pleaded on Israel’s behalf: “I did not eat bread or drink water because of all the sin you committed” (Deut. 9:18). Individuals also fasted during times of anguish and hurt too deep for words alone to express. 7 Such

fasts illustrated the “affliction of the body” (Hebrew—

innah nefesh literally, “afflict the body,” which is also

translated “fast”) that a person felt.


Individual fast-

ing also can: show expressions of humility, as when King Ahab of Israel humbled himself before God (1 Kings 21:27); reflect a deep grief, as when Nehemiah mourned Jerusalem’s condition (Neh. 1:4); or accompa- ny a desire for divine direction, as when Daniel sought understanding (Dan. 9:3). This type of fasting hardly ever occurs apart from prayer; 9 the individual feels so “overwhelmed” and thus gives up food in order to make an entreaty to God, as King David who “pleaded with God” over the life of his son (2 Sam. 12:16-23). 10 Intense individual fasts could leave a person weak kneed and “emaciated” (Ps. 109:24).

Communal Fasts

As was the case with individual fasting, communal (or national) fasts marked significant moments or times of crisis, as when the people of Nineveh heeded Jonah’s warnings and entered into a national fast (Jonah 3:5-8). The Talmud (a record of rabbinic teachings) shows communal fasts were not always nationwide; elders of any local community could call for a fast when the locals faced dire circumstances such as pestilence, a lack of rainfall, or other calamities. 11 Nationwide communal fasts followed a set calendar of “fast days,” which either the Torah decreed (such as the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the month of Tishri; Lev. 16:29-31; 23:27-32), or that became part of the calendar of ritual fasting commemorating sig- nificant, historical events. For instance, the “Ninth of Av” marked the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (Jer. 52:12-13); the “Seventeenth of Tammuz” mourned the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem (39:2); the “Tenth



of Tevet” marked the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1-2; Ezek. 24:1-2); the “Third of Tishri” commemorated the death of Gedaliah (Jer. 41:1-2; 2 Kings 25:25); and the “Fast of Esther” recalled the queen fasting before she entered King Ahasuerus’s presence and intervened for the Jews (Esth. 4:16). Of these ancient communal fasts, the ones related to the Day of Atonement and the temple’s destruction (the “Ninth of Av”) remain the most observed; the others have little following in modern Judaism. 12 Communal fasts were also spontaneous in nature, as when mourning for a fallen leader as in the death of Saul (1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Sam. 1:12; 1 Chron. 10:12), or celebrating deliverance from catastrophe (Esth. 9:31). Israel’s fast prior to doing battle with the tribe of

Below: Hilltop ris-

the Philistines

bury them here.

ing in the distance is Jabesh-gilead. Saul delivered the people of Jabesh- gilead from the Ammonites. The people never for- got the king’s kind- ness. Thus when

slew King Saul and his sons and hung their bodies on the walls of Beth-shan, the men of Jabesh-gilead marched all night in order to retrieve the bodies and

Bottom: Column bases with ped- estals from the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem, dat- ing to the period of Herod’s Temple (20 B.C.–A.D. 70).

Benjamin (Judg. 20:26) suggests communal fasting was well established as early as the twelfth century b.c. 13 The method of communal fasts changed little throughout the observances recorded in the Bible. The main features of the communal fast ritual included pray- ing openly, confessing one’s sins, publicly reading the Torah, and displaying humility by tearing one’s clothes

and wearing sackcloth and ashes (1 Kings 21:27; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13; Isa. 58:5; Joel 2:13). Ordinary “fast days” were from dusk to dawn, but important fasts (such as the Day of Atonement) lasted for 24 hours. 14 Given the number of “fast days” and the practice of calling for fasts in response to localized crises, the prac- tice of communal fasts evidently grew to an overwhelm- ing number. The Babylonian Talmud specifies when “public fasts must not be ordered to commence.” 15 As the frequency of such fasts increased, the sincerity of those participating in them evidently waned. Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 58:6-7 and Joel 2:12-13 voice this concern. The rabbis acknowledged the sincerity under- lying the practice of fasting as being crucial, explaining that God did not see the “sackcloth and fasting” of the people of Nineveh, but saw “they were turning away


their evil path.” 16 Similarly, Jesus’ teaching on

fasting did not prohibit fasting; instead He required that fasting be rooted in a sincere desire to draw closer to

God, apart from selfish motivations (Matt. 6:16-18). I

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRENT BRUCE (60/8021) ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ KEN TOUCHTON (1/8/19) of Tevet” marked the Babylonian siege
  • 1. David Lambert, “Fasting as a Penitential Rite: A Biblical Phenomenon?” Harvard

Theological Review 96, no. 4 (October 2003): 477.

  • 2. Eric N. Rogers, Fasting: The Phenomenon of Self-Denial (Nashville: Thomas Nelson,

1976), 27.

  • 3. Ibid., 31-32.

  • 4. Scot McKnight, Fasting (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xiv.

  • 5. Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian

Standard Bible (HCSB).

  • 6. Hebrew/Aramaic Dictionary #6684: tsuwm— “tsoom; a prim. root: to cover over

(the mouth), i.e. to fast.” James Strong, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 498

  • 7. Lambert, “Fasting as a Penitential Rite,” 480.

  • 8. “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Fast Days,” Jewish Virtual Library [online; accessed

  • 16 July 2014]. Available from the Internet:


  • 9. Lambert, “Fasting as a Penitential Rite,” 479.

    • 10. McKnight, Fasting, 60. The Old Testament describes two others as not eating dur-

ing times of personal distress. Upset at her barren condition, Hannah did not eat while at

the tabernacle, which was in Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:1-8). And centuries later, Ahab could not eat after Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to the king (1 Kings 21:1-4). Hannah’s not eating may have been a genuinely religious fast, whereas Ahab’s actions seem to be merely a display of royal pouting over not having gotten his way!

  • 11. Tractate Taanit, Chapter 3 (pp. 47-48). Jewish Virtual Library [online; accessed

  • 16 July 2014]. Available from the Internet:


  • 12. “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Fast Days.”

  • 13. Josiah Derby, “Fasting and Atonement,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 23, no. 4

(1995): 240.

  • 14. “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Fast Days.”

  • 15. Tractate Taanit, Chapter 2 (p. 49).

  • 16. Lambert,“Fasting as a Penitential Rite,” 502.

Lynn O. Traylor is pastor of Buckner Baptist Church, LaGrange, Kentucky.










BSFL: Nehemiah 1


A pottery figure of a foreigner who came to Judea while the Jews were in captiv- ity in Babylon. Aramaic writing on the base of the figure suggests the individual had a Mediterranean background. One of the problems the returnees faced was the reaction of those who had inhabited the land while the Jews were in captivity.

The Audience Palace of Cyrus the Great at ancient Pasargadae (in modern Iran) had these jambs. This one has a figure of a bull-man and a fish-man. These figures may represent Cyrus’s religious toleration. Cyrus’s son and succes- sor, Cambyses II moved the capital from Pasargadae to Susa.


The Audience Palace of Cyrus the Great at ancient Pasargadae (in modern Iran) had these jambs.



T HIS SOARING AND stirring rhetoric concluded Martin Luther King, Jr.’s

“I Have a Dream” speech of 1963. Dr. King was looking forward to a day of freedom that all Americans,

regardless of race, could experience. In 538 b.c., the Israelites rejoiced at their day of freedom from Babylonian captivity. Their exile

was over. They could return home to their beloved Jerusalem. Life in Babylon had been a struggle. After the Persians conquered Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree allow- ing the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem. What would they find upon their arrival? The Babylonians had destroyed the city and the temple, and the city walls were in

Right: The Cyrus Cylinder records the capture of Babylon; Mid-late 6th century B.C. Cuneiform script.


disrepair. The Jewish people prob- ably dreaded the possibility of their neighbors harassing and tormenting them after their return. Perhaps the returnees found skeletal remains of ancestors who had not been prop- erly buried after the Babylonian invasion. One can only wonder. Some have wondered if this return from exile actually hap- pened. An archaeological artifact, the Cyrus Cylinder, provides cor- roboration of Cyrus decreeing that the Jews could return to their homeland. Persia’s King Cyrus II reigned 550-530 b.c. and produced the cylinder chronicling some of the events of his reign. While the cylinder’s text does not mention



Jerusalem or the Jews by name, it does indicate that King Cyrus had a tolerant policy toward conquered peoples and offered to restore their religious sanctuaries. According to the cylinder, King Cyrus made the following claim regarding holy cit- ies “whose sanctuaries had been in ruins over a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them, I returned to their places and housed them in lasting abodes. I gathered together all their inhab- itants and restored to them their dwellings.” 1 This return from exile actually occurred. Surely the Jews’ hearts were filled with joy as they realized this was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy from God to return the people of Israel to their


Above: Persian gold daric dated to about 450 B.C. “Daric” comes from “dara,” which means “king.” The daric is one of the few coins the Old Testament men- tions.

promised land after 70 years of captivity (Jer. 29:10; see 25:11-12). Of course, their new life was different from what they experi- enced under the Davidic kingship. The Davidic kingship had ended; in its stead, a governor the Persians appointed ruled over the Jews. The returnees had to answer to their Persian rulers and seek their approval before beginning any building projects. The Jews had the freedom to reinstitute the worship of Yahweh, celebrating the appointed feasts and Sabbaths as the Law commanded; but had they really learned to refrain from idolatry? Some Jews did; they became overzealous of the Law, add- ing to the Lord’s commandments, perhaps with the desire never to return to idolatry. These were the forerunners of the Pharisees. In con- trast, others intermarried with their pagan neighbors, probably for finan- cial or political reasons. The wives from these other nations introduced foreign deities, and the children of these unions turned to

idolatry. Whatever lessons the Jews had learned, each new generation after the exile seemingly faced simi- lar temptations as had the last, and each generation failed to meet the challenge in various ways and had to relearn the lessons of the previ- ous generation. Yet God was still gracious to them. The Jews returned to their home- land in three waves, and God’s hand was evident in each one. Zerubbabel, who was the leader of the tribe of Judah, led the first wave in 538 b.c. This Zerubbabel was also a descendant of King David and of the imprisoned king named Jehoiachin (Jeconiah). The returnees found the temple in ruins, homes devastated, and Jerusalem’s walls in shambles. King Cyrus, who allowed the return, had commanded the Hebrews’ Persian neighbors to give the Jews “silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4). 2 The Jews received many gifts as they began

Artist’s rendering of a synagogue. The area on the left was where the Jewish congregation gath- ered for worship. The adjoining room is thought to be a classroom where the Torah was taught.


ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ DAVID ROGERS/ BRITISH MUSEUM/ LONDON (557/33) their return; Cyrus also returned a vast amount

their return; Cyrus also returned a vast amount of temple treasures to the Jews, articles of gold and silver numbering 5,400 (1:11). The Jews came with many supplies in hand, but not enough for the challenges ahead. They also had to trust God. What types of challenges did the Jews face?

Where to Live

Many of the returnees lived in Jerusalem. Since farming was the most common vocation, others lived in the surrounding country, close to Jerusalem. The apportion- ment of property likely was based on genealogical considerations (as inheritance of property was based on tribal affiliation), deeds, or other documentation of family ownership that may have been preserved. Other property assign- ments would have been based on the personal recollections of those old enough to remember their for- mer homes and on the guidance and decisions Zerubbabel and his associates made. Of course, some people’s previous homes or farms may have been inhab- ited by those currently residing in the Jerusalem area. If so, the returning Jews likely had to find

someplace else to live. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they took many of the Jews captive. Some Jews who remained in the land, however, later abandoned their homes and fled to Egypt. Thus, the homes of many Jews, if not destroyed, had fallen into disre- pair. Restoring all of these homes was a huge challenge.

Handling Conflicts

Immediately upon returning to Jerusalem in 538 b.c., the Jews built an altar so they could resume present- ing burnt offerings according to the Law of Moses. They also celebrat- ed the Feast of Booths. In the sec- ond year of their return, workers laid the foundation of the temple, amidst great celebration (Ezra 3:1-13). Then the Jews’ adversaries hindered the temple reconstruction by send- ing letters to the king of Persia, let- ters that misrepresented the work in Jerusalem. As a result, about 17 years lapsed before work on the temple resumed. During this time, the Jews focused on building their own homes (Hag. 1:2-4). Finally, the Lord led the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir up God’s people to finish rebuilding the Jerusalem temple (Ezra 5:1-2). Tattenai was the governor of Samaria, an area also known as the Trans-Euphrates. Likely intent on putting a stop to the rebuilding, he requested that Persia’s King Darius (ruled 522–486 b.c.) determine if his predecessor King Cyrus had autho- rized the rebuilding of the temple (vv. 3-17). When Darius discovered that Cyrus indeed had issued such a decree, Tattenai’s efforts backfired miserably. The rebuilding effort continued, funded with tax reve- nues from Tattenai’s region. Darius decreed, “Their [the Jews’] expens- es are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-euphrates, so that the work

will not stop” (6:8, niv). The Jews finished rebuilding the temple, called “Zerubbabel’s Temple,” in 516/515 b.c. amidst great rejoicing. God honored Zerubbabel by declaring, “ ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,’ declares the Lord, ‘and

I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you’ ” (Hag. 2:23). These words may indicate that Zerubbabel would serve as a type for the Messiah. According to 2 Kings 17:24, the Assyrians (who had conquered Israel in 722 b.c.) brought in foreign- ers from Babylon and other areas to live in the land of Israel. Many of these people likely settled in the area of Judea after the Jews were taken into captivity. The Assyrians took one of the Jewish priests into captivity but later returned him to Bethel, in Israel. In spite of his presence, idolatry continued among the inhabitants. They claimed to worship Yahweh but had a bent towards idolatry. As a result, they did not fear God (2 Kings 17:34). This mixed group of people would be called “Samaritans.” These peo- ple opposed the Jews’ rebuilding work. Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s later attempts to lead the Hebrew men to divorce their pagan wives further drove a wedge between the Jews and their neighbors. In 458 b.c., Ezra led a second group of Jews back to the land of Israel under the leading of God and the blessing of Persia’s king. Many Jews in Israel had intermarried with the pagan people around them and were practicing idolatry. In response, Ezra tore his garment and his robe, pulled some of the hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled (Ezra 9:3). Many of the Jews who also were appalled at their fellow- Jews’ disobedience joined Ezra in his prayer of confession before the Lord (9:4–10:1). The nation was in danger of reverting to idolatry. Doing so would mean facing God’s judgment again. A leader named Shecaniah proposed a solution for the inter- marriage problem; he suggested the Jewish men divorce their pagan


Above: Ruins of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. The return- ees encountered Samaritans living in
Above: Ruins of
the Samaritan
temple on Mount
Gerizim. The return-
ees encountered
Samaritans living
in this area who
claimed a loyalty
to Yahweh but who
also worshiped
other gods. A
strong division
developed between
Samaritans and the
Jews who were
loyal to God.
Left: Interior of a
reconstructed four-
room house typical
of those found in
ancient Israel.
Upper left: From
Sippur, a deed
recording the sale
of a piece of land;
from the Early
Dynastic Period
(mid-3rd millennium
B.C.); the language
is Akkadian.

wives. Shecaniah indicated he and others would support Ezra in call- ing the people to make this difficult decision (10:2-4). Ezra led the people to make this covenant. Intermarriage with for- eigners was not forbidden if that person had come to faith in Yahweh. The resultant revival of true worship that Ezra led was exceptional—albeit

short-lived. Within a generation of Ezra, the intermarriage with pagans and the resulting idolatry would again be an issue. Nehemiah returned in the third wave in 445 b.c. with the leading of God and the king’s blessing. Although he came to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he ended up reor- dering Hebrew society. When he

heard of Jews marrying pagans, his approach was quite different from Ezra’s. Nehemiah 13:25 says, “So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.’ ” Ezra had pulled out his hair; Nehemiah pulled out their hair! Nehemiah led the Jews to com- pletely restore the wall around Jerusalem, plus he encouraged social and political reforms, emphasizing a return to the true faith as taught in the Old Testament. By no means, however, were Jewish conflicts with the Samaritans and other neighbors resolved. Animosity between Jews and Samaritans continued for years.

Jewish Government

How would a foreign king’s rule compare with that of a national king ? Before the Babylonian exile, the Jews had lived under the rule of their own kings for about 450 years. The king was accountable to God. After returning to their homeland, the Jews lived under the rule of a governor whom the king of Persia appointed; the governor answered


Excavations in Jerusalem unearthed this base of a small tower and a portion of Nehemiah’s wall.
in Jerusalem
unearthed this base
of a small tower
and a portion of
Nehemiah’s wall.

to the king. Evidence of this change was apparent when the Jews’ ene- mies persuaded the Persian king to halt the Jews’ work on the temple for 17 years during Zerubbabel’s gov- ernorship. By the grace of God, the Persian monarch did provide the Jews a great deal of religious free- dom during this time, but the Jews did not have political autonomy.

Changing Religious Practices

One of the greatest changes in Jewish religious practices during and after the exile was the growth and promi- nence of the synagogue. While in captivity, the Jews were unable to worship at the temple, so they met in smaller groups and worshiped under the leading of rabbis. After the return, the Jews strayed from the truth of God’s Word, especially in the area of interfaith marriages (Ezra 9:1-4; 10:2,10). Additionally, the Jews likely adopted the Aramaic language as long as they were in Babylon, although they continued to study Hebrew. As a result, Hebrew may have not been the Jew’s native lan- guage after the exile. This is likely the case since Nehemiah 8:2-3 says Ezra read to the assembly, “all who

could listen with understanding” and similarly, “those who could understand,” and all the people were attentive. Nehemiah 8:8 indi- cates that the Levites read from the Law to the people, “translating [or explaining] to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” The development of the synagogue like- ly had roots in the pre-exilic period, but studying the Hebrew language to better understand God’s Word had become essential. Two factors indicate that the priests likely had greater author- ity in Israel after the exile: the loss of a centralized ruler, meaning a national king and the rise of the synagogues’ importance. How did this play out in the fortunes of the Jews? The answer to that ques- tion all depended on the character of the priest. Joshua (or Jeshua) the son of Jehozadak (or Jozadak), who returned as high priest after the exile, found favor with God (Zech. 3; 6:9-14); however, some of his sons married foreign women (Ezra 10:18). Such priestly mis- conduct seemed to be rampant, as both Nehemiah and Malachi had to address the priests’ sins (Neh. 13:4-9; Mal. 1:6–2:9).






for God led to the people’s loss

of respect for Him as well. The result was that people neglected tithing (Neh. 13:10-13; Mal. 3:7-12). Malachi 3:7 indicates this was a per- petual problem; as a result, the land was under a curse accompanied by a loss of material blessings.

Daily Survival

The Jews in Babylon likely had been involved in every type of commerce and vocation, so they were prepared to get to work upon their return. Many returnees farmed. Some were involved in commerce and trade. However, the Israelites faced financial difficulties, mainly because they were unfaithful to God. During the time of Haggai in 520 b.c., the Jews’ poverty was due to the fact they had not rebuilt the tem- ple (Hag. 1:5-11). The Jews’ neglecting to give their tithe indicated that their hearts were far from God. The Lord graciously called Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi to confront the people with their sin, but the people’s returning to God was often short-lived. Yes, the return- ing Jews had to pay taxes to their foreign king, but God promised to meet all their needs and more if His people would be faithful to Him. This was the situation at the end of the Old Testament Era. As the Old Testament closed, the ques- tion remained: Would God’s people

be faithful to Him? I

  • 1. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, eds., Readings

from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old

Testament Study (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002),


  • 2. Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture quotations

are from the New American Standard Version (NASB).

T. Van McClain is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and director of library services at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Northeast Campus, Schenectady, New York.


Jesus promised the people of the Philadelphian church that they would be “a pillar in the temple of My God.” This promise both bol- stered and rewarded the people’s steadfastness and determination.


ETB: Revelation 3:7-13

COLUMN CAPITAL: ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRENT BRUCE (60/0503) Jesus promised the people of the Philadelphian church that
The Church at Philadelphia
The Church at Philadelphia

The Church at Philadelphia

The Church at Philadelphia
The Church at Philadelphia




COLUMN CAPITAL: ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRENT BRUCE (60/0503) Jesus promised the people of the Philadelphian church that
COLUMN CAPITAL: ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRENT BRUCE (60/0503) Jesus promised the people of the Philadelphian church that


By Timothy Faber

J ESUS SPOKE OF THE WISE MAN BUILDING upon a rock and the foolish man building on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27). To many people this principle of

building on a solid foundation would seem to be obvious. For the church in ancient Philadelphia, which was located in modern western Turkey, it was both a daily reality and

the principle behind a promise from the Lord Himself.


