Literary Styles in the Bible
Understanding the BibleUnited States Conference of Catholic Bishops
By Mary Elizabeth Sperry,
Associate Director for Utilization of the New American Bible.
Today’s Catholic is called to take an intelligent, spiritual approach to the bible.
Listed here are 10 points for fruitful Scripture reading.
- Bible reading is for Catholics. The Church encourages Catholics to make reading the Bible part of their daily prayer lives. Reading these inspired words, people grow deeper in their relationship with God and come to understand their place in the community God has called them to in himself.
- Prayer is the beginning and the end. Reading the Bible is not like reading a novel or a history book. It should begin with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the Word of God. Scripture reading should end with a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in our lives, helping us to become holier and more faithful people.
- Get the whole story! When selecting a Bible, look for a Catholic edition. A Catholic edition will include the Church’s complete list of sacred books along with introductions and notes for understanding the text. A Catholic edition will have animprimatur notice on the back of the title page. An imprimatur indicates that the book is free of errors in Catholic doctrine.
- The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. The Bible is a collection of 73 books written over the course of many centuries. The books include royal history, prophecy, poetry, challenging letters to struggling new faith communities, and believers’ accounts of the preaching and passion of Jesus. Knowing the genre of the book you are reading will help you understand the literary tools the author is using and the meaning the author is trying to convey.
- Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.
- The sum is greater than the parts. Read the Bible in context. What happens before and after – even in other books – helps us to understand the true meaning of the text.
- The Old relates to the New. The Old Testament and the New Testament shed light on each other. While we read the Old Testament in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it has its own value as well. Together, these testaments help us to understand God’s plan for human beings.
- You do not read alone. By reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture, Catholics join those faithful men and women who have taken God’s Word to heart and put it into practice in their lives. We read the Bible within the tradition of the Church to benefit from the holiness and wisdom of all the faithful.
- What is God saying to me? The Bible is not addressed only to long-dead people in a faraway land. It is addressed to each of us in our own unique situations. When we read, we need to understand what the text says and how the faithful have understood its meaning in the past. In light of this understanding, we then ask: What is God saying to me?
- Reading isn’t enough. If Scripture remains just words on a page, our work is not done. We need to meditate on the message and put it into action in our lives. Only then can the word be “living and effective.”(Hebrews 4:12).
Three Worlds of the Text
Studying Scripture requires a person to do more than surface read text; rather, you seek an in-depth study of text to fully grasp its orthodoxy. You gain a rich understanding of Scripture by studying it from different angles, along with the Holy Spirit’s illumination. One way to study it is through the three worlds of text:
- Reader Centered world in front of the text, when the reader brings his or her perspective to Scripture
- Author Centered world behind the text, comprises the social, political, cultural and ideological aspects from the author’s world and his intent (Tate, 1997)
- Text Centered world within the text, relates to the literary elements of Scripture
The three worlds support deep understanding by working in tandem with the processes of exegesis and interpretation for orthodoxy (belief in a doctrine) and orthopraxy (emphasis on practice or action). When you exegete text you determine what its first readers understood it to mean; after which, you interpret this same for implications to contemporary settings and situations.
Opening the Bible:www.catholicaustralia.com.au
Memories, reflections, stories and signposts
The word ‘bible’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘books’. The bible is not one book but a whole library, for it consists of 73 books written over a period of about 1600 years. It was originally written in three ancient languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and many authors of varying backgrounds have contributed to it including labourers, scholars and mighty kings.
Church documents related to Biblical Studies – compiled by Felix Just, S.J. Ph.DChurch Documents on Scripture
Free Bible images:
This image bank contains images which can be used to support the Religion Curriculum. They are free of copyright and can be used by teachers to illustrate people, places and symbols associated with the Bible.
They could be used to:
- Introduce a Scripture passage
- Accompany the telling of the Scripture passage
- Provide images for psalms
- Illustrate everyday life in 1st century Palestine
An online bible search engine
An extensive and excellent website containing videos, podcasts, posters to help explain the many books of the Bible. the videos are organised around books and themes.
An online Bible dictionary for teachers and pupils in Catholic Schools.
