The Literature and History of the New Testament (1915) [Lesson 4]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Jewish Background of Christianity

(pp.21-25)

A) About the author of the chapter:

John Gresham Machen “studied at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the universities at Marburg and Göttingen. In 1906 he joined the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary …

He left Princeton in 1929, after the school was reorganized and adopted a more accepting attitude toward liberal Protestantism, and he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.” [1]

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Gresham-Machen

B) Chapter Summary:

i) Sources

“The New Testament is one of the chief sources of information about the Palestinian Judaism of the first century. Other important sources are the works of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, and the Mishna. The Mishna is a collection of Jewish interpretations of the Mosaic law. In its written form it is thought to have been produced at the end of the second century, but it contains a mass of earlier material which had been preserved by oral tradition.”1

ii) Outline of Jewish History

“Old Testament history closes with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the reorganization of the national life which took place under Ezra and Nehemiah in the fifth century before Christ. At that time Judah, or “Judea,” was the only part of Palestine which was occupied by the Jews, and they occupied it only as vassals—though with independence in internal affairs—of the kings of Persia.”2

“The Persian dominion continued for over a century. Then, in the latter part of the fourth century before Christ, Judea was conquered by Alexander the Great. For some hundred years after the death of Alexander, the country was a bone of contention between the kings of Egypt and the kings of Syria—that is, between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. At the beginning of the second century before Christ the king of Syria won a permanent victory.”3

“Under the Ptolemies and at first under the Seleucids, as well as under the Persians, the Jews enjoyed a considerable measure of independence in the management of their own affairs … Under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria (175-164 B. C.), however, the policy of toleration was suddenly interrupted. Antiochus tried to stamp out the Jewish religion by force. The result was a heroic uprising led by Mattathias and his sons, who are called the Maccabees.”4

“The Maccabees were at first wonderfully successful against overwhelming odds; and when the opposing forces seemed at last to have become too powerful, internal conflicts at the Syrian court gave the Jewish patriots that independence which they could probably not otherwise have maintained. Rulers belonging to the Maccabean dynasty governed the Jewish nation for about a hundred years, during most of which period they were independent … Unfortunately the worldly power of the Maccabees had brought worldliness of spirit. The first revolt had been undertaken from a lofty religious motive, in order to maintain the worship of Jehovah. As the years went on, the Maccabean rulers became increasingly engrossed in the extension of political power. Allying themselves with the aristocratic party among the Jews, they came to favor the extension of those Greek influences—though not in the sphere of religion—which at first they had opposed. “5

“Under Queen Alexandra (76-67 B. C.) it is true, there was a reaction. The strictly Jewish, anti-Hellenistic party again became dominant. But under Alexandra’s successors there was civil strife, and the all-conquering Romans found the country an easy prey. Pompey took possession of Jerusalem in 63 B. C.

The years that followed saw the gradual rise of the family of Herod the Great, who, as vassal of the Romans, became king of all Palestine in 37 B. C. and ruled until 4 B. C.”6

“At Herod’s death, his territory was divided among his sons. Archelaus was given Judea, Antipas—the “Herod” of Jesus’ public ministry—received Galilee and Perea, with the title of “Tetrarch,” and Philip received certain territories to the east of Galilee. Archelaus was banished in A. D. 6, Antipas was banished in A. D. 39, and Philip died in A. D. 33. After the banishment of Archelaus, Judea was administered by Roman procurators till A. D. 41, when all Palestine was given to Herod Agrippa I. Acts 12:1-4,18-23. After A. D. 44, procurators were again in control.

The misgovernment of the procurators led to the great revolt in A. D. 66. After four years of war, Jerusalem was taken by the Roman army in A. D. 70. The temple was destroyed, and the offering of sacrifices ceased. The destruction of the temple marks an epoch in Jewish history. Henceforth the national center was gone.

There was another uprising in A. D. 132-135, but that was the last. A Gentile city was erected on the ruins of Jerusalem, and for a considerable time at least the Jews were forbidden even to enter its precincts.”7

iii) Administration and Parties

“After the return from the Exile, the priests occupied a position of leadership. The high priest, whose office was hereditary, was practically head of the Jewish state. With him was associated a council, composed of members of the priestly aristocracy. This state of affairs prevailed during the Persian and Greek periods.”8

“Under the Maccabees the power of the high priest reached its highest point. For after a time the Maccabean rulers themselves assumed the title of high priest, and still later the title of king. The high priest, then, under the Maccabees, was also king. Under Herod the Great, on the contrary, the high priesthood sank to its lowest ebb. Herod made and unmade high priests at pleasure.”9

“The council associated with the high priest was, under Alexandra, opened to the members of the strict anti-Hellenistic party. At the time of Christ it included both Pharisees and Sadducees.