Founded somewhere between 159 and 138 b.c., 1 Philadelphia at the time of John’s writing was a relative- ly new city, compared to many. Early planners inten- tionally established Philadelphia as center for the spread of Greek culture to the northeast; 2 Philadelphians were conscious of and successful in fulfilling that purpose. Unfortunately, geographical conditions impeded the city planners’ intentions of spreading Greek culture. Philadelphia was built upon volcanic rock and was thus prone to frequent earthquakes. After an earthquake destroyed the city in a.d. 17, few residents remained in the city. The people rebuilt their homes in the surround- ing countryside and came into the city only to conduct trade and business. The city was rebuilt through the generous patronage of Tiberius Caesar and took on the name “Neocaesarea.” The city also went by Flavia, Neokoros, and later as Little Athens. Today the city is called Alasehir. In this city—that was lacking an esteemed legacy, built on shifting igneous rock, and known by sev- eral different names—lived a band of believers that would not be shaken. The symbolism behind Jesus’ promise of their being a pillar in the temple of God (Rev. 3:12) would not have been lost on the people of Philadelphia. They likely saw it as both a compliment and encouragement.

In modern Aksephir, Turkey, excavations of the St. John Church at ancient Philadelphia; the church dates from A.D. 600. Of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, Philadelphia was one of only two to whom the Lord issued no com- plaint.


Throughout history pillars have served several pur- poses. The Greek word stulos, translated “pillar” in the New Testament, refers to that which bears responsi- bility or weight. Galatians 2:9 refers metaphorically to James, Peter (Cephas), and John as the stulos of the church, indicating they bore the weight and responsibil- ity of the early church. First Timothy 3:15 describes the church as the stulos and support of the truth. Sometimes people erected pillars as a memorial or witness com- memorating important events or people (Gen. 31:45; 35:14; Ex. 24:4; and Josh. 4:1-9). Outside of Solomon’s Temple stood two pillars; they were inscribed with Jachin (meaning “He will estab- lish”) and Boaz (“In Him is strength”)—rather than with the names of benefactors. 3 When Joash took the Kingdom of Judah from Queen Athaliah, he stood by these pillars as an apparent endorsement of his position (2 Kings 11:14). Josiah also stood by these pillars when he made a covenant to walk with the Lord (23:3). Many pillars of the first century were inscribed with the names of those who were underwriting the cost of the construction. Similarly, many modern building projects use engraved pavers to recognize donors. As an architectural feature, pillars provided stability and supported weight. As a testament to their durability, pil- lars of ancient structures



• “I have put before you an open door which no one can shut.”

• “I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan

[to] come and bow

down at your feet.” • “I also will keep you from the hour of testing.”

• “I am coming quickly.”

• “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.”

• “I will write on him the name of My God

and My new name.”

Above: In the Roman Forum, Trajan’s Column commemorates the general’s victory in the Dacian Wars. Right:
Above: In the
Roman Forum,
Trajan’s Column
commemorates the
general’s victory in
the Dacian Wars.
Right: Marble bust
from a statue of
Roman Emperor
Augustus, who
ruled 27 B.C.–
A.D. 14.

are often all that remain when every- thing else has crumbled. In addition to the functional purpose, pillars are often decorative as well. Adorned with pillars, even the most mundane edifice can look impressive.

would be “a pillar in the tem- ple of My God” (Rev. 3:12). 4 This promise both bolstered and rewarded the people’s steadfastness and determination. The reward was because the faithful at Philadelphia had “kept the word of My [Jesus’] persever- ance” and because they had kept His word and not denied His name (v. 10). Though they faced opposi-

tion from the “synagogue of Satan,” they had been steadfast and immov- able. They were a witness and a memorial, commemo- rating God’s covenant of grace through Jesus Christ. In a sense, they were already pillars. The church in Philadelphia focused on lifting up Jesus and causing

others to look beyond them to Someone greater. Their faith was bolstered by Jesus promising that he would “not go out from it anymore” (v. 12). Rather than fleeing the city because of earthquakes, the overcomer could be secure in God’s eternal city. And rather than holding fast to the crumbling, temporal buildings dur- ing an earthquake, Christ’s followers hold fast to the truth of the gospel. The Lord also promised to write on these pil- lars the name of His God. “Thus the Philadelphian Christians are assured that though they are citi- zens of an earthly city that once bore the name of a Caesar who claimed to be a god, they are in fact citizens of the new Jerusalem bearing the new name of the God of Jesus Christ.” 5 The new name being written on them also indicated that Christ Himself was the generous benefactor; He paid the price for the building—a spiritual house for a holy priesthood in which all believers are living stones and of which Christ Himself is the chief

Cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:4-6).


1. Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 451. 2. Ibid. 3. First Kings 7:21; see NASB margin notes. 4. All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). 5. Edward A McDowell, The Meaning and Message of the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1951), 60.

The Promise

Jesus promised the people of the Philadelphian church (at least the overcomers among them) that they

Timothy Faber is assistant professor of religion at Liberty University, Online, and the director of mis- sions for the Miller County Baptist Association in central Missouri.




TGP: John 2:1-11



C ELEBRATION CHARACTERIZED FIRST- century Jewish weddings. People of that era lacked many amusements. Their basic
century Jewish weddings. People of that era lacked
many amusements. Their basic survival demand-

ed hard work. Weddings, therefore, provided members of the community a break in the drudgery of daily life.

Jesus and His disciples participated in a wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. Jesus also used weddings as the setting of several of His parables, including that of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14) and of the ten virgins (25:1-13). These stories provide insights into Jewish wedding traditions.

Marriage Arrangements

Jewish religious leaders commended marriage, and the culture viewed mar- riage as the normal state of life. Young men usually married between ages 18 to 24. Young women usually mar- ried in their teens, some as early as age 13—but some after age 20. A young person in the first-cen- tury did not date or choose his or her own spouse. The head of the fam- ily—the father—selected a wife for his son and a husband for his daughter. The parents of the couple made the arrangements. They did not have to

consult their children. The preferred spouse was a cousin or some other relative within the extended family. The parents of the prospective bride and groom sealed the agreement with a marriage contract to satisfy the legal requirements. Some historians contend the groom paid a sum of money to the father of the bride—as if she were property to be purchased. 1 This was variously called a bride- price, marriage gift, marriage fee, or dowry. Others suggest this did not represent a payment for the woman but merely compensated the family “for the loss of her labor.” 2 Other writers argue that the father gave his future son-in-law money—also called a dowry—to help defray the expenses of a wife and the wedding. 3 Whatever the specific nature of this



Right: Close-up of a Jewish couple holding hands during their wed- ding ceremony. The bride’s hands are adorned with henna.


Tambourine; from agora at Athens. Music was a regu- lar part of wed- ding celebrations.

transaction, the agreement took place after lengthy discussion and argu- ment. Then, a contract was prepared and signed, including the husband’s duties to his wife and the settlement she would receive in the event of divorce or her husband’s death. Now the couple was betrothed. The betrothal ceremony took place in the presence of at least two witnesses with formal questions and answers followed by a blessing. Betrothal was legally binding, ending only by divorce or death. Jews con- sidered the betrothed couple married and identified them as husband and wife. Should the man die before the actual wedding, the woman became






a widow. Betrothals usually lasted a year—until the bride left her family’s house and moved into the home of her groom. The bride, however, could go directly to the groom’s home after the betrothal ceremony. During the betrothal period the couple often had little or no contact with each other.

Wedding Preparations

In light of the importance of the wedding celebration, families invest- ed time, energy, and resources in pre- paring for this event. The major part of the wedding involved the wedding feast. Since the meal took place in the groom’s home, he and his family had the most preparations to make. For farming communities, autumn was the best time of year to have a wedding. Families had harvested their crops, providing more resources and more time to prepare and enjoy the festivities. Virgins married on Wednesdays; widows, on Thursdays. Prior to the wedding day, the couple’s families made invitation lists. Those invited included all rela- tives of the bride and groom, plus friends. Wealthy families invited large numbers of people, sometimes the entire village. Some people trav- eled great distances to come to the celebration. Others came who had

not been invited.

The family sent out two invi- tations, one in advance giving the day and the second when prepara- tions were complete. Two men, one representing each family, delivered these invitations in person by word of mouth. Some guests came on the basis of the first invitation. Others required a second personal invitation. Once a person had been invited, first- century society considered failure to attend to be a serious insult. The bride prepared for her wed- ding day by bathing, anointing with oils, and dressing herself with special, festive garments. She had help and companionship in all these activities

Upper left: Ruins of the public bath complex in the upper agora at Ephesus. Above: Wedding
Upper left: Ruins
of the public bath
complex in the
upper agora at
Above: Wedding
ceremony tak-
ing place inside
the Church of
St. Catherine,
which is adjacent
to the Church of
the Nativity at
Right: Blown glass
double perfume
bottle with three
handles and trail
decoration; from
Mount Carmel
region in Israel.



from her friends and female fam- ily members. Bathing might require a ritual bath on the day before the wedding. Some sources suggest that the bride had the palms of her hands, soles of her feet, and nails stained with henna. The bridegroom might give her articles of clothing embroi- dered with gold or other thread to wear on the wedding day. The bride adorned herself with jewels (if her family could afford them) and gar- lands of flowers. Before the wedding party came to claim her, she put on a veil. The groom too prepared by bath- ing. He perhaps also had henna applied to nails, hands, and feet. In some instances the bride gave him a gift of wedding robes for the occa- sion. At any rate, he wore fine clothes and garlands of flowers around his neck. Some grooms wore a crown.

Wedding Celebrations

The wedding proper involved two events: the wedding procession and the marriage feast. The chief moment was the arrival of the bride at the bridegroom’s house. On the eve of the wedding day, the groom and his friends went to the bride’s house where she was clothed and waiting with her own family and friends. The groom’s best man, the friend of the bridegroom, organized this and served as a master of ceremonies. With much laughter, shouting, music, tambourines, singing, and dancing the wedding party carried the bride, often on a litter, from her family’s home to her new home in the groom’s household. The singing included love songs passed down from generation to generation, perhaps similar to those in the Old Testament Song of Songs. Since this procession took place after sunset, the group needed torches to travel through the dark streets. After arriving at the groom’s house, the bride retired to her own

Right: A mosaic of the wedding festival of Ariadne and Dionysus found in situ at Philippopolis, Syria. The mosaic is Roman and dates from the 1st cent. A.D.