This is a very good website to look at the same scripture across the four Gospels – Gospel Parallels
The Three Worlds of the Text
Three Worlds of the Text Questions
Reading Behind, Within and in Front of the Text
A Brief Bible History
Frequently asked questions about the Bible
A resource compiled by the Catholic Education Office Rockhampton
The Origin and History of the Bible
Traditional Jewish methods of Bible study for Christians
The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church
Interview with Amy-Jill Levine
How to interpret the Bible
Jesus was a teacher. During his lifetime his followers, opponents and even interested inquirers regularly addressed him as ‘teacher.’ His teaching involved a radical criticism of the conventional wisdom that lay at the core of the first-century Jewish social world. It remains a radical criticism of the conventional wisdom of our day.
Jesus was also a master storyteller. He used stories and images in his teaching to make a point. The gospels are filled with his stories, metaphors, similes, proverbs, and even riddles. The parable is a type of story. The English word parable comes from the Greek wordparabole, which means ‘to place along side.’ So a parable compares one thing to another. In the gospels, they are specifically used to compare some aspect of common, everyday life to some reality of the kingdom of God.
For more information go to:
Reversal of expectations
The function of parable is to challenge myths. Myth creates a worldview; parable undercuts that worldview. It does so by challenging the expectations raised in humankind by myth.
A structural analysis of a simple myth and a parable reveals the following structure:
To put it in the simplest terms, as human beings we come to expect certain giversto give good gifts to certain good receivers, and to give bad gifts to certain other receivers. The good gifts might be designated O+ (a positive object), and the bad gifts O- (a negative object). Similarly, the good receivers can be termed R+ and the bad receivers R-. Myth establishes and reinforces these expectations.
Imagine our surprise to find that the good object (O+) actually goes to a ‘bad’ receiver (R-) and the bad object (O-) to a ‘good’ receiver (R+) in some particular story. The reversal makes that story a parable because it entails a reversal of expectations. Myths establish and nourish a particular world in which contradictions and frustrations are reconciled; parables undermine that world by frustrating expectations and turning things upside down.
“Two people went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast once a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18:10-14a)
In the parables that he told, Jesus seems to be saying to his listeners; whatever you hope for, whatever you want, whatever you think you should have — the kingdom is not that! It always comes as a surprise!
Parables in full text. This site reproduces the text of forty gospel parables.http://www.textweek.com/art/parables.htm
This website has links to art images of the parables
Jesus is most famous, I think, for parables and aphorisms. And both of them are really ways of teaching ordinary people. Now, if you read them in the New Testament, it might take a minute to read; I imagine them as maybe an hour long interaction between Jesus and an audience, who are probably talking back to him, and interrupting him and debating with him and disagreeing with him and fighting with him. And the parable is a way, really, of getting them to think. It’s a way of provoking people to think for themselves….[For example], Jesus tells a parable about somebody who takes a mustard seed, plants it in the ground, and it grows up to be a great tree, or a bush at least, a weed, though, in plain language. Now, imagine an audience reacting to that. Presumably the Kingdom is like this, and you have to figure out, “What’s it like? You mean, the Kingdom is big? But you just said it’s a big weed. So why don’t you say a big cedar of Lebanon? Why a big weed? And besides, this mustard, we’re not sure we like this mustard. It’s very dangerous in our fields. We try to control it. We try to contain it. Why do you mean the Kingdom is something that the people try to control and contain?” Every reaction in the audience … the audience fighting with themselves, as it were, answering back to Jesus is doing exactly what he wants. It’s making them think, not about mustard, of course, but about the Kingdom. But the trap is that this is a very provocative, even a weird, image for the Kingdom. To say the Kingdom is like a cedar of Lebanon, everyone would yawn, say, “Of course.” It’s like a mustard seed … “What’s going on here?”
Is this [style of teaching] unique to Jesus?
The parables are unique only in a very limited sense, in that the primary teaching of Jesus is not taking texts out of the Hebrew scriptures and explaining them, blasting them, commenting on them. What he is doing is telling a perfectly ordinary story. And using that as the major teaching. “The Kingdom of God is like this.” Now you have to think, well, I hear the story, but how on earth is the Kingdom of God like that? That’s your job as the hearer. So it’s open to anyone. And that’s, I think, the point of the parable.
So right from the start his teaching depends on interpretation?
