Bible: The New Testament

Study Questions

Further study Study Questions

What are the significant differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s narratives of Jesus’s infancy?

The different purposes with which Matthew and Luke approach their narratives influence the ways that they tell the story of Christ’s birth. Because both authors are primarily interested in establishing the divinity of Christ, they both call Jesus’s birth miraculous, and cite God alone as the creator of Jesus’s life. But Matthew, who is interested in the Jewish lineage of Christ and the relationship between Christ’s teachings and the Judaic tradition, focuses on the social ramifications of Mary’s pregnancy more than Luke does. Matthew lauds Joseph for not abandoning his fiancée, even though Jewish custom dictates that pregnancy outside of wedlock is so shameful as to require a man to abandon his future wife. Luke’s narrative seeks to declare the good news of Christ’s birth to the poor and outcast, including women. As a result, Luke focuses on the humility of Jesus’s origins, pointing out that Jesus’s birth occurs in humble peasant surroundings. Luke also exalts Mary for her courage, making her a prominent female character with whom women in his audience might be able to sympathize.

2. How does the historical context of the Book of Revelation affect its content?

The Book of Revelation was written between 81 and 96 a.d. by a leader in a small church community on the island of Patmos. This community experienced persecution by the Roman Empire, which forced early Christians to put their allegiance to the empire before their allegiance to religion. When the Book of Revelation was written, the Roman Empire was expanding, and many Christians resisted both this expansion and Roman cults. Much of the Book of Revelation focuses on the contrast between the evils of the Roman Empire, personified as the two beasts in Revelation 13, and the true Christian God, who, according to Revelation, will “wipe away every tear” (21:4). Furthermore, in the first century a.d., apocalyptic literature like the Book of Revelation was very common, and Revelation contains many of the conventions of this literary form. Apocalyptic literature involves revelations that claim to predict future events, whereas previous revelations had only claimed to deliver the word of God. Moreover, apocalyptic literature almost always follows dual narratives of hope and despair, at once describing the current evils of the world and promising a figure who would save the righteous or faithful from the ultimate demise of the sinful world. The Book of Revelation uses the conventions of a popular literary form to address a pressing contemporary event. By describing equally vivid scenes of destruction and salvation, the Book of Revelation attempts to instill a hatred for the Roman Empire and strengthen faith in Christianity.

3. What is Paul’s relationship to Judaism, and what does he see as the relationship between Judaism and Christianity?

Paul of Tarsus calls himself a “Jew of Jews,” and never would have thought of himself otherwise. Like most of the early followers of Jesus, he came from a Jewish background, and saw Jesus’s teachings as an extension rather than a challenge to Judaism. However, the two religions come into conflict on many points. For Paul, the most significant conflict is between the Jewish idea that people will be judged according to their good or bad deeds on Earth and the Christian idea that faith in Christ is the only way to earn eternal salvation. Paul’s egalitarian approach emphasizes equality rather than inequality between Jews and Gentiles, saying that only with faith in God and Jesus Christ is salvation possible. His writing does not reconcile this conflict, but he does express his belief that the people of Israel are chosen and merit special grace, but that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ could also assure a promise of grace. Paul’s belief that forgiveness and love are given to all people, Jew and Gentile alike, made him a popular missionary. Rather than preaching religion as an exclusionary institution, his writing suggests that there is room within Christianity for people of different backgrounds. He views his belief as a renewed form of Judaism, not as an abandonment of his tradition.