These parties became distinct at the time of the Maccabees. The Sadducees—the origin of the name is not altogether clear—were the aristocratic party, hospitable to Greek culture. The Pharisees were the strict Jewish party, devoted to the law, and opposed to foreign influences.”10

“The name “Pharisee” means “separated.” The Pharisees were “separated” from the mass of the people by a stricter observance of the Mosaic law. At first the Pharisees supported the Maccabean leaders; for the Maccabean revolt was in the interests of the Jewish religion. But when the Maccabees became engrossed in worldly politics and susceptible to Greek influences the Pharisees opposed them.”11

iv) Language

“Old Testament passages in Hebrew were read in the synagogue. Hebrew was used also to some extent as the language of learned discussion. But for all ordinary purposes its place had been taken by Aramaic, a language of the Semitic family closely related to Hebrew. At the time of Christ Aramaic was the spoken language of the Palestinian Jews. Even in the synagogues, the Old Testament passages, after having been read in Hebrew, were translated orally into the language which the people could understand.”12

“But, since the time of Alexander the Great, another language had made its way into Palestine along with Aramaic. This was the Greek. The kingdoms into which Alexander’s empire was divided were Greek kingdoms … With the Greek government came Greek culture and the Greek language.”13

“In other spheres, however, under the Maccabean kings and still more under the Romans, Greek culture effected an entrance. At the time of Christ there were typical Greek cities not only to the east of the Jordan in Decapolis, where magnificent ruins even to-day attest the ancient Greco-Roman civilization, and not only along the coast of the Mediterranean, but even within the confines of Palestine proper. With some truth Palestine in the first century may be called a bilingual country. Greek and Aramaic were both in use.

Aramaic was the language of the mass of the people.”14

“As is proved by the presence of Aramaic words even in our Greek Gospels, Aramaic was undoubtedly the language in which the gospel was originally proclaimed.”15

“It is perfectly possible, however, that even Jesus may have used Greek upon rare occasions, for example in conversation with Pilate, the Roman procurator. His disciples, after the resurrection, found themselves at the head of a Greek-speaking community. The early Church in Jerusalem was composed not only of “Hebrews,” but also of “Grecians,” or Hellenists [Acts 6:1]. The Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews of the dispersion who were sojourning more or less permanently in the holy city.”16

The Literature and History of the New Testament (1915) [Lesson 3]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Greek Background of Christianity

(pp.15-20)

A) About the author of the chapter:

John Gresham Machen “studied at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the universities at Marburg and Göttingen. In 1906 he joined the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary …

He left Princeton in 1929, after the school was reorganized and adopted a more accepting attitude toward liberal Protestantism, and he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.” [1]

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Gresham-Machen

B) Chapter Summary:

1) The Hellenistic Age

“The Greek world culture which prevailed after the conquest of Alexander was widely different from the Greek life of the classical period. The earlier period is called the “Hellenic” period, the later period is designated as “Hellenistic.”” [1]

“When Greek thought made itself master of the world, it became mingled with numberless foreign elements. The mixture appears most clearly, perhaps, in the sphere of religion. Polytheism was capable of indefinite expansion. New gods could easily be identified with the old, or else be received along with them without a conflict. The religion of the Greco-Roman world is therefore different from that of ancient Greece.” [2]

“The learning of the Hellenistic age was centered in Alexandria in Egypt, a city which had been founded by Alexander the Great.” [3]

“Greek culture had ceased to belong to Greece in the narrower sense. It had become a possession of the world. The great library of Alexandria was a sign of the times. The Hellenistic age was an age of widespread learning.” [4]

“When Rome became master of the eastern world, conditions were not fundamentally changed. Rome merely hastened a process that was already at work. Already the nations had been brought together by the spread of Greek culture; Roman law merely added the additional bond of political unity. The Roman legions were missionaries of an all-pervading Hellenism.” [5]

“The Greco-Roman world was astonishingly modern. It was modern in its cosmopolitanism. In our own time the nations have again been brought together. The external agencies for their welding are far more perfect to-day than they were under the empire. Even the Roman roads would be but a poor substitute for the railroad and the telegraph and the steamship. But on the other hand we lack the bond of a common language. In some ways the civilized world was even more of a unit in the first century than it is to-day.” [6]

2) The Greek Bible

“The Church originated in Palestine. The first missionaries were native Jews. Yet even they had been affected by the cosmopolitanism of the time. Even they could use Greek, in addition to their native language. And Paul, the greatest of the missionaries, though a Jew, was a citizen of a Greek city.” [7]

“The Old Testament was a Hebrew book, but before the Christian era it had been translated into Greek. From the beginning Christianity was provided with a Greek Bible.” [8]

“Everything was prepared for the gospel. God’s time had come. Roman rule had brought peace. Greek culture had produced unity of speech. There was a Greek world, there were Greek-speaking missionaries, and there was a Greek Bible. In the first century, the salvation that was of the Jews could become a salvation for the whole world.” [9]

3) The Papyri

“”Papyri” are pieces of papyrus. Papyrus was the common writing material of antiquity up to about A. D. 300, when vellum, or parchment, came into general use. Unfortunately papyrus, which was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, is not a very durable substance, so that ancient papyri have been preserved until modern times only under exceptionally favorable conditions. These conditions are found in Egypt, where the dry climate has kept the papyrus from disintegration.” [10]

“In Egypt, within the last thirty years, have been discovered large numbers of papyrus sheets with Greek writing.