If you teach in parables, you give yourself to interpretation. If you really want to tell people what to think you preach them a sermon. If you tell them a parable then you’re leaving yourself open, inevitably, to interpretation.
accessed April 2014
The Lost Coin Luke 15:8-10
This piece of silver might have been sacred to the woman because it is part of a set of ten. It might have been one of the coins which Jewish, and indeed other Eastern women, sew on to their head-dresses. These coins might have been given her by her father at her wedding and worn by her to show her status as a faithful married woman. Decent women are not seen, even much at home, without these snoods. (This may have given added reason for criticism of the woman who dries Jesus’ feet with the loosened hairs from her head.)
If the woman is found to be unfaithful, her husband might take one of the coins to disgrace her. If the husband discovers that a coin is missing, he might also get the wrong idea. The set of coins also testifies to her worth. If she wears these about her head, it means that she probably has more. So, as you can see, the invaluable nature of the coin is that, as part of the set, it brings glory to the bride. It is a treasure that must be found!
The Pearl of great price
The Pearl Banquet Myth
“There have been two pearls that were the largest in the whole of history; both were owned by Cleopatra, the last of the Queens of Egypt—they had come down to her through the hands of the Kings of the East….In accordance with previous instructions the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar, the strong rough quality of which can melt pearls. She was at the moment wearing in her ears that remarkable and truly unique work of nature. Antony was full of curiosity to see what in the world she was going to do. She took one earring off and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was melted swallowed it….With this goes the story that, when that queen who had won on this important issue was captured, the second of this pair of pearls was cut in two pieces, so that half a helping of the jewel might be in each of the ears of Venus in the Pantheon at Rome.”
Pliny, Natural History (IX.59.119-121; also Macrobius, Saturnalia, III.17.14-17)
The parable of the Lost Sheep
The Parable of the Leaven
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The Good Samaritan Commentaries
Do we have ideas on who really wrote the Gospels?
Joe Paprocki Answers:
Do we have ideas on who really wrote the Gospels? I know they are only attributed to people who “followed” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—but what about the people who actually wrote down the words?
In short, the answer is NO, we do not really know who put pen to paper for each of the Gospels. We do know that each of the Gospels went through an oral phase, consisting of up to several decades, before they were recorded in writing. Each of the accounts is attributed to a specific person – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – who was a contemporary of Jesus and/or the Apostles.
Matthew, also referred to as Levi, was one of the Apostles as was John. Mark (referred to as John Mark in the Acts of the Apostles) is believed to have been a cousin of Barnabas who accompanied him and Paul on a missionary journey and is mentioned in letters of both Paul and Peter. Luke, is believed to have been a companion of Paul and is mentioned in several of his letters.
Scripture scholars tell us that the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were most likely recorded in writing between the years 70-80 AD, some forty or fifty years after the Resurrection making it very unlikely that the named authors were still alive. This is even more unlikely in the case of John’s Gospel which was not written down until about the year 100 AD. It was customary, however, in biblical times, to attribute writings to authors who were long deceased, based on the knowledge that their message had been preserved and transmitted faithfully over the course of many years. The individuals who recorded the Gospels in written form remained anonymous so as not to detract from the reliability of these accounts that came from people who walked with Jesus and his Apostles. The anonymity of the actual writers is an example to all of us of how we are to receive a message that is not our own, embrace it, and faithfully transmit it (proclaim it) to others.
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist’s Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).
Fr James Martin – “The Historical Jesus”.
This YouTube clip was from Fr James Martin’s session at the 2018 LA RE Congress.
Jesus as Wisdom Teacher
Jesus the Jew
Jesus Festivals and New Testament References
Peasant Society in First Century Palestine
Village Life in First Century Palestine
Judaism: Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots
Jesus as Social Prophet
Jesus' Social Class
Jewish Groups at the time of Jesus
Jewish scriptues and the Christian Bible
Basic Outline of the Four Gospels
Comparative Chart of the Four Gospels
Life and Times of First Century Palestine
The Mighty Deeds of Jesus
Jesus was known for doing “mighty deeds,” according to Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote about Jesus near the end of the first century. The gospels agree. They not only report many stories of spectacular deeds done by Jesus, but also that crowds flocked to him because of his reputation as a healer.
