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Exploring the Bible: Exploring the Bible
Reliability of Scripture
When it comes to the reliability of Scripture and possible misunderstandings provoked by translations, interpretations, and contexts, the only solution might be faith. Walter Harrelson is one of the theologians, who examines the question of the reliability of Scripture and answers the related disputes. Definitely, the Bible is not considered a historical document, which clearly states dates, events, and important figures. Moreover, Scripture itself contains books, which were approved by the Church at the time, while other books were considered unreliable or not worthy of attention. Finally, translation and context play a huge role (e.g. Corinthians). Overall, Walter Harrelson argues that Christians should not question the reliability of Scripture, but rather understand its context and meaning using their faith.
To begin with, the Bible has certain historical value because other historical documents of the time prove the existence of certain figures and events. The complete Hebrew Old Testament dates back to A.D.1000 and it has plenty of archeological evidence to support the events described in it. The New Testament was completed by A.D.45 A.D.120, around one hundred years after other ancient manuscripts had been written by Plato, Caesar, and Aristotle. Besides the historical value, the Bible also revealed many prophecies that were fulfilled; for example, Daniel prophesied the occurrence of major four superpowers, such as Persia, Babylon, Rome, and Greece. So, the historical evidence is present in a variety of aspects related to this question.
Moreover, the Bible was not created to serve a function of a historical document, but rather as a Scripture to guide the lives of Christians. Harrelson describes such factors as God's inspiration, the significance of context in interpretation. Two forms of God's inspiration were involved in the process of Scripture writing, namely direct words (like with Moses) and superintended men, who wrote the New Testament, allowing them to freely express what God intended in their own style. Context also plays a significant role when it comes to interpreting and understanding Scripture. Several passages cannot be taken out of context and applied to modern lives without proper analysis.
Finally, the most important aspect of the reliability of Scripture is faith. Harrelson states The Christian, who imagines that the reliability of the records as historical documents gives certainty to his faith, is duly startled from his false repose by the work of the historian (p. 2250). Indeed, if Christianity was only about the facts and historical evidence of Jesus' existence then the meaning of Christianity is lost. Christians believe since something changes within them when they read Scripture, and realize the price of the sin and decide to repent. Rather than that, Christianity should not occur based on historical evidence or facts; it has much deeper and significant reasons. So, faith is an inevitable part of reading and understanding Scripture, not the accuracy of translations.
The Significance of Being Made in Gods Image
One of the greatest theological topics is about humans made in God's image. Surely, several questions arise at the point of discovering what it really means and entails. Some people may mistakenly think that by being made in God's image humans are forced into being perfect and sinless. On the contrary, being made in God's image highlights natural free will and freedom of choice that every human has. It is also important to remember that God created the first human by breathing life into the dust and in this way the soul entered the body. This act symbolizes a spiritual connection between God and humans that did not break even after the fall. Thus, the signification of humans being made in God's image entails morality, freedom, and spirituality.
First of all, being made in God's image symbolizes the resemblance to God on the spiritual and moral levels. It can be explained through people's natural desire for justice, loyalty and order. Most of the fundamental life values derive from within and people share them by following moral rules. Essentially, the inception of morality is practically unexplainable, yet the inner feeling of right and wrong is inherent in the majority of people. Thus, society has recognized human rights, abolished slavery, and works its way towards equality. Another example is the abolishment of capital punishment and the overall moral development of the state. Altogether, all of these aspects serve as an illustration of God`s presence in people's lives that motivates them towards righteousness.
Secondly, God gifted people with the freedom to choose, build and even destroy. This characteristic is distinctive to humans since animals are driven by their instincts and habits, while humans have more complex cognitive abilities. We may assume that by creating people to His image, God meant to give humans full autonomy of decisions, paths, and choices to make. Unfortunately, first humans made their choice against God and were exiled from Eden. Yet, if God would create flawless beings programmed to be dedicated to Him, it would not be in His image. Harrelson mentions The conception of man as a creature made in God's image, but also as a sinner, was derived ultimately from the nature of God's action meaning that humans are imperfect but still accepted by God (p. 386). Another important symbol is spirituality, which entirely shapes the understanding of being made in God's image. So, God gave life to dust through sharing His own breath, which means that He endowed the body with the spirit. Surely, it is parallel to the Holy Trinity and consequently, this fact signifies the resemblance between God and His creation.