Of these the “literary papyri” contain simply parts of books. They differ from other copies of the works in question only in that they are usually older than the vellum manuscripts.

The “non-literary papyri,” on the other hand, are unique. They are private documents of all sorts—receipts, petitions, wills, contracts, census returns, and most interesting of all, private letters. It was usually not intended that these documents should be preserved. They were simply thrown away upon rubbish heaps or used as wrappings of mummies. They have been preserved only by chance.

The non-literary papyri are important first of all in the study of language. They exhibit the language of everyday life, as distinguished from the language of literature.” [11]

“The language of the New Testament is more like the language of the non-literary papyri than it is like the language of contemporary literature. The papyri indicate, therefore, that the New Testament is composed in the natural living language of the time rather than according to the canons of an artificial rhetoric.” [12]

4) A Gospel in a Real World

“The people that are introduced to us so intimately in the papyri are probably very fair representatives of the people among whom the gospel was first proclaimed …

The people of the papyri are not the great men of the time; they are just plain folk.” [13]

“Many of the early Christians were slaves, many were humble tradesmen.” [14]

[1] p.15

[2] pp.15-16

[3] p.16

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] p.17

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] p.18

[11] Ibid.

[12] p.19

[13] pp.19-20

[14] p.20

The Literature and History of the New Testament (1915) [Lesson 2]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Roman Background of Christianity

(pp.10-14)

A) About the author of the chapter:

John Gresham Machen “studied at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the universities at Marburg and Göttingen. In 1906 he joined the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary …

He left Princeton in 1929, after the school was reorganized and adopted a more accepting attitude toward liberal Protestantism, and he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.” [1]

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Gresham-Machen

B) Chapter Summary:

i) The Establishment of the Empire

“By the middle of the first century before Christ the power of the Roman republic extended around the Mediterranean Sea.”[1]

“… in 49 B. C., Julius Cæsar entered Rome at the head of an army, and Roman liberty was at an end. After the assassination of Cæsar in 44 B. C., there was a succession of civil wars, and then, by the victory of Actium in 31 B. C., Octavius, who later assumed the name of Augustus, became sole ruler. Augustus died in A. D. 14.

Subsequent emperors during the first century were: Tiberius (A. D. 14-37), Caligula (A. D. 37-41), Claudius (A. D. 41-54), Nero (A. D. 54-68), Galba, Otho and Vitellius (A. D. 69), Vespasian (A. D. 69-79), Titus (A. D. 79-81), Domitian (A. D. 81-96), Nerva (A. D. 96-98), Trajan (A. D. 98-117).”[2]

ii) Roman Administration under the Empire

“(1) THE PROVINCES.—The provinces of the empire are to be distinguished from the territories of subject kings or princes. The latter were quite subservient to Rome, but were given more independence of administration. A good example of such a subject king, theoretically an ally, but in reality a vassal, was Herod the Great, who ruled over all Palestine till 4 B. C.”[3]

“The provinces themselves were divided into two great classes—imperial provinces and senatorial provinces.

The imperial provinces were under the immediate control of the emperor. They were governed by “legates,” who had no regular term of office, but served at the emperor’s pleasure …

A good example of an imperial province is the great province of Syria, with capital at Antioch. Palestine was more or less under the supervision of the Syrian legate …

The senatorial provinces were governed by “proconsuls,” chosen by lot from among the members of the Senate. The proconsuls served for only one year. Even over these provinces and their governors the emperor retained the fullest supervisory authority. The senatorial provinces composed the central and more settled portions of the empire, where large standing armies would not be needed. Examples are Achaia, with capital at Corinth, and Cyprus with capital at Paphos.”[4]

“(2) LOCAL GOVERNMENT.—The Romans did not attempt to introduce perfect uniformity throughout the empire. The original Greek unit of political life was the city, and Greek cities were scattered over the east before the Roman conquest. With regard to local affairs, many of the cities retained a certain amount of independence …

In addition to the Greek cities, many of which were more or less “free” in local affairs, many “Roman colonies” had been established here and there throughout the empire …

A number of the cities of The Acts were colonies, and one, Philippi, is expressly declared to be such. Acts 16:12.”[5]