These spectacular deeds are commonly divided into two categories. The first is healing, including exorcism. The second, often called nature miracles, includes such stories as walking on the sea, stilling a storm, multiplying loaves and fish, and changing water into wine.
Mainstream scholars widely accept that Jesus performed spectacular deeds falling into the first category. More than 80% of the members of the Jesus Seminar, often viewed as a liberal and sceptical group, believe Jesus performed healings and exorcisms. Among other biblical scholars, the percentage would be as high or higher.
But whether or not Jesus performed spectacular deeds in the second category is up for discussion. A majority of mainstream scholars view the stories of the nature miracles as metaphorical narratives rather than as historical reports. I am among them.
Why is there a difference in assessing these two kinds of spectacular deeds? The decision to see the nature miracles as metaphorical narratives involves two factors.
The first is the stories themselves. Do they appear to be reporting an event, or are there signs within the stories that suggest they are to be read symbolically? This is important because often the stories of Jesus’ nature miracles make use of rich symbols drawn from the Hebrew Bible.
The second factor is a judgment about the limits of the spectacular. My shift in terms from “miracles” to “the spectacular” is deliberate. The most common modern understanding of miracles, accepted by both those who affirm and deny them, takes into consideration the modern worldview: The universe is a closed system of cause and effect operating under natural laws. Within this framework, miracles are understood as God’s intervening supernaturally into an otherwise predictable system of natural cause and effect.
Because I do not accept this way of thinking about the world and God’s relation to the world, I avoid the term “miracles.”
“The spectacular,” on the other hand, simply refers to events that go beyond what we usually think are possible. And so, asking whether there are limits to the spectacular means: Are there events that never happen anywhere? Or is everything possible?
As we think about this question, it is important not to draw the limits of the “spectacular” too narrowly, as scientific minds might. More events are possible, and more events happen, than the modern worldview allows. For example, I think Jesus really did perform paranormal healings and that they cannot be explained simply as faith healings. I am even willing to consider that spectacular phenomena like levitation happen.
But do virgin births, walking on water, multiplying loaves and fish, changing water into wine, bringing genuinely and definitely dead people back to life, ever happen anywhere?
As a historian, I am unwilling to say that Jesus could do such things, even though nobody else has ever been able to. To do so would be to elevate Christianity above all other faiths by saying that God has acted in this tradition as God has never acted anywhere else. It would also mean that God acted in the past very differently from how God acts in the present, which violates the principle that God is never-changing.
Thus, I regard the nature miracles as metaphorical narratives, not as history. They are, to use an insight I owe to Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan, parables about Jesus. Jesus told parables about God, and the early Christians told parables about Jesus.
As a historian, however, I do think Jesus was a healer and an exorcist. To illustrate my reasoning, I use two factors. The evidence that Jesus performed healings and cast out what he and his disciples called evil spirits is widespread throughout in earliest Christian writing. There are stories and sayings, and both his followers and opponents accepted that he performed these acts.
The second factor is evidence that paranormal healings happen. The evidence is ancient and modern, anecdotal and statistical. Since I am persuaded that paranormal healings do happen, then there is no reason to deny them to Jesus.
Many modern people understand Jesus’ healings as merely faith healings. It is true that some physical conditions are caused by mental states, and sometimes a physical cure can be brought about by addressing the mental state. Moreover, faith or confidence in the power of the healer can bring about a cure.
But not all paranormal healings can be accounted for in this way. In some cases, in the gospels and the modern world, the faith of the healed person doesn’t seems to be involved. We don’t know how to account for them. In my judgment, seeing the explanation as either “supernatural intervention” or as “psychosomatic cure” is too much of a claim for us to make because we don’t understand the process involved in paranormal healing.
We also don’t know the limits of paranormal healing, though I think there are some. I am confident, for example, that missing limbs are never replaced. But there is an impressive range of serious conditions that have been healed by paranormal means.
Hence, my conclusion: Jesus was a healer and an exorcist. Indeed, more healing stories are told about him than about any other figure in the Jewish tradition. In all likelihood, he was the most remarkable healer in human history.
Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/2004/04/the-mighty-deeds-of-jesus.aspx#aiSY8CsFrCayOHZq.99
God’s Reign in Miracles
Miracles in the Synoptic Gospels
Following is a listing of the miracles of Jesus with corresponding Scriptures. “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30, 31)
Control of Nature
1. Calming the storm – Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25
2. Feeding 5,000 – Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14
3. Walking on water – Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21
4. Feeding 4,000 – Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9
5. Fish with coin – Matthew 17:24-27
6. Fig tree withers – Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-25
7. Huge catch of fish – Luke 5:4-11; John 21:1-11
8. Water into wine – John 2:1-11
Healing of Individuals
1. Man with leprosy – Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 5:12-14
2. Roman centurion’s servant – Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10
3. Peter’s mother-in-law – Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:30-31; Luke 4:38-39
4. Two men possessed with devils – Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-15; Luke 8:27-39
5. Man with palsy – Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26
6. Woman with bleeding – Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48
7. Two blind men – Matthew 9:27-31
8. Dumb, devil-possessed man – Matthew 9:32-33
9. Canaanite woman’s daughter – Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30
10. Boy with devil – Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:17-29; Luke 9:38-43
11. Two blind men – including Bartimaeus – Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43
12. Demon-possessed man in synagogue – Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37
13. Blind man at Bethsaida – Mark 8:22-26
14. Crippled woman – Luke 13:10-17
15. Man with dropsy – Luke 14:1-4
16. Ten men with leprosy – Luke 17:11-19
17. The high priest’s servant – Luke 22:50-51
18. Nobleman’s son at Capernaum – John 4:46-54
9. Sick man at the pool of Bethsaida – John 5:1-15
20. Man born blind – John 9:1-41
Raising the Dead
1. Jairus’ daughter – Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56
2. Widow’s son at Nain – Luke 7:11-17
3. Lazarus – John 11:1-44
Mark, the Gospel of Miracles Preaching the miracle stories of the Gospels in a rational age is not easy.
Father Ronald D. Witherup, SS
Preaching the miracle stories of the Gospels in a rational age is not easy. Yet the Synoptic Gospels, and the first nine chapters of Mark in particular, are filled with stories of Jesus as a miracle-worker. What to make of this for the liturgical year of Mark?
First, we must clarify what constitutes a miracle. In common parlance, a miracle is an unexplainable phenomenon outside the normal range of human experience. It is supernatural or transcendent. It defies scientific explanation. Yet in Mark — as in Matthew and Luke — miracles are called “deeds of power” (Greek, dynamis).1 They are thus intimately related to Jesus’ authority, power and teaching. Unfortunately, in the modern mind, miracles are seen more as supernatural interventions in human affairs that often address our banal human needs. Thus, quite often people pray for miracles by bargaining with God: “Lord, if you do X for me, I will Y or Z (fill in the blanks!).” The request might concern the cure for a disease, protection of a loved one, finding a job, or winning the lottery. In any case, the desire is for a divine effect far beyond the normal in our lives and in our way. Mark has a slightly different conception.
Miracles in Mark
There are basically three types of miracle stories in Mark: exorcisms, nature miracles and healings. The first miracle (1:23-27) is a superb example. Under the influence of evil spirits, a possessed man cries out to Jesus of Nazareth, recognizing Him as “the Holy One of God.” Jesus rebukes him and expels the demons. But notice how the story is framed. It begins with astonishment at Jesus’ teaching with authority, in contrast to the scribes, and it concludes with amazement and a perplexing question: “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (1:27).
For Mark, the meaning is clear. Jesus’ ability to exorcise demons is a main element of His teaching. It is not a question of “magic” or provoking wonderment at some unexplainable trick. In Mark’s day the Greco-Roman world was filled with charlatans and magicians. Even Jesus in Mark acknowledges other miracle-workers, and He is not incensed that someone else would seemingly be in competition with Him (12:38-41). In fact, some Gospel miracles about Jesus have counterparts in contemporary figures, like Apollonius of Tyana or Honi the Circle Drawer, who could do wondrous deeds.2 But the similarity stops there. Jesus’ ability to perform “miracles” is to show forth God’s power and Jesus’ own authority to heal primarily by the forgiveness of sins, such as in the cure of the paralytic (2:12). The internal healing of a person is as important, if not more so, than the external miracle.