Important Themes in the Story of Hagar and Ishmael
The Old Testament and the story of Sarah and Abraham teach the readers about the traditions and customs of that time and particularly about their relationship with God. From the story of Abraham and Sarah readers already know that God promised them an heir and numerous offspring; however, both of them were about ninety years old and still childless. So, Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands and offered Abraham to use her slave Hagar as a surrogate mother. Moreover, another theme emerges along the way, namely God's prevalence that turned Hagar towards Him. Therefore, such major themes as the importance of an heir, woman leadership, and God's prominence are leading throughout the story of Hagar and Ishmael.
First of all, several significant facts about the culture can be noticed, such as the importance of an heir and surrogacy. Surely, when the former aspect is understood and fulfilled till today, the latter is more controversial in its nature. However, at that period it was socially acceptable, so Sarah decided to have children this way, but she did not consider the consequences. Moreover, her slave Hagar was Egyptian, meaning that the offspring would also share her genes and potentially create more conflict.
Pursuing this further, another theme emerges, which is woman leadership in this story. The storyline suggests that it was Sarah, who offered to Abraham to impregnate the slave girl, later she was the one to express jealousy towards the fact that Hagar conceived, and finally, she mistreated her, so the girl flew. Interestingly, Abraham plays a small role in decision making; both the first time Sarah asked him to lay with Hagar and the second time when Sarah got jealous, he said: Your slave is in your hands (Gen 16:6). All of these events show both the persistence and cunning nature of Sarah and the role that the woman played in the family. Eventually, Sarah decided to mistreat the slave to show the girl her place to rehabilitate herself and establish subordination.
Lastly, God's will is still fulfilled regardless of the events that Sarah provoked and Abraham agreed to. The fact of sending a slave to her husband is already conflicting as they had to be humble and wait for God's promise to be fulfilled. However, as described by Harrelson, Sin was born in doubt which was nourished by anxiety, and Sarah's little faith led to such serious consequences (p. 352). Eventually, Hagar returned to her mistress as told by the angel and gave birth to Ishmael (God hears). After all, God still fulfilled His promise but the family was to be divided between Ishmael and Isaac creating more conflict in the future.
Important Themes in the Story of Shiphrah and Puah
The story about Shiphrah and Puah from the book of Exodus is another example of the significance of women in Jewish society. As mentioned in Exodus 1:15, these women were midwives, but most likely with a good reputation, since the Pharaoh called them and gave orders. The role of delivering children was both responsible and honorable, but it also became dangerous since the Pharaoh ordered to kill Hebrew males at birth. Another theme that emerges in this story is faith and fear of God and not people. Shiphrah and Puah were righteousness and humble women, and God used them as an instrument to protect His people. Overall, such topics as obedience, fear of God, and God's protection are predominant in the story of Shiphrah and Puah.
Most importantly, the story of Shiphrah and Puah teaches the readers to be obedient and humble. These two women have chosen to listen to God and not the political leader. Their faith and righteousness are exemplary considering the difficult and conflicting nature of the situation. Scripture states But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men's children alive (Exodus 1:17). They took the responsibility to save the male children and listen to God and not the Pharaoh. Surely, they did not know the Pharaoh's reaction to their excuse Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. (Exodus 1:19), but they still trusted their lives in God's hands and were blessed.
The beginning of the story suggests that the Hebrew people will experience hardship with the new Pharaoh, who did not know Joseph. Indeed, the pharaoh was frightened by the fact that the Hebrew population was growing and one day it might rebel against the Egyptians, so he enslaved them and forced them to perform difficult tasks. Moreover, he also placed taskmasters, so they would watch over Hebrew workers and punish those who disobeyed. The Hebrew people had to live in such agony for a long time till their deliverer was born.