“(3) ROMAN CITIZENSHIP.—Before New Testament times Roman citizenship had been extended to all Italy. Italy, therefore, was not a province or group of provinces, but was regarded as a part of Rome. Outside of Italy Roman citizenship was a valuable special privilege. It raised a man above the mass of the provincial population …

Because Paul was a Roman citizen he was legally exempt from the most degrading forms of punishment, and had a right to appeal to the court of the emperor. Roman citizenship was sometimes acquired by money, but Paul inherited it from his father.”[6]

iii) The Roman Religion

“Under the empire, Rome was possessed of a state religion. The ancient gods of the republic were retained. There were great divinities like Jupiter and Mars, and there were numberless private divinities of individual households.”[7]

“… long before the Christian era, there had been a thoroughgoing identification of the gods of Greece with the gods of Rome. The Greek Zeus, for example, was identified with the Roman Jupiter; the Greek Ares with the Roman Mars.”[8]

“In the Roman world, religion was a national affair. Worship of the national gods was not only piety, but also patriotism …

Support of the gods of Rome, even where personal faith in them had been undermined, was considered to be the duty of every loyal citizen.

The political aspect of Roman religion appears most clearly in the worship of the Roman emperors.”[9]

“The Greek inhabitants of the empire really regarded Augustus as their saviour …

He saved them from the miseries of civil war, and from the rapacity of the degenerate republic; he gave them peace and happiness. And they responded by regarding him as a god.”[10]

 

[1] p.10

[2] Ibid.

[3] p.11

[4] Ibid.

[5] p.12

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] pp.12-13

[9] p.13

[10] Ibid.

The Literature and History of the New Testament (1915) [Lesson 1]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The New Testament

(pp.5-9)

A) About the author of the chapter:

John Gresham Machen “studied at Johns Hopkins University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the universities at Marburg and Göttingen. In 1906 he joined the faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary …

He left Princeton in 1929, after the school was reorganized and adopted a more accepting attitude toward liberal Protestantism, and he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.” [1]

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Gresham-Machen

B) Chapter Summary:

i) The Origin and Meaning of the Name

“The English word “testament” comes from a Latin word. The equivalent Greek word is hard to translate. As used in the Greek Bible it may mean either “covenant” or “testament.” Usually it should probably be translated “covenant.””[1]

“The phrase “new covenant” occurs about five times in the New Testament. In none of these passages does the phrase refer to the “New Testament” in our sense. It designates a new relationship into which men have been received with God.”[2]

“The names “old and new covenants,” then, were applied first to these two special relationships into which God entered with men [i.e. with the Hebrew nation, and with all who through faith accept the salvation offered by Christ]. Afterwards the names were applied to the books in which the conditions of those relationships were set forth.”[3]

ii) One Book or a Collection of Books?

“In the first place, the New Testament may be treated in every respect as a single book …

Nevertheless, the Bible is as a matter of fact not a mere textbook of religion, and if we treat it as such we miss much of its richness.”[4]

“It is nearer the truth … to say that the New Testament is a single book than to say that it is a collection of books. Its parts differ widely among themselves, in authorship, in date, in circumstances, in aim. Those differences must be studied carefully, if the full meaning is to be obtained. But widely as the New Testament writings differ among themselves, they differ yet far more widely from all other books. They presented themselves originally to the Church with a divine authority, which is foreign to the ordinary writings of men. That authority has been confirmed through the Christian centuries.”[5]

iii) The Four Divisions of the New Testament

“(1) THE GOSPELS … “gospel” means “good news,” and “good news” means tidings, information derived from the witness of others. In other words, it means history.”[6]

“(2) THE BOOK OF THE ACTS.—The Book of The Acts is a history of the extension of Christianity from Jerusalem out into the Gentile world. It represents that extension as guided by the Spirit of God, and thus exhibits the divine warrant for the acceptance of us Gentiles, and for the development of the Christian Church. It provides the outline of apostolic history without which we could not understand the other New Testament books, especially the epistles of Paul.”[7]

“(3) THE EPISTLES.—The Epistles of the New Testament are not just literature put in an epistolary form, but real letters. It is true that the addresses of some of them are very broad, for example, those of James and of I Peter; and that some of them contain no specific address at all, for example, Hebrews and I John. But the great majority of them, at least, were written under very special circumstances and intended to be read first by very definite people.”[8]

“The letters of Paul differ widely among themselves. The Epistle to the Romans is almost a systematic exposition of the plan of salvation. Philemon is concerned with a little personal matter between Paul and one of his converts.”[9]

“(4) THE APOCALYPSE … the Apocalypse opens a glorious vision of the future. The vision is presented in symbolical language.”[10]

 

[1] p.5

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] p.6

[5] p.7

[6] Ibid.

[7] p.8

[8] Ibid.

[9] p.9

[10] Ibid.