Another category of miracle relates to nature. The calming of the stormy sea (4:35-41), the duplicate miraculous feedings of the crowds (6:34-44; 8:1-9), and Jesus’ walking on the water (6:45-52) are examples of Jesus’ manifestation of powers beyond the normal and that show His ability to control even mother nature, which, we know well from experience of natural disasters, can be an awesome destructive force. For Mark, these are merely further indications of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. He has been gifted in ways beyond the norm, but faith in Him is what is important, not astonishment at His incredible deeds. After the miracle of walking of water, for instance, the text says His disciples’ “hearts were hardened” (6:52). Even witnessing such phenomenal power does not necessarily bring one to faith.3 Hardened skeptics or convinced atheists can be a tough crowd to change, even by miracles.
Faith and Ambiguity
This leads us to the intriguing relationship miracles display between faith and ambiguity. The healing stories, the third category of miracles, illustrate this point. Amazingly enough, miracles, in and of themselves, are not irrefutable proofs of Jesus’ identity in Mark. Frequently, Jesus’ miracles produce fear, awe, astonishment or amazement in those who witness them. But none of these reactions is what is truly necessary, namely, faith. Jesus Himself attributes His effectiveness to peoples’ faith in Him, not to His own power. A prime example is the woman with the 12-year hemorrhaging. After her incidental healing by only touching Jesus’ cloak, Jesus says to her: “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (5:34; cf. also 6:56).
Another example is the healing of the mute boy possessed by a demon (9:14-27). Jesus’ disciples were not able to perform the exorcism, so the boy’s father, in desperation, comes to Jesus and professes his faith in Him with the memorable words: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (9:24). Only then is the miracle effected. But Jesus explains, “This kind [of evil spirit] can only come out through prayer” (9:29). Faith and prayer are essential for the efficacy of miracles.
Even more astonishing is the story recorded in Mark of Jesus’ visit to “His native place” (Nazareth). There, of all places, Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed” and He was astonished at “their lack of faith” (6:5-6)! One cannot get a clearer picture of the relationship between Jesus’ power to perform miracles and the recipients’ faith. One must truly believe to receive what God so freely offers in miracles.
Sometimes I have heard people ask why miracles don’t seem to happen today as they once did, as in Jesus’ day. My response is that perhaps we are simply asking for the wrong kind of miracle. It is not that miracles have stopped. On the contrary, miracles happen every day. There are unexplainable cures, cancers that go into mysterious remission, wayward children who finally find a sure path to follow, or marriages wounded by human failure that finally are put back together. But often, when we pray for a miracle, we are asking for an answer to our prayers in a particular fashion and in our time frame. We are not being truly filled with faith that God can effect a miracle for us.
Moreover, as Mark’s Gospel shows, miracles are in and of themselves ambiguous. I am reminded of the wise adage attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one who has no faith, no explanation is sufficient.” Miracles and faith go hand in hand.
The Greatest Miracle
In a sense, the greatest “miracle” in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross and subsequent vindication in the resurrection. Only at the cross does a human character in Mark’s story pronounce publicly the expression of faith that is essential to Christian identity. After witnessing the manner of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion cries out: “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39). This is an unambiguous statement of faith. This is what Mark’s community would have recognized as the real goal of the Gospel, to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ by reflection on His public ministry, His passion and His death.
So what does this short exercise in Markan interpretation tell us? The point is certainly not to pooh-pooh the faith of our parishioners when they seek miracles in their lives or express frustration that God has not answered their prayers in a specific way. This is normal. But Mark teaches us that miracles, faith and prayer constitute a complex network of Christian belief. It is not wrong to ask God for miracles. Indeed, Mark’s stories show us that Jesus’ miracles were often the result of a humble, sincere request on the part of simple, everyday people. And Jesus insists that “Everything is possible to one who has faith (9:23). But humbly asking with the same attitude as the father of the mute boy — “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (9:24) — is what is essential. None of us is really worthy of miracles in our lives, yet God wills that we be well and blessed. Thus miracles can and do happen today, as they did in Jesus’ day. Giving people the courage to pray with this conviction is what our preaching of miracles should be about.