Below: Pair of gold earrings; Etruscan; from the Classical period. The bride would adorn herself with jewelry if finances permitted.


room with her friends to await the festivities and marriage meal of the next day. The groom and his friends continued to celebrate with games and dancing. The wedding day had a holiday atmosphere. The young men played games; the young women danced. Relatives and friends brought gifts to the couple. Toward evening every- one enjoyed a generous meal, includ- ing roasted oxen and fatted calves. Everybody ate and drank heartily. The hosts were to meet every need. To run out of anything, such as wine, would have been a serious breach of hospitality and a terrible embar- rassment. The bride and groom sat under a tent or canopy. This cer- emonial feast was probably all that the wedding involved for some time. As the wedding ceremony developed through the years, though, partici- pants added spoken blessings and solemn promises and eventually even read the wedding contract. The feasting and rejoicing of Jewish weddings generally lasted for seven days, often severely straining a

family’s resources. Poorer people went to their jobs each day but returned for the evening meals. On the first night, the couple retired to consummate the marriage. They did not leave on a honeymoon but rejoined the ongoing festivities. They wore their wedding finery all week. Jewish weddings were so filled with joy, fellowship, and celebration that the New Testament uses the image of the wedding feast for the Messiah’s future banquet to picture the joy, fellowship, and celebration Jesus will have with His followers in God’s kingdom forever. 4 I

  • 1. Representative of this view is A. C. Bouquet,

Everyday Life in New Testament Times (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), 145.

  • 2. Leo G. Perdue, “The Israelite and Early Jewish

Family: Summary and Conclusions” in Families in Ancient

Israel, contributors Leo G. Perdue, Joseph Blenkinsopp, John J. Collins, and Carol Meyers (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 184.

  • 3. See Craig S. Keener, “Marriage” in Dictionary of

New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 685.

  • 4. Matthew 8:11; 22:1-14; Revelation 19:7-9.

Sharon H. Gritz is a freelance writ- er living in Fort Worth, Texas.


ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BOB SCHATZ (12/17/10) BSFL: Revelation 2:1-7 The Nicolaitans Jesus’ strong words to the churches

BSFL: Revelation 2:1-7



Jesus’ strong words to the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum serve as both instruction and warning.

Orontes River flows through Antioch. In the New Testament Era, Antioch was in northern Syria; today, however, it is a major city in south-central Turkey.


By Michael Priest

A S I TYPE THIS ARTICLE, MY YOUNGER brother, who is three-and-a-half years my junior, is celebrating a birthday. His special day has taken me

down memory lane, remembering the good times and not so good times of our childhood. Fondly, I remem- ber when we were Batman and Robin saving Gotham, James West and Artemus Gordon foiling evil master- minds, and Starsky and Hutch taking down drug king- pins. Not so fondly, I remember he was my dupe and I was his deceiver. By the time he was 8 years old, he had figured me out; but in the early years he was too gullible for my conniving mind to resist. For example, one night as I was splashing around in a tub full of warm water and soapy bubbles, my toddler-aged brother ambled into the bathroom. The look in his eyes screamed, “I want in!” Seizing my opportunity I said, “Why don’t you jump in with me and wash your clothes so Mom doesn’t have to do it later? She will be proud of you.” As soon as he was fully submerged, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Mom, Mark climbed in the tub with his clothes on!” Score: he was punished and I could mark up another win! Fortunately, he caught on to my tricks, I outgrew my deceptive ways, he demonstrated gracious

forgiveness, and hasn’t exacted revenge

. . .


In some ways I was a modern version of the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2: deceiving others to lead them into sin. In this article we will explore the Nicolaitans—who they were, what they taught, the danger they posed to the church, and lessons we can

learn from Jesus’ remarks about them. The origin of the Nicolaitans is far from certain. They are first mentioned in Revelation 2:6 then again

Left: Icon depict- ing Clement of Alexandria, who spoke honorably of Nicolaus. Below: Perched on the
Left: Icon depict-
ing Clement of
Alexandria, who
spoke honorably
of Nicolaus.
Below: Perched
on the hillside,
the theater at
Pergamum, which
dates from the
2nd cent. B.C.,
has 80 rows with
a seating capac-
ity of 10,000. The
rows are made of
andesite except
for the honor box,
which is marble.

in 2:15, passages in which John provides no clues to their origin. The earliest non-biblical accounts are not help- ful either. The church fathers Irenaeus and Hippolytus state they were followers of Nicolaus of Antioch, one of first seven deacons, whom the church in Acts 6 appointed to minister to the Hellenistic Christian wid- ows. These followers of Nicolaus later strayed from the faith and began living lives of immorality. 1 Clement of Alexandria, however, states that Nicolaus was a worthy man who taught that Christians must “check pleasures and lusts” and learn to control their impulses. Furthermore, he states that the Nicolaitans claimed to follow Nicolaus, but actually distorted his teaching and advocated self-indulgence. 2 Because of the disagree- ment among earliest testimony, identifying the origins of the Nicolaitans is all but impossible. The Nicolaitans’ teachings, however, are easier to determine, not so much from the writings of the church fathers, but from what Jesus said about them in Revelation 2. He simply stated that the church at


Above: Mount Nebo overlooks the Jordan River Valley. Balak took Balaam to the top

of Pisgah (Nebo) to curse the Israelites (Num. 23:14). Following Balaam’s lead,

Balak enticed the Israelites to commit acts of immorality and to worship Baal.

Ephesus hated the works of the Nicolaitans, as does He (Rev. 2:6). To the church at Pergamum He said:

But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (vv. 14-15, hcsb)

Jesus’ use of the Greek word houtos, translated “In the same way” in verse 15, indicates the teachings of Balaam and the teachings of the Nicolaitans were one and the same. 3 Thus investigating the teach- ings of Balaam in the Old Testament is essential for us to understand the teachings of the Nicolaitans as mentioned in the New Testament. Numbers 22–24 records that Moab’s King Balak became concerned that Moab would never be able stand before the recently liberated Israelites and their God. He knew his army could not defeat Israel, so he sent messengers to the prophet Balaam with money to hire him to curse Israel. Initially, Balaam refused to go, but eventually agreed to accompany them, but clearly stated he would speak only the words God gave him. Three times Balak built seven altars, offered sacrifices, and allowed Balaam time alone to hear God in hopes that the Lord would curse Israel

through Balaam. Each time, Balaam returned with a blessing instead. Angered, Balak dismissed Balaam to return home. Realizing he could not curse Israel and per- haps, therefore, that he would not receive his pay, Balaam devised a plan. He explained to Balak that if he and his people would entice Israel to sin by worshiping Baal, eat- ing meat offered to idols, and committing immoral acts, God would punish the nation. In short, Balaam’s sin was to teach Balak to entice Israel to curse itself through will- ful idolatry and immorality. In the end, God destroyed 24,000 Israelites through a plague. 4 Following in the footsteps of Balaam, the Nicolaitans were attempting to entice Christians to compromise holiness and accommodate worldly beliefs and practices by indulging in meat offered to idols and participating in sexual acts that were part of pagan worship. 5 The result of such compromise would be to misrepresent the char- acter of Jesus and His church and to cheapen grace. 6 The church at Ephesus resisted the temptation, but some in the Pergamum church fell prey to Nicolaitan deception. Jesus’s strong words to the churches at Ephesus and Pergamum serve as both instruction and warning. To the church at Ephesus, Jesus said He hated the practices of the Nicolaitans rather than the Nicolaitans themselves (Rev. 2:6). Jesus’ approach is solid instruction for His church. The church today, as does Jesus, must hate sin, but always extend grace to sinners. The church exists to be the holy body of Christ, ever calling sinners to repen- tance. His promise in verse 16 that if they did not repent He would come and fight against them with the sword of His mouth serves as a warning that God is serious about sin and will judge those who persist in it and the church that turns a blind eye to it. Both Jesus and Paul provided clear instructions about church discipline. The church today must stop ignoring sin in its ranks and deal firmly, but lovingly, with sinning brothers and sisters. If not, a punishment is soon to come—a punishment more severe than what my fully clothed yet wet brother received! I

  • 1. See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.3 in Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of

the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 [ANF], ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson

(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 1:352; and Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies 7.24 in ANF, 5:115.

  • 2. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata 2.20 in ANF, 2:373.

  • 3. John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church: An Exposition of Revelation 1–3

(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 56; and David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A in Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 188; and Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 81.

  • 4. See Numbers 25:1-9; 31:16; and Revelation 2:14.

  • 5. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 81.

  • 6. In Romans 6:1-2, Paul addressed the issue of believers willful sinning simply because

the grace of God is available. He warned the Christians at Rome that this should never happen.

Michael Priest is pastor of Bartlett Baptist Church, Bartlett, Tennessee.


ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ TOM HOOKE (66/10/19) ETB: Revelation 21:1-7 Alpha and Omega Behind the forti- fied walls

ETB: Revelation 21:1-7




ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ TOM HOOKE (66/10/19) ETB: Revelation 21:1-7 Alpha and Omega Behind the forti- fied walls

Behind the forti- fied walls is the monastery of St. John on Patmos.

By Bobby Kelly

E ARLY IN REVELATION, John reported God’s self-dec- laration: “I am the Alpha and

the Omega” (Rev. 1:8). 1 This asser- tion appears again in Revelation 21:6 and 22:13. The declaration’s stra- tegic placement at the beginning

and end of Revelation reflects the majesty of the God who is the beginning, end, and everything in between.