In this light, Shiphrah and Puah were those midwives who saved Moses from death and symbolically they delivered the deliverer. God planned that deliverer would be born with the mission to save Israel from Egyptian oppression and slavery. Therefore, God's presence and His plan are always right for the Hebrew people, especially when such obedient and humble women as Shiphrah and Puah helped the society and followed God's rules. Overall, women play an important role in Jewish society, since their contribution, both physical and spiritual, is vital.
Important Themes in the Story of Deborah and Jael
Another example of the courage and wisdom of women is represented in the story of Deborah and Jael. The main emphasis of the narrative is on the acknowledgment of Deborah's wisdom and judgment. She was one of the main judges and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided (Judges 4:5). Jael appears towards the end of the story and her impact is also significant. These two female characters played an influencing role in winning the battle and eventually the war against Jabin king of Canaan. Thus, the most important themes raised in the story include bravery, righteousness, and God's teaching nature.
First of all, this story combines the judging of Deborah and Jael. Deborah had a vision regarding the upcoming battle, so she called Barak and prophesized Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor (Judges 4:6). However, he believed neither her nor God so he tried to tempt her by posing an ultimatum that forced her to go with him. Deborah agreed but made another prophesy the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman (Judges 4:9). She also shows obedience and wisdom, since she puts her trust in God and not an army. Her wisdom is represented by the agreement to go with Barak, however, she was not obliged to do so. At this point, the events turned good for the Israelites and all Sisera's troops fell by the sword; not a man was left (Judges 4:16). So, even though he doubted God, the battle was practically completed.
In this light the second theme emerges in the story, teaching Baraka lessons. Considering that the words of the prophet were equated to God's words, it was unbelievable to disobey them. Yet, by posing an ultimatum, he doubted God and His mighty in winning the battle. Here the story goes to the enemy's leader, Sisera, who was the only one alive and who flew right to Jael's tent. Since Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite he agreed and entered her tent (Judges 4:17). Yet, despite the political alliance, Jael served as God's instrument in winning this battle. She gave Sisera milk instead of water, which made him sleepy, and shortly after she killed him by droving the peg through his temple into the ground (Judges 4:21). So, this story serves as a lesson to men and emphasizes the importance of faith and righteousness. Moreover, it highlights that God always keeps His words, which should not be doubted.
Marks Socio-Historical Context
One of the first gospels completed in the times of the early Church is the Gospel of Mark. It is considered the shortest one, yet it includes major themes such as the meaning of discipleship, Jesus as a Son of God, His mission, and the sacrifice of his life for mankind. Surely, it is relevant to consider the socio-historical context that impacts Marks writing and reasoning as it helps the readers understand Marks's chapter 13. The majority of scholars agree that this chapter has several significant references to apocalyptic literature, for example, the book of Daniel. Overall, the main characteristics of the gospel of Mark are the oral nature of the narrative, focus on Christ's sacrifice, and further apocalyptic atmosphere (chapter 13).
Several scholars, who studied the gospel of Mark, can clearly see the features of oral traditional literature. This means that the social context of the time required Mark to use a storytelling technique, where the teacher and his audience are the main characters. It is clear from the writing that he focuses on the oral performer as shown by many linguistic elements (e.g. And Jesus, answering them, began to say (Mark 13:5). One of the inferences that can be made from this gospel is that Mark was writing to follow the conventions of the literature at the time. Scholars date this gospel to 70 A.D. when the first prosecutions started. Thus, Marks's main audience was the early Christian church that needed the inspiration to stay united in times of suffering. Marks gospel was the first gospel to be written (the fast pace could be explained). Surely, Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels a little later as the major storyline was the same but included several additional stories and parables.
Pursuing this further, Marks's chapter 13 could be understood in the light of addressing apocalyptic literature and prophesy made by Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Here Mark focuses on the cost of discipleship and the hour when Jesus comes back But of that day or that hour, no one knows. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is (Mark 13:32-33). Mark also uses more descriptions when illustrating the coming back of Christ and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man (Mark 13:24). Such descriptions are very similar to the book of Daniel, who prophesized the return of Christ. Therefore, this chapter should be understood in the light of God's inspiration that connects two separate writings but draws parallels between them after a significant period of time.