Miracles are stories of God’s power and ability to enter our world in ways beyond our comprehension. Thus we should not avoid preaching these miracles. Neither should we reduce them to rationalistic explanations (e.g., the “brown bag” picnic theory for the multiplication of loaves!). With Mark’s Gospel, we can take the high road and preach miracles for what they are: God’s powerful teaching at work in Jesus Christ. TP
1 John’s Gospel is a different matter altogether. There Jesus’ wondrous deeds are called “signs” (Greek, sémeia); they are related to that Gospel’s particular Christology.
2 Some of these individuals are known to us through the writings of the Jewish–Roman historian, Josephus, as well as other ancient sources.
3 One could make here an interesting contrast with St. Paul who, though he could do mighty deeds, insisted that his power was more importantly found in his weakness and sufferings as an apostle (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13; 14:18-19 and 2 Cor 12:10).
FATHER WITHERUP, S.S. is Superior General of the Society of Saint Sulpice. Among his many publications is Gold Tested in Fire: A New Pentecost for the Priesthood (Liturgical Press, 2012).
The Miracles of Jesus
34. Healing of Blind Bartimeaus (+1)
A. PASSAGE SELECTED: MK. 10:46-52
B. PROGRESSION STATED: LOGICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL
C. PRESENTATION SUMMARIZED:
1. PROBLEM OF THE CONTEXT 10:46
Matthew says two got healed. Mark and Luke only mention Bartimaeus. Perhaps the explanation is that Mark and Luke are being more specific and Matthew is condensing his account to save space. He’s done that many times before. Bartimaeus was perhaps the more well known of the two that got healed.
Another difference is that Matthew and Mark say Jesus was leaving Jericho and Luke says He was approaching Jericho. This looks like a contradiction, but it seems that there were two Jerichos—an old and a new city—and the healings could have occurred as the crowd was leaving old Israelite Jericho (Matt. 20:29; Mark 10:46) and entering new Herodian Jericho (Luke 18:35).
2. PRONOUNCEMENT OF THE CURE 10:47-52
a. The request [expression of faith] (47)
Again, we have the blind recognizing Jesus for who he is.
b. The rebuke [extinction of faith] (48a)
Shows their lack of love.
c. The second request [extension of faith] (48b)
d. The response [effects of faith] (49-52)
He stops to pay attention. He speaks to the crowd. He solicits the man’s faith. He saves the man – Greek word is “saved” not “healed”
- Bartimaeus’ following of Christ is the climax to the discipleship teaching of 8-10. He does what Christ has been teaching the disciples to do.
- He models a right response to the identity of Christ as well as the obedience in following Christ.
- Beware of the insensitivity that would stifle the ministry of Christ to the outcasts.
- Instead, encourage those who are seeking Jesus, don’t get in their way.
- Like the blind men, I need to be persistent in my pursuit of the Lord.
- Salvation should result in discipleship.
Miracle Stories in the New Testament
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Teaching PowerPoint on Miracles
For Jews, the concept of “ ” is much broader than the books themselves, the delimited concept of the Torah. “Torah” can refer to all of traditional Jewish learning, but “the Torah” usually refers to the Torah she’bi’ktav, the written Torah, also known as the Chumash (the five volumes or Pentateuch, sometimes referred to as the Five Books of Moses).
The Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim) collectively make up The Hebrew Bible (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). The Bible is often referred to by the Hebrew acronym TaNaKh (usually spelled Tanakh, or Tanach).
The Torah’s stories, laws and poetry stand at the center of Jewish culture. They chronicle God’s creation of the world, the selection and growth of the family of Abraham and Sarah in relationship to God in the land of Canaan, the exile and redemption from Egypt of that “family-become-nation” known as Israel, and their travels through the desert until they return to the land of Canaan. Along the way, Israel enters into a covenanted relationship with God, and God reveals many of the rules for governing a just society and for establishing appropriate worship.
The Torah Comprises Five Books
The English names for each of the Torah’s five book are actually Greek, and like the Rabbinic names for the books, they describe the contents. The common names for the books come from a significant word in the beginning verses of the book. The following are the names of the five books and a brief summary of each (click on them for longer summaries):
Genesis (“Origins”)/Bereishit (“In the Beginning”)
Genesis tells the story of creation, Noah and the flood, and the selection of Abraham and Sarah and their family as the bearers of God’s covenant. Stories of sibling conflict and the long narratives of Jacob and his favorite son Joseph conclude with the family dwelling in Egypt.