Background and Meaning

Alpha and omega are the first and

last letters of the Greek alphabet. God, speaking in the first person,

helped define what He meant by adding “the Beginning and the End” (21:6). In the final use of the phrase, Jesus added of Himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13) The Old Testament provides crit- ical insight for understanding what



16:7,14; 19:6,15; 21:22), pantokrator indi- cates that God is ruler of all. This was in stark contrast to the Roman emperor who was autokrator (from which comes the English term auto- crat), that is, absolute ruler of the Empire. 4 While Caesar (autokrator) might claim power and sovereignty over the Empire, including the right to persecute believers, Jesus (pan- tokrator), has eternal power and abid- ing sovereignty over all creation. Thus, Caesar’s power is limited and temporary. This comparison would have comforted John’s readers. The second usage of “Alpha and Omega” occurs in Revelation 21:6 at the beginning of the book’s last major section, which focuses on the new

creation: “And He said to me,

. . .


am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.’ ” In this context the “Alpha and Omega” title confirmed that God has the power to make all things new, including heaven and earth—where crying, pain, and death will be no more. Only the One who existed before time and will exist after time has the authority to bring creation to its

appointed goal. The final “Alpha and Omega” say- ing is in the book’s epilogue. Unlike

the Lord meant with the self-identi- fication “the Alpha and the Omega.” All three instances in Revelation begin with the Lord’s words of self- identification from Exodus 3:14: “I AM.” This is the language God used to identify Himself to Moses:

“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” 2 At the burning bush, God instructed Moses to declare to the Israelites that He would bring them out of Egyptian bondage. Moses, anticipating the people would inquire about the name of the God who sent him, asked how he should respond. The response “I AM” indicated some- thing of God’s absolute existence. This emphasized both that God exists and that He is the liberator God who is present with His people. For the apostle John, the connection was clear; this God who brought Pharaoh to his knees and set His people free in the days of Moses was the same God who would not fail His people in their oppression under the Roman Empire. Additionally, the prophet Isaiah reported the words of Yahweh: “Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Yahweh, am the first, and with the last—I am He” (Isa. 41:4) In Isaiah 43:10, the Lord declared: “No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me.” And

again in Isaiah 44:6: “This is what the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, says:

‘I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me.’ ” 3 Isaiah’s words provide an intertextual link that gives further insight into the phrase’s meaning in Revelation. The Isaiah passages declare that God alone created all that exists and He alone stands as the sov- ereign Lord of time and history. Babylon had its gods fashioned by human hands—but Yahweh alone is the absolute, incomparable God over all the nations.

In Revelation

The declaration that the Lord is Alpha and Omega appears three times in Revelation. The first is in part of the book’s introduction that identifies the God who was giving the revelation: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty’ ” (1:8). Here the phrase occurs as the Father’s self-declaration that He is the abso- lute ground of being, the first cause and initiator of all creation (“the One who was”), the sustainer of the universe (“the One who is”), and the goal toward which all creation is moving (“the One who is com- ing”). God also designated Himself “the Almighty,” or in Greek, pan- tokrator. Occurring nine times in Revelation (see also 4:8; 11:17; 15:3;

A-B-C-D. . .
A-B-C-D. .

S HOWN RIGHT IS A cuneiform tablet from the royal palace at Ras Shamra

that dates to the thirteenth centu- ry b.c. The tablet is inscribed with an incomplete abcedary, meaning the alphabet written out. This was usually done to help someone learn to write the letters.

S HOWN RIGHT IS A cuneiform tablet from the royal palace at Ras Shamra that dates

Left: Fragment of Revelation 3:12– 4:12; dates to the 4th cent.


Far right: Palace of Domitian on Palatine Hill in Rome. Emperor Domitian, who reigned A.D. 81-96, demanded to be worshiped as lord and god.

Right: Cylindrical jar with a lid, dated to before A.D. 70; from Cave 1 at Qumran. Several Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran were stored inside of jars like this one. The community at Qumran was established by a group (possibly the Essenes) who were separating themselves from the rest of society as they awaited the coming of the Lord. While wait- ing, they copied biblical and reli- gious texts we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

creation, and the fullness of deity belongs to Him forev- er. What is true of the First Person of the Trinity is true of the Second as well. John’s readers could have confidence that this One would keep His promise to come again and that He would repay all people according to their deeds (v. 12). Caesar might claim lordship over his empire, but he pales in com- parison to Christ, who is sovereign over the beginning, the end, and everything in between.


The use of “I AM” in Exodus 3:14 and the Isaiah 40–44 assertions of God as first and last provide the proper context for understanding the meaning of God as the Alpha and Omega in Revelation. He is the incomparable, eternal God, first and last, who is, who was, and who is to come. The God who was present at the beginning as Creator will like- wise be present at the conclusion as creation’s Redeemer. Further, the God who is “Alpha and Omega” exercises sovereign

the first two instances in which the Father made the pronouncement, here the risen Christ declared: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13). Thus, fittingly, the “Alpha and Omega” sayings appear at the beginning (alpha) and the end (omega) of Revelation. The fact that Jesus is the one making the third self-declaration reveals the book’s high Christology. John’s using the term “Alpha and Omega” of both God and Christ reveals the same divine majesty and power for both. The saying identified Christ with the creation of all things as well as the completion of God’s purposes for the creation. Christ shared the eternal life of God before


control over all time and history. Consequently, people cannot view history as a meaningless cycle of events going nowhere. Instead, events are part of God’s plan for guiding history to its proper con- clusion. Confidence in God’s sov- ereign rule of history past and present would offer hope for Jews suffering during the Babylonian exile, Christians suffering under Roman oppression, or twenty-first century Christians suffering trials and even persecution. I

  • 1. All Bible quotations are from the Holman Christian

Standard Bible (HCSB).

  • 2. Some scholars make the connection between the

“I AM” of the three Alpha and Omega declarations and

the divine self-identification “I AM” to Moses. See G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 188; Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 28.

  • 3. For the connection between the Alpha and Omega

sayings in Revelation and Isaiah 40–45, see David Lincicum, “The Origin of ‘Alpha and Omega’ (Revelation

1.8; 21.6; 22.13): A Suggestion” in Journal of Greco- Roman Christianity and Judaism 6 (2009): 128; and Craig Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 73.

  • 4. Keener, Revelation, 73-74.

Bobby Kelly is the Ruth Dickinson professor of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

TGP: Luke 11:5-13 HOUSes IN JEsUS’ DAY Using a method that dates back centuries, this Iraqi

TGP: Luke 11:5-13


Using a method that dates back centuries, this Iraqi stone house has a roof con- structed of wood- en poles that have been covered over with thatch and compacted mud.





By Paul E. Kullman

  • i N SOME WAYS, LIVING IN A HOUSE WHEN Jesus walked the earth was not much different from what we experience today. Eventually, the transportable

nomad tent housing of the Old Testament years gave way to a more permanent dwelling. The Hebrew word for house (bayith) came from the term meaning “to spend the night” 1 ; that imagery was carried into the New Testament Era. Thus a societal shift allowed permanent villages to grow into cities that offered “safety in numbers” from invading armies. Building a permanent house fulfills a basic human need for shelter, security, stability, and protection from the weather—while offering a fixed place to raise a family. Luke 11 records Jesus’ lesson about the persistence of a hungry sojourner with a late night visit to a man and his family. The text states that the door was shut and secured for the night. That simple statement tells us something about the house of the first century. A tent would not afford that type of security. Those inside were away from the dangers of the open air and were protected from both the elements and unwanted intruders. The sojourner could not just walk into the house and take food as he could if his

neighbor lived in a tent.

Housing Boom In 20 b.c., King Herod the Great initiated a major building program that brought in more than 10,000 work- ers to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. 2

the influx of skilled laborers. As skilled craftsman moved into Jerusalem, they brought with them new ideas of design and construction from their regions. Although the second temple was built for further edification of Judaism, the result was that Jerusalem would change from a town into a metropolis. This caught the interest of Rome with its insatiable need for new taxes.


Houses in the first century were designed and built in the most simple of details. Workers used tools such as the handsaw, adze (stone chisel), bow drill, hammer, and mal- let. Many homes today are still built with similar construc- tion methods in rural locations in Third World nations where the poor have few options. First-century house design utilized the basic square or rectangular shape with a short span across the narrowest width. This span was accomplished using wood beams set upon load-bearing dried mud brick walls or locally mined and cut stone. The roof composition was constructed with dried wood poles,

thatch, or tiles (Luke 5:19) that spanned perpendicular to the thicker, wood-beam supports. The same wood beams

Below left:

Hammerhead dat- ing 1st–2nd centu- ries A.D.

Bottom: After the third Jewish

revolt against the Romans, known as the Bar Kokhba revolt (A.D. 132-136), the Jews were not allowed to live in Jerusalem. Many of them thus set- tled in the region north of the Sea of Galilee. One such community was at Yehudiya, which dates to about A.D. 200– 400. During the Ottoman period,

many Arabs, using stones and materials they found on the site, resettled here and built these structures on top of the centuries- old foundations and footprints of the earlier structures. These remains thus give a good impres- sion of what an early Jewish vil- lage would have looked like.



These workers came from cities

villages scattered throughout the Roman Empire. This rapid increase of construction forces meant new housing had to be

built in Jerusalem.





caused Jerusalem’s population to expand, which in turn revitalized a stagnant housing market. This increase in housing construction was felt throughout Judea. Jerusalem would be a key destination for construction work for the 46 years that the second tem- ple took to complete (John 2:20). The ambitious project ultimately changed the size, population, and economics of Jerusalem and further established its importance to the region. That growth attracted other merchants and suppli- ers anxious to conduct business with


served as lintels above some of the wall features, such as doors. The roof surface was a layered composition of dried, compacted mud covered with brick paver or flat stone, which was typically a durable and impervious surface. Most ancient houses had an outside stairway that led to a flat roof area, which people used for various domestic activities such as drying fruit or sleeping on hot nights or when the owner needed an outside workspace or simply an area of repose (Acts 10:9). The roof area would sometimes adjoin other houses, depending on the spatial density of the building layout area and whether this was a rural or urban house. This enabled neighbors to share a common wall, which meant less labor and expense than build- ing four walls, as was required in a freestanding house. Interestingly, each Israelite house typically had a parapet to keep a non-owner from falling off and creating a “blood guiltiness” condition (Deut. 22:8). This practical safety feature is still used on modern flat roofs and balconies as required by local building codes. A prodigious amount of archeological excavations have exposed many stonewall foundations. The foundations reveal that most small, common houses were approximate- ly 15 x 15 feet; although some were as large as 30 x 30 feet range. 3 The floor plan consisted of two to four rooms with at least one larger area for sleeping and another to accom- modate cooking. Some houses had livestock stabling inside the house, for use during the cold winter months. The door would be the only entrance; small windows helped with air circulation or smoke exhaust. The floors were compacted dirt covered with straw or loose gravel. More affluent

Below: Mud oven, which would have been common in many ancient homes. The fire was allowed to burn down to

embers. Then someone would slap flat bread dough against the inside wall of the oven, reaching in from the top,


and would peel the bread loose once it was done. This method is still in use in many parts of the world today.

houses had marble floors or at least a plaster surface. Most houses were modestly furnished, usually with a table and chairs. People slept on pallets on the floor. Essential supplies included cooking pots, an oven, plates, lamps, and storage jars known as amphora. Of course, the more affluent owners’ homes had vases, beds, and furniture for reclining. Excavations reveal that many houses depended on cisterns for water.

Right: This model of Jerusalem in the time of the second temple shows the Tyropoean Valley with rows of houses on what was called the Southwestern Hill. Parts of the Temple Mount and Antonia Fortress are in the upper-right corner. The large flat structure just below the center of the photo is the complex for the Pool of Siloam.

Below: Artist’s rendering of a 1st cent., four-room Jewish home. The design, though, was common among the Israelites as far back as the 8th cent. B.C. Persons entered the house into an open area, which the fam- ily used for cooking, entertaining, and for housing small animals at night.



Right: Part of the Villa of Mysteries at Pompeii. Dating to early in the 2nd cent. B.C., the villa covered about 40,000 square feet and had over 50 rooms.

Below: An Egyptian wooden mallet, dated to about 1185-1170 B.C., reflects a design that has changed little since ancient times.

Types of Houses
Types of Houses

New Testament Era house construction reflected the own- er’s financial resources. Small, common houses were more numerous and built of austere means. Many times, these smaller houses were clustered around a shared courtyard, especially in areas where a city’s population density restrict- ed expansion. The courtyard area served as an entertainment and outdoor cooking area that neighbors shared. Meanwhile, the wealthy would build large, spacious, and palatial houses that usually occupied the hillside areas of cit- ies. In Jerusalem the affluent area was known as the Upper City in contrast with the Lower City (or the Tyropoeon Valley) separated by the Herodian Wall. 4 These affluent houses would be multi-level structures with large and open spaces, many of which served as sleeping areas. The larger homes also had additional living areas designated for enter- taining. Some rooms were designated as work areas for the servants, who had their own separate sleeping quarters. Interior finishes include exposed cedar wood beams from Lebanon and marble from Greece or Italy. The wealthy were not only Jewish aristocracy but also foreign ambassadors and

of course, the Romans—both government and military.

House Churches

“Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and break- ing bread from house to house” was the practice of early

believers (Acts 2:46, nkjv). Houses belonging to converted


Jews served the early church well. Houses were the choice venue for small groups of believers as the new church began to grow in number. Once a modest home could no longer provide adequate space, then the congregants would move to a synagogue (if permitted), a larger house, or the open air. These New Testament house churches were located in numerous settings. 5 Only in a.d. 313, when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal, did the early congregations begin to move out of their houses into buildings constructed specifically for worship. Thus, the houses during the time of Jesus were not just for practical residential use, but were also “incubators” that permitted the church to grow in safety. Without the Christian homes, believers would have been exposed in the open and would have endured persecution due to their high visibility. I

  • 1. Harry A. Hoffner, “tyIB;“ (bayith, house) in Theological Dictionary of the Old

Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1975), 107-108.

  • 2. Max Schwartz, The Biblical Engineer: How the Temple in Jerusalem Was Built

(Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 2002), 4.

  • 3. John S. Holladay, Jr., “House, Israelite” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. in chief

David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:314-16.

  • 4. Marsha A. Ellis Smith, gen. ed., Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and

Reconstructions (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 158-59.

  • 5. For examples, see Acts 12:12; 16:40; 17:1-5; 18:1-8; Romans 16:3-5;

1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; and Philemon 1-2.

Paul E. Kullman is an architect in College Station, Texas. A member of the American Institute of Architects and the Texas Society of Architects, Paul is also a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

ETB: Revelation 16:16 Megiddo A Crucial Locale By Jeff S. Anderson M EGIDDO, the crown jewel

ETB: Revelation 16:16


A Crucial Locale

By Jeff S. Anderson

  • M EGIDDO, the crown jewel of biblical archae- ology, is one of the most

important sites in Israel, and for that

matter, the entire ancient Near East. A World Heritage Site, Megiddo stands watch over the expansive Jezreel Valley. Megiddo really had it all: a fertile and well-watered plain nearby, a strategic location on the crossroads of two major trade routes between Asia and Egypt (the Via Maris and Jezreel trade routes), and

a defensible location. Ancient letters discovered at el-Amarna, Egypt, indi- cate Megiddo was one of Canaan’s most dominant city-states. Biridiya, King of Megiddo, sent these letters to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten in the fourteenth century b.c. Megiddo enjoyed robust periods of occupation from 3500 to 500 b.c. and was inhabit- ed during every era of Israel’s history.

A Historical Battlefield Megiddo preserves a long history of being an international battleground with 34 recorded battles in that area. 1

The following description represents what is often touted as the earliest account of a major battle in antiq- uity. When the Canaanite city-states revolted against a fifteenth-centu- ry b.c. Egyptian Pharaoh’s transition to power, their armies assembled at Megiddo. The Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh Thutmose III, stunned the unsuspecting agitators by going against his own generals and choosing the most dangerous route of attack, directly through the vulnerable bottle- neck of the Aruna Pass. After routing the Canaanite forces and capturing

Right: Megiddo was a Canaanite stronghold that overlooked the Jezreel Valley and guarded the main pass through the Carmel Mountains.

Early Bronze Age temple complex at Megiddo. Partially shown at the deepest level and in the upper left corner of the photo are the remains of a mud- brick altar that was a part of the complex.


rich plunder, Thutmose III laid siege to Megiddo for seven months. His deci- sive victory enabled him to eventually incorporate Canaan as a province in his empire of Egypt’s New Kingdom. 2 Over successive generations Megiddo witnessed many other formi- dable armies, including the Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Israelites, Philistines, Persians, and Romans. Over 1,000 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, Napoleon fought near the site in 1799. Concerning Megiddo he is purported to have proclaimed:

“There is no place in the whole world

Below: An ivory game board with 58 holes; inlaid with gold; from Megiddo. ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ DAVID
Below: An ivory
game board
with 58
inlaid with
gold; from

more suited for war than

this. . .

[It is]

the most natural battleground of the whole earth.” 3 In the twentieth cen- tury, Megiddo witnessed the defeat of the armies of the Turks and Germans during World War I as well as the victory of the Israelis in the 1948 War of Independence. Today, the Ramat David Airfield of the Israeli Air Force is less than 20 miles from Megiddo. These factors can help read- ers understand why the Mount of Megiddo, called Armageddon in the New Testament, is the site where “the battle of the great day of God, the

Almighty” occurs (Rev. 16:14, hcsb).

The Great Temple

Four excavations have revealed over 20 different occupation layers at Megiddo from 3500–500 b.c. Since 1994, Tel Aviv University has assumed


work at Megiddo as well as several other projects in the Jezreel Valley. Discoveries in 2012 included a hoard of gold and silver jewelry dating from 1100 b.c., but the primary focus of the Tel Aviv operation has been to clarify chronology at the site. Archaeologists continue to make exciting discoveries at Megiddo to this day. One noteworthy recent project has been the excavation of a huge 1,100 square meter (about 11,840 square feet) temple dating to around 3000 b.c., centuries before the arriv- al of the Israelites. This temple is the most monumental single edifice uncovered in the promised land and one of the largest structures of the Near East. 4 A Canaanite temple, designed by a professional, highly skilled team of architects, was part of a massive temple complex that was re-envi- sioned and reconstructed many times over many centuries. With walls over 3.5 meters (about 11.5 feet) thick, the floor of the building contains mas- sive basalt slabs weighing over a ton each. These are in two rows flanking the longitudinal axis of the tem- ple. These basalt slabs were clearly not for roof support but for some unknown and highly sophisticated



Right: In the Tel Dan inscription King Hazel of Syria brags that he killed King Ahaziah.
Right: In
the Tel Dan
King Hazel of
Syria brags that
he killed King
cultic practices. Two rear corridors
called favissa were filled with sacrifi-
cial bone refuse, mostly young sheep
and goats. The site had no evidence
of human sacrifice.
Inhabitants of the lower village
accessed this hilltop temple from the
eastern slope of the mound and the
main entry faced a mud brick and
stone altar that stood at the geometric
center of the temple. 5 This magnifi-
cent shrine was abandoned for a time
and later reoccupied. A series of later
temples were built one on top of the
other, including the shrine that con-
tained the famous Early Bronze Age
round altar.
Decapolis city
Major roads
Other roads
Ruled by procurators
Territory of Antipas
Territory of Philip
Syrian territory
Sea of
Mt. Carmel
Aruna Pass
Caesarea Maritima
(modern Amman)
50 Miles
50 Kilometers

Biblical References

The Bible contains about a dozen references to Megiddo. The first is to a certain “king of Megiddo,” who is on a list of vanquished monarchs that Joshua conquered (Josh. 12:21). Consequently, Megiddo was then allotted to the tribe of Manasseh (17:11). The Book of Judges, however, indicates that the situation was not quite that simple. Israel was seemingly unable to completely sub- due Megiddo after all (Judg. 1:27). Later in the same book, Deborah and Barak overcame Sisera near this site, after which Sisera suffered a rather unceremonious “death by tent peg”

in the tent of Jael the Kenite. The

Song of Deborah refers to the “waters

of Megiddo” as the place where God

delivered Israel (5:19). During the Israelite monarchy,

Solomon made Megiddo a district

administrative capital along with two

other major fortified sites: Hazor and

Gezer. The gate systems at these three

sites are nearly identical. The Bible

refers to Solomon’s robust building

activity, which included the addition

of palaces, terraces, and city walls

(1 Kings 9:15). A century later, the

Bible records that Jehu killed Israel’s

King Jehoram and Judah’s King

Ahaziah near Megiddo (2 Kings 9:27),

while the Tel Dan inscription boasts

that Syria’s King Hazael was the one

who murdered these two kings.



Ruins of the sta- bles at Megiddo, which date to the 9th cent. B.C.