Exodus (“The Road Out”)/Shemot (“Names”)
Exodus tells of how the family of Jacob grew and then was enslaved in Egypt. The baby Moses, born of Israelites but adopted by Pharaoh, becomes God’s prophet who, after bringing 10 plagues down upon Egypt, leads the Israelites through the Red Sea to freedom and to the revelation at Mount Sinai. The story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, which follows soon after the revelation at Mount Sinai, is almost obscured by lengthy materials on the building of a sanctuary (tabernacle) in the wilderness.
Leviticus (“Laws of the Levites”)/Vayikra (“And God Called”)
Leviticus deals mostly with laws of Israelite sacrificial worship. Related rules include the basis for Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and issues of purity and impurity. The holiness code, which describes a sanctified communal life, is a highlight of the book.
Numbers (“The Census”)/Bamidbar (“In the Wilderness”)
Numbers begins with a census of the Israelites and the tribe of Levi. A group of Israelites spy out the land of Canaan; their discouraging report sends them back into the desert for an additional 38 years, during which the Israelites continue to behave badly, rebelling against the authority of Moses and his brother Aaron, and having illicit relations with Moabite women.
Deuteronomy (“Second Law”)/Devarim (“Words”)
Deuteronomy is Moses’ final message to the people of Israel before they cross over the Jordan River into Israel. Moses reminds the people of how God has redeemed the people from Egypt and of the details of the covenant between Israel and God. In stark language, Moses describes the rewards for observance of the laws of the covenant and the punishment for disobedience. Finally, Moses passes along his authority to Joshua who will lead the people into the land.
The Ten Commandments
he division of the commandments themselves is not at all certain. There are 13 sentences in the accepted Jewish version of the Ten Commandments (17 in the Christian), but it is difficult to ascertain with certainty from the text itself what comprises the first commandment, the second, and so forth. For while there are 13 mitzvot [commandments] to be found in the text, their allocation to the Ten Commandments can be done in a variety of ways. Thus there are different traditions.
The Commandments (in Jewish Tradition)
First Commandment (Exodus 20:2)
I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Second Commandment (Exodus 20:3-6)
You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them, for I, the Lord Your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7)
You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.
Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11)
Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord Your God, in it you shall not do any manner of work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day. Wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.
Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12)
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord God gives you.
Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13)
You shall not murder.
Seventh Commandment (Exodus 20:13)
You shall not commit adultery.
Eighth Commandment (Exodus 20:13)
You shall not steal.
Ninth Commandment (Exodus 20:13)
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:14)
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, nor his wife, his man-servant, his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
Non-Jewish Ordering of the Commandments
The above are the Jewish division of the Ten Commandments. However, such writers as [the ancient philosopher] Philo, as well as the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of the Bible, the Greek Church Fathers, and most Protestant churches (except the Lutherans), consider the first of the Ten Commandments to be, “I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (verses 2 and 3). That is to say, God’s very existence and God’s relation to Israel in addition to the prohibition of worshiping other gods are seen as belonging together, while the prohibition of idolatry forms the second commandment.
Yet another division is used in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches. This follows the written text of Torah scrolls and combines verses 2 through 6 into one commandment; that is, it includes the prohibitions of idolatry in the first commandment. And further, it divides the last phrase (verse 14 in Jewish, verse 17 in Christian versions) into two parts:
Ninth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…”
Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…”
God is beyond human comprehension, but that has not stopped Jewish thinkers from attempting to describe God. The Jewish God is referred to with many names and euphemisms, though God’s scriptural names are traditionally only pronounced during religious activities. Belief in one God is one of Judaism’s defining characteristics. Nonetheless, some parts of the seem less monotheistic than others. In addition, there are minor currents of thought within Judaism that play down the importance of belief in God.
The God of the Bible has a multitude of roles and attributes that often contrast sharply with each other. In this sense, God is like a person–experiencing a range of emotions, often torn between competing allegiances and values. The God of the Bible communicates with people through prophets and is even open to critique. Of the varied biblical representations of God, the two that became particularly prominent in Jewish thought are God’s oneness and God’s role as creator of the world.
About the Holy Spirit