A few later references to Megiddo may point toward an emerging popularity of the site in apocalyp- tic thought. Josiah, the last “good” king from the Davidic dynasty, was fatally wounded at Megiddo in battle against Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chron. 35:22-24). Even though a few more kings ruled briefly after Josiah, for all practical purposes the death of Josiah brought an abrupt and tragic end to the Judean monar- chy. Zechariah may record a reference to the deep mourning that followed Josiah’s death, “The mourning in Jerusalem will be as great

as the mourning of Hadad-rimmon

in the plain of Megiddo” (Zech. 12:11,

hcsb). 6

If the last king of the mes-

sianic line died at Megiddo, could that

site have later messianic implications?

Megiddo and Armageddon

Without a doubt, one of the most popu- lar biblical texts pertaining to Megiddo

is Revelation 16:16. Some interpret that this pivotal location will be where the spiritual forces of the heavens and the kings of the earth gather

about 4 1/2 feet high. Four steps lead to the top of the altar. The altar was located behind the actual temple.

Left: Unearthed at El-Amarna, Egypt, a terra- cotta letter from Megiddo’s King Biridiya to Pharaoh Akhenaten; dated 14th cent. B.C. King Biridiya was complaining that he was supplying workers, evidently for the time of harvest, and his neighbors were not.

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ G.B. HOWELL/ LOUVRE MUSEUM (35/12/82) Ruins of the sta- bles at Megiddo, which date

Left: Dated to about 2500 B.C., circular Canaanite altar at Megiddo; the altar mea- sures 25 feet in diameter and

together for the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The New Testament adopts the term Armageddon, a cor- ruption of the Hebrew, Har-Megiddo, which translates “Mount Megiddo.” This reference in Revelation reveals the context of the sixth and seventh bowls of wrath, which predict the fall of Babylon the Great. Whether the reference in Revelation is to a histori- cal battle or the metaphorical demise of evil, Megiddo retains both a lively past and an intriguing future in the Bible’s history and theology. I

  • 1. Eric H. Cline, The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo

and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear

Age (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2000), 1.

  • 2. Eric H. Cline, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization

Collapsed (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press,

2014), 28-30.

  • 3. Cline, The Battles of Armageddon, 142.

  • 4. Matthew J. Adams, Israel Finkelstein, and David

Ussishkin, “The Great Temple of Early Bronze I Megiddo,”

American Journal of Archaeology 118 (April 2014):


  • 5. Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David, Robert S.

Homsher, and Margaret E. Cohen, “The Rise of a Complex

Society: New Evidence from Tel Megiddo East in the Late Fourth Millennium,” Near Eastern Archaeology 77, vol. 1 (2014): 32-43.

  • 6. This text is unclear. It may instead be a reference to

2 Kings 5:18 parallel of weeping for a Babylonian deity.

Jeff S. Anderson is professor of reli- gion at Wayland Baptist University, Anchorage, Alaska.


BSFL: Joshua 22:11-34







By Robert A. Street

T HE STORY OF REUBEN BEGINS BEFORE HIS birth; it involves his father Jacob and his grandfather Laban. After Jacob, one of the patriarchs of Israel,

worked for seven years to earn the hand of Rachel in mar-

riage, Laban presented him with Leah instead for his first bride. Although Jacob had to work for seven more years for his beloved Rachel, he did not completely reject Leah. In time, Leah bore Jacob his first son, Reuben (Gen. 29:31-32).

Reuben’s Story

Reuben’s recorded actions are few. One of his earliest record- ed events involved his sleeping with his father’s concubine Bilhah (35:22). This action served to symbolize his claiming Jacob’s place as leader of the family and affected the blessing he would receive from Jacob as the patriarch neared death


(49:3-4). 1 Jacob blessing his sons provides the final snapshot of Reuben in the Book of Genesis. Other stories in Genesis give readers a different impres- sion of Reuben. In the story of Joseph being sold into slavery, Reuben tried to save Joseph by having him thrown in a pit with the intention of rescuing the youth later. But when Reuben returned, Joseph was gone (37:21-29). After Joseph had risen to power in Egypt, famine engulfed the region, including Canaan. Jacob sent his remaining sons, except for Benjamin, to Egypt to seek grain. In the encounter with his brothers, Joseph accused his brothers of being spies. Joseph required the youngest son Benjamin be brought to Egypt to prove the charge of spies was untrue. When return- ing to Egypt was necessary, Reuben offered his sons as a guarantee for Benjamin’s safety (ch. 42). When Jacob, at the end of his life, blessed his sons, he named Reuben first. The blessing, which was almost a curse,


Left: Ruins at ancient Heshbon, one of the cities

Right: Ruins at

on the southern boundary of the territory of Reuben.

the Reubenites rebuilt (Num. 32:37). Heshbon was on the north- ern border of terri- tory of Reuben, just south of Gad.

ancient Aroer, which served as a major fortress

Below: Found at Dibon in 1868, the Moabite Stone with the inscription from Moab’s King Mesha; basalt; 9th cent. B.C. In the inscription, Mesha bragged about con- quering and gaining control of Aroer.

was evidently tied to Reuben’s action with Bilhah. No longer was Reuben to excel (49:3-4). After this, Reuben passed from the biblical scene. His descen- dants, though, survived through the Egyptian captivity.

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ DAVID ROGERS/ LOUVRE/ PARIS (264/29) Left: Ruins at ancient Heshbon, one of the cities


A r • r Heshbon • Bezer Mt. Nebo • n Medeba • Baal-meon e Dibon
Mt. Nebo
Tribal Allotment of
Dead Sea


Moses granted the request with the condition they would assist in the war on the west side of the Jordan (32:25-27). If they assisted in the war- fare, the “land of Gilead” would be their territory (v. 29). Numbers 32:33-42 records Moses’ granting the territo- ries belonging to Sihon (king of the Amorites) and Og (king of Bashan) to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Specifically, the sons of Reuben built and lived in the cities of Heshbon, Elealeh, Kiriathaim, Nebo, Baal- melon, and Sibmah (32:37-38). According to 1 Chronicles 5:8, the Reubenites also settled as far a Nebo and Baal-meon. Joshua 13:15-23 also mentions the lands granted to the Reubenites on the east side of the Dead Sea. The territory’s southern boundary is at Aroer in the Arnon River Valley. The northern limit seems to have been near where the Jordan River entered the Dead Sea (Josh. 13:23). In addition to the cities of Numbers, other cities in Reubenite territory included Dibon and Medeba. The region also included the slopes of Pisgah, the burial place of Moses (Deut. 34:1). The

Reuben’s Descendants

In the first chapter of the Book of Numbers, the account of the census that Moses took refers to Jacob’s descendants as “the sons of Israel” (Num. 1:2, nasb). The census lists Reuben first. Elizur, the head of the house of Reuben, is named before the heads of the other families (v. 5). When the census of men age 20 and older is enumerated, Reuben’s descen- dants appear first, with a total of 46,500 (v. 20). A later cen- sus numbers the Reubenites at 43,730 (26:7). Interestingly, 2 Samuel’s account of this cen- sus (ch. 24) does not mention Reuben’s tribe or territory. The tribe of Reuben was named among the twelve when the Israelites left Sinai (Num. 10:18). Shammua was the rep- resentative from the tribe of Reuben who explored the prom- ised land (13:4). Later, two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, joined with Korah (the son of Levi) in leading 250 Israelites in a rebellion against Moses. As an act of God’s judgment, the earth opened and swallowed the tents and families of Dathan, Abiram, and Korah (16:1-35).

Reuben’s Territory

In its Early Days—Numbers 31 recounts the people of Israel fighting and subduing the Midianites. After these lands east of the Jordan were under Hebrew control, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad asked to be granted the territory.


Left: Gilead, east of the Jordan River, became home to the tribe of Reuben after the conquest of Canaan.

Below: Dated 1115–1077 B.C., tablet records names of those Assyria’s King Tiglath-pileser I conquered.

references to the events of the region. Known as the Moabite Stone or the Mesha Stela, the basalt stone monu- ment contains an inscription describing Israelite history through foreign eyes. The stone claims Israel’s King Omri (ruled 885-874 b.c.) had recaptured Medeba, but afterward Moab’s King Mesha regained control of the region. “Of Israel’s history it is learned that the war- like Gadites had absorbed the tribe of Reuben, and that they upheld the banner of Israel east of the Jordan.” 4 On the Moabite Stone, among the cities listed that Mesha conquered or rebuilt are Baal-meon, Dibon, Aroer, Bezer, Nebo, and Medeba, each associated with the tribe of Reuben. The stone does not mention, however, the tribe or territory of Reuben. First Chronicles 5:1-10 gives a genealogy for the sons of Reuben until the Assyrian exile. Tiglath-pileser carried Beerah, a descendant of Reuben, into exile (1 Chron. 5:6). The passage concludes with a note that the tribe conquered the Hagrites during the time of Saul and dwelt in all the region east of Gilead. As history progressed, control over the region changed from one conqueror to the next. Although later docu- ments mention the territories of Gad and Manasseh, fewer mention Reuben, leaving many scholars to surmise that the territory was likely absorbed by the stronger tribe of Gad and by the Moabites. Although details of their demise are unclear, by the end of the Old Testament Era, the territory and the tribe were long gone. I

  • 1. Study Notes on Genesis 35:21-22 in HCSB Study Bible, gen. ed. Edwin A. Blum,

Jeremy Royal Howard (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), 68.

  • 2. Maxwell Miller and E. Ray Clendenen, “Moab and the Moabite Stone” in Holman

Illustrated Bible Dictionary (HIBD), gen. ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie

England (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1146.

  • 3. J. Maxwell Miller, “Transjordan” in HIBD, 1614.

  • 4. “Moabite Stone,” [online; accessed 11 July 2014].

Available from the Internet: stone.

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRITISH MUSEUM/ LONDON (31/3/20) Left: Gilead, east of the Jordan River, became home to
ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ BRITISH MUSEUM/ LONDON (31/3/20) Left: Gilead, east of the Jordan River, became home to


city of Bezer was to be a city of refuge in Reuben’s territory (Josh. 20:8).

Joshua 22:10-34 describes the


between the tribes east of the Jordan (includ-

ing the Reubenites) with the rest

of Israel over

the establishment of an altar. Seen as apostasy, the western tribes gathered at Shiloh to wage war over the altar. However, an assembly consisting of Phinehas the son of Eleazar and a leader from each of the 10 western tribes were sent to investigate. The inquiry’s conclusion was the struc- ture was not an altar for sacrifice. Phinehas reported this, resulting in no more talk of warfare between the tribes. The altar was named “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God” (22:34, hcsb). Judges 4 establishes the scenario for the next reference to Reubenites during the period of the judges. The city of Hazor was not under Israelite control because of their doing “evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judg. 4:1, hcsb). In her song, Deborah included a reference to Reubenites (ch. 5). The verses related to the Reubenites (vv. 15-16) indicate the eastern tribe did not respond to the call to arms against King Jabin of Hazor. They stayed home and kept their flocks. In its Later History—Control of the region surrounding Heshbon, Dibon, and Medeba “often changed hands during biblical times.” 2 Conflicts over the region existed during the times of Saul, David, and Solomon. “After the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy, several Israelite and Judean kings attempted, some more successfully than others, to rule this portion of the Transjordan with which the Israelite tribes

were associated. David, Omri, Ahab, and Jeroboam II were the more successful ones.” 3 In 1868, a German missionary found in Dibon (also spelled Dhiban) one of the most valuable non-biblical

Robert A. Street is professor of computer information systems and Old Testament at Campbellsville University, Campbellsville, Kentucky.


ETB: Revelation 1


Emperor of Rome

Bust of Domitian; marble. The bust originally depicted Nero, but after his death was recarved to depict Domitian.




By Timothy N. Boyd

  • D OMITIAN (a.d. 81-96) was the third and last of the Flavian emperors. The

short-lived dynasty had been found- ed by Domitian’s father, Vespasian (a.d. 69-79), who had been a sena- tor and general until his elevation to emperor by the army. Titus (a.d. 79-81) was Domitian’s older brother and ruled after Vespasian for a short period of time. The Flavian family was not part of traditional Roman nobility. The fam- ily came from a small village near Rome named Falacrinae. The eleva- tion of the Flavians to imperial status occurred more from military success than birth. In spite of humble begin- nings, Vespasian was a highly effective emperor and, thus, was able to establish his two sons as his successors. 1 Although able to benefit from his father’s success, Domitian was not the

favored son. He was never as close to his father as his brother, Titus, who campaigned with his father in the conquest of Judea following its revolt against the Romans in a.d. 66. Since Titus was about 11 years older than his brother, he had greater opportunities than Domitian. Titus had received an imperial education in his youth because his father Vespasian was in favor at that time. Domitian received a limited education because Vespasian had fall- en out of favor during Nero’s reign when Domitian was a youth. When the opportunity came for Vespasian to lead the Roman war against the Jews, Domitian was too young to partici- pate. Titus, however, was Vespasian’s close associate in the endeavor. Domitian was, in many ways, the forgotten son. When Vespasian came to power, Titus ruled alongside his father almost as an equal. Domitian was

given a number of honorific titles, but he had no real authority. His father was more prone to criticize him than elevate him. Vespasian’s stronger support always went to Titus. 2 Partly, this may have been due to Domitian’s arrogant behavior when he was installed as the titular head of government while Vespasian was making his way from Judea to Rome. Domitian assumed control of an army and led a short-lived effort to bring forces in ancient Gallia and Germania 3 under the control of the new Flavian Dynasty. Tacitus, a Roman historian, suggested this was a possible power play on Domitian’s part. Considering this background, Domitian’s later actions likely were attempts to bolster his own self-esteem and his reputation among those around him. 4 Titus followed Vespasian as emperor with no real opposition. His rule, however, was short com- pared to his father’s. His reign was

Below: Ruins

Lower right:

of the Temple of Domitian at Ephesus. The original structure honored Domitian; his older brother,

Titus; and their father, Vespasian.

Right: Dated about A.D. 80, marble bust of Emperor Titus.

From Carthage, a head from an over-life-sized statue of Emperor Vespasian (A.D. 69-79).



Right: View from Patmos.

Below: Cuirassed marble torso dated A.D. 90-96. Romans frequently honored emperors and successful generals with por- trait statues wear- ing breastplates (cuirasses). In

the center of the breastplate is the image of a statue of the goddess Minerva flanked by Victories. The emphasis on Minerva sug- gests the statue was a portrait of Emperor Domitian, whose patron deity was Minerva.

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/ GB HOWELL/ MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS/ BOSTON (64/2576) Right: View from Patmos. Below: Cuirassed

only two years. He had no male heirs and the army still favored the Flavians. Thus, when Titus died, Domitian came to power with the military’s support. In spite of his lim- ited education and his lack of real responsibil- ity during the reigns of his father and brother, Domitian’s first years were notably successful. He followed his father’s example and brought solid administration to the empire. He also continued the rebuilding of significant structures in Rome as well as new construction projects. 5 Although Domitian was highly promiscuous, he tried to restore a sense of morality to Rome by forbid- ding lewd behavior in both public and private realms. This reflected his desire to restore many of Rome’s ancient values including a renewed reverence for the traditional gods. He also punished Vestal Virgins for immorality where his father and brother had not pursued the matter. 6 The empire continued to expand under Domitian with a campaign in the British Isles of a general named Agricola. Domitian, himself, took

the field in Germania and extended the con- quest of Rome in that vicinity as well. He also attempted to extend Roman control into Dacia (modern Balkans) with limited suc- cess. In spite of his success and his rewarding the army, a legion in upper Germania under the leadership of the governor, Antonius, instigated a revolt against him. He quickly moved north and put down the revolt. Antonius was killed, and the officers of the legion were ruthlessly punished. 7 In Rome, Domitian had a bad rela- tionship with the Senate; their power had significantly diminished since the time of Augustus. Domitian, however, abandoned even the sem- blance of recognizing the Senate’s authority and became increasingly despotic. He used trials to suppress critics of his regime. From the aftermath of the death of Julius Caesar, who lived 100–44 b.c., the idea of an imperial cult had been


promoted. Emperor Augustus (ruled 27 b.c.a.d. 14) was worshiped as a god after his death. Subsequent emperors continued this practice of elevating previous emperors to divinity. The Romans worshiped Vespasian after his death under the authority of his son, Titus. Domitian carried this con- cept even further, expanding it to his whole family. According to Domitian, the Flavians were a divine family. Domitian also took steps to see that he was recognized as divine during his own lifetime. This was partly motivated by a desire to offset the humble origins of the Flavian family. In Rome, tradition dictated against this kind of worship of a living emperor. Domitian, therefore, had limited success—although he took it as far as he was able. For example, he built a large number of statues of himself in gold, and he insisted upon being addressed as “our master and our god.” 8 In Asia Minor, Domitian’s demand for worship would have been regarded more seriously. Those living in this area had a tradition of recog- nizing living rulers as divine. Around a.d. 90, Domitian gave permission for the city of Ephesus to erect a temple




At the Forum in Rome, statue and house of the Vestal Virgins. Domitian opposed the Vestal
At the Forum
in Rome, statue
and house of the
Vestal Virgins.
Domitian opposed
the Vestal Virgins
because he consid-
ered their activi-
ties immoral.
  • 1. Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars (New York:

Barnes & Noble, 1975), 211-12.

  • 2. Ibid., 240-42.

  • 3. The regions of ancient Gallia and Germania include

modern France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and


  • 4. Tacitus, Histories 4.86.

  • 5. Suetonius, The Life of Domitian 5.

6.Ibid., 7-8.

  • 7. Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 67, 11.

  • 8. Donald McFayden, “The Occasion of the Domitianic

Persecution,” The American Journal of Theology 24, no. 1

(January 1920): 54-57; Suetonius, The Life of Domitian 13.

  • 9. Gordon Franz, “The King and I: The Apostle John

and Emperor Domitian, Part 1,” Associates for Biblical

Research [online; 18 January 2010; accessed 14 July 2014]. Available from the Internet: www.biblearchaeology.



  • 10. “Revelation 2:1-7 — Prophetic Oracle for Ephesus,”

John Marks Hicks Ministries [online; accesses 15 July 2014].

Available from the Internet:


  • 11. Grant, The Twelve Caesars, 253.

Timothy N. Boyd is director of communications and family evan- gelism for the Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, Topeka, Kansas.

to him as part of the imperial cult that made this city a key center of the worship of Domitian. This coupled with a strong legion presence that supported Domitian put Christianity and Domitian on a collision course. 9 Ephesus already had a history of conflict with the church as evidenced in the riot led by Demetrius and the silversmiths against the church in Paul’s time (Acts 19:23-41). Possibly this new temple, coupled with Domitian’s insistence upon being treated as divine in his own lifetime, caused a clash with the church in Ephesus, a congregation the apostle John led. 10 This was likely the cata- lyst that caused Domitian to exile John to Patmos. During the last three years of Domitian’s reign, the Senate and other officials lived in constant fear of their lives. The complicity of his wife, Domitia, and the leaders of his own Praetorian Guard finally brought down Domitian. A freed- man, Stephanus, on the pretext of bringing him a document, stabbed him with a knife. In the ensuing struggle another person rushed for- ward and helped kill Domitian. Men rushed in to help Domitian. Realizing what had happened, they then killed Stephanus. 11 While later historians such as

Above: Frieze depicting the arrival of Emperor Vespasian (ruled A.D. 69-79) in Rome. The noble figure in the toga in the upper right of the frieze is the emperor. His son, Domitian, as prae- tor urbanus, wel- comes his father who is returning to the city as emperor.



A golden

Roman aureus coin had a value of 25 dena- rii; obverse, Domitia (wife of Domitian) facing right; minted in Rome



Eusebius saw Domitian as being a persecutor of the church, we need

to point

out that this persecution

was not as severe as the earlier persecution under Nero. John was exiled; he was not executed. The persecution was certainly short-lived because of Domitian’s assassination. Most conservative biblical scholars agree that this persecution under Domitian provided the context of the Book of Revelation. This helps us date the book in the last decade of the first century. I


















BSFL: Jonah 1:1; TGP: Jonah 3:5-8

T D R E U . B N O S R T O Y N B


T D R E U . B N O S R T O Y N B

J nah

J nah

T D R E U . B N O S R T O Y N B
T D R E U . B N O S R T O Y N B
T D R E U . B N O S R T O Y N B
T D R E U . B N O S R T O Y N B

A Prophet for

His Time